Follow Up on Sam Harris

Just as a quick follow-up to my post on The Moral Landscape, I wanted to share an excerpt from  Ned Reskinoff’s blog (but go ahead and click through for the whole post):

…it seems tangentially related to the ongoing debate I’ve been having in the comments of a couple posts over whether or not moral principles can be derived through pure empirical observation. Both the political “non-ideological pragmatist” and Sam Harris the moral naturalist make the same category error: they take their own highly subjective value judgments as a given, so that any empirical observations they make can be neatly plugged into a preexisting conceptual framework…

What I’m saying is that Sam Harris is essentially the No Labels of moral philosophy. The way those guys roll is basically the same: they start from some first principles that they don’t feel like defending on philosophical grounds (like say the notion that a large federal deficit is worse for voters than the fact that many of them live in areas so impoverished they resemble third-world countries) and duck the issue entirely but just declaring their claims non-ideological and highly scientific.

I’m frustrated with this kind of behavior (particularly from No Labels and other similar political groups), but I’ve been guilty of it in my own way.  I tend to defend absolute morality without much reference to what that morality entails, in part because I do think large swathes of it are accessible and universal.  Nonetheless, it’s hard, as a friend recently pointed out to me, to have a clear idea of what I am defending.

I’m not going to launch into an explanation/defence of my complete and coherent moral theory, since I haven’t got one, but I hope some case examples can help illuminate my philosophy.  Starting with a post this evening, I’m returning to my promised series on marriage, particularly my partiality to covenant marriage.  Hopefully, this will be a decent lens on my idea of moral choices.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    This area is surely an interesting one. I've been working on a "statement of non-belief" of sorts to just get my thoughts out. I was at a talk last night with my wife about parenting, given by devout Catholics to an audience of devout Catholics (except me…) and while I agreed with a good number of points made, I was quite "hyper-aware" of disagreements as well. Their case was organized around:- kids are created in god's image- they have two components within them: a saint (soul) and sinner (fallen nature)- the purpose of parenting is to become a saint and to form "little, virtuous Christian people"- And so on…Perhaps obviously, I'm going to disagree with many of the basic premises. For example, is the "saint/sinner" model healthy?In any case, I day dreamed off into the hard question of why, exactly, I think we should be good. I completely understand the coherence of theologically based goals like "raising saints," "pleasing the lord," etc… but I think they're based on falsehood — compelling falsehood.But with that removed… why be good? This is different from removing god and suddenly not wanting to do good — I experience(d) none of that and find it a common theist fear (no god = no morals/rampage ensues). But even if I still have the desire to do good within me… it doesn't explain it's basis or foundation.Anyway, that's a heck of a ramble to say that this just came up for me as well. I decided last night that I'm going to add a section to my linked cumulative case clearly stating what I can't, at present, explain or defend!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    I really look forward to your Statement, Hendy. I've been following your personal series, and I really appreciate your openness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Leah: thanks! I wish I knew more than I did… my "Statement" won't be nearly as researched as I had hoped. I'm beginning to try and accept my limitations. I've got a wife and two kids. My time to try and figure out if the omni-max being described by the Bible is real… is limited, unfortunately. I'd actually be pretty interested in how you "balance" your quest-of-sorts with "regular life."Do you just live with uncertainty or quasi-certainty (in atheism) but simply enjoy entertaining god theories and apologetics? Or are you "questing" for a particular end goal? And where does regular life fit in? Balance has been a killer for me. I read and read and read and burn out and then "recoup" by medicating myself on dumb hulu content late at night.Sorry to ramble — not the right place, but I would be curious on that whole aspect. I have appreciated your blog quite a bit during this time.


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