Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 7 seconds

This statement caught my attention: “Any claim of injustice must rely on shared ethical intuition.”

I will go out on a limb here and suggest reading the premise behind Sam Harris’ book “The Moral Landscape” [ ]. Harris is known more for his criticism of organized religion. And to be frank, he can often be a jerk. I don’t vouch for his personality in so much for his acumen as a thinker and his ability to express his positions clearly and with a strong defense.

With that caveat expensed, my connection to Harris here has to do with the idea that he proposes a scientific method for moral and ethical inquiry which relies on an empirical, agnostic, and (presumably) non-prejudicial calculation of a “factually based state of human and animal well-being”. He believes that moral relativism is false, which, in my view, has kinship to the “justice relativism” of dismissive power dynamics described on Bali’s post. This Wikipedia entry elaborates [ ]

“Harris contends that the only moral framework worth talking about is one where “morally good” things pertain to increases in the “well-being of conscious creatures”. He then argues that, problems with philosophy of science and reason in general notwithstanding, ‘moral questions’ will have objectively right and wrong answers which are grounded in empirical facts about what causes people to flourish.”

Coming back Bali’s quote: “Any claim of injustice must rely on shared ethical intuition.” How is this shared ethical intuition attained? Part of it would require coming to some mutually agreed upon rule set (to borrow from Thomas P. Barnett) which validates neither party’s subjective claim to moral clarity or legitimacy, i.e. my religion versus your religion, my race versus your race, my history versus your history, my privilege versus your privilege, etc. IMO, those arguments, while valid arguments to make, are waged and ultimately “won” in our current discourse through social and legislative warfare which, I argue, is neither efficient nor conducive to winning hearts and minds towards a great good.

Rather, Harris suggests that an empirical scientific method can be implemented which would reveal whether well-being (justice) is served under a given set of conditions, given the reality that there are, in his words, universal facts about what enables humans and animals to flourish.

My intent here is to advance the idea that if there is to be a shared ethical intuition about anything, we would all have to agree upon how that ethical intuition is constructed. Harris’ scientific method aims to achieve that by measuring against universal human needs rather than any particular rule set. I contend that Harris’ focus on well-being is complementary to Bali’s (and other’s) focus on justice.