Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Moral Landscape Challenge

This is my entry to Sam Harris's Moral Landscape Challenge. Needless to say, it didn't win, but I'm reasonably happy with it nonetheless.

The Moral Landscape (TML) is engagingly written and cleverly argued. Harris starts with the assumption that morality concerns maximising the well-being of conscious creatures (let’s call this Harris’s axiom). Much of what follows is laudable, but there are unavoidable philosophical problems with the notion that science can determine human values. Yes, science can in principle give us answers we can use to improve the human condition. Fully embracing Harris’s axiom, this is the application of science to standard consequentialism and subject to all the same philosophical criticisms.

It is also a relatively trivial idea, and hardly new. If we are to take TML seriously, we must assume it makes a more profound claim: that there are usually objectively correct answers to moral dilemmas and that science can find them.