Sam Harris has discovered that most people, from secular scientists to religious fundamentalists, agree on one point: science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Indeed, science's failure to address questions of meaning and morality has become the primary justification for religious faith. The underlying claim is that while science is the best authority on the workings of the physical universe, religion is the best authority on meaning, values, morality, and leading a good life. Sam Harris shows us that this is not only untrue; it cannot possibly be true.
Bringing a fresh, secular perspective to age-old questions of right and wrong, and good and evil, Harris shows that we know enough about the human brain and how it reacts to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life. Because such answers exist, moral relativism is simply false - and comes at increasing cost to humanity.
Using his expertise in philosophy and neuroscience, along with his experience on the front lines of the cultural war between science and religion, Harris delivers an explosive argument about the future of science, and about the real basis of human relationships.
©2011 Sam Harris (P)2011 Random House Audiobooks
"Thought provoking, perhaps a little antagonistic"
The central (and highly thought provoking) proposition behind this audio book is that as a race we should seek to give primacy in decisions about human morality and values to neuroscience and the scientific method. The assertion is that by doing this, as opposed to following the dogma of organised religions and other irrational beliefs, we will be creating a better society.
Whilst this is not an "easy" listen, the author does an admirable job of dealing with the science, logic, philosophy in order to make his case, whilst technically the recording and the reading are very good. I found listening to it a deeply engrossing, thought provoking and enjoyable experience and will certainly listen to it again in the near future.
So why four stars.
Well I think the authors assertion is almost certainly correct; we would be much better of removing religion from the equation. However for my money I think the book could have communicated this more effectively to a wider audience, if it had focused more on its own ideas and rather less on a sustained sniping at organised religion and its excesses. (The downside of this negativity is that there is unfortunately likely to be more people put off reading and understanding the excellent ideas in the book than will be attracted to it).
In summary, an excellent thought provoking listen, possibly flawed in a counter productive antagonistism towards religion and its adherents, otherwise very highly recommended.
An excellent book, very listenable, packed with the kinds of scientific details and statistical observations that make Harris so popular. I'm not (as yet) sure whether I agree with Harris' central thesis, there's some complex ideas in the book that request and require some detailed, analytical thinking that are not always the priority of a first hearing, but - gladly - it's short enough to allow for multiple readings without any major innconveniance.
"The ideas were new (to me) and optimistic"
Many people (including myself, prior to listening to this book) think that either your moral opinions come from some dogmatic ancient book (the Bible etc) or else they are completely arbitrary ("moral relativism").
In this book Sam Harris puts forward an alternative that I find to be a helpful way out of this seeming dichotomy.
If you liked 'The God Delusion' then I think you'll like this.
"Controversial, maybe wrong, but important"
There are many statements that Harris makes in this book that I ended up disagreeing with and hence I do not agree with his conclusions. But to date, I have not read a better discussion of how we should define what is moral and I feel indebted to Harris for having provided the discourse that allowed me to refine my own views.
I should point out that my disagreement has been strengthened when reading further on the science that Harris is referring to. In my view, like many Neurologists today, I think that the conclusions that are made from the existing experiments are far too broad given the limited scope of what we can really measure.
Having said that, Harris is excellent where he shows how screwed up the public discourse on morality really is and he is offering a valid "arena" in which we could have a meaningful discussion about how we should define morality within society.
"SH is not quite up to the task"
I was a bit disappointed. This is a great subject, but I don't feel SH has the historical and intellectual firepower to do it justice (Steven Pinker should take it on). SH thesis is that science should take on moral philosophy and not leave it as a 'separate domain' (NOMA). Well, in France we have been living for a couple of centuries under a social contract with a moral code worked out through logic (rather than revelation) and enforced by police (for antisocial behaviour) and tax collectors (for redistributive charity), so SH seems a little behind the game. He does not properly recognise the key problem of 'ought', but assumes it from his 'axioms' - that consciousness exists and conscious beings suffer. He says, 'We know we should eat less, but often we fail' and, 'We know we should be good, but often we fail.' This is not analogous. Nor does he manage to draw out any startling conclusions from his axiomatic system e.g. that imposing confiscatory taxes on (saved) wealth is wrong, or what proportion of our income we 'should' redistribute. So, I was challenged by no new ideas.
PS: poor old SH also reads in a rather monotonic voice (and says 'human beans' like the BFG) - he should have employed a professional reader to give more expression to his content. That might have helped.
An interesting concept is raised in this book but Sam Harris fails to give me much enthusiasm for it. He also speaks very quickly and uses a lot of jargon which can make it difficult to follow unless you have studied this topic before.
"Possibly the best book you will ever read"
I think this is the most powerful book I have ever read (or listened to).
Harris takes you on a thought-provoking journey; highlighting our moral deficiencies as humans and why we need to change the way we deem behaviour to be ethical (or unethical).
Plenty if examples, backed by evidence and detailed in his flowing, poetic style, this book certainly opens your eyes and your mind.
A must read.
"Amazing, amazing, amazing!"
Regardless of whether you find yourself in total agreement with Sam Harris at the end of the audiobook, I am willing to stake any reputation I may have garnered on the promise of it's having a profound impact on the way you think. There is simply no justification for not engaging with The Moral Landscape. I would also point out that generally the skills of being a truly unique philosopher and being strong with analogies are close to mutually exclusive, however Mr Harris hits the proverbial nail on the head. A glorious, seismic work.
Easy to listen too. If you have heard Sam speak on this subject before you will have heard many of the arguments. Enjoyed it.
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