My stomach is mine, yours is yours

It occurs to me that Sam Harris could have helped his case if he had stated his core claim more fully from the outset. His core claim omits the very thing that makes morality non-obvious and disputatious*.

His core claim is

For those unfamiliar with my book, here is my argument in brief:

Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds – and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end).

Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science.

Yes but. Yes but you left the difficult part out.

Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds and on the fact that each mind is separate from all others.

The fact that each of us can directly experience only our own suffering and well-being is why we need morality and values at all; without that it would all be straightforward, like hunger prompting us to find and eat food.

Morality isn’t about “if you’re suffering, try to stop.” We already know that! Morality is about “you’re fine but those people over there are starving, you should share your food with them, with the result that you are hungrier and they are rescued from starving.” And then about arguments over dependency and causation and responsibility and proximity and 50 million other things, many of which benefit from scientific input but few of which are simply settled (or in Harris’s word, determined) by science.

Harris should have included that in his argument in brief all along.

*Update: I think that’s not really the right word. I think that word applies to people who like to dispute, as with “litigious.” But “disputable” wasn’t exactly what I meant…so I used disputatious anyway, despite knowing it wasn’t really right. The really right word doesn’t exist, so I bent one, thus possibly creating confusion. Language is tricky. (No one has emailed me to say that’s the wrong word…I just felt like saying.)

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