Back to Main List
Back to Book List

Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Left , Right

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Sam Harris




Recall the work of Jonathan Haidt, discussed at some length in chapter 2: Haidt has convinced many people, both inside and outside the scientific community, that there are two types of morality: liberal morality focuses on two primary concerns (harm and fairness), while conservative morality emphasizes five (harm, fairness, authority, purity, and group loyalty). As a result, many people believe that liberals and conservatives are bound to view human behavior in incompatible ways and that science will never be able to say that one approach to morality is “better” or “truer” or more “moral” than the other. I think that Haidt is wrong, for at least two reasons. First, I suspect that the extra factors he attributes to conservatives can be understood as further concerns about harm. That is, I believe that conservatives have the same morality as liberals do, they just have different ideas about how harm accrues in this universe. 3 There is also some research to suggest that conservatives are more prone to feelings of disgust, and this seems to especially influence their moral judgments on the subject of sex. 4 More important, whatever the differences between liberals and conservatives may or may not be, if my argument about the moral landscape is correct, one approach to morality is likely more conducive to human flourishing than the other. While my disagreement with Haidt may be more a matter of argument than of experiment at present, whichever argument prevails will affect the progress of science, as well as science’s impact on the rest of culture.

- Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (2011)