Aspen Ideas Festival – Believing Reason


Recorded by the AIF – Sam Harris’ full lecture at the Aspen Ideas Festival in July of 2007.

Harris’s basic message is that the time has come to freely question the idea of religious faith. He feels that the survival of civilization is in danger because of a taboo against questioning religious beliefs.

While often defined as an atheist, Harris asserts that the term is not necessary. His position is that “atheism” is not a worldview or a philosophy, but the “destruction of bad ideas.” He states that religion is especially rife with bad ideas, calling it “one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised.” He compares modern religious beliefs to the myths of the Ancient Greeks, which were once accepted as fact but which are obsolete today. In a January 2007 interview with PBS, Harris said, “We don’t have a word for not believing in Zeus, which is to say we are all atheists in respect to Zeus. And we don’t have a word for not being an astrologer.” He goes on to say that the term will be retired only when “we all just achieve a level of intellectual honesty where we are no longer going to pretend to be certain about things we are not certain about.”

Philosophy, Logic And Reason – Stephen Fry


Interview Transcript

Question: What philosophers influenced you?

Stephen Fry: Philosophy is an odd thing. When we use the word in everyday speech you know you sometimes hear it hilariously. They say, Oh, its never good to be late. Thats my philosophy.

You think thats a generous description of that rather dull precept to call it a philosophy, but its odd how philosophers generally speaking, at least the ones Ive read or the ones I you know value, dont have in that sense a philosophy. There is no particular Socratic or Nietzschean or Kantian way to live your life. They dont offer ethical codes and standards by which to live your life.

They dont offer a philosophy to follow. They just simply raise an enormous number of questions mostly, so in the sense that you put the question is there a philosopher thats important to me.

Well I me I loved really the sort of the Bertrand Russell grand sort of tour of philosophy, the history of philosophy from the pre Socratics as they’re called, Zeno and so on through to Socrates and Plato and Aristotle.

I never quite liked Aristotle. I think thats partly… Although he was obviously a genius and brilliant and he invented logic, so whats not to like. I think it was his influence on the medieval mind was probably rather pernicious and unfortunate and all those categories and things, but when it opened up with I suppose Spinoza and them, but then Kant and the enlightenment era.

Oh and actually Locke. I did like Locke. He was a fine philosopher, but they dont… I mean what is so great about them is that they just… Theyre quite scary when you think of the word philosopher and especially if its logic and symbolic logic and it gets onto Hegelian philosophies, incredibly difficult to read I find and you follow it for about… Well its like trying to grab a salmon.

You know the harder you clutch at it the more it springs, slips out of your hand and whoa, its gone and you chase it again and what was that and you feel very stupid, but the… I think the beauty of questioning and simplicity that you get from Kant in particular I think is just amazing because its like they say of simple mathematical laws that make fractals, the tiniest little elegant observation about or question about something just spins out these immensely complex things that make you rethink everything.

So yes, I think philosophy is a really important dimension, but I think in our age we tend to be rather sloppy about it. We either think Buddhism is philosophy, which you know or some sort of eastern thing about being nice and spiritual and that will do, which its fine.

I mean you know obviously I believe in kindness and niceness and lots of spiritual things, but the real intellectual rigor and quest of logic is something that Im afraid takes incredibly hard work and we live in an age in which hard work is if not actively deprecated or denigrated it is run away from or ignored.

Its sort of people frown at you and say, Well, thats a bit dull and stupid. Why cant we just short circuit it and talk about like spirit? Well yeah, you can say spirit, but if you think thats philosophy and if you think thats good enough.

The most important philosophy I think is that even if it isnt true you must absolutely assume there is no afterlife. You cannot for one second I think, abbragate the responsibility of believing that this is it because if you think youre going to have an eternity in which you can talk to Mozart and Chopin and Schopenhauer on a cloud and learn stuff and you know really get to grips with knowledge and understanding and so you wont bother now.

I think its a terrible, a terrible mistake. It may be that there is an afterlife and Ill look incredibly stupid, but at least I will have had a crammed pre afterlife, a crammed life, so to me the most important thing is you know as Kipling put it, to fill every 60 seconds with you know what is it? To fill every unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.

You know absolutely, so thats all Im saying I suppose. Is that there is no point wasting time being lazy, though of course indolence in a divine way, actually has its advantages. Oh, shut up Steve. Okay, next one.

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