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The Convert Series, by The Toast

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The Convert Series: Leah Libresco

The Toast is doing a series on individuals who have converted from one religion to another or even from atheism to religion as the linked story ties to. One of the books Leah happened to read was Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape. On this, the article cites:

[It] was one I preordered, looking for contemporary atheist writers who would make moral realist arguments like Lewis, without the “and then God!” coda.  I was looking for a book I could offer back for my side, while people offered me apologetics, and this was a total disappointment. The focus is on subjective happiness, looking forward to the days when we can use brain-scans to check what makes us happy, which was way too much trust in ourselves for my taste. Being good might make us happy, but pleasure/pain was too crude a way to check on what was good.

I haven't finished his book yet, but reading that last sentence of Leah's evaluation reminded me of Rand's comparison between pleasure and pain to the body's welfare or injury contrasted with joy and suffering as emotional estimates of a similar nature. Harris has not introduced Man's Life as the standard, and instead deals with what he has been developing, so far as I've read, for what contributes to the "well-being" of human beings.

In Rand's Journals while writing Atlas Shrugged, she observed that the materialist, protesting the mystical morality and advocating no morality in its place, tended to drive people back to church, recognizing that they some form of morality to exist. It would appear some are not looking for subjective happiness either, or the reliance on the collective (such as others using brain-scans) to determine what makes us happy.

Here, again, Rand shines through. On this, in her Notes On Writing, October 6, 1949:

If any school of morality considers morality a social, not an individual, matter—i.e., a code for the relation of man to man, and not for man's own conduct in regard to himself—then, of course, it will necessarily be a collectivist [theory] and it will not work.

So far, Mr. Harris has been intent on identifying morality as it applies to humanity, rather than the individual. On this regard, it seems that some folk can sense that something is not quite kosher, that is, seemingly detecting a contradiction while not quite being able to put their finger on it directly.

People are looking for a form of salvation. I don't think it's salvation for a hypothetical eternal soul. It is a salvation from doubts and nagging questions about what existence is all about. It is a search for purpose above and beyond a causality as it appears to apply only to inanimate matter. Unable to see volition as a causal form, the riddle of consciousness, as is Ayn Rand's intertwined approach to morality, is unique. It is an approach that is essentially unimaginable to advocates of a nonobjective view of concepts.

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People are looking for a form of salvation.

I think they're seeking individual "meaning"/"purpose".

Deriving meaning from a collective soul does not cut it when the collective is too large. This is probably why the fascists are more effective at providing their followers with meaning than the commies were: they're able to create an image of self, even if it is embedded in the collective. "I am a proud Aryan German", or "a proud Native American", or even "a proud Bisexual" offers an identity that is sharper than "workers of the world" uniting.

Edited by softwareNerd

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I mainly delved into this from a moral angle. You are putting a spotlight on meaning/purpose here.

Right/Wrong presupposes a for what. Meaning correlates to a what. Purpose also presupposes a for what.

I touched on purpose in the quoted paragraph you excerpted from. The gal in the article seemed to be focused on identifying what she believed, with "winning" procured by the changing of a mind, whether it be hers or another.

Are we driving at the same essential point?

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Well, if this is the crux:

Because, Harris’s paean to a discoverable ethics notwithstanding, he subscribes to the neo-Kantian view that our sense perceptions are “structured, edited, or amplified by the nervous system” to the point that “[n]o human being has ever experienced an objective world, or even a world at all.”

I don't think I've hit it yet in his book. Up till now it has been the social application of morality that has been making me leary.


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