This is a page where I can post longer reviews and comments on books; also a place to note books I would like to read at some point.
|The Moral Landscape
|Dishonest to God
|The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
|Bantam Press (7 April 2011)
The New Scientist review (11 December 2010, page 48) tells you much of what you need to know: "While I intuitively know that morality is independent of religion, Harris puts the case forward in a very compelling way."
I have not read the book (in December 2010, it is not yet on sale in the UK), but I have read a large number of reviews of the American edition - mostly by people who agree with Harris. The praise is quite educational.
According to the reviews, the title is entirely accurate, but misleading. A lot of people bought the book expecting to describe how 'science' provides a set of values on which a system of morality can be built. Instead, he affirms the necessity for such a set of values - a remarkably perceptive insight! - and also affirms his belief that science will one day be able to provide us with this set of values (which is where we part company).
Nobody denies that science provides us with facts. But nobody has yet shown how you can argue from facts to establish values; and on this vital point he offers no help. So my perspective is that the title is misleading: he is sure that one day science will be able to determine values, but at present he cannot suggest how this may come about.
Personally, I suspect you can validly start either with values or morality. You can take a set of values and build a moral system on that foundation, or you can take a moral system and tease out the values on which it is based. But you cannot derive either values or morality from a set of facts, and science on its own can only give us facts - even if they are facts about the human organism and the way our minds work.
|Dishonest to God: On Keeping Religion Out of Politics
|Continuum Publishing Corporation (2 Sep 2010)
Mary Warnock is one of the leading exponents of the secularisation movement in the UK. She spoke at the Arnolfini on Sunday 22 May 2011 as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. This is the publicity for this event.
Mary Warnock, philosopher and writer, in her new book Dishonest to God: On Keeping Religion Out of Politics and in this event argues that religious and theological issues should have no place in issues of public morality, including euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion, and tries to clarify the foundation of morality in a society largely indifferent to and ignorant of religion. She argues that to value religion as the essential foundation of morality is a profound and probably dangerous mistake. Religions and morality must be prised apart as morality is increasingly a public and not just a private matter.
So... to value religion as the essential foundation of morality is a mistake. Despite the fact that nobody has yet provided a single working alternative. Just like Sam Harris, she asserts the 'need' to prise apart religion and morality. Of course, she and Sam, and the other secularists, have this need. Whether society as a whole also has this need is not so clear.
The balanced and unbaised nature of the book can probably be deduced from the 'Product Description' on the Amazon web site - in part, it reads: "Religion is a cause for dissension and death. This is beyond dispute." What more needs to be said? It is obviously a bad thing.
On the plus side, she recognises that morality is a public and not just a private matter. Though why she has to describe this with the adjective 'increasingly' is not obvious to me - morality has always been a public matter, even if the secularists tried to deny it for a long time.
Martin Seligman, Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Fascinating review in New Scientist (16 April 2011, p 52). The reviewer is sceptical but finds himself convinced by the core message: transforming certain attitudes can transform some people's lives.
There is an important insight into mainstream psychology: it is mistaken in focussing mainly on pathology. "Once in a while I would help a patient get rid of all his anger and anxiety and sadness. I thought I would get a happy patient. But I never did. I got an empty patient."
From one Amazon review:
... this book has five key principles based on the notion that your success comes from working with other folks and rather than trying to and take from the world and get all you can while giving as little back as you can, the truth is just the opposite. You give as much as you can and you will get more back. Remember the story of casting your bread upon the water?
Here are the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success (which are restated at the back of the book):
The story nicely demonstrates what is meant by these principles and fleshes out the ideas in an attractive way. I think the principles are sound and if they interest you then you should get a copy of the book and dig into it.
Lots of arguments about this one. From the reviews, it sounds like I don't entirely agree with him, but I'm probably a lot closer than most of mainstream evangelicalism. I'll post something a bit more meaningful once I have found out a bit more.