Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blackford on Harris

Russell Blackford points out what's right, and what's wrong, with Sam Harris's The Moral Landscape.

Sometimes Harris seems to think that the course of conduct which maximizes global well-being is the morally right one because “morally right” just means something like “such as to maximize global well-being.” But this won’t do. It’s no use telling somebody (we’ll call her Alice) to act so as to maximize global well-being on the ground that this is the morally right thing to do, while also telling her that “morally right” just means “such as to maximize global well-being”: the upshot is that Alice is told to act to maximize global well-being because this will maximize global well-being! That’s circular. If she is more committed to a goal such as maximizing her own well-being, or that of her loved ones, than to maximizing global well-being, she is not thereby making a mistake about anything in the world. Nor is she doing anything self-defeating, if she maximizes her own well-being, or that of her loved ones, whenever these conflict with maximizing global well-being.

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