Step Right Up

Sam Harris has issued a $20,000 challenge to anyone who can refute his claim to have placed morality on a thoroughly scientific, Utilitarianist footing. (Not a merely descriptive footing, that is: a normative one: a beneficent blend of biology and Bentham.)

I might have to take a go at this myself.

See also Harris’s initial responses to his critics, here.

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat adds some penetrating comments of his own, here. His concluding remarks are on the money, I think:

I have no problem, and nor should anyone, with Harris declaring that he favors a particular moral system, defining its terms to the best of his ability, and then explaining why he thinks scientific inquiry can help us maximize the end that system privileges. If you know what moral ends you’re driving at, then clearly science can be of assistance in your quest; the idea that the two spheres of inquiry never overlap is obscurantist and silly. But he would be much more persuasive on that narrower point if gave up on the broader one, and reconciled himself to the fact that his style of utilitarianism is not the self-evident and scientific foundation for all sensible moral inquiry that he believes it to be.

Though in that case he would also be out $20,000.


  1. the one eyed man says

    I hope that Harris doesn’t take his epistemology as seriously as these fellows:

    Posted September 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    I’m surprised the shooter didn’t consider how he might have felt had the positions been reversed.

    Posted September 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Shooting someone over a philosophical dispute is the perfect illustration of the categorical imperative.

    Posted September 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Yeah, but what if everybody did it?

    Posted September 18, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    This week’s New Yorker poses a more contemporary philosophical question.

    If you retweet it and you have zero followers, was it retweeted?

    Posted September 18, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

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