Saturday, April 16, 2011

Insipid Opponents, Value of

Further to my previous post about Sam Harris's The Moral Landscape and some of the criticisms of it: nothing in what I have said is to discount the problems with Harris's book. As I have expressed at least once before, I think Harris could have made substantially the same argument by stipulating "the well-being of conscious creatures is a first-order moral priority" rather than laboring to convert it to a factual statement. It's not even as though stipulating it implies no arguments can be made for it and against alternatives -- not all postulates stand up equally under reasoned scrutiny, and I think "the well-being of conscience creatures is a first-order moral priority" stands up rather well.

I would be interested to hear the counter-arguments to it -- likely appalled, but interested.

My basic view of The Moral Landscape is that while it is an imperfect book, it is not enough to say it is somehow belaboring the obvious; it should be borne in mind that there are exceedingly widely-held views that don't discount the well-being of conscious creatures but do, explicitly or implicitly, rank it behind the whimsy and putative authority of a god. The idea that human well-being is secondary -- to a god's mood swings or anything else -- must be called out and closely interrogated, and Harris's book serves that end. As Nietszsche remarked,

The value of insipid opponents -- At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.

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