Via OpenCulture.com, Sam Harris seems to think he has come across oughts in the wild. We just needed a big enough microscope to see them.
As physicist Sean Carroll notes, there once was a man named Hume:
Morality and science operate in very different ways. In science, our judgments are ultimately grounded in data; when it comes to values we have no such recourse. If I believe in the Big Bang model and you believe in the Steady State cosmology, I can point to the successful predictions of the cosmic background radiation, light element nucleosynthesis, evolution of large-scale structure, and so on. Eventually you would either agree or be relegated to crackpot status. But what if I believe that the highest moral good is to be found in the autonomy of the individual, while you believe that the highest good is to maximize the utility of some societal group? What are the data we can point to in order to adjudicate this disagreement? We might use empirical means to measure whether one preference or the other leads to systems that give people more successful lives on some particular scale — but that’s presuming the answer, not deriving it.
Sam Harris is one of these popularizers of science — specifically, of its implications for such subjects as faith and morals — who (like, for example, Richard Dawkins) displays little deep curiosity about the philosophical problems he thinks he’s addressing, and no awareness of the vast amount that has been written about them. He makes the very newbie assumption, for instance, that the only alternative to grounding morality in empirical science is moral relativism — moral realism does not require this, and one can think there are moral facts about the world without trying to derive ought from is; there are philosophers who try to overcome the ought-is barrier — but these are highly problematic and much debated.