The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Sam Harris, 2010, Bantam Press (Bantam, 978-0-5930-6486-3, 304 pp.)


In The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Sam Harris presents a case for basing moral principles on scientific investigation. He highlights some of the limits of traditional religious dogmas. Likewise, he critiques the excessive moral indecisiveness and ineptitude of some who hold a more liberal doctrine, calling this “moral relativism.” Harris also puts forward a thought-provoking argument as to how science can be used to create a superior moral framework. However, there are shortcomings with Harris’ argument, which fails to address the distinction between Hume’s “is” and “ought.” Importantly, Harris fails to offer a fully operational alternative to traditional religious dogma. Established moral theories are rejected without a superior alternative offered. In this in-depth book review, the positive and negative aspects of Harris’ Moral Landscape are presented. Finally, some suggestions are presented as to how moral theory can harness the power of science.

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  1. Harris, S. 2010. The moral landscape: How science can determine human values. London: Bantam Press.

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  2. Hume, D. 1739. A treatise of human nature. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide. Accessed July 5, 2014.

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A special thanks to my friend Tom Douglas (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford) for critiquing an early draft.

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Correspondence to William C. N. Dunlop.

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Dunlop, W.C.N. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values . Bioethical Inquiry 11, 557–561 (2014).

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  • Ethics
  • Morals
  • Philosophy
  • Science
  • Religion