The Moral Landscape Challenge

For those of you who are familiar with Sam Harris’s work The Moral Landscape, he has issued a challenge for people to contest it.  Here’s the link: Moral Landscape Challenge.  I’m planning on entering the contest myself, assuming I can make the time between my applications to grad schools (which is what I really should be doing right now….)

I’m interested in participating in this contest because it presents a unique challenge for me – after having read his book I find that I’m generally sympathetic to Sam Harris’s goals while disagreeing with subtly important aspects of his arguments.  I actually wrote my undergraduate thesis with goals very similar to those of Sam Harris I would say, those goals being namely that I’m opposed to moral quietism: I think that people can act rightly and wrongly, and I wanted to properly justify this intuition as best as I could.

Here is how Harris states the central thesis of his book:

“Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of the universe (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science (in principle, if not in practice). Consequently, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life.” (link).

Right now I am still working on understanding the deeper implications of Harris’s theory.  I currently am inclined towards two potential lines of argument:

1: Sam Harris has mistaken the actual nature of morality.  Morality is by necessity about the actions of individuals deciding how to live their lives.  All actions tie back to morality.  The human life project is such that it is mistaken to say that all human lives should be dedicated to the propagation of well-being.

or

2: There is a deeper basis for ethics that should come before well being, that basis being humility.  The human expedience is such that we all think what we believe is true, that’s what a belief is.  In his book Harris uses two contradictory arguments several times – he often seems to appeal to common sense (no one would prefer being tortured and raped over living a happy life) while also stating that that some people just have invalid opinions (just because lots of people believe something doesn’t mean that their opinion is worthy of respect).  I would argue that both are phenomenally indistinguishable from the inside, and therefore our first commitment should be to the continuous examination of experience – we have our commitments to our beliefs, but our first commitment is to the progression of our beliefs, thus we avoid dogmatism.

If you have any thoughts or ideas, let me know.  Thank you for reading,

Ryan Workman

Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of the universe (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science (in principle, if not in practice). Consequently, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life. – See more at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-moral-landscape-challenge1#sthash.xtcCGTPf.dpuf
Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of the universe (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science (in principle, if not in practice). Consequently, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life. – See more at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-moral-landscape-challenge1#sthash.xtcCGTPf.dpuf
Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of the universe (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science (in principle, if not in practice). Consequently, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life. – See more at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-moral-landscape-challenge1#sthash.xtcCGTPf.dpuf
Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of the universe (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, questions of morality and values must have right and wrong answers that fall within the purview of science (in principle, if not in practice). Consequently, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life. – See more at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-moral-landscape-challenge1#sthash.xtcCGTPf.dpuf

via Blogger http://creative-philo.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-moral-landscape-challenge.html

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