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The Moral Landscape Challenge

November 5, 2013

A couple of months ago leading atheist author Sam Harris issued ‘The Moral Landscape Challenge‘. The Moral Landscape was originally published in 2010 where Harris writes to demonstrate how ‘science can determine human values’. Previously it was thought that science had nothing to do with determining values or morality – science simply dealt with the ‘is’ question and could not adjudicate on the ‘ought’ question at all. This was often left to the realm of ‘religion’. Yet Harris writes to overturn this. An eloquent summary of Harris’ project is found in the endorsement on the book by Richard Dawkins,

I was one of those who had unthinkingly bought into the hectoring myth that science can say nothing about morals. To my surprise, The Moral Landscape changed all that for me … As for religion, and the preposterous idea that we need God to be good, nobody wields a sharper bayonet than Sam Harris’.

Of course a book like Harris’ has predictably stimulated controversy. There have been many reviews and critiques of the book. Yet Harris doesn’t believe that there has been a substantial criticism effectively refuting his main thesis. Hence he’s opened up the Moral Landscape Challenge for someone to refute his case against the ‘scientific understanding of morality’.

I am genuinely Impressed by Harris’ epistemic humility – his willingness to be criticised and his genuine offer to change his mind.

I’d read some of the Moral Landscape before the challenge, but not in it’s entirety. I’ve read and engaged the writings of the New Atheists, hence I’d like to consider the challenge.

Harris’ book comes with some impressive testimonials by renowned thinkers and authors, so this seems like a sizeable challenge indeed.

Yet, Harris does have some formidable philosophical challenges to overcome if he is to genuinely demonstrate that science can determine human values.

Hence, I’m planning on spending a substantial amount of time on this blog (but not exclusively) reviewing and discussing Harris’ works. I’d like to invite reflections, criticisms and comments along the way.

If I find Harris’ argument convincing, I’ll change my mind. Yet if his claims are unconvincing, I’ll enter the moral landscape challenge. I’m happy to contribute to the public debate on this topic as Harris has invited.

  1. I think the reading from this challenge will be interesting. Obviously, you would have to read the book in its entirety before you can do the challenge. But, in your journey, I invite you to come to my blog to see where I play in the moral landscape. Come over and search “morality” from the top right. I hope you enjoy the reading.

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