Questionable Motives

March 30, 2010

Can we understand morality in universal, scientific terms?

Filed under: Harris,Human Rights,Morality,Science — tildeb @ 8:00 pm

Sam Harris thinks so. I posted his TED talk here. He has received a fair amount of criticism from various sources, most notably from Sean Carroll over at Discover. Harris responds to these criticisms here:

Most educated, secular people (and this includes most scientists, academics, and journalists) seem to believe that there is no such thing as moral truth—only moral preference, moral opinion, and emotional reactions that we mistake for genuine knowledge of right and wrong, or good and evil. While I make the case for a universal conception of morality in much greater depth in my forthcoming book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values , I’d like to address the most common criticisms I’ve received thus far in response to my remarks at TED.

I’ve also been busy commenting on other sites because I think this idea of a universal morality – much like universal principles brought forward during the Enlightenment – has been far too long in the wings. We need to put them center stage. One of the most irritating and dangerous tendencies of people luxuriating in the cocoons of secular societies here in the West is to tolerate morally repugnant ideas under the various guises of being sensitive to multiculturalism, group affiliations, religious accommodation, and an honest desire to avoid judging. There seems to be no greater sin possible than judging the morality of practices that directly infringe upon on these Enlightenment achievements like rights and freedoms. It’s time to build on what’s best in humanity and stop tolerating the worst.

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