The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

By Sam Harris

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Sam Harris' first book, The End of Faith, ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In the aftermath, Harris discovered that most people - from religious fundamentalists to non-believing scientists - agree on one point: science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Indeed, our failure to address questions of meaning and morality through scienc Sam Harris' first book, The End of Faith,...

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October 5th 2010 by Free Press

(first published 2010)

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Quotes From "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values"

"‎Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident"
"If our well-being depends upon the interaction between events in our brains and events in the world, and there are better and worse ways to secure it, then some cultures will tend to produce lives that are more worth living than others; some political persuasions will be more enlightened than others; and some world views will be mistaken in ways that cause needless human misery."
"our moral reasoning is plagued by two illusions. The first illusion can be called the wag-the-dog illusion: We believe that our own moral judgment (the dog) is driven by our own moral reasoning (the tail). The second illusion can be called the wag-theother-dog's-tail illusion: In a moral argument, we expect the successful rebuttal of an opponent's arguments to change the opponent's mind. Such a belief is like thinking that forcing a dog's tail to wag by moving it with your hand will make the dog happy."
"We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us."
"We will embarrass our descendants, just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral progress."
"There is a sense in which all cognition can be said to be motivated. One is motivated to understand the world, to be in touch with reality, to remove doubt, etc. Alternately one might say that motivation is an aspect of cognition itself. Nevertheless, motives like wanting to find the truth, not wanting to be mistaken, etc., tend to align with epistemic goals in a way that many other commitments do not. As we have begun to see, all reasoning may be inextricable from emotion. But if a person's primary motivation in holding a belief is to hue to a positive state of mind, to mitigate feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, or guilt for instance. This is precisely what we mean by phrases like "wishful thinking", and "self-deception". Such a person will of necessity be less responsive to valid chains of evidence and argument that run counter to the beliefs he is seeking to maintain. To point out non-epistemic motives in an others view of the world, therefore, is always a criticism, as it serves to cast doubt on a persons connection to the world as it is."
"The fact that millions of people use the term "morality" as a synonym for religious dogmatism, racism, sexism, or other failures of insight and compassion should not oblige us to merely accept their terminology until the end of time."
"The answer to the question, 'What should I believe, and why should I believe it?' is generally a scientific one. Believe a proposition because it is well supported by theory and evidence; believe it because it has been experimentally verified; believe it because a generation of smart people have tried their best to falsify it and failed; believe it because it is true (or seems so). This is a norm of cognition as well as the core of any scientific mission statement. As far as our understanding of the world is concerned--there are no facts without values."

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