He asks ” I don’t see what’s wrong with living for the sake of my own flourishing” and “It seems pretty obvious to me that the moral purpose of my life is my own flourishing. I don’t see why it’s wrong to be what Harris calls “selfish” and “short-sighted.”
Sandefur does correctly quote Sam in saying that “It amazes me that such questions require answers.”
That all depends on what Harris calls selfish and short-sighted, now doesn’t it. Those are scare quotes.
Christians would argue that atheists like Harris and me are selfish and short sighted. Selfish for not donating to the church, and short sighted for not considering the afterlife. I don’t see why it is wrong to be what Christians call “selfish” and “short sighted”. That’s because our world views differ. In fact, I think Christians are selfish and short sighted. Selfish for desiring an eternal reward Short sighted in relying on blind faith to assure them that such a reward exists.
Objectivists have an idiosyncratic vocabulary that I think gets in their way and actually can lead to moral error. I don’t think such error is in play here however.
Harris is in fact advocating economic and political policies that are short sighted. For example his Luddite concerns regarding new inventions. That’s a notorious example of a economic fallacy that rests on short sightedness. So in that case Harris is being short sighted and Sandefur is taking in the broader landscape.
Many people are upset with Harris specifically because he is being short sighted in the implications of what he is advocating.
Harris is short sighted also in gathering input for his conclusions.
Shortsightedness is an extremely common error in economics. In fact, to such an extent that entire schools of economics are based on shortsightedness. Keynes is famous for saying, “In the long run we are all dead”.
There is a saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Harris may have good intentions in advocating ludditism but the end result, in the long run, of Luddite policies are bad. India stagnated for decades after its independence in part because Gandhi’s Luddite economic policies. [Thomas Sowell has covered this issue if you want to read further.] This caused a lot of needless suffering. Harris’s short sightedness would have us repeat these errors.
Florishing can certainly include charity, and that is a question I would take up with Sandefur.
Many outside the objectivist camp and prior to it even existing have questioned whether the government dole counts as charity. How can Buffet forcing me to pay higher taxes to pay for policies that allow him soothe his guilty conscience count as charity? I don’t think they can.
Make no mistake here either. I actually believe that t he government can justifiably do things like a) Enact Good Samaritan law. b) Enact public insurance schemes. However, when I do so the arguments I use to justify these things can only do so within limits. For example, a limitation on my argument would not allow for a law that allows someone who received substantial help in an emergency to indefinitely keep whatever resources were appropriated during the emergency. Also the cause of the emergency has to be taken into account, etc. For instance, one can break into a cabin in an emergency to take food, but one would be required to 1) Pay it back when possible 2) Publicize the fact that you took it. I cannot justify such behavior without these and other criteria (I haven’t expounded completely). I need these criteria to distinguish this act from simple theft. There are also other issues such as conflicting emergencies. During a hard winter you just can’t break into someone elses cabin for food because they too may be on the edge of starvation.
So I can accept appropriation of the wealth of others under certain criteria.
Harris’ argument is a total non-starter for justifying such takings. I see no way to distinguish what he desires to do and theft.
In fact, many criminals justify their acts specifically based on this idea that others have “too much” which Harris seems to think is based in morality. I would argue instead that it is immoral.
I think it does boil down to our intuitions about these questions, because that may be all we have. We’ll see if Sam can add any more support if he bothers to answer Sandefur’s ten questions.
Harris can’t claim that this is about mere intuition. The title of his book is “How Science Can Determine Human Values”. He’s claiming some kind of objective authority for science on the issue of morality. He is in a way an “objectivist”.
I think moral systems are competing survival strategies. I don’t think there is an objective way to directly determine which such survival strategy is “best”. Some are superior to others in certain niches and will drive others extinct but that all depends on environmental factors. So in a crude way we can say that for instance humans are better than dodo birds.
So my philosophical position doesn’t suffer from problems his does. It is also less totalitarian. I don’t have to decide on the one true morality and force it on others.