Who Is Sam Harris?

Ben Thomas
13 min readDec 27, 2020

Some public intellectuals have suggested that discussing reality and truth entails a healthy skepticism when attempting any solutions or answers. Although such thinkers may be engaging in intellectually insightful and honest discourse, they fail to explicitly satisfy that which may have pushed them into the public arena to begin with: a sense of what one is to do. Of course, any public figure that attempts to answer such an inquiry with any normative claim must also address David Hume’s IS/OUGHT problem; namely, one cannot derive an ought from an is; a moral fact from a physical one. And then there’s Sam Harris, the thinker who has argued that, yes, we can create a system of morality directly from science.

Born in Los Angeles in 1967, Sam Harris was the son of the Western star Berkeley Harris and Susan Harris, the creator of the hit series “The Golden Girls”. After his parents divorced when he was only 2, Harris recalls that he was raised in a secular manner by his mother, who would define herself as Jewish but not religious.

Harris originally majored in English when he enrolled at Stanford. However after an experience with MDMA in his second year, he decided to take an 11 year break from his studies and travel through India and Nepal, studying meditation and learning from various spiritual teachers. Throughout this, Harris was financially supported by his parents. He recalls that it was both a blessing and a curse since, he was able to basically do whatever he wanted for 11 years but also, because of this, he had neglected to build his writing career.

Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

In 1997, Harris returned to Stanford and completed a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy. Immediately after 9/11, he also began to write what would become his first book “The End of Faith”; which would discuss the issues of religious fundamentalism and the struggle between faith and reason in the modern age. When the book was released it was met with a mixture of reviews. The American historian Alexander Saxton said that it was a “vitriolic and selective polemic