Monday, October 11, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival CXV

Philosophers' Carnival CXV

Welcome to the 115th edition of Philosopher’s Carnival, organized since August ‘04 by Richard Chappell. For those just discovering the Carnival, every few weeks or so many and various philosophy bloggers take turns submitting and hosting a collection of the latest relevant posts from around the blogosphere. An updated list of past host-blogs and the dates of their carnivals (searchable in the widget) can be found at the end of this one. My name is Maryann Spikes and I'll be your host for this "Moral Landscape" edition.

This is the first Carnival after the release of Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. Many have suffered in long anticipation for this past Tuesday's release of the Landscape, especially since Harris' February TED talk, and the pholks are already blogging about it (still, really—check out this flurry of excited discussion between Jon Adams, Kleiner, Huenemann, Source, Ben and Hunt back in March, on how Aristotelian and Thomist Harris' thesis sounds, with some interesting summary of new versus old natural law theory). Click here for links to articles Harris posted in the interim between his TED talk and the release of Landscape.

Don't worry—if you've been planning on reading the book and blogging about it, but haven't had time since Tuesday, this carnival has the potential to be a living dialog until the 29th, so you can e-mail Landscape-related late submissions up until then. Submit all other posts here.

Because Harris' Landscape is not the only thing going on in the blogosphere of philosophy, we'll start this off with some offerings that do not directly address it, in the order they were submitted:


"A little philosophy of chemistry" from Julia Bursten presenting Chemical Reactivity and Molecular Geometry at Reaction Crate.

Eric Michael Johnson delivers Reflections on the WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology at PLoS Blogs Network, assessing the question “Does psychology’s over-reliance on American undergraduates distort our image of the human species?”

Steven and Debra give us Manhattan Trophy Mosque Issue: Mountain or Molehill? with the remark, "Putting the shoe on the other foot."

Matt Hoberg advances Reasons for Love and Particularism at The Consternation of Philosophy. It would be interesting to see how Matt would apply this thinking to Golden Rule love.

Jeorge Enoughie asks If not God, where do our Rights come from? (now titled "Freedom and Nature") at Natural Philosophy of Life. Does the absence of any mention of free will in this discourse on freedom indicate agreement with Sam Harris on this matter?

"A logical look at the problem of perception," Martin Cooke offers Putting the green back in the greenery at Enigmania.

Alberto Vanzo submits fellow blogger Peter Anstey's ESP is best at Early Modern Experimental Philosophy. This is not about extra-sensory perception (am I the only one who initially thought it might be?); it is about dividing 17th and 18th century philosophy into experimental versus speculative philosophy (ESP) as opposed to rationalist versus empiricist philosophy (REP).

A response to Galen Strawson's Why I have no future and Mitchell Heisman's suicide note, Charlie Huenemann suggests Not minding no meaning, at Huenemanniac. All three gentlemen's views are represented in Group 1 in our discussion of Harris' "Landscape" below.

Jonathan Phillips submits Eric Schwitzgebel's Are Ethicists Any More Likely to Be Blood or Organ Donors Than Are Other Professors? at Experimental Philosophy.

Jonathan Phillips also submits Brian Leiter's Gender and Philosophical Intuition at Leiter Reports, inviting discussion on this paper by Buckwalter and Stich. [ Btw, if you hate this carnival, it's because I've barely started my studies; it's not because I'm a (Jedi) woman. ]

Kenny Pearce presents Modern Cosmology and Theology at In a nutshell, this is an alternative to "fine-tuning" which does not squeeze God out of the picture (some might say "out of the gap").

Dan Fincke of Camels with Hammers offers My Perspectivist, Teleological Account of the Relative Values of Pleasure and Pain. Excerpt: "the values of pleasure and of pain...while extraordinarily important, [ are ] of secondary interest to the primacy of excellent functioning in its own right." Links are provided to articles wherein Fincke derives "our fundamental goods from the various functions which comprise our being."


Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes below are taken from the first hardcover edition of Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape: How science can determine human values" released this October 5 by Free Press of Simon & Schuster.

We'll start with Harris.

But, before we start, in case this carnival comes to Sam Harris' attention (I did attempt to invite a submission from him, and will attempt to send him a link of this carnival some time Monday)—I would like to offer my appreciation to you for opening this dialog to a wider audience, and for caring about well-being. Whether one agrees or disagrees with your conclusions or motivations, you have done much to cultivate a wider interest in the most important questions that can be asked, and that surely is a good thing. Thank you.

Harris: “While I agree with Moore that it is reasonable to wonder whether maximizing pleasure in any given instance is ‘good,’ it makes no sense at all to ask whether maximizing well-being is ‘good.’ It seems clear that what we are really asking when we wonder whether a certain state of pleasure is ‘good,’ is whether it is conducive to, or obstructive of, some deeper form of well-being,” (p. 12). “…questions about values—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures,” (p. 1). “Whatever can be known about maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures—which is, I will argue, the only thing we can reasonably value—must at some point translate into facts about brains and their interaction with the world at large,” (p. 11). “Human and animal well-being are natural phenomena. As such, they can be studied, in principle, with the tools of science and spoken about with greater or lesser precision,” (p. 41-42).

