The question is prompted by this week’s NYRB review of The Moral Landscape by H. Allen Orr, a Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester.
Although Orr took his PhD under the supervision of Dr Jerry Coyne, he is very much a freethinker when it comes to the uses and limitations of scientific know-how and know-what. In a perfectly chivalrous way, he pronounces the three major premises of Harris’s attempt to bridge the gap from polemic to science unsuccessful.
I have always been skeptical that science, as a purely descriptive field, would help us to navigate the moral universe. This feeling–and it’s no more than that, and thus has to be regarded as pure cotton–comes less from my training as a theologian (there, I said it) than from earlier work in linguistics–what we used to call philology when trying to impress girls. –It never did.
When language analysis moved away from the…
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