Author Topic: "The Moral Landscape" (A book review of sorts)  (Read 373 times)

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Offline Philosopher_at_large

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"The Moral Landscape" (A book review of sorts)
« on: February 15, 2013, 05:09:17 AM »
The implied purpose of this book is at best misleading. This book does not present any new ideas or insights into the nature of morality or ethics, rather, it seeks to define what those subjects are the domain of, and in doing so, it immediately presents a false dichotomy. Are morality and ethics the domain of Religion? Or are they the domain of Science?

Harris, by pointing out some downright diabolical behavior on the part of religious people, concludes (however dubiously on ‘those’ particular grounds), that it cannot be in the domain of Religion, and then makes the mistake, given the false dichotomy that he’s created, of something akin to: “Therefor is must be the domain of science”.

This conclusion however, is even more oddly framed. This occurred to be some days after my second reading of the book, it isn’t that Harris is saying “Ethics are the domain of science because they are not the domain of Religion” but rather, “ethics MUST NOT be the domain of religion, because that is dangerous, there for we must figure out some way of putting it in the domain of science.”

This leads Harris to both frantically try and crowbar the subject of ethics out of religion, and needlessly try and shoehorn it into that of science, and this largely exhausts the contents of the entire book. No new ethical system is presented (only a category of inquiry and the possibility that we "may one day" figure out a sew science of morality), and no new ideas given; only an insistence, time and time again that, religion cannot be the domain of ethical inquiry, so it must be the domain of science. Why must it be the domain of science? Not because there is any reason to put it there, but simply because we must remove it from that of religion.

If it sounds as though I’m repeating myself it is because the book its self is so repetitive, and makes so few actual points that I am forced to simply distil them for criticism.

Not only has Harris found himself being right for the wrong reasons, but he apparently is unaware that non religious, undogmatic ethical edicts, precepts and systems predate modern science by about 25 centuries.

First let me say, to the point that ethics can not be the domain of religion, that, while true, it has nothing to do with the behavior of its adherents. I have always found it odd that when religious people give a litany of good and charitable acts that were inspired by a person’s religion, this is always and in every case met with the observation that, one does not NEED religion in order to do those things, and that they might have been done by secular people for secular reasons. While this is undeniably true, it is unbelievably beside the point. It doesn’t change the fact that it was in fact religion that motivated them to do those good acts. However, when religion motivates a person to kill, riot, maim, etc. Now, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter that those acts might have been done by secular people for secular reasons, and that one does not need religion in order to do them, in this particular case, what motivates those actions is all that matters.

No, the reason that ethics is not the domain of religion is that religions are not ethical systems to begin with. An ethical system is a series of prescriptions for how to comport one’s self ‘on earth’, ‘in this life’ so that they may live well. Religious edicts pertain exclusively to how to know God, understand his will, and prepare yourself for the life beyond, it has little to do with this life at all; the Christian is not taught to imitate Jesus so that he can have a good life on this earth, but so that his soul will be prepared for what lies beyond this life. It is for this reason that ethics cannot be the domain of religion, religion is not concerned with ethics any more than geometry is.

To the point, and false dichotomy: "if not religion then science", (as if it’s one or the other), apparently Harris is not aware that (for example) Aristotle wrote a book on ethics and, some (myself included), might say, THE book on ethics, without any religion at all. Sound, practical and undogmatic ethical systems have long existed.

Finally, perhaps the most odd characteristic of the book (and the subsequent lectures he’s given to its effect) is that, when pointing out examples of immoral behavior or cultural practices, and designating them as immoral, he will often describe them as “obviously” so, or insist that anybody who would deny that X is immoral should simply not be allowed to take part in a conversation about morality.

What he does not do is give any scientific or neurological evidence to support the idea that stoning homosexuals, raping children, mutilating female genitalia, beheading women for being raped, etc, is wrong.

Indeed, none is required.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2013, 05:14:00 AM by Philosopher_at_large »
"A moral philosophy that is fact based should be based upon the facts about human nature and nothing else." - Mortimer J. Adler

Offline Noman Peopled

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Re: "The Moral Landscape" (A book review of sorts)
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2013, 06:25:17 AM »
I haven't read the book but watched him on youtube a few times. I had the impression that either he's confusing "science can help us become better people" and "science can tell us what "better" is" or he's wrong.

First let me say, to the point that ethics can not be the domain of religion, that, while true, it has nothing to do with the behavior of its adherents. I have always found it odd that when religious people give a litany of good and charitable acts that were inspired by a person’s religion, this is always and in every case met with the observation that, one does not NEED religion in order to do those things, and that they might have been done by secular people for secular reasons. While this is undeniably true, it is unbelievably beside the point.
Yes.
Another (rather obvious) point to make is that barely anyone ever does good for scientific reasons, simply because science is descriptive. In fact, most of the long-lasting trouble with religion seems to me that it claims both descriptive and prescriptive power.