Granted, if moral truth is completely beyond the natural, then it has nothing to do with we who consist of/in the natural (see the Super-Naturalist Dialectic here)—no disagreement there. However, in light of the above quotes, the following quotes need clarification:

Harris: “…the concept of well-being is like the concept of physical health: it resists precise definition, and yet it is indispensable. In fact, the meanings of both terms seem likely to remain perpetually open to revision as we make progress in science,” (p. 11-12). “The concept of “well-being,” just like the concept of ‘health,’ is truly open for revision and discovery. Just how fulfilled is it possible for us to be, personally and collectively? What are the conditions—ranging from changes in the genome to changes in economic systems—that will produce such happiness? We simply do not know,” (p. 34). “…science can resolve specific questions about morality and human values, even while our conception of ‘well-being’ evolves,” (p. 37). (many other similar quotes)

Perhaps this only means our understanding of well-being would change (is it really just about harm-avoidance, to which Harris’ switches emphasis on page 89?—is it no longer about deeper fulfillment…or is deeper fulfillment all about harm avoidance?), rather than well-being itself would change. Because, if it is well-being itself that would change, then…it falls victim to Moore’s Open Question. On that note, check out a question I recently submitted to  Anyway—the meaning of x (any noun that refers, but in this case, health or well-being) is subject to change, unless there is a being to which an unchanging definition of x can correspond.  In what sense is Harris' concept of well-being deserving of the status "objective moral truth" here?   Regarding Harris’ mentions (in this case implied, but in others, direct) of mind-body dualism and whether the mind is not influenced by input from the body (straw man), check this out.

Your Thoughts:

Nick at Critique My Thinking writes Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, a response to Kwame Anthony Appiah’s review in the New York Times. “That those who consider themselves scientists could agree upon one definition of well-being seems, to me, unrealistic. ... The concept of ‘well-being’ is something of a social construct.”

Harris is right that scientific thinking (philosophy) can fish out an ought [though nothing can be proven with absolute certainty, and so varying degrees of subjective certainty (faith) will always be required], but it (we) can only do so while minding the is-ought distinction.

Your Thoughts:

In the second of a series of chapter-by-chapter replies to Landscape, John C. Snider of American Freethought writes The Moral Landscape, Chapter 1: Moral Truth: "One objection to scientific morality is that science is all about math and formulas and hard data. Harris brushes this objection aside by saying that this defines science in 'exceedingly narrow terms.' 'However,' he adds, 'this is to mistake science for a few of its tools.' Amen, brother."

Pointing at something in reality (say, well-being) and suggesting it justifies an ought, does in fact violate the is-ought distinction. It would be the same as if a Christian pointed at Jesus and claimed his mere existence justifies the Golden Rule. No, even if we take it as given that Jesus is the embodied Golden Rule, demonstrated ultimately on the cross, it is still only justified if the Golden Rule fully answers what all the theories in ethics are asking. However, even if the Golden Rule is the only justified theory in ethics, that does not necessarily mean it corresponds to reality—to a being who is and does the end of all being and doing—and to assume so would commit the reverse is-ought fallacy (the ought-is fallacy). This is because a theory is true or not regardless whatever justification we are (un)able to find for it—sometimes what we thought was justified turns out to have been mistaken (the skeptic's "argument from error"), and sometimes we are right for the wrong reasons (Gettier problem examples). For an example that is needed but lacking in The Moral Landscape, of scientific thinking (philosophy) which does not commit either the is-ought, or the ought-is, fallacy, and which arrives at, but cannot prove, a real ought, see points 1-17 of this section of my work-in-progress. This also serves as a reply to Harris' chapter on belief, though that chapter will get a little more discussion in my thoughts on Harris’ representation of group 2, below.

Your Thoughts:

Ophelia Benson at Butterflies & Wheels writes Is-ought and all that, a response to Kwame Anthony Appiah’s review in the New York Times. “I thought the point was that facts can’t, as a matter of logic, get you to values. That doesn’t make values not susceptible of rational investigation, surely. Does it? It makes them not straightforwardly susceptible of empirical falsification, perhaps, but there are other ways of rationally investigating things – aren’t there?”

Massimo Piggliuci at Rationally Speaking writes About Sam Harris' claim that science can answer moral questions: "Where I begin to diverge from Harris is when he talks [ at TED ] about moral propositions as a particular kind of empirical facts. First off, as I pointed out before on this blog, to say that something is objectively true is not the same as to say that it is a fact, an equivalence strangely implied by Harris’ talk. There clearly are notions that are objectively true — such as mathematical theorems — but that in no meaningful sense are 'facts.'" *cough* ground-rules for being *cough*


Harris presents three groups of clashing worldviews, but he strips them of these "boring" titles: nihilism&skepticism, voluntarism/anti-realism, and essentialism/realism (take this Facebook quiz I wrote to see where you stand). Though Harris doesn’t ever use the word “dialectic,” the following (group 1 through 3) is a jumbled up Essentialism Dialectic:

Group 1. Nihilism&skepticism. There are those who “tend to think that notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ must be the products of evolutionary pressure [ Darwinian ethicists ] and cultural invention. …it is merely to give voice to one’s apish urges, cultural biases, and philosophical confusion,” (p. 2). One main response Harris and other realists give for the beliefs of many in this group is that “…the mere endurance of a belief system or custom does not suggest that it is adaptive, much less wise. It merely suggests that it hasn’t led directly to a society’s collapse or killed its practitioners outright,” (p. 20). Harris seems to respect the is-ought distinction here, as he is basically saying "the way things have been is not necessarily how they should be". We see this same respect when he admits that “We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us,” (p. 101).

