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The Moral Landscape (some early thoughts) January 14, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I’m currently (finally) reading Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape (which I am enjoying so far).  I am finding that I agree with Sam Harris much more often than not, and will recommend the book.

Right now, I want to post a few short quotes concern an issue I have been thinking about, as well as arguing about on an email list for atheists.

What are our priorities?  How can we make ourselves better people?  What is a good person?

Here is a quote from the book which is tangentially related to some recent conversations I have been having via email with some atheists with varying priorities.

I am arguing that everyone also has an intuitive “morality,” but much of our intuititive morality is clearly wrong (with respect to the goal of maximizing personal and collective well-being).  And only genuine moral experts would have a deep understanding of the causes and conditions of human and animal well-being.
(page 36)

Inserted at the end of that sentence there is an end note, from which I quote the following:

Many people’s reflexive response to the notion of moral expertise is to say, “I don’t want anyone telling me how to live my life.”  To which I can only respond, “If there were a way for you and those you care about to be much happier than you are now, would you want to know about it?”
(page 202)

This is a question that is relevant to religion and faith.  I ask, sometimes, a similar question to believers.  If there were a worldview out there which could allow you to feel happier, more fulfilled, and could also survive skeptical analysis, would you want to know it?  If it were true that religion is indeed a scam, that belief in god(s) is not warranted, and that science truly is the best method we have for attaining knowledge, would you want to know that?

I can only say that I truly would want to know if there were a god.  Whether or not I would want a relationship with said being would depend upon the nature of that god.  Would theists really want to know if they were wrong? Some would, but perhaps not most.

Harris continues on the next page (in the main text):

Whatever [the Taliban] think they want out of life–like keeping all women and girls subjugated and illiterate–they simply do not understand how much better life would be for them if they had different priorities.
(page 37)

I’m finding that I agree with Harris’ main premise of the book so far.  His main idea is that because our behavior, feelings, etc are a result of a physical brain, science is, in principle as well as (possibly) practice, capable of discovering the states of being that would maximize “well-being.” Knowing what ways we might be well is a good start on how we should behave.  I will keep reading.

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