Quote
No, the reason that ethics is not the domain of religion is that religions are not ethical systems to begin with. An ethical system is a series of prescriptions for how to comport one’s self ‘on earth’, ‘in this life’ so that they may live well. Religious edicts pertain exclusively to how to know God, understand his will, and prepare yourself for the life beyond, it has little to do with this life at all; the Christian is not taught to imitate Jesus so that he can have a good life on this earth, but so that his soul will be prepared for what lies beyond this life. It is for this reason that ethics cannot be the domain of religion, religion is not concerned with ethics any more than geometry is.
You're describing modern christianity, not religion in general. Turn to the OT and put aside the NT and you will find in (non-ultra-orthodox) judaism a very nitty-gritty everyday composure guide without so much as a hint of an afterlife. Many other religions do not have an afterlife at all, or do have one but without the emphasis on judgment.
Even christianity does lean heavily on the big Ten; the motivation for following them being somewhat irrelevant. After all, if it does not matter whether a person does good for religious or secular reasons, then it also doesn't matter whether whether a person does good for religious reason A or religious reason B. A prescriptive system governing behavior in a group is an ethical system regardless of whether the reward is alleged to be found in this life or the next.
"Deferinate" itself appears to be a new word... though I'm perfectly carmotic with it.
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Offline JeffPT

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Re: "The Moral Landscape" (A book review of sorts)
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2013, 08:36:10 PM »
I have not read the book, but I wanted to comment on this paragraph here, as it seems to deviate away from a discussion of the book and into your own personal dialogue. 

First let me say, to the point that ethics can not be the domain of religion, that, while true, it has nothing to do with the behavior of its adherents.
I'm not sure what you're saying here.  Can you clarify what you mean?  Are you saying that someone's religion has nothing to do with their behavior? 

I have always found it odd that when religious people give a litany of good and charitable acts that were inspired by a person’s religion, this is always and in every case met with the observation that, one does not NEED religion in order to do those things, and that they might have been done by secular people for secular reasons.

I think the point behind that is that good people will do good things regardless of whether or not they believe in God.  Anyone can be 'inspired' by anything, and when something that isn't real has the capability of inspiring both good things (ALL of which people already do, no acceptions) and bad things (SOME of which all people do, but there are some truly horrible things that could ONLY be done in the name of religion), then we have to assess whether or not the positive outweighs the negative.  I don't think it does. 

Hitchen's questions sum it up best...
Quote
Name a moral or ethical action or statement that could be made or uttered by a believer that couldn't be made or uttered by a nonbeliever?
Doesn't exist AFAIK.
Quote
Name a wicked moral or unethical action or statement that a believer has made or uttered specifically because of religious faith?
Tons of them. 

It doesn’t change the fact that it was in fact religion that motivated them to do those good acts.
And it was religion that drove the planes into the buildings.  You have to assess it fairly.  Does the good outweigh the bad?  No, I don't think it does.  Not even close.

The average person that you see in the church pews... they're not motivated to be good by their belief in God; they're good because they'd rather be good than bad.  It feels good to be good and that's enough of a motivation for just about everyone.  If you proved to them that religion was false, they'd still be good.    Maybe even better than they were.  Ask around on this board.  Do the former Christians here find that they are more or less moral now that they're atheists? 

However, when religion motivates a person to kill, riot, maim, etc. Now, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter that those acts might have been done by secular people for secular reasons, and that one does not need religion in order to do them, in this particular case, what motivates those actions is all that matters.

Of course it matters what their reasons are.  The thing is, however, that nobody ever does anything immoral in the name of 'no god'.  Atheists are not commanded by a cosmic emperor to hate anyone, or to discriminate, or to take someone's rights away.  They may do that, but they're not commanded to. Nor are they commanded to love their neighbors... they somehow seem to do it though.  Go figure. 

People do things based on what they DO believe, not what they don't.  Everyone will agree that good and bad things are done by theists and atheists all the time.  But only one of those has the capability of mandating hatred as a command from an all powerful ruler of the universe.  While it also has the capability of mandating love, if someone needs to be commanded to love people (or else they wouldn't love anyone) then they're not very good in the first place. 
Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT

Offline shnozzola

Re: "The Moral Landscape" (A book review of sorts)
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2013, 09:45:01 PM »
IMO, sentences like these:

After all, if it does not matter whether a person does good for religious or secular reasons, then it also doesn't matter whether a person does good for religious reason A or religious reason B.

