We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
To make his case, Harris must commit along the way what for many is intellectual heresy. It has long been the position of science that the descriptive and the prescriptive spring from entirely separate realms of human experience. The thinking is that science deals only with the descriptive—with facts. Science can tell us what the facts are, but it can never tell us what we ought to do in a moral sense. Rather, the latter is the exclusive domain of religious and philosophical discourse, a normative universe the morally indifferent instruments of science can never penetrate. This position is most associated with David Hume. Hume argued that statements of fact (“your mother gave birth to you”) can never lead to moral conclusions (“so you should be nice to your mother”). Yet against the cautions of Hume, Harris attempts to prove that it is in fact possible to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’.
Harris is very clear about his mission. To use his own words: he is not merely saying that “science can help us get what we want out of life.” (p. 28) Harris is arguing that science can “help us understand what we should do and should want—and, therefore, what other people should do and should want...” (p. 28) These are very different claims. The first is uncontroversial and rather obvious; the second is impossible. Harris is arguing for a “science of morality” (p. 27) that will provide humanity with the necessary toolkit to discover what is objectively right and wrong, and pinpoint a universal conception of human values. In advancing this science of morality, however, Harris takes enormous liberties in logic...
Science can tell me what I should want? What? Science is not my Mommy, and if my Mom had raised me scientifically I would probably be insane..
[Harris] is not merely saying that 'science can help us get what we want out of life.' [He] is arguing that science can 'help us understand what we should do and should want - and, therefore, what other people should do and should want...' These are very different claims. The first is uncontroversial and rather obvious; the second is impossible."
Harris obviously isn't talking about science here; he's talking about scientism.
Harris' scientism doesn't hold water. But neither does the sacrelized prohibition against deriving an "'ought' from an 'is'."
(Which, as all good Straussians know, originates with Machiavelli and marks the modern age.)
You can certainly derive an 'ought' from an 'is' if you believe in the objectivity of good and evil. Cf. the Natural Law Theory.
You can also derive an 'ought' from an 'is' if you remember that science is a human endeavor, a practice designed to generate results. It is more a method than a static body of knowledge. Therefore, it can and should be directed towards humane ends. That's why we limit experimentation on human beings regardless of the science involved.
Therefore, of the three alternatives, Harris endorses the weakest intellectual position. I give him credit for being consistent, but it is a foolish consistency.
Jeremy Bentham was raised under strict scientist utilitarian methods. He went quite mad in early adulthood.
He also invented that pinnacle of utilitarian utopianism aimed at teaching us how we should act, the Panopticon. The prisoners subjected to its tender mercies went from being criminal, to being criminally insane in short order.