Recall that Sam Harris issued a Moral Landscape challenge. He offered a $10,000 award (which would be matched by one of his fans) to anyone who could get him to change his mind about science determining what is right and wrong.
Recall that psychologist Jonathan Haidt predicted Harris would not change his mind:
Jonathan Haidt analyzes the nature of reasoning, and the ease with which reason becomes a servant of the passions. He bets $10,000 that Harris will not change his mind.
I know this is going to shock you, so I hope you are sitting , but…..it looks like Harris did not change his mind. As one of Harris’s fans acknowledges:
At any rate, I think Sam forked out the 2 grand but not the 20 grand, because his answer to Born, given here, is a rebuttal
So despite Harris’s complaints, it turns out Haidt was spot on accurate. And so was I.
And then it becomes even more humorous when one of Harris’s fans tries to spin this:
Surprisingly, there were over 400 responses to the challenge, which tells you how seriously people take Sam’s views.
LOL! 400 responses translates as 400 people taking a shot at earning at least $2000 dollars. Imagine that – money has a way of motivating people. But here’s the reality check – if so many people took Harris so seriously, then why did he have to promote his views with offers of prizes? He came up with the promo idea precisely because people were not taking his book seriously.
Anyway, Coyne posts part of the winning essay and I’ll repost it below the fold:
Neither of your analogies invalidates the Value Problem. First, your analogy between epistemic axioms and moral axioms fails. The former merely motivate scientific inquiry and frame its development, whereas the latter predetermine your science of morality’s most basic findings. Epistemic axioms direct science to favor theories that are logically consistent, empirically supported, and so on, but they do not dictate which theories those will be. Meanwhile, your two moral axioms have already declared that (i) the only thing of intrinsic value is well-being, and (ii) the correct moral theory is consequentialist and, seemingly, some version of utilitarianism—rather than, say, virtue ethics, a non-consequentialist candidate for a naturalized moral framework. Further, both (i) and (ii) resist the sort of self-justification attributed above to science’s epistemic axioms; that is, neither is any more self-affirming than the value of health and the goal of promoting it. You might reply that the non-epistemic axioms of the science of medicine enjoy the sort of self-justification you have in mind for the moral (and likewise non-epistemic) axioms of your science of morality. But then your second analogy, between the science of medicine and your science of morality, fails. The former must presuppose that health is good and ought to be promoted; otherwise, the science of medicine would seem to defy conception. In contrast, a science of morality, insofar as it admits of conception, does not have to presuppose that well-being is the highest good and ought to be maximized. Serious competing theories of value and morality exist. If a science of morality elucidates moral reality, as you suggest, then presumably it must work out, not simply presuppose, the correct theory of moral reality, just as the science of physics must work out the correct theory of physical reality.
Sounds good to me. In fact, I think this part is key – “If a science of morality elucidates moral reality, as you suggest, then presumably it must work out, not simply presuppose, the correct theory of moral reality, just as the science of physics must work out the correct theory of physical reality.”
It must work out.
The way we can tell that Harris is peddling pseudoscience is simple – he is not interested in working it out. Since publishing his book/thesis, has Harris made ANY effort to do some science to elucidate moral reality? Has he ever gone in the lab and run some experiments to resolve a moral issue? No. And, no.
Yes, he made some money selling the idea that science could determine right and wrong, but that’s all he has accomplished. He cannot go into the lab to elucidate moral reality for the simple reason that science cannot elucidate moral reality. His actions, or in this case, his lack of action, speaks much more loudly than his words.
Finally, Coyne also posts an excerpt from Harris’s response:
Ryan wrote that my “proposed science of morality cannot offer scientific answers to questions of morality and value, because it cannot derive moral judgments solely from scientific descriptions of the world.” But no branch of science can derive its judgments solely from scientific descriptions of the world. We have intuitions of truth and falsity, logical consistency, and causality that are foundational to our thinking about anything. Certain of these intuitions can be used to trump others: We may think, for instance, that our expectations of cause and effect could be routinely violated by reality at large, and that apes like ourselves may simply be unequipped to understand what is really going on in the universe. That is a perfectly cogent idea, even though it seems to make a mockery of most of our other ideas. But the fact is that all forms of scientific inquiry pull themselves up by some intuitive bootstraps.
And there ya go. “Science” determines what is right and wrong by relying on intuition! So now we know why Harris wants to dumb down the definition of science. He wants to draw upon his atheistic/Buddhist intuitions and then, like a typical pseudoscientist, label them science, relying on his dumbed down definitions.
Harris has not come up with any way of using science to determine what is right and what is wrong. He has just come up with an elaborate rationalization for labeling his moral musings as “science.” It sells books and fits into his cultural agenda. But that’s all it does.