Answering Sam Harris’s “Moral Landscape Challenge” - The Objective Standard

Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author of The Moral Landscape, has issued a challenge:

Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less. (You must address the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.) The best response will be published on this website, and its author will receive $2,000. If any essay actually persuades me, however, its author will receive $20,000, and I will publicly recant my view.

Helpfully, Harris describes his “central argument” in a single paragraph, and we can shorten it without loss of meaning to a single sentence: “Morality and values depend . . . on the fact that [conscious] minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering. . . .”

I have already explained the major errors of Harris’s theory of morality in my essay, “Sam Harris’s Failure to Formulate a Scientific Morality.” So far as I can tell, he has ignored that essay—and I suspect he will ignore this one as well, for it too cites the works of Ayn Rand.

Previously, Harris smeared Ayn Rand and completely misrepresented her positions—all while bragging that he has never read her work. But I am not writing this essay to change Harris’s mind—which appears by his own admission to be closed to the only ideas that could correct his errors: those of Ayn Rand. Rather, I’m writing it in hopes of reaching and changing the minds of others familiar with Harris’s work.

By carefully considering the relevant issues, we can attain something far more valuable than a $2,000 check: We can grasp and live by an objectively true moral theory that is part and parcel of what Rand called “a philosophy for living on earth.”

The following is my reply, in a thousand words:

Harris’s central argument regarding his purportedly “scientific understanding of morality” is wrong on four counts: . . .

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