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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  20,189 ratings  ·  1,115 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
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Free Press (first published 2010)
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Jeffrey No more than any other normative moral system is an argument against human freedom. Normative morality is always about what people should be doing and…moreNo more than any other normative moral system is an argument against human freedom. Normative morality is always about what people should be doing and how they should behave themselves. That's just how ethical systems work, otherwise they wouldn't be ethical systems.(less)
Konrad Yes, it is. And no, not only. There's a rift between the scientific evidence Harris can provide and the claims he makes. He even seems to see that him…moreYes, it is. And no, not only. There's a rift between the scientific evidence Harris can provide and the claims he makes. He even seems to see that himself. So while Harris basically is an utilitarian and he does claim that science alone can let us maximise well-being of humans he says very little about practical ways of getting there. IMO he fails to take his point so far but instead he makes a lot of good points about using science to improve some areas of human life that both religious fundamentalists and moral relativists see as off limits to rationality. I'd say he's a very good writer when as a reader you dial down his enthusiasm to about 25-35%. (less)

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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
Sep 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
“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.”
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape


I've avoided Sam Harris probably from a bit of prejudice. Although I've always enjoyed Christopher Hitchens, I've thought others of the New Atheists a bit shrill. I just assumed Sam Harris was going to be more hammer and less scalp
Daniel Toker
Oct 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: scientific, read-2010
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
Apr 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
This is my first Sam Harris book, and I'm glad I finally started reading him. I have been familiar with his public appearances, debates and ideas for some time now, but I had not yet found the books of his that I was interested in. Most of the public work that I was aware of was his fight against religion, along side Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and so on. Even though he is one of the New Scientists, I've always felt something is special about him, because he seems to consistently be the youngest ...more
Jul 05, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
Presumably the last Sam Harris book I will ever read

What's wrong? Harris is a Platonic idealist in drag. He also engages in scientism. And, his Islamophobia seems to largely come straight from the neoconservative playbook.

Read on for the details!

Sam Harris tries to draw a hard-and-fast dichotomy between science-based morals and ethics and religious-based morals and ethics in this book.
However, this is the real world, not a Platonic idea (Harris comes off as quasi-Platonic in more than one way in
Kevin Kelsey
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2015, favorites
Terrific. The main concept is that although moral questions are often very difficult to answer, and there are usually many satisfactory answers to each one, we can use the principles of science to eliminate the obviously bad answers to those questions.
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Xing Chen
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 24, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Andrew Langridge
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, philosophy
Sam Harris argues that a universe in which all conscious beings suffer the worst possible misery is worse than a universe in which they experience well-being. This is all we need to speak about “moral truth” in the context of science. Once we admit that the extremes of absolute misery and absolute flourishing—whatever these states amount to for each particular being in the end—are different and dependent on facts about the universe, then we have admitted that there are right and wrong answers to ...more
Elyse  Walters
Oct 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing!!!!!!! It keep me awake at night--turned me upside down-
and back around!

This just might have been the most valuable book I've read in years! My husband is going to read it now, too.

Nov 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

Sam Harris is fast becoming one of my favorite authors and that is with just three books under his belt. In the Moral Landscape, Sam Harris makes a much needed statement for our time: Morality should be put under the scrutiny of science. Sam Harris a neuroscientist himself, states "that once we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values." I couldn't agree more.

This book is
Jan 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Sep 29, 2011 rated it did not like it
Yet another believer in objective morality. To Harris morality, to be crude, is any set of rules that maximizes wellbeing of the largest possible number of people on the planet. I'm not positive if he thinks that this is objective morality, because it is obviously not. Morality is subjective like most things and it is usually justified by expression of power.
I'll give a hypothetical example. Let's say that a horrible virus started spreading around the globe and humans are dying rapidly. There
Alan Johnson
Since at least World War II, the social “sciences” have followed the “hard” sciences in insisting that “facts” can be known while “values” cannot be known. Indeed, following Max Weber and others, values have long been considered to be merely subjective preferences that cannot be demonstrated to be true or false (or valid or invalid) by either philosophy (inductive and deductive reasoning) or science. This view necessarily implies moral or cultural relativism. A few twentieth-century scholars in ...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
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 26, 2018 rated it liked it
The Moral Landscape is an easy book to criticize. Its thesis is both less controversial than it thinks it is, but still sufficiently worth stating that there is a lot more to say about it than Harris manages to say. Structurally each chapter feels disconnected from the overall argument and varies wildly in quality. No one will be surprised to hear that Harris devotes an entire chapter to religion-bashing. Some of this does bear on his point, but there's a strong sense that the dog wearing glasse ...more
Bob Nichols
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Harris starts out strong. He argues that we can have a science of morality. Just as there is a general definition of bodily health, he argues that science can tell us how to interact with others. Just as we ought to promote our own welfare, we ought to maximize the welfare of others. Of course, this bumps into the argument that science can't tell us how we ought to live. Harris sidesteps that criticism by, in effect, stating that critics can fiddle with that line of thought all they want but he' ...more
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
I must first admit, I was skeptical that science could answer questions about morality but I was hopeful that Dr. Harris, with a degree in philosophy and a PhD in neuroscience, might be the one with a sound argument as to how and why science might be the answer.

I was hopeful because I agree with him that there is [currently] no such thing as Christian or Muslim [or other religious] morality… that “the mere endurance of a belief system or custom does not suggest that it is adaptive much less wise
Steve Van Slyke
Oct 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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Sam Harris (born 1967) is an American non-fiction writer, 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 attrac

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