Moral realists of all types can get behind everything Harris says in Landscape to get folks in group 1 to realize there are right and wrong answers to the questions asked in ethics (even if disagreeing or agreeing only tentatively with some of Harris’ implied answers—there are still many points of agreement, too many to list here). Note that some in group 1 (via a secularized group 2) are those who ‘think’ they are moral realists, including Harris—but they are only realists insofar as they admit there are right and wrong answers (interestingly, some folks who admit to being in group 1 would say all self-proclaiming moral realists belong in group 2). However, they are not ‘true’ moral realists, because they deny the existence of the only (well-)being to which moral truth may actually correspond (see my question to Harris on that at AskPhilosophers’ Google Group)—that puts them (again, including Harris) in group 1 (via a secularized group 2).

Your Thoughts:

Jerry A. Coyne at Why Evolution is True writes Appiah reviews Harris’s The Moral Landscape. “The mantra of ‘‘is’ doesn’t imply ‘ought’’ has been accepted too uncritically, and it’s time for all of us to revisit the Naturalistic Fallacy.” He also posted a link to the Wright/Harris debate at the Secular Humanism conference in Los Angeles.

Simon Rippon at Practical Ethics submits Sam Harris, the Naturalistic Fallacy, and the Slipperiness of "Well-Being". “…there are a couple of serious difficulties for the claim that we “experience” the property of rightness: First … Suppose that over their whole lifetimes, Blue would have a well-being of 10, and Red a well-being of 5, all other things are equal, and you could either give an additional 6 units of well-being to Blue or 5 to Red. Which would be right? Those who care most about equality will answer one way, those who care most about the total will answer another. … This disagreement makes our “experience” of rightness look, at best, highly unreliable. Secondly, moral realists have provided no plausible explanatory account of how it is that human beings have the ability to experience the supervening property of rightness. This makes it difficult to see how human experience of such a property could even be possible. (My own view is that we should respond to these worries by abandoning the moral realist claim that rightness is discovered by human beings rather than constructed by them. Pace Harris, this need not mean that morals are relativistic, or just a matter of opinion, or that there are no moral truths.)"

Group 2. Voluntarism/anti-realism. Then there is the religious view according to Harris. “…people who draw their worldview from religion generally believe that moral truth exists, but only because God has woven it into the very fabric of reality,” (p. 2). “…religious conservatives tend to believe that there are right answers to questions of meaning and morality, but only because the God of Abraham deems it so. They concede that ordinary facts can be discovered through rational inquiry, but they believe that values must come from a voice in the whirlwind,” (p. 5). “The defense one most often hears for belief in God is not that there is compelling evidence for His existence, but that faith in Him is the only reliable source of meaning and moral guidance. …science will gradually encompass life’s deepest questions—and this is guaranteed to provoke a backlash,” (p. 7). “Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident,” (p. 6).

Like resetting a broken leg is painful but necessary for proper healing, sometimes so is “progress” painful but necessary for maximizing well-being, and by placing the section “Can Suffering Be Good?” directly before the section “The Problem of Religion,” Harris seems to be implying (he has directly stated worse in other parts of the book, and other books) that religion is the cause of a major broken leg in our world and, even though it will be painful, it must be removed (the leg must be reset) in order to progress towards greater well-being (rethink how serious he can really be about this, after reading "A Word of Caution" below).

In Landscape, Harris only mentions theistic voluntarism/anti-realism (though not using those “boring” words), leaving theistic essentialism/realism unrepresented (is he unaware of it?). If you are familiar with the Euthyphro Dilemma (if not, see this dialectic), put in other words, theistic voluntarists/anti-realists state “it is good because God wills it” whereas theistic essentialists/realists state (instead of “God wills it because it is good”)—"God wills in accordance with His good nature". Rather than “weaving” the good—God "is" the good (the unchanging well-being to which moral truth corresponds; the being who always is and does the end of all being and doing). However, Harris continues to stick theists with the (straw man) voluntaristic view throughout Landscape.

His definition of faith is debatable [atheism is a faith assumption]. Notice how disbelief and belief both “showed highly localized signal changes in the caudate” (p. 226, note 35)—it’s because disbelief is a manifestation of belief. The only way to rid humanity of imperfection is to rid humanity from existence—ridding it of religion won’t do it and is impossible, as everyone has faith assumptions about the way things are and should be (no one has absolute certainty).

