Submit a question to our community and get an answer from real people.
Submit
All  >  Science

Can morality be explained and understood within a science based context?

http://m.samharris.org/ It has been nearly three years since The Moral Landscape was first published in English, and in that time it has been attacked by readers and nonreaders alike. Many seem to have judged from the resulting cacophony that the book?s central thesis was easily refuted. However, I have yet to encounter a substantial criticism that I feel was not adequately answered in the book itself (and in subsequent talks).
~
So I would like to issue a public challenge. Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less. (You must address the central argument of the book?not peripheral issues.) The best response will be published on this website, and its author will receive $2,000. If any essay actually persuades me, however, its author will receive $20,000,* and I will publicly recant my view.
~
Submissions will be accepted here the week of February 2-9, 2014.
~
*Note 9/1/13: The original prize was $1,000 for the winning essay and $10,000 for changing my view, but a generous reader has made a matching pledge.

Report as

Ok, here is the thrust 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."
Observations:
1. He wants to have an objective standard, but the last line shows its really subjective.
2. The issue is what to do with human selfishness, in a scientific schema. It's a major flaw in all subjective ethical systems, and Harris acknowledges it (see The Moral Landscape, p58-59). The fact that Harris himself acknowledges that he (and we) cannot live up to his own moral values calls into question whether "science can determine human values" in any meaningful way.
3. Harris says that "Changes in wealth, health, age, marital status, etc., tend not to matter as much as we think they will-and yet we make our most important decisions in life based upon these inaccurate assumptions... we are poorly placed to accurately recall the past, to perceive the present, or to anticipate the future with respect to our own happiness. It seems little wonder, therefore, that we are so often unfulfilled." (page 183-184) However, the Bible describes Solomon, a man who had it all - hundreds of women, immense wealth, and political power. However, at the end of his life he wrote one of the most cynical works of all time, the Bible's book of Ecclesiastes. Even though King Solomon had every physical pleasure a man could want, in his book, he describes it all as vanity and futility.
Christianity's claim is that all these material things cannot substitute for a relationship with God. Dozens of scientific studies have shown that those who practice some form of religion exhibit superior mental and physical health compared to those who don't. Scientific data shows that adolescents who receive frequent religious instruction behave more appropriately and are better adjusted to adult life in society compared to their non-religious peers. In addition, those children are also happier. Needless to say, Sam Harris never bothered to cite such studies. And he doesn't want you to know about them. Nobody need apply for his challenge, as it has no objective standard.

Helpful (2) Fun Thanks for voting Comments (6)
Report as
I greatly appreciate your time and attention on this question.
Report as
It is a joy to think with you on the subject!
Report as
I have a question. It sounds like you want any submissions to be offered here only during the week of February 2-9, 2014. Is this correct? Thanks.
May I suggest that this forum be used for discussion of the matter (as has begun) and that a week or two before the deadline, you open a new thread for submissions. You need to have a new thread if you want the current readers at that time to be aware of it. If you post a reminder here, only a few of us will be aware.
Report as
I have another question. Can we agree that, in regard to your question and challenge, we are speaking of absolute moral values? If all moral values are seen as subjective and relative, then the challenge becomes meaningless.
Having said that, I would also distinguish between absolute moral values and societal moral values, which are often relative and subjective, and may vary from community to community.
Report as
The February date is connected to Sam Harris's challenge at his web site posted at the begining of the question details.
Report as
Ah, I misunderstood. I thought you were issuing the challenge. All right. Thanks.
Report as
Add a comment...
Do you have an answer?
Answer this question...
Did you mean?
Login or Join the Community to answer
Popular Searches