Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

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Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Tue Mar 30, 2010 6:49 am

I've been a fan of Sam Harris's writing for some years. Even if his ideas are difficult, they are compelling.
The following article is on the nexus of science and morality and the debate within the scientific community on that nexus.
I hope you find the following article as interesting as I do.

kind regards

Ben

Last month, I had the privilege of speaking at the 2010 TED conference for exactly 18 minutes. The short format of these talks is a brilliant innovation and surely the reason for their potent half-life on the Internet. However, 18 minutes is not a lot of time in which to present a detailed argument. My intent was to begin a conversation about how we can understand morality in universal, scientific terms. Many people who loved my talk, misunderstood what I was saying, and loved it for the wrong reasons; and many of my critics were right to think that I had said something extremely controversial. I was not suggesting that science can give us an evolutionary or neurobiological account of what people do in the name of “morality.” Nor was I merely saying that science can help us get what we want out of life. Both of these would have been quite banal claims to make (unless one happens to doubt the truth of evolution or the mind’s dependency on the brain). Rather I was suggesting that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want—and, perforce, what other people should do and want in order to live the best lives possible. My claim is that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, and such answers may one day fall within reach of the maturing sciences of mind. As the response to my TED talk indicates, it is taboo for a scientist to think such things, much less say them public.

-- http://www.project-reason.org/newsfeed/ ... _science3/
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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Sobeh » Tue Mar 30, 2010 7:29 am

Ben wrote:I hope you find the following article as interesting as I do.

:reading:
:clap:


*edit: according to the smilies, apparently you can get a tan by reading...
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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Tue Mar 30, 2010 9:17 am

Thanks for the feedback Sobeh.
I've recently been following part of the discussion on science and morality. One of the speakers at the recent Atheists Conference in Melbourne (Australia) a week ago was bio-ethicist Peter Singer who was also speaking on the nature of morality and its support in science. I caught Peter Singer's lecture and Dawkins lecture on ABC Radio National. One of the main ideas in Singer's talk was that its a mistake to think that morality is the result of, or owned by, religious traditions. Rather, morality is the common outcome of intelligent and reflective people regardless of religious or cultural background.
My own impression is that the morality enshrined in the five precepts are universal for not only living a good life but a basis for interpersonal (and I guess interspecies), ethics and could be adopted by anyone and anywhere regardless if they were Buddhist or not.
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Sobeh » Tue Mar 30, 2010 12:03 pm

One discovery to do with a biological foundation for ethics has come up with the discovery of 'mirror neurons'. The Wiki article on this subject offers superb citations for the science whereby these neurons are implicated in human empathy. One report can be read here, which is a pdf file. An excerpt:

"The data reviewed in this essay show that the intuition of Adam Smith – that in-dividuals are endowed with an altruistic mechanism that makes them share the 'fortunes' of others – is strongly supported by neurophysiological data. When we observe others, we enact their actions inside ourselves and we share their emotions...

"In fact, an empathic relationship between others and ourselvesdoes not necessarily bring positive consequences to the others. The presence of an unhappy person may compel another individual to eliminate the unpleasant feeling determined by that presence, acting in a way that is not necessarily the most pleasant for the unhappy person. To use the mirror mechanism – a biological mechanism – strictly in a positive way, a further – cultural – addition is necessary. It can be summarized in the pre-scription: 'Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets' (Matthew 7, 12) . This 'golden rule,' which is present in many cultures besides ours (see Changeux and Ricoeur 1998), uses the positive aspects of a basic biological mechanism inherent in all individuals to give ethical norms that eliminate the negative aspects that are also present in the same biological mechanism."
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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby alan » Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:08 pm

Thanks for the excellent link, Ben. I've set it aside to read again.
Sam Harris is a serious thinker and is always worth reading.
For those unfamiliar with his work, check out "The end of Faith"
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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Tue Mar 30, 2010 7:57 pm

No problem Alan
I would venture to say that End of Faith is probably oen of the most important books written in the last thirty years. For those who do not have the time to read Enf of Faith, I recommend his Letter to a Christian Nation.
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Tex » Thu Apr 01, 2010 2:48 am

I was probably a little late getting on the Sam Harris bandwagon just in the last year, but boy am I on it. The End Of Faith should be mandatory reading in every college philosophy or theology program.

In the same vein, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell is a really good read.
"The serene and peaceful mind is the true epitome of human achievement."-- Ajahn Chah, Living Dhamma

"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Sobeh » Thu Apr 01, 2010 3:56 am

This is the article Sam Harris wrote for the Huffington Post back in 2006, and I've been following his projects ever since. An excerpt:

"The retreat might have been a significant event in the history of ideas. It could mark the beginning of a discourse on ethics and spiritual experience that is as unconstrained by dogma and cultural prejudice as the discourses of physics, biology, and chemistry are. Other retreats for scientists are now being planned. What effect this will have on our collective understanding of the human mind remains to be seen. But we could be witnessing the birth of a contemplative science."
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Re: Moral confusion in the name of “science” by Sam Harris

Postby Ben » Thu Apr 01, 2010 4:48 am

Thanks heaps Sobeh

Some excellent reading material for the easter break!
I noticed that Sam Harris includes an article or two by U Ba Khin in his bibliography for End of Faith and is supportive of the transcendental traditions.
He is certainly a very interesting character.
kind regards

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


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