- How do we actually measure well being?; for that is what we must do to make moral judgments. The metric for well being of a person, or an animal, must differ from that of groups or societies, yet they’re to be put on a single scale. In some cases, of course, it’s easy; in others, seemingly impossible.
- Given that, how do we trade off different types of well-being? How do you determine, for example, whether torture is moral? In some case, as Harris pointed out in The End of Faith, torture may save innumerable lives, but there’s a societal effect in sanctioning it. How do you weigh these? How do you determine whether the well-being of animals outweighs the well-being we experience when eating meat?
- There are behaviors that we see as moral, or at least not immoral, that Harris’s metric nevertheless deems immoral. We favor our children and family, for example, over other people. According to Harris, we shouldn’t do this unless it increases universal well-being. Don’t give money to your kids—give nearly all of it to poor Africans who need clean water and medicine. Yet people do not condemn others for giving their kids a marginal benefit in lieu of tremendous benefits to strangers.
- Humans draw strong moral distinctions between different situations that have seemingly identical consequences (e.g., the trolley problem and the organ-donation problem). But perhaps Harris would respond that our morality is simply misguided here.
- According to Blackford, Harris fails to give a convincing reason why people should be moral. Blackford notes:
If we are going to provide [a person] with reasons to act in a particular way, or to support a particular policy, or condemn a traditional custom – or whatever it might be – sooner or later we will need to appeal to the values, desires, and so on, that she actually has. There are no values that are, mysteriously, objectively binding on us all in the sense I have been discussing. Thus it is futile to argue from a presupposition that we are all rationally bound to act so as to maximize global well-being. It is simply not the case.
Again, this totally misses the point of my argument. And the same annihilating claim could be made about any branch of science. There are no scientific values that command assent in the way that Blackford worries morality should. Why value human well-being? Well, why value logic, or evidence, or understanding the universe? Some people don’t, and there’s no talking to them. The fact that some people cannot be reached on the subject of physics — or use the term “physics” in ways that we cannot sanction — says absolutely nothing about the limitations of physics or about the nature of physical truth. Why should differences of opinion hold any more weight on the subject of good and evil?
I believe Sam is preparing a comprehensive reply to some of the criticisms of his book, so by all means continue this dialogue in the comments, refraining—as always—from invective.