Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The not-so-moral landscape?

Sam Harris believes that atheism must have objective moral values, as do the great monotheistic religions, which ground their morality in the Creator of the universe, the source from which our reality emanates. But Harris, it seems, is unable to show how these originate within his world view.

He makes a valiant attempt to derive absolute moral values by reason alone and defines goodness as that which allows the maximum flourishing of conscious beings. Yet it appears that in his book the Moral Landscape (which I’ve not read) he points out, apparently, that unsavoury characters like serial rapists and Nazis could flourish, so we have to be on our guard. But as came to light in a recent debate, if we have to be on our guard against the flourishing of such people we are making a moral judgement.

Making a moral judgement in this way means having a moral frame of reference: the very thing that Harris is trying to deduce by reason.

Hence the above definition (goodness = maximum flourishing of conscious beings) disappears in a puff of logic. A world in which evil people flourish would be a good world.

To deliberately, unnecessarily and gratuitously inflict suffering on a human being or any other living being and to derive pleasure from doing so, is universally, intuitively recognised as evil. There is no way this can be derived by logic. Most people know this but don’t know why they know it.

However, unlike many atheists, Harris does recognise the need for an objective code of moral absolutes as necessary to avoid anarchy and nihilism. 

Author, 2077 AD