Thursday, August 25, 2011

Deconstructing Sam Harris

Sam Harris is the chap who, in The End of Faith, asserts that we need to develop a "rational ethics" instead of the transcendental ethics handed down by prophets from God.

Problem is, "rational ethics" is rubbish. You can't derive ethics from reason; that's why humans invented God. Someone has to be the "decider" as President Bush used to say.

In fact, of course, Sam Harris is a conventional liberal espousing all the liberal pieties, and this week, (per Instapundit), Timothy Sandefur has his fun with Sam Harris and his rational ethics which always turn out to support the existing ruling class and its commandments. In other words, God is a liberal.

Instapundit also links to a law review article about the foundation of law, God, and little godlets. I didn't know that humor was allowed in law review articles.

Leaving aside the question of whether God exists (and my personal view is that, since the death of God, the mystery of the nature and origin of the universe only gets curiouser and curiouser) there has to be, in any society, a declaration of commandments. Someone, or some thing, such as a Constitution, speaks with the voice of God, and everyone scurries around trying to hear the voice of God.

In my view, the point of laws and constitutions and ethics is human flourishing in its widest sense. You can set up a a terrestrial paradise, such as Communism, but if it doesn't work then humans will chuck it out. But every social system is an act of faith. Our current democratic capitalism is an act of faith. We believe that the combination of free market and the circumscribed rule of the majority is the best system yet developed for human flourishing. We know, all of us except the Sam Harrises of the world, that the authoritarian welfare state version of democratic capitalism is seriously flawed; it needs reform. The Obama administration is an effort by the Sam Harrises to give the authoritarian welfare state one more college try.

But we know that the vast administrative state is a mistake. We knew it back when Charles Dickens wrote about the Circumlocution Office and its Barnacles and Stiltstockings in Little Dorrit. We were shown an alternative to the administrative state back in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan led the US out of the stagflation of the 1970s, but liberals insisted it was all a mirage.

Ben Franklin said it all: "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other." Now liberals are going to learn the hard way in the dear school of the 2012 elections; it will be an annus horribilis for them, but they refused to learn from the experience of the 1980s.

We can only hope that the America that emerges from the current mess is a better America.

1 comment:

  1. Rational ethics is rubbish??? What other type of ethics would we want to have, irrational ones? Ethics or moral philosophy, is a human invention which seeks to explain concepts of right and wrong thinking and behavior and does not depend on a god or a decider for it's authority. Harris' science of morality is based upon the fundamental belief that the well-being and flourishing of all conscious creatures is the greatest good and the needless suffering of all conscious creatures is bad and we know this instinctively or intuitively to be true.
    I would say that the difference between the Ten Commandments and our Constitution is that one is a "living" document and the other is not. Laws are not static - they change as new information and awareness arises and becomes available. This is why we abolished slavery.
    I think you are wrong to identify anyone as being strictly liberal or even strictly conservative for that matter. This is a false dichotomy or the fallacy of black and/or white thinking, i.e. "if you are not with us, then you are against us". Whether you identify yourself as a democrat or a republican, liberal or conservative, isn't the well-being and success of the entire nation the most important goal or ideal to pursue? Also, what did YOU learn from the dear school of the 2012 elections?