Moral landscape

Moral landscape (thermodynamics)
American neuroscience philosopher Sam Harris's 2010 visual conception of "moral landscapes", correlating to heights of well-being and valleys of suffering, posited to be explainable by science, shown with the standard scientific criterion for constitutes a "natural" versus an "unnatural" human reaction or process for earth-bound. [2]
In philosophy, moral landscape is three dimensional mapping of peaks of potential well-being against valleys of the deepest possible suffering.
In 2010, Sam Harris, in his The Moral Landscape, published his hypothetical model of ‘moral landscape’ as a way to scientifically quantify meaning, values, morality, and the good life, by addressing what exactly is it that quantifies right and wrong and good and evil. He defined “moral landscape” as follows: [1]

“Throughout this book I make reference to a hypothetical space that I call the ‘moral landscape’—a space of real and potential outcomes whose peaks correspond to the heights of potential well-being and whose valleys represent the deepest possible suffering. Different ways of thinking and behaving—different cultural practices, ethical codes, modes of government, etc.—will translate into movements across this landscape and, therefore, into different degrees of human flourishing. I'm not suggesting that we will necessarily discover one right answer to every moral question or a single best way for human beings to live. Some questions may admit of many answers, each more or less equivalent. However, the existence of multiple peaks on the moral landscape does not make them any less real or worthy of discovery. Nor would it make the difference between being on a peak and being stuck deep in a valley any less clear or consequential.”

The central issue here, physico-chemically speaking, is that Harris' "moral landscape", wherein peaks correspond to heights of "well-being", is opposite to real "energy landscapes", wherein wells, not peaks, correspond to states of stability or "well-being", so to say.

The artistic conception of Harris' moral landscape is depicted adjacent, shown with the modern definition of what constitutes 'natural' verses an 'unnatural' human reaction process or reaction, according to standard chemical thermodynamic definition, in the upper right corner. [2]

● Natural process: dG < 0
● Unnatural process: dG > 0

In this sense, in the form of what are called free energy maps (or energy landscapes), Harris' idea of well-being heights and valleys of suffering, seem to be inverse in the graphical sense (to his depiction), in which such plots would be made in terms of Gibbs free energy differentials dG, wherein lows (or valleys) would correspond to points of maximal stability. In the 1923 words of Gilbert Lewis: [3]

"A system is stable when no process can occur with a diminution in free energy."

These stability points, assumed to be indicative of human states of well-being, are thus valleys or free energy wells of lowest position on a plot of free energy versus change.
Free energy minimum
The position of G1 is such that, in the words of Gilbert Lewis (1923), "no further process can occur with a diminution in free energy", and is thus representative of a state of maximal stability; whereas the position of G1 could decrease further in free energy, to the position of state one, and is thus not maximally stable.

Hence, in Harris morality mapping, although an interesting first attempt, peaks graphically, are very unstable point, differentially speaking, and generally correspond to transition states, which tend to be short-lived, not necessarily to a height of well-being, which tend to be longer in duration.

See also
Potential energy surface
Moral symbols
Moral movement

1. Harris, Sam. (2010). The Moral Landscape (moral landscape definition, pg. 7). Free Press.
2. (a) Moral landscape (video image) -
(b) Guggenheim, Eduard, A. (1933). Modern Thermodynamics by the Methods of Willard Gibbs (pgs. 5, 17). London: Methuen & Co.
3. Lewis, Gilbert N. and Randall, Merle. (1923). Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances (pgs. 160-61). McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc.

External links
● Harris, Sam. (2010). “Interview”, Groks Science Show, Nov 20.

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