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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  11,214 ratings  ·  661 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 291 pages
Published 2010 by Transworld Publishers
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Why am I sitting here reviewing another Sam Harris book? People keep telling me that I have to have to have to read them, and they seem to generally be what's called in military jargon "target-rich environments."

Harris sets out to hunt two of his bugbears: Moral relativism and fundamentalist forms of religion, the former being equated with the political left and the latter with the right. These seem to be the only moral-political systems that exist in his world beside the one he goes on to promo
Religion and science are in a zero-sum conflict with respect to the facts. 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. Sam Harris explains there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, and such answers may one day fall within reach of the maturing sciences of mind.
Daniel Toker
Harris's ideology is incomplete - he admits this much himself. But this book provides the groundwork for a (slightly) new way of conceiving of "morality." The general idea is not new, but his thesis is unique in that it identifies psychology and neuroscience as the tools by which to determine how our actions affect conscious beings. And I think that Harris is thinking in the right direction; though we can derive no moral absolutes, we can identify the "morality" of actions on a spectrum or "land ...more
Given that nearly everyone who reads this book will disagree vehemently with its conclusions, and given that the subject matter is almost entirely theoretical, Moral Landscape needed to have been more thoroughly researched and more scholarly in its presentation in order to achieve Harris' goals. I'd originally given the book five stars because, in my opinion, Harris' central points are intriguing and probably correct, but on further reflection I've had to scale my enthusiasm back.

Those who disag
Oh my, where to start...

Okay, so I guess it would be helpful to disclose that I am a long-time fan of Sam Harris. Not only do I agree with most of his ideas, but I find him to be both an articulate and entertaining writer, always a plus. The Moral Landscape is no exception.

The motivation for this book seems to be the commonly held belief that religion, if it does nothing else, serves as the source for our morality. It is one of the most common arguments Harris encounters in his campaign for reas
As I read The Moral Landscape I wondered if Sam Harris would be good to have as a neighbor. He is a strong believer in objective morality. Many Christians believe that atheists are all terrible people with no morals. Sam Harris shows that this stereotype is false (though he would go a step further and say it is most Christians who have poor morals). As a moral guy who cares about issues in the world, Sam Harris would be a good neighbor.

The problem is, I am a Christian. For that reason, I fear
This book starts out rather slow, with a heavy dose of philosophy. It does pick up after the first couple of chapters, as the book shows how the mind treats facts and values in a similar manner. The author shows that the goal of morality should be to maximize the "well-being" of as many individuals as possible, in the present life (not the after-life, which is not verified by objective evidence). While it is not always obvious what constitutes "well-being" (it can be a very gray area), it is cle ...more
I've had a good go at reading this without any knee-jerk reactions, but generally I find Harris' views instinctively abhorrent -- despite his championing of reason and science, I don't think he avoids knee-jerk reactions more than anyone else. Particularly when it comes to religion.

The basis thesis that there are optimal states of well-being for humans, I accept. That science will be able to improve our understanding of that, I don't doubt. That Sam Harris could be the person that executes this
I thought I would have few problems with this book. There’s little to no reason where I’d be annoyed by a book where I agree with the fundamental, underlying principles of the work. I fully believe that it’s possible to scientifically determine moral values. And look! It’s a book about scientifically determining moral values. We should get along famously.

Except that’s not what ended up happening.

Instead I found myself getting progressively more and more annoyed by the general tone of the entire
I greatly admired the first two books by Sam Harris. It was therefore with eager expectation that I started to read The Moral Landscape. The basic premise of the book is as follows: morality is synonymous with values; our values, unsurprisingly, constitute that which we find valuable, which ultimately, pertains to human well-being; and as human well-being is entirely defined by the intersection of our environment and our mental state, both of which fall under the purview of science, it follows t ...more
I thought that this book was a brilliant follow up to End of Faith. I've always thought that End of Faith was somewhat of a misnamed book and that with a slightly different focus could have been truly masterful. What I really appreciated about that book was the nuanced exploration of the nature of belief, belief formation, and the role belief plays in behavior and how all of this relates to and affects our states of consciousness.

