Sam Harris in his book, The moral landscape (2010), has certainly ignited discussions on morality, but did Sam Harris create his view or popularize someone else's? side== I am also curious if anyone knows (or can message me) a sort of "timeline history of morality in philosophy" so I can up my game on philosophers and their ideas/arguments surrounding morality. I know that some of USA's founding fathers are noted as making arguments for God using morality issues, but how deep back in history does this argument go?
In short, no. Many other philosophers proposed novel innovations in moral philosophy, like Kant, Bentham, and Mill. Of course, the ideas of having rigid duties or making morality a function of consequences or universalizability tests are older than these authors, but they made significant inroads on how to do this and what the resulting ethical norms look like.
Harris is basically an ethical naturalistic and utilitarian. As such, there are many contemporary philosophers who will agree with him, and even those who don't will find his views a recognizable variant on existing ones. Harris adds nothing to the existing debates on ethical norms and theories, however; he basically wants to start pretty far down the road and ignores any need to get there from wherever we start. In particular, he keeps saying it that morality is obviously about making human life better, and that science can tell us how to do that better than religion or arbitrary rules. But he ignores the fact that 1) lots of opposing views of morality very forthrightly say that it's not just about making human life better. Harris doesn't have an argument against such people, he just assumes they're wrong and that's the end of it. Many utilitarians will like his conclusion, but they don't think you can just assume it, you need to show why it's true, which Harris doesn't even try to do. 2) We need a clear definition of what makes life "better." Even lots of people who think this is the basis of morality will argue over subjective vs. objective conceptions of betterness, and varieties within each. Again, Harris may have some particular views on what "better" or "good" life is, and some philosophers may agree with his version. But he doesn't seem to think he needs to argue for one version against another, or even that he himself has or made any choice in the matter. He doesn't seem to get that there's anything worth talking about here. As Bertrand Russell once said of some other people who just assumed some axioms and went on from there instead of saying why those particular axioms were the right ones, this strategy "has all the virtues of theft over honest toil."
I have to say Harris seems to be extraordinarily bad at philosophy. I haven't read the Moral Landscape but have listened to him talk about it. He uses the idea of a 'worst possible situation for everyone' as a supposed self evident foundation to navigate our moral thinking away from. But in doing so he presupposes a value system to call that situation the worst, and doesn't grapple with things like whether a pure/impure axis is involved in that which not everyone might see as important, or generally that no single coherent conception can be made of that 'place'. He tries to make an appeal to intuition, to obviousness, and doesn't deal with the many long discussed problems to this, like those from utilitarianism of trying to found morality on the greatest good evaluated by pleasure. Also the problems to asserting universality, and implicitly assuming there is a best way of living, which Foucault would very reasonably identify as a power-grab for a cultural imperium.
Here he is on Twitter:
Getting from “Is” to “Ought”
1/ Let’s assume that there are no ought’s or should’s in this universe. There is only what is—the totality of actual (and possible) facts.
2/ Among the myriad things that exist are conscious minds, susceptible to a vast range of actual (and possible) experiences.
3/ Unfortunately, many experiences suck. And they don’t just suck as a matter of cultural convention or personal bias—they really and truly suck. (If you doubt this, place your hand on a hot stove and report back.)
4/ Conscious minds are natural phenomena. Consequently, if we were to learn everything there is to know about physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, etc., we would know everything there is to know about making our corner of the universe suck less.
5/ If we should to do anything in this life, we should avoid what really and truly sucks. (If you consider this question-begging, consult your stove, as above.)
6/ Of course, we can be confused or mistaken about experience. Something can suck for a while, only to reveal new experiences which don’t suck at all. On these occasions we say, “At first that sucked, but it was worth it!”
7/ We can also be selfish and shortsighted. Many solutions to our problems are zero-sum (my gain will be your loss). But better solutions aren’t. (By what measure of “better”? Fewer things suck.)
8/ So what is morality? What ought sentient beings like ourselves do? Understand how the world works (facts), so that we can avoid what sucks (values).
"we would know everything there is to know about making our corner of the universe suck less."
His anti-free will stance and assumption moral decisions can be enumerated to move across the landscape, that there is a single line between morally xesirable 'hills', also seems to fall foul of being recursively enumerable, and not allowing for Godel Incompleteness. As in this line in bold where he states a specific set of facts must result in a single set of moral decisions and preferences, that there is single fully knowable set of 'moral facts'. There is also the implication of a 'hedonic calculus' as advocated by Bentham, but that leads to many well violations of what we consider to be moral, and Harris seems totally unaware of this. He's just not philosophically literate.
He has justified nuclear first strike, and torture. When challenged on these, he gets in a huff about context. But refuses to accept the real problems of what he is saying, like by justifying torture seemingly on grounds of the emotional needs of the torturer to do 'everything they can', that he is justifying something known not to work, and causing or allowing a world with horrific unjustifiable suffering, practically and morally.
He seems to rely on getting affronted and saying people don't understand his position frequently. Like in this discussion with Daniel Dennett, where he just fails to grasp what compatibilist free-will is, the majority stance of professional philosophers, and seems aggrieved to find that doing philosophy involves investigating definitions, and Dennett doesn't have that of someone holding a libertarian free will perspective.
In short he doesn't develop other people's ideas because he doesn't understand them. He shouldn't be considered a philosopher, he is a writer of popular philosophy at best (and a cognitive scientist, and student of Buddhism, on which topics he us far more respectable), using motivated reasoning to justify his intuition that being a rich white US atheist means you live in the best of all possible worlds. You won't find many serious students of philosophy familiar with his work because it takes so little investigation of them to realise they are tragically naive and ill informed.
Edit to add. You should have a look on here for the moral views of:
- Plato & Aristotle
- John Stuart Mill
- David Hume
- Immanuel Kant
- Rousseau (a big influence on the founding fathers)
at a bare minimum