Making Sense of Foundations of Morality

Episode 3 of The Essential Sam Harris

Episode Companion

Each episode includes a workbook with illustrations, background information on each guest, references, suggested books and films, and more.

January 5, 2023

In this episode, we try to trace morality to its elusive foundations. Throughout the compilation we take a look at Sam’s “Moral Landscape” and his effort to defend an objective path towards moral evaluation.

We begin with the moral philosopher Peter Singer who outlines his famous “shallow pond” analogy and the framework of utilitarianism. We then hear from the moral psychologist Paul Bloom who makes the case against empathy and points out how it is more often a “bug” in our moral software than a “feature.” Later, William MacAskill describes the way a utilitarian philosophy informs his engagement with the Effective Altruism movement.

The moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt then puts pressure on Sam’s emphasis on rationality and objective pathways towards morality by injecting a healthy dose of psychological skepticism into the conversation.

After, we hear a fascinating exchange with the historian Dan Carlin where he and Sam tangle on the fraught issues of cultural relativism.

We end by exploring the intersection of technological innovation and moral progress with the entrepreneur Uma Valeti, whom Sam seeks out when he encounters his own collision with a personal moral failure.


About the Series

Filmmaker Jay Shapiro has produced The Essential Sam Harris, a new series of audio documentaries exploring the major topics that Sam has focused on over the course of his career.

Each episode weaves together original analysis, critical perspective, and novel thought experiments with some of the most compelling exchanges from the Making Sense archive. Whether you are new to a particular topic, or think you have your mind made up about it, we think you’ll find this series fascinating.