After Sam Harris wrote The Moral Landscape, he encountered both accolades and criticisms. In response to the criticisms, he held a contest, offering $2,000 to the best short essay to challenge his own work. He published both the winning essay and his own response to it. I find it to be a good read that cross-cuts some traditional concepts of moral philosophy (e.g., that there is no intersection between descriptive versus prescriptive statements) and points the idea that we can dispense with (or at least translate into factual observations) the notions of “good” and “bad.”
Here is an excerpt from Harris’ essay commenting on the winning essay:
Part of the resistance I’ve encountered to the views presented in The Moral Landscape comes from readers who appear to want an ethical standard that gives clear guidance in every situation and doesn’t require too much of them. People want it to be easy to be good—and they don’t want to think that they are not living as good a life as they could be. This is especially true when balancing one’s personal well-being vs. the well-being of society. Most of us are profoundly selfish, and we don’t want to be told that being selfish is wrong. As I tried to make clear in the book, I don’t think it is wrong, up to a point. I suspect that an exclusive focus on the welfare of the group is not the best way to build a civilization that could secure it. Some form of enlightened selfishness seems the most reasonable approach—in which we are more concerned about ourselves and our children than about other people and their children, but not callously so. However, the well-being of the whole group is the only global standard by which we can judge specific outcomes to be good.
Category: Good and Evil