Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book Review: The Moral Landscape

'The Moral Landscape' by Sam Harris. 'The goal of this book' as the author tells 'is to begin a conversation about how moral truth can be understood in the context of science.'
In the introduction, the issue in hand is presented as questions. If the basic claims of religion are true, the scientific worldview leads constantly to confusion. If the basic claims of religion are false, most people are profoundly confused about the nature of reality, and entertain irrational hopes and fears. Good and evil are introduced as concepts that can aid us in peril. For example, to face the threat of a deadly pandemic, an asteroid impact, or some other global catastrophe—human cooperation is the only remedy. Cooperation is necessary, as the stuff of which meaningful human lives and viable societies are made, and pointing that out as a scientific need. 
Next chapter examines beliefs and how these are stored, and acted on appropriately by our brains. 
Thereafter the book discusses an important issue, the imbroglio that is religion. It rightly says, 'Since the nineteenth century, it has been widely assumed that the spread of industrialized society would spell the end of religion'. Numerous anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and psychologists expected religious belief to wither in the light of modernity, but it has not come to pass. Examined here is the the explosive spread of certain religions, the anomalous piety of the certain others, the level of religious belief holding out, even though religion has been de-linked from state, etc. 
Linking the future of happiness with our moral progress, the book presents an optimistic view. We are surely more likely to act for the benefit of humanity as a whole than at any point in the past. But we are not doing so, which the author says, is due to the fact that scientifically advanced nations feel their morality as superior to all others' and see rest of the world based on what they think is actually true. And 'admitting this will transform the way we think about human happiness and the public good.'
The author is right. The growth of religion and our nonscientific approach to morality can't be explained away as part of human nature. 'Morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science'. The author has also not been able to provide an explicit reason for our adherence to morality without any scientific examination, science being widely accepted in all facets of our life. This, I think is a silent admission that scope exists for a new theory. And here, some of my theories, like those presented in my books 'Caste: the Unexplored', 'Chasing Evolution' etc. can also fit in.