The Science of Morality?Moral Landscape by Sam Harris
The Importance of Morality• A basis in what is fundamentally good and evil – Is essential to seeking more of the good – Is essential to judging where we are and what is more for or against our best interests – Needs to be reclaimed outside of arbitrary pronouncements as in religions – Needs to be unified with science – Must be based in reality and our best apprehension thereof• Leaving it to religion or claiming it does not exist or is all arbitrary leaves this entire value area to mystics and arbitrary assertions.
Morality rooted in reality• What is the good? – That which promotes well-being of beings such as ourselves • If this is so (hard to argue against) then science has a lot to say about what that is • The more we know about ourselves scientifically the more we know what does and does not promote our well being on a broad spectrum• Is well-being an arbitrary basis?• Is well-being too ill-defined to be meaningful? – Health is not that well defined but no one denies the value of medicine.
Morality sometimes claimed to be arbitrary• Arbitrary supposed commands from religion seem so• But is well-being arbitrary? – Will poison promote health as well as nourishing food? – Is life a value to us? Even the central value?• If there is a goal, a purpose at the heart of morality – Then we can find by study and examination • Those actions, ethical precepts and so on that work best • And those that do not work as well • It is not all relative and one thing is as good or bad as another – Not if there is any goal, standard, purpose, preference for better at all
Myth: Science can say nothing about morality• Science can say nothing about: – Human well-being? – Human brains, bodies, minds, psychology? – It offers no tools for examining data or testing hypothesis? – Neuroscience especially relevant..• Morality, what is it for? – For increasing the well-being of conscious thinking beings • Thus in your own personal deep self-interest
Isn’t every culture as good as every other?• Is every theory of biology or physics as good as every other? – Why then should any collection of embodied values and customs be as good for actual human well-being as any other?• But aren’t there simply different goals? – Are there? Do any people have an actual goal of a worse life? • Claims of some other life to one side.. • The goal is still well-being even if one has very odd notions of how to achieve it.• Moral disagreements do not mean the concept of moral truth is in jeopardy – Any more than notions the earth is flat put the science of astronomy or geology in jeopardy.
No separate magisteria• Only one reality, not two or more• Efficacious methods for seeking and validating truth are universal• Does is imply ought? – At least once one knows that better, great well- being, is desirable • Then all that *is* has implications for how one *ought* to act to more likely achieve what is desired
Is religion useful for determining morality?• Bogged down in – arbitrary out of context commandments – Contra-factual worldviews • Claims some after-death existence is more important • Various dogmatic willing ignorances• Teaches caring about the wrong things – Dogma more important than actual events
Isn’t morality inherently subjective?• Two senses of “objective” vs “subjective” – How we know vs what we know – To speak objectively is to be reasonably free of bias, open to counter-argument, facts, etc. – Just because something in ontologically subjective does not mean we cannot consider it objectively
Morality Double Standard• In science.. – Controversy means there is more work to be done• In morality.. – Controversy means there is no point in discussion and no reasoning process may resolve the questions• Nor is lack of consensus an argument – Probably much less consistency over general elements of the Standard Theory than over common moral intuitions worldwide
Does consensus matter?• Do “scientist” who use science to support Bible stories matter to science? – Do they make science any more problematic a venture or ever pointless?• So do those that, say.. – Condemn condoms more than child rape – Make morality a problematic venture or meaningless?• How is that millions of people do what we would utterly condemn one person if they did it make it morally acceptable and to be tolerated, much less defended?
On tolerance• All differences in moral notions are to be tolerated – Except any notion that some notions in this area are so obviously wrong and produce such suffering as to be intolerable• Everything must be tolerated except any deviance from utter toleration!• In science – All astronomers should tolerate the rantings of astrologers – Chemists should honor and defend the opinions of alchemists