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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  22,071 ratings  ·  1,258 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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Popular Answered Questions
Marcel I don't think it does.
His argument is not about determinism, it is about whether there is a 'scientific' / 'absolute' way to determine whether an acti…more
I don't think it does.
His argument is not about determinism, it is about whether there is a 'scientific' / 'absolute' way to determine whether an action is 'right' or 'wrong' (in principle). This does not mean that we cannot do the opposite, but it suggests a 'good' cause of action.
It is important to mention the not about 'in principle', as Harris stresses that 'in practice' things are of course complicated or even complex, i.e. just because in theory we may be able to make such absolute moral judgements, this does not mean that in practices are are today or ever able to do so with absolute certainty...

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
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
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
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
Mar 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While I agree with him almost entirely, I'm a bit put off by the repetition or what I see as repetition, anyway. Since I agree, I don't need all of minor details hashed out so thoroughly. The problem is that moral relativism & the subject - the basics of moral behavior - are both so slippery & ill defined so he comes at them from quite a few angles with specific examples.

He defines moral relativism in its worst form - those who believe anything dictated by the local culture, mores, & religion ar
David Rubenstein
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
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
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
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
Ian Beardsell
Aug 23, 2021 rated it liked it
I totally agree with Sam Harris' thesis: rational scientific process and rigor can be applied to the tricky business of moral questions and helping decide what humanity "should" value. The tough part is precisely framing the moral question and carefully defining our intentions and values around it. I unfortunately feel that Harris misses the mark in defining these groundwork issues, however, and gets mired in broad discussions regarding morality, values and the obfuscation of religion in trying ...more
Kevin Kelsey
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2015
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.
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
Nathaniel O'Coin
May 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
Overreaches the boundaries of scientific inquiry and is ignorant of philosophy and history,
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
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
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
Regina Andreassen
2.25 stars. What a disappointment! This is such a juvenile work! There is no much science here and there is no much philosophy either! If you want to gain a further understanding of science and its connection to morality/ethics, then please subscribe to relevant academic journals or buy some books written but prominent researchers in the field of study (some of these scholars are briefly referenced by Harris in this book). There are also excellent philosophical treatises written by acclaimed sch ...more
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
Nov 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
The book is essentially a combination of soft targets and old news. The Taliban aren't an ideal moral society! Who knew? Fulfillment is to be preferred to abject misery? What revolutionary advice! Refuting religious fundamentalism and some extreme-left versions of prescriptive cultural relativism, while valid enough, is also vapid and easy work, beyond the fact that it's merely rehashing work that Harris has done better elsewhere. What is genuinely worse, however, is that Harris seems to think t ...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.

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
Cassandra Kay Silva
The premise for this book is fantastic and it started out amazingly. I was raving about it by about a quarter in. Then it quickly became insufferable. I think that on the one hand we do have to look at fundamentalism and ask ourselves how people get to this mindset where they justify heinous activity under the influence of extremist religion. But on the other hand it seems that taking it as either far left or far right and pointing to this as the "wrong of the religion" is extreme as most people ...more
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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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“‎Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident” 43 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.” 39 likes
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