This book was a continuation of that theme in the moral sphere. A
Sam Harris starts off his book stating that he has the modest mission to convince the reader that neither divine command theory nor positivistic emotivist theory is a sufficient account of morality. But then he goes somewhat further: His actual mission, as he lays it out, is to show how maximizing human wellbeing--defined as a subjective neurological state of wellbeing--can form the basis for moral reasoning, and that scientific inquiry into neurology and effects of different acts can form the b ...more
I find Sam Harris to be the most interesting and least abrasive of the so-called new atheists, a group that is comprised of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and others. But in his earlier The End of Faith he was taken to task by atheists and believers alike for suggesting that what we call Spirituality may exist, although not in the sense of the supernatural, and may actually be measurable by scientific means.

Harris takes a similar stance in The Moral Landscape regarding morality. He crit
Andrew Langridge
Although Sam Harris would deny that philosophy prior to the age of science has anything worthwhile to teach us, The Moral Landscape falls squarely within two long traditions of philosophy that could be said to include Aristotle; namely utilitarianism and naturalism. I find it admirable that Harris dispenses with philosophical jargon in making his book accessible to the general reader, but I also find it rather disingenuous to pay no regard to these traditions.

Harris’ utilitarianism starts from t
Harris attempts to show that one can define good vs bad scientifically, and we will be able to do so even better as brain scanning tools become more sophisticated. For him good means providing the most well-being for the most people (and most defnitely leaves religion out of the equation). There is not usually only one good way of doing things, there being "many peaks on the moral landscape." Much of the book is a bit vague, but this may be my inability to follow all his philoso-speak. His 24-mi ...more
Let's ask a simple question: "Is it wrong to torture children?" The only possible answer, it seems, is yes, of course it is. And yet, as Harris argues, link such torture with the "cultural traditions" of a particular religion , and the respondent will hum and haw about the relativity of morals and freedom of religion. My example is not that outlandish; consider how hesitant many are to criticize the practice of female genital mutilation: an unequivocally barbaric practice, yet not universally co ...more
According to Harris: "It seems to me that the only way we are going to build a global civilization based on shared values--allowing us to converge on the same political, economic, and environmental goals--is to admit that questions about right and wrong and good and evil have answers, in the same way the questions about human health do."

It's hard to get past much of the morally relativist programming of a modern secular society without toggling over to religious dogmatism. But, if we stop and l
Agreed wholeheartedly with practically everything in the book, except for a couple of things:

Harris repeatedly laments the frequency with which he encounters well-educated, scientifically-minded, secular moral relativists, who defend the practice of repugnant rituals, such as genital mutilation. I imagine that the reason behind their inability to see eye to eye is not due to a fundamental disagreement on morality and the existence of a range of states of being that, for all practical intents a
Augusts Bautra
Is it hyped? Sure! But is it good, as good as they say? Absolutely! A must read no doubt.

Harris takes a breath and delivers a groundbreaking new perspective in the field of ethics by focusing on "wellbeing", a universal, albeit at this point in time, still murky underlying principle of moral actions. Then he establishes his second premise - that everything, that could possibly matter as far as wellbeing is concerned, is expressed through mental states in purely material human brain. And this is
Andrew Georgiadis
We, or at least I, tend to flock to authors who verbalize my innermost thoughts, those which I am either unable or unwilling to voice. This drew me to 2004's "End of Faith", a book which forever changed the course of my thinking about religion, piety, or even the wisdom of religious moderation. "Letters to a Christian Nation" was Harris' mass-market appeal to the bullet points of EOF, if you will. But "The Moral Landscape" has another audience entire.

Imagine that we could objectively quantify th
A very uneven book with some glaring overstatements and a dodgy premise (morality based upon well-being and the enterprise of an empirical morality).