Harris' critique of religion (or beliefs of particular believers) in the rest of the book will receive no response here (apart from submitted blogposts) except that Jesus was a critic of religion, and too few of us have followed in his footsteps in that regard—believers of any sort (all of us) really should be our own worst critics-from-within, like Martin Luther, Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Luther King, Jr., and, in her own way, Anne Rice. I want instead to focus on whether or not Sam Harris applies that same principle of critical thinking to the statement on the cover of Landscape (“How science can determine human values”)—and other directly related statements between its covers.

Your Thoughts:

Ryan Van Lenning submitted this in the summer: Religious moderation, Islam, and a science of morality: Sam Harris stirs the intellectual pot posted at Pull the Root, Plant the Seed. "...he parts company with many (most?) scientists and many philosophers who believe that value is not something about which science has anything to say. Science is the ‘what’ and ‘how’, not the ‘if’ and ‘why’. Harris has an uphill intellectual battle to fight to say the least, not least because it contravenes a common assumption in moral philosophy (almost a dogma in some circles) since at least the time of David Hume, namely that 'you can’t derive an ought from is.' That is to say, no description of how things are entails any judgment about how things should be or how one should act. Harris is attempting to re-attach the head severed by Hume’s Guillotine."

Josh Rosenau at Thoughts From Kansas writes We told you so, a response to Kwame Anthony Appiah’s review in the New York Times. “How awesome would it be to say to an anti-abortion activist: 'sorry, your moral system is scientifically disproven, like geocentrism'? But ... all questions that are fundamentally about values, ...are not ultimately scientific, and however much Harris wishes otherwise, he can't answer them.”

Group 3. Essentialism/realism. Lastly, there is science (as explained below, a better term for Harris’ use of the word science here would be philosophy, but imagine if the cover read "How philosophy can determine human values"—not a huge shocker) (btw, Harris thinks Group 3 necessarily excludes the first two groups). “I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want—and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible,” (p. 28). “…science and religion—being antithetical ways of thinking about the same reality—will never come to terms,” (p. 10). “How we respond to the resulting collision of worldviews will influence the progress of science, of course, but it may also determine whether we succeed in building a global civilization based on shared values. … Only a rational understanding of human well-being will allow billions of us to coexist peacefully, converging on the same social, political, economic, and environmental goals,” (p. 7). Here again we might be catching Harris inadvertently respecting the is-ought distinction: “It is important to emphasize that a scientific account of human values—i.e., one that places them squarely within the web of influences that link states of the world and states of the human brain—is not the same as an evolutionary account. Most of what constitutes human well-being at this moment escapes any narrow Darwinian calculus. While the possibilities of human experience must be realized in the brains that evolution has built for us, our brains were not designed with a view to our ultimate fulfillment [ read excerpts from The Four Horsemen on "the hunger"]. Evolution could never have foreseen [ what is perhaps now ] crucial to our happiness in this century. … I hope it is clear that the view of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ I am advocating, while fully constrained by our current biology (as well as by its future possibilities), cannot be directly reduced to instinctual drives and evolutionary imperatives. …our modern concerns about meaning and morality have flown the perch built by evolution,” (p. 13-14).

That last part just means we evolved the ability to navigate morally like we evolved the ability to navigate mathematically, though “evolution” could not have foreseen it—still, we do not “cease to be realists with respect to physical reality” (or moral reality) (p. 66) (agreed!—we hunger for meaning that exists, or we would not have evolved a hunger for it).

Science and religion are not antithetical (they are not necessarily in conflict). The way Harris has broadly defined science, science (philosophy) is the “natural” in natural theology. “Science simply represents our best effort to understand what is going on in this universe, and the boundary between it and the rest of rational thought cannot always be drawn,” (p. 29; also see note 2 on page 195). Provided that a finding of science/reason corresponds to reality (for example, evolution), when a belief conflicts with that finding, that belief is wrong, whether or not it is considered a religious belief. See Objection 5 here. That a belief is considered a religious belief, does not translate to that belief being in conflict with a finding of science/reason.

Your Thoughts:

Richard Chappell presents Sam Harris on Morality posted at Philosophy, et cetera. “Sam Harris' views on morality would make a lot more sense if he didn't use the term 'science' to mean, apparently, 'rational inquiry'. I agree with him that there are moral truths, just as there are logical and epistemic truths. But it's unhelpful to call these 'scientific' truths. The empirical sciences can of course help us to identify effective means to some presupposed ends. But to work out what ends are worth aiming at in the first place is a distinctively philosophical — not empirical — endeavour.”

Before we can “practice” moral truth, we must know what moral truth “is” (at least in theory). Neuroscience, psychology, etcetera, can help us with the practical issues ‘after’ we’ve settled on a theory via philosophy (or, science, broadly defined). In a skit I wrote, “I would agree that science can study the moral center of the brain, figure out which genes work together to build a being who experiences empathy, study which chemicals make us feel and act more pro-social—I agree science can describe the “fact” of valuing. But you’re also saying science can go beyond just describing what’s going on when we value…to actually determining what type of valuing is actually…really…best?” All the scientific findings mentioned in Landscape are merely descriptive—none of them ends in, or corresponds to, a real “ought”—instead, they can merely be used to set the limits represented by the “ought implies can” principle (which, btw, Harris' violates in dismissing free will but affirming responsibility—although, by his definition of responsibility, any cause of any effect could be considered morally responsible for that effect). [ Note: saying “can does not imply should” is the same as saying “is does not imply ought”—even though 'can' implies potential. ]

Your Thoughts:

Budimir Zdravkovic has a collection of short stories and a couple poems you can check out at his MySpace blog if you'd like to take a brief intermission. There is even a relevant post on free will in the mix regarding the NewScientist article Free will is not an illusion after all.

