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Sam Harris says “Please change my mind”

More on The Harris Challenge*, aka here’s a time when I agree with Russell Blackford.

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Sam Harris

Please change my mind and take my money.

Russell Blackford

I doubt that anyone could put better criticisms of ethical naturalism than you’ve already seen from me in less than 1000 words

SH

I can’t remember, have you addressed my “worst possible misery for everyone argument”?

RB

I may not have addressed that particular para or so – but I don’t think it achieves very much. /1

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In reverse order -

RB

If it’s the worst possible misery for everyone, including me and my loved ones, I have a PRUDENTIAL reason to obviate it. /2

What if I have the choice of making myself or a loved one 3 units less miserable or someone else 5 units less miserable? /3

Am I objectively bound in the nature of things to take the second choice? I don’t see it.

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RB

In short, we have a reason to ameliorate misery insofar as we care. We are not objectively bound to in the nature of things.

Precisely. And Harris seems to be utterly blind to that, and unable to take it in when people spell it out to him.

Yet there are many people who persist in thinking his book was a bold new theory of morality, that got everything right.

*Update: previous discussion yesterday.

Comments

  1. Anthony K says

    Yet there are many people who persist in thinking his book was a bold new theory of morality, that got everything right.

    What are skeptoatheists without a ring to kiss?

  2. brucegee1962 says

    It looks as if this is a followup to an earlier post about Harris that I missed. I can’t figure out the terms of discussion here from this post.

  3. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Even the “worst possible misery for everyone argument” is ultimately based on the premise that well-being is worth something. It doesn’t help you get to that premise in the first place.

  4. Brian Lynchehaun says

    Yet there are many people who persist in thinking his book was a bold new theory of morality, that got everything right.

    Yes. Anyone unfamiliar with a 1st year Philosophy class would not realise what a crappy job he did of butchering a 1st year intro Philosophy class. I have this conversation a lot.

  5. Sili says

    What if I have the choice of making myself or a loved one 3 units less miserable or someone else 5 units less miserable? /3

    Am I objectively bound in the nature of things to take the second choice? I don’t see it.

    Doesn’t that just mean that making a loved one 3 units less miserable adds more that 2 units of unmiserableness to his miseryrecord. Thus making the total unmisericordia more than 5 units total.

  6. medivh says

    @Anthony K, #1: I first read “skeptoatheists” as “skeptofascists”. I’m not sure why, but then again it could be the overly draconian security theatre they insist on putting on…

  7. says

    Yes. Anyone unfamiliar with a 1st year Philosophy class would not realise what a crappy job he did of butchering a 1st year intro Philosophy class.

    Yes! I was embarrassed for him. It’s one thing to ignore sophistimacated theologians’ arguments, but Harris has apparently never even bothered to figure out that David Hume blew great smoking holes through his book, and Hume has been dead for centuries. And he was too lazy, apparently, to google for “counterarguments against utilitarianism” or perhaps he didn’t realize that he had successfully re-invented a bastard form of it (without fixing any of the flaws, and grounding it on an argument based on ignorance) It’s just bad. I actually had to read most of the book through a gap in my facepalm’ing fingers.

  8. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Ophelia Benson #7:

    we evaluate misery differently according to whose misery it is, which is the opposite of “objectively.”

    I’ve heard several of his lectures, still havent read the book.
     
    Wasn’t the point of the bio/psych/objective-study emphasis to discover common preferences and counter common biases when making policy decisions – favoring the ‘well-being’ of creatures with those biases/preferences – to make society less needlessly harmful to its members?
     
    And with the health analogy, wasn’t he writing off anyone who finds such extra-harmful policies acceptable: when they demonstrably wouldn’t achieve their stated goals, or when they’re more short-sighted than would be approved of by a representative sample of everyone who would be affected? (as could happen with the biases)
     
    In other words, I was under the impression he was railing against ethics determined entirely by navelgazing. Mix utilitarianism with some empiricism, frame it in a way so watered down or ambiguous that detractors are few enough to ignore, and bootstrap the mostly-universal-where-it-applies social engineering principles into a science of managing generic humans in given situations… all just to advocate informed decision-making.
     
    “in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible…”

  9. says

    And he was too lazy, apparently, to google for “counterarguments against utilitarianism” or perhaps he didn’t realize that he had successfully re-invented a bastard form of it (without fixing any of the flaws, and grounding it on an argument based on ignorance).

    That sums it up nicely.

    That’s the most annoying part of the book, the steady appearance of thinking he’s come up with something new and original. Argh.

  10. says

    Anyone who openly challenges people to “Please change my mind” is, most likely, only seeking to show how unchangeable his mind is, and how impervious he is to any ideas other than his own. This is just more attention-hogging bluster from a guy too emotionally (and financially) invested in his “thoughts” to change even one of them. I suspect that Sam Harris is realizing that everyone is giving up on his ideas, and is now trying to pretend we can engage with him so we’ll start paying attention to him again.

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