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Harris’ The Moral Landscape

October 6th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Just started looking through Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. My previous sense of alarm has waned considerably: the book is a form of ‘scientism mud’ and so non-descript that I fail to locate an ethical thesis. The shelves of university libraries (I forget the number series, BL something?) are filled with shelf upon shelf of books on ethics, each one of interest, none of decisive merit. The reason for that, next to the flameout brilliance of Kantian ethics is hard to asses, or understand. Why did philosophy decline after Kant?
Harris would replace that philosophy with science, and the result will be even worse.
I will keep trying, but I may fail to be able to read this book, the Weberian venom courses the blood stream and I am paralyzed, like a victiim of blow pipe attack, as I lose consciousness in the Iron Cage. A hitech savage like Harris is, like all primitives, not be underestimated.

I reviewed Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred, and advocated the author hang. With Harris, who knows. But I have a severe ‘judge not lest..’ problem.

I should comment on the title, or subtitle, ‘how science can determine human values’. For scientists to wish to try to contribute to the question is fine by me, almost refreshing next to the sterility of religious confusion here, but the problem is that, as with Darwinism, pseudo-science will end up becoming a dogma, as the horde of Darwin fanatics, Dawkins cult groupies, and New Atheists enforce a public mentality that noone can challenge, because ‘experts’ have pronounced it science. This game is pernicious, and the subtitle to Harris’ book triggers a sense of dread, and frustration: here they go again. They won’t stop until the Iron Cage is completely enforced. Once this group has decided what science is, as its new Popes, they will propagandize the public in the name of science, and the harm done is incalculable.

I see no reason why science can’t deal with these issues, but is this the point here?
Kant, after all, created the all time classic here, with his thesis of rationality and ethics, yet none of this enters into Harris’ discussion. He doesn’t even acknowledge the potential for free will. So that should settle matter. The book is not about morality at all, hence the emphasis on a concealed utilitarian thesis. \
Constantly harping on Kant (who I don’t actually agree with in toto) can get boring, but I strongly recommend a look at Kant’s attempt to answer this kind of question, ‘how science can determine human values’: Harris is operating in the wasteland of post-kantian stragglers who can’t even recover the level of insight that Kant reached, in the midst of a curious success mixed with failure.

My issue with this book will therefore be brief: Harris never addresses morality as he doesn’t acknowledge either a human will, or a free will, and more than that, he is fixated by Darwinian evolution and its Just So Story on the evolution of ethics. He is unaware of the problem with these theories, how could he ever get any further? That pseudo-science blocks the first step Harris would wish to take.

I will keep reading, and we will see.

Tags: ethics · Kant

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