Harris’ only argument for a real ought boils down to “well-being for the sake of well-being” (not a quote) but it still needs to be clarified whether Harris thinks well-being can change (be revised), or merely our understanding of it—and how is it that the possibility for well-being was ‘evolved’ (agreed), but well-being has flown the perch of evolution? Upon what is it now perched? What (scientific?) standard for well-being deems “Darwinian well-being” to be morally wrong/false (and to what does this standard correspond, if not to Darwinian well-being?) (read this for the most probable solution)? Harris admits in "The End of Faith" (2004) that "the problem of adjudicating what counts as happiness, and which forms of happiness should supersede others, is difficult,” (p. 185)—now it's just supposed to be obvious, and all well-being is equal (see "A Word of Caution" below)? These questions must be answered before skipping off to reason about selfishness, cooperation, free will, psychopathy (seriously could have left out the statement of the man who routinely raped his stepson), masochism, etcetera.

Your Thoughts:

Cosmic Comment at Cosmic Comment writes The Amoral and the Immoral: "Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has addressed these issues in considerable detail in Sources of the Self and has shown that the adherents of the atheistic/materialistic/secular-humanistic worldview(s) are unable to account, using their own logic, for the moral principles they espouse. Their moral imperatives exist as part of our Western cultural legacy, having entered the cultural stream from religious sources, but are treated as “self-evident” because the proponents of this view can't allow themselves to acknowledge the original religious source."

A Word of Caution

Harris’ thoughts on doing away with right/wrong, good/evil, morality in general—and just focusing on “well-being”—are eyebrow-raising (is it a bait-and-switch? ...was it not really evil what the psychopath did to his stepson?), especially when one considers them in light of his thoughts on masochism/sadism:

Harris: “Notice that I do not mention morality in the preceding paragraph, and perhaps I need not. I began this book by arguing that, despite a century of timidity on the part of scientists and philosophers, morality can be linked directly to facts about the happiness and suffering of conscious creatures. However, it is interesting to consider what would happen if we simply ignored this step and merely spoke about ‘well-being.’ What would our world be like if we ceased to worry about ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ or ‘good’ and evil,’ and simply acted to maximize well-being, our own and that of others? Would we lose anything important? And if important, wouldn’t it be, by definition, a matter of someone’s well-being?” (p. 64). “…if evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is, my argument about the moral landscape would still stand, as would the likely utility of neuroscience for investigating it. It would no longer be an especially ‘moral’ landscape; rather it would be a continuum of well-being, upon which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks,” (p. 190).

Nevermind that the utility of science is now reduced to "likely"—perhaps the cover of the book should have read “The Landscape of Well-Being: How science can likely determine human well-being” rather than pretending to be a book about objective moral truth? However, it really shouldn't, because I do agree that well-being and moral truth are related. However, now the question of "why not Darwinian ethics?" comes up again—what if it is the path to greatest well-being? What if that psychopath who routinely raped his son was experiencing well-being? What was the point of including the psychopath's statement, if Harris is cool with not calling it evil? What if "internecine horror" brings more well-being in one person, than all the well-being of its victims? There is an extreme disconnect in Harris' thinking from reality and the reason that governs it.

Your Thoughts:

Jean Kazez of In Living Color writes Good and Evil (The Moral Landscape): "In a section about the nature of evil, Harris treats us to the first person testimony of a child-rapist. Neuroscience, he says, can tell us what's wrong with such people. Maybe so, but the bit of neuroscience he presents doesn't explain the testimony. The neuroscience says psychopaths are bad at detecting the fear and anxiety of their victims. But the rapist plainly says he's a sadist--he positive enjoys his victim's suffering. He therefore must be able to detect it."

Malcolm Pollack at waka waka waka writes Sam Harris Presents His Case. “I am sure that Dr. Harris would agree that what contributes to human “well-being”, however he chooses to measure it, is a contingent fact of nature. If it turns out, as an empirical fact, that the moral system that leads to the greatest well-being according to his yardstick includes slaughtering your enemies and enslaving their women, or killing and eating sickly babies, etc., then presumably he will be impartial enough to declare that system the summum bonum. “Good”, then, becomes “whatever maximizes some well-being factor X”. This result — that if a moral system based on pediatric cannibalism had turned out to be a strategy that maximizes X, then baby-eating would be morally “good”, and objectively so — is going to be a very hard sell to a great many people, I think.”

Harris: “Even if you happen to be a masochist who fancies an occasional taunting with a machete, wouldn’t this desire be best satisfied in the context of the Good Life?” (p. 17).

