Sam Harris vs. Patricia Churchland

I recently read Patricia Churchland’s book on morality¬†which, in my estimation, is one of the better stabs at the new wave of naturalization projects. She surveys the relevant neuroscientific literature, and her conclusions are both insightful, bold and wary of the limitations of her project. The thesis that morality describes something that is largely neural is not a new thesis by any means, but rather than just say it is, she tries to sketch out how it is. This is a substantive thesis that has significant problems– usual worries about naturalizing ethics go pretty much untouched– but the book is an improvement over usual entries into this topic.

On the other hand, Sam Harris’ book on science and morality is pretty shit. It’s meant to be popular level, but there are no technical papers or academic books that you can reference to look for a more thorough treatment (something academics seem to prefer to do). I suppose this isn’t a damning problem, but it is annoying to see how someone who has virtually no record of academic work in metaethics can write a pop-scientific account of ethics with no credibility in either area. Whatever. If you get a chance, read Patricia’s book and then read the odd entry by Harris.

More:

Harris responds to criticisms (kinda)

Churchland on the Partially Examined Life (she discusses and criticizes Harris)

Ten minute interview with Churchland on her book