Cmsnepal.edu.np Review:Study in College of Medical Sciences in Nepal | MBBS Course - Study College of Medical Sciences in Nepal for MBBS course
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Sam Harris' new book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, provides a clear and insightful challenge to those who have conceded the moral argument to the moral relativists. He has made, sometime redundantly, the point that moral good can be derived from whatever creates human well-being, thus being a subject that can be studied scientifically, allowing us to make objective claims, at least in principle, about moral right and wrong.
Harris doesn't shy away from the label, "moral realist," and in fact he defends this position admirably. He makes excellent points about some of the cultural practices that create misery for large numbers of a population, under the moral umbrella of religious practice, and how many of our intellectuals are reluctant to condemn these practices as morally offensive and just plain mistaken.
I think this should be a must read for any open-minded intellectual who seems to think that moral issues can't be objectified and that we shouldn't impose our values on other societies. He believes, rightly so, that our political correct, multiculturalism has gone too far, and now refuses to recognize any standards of human behavior.
Harris did, in my opinion, miss some opportunities to make a good point. He quotes philosopher and neuroscientist, Joshua Greene, and then argues against Greene's points.
However, when Greene states: "And like may of our common sense abilities, our ability to make moral judgments feels to us like a perceptual ability, an ability, in this case, to discern immediately and reliably mind-independent moral facts. As a result we are naturally inclined toward a mistaken belief in moral realism."
I believe that Harris should have jumped upon this implication that because something isn't mind-independent, it can't be a real fact and subject to the idea of realism. There are many objective facts that are mind-dependent and also collective mind-dependent. One great example, used by philosopher John Searle, is that of money. There is no physical, mind-independent fact about those little green pieces of paper, and lately, those little ones and zeros in bank computers that makes them intrinsically money. They are money because we accept them as money, believe they are money and treat them as money. Money is mind-dependent, actually also collectively mind-dependent, and yet it has an objective reality. It can provide food and shelter for people, cause the building of cities, allow governments--an other mind-dependent fact--to function and finance bombs that can level cities.
One other small issue I have with Harris' otherwise clear reasoning was his take on free will, denying it actually exists. He cites the neuronal basis for all human thoughts and actions, stating that thought just bubble up from within the brain, and that each thought is an effect with a cause. He discusses neuronal, psychological and environmental causes that make each human act determined. He also brings in moral responsibility, a central argument used by British philosopher and literary critic Galen Strawson. It appears that moral responsibility is only one part of the free will issue, and given the points made by Harris and Strawson, it would seem that genetic, psychological and environmental causes could give us a reason to claim we were not free agents and thus not responsible for our actions. This is used in court often enough. However, if we assume the mental structure we define as the self, the conscious and self-conscious entity that is now reading, understanding and forming opinion about these words, you can see that direct, physical causality really doesn't work. Many thoughts rise up, but we organize them into intentions, an active process, and from these intentions, we make decisions. If even the simplest decision can be said to be free, we cannot deny free will. I have a bowl with chocolates wrapped in three colors, green, red and silver. I reach for one, pausing only for a fraction of a second to choose, no issues involved, no moral responsibility, just an arbitrary choice. On a very basic level, that amounts of free will, and we can build on that to choose to write this review or to write Harris' otherwise wonderful book.
Values and morals are no less objectively real than money, justice, elected leaders or other facts of society. We can't relegate mental and social process to some ambiguous concepts where objective evaluation can't proceed.
While I can look at Harris' work, one that really needed to be written and read, and in the process find some points that weren't made strongly enough for my taste, as well as some that I felt might have been overstated, that in no way takes anything away from this book. He has said something that, at this moment in history, really needed to be said.
In short, if you ever think about these issues, you need to read this book.
This is currently my 14th year in teaching, and I teach in a school that is not well known for its academics or "school spirit." We have multiple drug busts a week, and there has never been a class where all of my students are present. So I asked my boss to help me find a way to keep these lazy high school students in line. After researching a few methods and products, we finally came upon the solution in the most unexpected of places: FOX News. We watched as police officers doused the protesters in pepper spray, and decided it couldn't be so bad. Now, whenever my students don't do their homework, I make them sit on the floor and hold up a sign reading "I don't need to do do work" as I walk past them and give 'em a good old pepper spraying. The school reasoned that it doesn't count as bodily harm, because after all, it's just a food derivative. Basically, I'm feeding the kids! At first, I had to make over 20 signs in order to get all the kids, but now, I rarely have one person up there. I'm sure my law-enforcing friends would be proud.
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