More to the point, and in the language of Harris’ Landscape—isn’t masochism a case of failing to want what we “should” want, of failing to maximize well-being, of slipping down the slope towards “languishing in a valley of internecine horror”? Reconsider now his illustration of "Adam" and "Eve" and the whole smashing-eachother-in-the-face thing. What was that all about, in light of this?

Your Thoughts:

Dave MacCannell at Live Forever or Die in the Attempt says in Can There Be a Science of Good and Evil?: "I have a strong conservative doubt that the mind will ever figure out the mind and quantify things like instinct, emotion, creativity, human nature and such. We can see it exists, even scientifically measure it, but we can't explain the first thing about why or how we do it. But liberal dogmatism consistently purports psychology, sociology, neuroscience and others as hard scientific studies of fact when all they really amount to is formulation of theories about what is going on in the mind. They preach not from the pulpit but the lectern and disguise theory as fact for the purposes of self-legitimization and to keep their courses from being offered under the faculty of arts."

More of the same from Harris on masochism/sadism and well-being: “What if there is a possible world in which the Golden Rule has become an unshakable instinct, while there is another world of equivalent happiness where the inhabitants reflexively violate it [ compare this to quotes directly below where he talks more about the Golden Rule, though he doesn't seem to recognize it ] ? Perhaps this is a world of perfectly matched sadists and masochists. Let’s assume that in this world every person can be paired, one-for-one, with the saints in the first world, and while they are different in every other way, these pairs are identical in every way relevant to their well-being. Stipulating all these things, the consequentialist would be forced to say that these worlds are morally equivalent. Is this a problem? I don’t think so. The problem lies in how many details we have been forced to ignore in the process of getting to this point. What possible reason do we have to worry that the principles of well-being are this elastic? This is like worrying that there is a possible world in which the laws of physics, while as consistent as they are in our world, are completely antithetical to physics as we know it. Okay, what if? Exactly how much should this possibility concern us as we try to predict the behavior of matter in our world?” (note 45, page 209)

Your Thoughts:

Roger Crisp’s Science and Morality, posted at Practical Ethics, submitted by Richard Chappell: “If we continue with our assumption (made just to simplify the argument) that rightness in this world supervenes on the maximization of well-being, it is hard not to think that rightness in all possible worlds will supervene on such maximization. That gives us a necessity claim linking moral and natural properties which those on both sides of the metaphysical debate between naturalism and non-naturalism can agree on. Indeed it may be that there's enough common ground here for that debate to be put to one side, so that we can engage in another genuine philosophical question — how it is that we can understand these necessities. We — those who've understood Hume, anyway — know that it's not through application of the scientific method as that is usually understood. But how, then, do we do it?”

More from Harris on the Golden Rule (and royal law of love): “…the faculty we use to validate religious precepts, judging the Golden Rule to be wise…” (p. 78). “One norm that morality and rationality share is the interchangeability of perspective,” (80) (that’s the Golden Rule). “One cannot claim to be ‘right’ about anything—whether as a matter of reason or a matter of ethics—unless one’s views can be generalized to others,” (82) (still the Golden Rule). “What we can do is try, within practical limits, to follow a path that seems likely to maximize both our own well-being and the well-being of others. This is what it means to live wisely and ethically,” (p. 85). See this. “Understanding human well-being at the level of the brain might very well offer some answers to the most pressing questions of human existence—questions like, Why do we suffer? How can we achieve the deepest forms of happiness? Or, indeed, Is it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself?” (p. 173).

Is he now implying in that last quote that “interchangeability of perspective” might be impossible, or is he just saying science can say it is possible/impossible (haven’t there already been studies on empathy, both felt and carried out?—not that the Golden Rule is merely empathy, or over-protective parents would always be in the right) (science can study empathy—it cannot prescribe it)?

Your Thoughts:

Jean Kazez at In Living Color writes Morality Denialism (The Moral Landscape): "The 'right answers to moral questions' are (surely) not simply 'for science to discover.' If scientists start announcing the discovery of moral facts—future headline in New York Times: SCIENTISTS DISCOVER STEM CELL RESEARCH IS MORALLY REQUIRED—no sane person will go along with it. To get to a headline like that, you need moral premises. They may be true, fact-stating, robust, maybe even as solid as mathematical truths; but the moral premises aren't going to be drawn directly from science itself. We're going to have to have rational, philosophical conversations to find these truths."

Harris answers the question “Are all human lives equivalent?” with “No.” in note 8, page 199, and says this in note 50, page 211: “Nozick draws the obvious analogy and asks if it would be ethical for our species to be sacrificed for the unimaginably vast happiness of some superbeings. Provided that we take the time to really imagine the details (which is not easy), I think the answer is clearly ‘yes.’ There seems no reason to suppose that we must occupy the highest peak on the moral landscape. If there are beings who stand in relation to us as we do to bacteria, it should be easy to admit that their interests must trump our own, and to a degree that we cannot possibly conceive. I do not think that the existence of such a moral hierarchy poses any problems for our ethics.”

