History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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The Iron Cage: Harris and the finishing touches of the perfect prison

May 9th, 2010 · No Comments

Harris’ Toward a scince of morality

Harris seems to equate the moral issue with maximizing well-being.
My sense that he is doomed from the start seems confrimed.
I should add that there is absolutely nothing wrong with such an attempt,
pioneered in a different way by Kant (if not Plato).
The danger here, though, is that, as with Darwinism, one lie leads to an increased ease in promoting another. Science has not produced ‘reason’ but credulity on evolution in its public. Finishing the game off with a pseudo-ethics is the liability of Harris’ project and will likely succeed as gesture of publicity and scientism, to the confusion of and harm done to many.
As I read his essay, which acknowledges his many critics, I realize that i am being slightly unfair: he is so surrounded by nihilist skeptics of scientism who think the value domains is ‘woo’ that his project seems to be a heroic effort in progress to rescue science from its amorality.
I can’t fully judge a book that isn’t out yet, so I must wait. But I suspect that Harris’ effort is going to be false from the beginning, especially given the hints of ‘utilitarianism redux’ in progress.
The attempt to create a science of morality is something that can’t be rejected out of hand. The most magnificent attempt is the ethics of Kant, who some think failed to reach the result. If Harris is going to try to adapt neuroscientism to this task, his failure will be a parody of Kant.

Beyond the success or failure (and not a little obscurity that makes his work hard to approach) of the Kantian version lies a solid foundation of transcendental idealism in which the issue of freedom, the foundation of morality, is given a place. Kant’s ethics of the ‘categorical imperative’ is deeply suggestive, but seems to spawn logical contradictions, or exceptions that require an extended version of his thinking. The question of transcendental idealism was a great success, and is almost more important than the specified ethics, among many, that might exist in the context of TI.

I will bet a nickel (not much, I may lose the bet, I hope) that Harris plans to simply ignore all this, construct ethics on the basis of passive causal logic in which maximizing ‘well-being’ is the mainline project. Worse, then, than a parody of Kantian ethics. That’s a project for the final stages of Iron Cage, the same point in Pharaonic pyramid constuction where the mummy has to be locked in forever so no tomb robbers can find it.
There is hope: we can always break into the Iron Cage.
The Iron Cage still has some exit points, one of them being the glaring absence of the idea of freedom, thence ethics.
Harris, I fear, means to make us amnesiac about what is missing.

Tags: ethics · Kant

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