Sam Harris on the Daily Show

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Y'know, I don't think this went very well.  Sam was refuted by the very presence of Jon Stewart, even without Jon doing much to challenge him.  Sam seemed caught up in a Manichean universe, with the bible on one side, giving terrible moral advice, and science on the other, peering into people's brains and quantifying well-being.  Jon's very presence attested to a vast space between these poles, where moral conversation really takes place, for reasonable folk today. Stewart makes lots and lots of good moral claims and arguments--in fact he'd just made one (about Rich Sanchez) before Harris came on--with neither religion nor science in sight.

I think Sam and his publicist should have thought about this more before he went on.  Harris seems to be addressing a moral skeptic--someone who is very, very worried about whether there's any truth about morality.  He (she) thinks if there are any moral truths, they must rest on a super-strength foundation.  Either "torturing babies for fun is wrong" because God condemns it, or because science tells us so.  These kinds of questions interests philosophers a lot, but the vast majority of people aren't really moral skeptics.  So what does the book offer them?

Perhaps it could explain who to ask, when we're facing a moral quandary.  But if that's one of its goals, then it narrows our options way too much.  We shouldn't ask religious fundamentalists, but should we ask scientists? Surely not.  Science can assist with moral reasoning, but the good moral reasoners are still people like...well, like Jon Stewart.  How is that? What's going on there?  We'll see if the book steps away from the "science vs. religion" battle long enough to shed some light.


Faust said...

I thought similarly, but my wife found him persuasive until I disabused her of her affection. Harris is going to get some mileage out of this book. I can't wait until we all converge on the common morality of our new global society (his words).

Jean Kazez said...

My husband needed just a bit of setting straight too. There's something to be said for the idea of moral expertise as "distributed"---all over the place, emergent from conversations. Just not ones involving Glenn Beck.