So, where we are on the Moral Landscape, the moral hierarchy, is also a hierarchy about the value of lives? Ouch! Is this not "moral superiority" at its fiercest? What Jesus demonstrated in washing the disciples' feet, and ultimately on the cross, is the exact opposite of what Harris is communicating here. Love the Other as self, for self=Other (see Objection 19 on who counts as self and who counts as Other). How can Harris' criticism of the moral failings of Christians (or anyone else) have any weight if his own view allows such "moral superiority"—not to mention allowing for the possibility that routinely raping one's stepson 'could' be on equivalent moral footing to solving world hunger (see quotes above)?

Your Thoughts:

Massimo Pigliuci of Machines Like Us proposes an alternative landscape that makes no reference to empirical facts in The limits of reasonable discourse: "The metaphor of a landscape in logical space therefore argues that reasonable people can rationally disagree about issues in science, skepticism, economics, politics and ethics. That does not mean that rational discussions of these topics are fruitless, because they help the participants (if they are in good faith) to delineate the areas of the landscape where no peak can be found, and also forces them to examine more closely why they insist on climbing one particular peak given that there are several available for exploration."

Did anyone else notice (count?) how many times Harris said something like "Do we really need science to tell us this?"

Ending on a positive note:

Like: “trust is a measure of how much a person can be relied upon to safeguard other people’s well-being," (81). One could also include one’s own well-being, when deciding what it means to trust oneself.

Notable reviews:

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s review Science Knows Best in the New York Times.

Marilynne Robinson at the Wall Street Journal writes What Unitarians Know (and Sam Harris Doesn't).

John Horgan's The acid test for doing the right thing at The Globe and Mail.

Customer reviews at Amazon.



It has been an honor and pleasure hosting this edition of Philosopher’s Carnival. Many thanks to all who contributed, and thanks especially to Richard Chappell for organizing the Carnival and granting me the privilege of hosting. I hope you’ll stick around and continue the dialog of this edition of Philosophers' Carnival and of my work-in-progress, The Sword and the Sacrifice Philosophy. Remember that Landscape-related late submissions can be e-mailed until October 29. Let me know where in the carnival you would like the link to your blog post to appear.

The Florida Student Philosophy Blog will be hosting the next Carnival, to be held on November 1. Please submit a link of your favorite new post by October 30—it doesn’t have to be yours, but do indicate if it isn’t.

If you're interested in hosting, especially if you haven’t hosted recently, please review the guidelines and chuck an email to Richard at r DOT chappell AT gmail DOT com.

In the mean-time, have a sweet Halloween!


Carnival Hosts as of October 11, 2010

In order of most recent hosting...

