Cover image for Moral landscape : how science can determine human values
Moral landscape : how science can determine human values
Harris, Sam, 1967-
Personal Author:
1st Free Press paperback ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, 2011.
Physical Description:
307 pages ; 22 cm
Sam Harris dismantles the most common justification for religious faith--that a moral system cannot be based on science.
The moral landscape -- Moral truth -- Good and evil -- Belief -- Religion -- The future of happiness -- Afterword.
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BJ1031 .H35 2011 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Sam Harris's 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 science has now become the primary justification for religious faith.

In this highly controversial book, Sam Harris seeks to link morality to the rest of human knowledge. Defining morality in terms of human and animal well-being, Harris argues that science can do more than tell how we are; it can, in principle, tell us how we ought to be. In his view, moral relativism is simply false--and comes at an increasing cost to humanity. And the intrusions of religion into the sphere of human values can be finally repelled: for just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality. Using his expertise in philosophy and neuroscience, along with his experience on the front lines of our "culture wars," Harris delivers a game-changing book about the future of science and about the real basis of human cooperation.

Author Notes

Sam Harris received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph. D in neuroscience from UCLA. His works include Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, and Free Will. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. He is the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. His title Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion made The New York Times Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Harris argues forcefully for the superiority of science over religion as a means of determining morality and understanding the subtle gradations between permanent truths and culturally and historically determined values. Harris reads his own book, and the passion of his writing does not always come through in his own performance: he reads more than performs, his voice never quite conveying the emotion or certainty that fills nearly every sentence of his book. Still, there is a knowingness in his voice that reminds us that it is the author himself speaking, and readers might appreciate that feeling of intimacy. A Free Press hardcover. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Neuroscientist Harris, author of the 2005 PEN/Faulkner Award-winning The End of Faith, also available from S. & S. Audio, continues his philosophical dissection of organized religion and his disputation of secularist notions of tolerance for all belief systems as he seeks to ground human morality in scientific study. He presents his analysis of the human brain's response to situations that seem to present moral dilemmas, illustrating that the concepts of morality and evolution are not conflicting and that there are evolutionary as well as neuroscientific explanations for our ethical impulses. Harris himself narrates, in a style that communicates his intellectual depth as well as his obvious emotional connection to his work. For anyone interested in the philosophy of ethics and for those seeking a viewpoint that separates itself from the ostensible opposition of modern conservative and liberal thought.-Christopher Rager, Pasadena, CA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This book addresses the source of moral values. In historical times, morality in most cultures arose from religious leaders and scriptures. But throughout history many thinkers also argued that one can be moral without subscribing to religious doctrines that goad people to ethical behavior through postmortem threats and rewards. Neuroscientist/writer Harris lends eloquent support to that thesis. A related issue is the relevance of religions in a world where science reigns (or should reign) supreme. The general belief is that science deals only with what "is" and not with what "ought," which is the domain of ethics. Marshaling recent data from anthropology, biology, psychology, neuroscience, and more, Harris argues that science can not only explain why we behave the way we do, but also teach us how to behave. Beyond presenting the progress made by these sciences, Harris makes his customary comments on the Catholic Church, the Qur'an, and the God of Abraham. Since for most Western thinkers, religion means only the Abrahamic ones, there is no reference to Hinduism or Buddhism. The book's central thesis is nothing new in the history of ideas, but it should serve as another powerful weapon in the arsenal of the new atheists in their ongoing crusade against religions. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. V. V. Raman emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology