Book Review: “The Moral Landscape” by Sam Harris

Sam Harris is one of the so-called “New Atheists”, and is a great proponent of reason and the scientific method. He also has a doctorate in neuroscience, so his specialty is the activity of the brain.

In “Landscape”, Harris proposes nothing less than a ‘science of morality’, and while that may at first strike you as contradictory, the book is Harris’ series of arguments to win you over to the idea.

Harris has a plain-speaking and punchy prose style that keeps the arguments lively and helps laymen keep up with the science. He also makes compelling cases for some of his key points: that there exists a link between morality and human happiness, that we can determine through science what actions result in said happiness, and can therefore chart a course of actions. VoilĂ ! Science as moral compass. Whoda thunk it?

Harris sometimes resorts to fallacious arguments which weaken his position if you know what you are looking for, such as the straw man. At times when he cannot successfully argue he belittles his detractors and their cases, referring to them as “howlers” or laughable. This did turn me off somewhat. His easy style and obvious passion for science and reason make up for it, though.

I did not agree with every point put forward in this book (I still think moral relativism is the strongest scientific thought on this subject) but I enjoyed it and it definitely made me think. If you, like me, think society has largely abandoned reason, pick it up and spread the word. The world could use a dose of Sam Harris.


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