Sam Harris on the Naturalistic Fallacy
Posted: 04 July 2010 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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In the notes of the book End of Faith it says:

Moore claimed that our judgments of goodness cannot be reduced to other properties like happiness. He would have undoubtedly argued that I had committed the naturalistic fallacy in defining ethics in terms of human happiness.
Moore felt that his “open question argument” was decisive here: it would seem, for instance, that we can always coherently ask of any state of happiness, “Is this form of happiness itself good?” The fact that the question still makes sense suggests that happiness and goodness cannot be the same. I would argue, however, that we are really asking in such a case is “Is this form of happiness conducive to (or obstructive of) some higher happiness?” This question is also coherent, and keeps our notion of what is good linked to the experience of sentient beings.

What does everyone think about Sam’s argument here?

Has he managed to define ethics in terms of human happiness without invoking the naturalistic fallacy?

Is Sam Harris effectively arguing that - Good is any state of happiness that is conducive to some higher happiness?

If this is the case then we could still apply the “open question argument” by saying “Is this form of higher happiness itself good?

Harris did not explain what he meant by higher happiness. Maybe a utilitarian would think that higher happiness is anything for the greater good of society.

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Posted: 25 August 2010 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I’ll have more to say on this I’m sure in 4 months when I complete another course in Ethics, yay education, but I find Harris to sometimes assume that happiness is human’s ultimate aim, or something like that. I would like either read an in depth account of Harris’ argument towards this type of utilitarianism, or at least be given a source to which his philosophy here comes from. If anyone has can put me in the right direction, please leave a source in your reply smile

I think what is good is what is fair, and what is fair won’t always make people happy. unfairness can make people unhappy, but fairness can as well. Picture someone who has been given an unfair amount of wealth at birth, and out of fairness is forced to give up some to the poor. In absence of understanding, or truth to what is happening, this can potentially make that person unhappy. Harris seems to have a vague definition of happiness, as seen with JS Mill in his writing, that allows the theory to work in most places. The problem I find with utilitarianism is that the word ‘happiness’ then loses a definition and can be manipulated beyond intention, without notice. Like I said, this is mostly just a first impression, based on the note you put and my reading of end of faith. I haven’t given it too much thought til now because a) it’s not argued too much in the book and b) isn’t the main focus at all of the book. Nonetheless, I am now intrigued and hope to find some good reading on the topic.. I’m sure Sam Harris’ book coming in October will cover this, so maybe I’ll just have to wait til then smile

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Posted: 25 August 2010 07:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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dyamihayes - 25 August 2010 05:57 PM

I’ll have more to say on this I’m sure in 4 months when I complete another course in Ethics, yay education, but I find Harris to sometimes assume that happiness is human’s ultimate aim, or something like that. I would like either read an in depth account of Harris’ argument towards this type of utilitarianism, or at least be given a source to which his philosophy here comes from. If anyone has can put me in the right direction, please leave a source in your reply smile

I think what is good is what is fair, and what is fair won’t always make people happy. unfairness can make people unhappy, but fairness can as well. Picture someone who has been given an unfair amount of wealth at birth, and out of fairness is forced to give up some to the poor. In absence of understanding, or truth to what is happening, this can potentially make that person unhappy. Harris seems to have a vague definition of happiness, as seen with JS Mill in his writing, that allows the theory to work in most places. The problem I find with utilitarianism is that the word ‘happiness’ then loses a definition and can be manipulated beyond intention, without notice. Like I said, this is mostly just a first impression, based on the note you put and my reading of end of faith. I haven’t given it too much thought til now because a) it’s not argued too much in the book and b) isn’t the main focus at all of the book. Nonetheless, I am now intrigued and hope to find some good reading on the topic.. I’m sure Sam Harris’ book coming in October will cover this, so maybe I’ll just have to wait til then smile

Sam Harris, last I checked, avoids using the term happiness, perhaps because he doesn’t have an easy solution to the problem you bring up (which I’ve boldfaced above.) Instead, Harris seems to favor the term well-being. This apparent attempt at improvement in word choice may also be an attempt to shake off some of the negative reputation that utilitarianism has. I suspect his attempts will not succeed, because what does it matter how a concept is pronounced and spelled? Obviously it matters in ways that con artists and other sales and marketing personnel understand, but not in a way that amounts to much to someone such as you, studying the kinds of things you’re studying.

Low-level sources of well-being or happiness are not always easy to define or even list. Yes, neuroscience has come a very long way in its development of tools that peer deeply at such matters, but neuroscience lacks much, as well. It’s focus is narrow, as it lacks historical/political expertise.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 19 April 2013 11:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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nimbus - 04 July 2010 01:43 PM

Is Sam Harris effectively arguing that - Good is any state of happiness that is conducive to some higher happiness?

 

No. I don’t think he is arguing for a higher happiness inasmuch as he is showing how: 
“happiness as: Only indicator” Or “happiness as: Non- indicator”

Is False Dichotomy. 

 

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Posted: 14 December 2013 02:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I took ‘higher happiness’ to mean those common, and powerful, facets of the deeper human need e.g. love, compassion, and sense of self (worth/identity/understanding).

That way, those brain states of ‘lower happiness’ e.g. pleasure - that can include the pleasure one derives from helping others (conducive to emotional compassion and in some sense love for others) vs. the pleasure one might derive from racist discrimination or violence (not conducive to these higher states of love and compassion) - can be reliably distinguished between in Harris’ theory.

Harris elaborates upon this in the Moral Landscape - arguing that one who purports to value those pleasures that negatively affect the well-being, or ‘lower/higher happiness’ states, of others as contributory to one’s own higher happiness is simply mistaken. They do not know what they are missing out on, if only they would seek out different pleasures that would be conducive to others’ as well as their own higher well-being. This is really the bedrock of his moral truth theory.

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