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Friday, September 20, 2013

Response to Critics of The Moral Landscape

By Sam Harris
His Blog
January 29, 2011

Here are two excerpts:

The problem posed by public criticism is by no means limited to the question of what to do about misrepresentations of one’s work. There is simply no good forum in which to respond to reviews of any kind, no matter how substantive. To do so in a separate essay is to risk confusing readers with a litany of disconnected points or—worse—boring them to salt. And any author who rises to the defense of his own book is always in danger of looking petulant, vain, and ineffectual. There is a galling asymmetry at work here: to say anything at all in response to criticism is to risk doing one’s reputation further harm by appearing to care too much about it.

These strictures now weigh heavily on me, because I recently published a book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, which has provoked a backlash in intellectual (and not-so-intellectual) circles. I knew this was coming, given my thesis, but this knowledge left me no better equipped to meet the cloudbursts of vitriol and confusion once they arrived. Watching the tide of opinion turn against me, it has been difficult to know what, if anything, to do about it.

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For those unfamiliar with my book, here is my argument in brief: Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science. On this view, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life.

The entire blog post is here.


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