Sam Harris vs. Jordan Peterson Arguments and Thought Provoking Questions

By Jarrett Retz -December 28th, 2018

Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson met in discussion a few months ago over four live discussions for a couple of hours each session. They discussed morals, ethical structures, religion, and science among other topics.

The two seemed to be maneuvering around a critical point in their philosophies, which they tried to outline during their "steel-man" sessions, that raised a very interesting thought experiment.

Here's some context if you have not watched the videos..

They agreed that stories are effective in teaching children (or anyone for that matter) about how they should act, and why it's necessary to act in desirable ways. The rift begins in how stories are 'grounded', defined in the discussions as either being grounded in divinity (Peterson) or reason/facts (Harris).

I think a usable analogy is that Sam sees the human race as a space ship traveling through the atmosphere to enter space. Divinity is the excess boosters that need to fall away. You can have the end result (space travel) without all the unnecessary pieces that came before it. Not only that, it's necessary to discard of the boosters. Sam says in the fourth video discussion, "Revelation is nothing but a recollection of past conversations." Sam values the book Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, because it has practical thoughts on ways to act, and does not come along with all the excess dogmatism that religious texts do.

Jordan Peterson views stories as representations of deep archetypes. Religions, especially Christianity, have stories, symbols, and other representations that are so integral to how humans are, and how they should be, that taking that away would be like removing the stem and roots of a blossoming flower. The past is important, and shouldn't be easily discarded.

Sam argues that the story of our lives can be ethical, moral, and meaningful without transcendent beings and divinity. Jordan argues that there is way more to a story, and a life, then facts and reason.

So, in the social cloud of increasing secularism and emphasis on reasoning with strict factual based viewpoints..

  • Where do you find the tipping points on the spectrum of their argument?
  • How would you go about explaining the lens in which a young mind should view the world?
  • Or, how would you give your child the best reasons to act morally?

This subject has been stuck in my mind because I am unable to answer it to a satisfactory degree. It seems to be a really hard thing to put into words despite it's apparent importance.

Anyway, no answers here on this post. Just questions. If you thought my analysis of either of the speakers viewpoints is incorrect, or if the analogies are too unfair, please share.

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