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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values | [Sam Harris]

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

In this explosive new book, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a "moral landscape".
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Publisher's Summary

Sam Harris’s first book, The End of Faith, ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In the aftermath, Harris discovered that most people—from religious fundamentalists to nonbelieving scientists—agree on one point: science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Indeed, our failure to address questions of meaning and morality through science has now become the most common justification for religious faith. It is also the primary reason why so many secularists and religious moderates feel obligated to "respect" the hardened superstitions of their more devout neighbors.

In this explosive new book, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a "moral landscape". Because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, Harris foresees a time when science will no longer limit itself to merely describing what people do in the name of "morality"; in principle, science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possible.

Bringing a fresh perspective to age-old questions of right and wrong and good and evil, Harris demonstrates that we already know enough about the human brain and its relationship to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life. Because such answers exist, moral relativism is simply false—and comes at increasing cost to humanity. And the intrusions of religion into the sphere of human values can be finally repelled: for just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality.

©2010 Sam Harris (P)2010 Simon & Schuster, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“Sam Harris breathes intellectual fire into an ancient debate. Reading this thrilling, audacious book, you feel the ground shifting beneath your feet. Reason has never had a more passionate advocate.” (Ian McEwan)

“A lively, provocative, and timely new look at one of the deepest problems in the world of ideas. Harris makes a powerful case for a morality that is based on human flourishing and thoroughly enmeshed with science and rationality. It is a tremendously appealing vision, and one that no thinking person can afford to ignore.” (Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate)

What Members Say

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  •  
    JULIO Redmond, WA, United States 08-30-12
    JULIO Redmond, WA, United States 08-30-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Great book in principle, not so great in practice"
    If you could sum up The Moral Landscape in three words, what would they be?

    Sam Harris has a great point and I totally agree with the principle that science should provide guidance to moral values. I also agree that religion does much to deprive humanity of good moral values and science development.

    The book offers a great concept but falls short on providing substance to its arguments. I had high expectations given the reviews here, when they even compared this work with the work of Kant, Descartes or Rousseau. It is definitely no such kind of work. Most of the examples are extremes and not the usual case. Sadists and people that take advantage of others will be present in any culture, even one driven by science and knowledge.

    The book is too focused in the USA and too much time is spent criticizing the current Obama administration team. Also, I was very disappointed in the author for the failure to realize that the war against terrorism is a resource dispute, like any other war in history, and that Islamic radicalism is a tool for manipulating poor people into fighting *back* the many western invasions (direct or indirect) in the middle east for the control of the oil production.

    I believe the author should embrace a social experience trip and go live 6 months in Europe, China and Afghanistan, each. It will provide different perspectives and better arguments for the ideal of a humanity that does not recur to mysticism and instead uses science to explore the world and define our moral codes.

    I'm afraid that liberating itself from religion is outside of the capabilities of homo sapiens. It could possibly come with the next species we possibly genetically engineer it ourselves in the next centuries.

    Overall, the book was disappointing but sill an interesting read. I hope someone else with more cultural background does a better job of exploring these ideas. They are great indeed.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven 01-25-11
    Steven 01-25-11
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    "Not profound at all"

    Geez...this is a really terrible listen. I was hoping for a good philosophical discussion for the science of morality. Instead I got only one man's opinion of morality. Science was overlooked. Superficially, you might feel you are listening to something scientific, but it just never makes it there...the real citations don't come through. It turns science into opinion. Way too many biases and understood "facts" that are clearly not scientifically supported. Disappointing, as I allowed the other glowing reviews to bring me to spend a precious credit on this book. Really, although not a waste of time, very tiresome and poorly argued. No profound changes of paradigm for me from this book, sorry to say.

    6 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steve Alvin, TX, United States 12-14-10
    Steve Alvin, TX, United States 12-14-10
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    "I could not finish it I was so disappointed"

    This may well be a fine thesis. However Sam Harris argues through very poor inferential logic which is based upon premises that derive strictly from his arbitrary prejudices. Immanuel Kant already did this, but his categorical imperative was at least an honest try by a man who did not know anything about evolutionary biology, primate studies in moral empathy and altruism, or the fact that there is much evidenced that morality is an emotional process to a far higher degree than an intellectual one.

    This was a complete waste of my time. I quit 2/3 through. Don't but this book.



    8 of 30 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gregory Bellmore, NY, United States 02-08-11
    Gregory Bellmore, NY, United States 02-08-11 Member Since 2010
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    "B-O-R-I-N-G"

    Tedious and boring. I think I have a fair amount of patience and have slogged through my share of "thick" audio and hardcover style books, but this droned on and on. Read the liner notes - it's easier and encapsulates the whole book in a few sentences. Not sure I agree with Mr. Harris, but I don't disagree either. His postulation definitely needs to be explored at greater length.

    2 of 9 people found this review helpful
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    Bonnie Sheboygan, WI, United States 11-23-10
    Bonnie Sheboygan, WI, United States 11-23-10 Member Since 2010
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    "No Morals"

    The author thoroughly reviews religion throughout this book. He has an extensive knowlege of the Christian beliefs and Bible, as he continously "judges" Catholics, and quotes scripture directly out of the King James Version to use against them. The author continues these assaults throughout the book against the Christian, Jewish and any faith that believes in God... The author has a smart approach, but seriously for a person of no faith he quotes scripture way too much. His knowledge of the bible is impressive and is equal to most priest and ministers alike. His loathing of Faith is apparent. Yes, I am of Christian faith, I am not Catholic, I am a Lutheran.

    4 of 58 people found this review helpful
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    D. Crofoot Elgin, IL USA 12-16-10
    D. Crofoot Elgin, IL USA 12-16-10 Member Since 2007
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    "Great science, bad theology"

    I am glad that Sam Harris narrated his own book as I think only he could convey the absolute passion and beliefs of his convictions. I loved the information that was focused around the science, fascinating. I was disappointed by the atheism, which was justified by main press scandals. I agree that the church has had scandals and these should not be allowed. Unfortunately all professions including scientists have had their bad seeds.

    In my experience, I have found more people, (common people), who work for the benefit of mankind, partly if not completely because of a religious influence. Since these people do not make the press, they are overlooked during the conversation around religion. With this in mind, I would challenge Sam to get outside of the media and make his scientific arguments using facts obtained by common people. I would be interested to see if he could change my beliefs that region is what created societies. My belief is based on the fact that it does not matter how intelligent, good looking, charismatic or outstanding a speaker a leader is, the masses will loose faith in him or her the minute they realize that this person is just human. Of course a leader can get past this if they can call on a greater power outside of themselves to evoke fear, healing or perhaps joy in an afterlife.


    0 of 19 people found this review helpful
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