Follow Up on Sam Harris

Follow Up on Sam Harris January 20, 2011

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.


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