Maryann Spikes’ The Sword and the Sacrifice Philosophy [ Oct 11, 2010 ] *** Richard Chappell’s Philosophy, et cetera [ Sep 20, 2010; Feb 01, 2010; Jul 06, 2009; Nov 17, 2008; Mar 16, 2008; Aug 27, 2007; Aug 23, 2004 ] *** Daniel Fincke’s Camels with Hammers [ Aug 31, 2010; Sep 28, 2009 ] *** A Concentrated Tincture [ unfortunately inactive ] [ Aug 09, 2010 ] *** Jeremy Pierce’s Parableman [ Jul 21, 2010; Jul 28, 2009 ] *** Ben Burgis’ (Blog&~Blog) [ Jun 28, 2010 ] *** Practical Ethics [ Jun 07, 2010; Sep 22, 2008 ] *** Richard Brown’s Philosophy Sucks! [ May 17, 2010; Dec 03, 2007; Jul 16, 2007 ] *** Brains [ Apr 26, 2010 ] *** Tuomas Tahko [ Apr 05, 2010 ] *** Kenny Pearce [ Mar 15, 2010; Oct 19, 2009; Mar 23, 2009; Sep 08, 2008; Apr 13, 2008; Jun 12, 2006 ] *** Jean Kazez [ now In Living Color ] [ Feb 21, 2010 ] *** Lewis Powell’s Horseless Telegraph [ Jan 11, 2010 ] *** Matt and Madeleine Flannagan’s MandM [ Dec 21, 2009 ] *** Brian Schimpf’s Mock Severity [ Nov 30, 2009 ] *** The Extended Cognition Blog [ Nov 09, 2009 ] *** Thom Brooks’ The Brooks Blog [ Sep 07, 2009; Jun 30, 2008; Oct 22, 2007; Dec 18, 2006 ] *** Gary Williams’ Minds and Brains [ Aug 17, 2009 ] *** Kevin Lande’s philosophengang - the philosopher's walk [ Jun 14, 2009 ] *** Skyler’s sevenlayercake: a sweet philosophy blog [ May 26, 2009 ] *** Go Grue! [ May 05, 2009 ] *** Ezra Cook’s Subjunctive Moods [ now ezracook ] [ Apr 13, 2009 ] *** Jonathan Ichikawa’s There is Some Truth in That [ Mar 03, 2009 ] *** Ryan Lake’s chaospet [ Feb 10, 2009 ] *** Buffalo Lake-Effect Philosophy [ inactive ] [ Jan 20, 2009; Dec 17, 2007 ] *** Aaron Weingott [ inactive ] [ Dec 29, 2008 ] *** The Uncredible Hallq [ Dec 08, 2008; Mar 31, 2008; Oct 08, 2007; Jan 30, 2006 ] *** Colin Malcolm Keating’s [ Nov 04, 2008; Aug 29, 2005 ] *** Rima Basu’s Principia Comica: Teh Blog [ Oct 19, 2008 ] *** Andrew Bacon’s Possibly Philosophy [ Oct 06, 2008; May 12, 2008 ] *** Ian Olasov’s Think It Over and For those of you at home... [ now Green People save our World ] [ Aug 25, 2008 ] [ Nov 21, 2005 ] *** Andrew Cullison’s Wide Scope [ Aug 11, 2008 ] *** Martin Cooke’s Enigmania [ Jul 27, 2008; Aug 06, 2007 ] *** Megan Kime’s Beyond Borders [ Jul 14, 2008 ] *** Roman Altshuler and Michael Sigrist’s The Ends of Thought [ Jun 16, 2008 ] *** Big Ideas [ May 31, 2008 ] *** MQPhil [ Apr 27, 2008 ] *** Movement of Existence [ requires login ] [ Mar 02, 2008; Nov 19, 2007; Mar 11, 2007 ] *** Blog of Noah Greenstein [ Feb 18, 2008 ] *** Kevin Schutte’s Meaning More [ Feb 04, 2008 ] *** Colin Caret’s Inconsistent Thoughts [ Jan 20, 2008 ] *** Dialectic [ Jan 07, 2008 ] *** Philosophy and Bioethics [ Nov 05, 2007 ] *** Tales of Modernity [ inactive ] [ Jun 25, 2007 ] *** Jim Sias’ common sense philosophy [ Jun 04, 2007 ] *** Phillip Barron’s nicomachus [ May 14, 2007 ] *** Avery Archer’s The Space of Reasons [ Apr 23, 2007 ] *** Ainslee Hooper’s [ inactive ] [ Apr 01, 2007 ] *** Trent Dougherty’s This is the Name of This Blog [ Feb 19, 2007 ] *** Show-Me the Argument [ Jan 29, 2007 ] *** Henry Midgley’s Westminster Wisdom [ Jan 08, 2007 ] *** Tanasije Gjorgoski’s A brood comb [ Nov 27, 2006 ] *** Eric Schwitzgebel’s The Splintered Mind [ Nov 06, 2006 ] *** Hell's Handmaiden [ inactive ] [ Oct 16, 2006 ] *** What is it like to be a blog? [ inactive ] [ Sep 25, 2006 ] *** Steve Gimbel’s Philosophers' Playground [ Sep 04, 2006 ] *** El Blog de Marcos [ inactive ] [ Aug 14, 2006 ] *** Aidan McGlynn’s the boundaries of language [ Jul 24, 2006 ] *** Janet D. Stemwedel’s Adventures in Ethics and Science [ Jul 03, 2006 ] *** Annie Mizera’s anniemiz [ May 22, 2006 ] *** B.J. Marshall’s Daylight Atheism [ May 01, 2006 ] *** University of No Where [ Apr 10, 2006 ] *** Heaven Tree [requires login ] [ Mar 14, 2006 ] *** Hesperus/Phosphorus [ probably ] [ Feb 20, 2006 ] *** Charles Johnson’s Geekery Today [ Jan 15, 2006 ] *** Right Reason [ weird error ] [ Dec 12, 2005 ] *** Prior Knowledge [ Oct 31, 2005 ] *** Gillian Russell’s [ Oct 08, 2005 ] *** Kata Matheten [ Sep 19, 2005 ] *** Patrick Smith’s Tiberius and Gaius Speaking... [ Aug 08, 2005 ] *** Dinner Table Donts [ requires login ] [ Jul 15, 2005 ] *** The Buckingham Inquirer [ requires login ] [ Jun 24, 2005 ] *** Chris Ragg’s Mumblings and Grumblings [ now frontier psychiatrist ] [ May 30, 2005 ] *** Clark Goble’s Mormon Metaphysics [ May 08, 2005 ] *** Strictly Speaking [ now just derbis ] [ Apr 11, 2005 ] *** Clayton Littlejohn’s Think Tonk [ Mar 21, 2005 ] *** David Killoren’s E.G. [ Feb 28, 2005 ] *** Vanessa Morlock’s enwe's metablog [ Jan 17, 2005 ] *** Chris’ Mixing Memory [ Dec 29, 2004 ] *** Tennessee Leeuwenburg and Josh’s MelbournePhilosopher [ Dec 06, 2004 ] *** Ciceronian Review [ Nov 15, 2004 ] *** Dan Quattrone’s Doing Things With Words [ Oct 25, 2004 ] *** Philosophical Poetry [ inactive ] [ Oct 04, 2004 ] *** Brandon’s Siris [ Sep 13, 2004 ] (not the first, just the least recent to host)

It is my hope that future hosts will continue on with this index of hosts. E-mail me for the html version and to notify me of updates. Thankyou.

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