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Sam Harris

Uisang

16 day(s) ago

My brother-in law mentioned Sam Harris at thanksgiving, and I have perused it a bit and found it interesting. But I don't work on free will, moral responsibility, etc. Is anyone here who works on those topics familiar with his work? Is there anything original in it or is it just repackaging existing doctrines in an especially clear way? If it is original in some way, does it withstand serious philosophical scrutiny?

Hildegard

16 day(s) ago

Pseud

Hubert

16 day(s) ago

Harris's book on free will is pretty standard hard determinism. It is expressed clearly and concisely, but he is also extremely short with and probably unfair to compatibilists in that book. His book on ethics is much worse, as he promotes a simplistic form of naturalism that bypasses or bungles almost all of the really difficult philosophical issues involved. I think that incompatibilists won't hate Harris's free will book, but even naturalists who are sympathetic to Harris's general line on ethics will be frustrated by "The Moral Landscape".

Lorenz

16 day(s) ago

Sam Harris is an arrogant undergraduate too lazy to do his reading. Avoid him at all costs. To this day he fails to see that there might be disagreement as to what counts as good. He is one of those guys that really think that in order to know the good you have just to ask science. He likes to surround himself with people so obviously uneducated or dumb that it makes him look super smart. That said, when it comes to the dangers of Islam, he is surprisingly on point.

Adolf

16 day(s) ago

Sam Harris's ethical strategy is to elide the concept of "good" into a (for him) uncontentious notion of "well-being", while pretending that no other philosophers have seriously entertained other views, or could have anything else interesting to say over above his muddled first-year intuitions about right and wrong. He quite unashamedly brags in "The Moral Landscape" that reading the literature on moral philosophy bores him.

Nancy

16 day(s) ago

Yup. And, consequently, he has nothing interesting to say to ethicists. He is simply ignored. (Rightly.)

Sam Harris's ethical strategy is to elide the concept of "good" into a (for him) uncontentious notion of "well-being", while pretending that no other philosophers have seriously entertained other views, or could have anything else interesting to say over above his muddled first-year intuitions about right and wrong. He quite unashamedly brags in "The Moral Landscape" that reading the literature on moral philosophy bores him.

Adolf

Archibald

16 day(s) ago

Harris is a populist public intellectual. His strategy of poo pooing professional philosophy is a rhetorical/pragmatic one: it soothes the egos of his less educated readership and makes them more amenable to his arguments. As to whether his work overall is a force of good, I’m not sure. He’s a good writer, I agree with his anti-theism and his secularism, and I appreciate his public advocacy for dispassionate reasoning, but he has a few blindspots.

Wesley

16 day(s) ago

Force of good or not aside, based on his podcast I can tell you that he's intelligent and perceptive and has lots of interesting things to say about psychological, social and political matters. As far as theoretical philosophy goes, don't bother, people upthread are right. I just wanted to say this because, despite that, I have enjoyed and gotten things out of episodes of his podcast.

Augustus

16 day(s) ago

Sam Harris is not good, but he serves the public by getting them not to read actual philosophy, which is also for the most part not good.

Robert

13 day(s) ago

Harris is a populist public intellectual. His strategy of poo pooing professional philosophy is a rhetorical/pragmatic one: it soothes the egos of his less educated readership and makes them more amenable to his arguments.

Archibald

I am not so sure that this is right. He has an undergraduate degree in philosophy, but like a lot of scientists Harris often seems genuinely impatient with philosophical details. I think he has a strong feeling that science can give us the answer to questions of free will and ethics and is frustrated with the philosophical details that make it harder to move between science and philosophical answers. Given this, I don't think his occasional dismissals of professional philosophy are merely rhetorical.

Udayana

13 day(s) ago

Harris is a populist public intellectual. His strategy of poo pooing professional philosophy is a rhetorical/pragmatic one: it soothes the egos of his less educated readership and makes them more amenable to his arguments.

Archibald

I am not so sure that this is right. He has an undergraduate degree in philosophy, but like a lot of scientists Harris often seems genuinely impatient with philosophical details. I think he has a strong feeling that science can give us the answer to questions of free will and ethics and is frustrated with the philosophical details that make it harder to move between science and philosophical answers. Given this, I don't think his occasional dismissals of professional philosophy are merely rhetorical.

Robert

This is my impression too. Harris seems like a stereotype of a philosophy hating science guy in his popular books.

Gaetano

11 day(s) ago

See Harris vs. Chomsky. Great for a laugh.

He’s a nobody.

Serene

6 day(s) ago

Sam Harris is not good, but he serves the public by getting them not to read actual philosophy, which is also for the most part not good.

Augustus

I am Uisang's brother-in-law. Thanks so much all for sharing your comments, great context. I am one of those people who are a complete newbie to philosophy and likely also don't have the will to go deep into theoretical writings. For me Sam Harris' podcast is a wealth of insights into areas I had not contemplated before and it helps me to discover these areas and sometimes dig a little deeper, like talking to my brother-in-law who actually studied philosophy.

For the people here that suggest to stay away from Sam Harris, who do you recommend as an alternative to listen to or read, that is easy to digest and does not require a degree?

Maria

6 day(s) ago

What are you interested in, Serene?

Roderick

6 day(s) ago

For brief accessible introductions to philosophical topics, 1000 word philosophy is pretty good.

Chanakya

6 day(s) ago

If you are interested in Harris's book on free will, there are a number of recent books on the topic written by philosophers but intended for general readers. Balaguer's 'Free Will' and Mele's 'Free' are both around the same length as Harris's book. Dennett's 'Freedom Evolves' might also interest you. These books include references to the philosophical literature on free will and moral responsibility, so they could serve a good starting point for further reading on the topic.


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