  The thing is, however, that nobody ever does anything immoral in the name of 'no god'.

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« Last Edit: February 17, 2013, 09:47:39 PM by shnozzola »
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Offline Philosopher_at_large

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Re: "The Moral Landscape" (A book review of sorts)
« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2013, 11:40:33 PM »
First let me say, to the point that ethics can not be the domain of religion, that, while true, it has nothing to do with the behavior of its adherents.
I'm not sure what you're saying here.  Can you clarify what you mean?  Are you saying that someone's religion has nothing to do with their behavior?

No, I'm saying that bad behavior on the part of religious people has nothing to do with why Morality is not the domain of Religion. even if 100% of the actiaons of 100% of religious people on the planet were good it would still not make the subject of Morality the domain of religion. Ethics pertains to the good life and the good society on earth, in this life. Religion pertains to how to prepare your self for something 'beyond' this life.

I have always found it odd that when religious people give a litany of good and charitable acts that were inspired by a person’s religion, this is always and in every case met with the observation that, one does not NEED religion in order to do those things, and that they might have been done by secular people for secular reasons.

I think the point behind that is that good people will do good things regardless of whether or not they believe in God.  Anyone can be 'inspired' by anything, and when something that isn't real has the capability of inspiring both good things (ALL of which people already do, no acceptions) and bad things (SOME of which all people do, but there are some truly horrible things that could ONLY be done in the name of religion), then we have to assess whether or not the positive outweighs the negative.  I don't think it does.

I''m curious to hear what you think could only be done in the name of religion, but that wasn't exactly the point that I was making. What I was saying was that, it seems to me anyway, when religious people do bad things the fact that religion motivated them to do them is paramount, when religious people do good things, the fact that religion motivated them to do them is meaningless.   

Hitchen's questions sum it up best

Quote
Name a moral or ethical action or statement that could be made or uttered by a believer that couldn't be made or uttered by a nonbeliever?
Doesn't exist AFAIK.
Quote
Name a wicked moral or unethical action or statement that a believer has made or uttered specifically because of religious faith?
Tons of them.

and he was exactly right, but he left one out; "name an immoral orunethical action or statement that could be made or utterd by a believer that couldn't be made or uttered by a non believer.   

It doesn’t change the fact that it was in fact religion that motivated them to do those good acts.

And it was religion that drove the planes into the buildings.  You have to assess it fairly.  Does the good outweigh the bad?  No, I don't think it does.  Not even close.

If my point were "yeah religious people fly planes into buildings, but they give a lot to charity too so it's okay", you'd be right in pointing that out, but that isn't my point; again, my point is that, it seems that when religious people do bad things the fact that religion motivated them to do them is paramount, when religious people do good things, the fact that religion motivated them to do them is meaningless.   


 
The average person that you see in the church pews... they're not motivated to be good by their belief in God; they're good because they'd rather be good than bad.  It feels good to be good and that's enough of a motivation for just about everyone.  If you proved to them that religion was false, they'd still be good.    Maybe even better than they were.  Ask around on this board.  Do the former Christians here find that they are more or less moral now that they're atheists?

I can't speak for the average person that we see sitting in the pews, i can only say that you're absolutely right that no person needs religion or to believe in god in order to be good.

However, when religion motivates a person to kill, riot, maim, etc. Now, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter that those acts might have been done by secular people for secular reasons, and that one does not need religion in order to do them, in this particular case, what motivates those actions is all that matters.

Of course it matters what their reasons are.  The thing is, however, that nobody ever does anything immoral in the name of 'no god'.  Atheists are not commanded by a cosmic emperor to hate anyone, or to discriminate, or to take someone's rights away.  They may do that, but they're not commanded to. Nor are they commanded to love their neighbors... they somehow seem to do it though.  Go figure.

you're right that nobody ever does anything immoral in the name of no god, just as nobody ever does anything immoral in the name of no country, or riots over no sports team, or gets into a fight over no girlfriend. just because we wouldn't fight over X if we didnt like, believe or adhere to X doesn't mean that we should stop liking, believing or adhering to X.

People do things based on what they DO believe, not what they don't.  Everyone will agree that good and bad things are done by theists and atheists all the time.  But only one of those has the capability of mandating hatred as a command from an all powerful ruler of the universe.  While it also has the capability of mandating love, if someone needs to be commanded to love people (or else they wouldn't love anyone) then they're not very good in the first place.

I agree
"A moral philosophy that is fact based should be based upon the facts about human nature and nothing else." - Mortimer J. Adler