Sam Harris vs. Jonathan Haidt: The New Science of Morality

This Channel is completely devoted to Sam Harris. It has a complete list of every video he has ever appeared in. As well as versions of every debate he has b...

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Comment by Edward theurj Berge on January 5, 2014 at 9:07am

Here's one of Harris' written responses to Haidt. A few excerpts with which I agree follow. The first sounds like the kennlingus notion that every view has some truth, i.e., is appropriate to its 'level.' He quotes Haidt:

"Every longstanding ideology and way of life contains some wisdom, some insights into ways of suppressing selfishness, enhancing cooperation, and ultimately enhancing human flourishing."

Harris responds:

"Anyone feeling nostalgic for the 'wisdom' of the Aztecs? Rest assured, there’s nothing like the superstitious murder of innocent men, women, and children to 'suppress selfishness' and convey a shared sense of purpose. Of course, the Aztecs weren’t the only culture to have discovered human flourishing' at its most sanguinary and psychotic. […] Numerous other societies ritually murdered their fellow human beings because they believed that invisible gods and goddesses, having an appetite for human flesh, could be so propitiated. Many of their victims were of the same opinion, in fact, and went willingly to slaughter, fully convinced that their deaths would transform the weather, or cure the king of his venereal disease, or in some other way spare their fellows the wrath of the Unseen.

“What would Haidt have us think about these venerable traditions of pious ignorance and senseless butchery? Is there some wisdom in these cults of human sacrifice that we should now honor? Must we take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater? Or might we want to eat that baby instead? Indeed, many of these societies regularly terminated their rituals of sacred murder with a cannibal feast. Is my own revulsion at these practices a sign that I view these distant cultures with the blinkered gaze of a colonialist? Shall we just reserve judgment until more of the facts are in? When does scientific detachment become perverse? When might it be suicidal?”

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on January 4, 2014 at 9:13am

And if we get upset or are 'unhappy' about such barbarity then we are wrong?

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on January 3, 2014 at 6:12pm

In this Tori Amos song part of the meaning is responding to mothers that willingly offer up their daughters' genitals for mutilation as some form of religious duty. I suppose they are both 'happy' that they are fulfilling they duty to god or whatever so I suppose they are 'right' in Haidt's eyes?

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on January 3, 2014 at 9:14am

And Haidt is confusing worldcentric 'flourishing' for all with a rationalized 'happiness' for one's own ethnocentric group. For some "happiness is a warm gun," for others like the Wolf of Wall Street ripping people off for his own gain. And for religious folks like the pope, railing against trickle-down economics and for equal opportunity. As Harris said, there are realistic peaks and valleys in the moral landscape, where some moral views are better than others. And the progressive is better than the regressive.

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on January 3, 2014 at 8:59am

Looking over Brooks' NYT piece it's obvious how conservatives define their own happiness: married, religious, belief in free enterprise and that if you work hard enough you can overcome all odds. Brooks realizes that this can be interpreted as the 'ignorance is bliss' syndrome, anticipating critiques like Harris who says their religions don't track reality. And believing in equal opportunity in today's rampant inequality and declining middle class is certainly not based in fact. As are the statistics that nearly 2/3 of marriage end in divorce. I guess one can rationalize they are happy by a denial of the facts around them as a defense mechanism, but only in regressive ideology can this be interpreted as 'right.' Liberals tend to face facts, and these days facts are rather depressing.

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on January 2, 2014 at 7:24pm

I forgot the link to Frum's article.

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on January 2, 2014 at 6:55pm

I sent an email to Haidt, since it seemed he was saying that conservatives were happier. And therefore by Harris' moral definition of right and wrong based on 'flourishing' conservatives were right. I won't quote from Haidt's email because he did not give me permission to do so, but the gist of it was that he agreed with the above, citing polls from Gallup analyzed by Arthur Brooks.

He didn't provide links to that evidence so I searched and found Brooks' NYT article. This article by David Frum noted that Brook's criteria for happiness was basically a rich, older, religious, married, white person, which demographic just happens to be more on the conservative side.

I also asked him about statistics (like here and here) that find those countries with the more democratic socialist policies (aka liberal) are the happiest? And how that squares with his claim. He just responded that cross-country comparisons are tricky, which isn't a response. The first linked article is a direct response to Brooks by Jeffrey Sachs, but on a different Brooks article than the above referenced. Therein Sachs cites the World Happiness Report (WHR), which surveyed people from several countries, including the US. Of course the criteria for 'happiness' was quite different than Brooks' and Haidt's conservative worldview picture, based more on the following:

"Economic prosperity that is broadly shared, very low poverty, low unemployment, social fairness, lower health care costs than in the United States, longer vacation times, guaranteed maternity and paternity leave, better pre-school and many more benefits that make people happy, and help them to raise happier and healthier children. In short, happier places are happier because they combine economic prosperity with social trust, a sense of equality, leisure as well as work, and good and honest governance."

Or as Harris responded below, "actually having our beliefs track reality, however loosely, is better in the long run than being delusional." Also when Harris noted that a better moral definition of flourishing includes everyone regardless of race, income, religious affiliation or marital status. That is, a more postconventional moral stance that goes beyond our in-group, as reflected in the criteria of the WHR.

The second link is to a Forbes article, not exactly a liberal bastion. Therein he uses research from the Legatum Institute, which uses 89 variables like economy, entrepreneurship, governance, education, health, safety, personal freedom and social capital. As in the WHR the results are pretty much the same, with Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden in the top. And what do they have in common? "They are all borderline socialist states, with generous welfare benefits and lots of redistribution of wealth. Yet they don’t let that socialism cross the line into autocracy." Not exactly conservative values, eh?

Comment by Balder on December 27, 2013 at 9:33pm

I'd be curious to hear Harris' take on Bhaskar, or vice versa (particularly re: Bhaskar's refutation of Hume's value-fact distinction (the belief that values cannot be derived from facts)).

Comment by Balder on December 27, 2013 at 12:25pm

I appreciate the running commentary, theurj.  I was only able to listen to the first ten minutes this morning, but I'm looking forward to hearing the rest.

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on December 27, 2013 at 10:38am

At 47:00 he gives an argument similar to my 'best level' thesis, that we need laws and institutions that hold us to our higher angels even when we don't feel that way. That is the rationale for taxes, that we must give so much for the social good whether we want to or not.

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