All the same, I feel that the review only scratches the surface of some issues. There are many arguments in the book that could have been dealt with separately, but even allowing myself the indulgence of 6,500 words I couldn't get to them.
I seriously plan to write a book on this subject, because too many people assume that the only alternatives are a very crude moral relativism or a naive moral realism, such as Harris espouses. It would be good to develop a book that's accessible to a general educated audience and which explains why that is not the case. Harris could have argued from much weaker premises that would have been acceptable to error theorists and sophisticated relativists (and, no doubt, to sophisticated non-cognitivists). His attempt to defend a naive realist position in metaethics ends up causing a lot of distraction. That said, it's good that a popular author has at least opened up this discussion. It will now be easier for others to write books for a non-specialist audience (too much of what's available on metaethics is almost impenetrable even for philosophers who are not specialists).
Don't kind of hold your breath waiting for me to write the book I keep threatening to write, though. It'll have to be in a queue behind some other projects.
As I say in the review, the most interesting things I can say about The Moral Landscape all relate to points where Harris and I disagree. That doesn't mean that I think it's a comprehensively bad book, or that it's a bad book at all. I do think it shows that Harris has blind spots, just as theists often do when they seem unable to imagine how someone else lacks their strong theistic intuitions. Harris is inclined to dismiss the arguments of people who lack his strong moral realist intuitions, and there seems to be a similar inability to "let go" to that which we see from religious people. But it's still a very worthwhile book with a take-home message that's worth repeating. Thus, from early in the review I say:
I enjoyed this book, and I recommend it highly. Though it contains much technical material, from neuroscience as well as philosophy, Harris makes it all accessible. He has an enviable gift for vivid phrasing and clear exposition of difficult concepts, and he undoubtedly has much to teach us. Almost anyone could benefit from reading The Moral Landscape. In that sense, I need go no further. Is this book worth obtaining and reading? Emphatically yes.I conclude the review as follows:
In the end, Harris provides a compelling argument for selective intolerance toward harsh moral traditions. He argues via a kind of moral realism, linked to a form of utilitarian ethic, but I submit that these are not doing the real work. To reach a similar conclusion, we can rely on much weaker premises. It’s enough that we have a non-arbitrary conception of what morality is for, and what sorts of things we can rationally and realistically want moral traditions to do. Where they divert from that conception, moral traditions merit our critique and opposition. These should be every bit as severe, absolutely as passionate, as Harris evidently wants, but that does not commit us to his total picture of morality's landscape.
Like it or not, morality is a much trickier phenomenon.