Argument against The Moral Landscape
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13-06-2013, 10:07 AM (This post was last modified: 13-06-2013 10:28 AM by Enlightened Romantic.)
Argument against The Moral Landscape
Seeing how it is one of the most commonly referenced secular morality books, and I have given it lip service as a jumping off point for moral research, I feel compelled to post an argument against Sam Harris' system of scientific morality.

If you are unfamiliar with the system, it is laid out in full in Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape, a book published by Free Press. for the cliff-notes summary version, here is a lecture he gave on the subject.

Sam's argument seems to be this:

1. There exists some single state of life on Earth which could be considered "The Worst Possible Misery for Everyone." This state is defined as a possible state of affairs in which each sentient being suffers the worst possible suffering for the longest possible amount of time.

2. A good action is best defined as one which produces consequences which move humanity away from the Worst Possible Misery for Everyone.
Another way of wording this premise would be: A good action is best defined as one which increases the overall level of human well being.

3. Science is the best way to determine which actions can be defined as most suitable to increase the overall level of human well being.

4. Therefore, science is the best way to determine morally good actions as defined above.

My problems with the theory:

1. I don't know how premise 1 could be justified. Also, it ignores the fact that there is a state in which all sentient life on Earth perishes, and that there are several ways in which this could occur which would not pass through a single state of "The Worst Possble Misery for Everyone". I would argue that it is at least worth considering that sentient life existing in "The Worst Possble Misery for Everyone" would be morally better than having no sentient life exist, as the first option at least allows for moral action to take place, as opposed to being morally neutral. If this is true, then the "Worst Possible Misery for Everyone" would, in fact, not be the worst possible state, and thus not what we should be avoiding.

2. The theory is consequential and, therefore, suffers odd consequences when extreme cases are considered. A good example of this would be the following. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the carrying capacity of Earth in a future state is 10 billion people, and that exactly 10 billion people live. Also assume that colonizing other planets is out of the question. Now, there is a pregnant woman about to give birth. The birth of this child would push Earth past its carrying capacity, and thus lower the state of overall well-being for all sentient creatures. Should the infant be killed? Should someone be killed in order to make room? These seem morally reprehensible; however The Moral Landscape would advocate for one of the options.

My conclusion:

The Moral Landscape can be a useful tool for judging moral theories in the context of human well-being; however, it is not all-encompassing and does need some serious work before it can claim to be a total moral theory all by itself.
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13-06-2013, 02:59 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
Sam Harris is a cunt:

He supports torture and he supports wars of aggression for resources.

He is the liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, he makes shocking statements to get attention and readers and has nothing to offer humanity.
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13-06-2013, 03:16 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
(13-06-2013 02:59 PM)I and I Wrote:  Sam Harris is a cunt:

He supports torture and he supports wars of aggression for resources.

He is the liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, he makes shocking statements to get attention and readers and has nothing to offer humanity.

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13-06-2013, 03:21 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
(13-06-2013 02:59 PM)I and I Wrote:  Sam Harris is a cunt:

He supports torture and he supports wars of aggression for resources.

He is the liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, he makes shocking statements to get attention and readers and has nothing to offer humanity.

I and I is a cunt:

He supports insult and he supports threads of aggression for no constructive purpose.

He is the Communist version of Ego®, he makes shocking statements to get attention and readers and has nothing to offer this forum.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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13-06-2013, 08:11 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
(13-06-2013 10:07 AM)Enlightened Romantic Wrote:  Seeing how it is one of the most commonly referenced secular morality books, and I have given it lip service as a jumping off point for moral research, I feel compelled to post an argument against Sam Harris' system of scientific morality.

If you are unfamiliar with the system, it is laid out in full in Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape, a book published by Free Press. for the cliff-notes summary version, here is a lecture he gave on the subject.

Sam's argument seems to be this:

1. There exists some single state of life on Earth which could be considered "The Worst Possible Misery for Everyone." This state is defined as a possible state of affairs in which each sentient being suffers the worst possible suffering for the longest possible amount of time.

