Even Michael Ruse Gets It

Michael Ruse reviews the new Harris book here. I laughed throughout the review. First, I laughed because Ruse is witty. Second, I laughed because Harris really believes he is on to something, when he is just rehashing the sort of nonsense freshman philosophy students assert to one another after imbibing too much beer and pizza. At some point, a professor usually disabuses them of their shallowness. Clearly, a professor or two failed Harris.

Here are some good quotes:

If God wanted to destroy New Atheism, getting this book written was a good start. Although, as I said at the beginning, perhaps the first divine move was making Sam Harris so famous he thought he could get away with it.

So what is the secret that has eluded David Hume and G. E. Moore, and just about every professional philosopher of the twentieth century, including the present writer? It seems to be a matter of “well-being.” We value well-being and we therefore ought to promote it, both for ourselves and for others. That is all there is to it, Harris thinks, although of course a lot more is required to get well-being in every particular case. But essentially well-being is everything, and science can tell us whether we have it or not.

Well, hang on a minute. Before we go off and celebrate in the bar that two-and-a-half thousand years of moral philosophizing can now be brought to an end, let’s ask a few questions—the sorts of questions that one might ask of a first-year undergraduate who comes up with an answer like this.

Science alone just cannot do it. It cannot decide questions like these. I don’t know what Harris studied in his philosophy courses as an undergrad at Stanford, but they don’t seem to have penetrated very deeply…

Ruse then goes on to reveal how much people like Harris just assume. After 2000 years of living is a world built by the Judeo-Christian narrative, the new atheists just assume that this is normal and what happens when people are reasonable. The historical, religious, and cultural ignorance is amazing.

People like Harris remind of the spoiled children of the multi-billionaire. As they lay around the palace sipping wine by the pool and checking their stocks on their phones or laptops, as they live and move in a world they had nothing to do with creating, they glance at each other and remark, “This making money stuff is easy–we should write a book.” Well, that’s what Harris did.

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1 Response to Even Michael Ruse Gets It

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    I also enjoyed Ruse's article, and agree with him. Harris has become (even more of) an embarrassment to the cause. Talk about begging the question .. scientific well-being? What could be more absurd?

    Viewed charitably, Harris's point would be that at some level the basic parameters to human existence set clear moral boundaries- pain/torture, hunger/starvation&fairness. But these tend to be the most elemental aspects of existence, (at least as presented), and hardly inform the exceedingly complicated questions that are not horror poster-children, but the bread and butter of our normal moral lives.

    This is not to say that the Judeo-Christian narrative has been much more help than Harris's “well-being”. It has provided the most contradictory and obscure guideposts, eagerly twisted and reinterpreted by anyone with temporal power. The recent RD article on the pope's recent cardinal selections is a case in point. And so is the whole sorry saga of gay rights. All that is even before we get to the question of its truth.

    At any rate, the best we can do is take the good, throw out the bad, listen to our consciences with sensitivity, and propagate what wisdom we can come up with. Human wellbeing is the ultimate good, but it isn't a matter of science, it is a matter of all our being- of art, philosophy, science, economics, psychology, .. all of it.


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