Julian is harsh about Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape.
What’s worse, however, is when atheists talk of science as though it is the source of all the knowledge and wisdom we need to live. The most egregious recent example of this is Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, with its subtitle “How science can determine human values”. It’s hard to imagine a more hyperbolic claim about the power of science…
It is rather.
When Harris sounds convincing is when he is attacking the batty view that science has nothing to say about human values. Scientific evidence might indeed reveal morally important facts, such as that inequality as well as absolute levels of wealth affects wellbeing; that different “races” are not that different and not really races; that some animals do feel pain, and of what kind it is; and so on. Science can also reveal the physiological and neurological mechanisms that underlie the things we value in life, like achieving states of flow or avoiding pain. But science could never tell us what we should value, because when it tells us how things are, we are always left with the question, what ought we to do about it?
That link is in the original, and it was probably inserted by Andrew himself (which is a little shaming, since it goes to something he wrote). I can tell you that when I publish articles by other people on B&W the website, I don’t insert links to stuff I wrote. I would think that rude and intrusive.
However, since I’m writing this post, I will insert a link to something I wrote, because it’s pretty much exactly what Julian said. I expect he got it from me. (Joke!)
It’s from the review I wrote of Harris’s book for The Philosophers’ Magazine.
It’s easy to get people to agree that well-being is good; the hard part is getting them to agree on what that implies they should do, and getting them to do it.
Harris spends most of the book hammering home the point that morality is about the well-being of conscious creatures, which means he spends far too little time considering the difficult questions that arise even if everyone agrees on that.
See? Very like what Julian said.
The rapturous reception Harris’s book received from many atheists – though thankfully far from all of them – is a symptom of an unhealthy desire to raise science to the level of our saviour.
Actually I think it’s much more a symptom of excessive admiration for Harris himself combined with a total unfamiliarity with meta-ethics. Anyway, the effect was the same.