This book will most likely appeal to those attracted to the other New Atheists...such as Dawkins and Hitchens. Makes some good points but gets a tad hysterical/hostile and doesn't really draw the reader along...mostly bludgeons them with facts which the author would require you to assume are wholly without well he tends to cherry pick t
Ironically, Harris's latest can best be described as a sermon that will appeal only to the choir. Its angry tirades will only convince those who haven't already committed themselves to every jot and tittle of his world view that Harris has spent his entire conscious life seeking to justify his own visceral hatred anything and anybody religious--without realizing that his efforts to do so have only led him to invent his own peculiar religion. (I think calling Harris's uncompromising "New Atheism" ...more
Steve Van Slyke
Feb 17, 2012 Steve Van Slyke rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in improving the human condition
Recommended to Steve by: Jon Stewart interview
It's not often than one gets read something about a genuinely new theory that has far reaching implications for all of mankind (think Einstein/Relativity, Newton/Gravity, etc.). It's also unusual that someone develops such a theory and then has the courage to put themselves and their reputation on the line in the world spotlight. It seems like Sam Harris has done that with this book.

Whether you buy into Harris' thesis or not I cannot see how one could help but admire his courage for putting it o
3.5 stars

This is a book with a lot of significant plus signs, and a series of bold new ideas aimed at a new synthesis of science, philosophy, and moral values. The writing, for the most part, is extremely good, and the intellect of the author is formidable and obvious.

Unfortunately, for me there are also a lot of negatives, and the biggest of these is that it delivers considerably less than the title would suggest. There are other issues that I will elaborate with a longer review, hopefully soon
I'm sure it's not a perfect book. Clearly Harris knows that he was just opening the conversation. I started to read the fairly long introduction, and within just a couple of pages realized that I, as it happens, already am in full agreement with his premise, and have a basic understanding of the justification and as many details as he seemed ready to share. Iow, I decided not to bother to read the rest.

If you are not convinced by the description, you might be more interested in actually explorin
Oct 05, 2010 MsBrie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition

Shared a lot of great insights on his Daily Show interview. Look forward to reading it.

"Religion gives people bad reasons to be good where good reasons are actually available." ~ Sam Harris
The basic idea of the book is that science can build an evidence-based foundation for human morals. (That is, atttitudes, policies, social environments, etc. that improve or maintain the well-being of intelligent beings. "Well-being" referring to the health, happiness and similar beneficial aspects of material beings, it doesn't claim to deal with immaterial beings people may believe in.)

Keep in mind, I was sympathetic to the book's concept from the beginning, but I may have expressed things dif
Kunal Sen
This is another book that I feel lucky to have found. The book argues why morality can and should be treated as a scientifically understandable phenomenon, rather than keeping it forever shrouded under religious doctrines or imagining it as a mysterious property of another mysterious entity called the soul. It does not claim the task will be easy, or that we will ever have a perfect theory of morality that can explain or predict all of our moral choices. However, it explains why we should still ...more
I liked this one even though I think I'd really have to read it again to follow all of the scientific arguments he makes. Harris' thesis is that, contrary of a popular belief, morality can and does exist in the absence of adherence to a religion and, in fact, perhaps as a side benefit, one avoids outdated moral pronouncements (like maybe "women should keep quiet in the churches" as well as injunctions to kill nonbelievers). Harris is a neuroscientists and wants to put forward the nation that sci ...more
In this work, the prominent critic of religion, Sam Harris, argues that a comprehensive morality can be established using the well-being of conscious entities as the single normative value. "Good" is whatever contributes to this well-being. And "Science" is the arbitrator of what constitutes that well-being. It is the final arbitrator, the judge of what actions, behaviors, serve this goal. And there is no absolute good. As science's understanding of human well-being deepens, becomes more complet ...more
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"Sam Harris (born 1967) is an American non-fiction writer and philosopher and neuroscientist. He is the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004), which won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), a rejoinder to the criticism his first book attracted. His new book, The Moral Landscape, explores how science might determine human ...more
More about Sam Harris...
Letter to a Christian Nation The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason Free Will Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion Lying

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“‎Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident” 25 likes
“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.” 20 likes
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