2. A good action is best defined as one which produces consequences which move humanity away from the Worst Possible Misery for Everyone.
Another way of wording this premise would be: A good action is best defined as one which increases the overall level of human well being.

3. Science is the best way to determine which actions can be defined as most suitable to increase the overall level of human well being.

4. Therefore, science is the best way to determine morally good actions as defined above.

My problems with the theory:

1. I don't know how premise 1 could be justified. Also, it ignores the fact that there is a state in which all sentient life on Earth perishes, and that there are several ways in which this could occur which would not pass through a single state of "The Worst Possble Misery for Everyone". I would argue that it is at least worth considering that sentient life existing in "The Worst Possble Misery for Everyone" would be morally better than having no sentient life exist, as the first option at least allows for moral action to take place, as opposed to being morally neutral. If this is true, then the "Worst Possible Misery for Everyone" would, in fact, not be the worst possible state, and thus not what we should be avoiding.

2. The theory is consequential and, therefore, suffers odd consequences when extreme cases are considered. A good example of this would be the following. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the carrying capacity of Earth in a future state is 10 billion people, and that exactly 10 billion people live. Also assume that colonizing other planets is out of the question. Now, there is a pregnant woman about to give birth. The birth of this child would push Earth past its carrying capacity, and thus lower the state of overall well-being for all sentient creatures. Should the infant be killed? Should someone be killed in order to make room? These seem morally reprehensible; however The Moral Landscape would advocate for one of the options.

My conclusion:

The Moral Landscape can be a useful tool for judging moral theories in the context of human well-being; however, it is not all-encompassing and does need some serious work before it can claim to be a total moral theory all by itself.

I've thought a bit about the potential flaws in Harris's version of objective morality. Your second point/example in a hypothetical max capacity earth is what I figured generally as the problem of finding it moral to sacrifice someone for the good of society.

Could Harris's theory be used to justify murdering people society generally thinks as a drain on resources? What if we just killed everyone once they reach an age we determine is the age at which the costs to keep that person alive exceeds the contributions to society that person can make? Why not exterminate all the poor people? Why not just exterminate people who are mentally disabled? Why not pick a few healthy people at random, kill them, harvest all their organs, and save many more lives than were taken?

The defense against this objection to Harris's proposed model of morality I think is that in such a world where we sacrifice the few to save the many, we would endure misery due to the effects of living in such a world. We find the examples above morally reprehensible simply because we would live in fear that we or those we care about would be capriciously killed for the benefit of the group.
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13-06-2013, 08:55 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
(13-06-2013 08:11 PM)BryanS Wrote:  The defense against this objection to Harris's proposed model of morality I think is that in such a world where we sacrifice the few to save the many, we would endure misery due to the effects of living in such a world. We find the examples above morally reprehensible simply because we would live in fear that we or those we care about would be capriciously killed for the benefit of the group.

Yeah, I've heard him say that too; however, I don't quite buy it. I think you could make the argument that it is better to live in misery than to allow people to die, as even if you live in misery you still have the capacity to complete moral actions. This still makes the second objection viable.

If you would disagree with this, then, in that situation, it would be better (morally right even) to kill newborns as they wouldn't have to live in a world of misery or of fear.
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13-06-2013, 09:10 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
I always thought that trying to find simple but universal moral laws is kind of arrogant. Give me a case by case basis ethics and we can start talking...

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13-06-2013, 09:11 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
Atheists have no moral code they live by
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13-06-2013, 09:19 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
(13-06-2013 09:11 PM)theword Wrote:  Atheists have no moral code they live by

they live by what? the suspense is killing me!

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13-06-2013, 09:22 PM
RE: Argument against The Moral Landscape
(13-06-2013 09:19 PM)nach_in Wrote:  
(13-06-2013 09:11 PM)theword Wrote:  Atheists have no moral code they live by

they live by what? the suspense is killing me!
they are the gods of their own world.... it's all about them, themselves, their own homosexual lusty feelings to sodomize.
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