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The Science of Morality

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In 1739, Hume argued that science can help us get *what* we value, but it can't tell us what we *ought* to value. In his new book, “The Moral Landscape”, Sam Harris says this is now a dangerous …

In 1739, Hume argued that science can help us get *what* we value, but it can't tell us what we *ought* to value. In his new book, “The Moral Landscape”, Sam Harris says this is now a dangerous illusion. This multi-media talk reviews the arguments pro and con for the birth of a new discipline: “The Science of Morality.”

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  • 1. UUCMC Dialog January 16, 2011 Birth of A New Discipline(?): “The Science of Morality”Tim Zebohttp://www.slideshare.net/jerseyguyhttp://www.facebook.com/tim.zebotzebo@usa.net Image: http://www.artinthepicture.com/artists/Alessandro_Botticelli/birth.jpeg /
  • 2. Brain States of Conscious Creatures ? ?Ver. 011611 tjz-2
  • 3. Morality <=> Well-Being (Brain States) Ver. 011611 tjz-3
  • 4. Outcomes for Human Flourishing: “The Moral Landscape” Brain StatesIndividual & Group BehaviorsWorld Conditions: Cultural, Economic,Political, Environmental, etc., etc., etc. Premise: Flourishing depends on measurable factsVer. 011611 tjz-4
  • 5. Outcomes for Human Flourishing: “The Moral Landscape” Bad Lives Good Lives Terrific Lives Horrible LivesPremise: Some have better lives than others Ver. 011611 tjz-5
  • 6. Outcomes for Human Flourishing: “The Moral Landscape” Bad Lives Good Lives Terrific Lives Horrible Lives Possible Dialog Topics • What are the dimensions of human flourishing?Ver. 011611 Do UU‟s Seven Principles cover all the dimensions? • tjz-6
  • 7. Why should we care? The Moral Landscape: “Introduction” “Science & religion are in conflict because evidence & reasoning trump “faith” when it comes to understanding reality.” U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) – “Every member and every subcommittee will be on the frontlines as we take on federal agencies to target areas to immediately cut spending." Subcommittee on Environment and Economy Chair - John Shimkus (R-IL) Vice Chair - Tim Murphy (R-PA) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7h08RDYA5E Possible Dialog Topic• What risks does “faith” (belief without evidence) pose to human flourishing? Ver. 011611 tjz-7
  • 8. Chapter 1: “Moral Truth” Chapter Text• Even educated people today mistakenly believe there is only moral preference; Harris disagrees• Well Being, like health, lies on a continuum defined by goals - both can be measured using science and reason as tools.• Science can measure the best & worst possible lives (e.g., “women in cloth bags”). Possible Dialog Topic• “That feminists in the West remain silent about this deeply ingrained and institutionalized mistreatment of women is a scandal of our time.” What, if anything, should UUs do about “women in cloth bags”? Ver. 011611 http://tbknews.blogspot.com/2007/10/violent-oppression-of-women-in-islam.html tjz-8
  • 9. Chapter 2: “Good & Evil” Chapter Text • Brain science of human cooperation is still a mystery! • Our moral “blind spots” (e.g., genocide neglect) • Great cruelty comes from idea that humans possess a soul independent of : genes, parents, culture, economics, disease, etc. • How often does “evil” depend on a nutritional deficiency? • When is our impulse for retribution profoundly flawed? (Aggression to outsiders HUs: 1; Chimps: 200x) • Illusion of free will, moral realism, consequentialism, contractualism, etc. Possible Dialog Topic http://www.sas.upenn.e du/~baron/journal/7303Would we lose anything if we spoke of “well-being” a/jdm7303a.htm instead of “right”, “good”, “moral”, “evil”, etc ? Ver. 011611 tjz-9
  • 10. Chapter 3: “Belief”• “Belief formation is influenced by many sub-conscious processes (e.g., Soc. Sec. #‟s & # MDs in San Francisco)• Skeptics given L-DOPA are more likely to accept metaphysical reasons for natural phenomena.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYtYQ0a7btQ Possible Dialog Topic• “Perhaps deception, even more than violence, is the chief enemy of human cooperation.” Ver. 011611 tjz-10
  • 11. Chapter 4: “Religion” “Cannot be the source for moral truth” World Sciences World ReligionsContradictions in the Bible • Even fundamentalists have to “edit the books”: • Love neighbor as self • Stone any woman who‟s not a virgin on her wedding nighthttp://www.project-reason.org/gallery3/image/105/Ver. 011611 tjz-11
  • 12. Chapter 5: “The Future of Happiness” Chapter Text • Hard problem: well-being & satisfaction depend on history: - drug addict or Oprah? • Easier to speak of “moving up” or “moving down” • “Happiness” Science finds: We very poorly: - remember past - perceive present - predict future • Our experiencing self & remembering self often disagree! Possible Dialog Topic• Is it ethical to prolong minor suffering to create happier memories?Ver. 011611 tjz-12
  • 13. Comments by Steven PinkerHarvard Philosopher; Author, “How the Mind Works” Agrees Reservations • Terrible reasons to believe • If “science” is ONLY biology, what‟s “right” & “wrong” are: chemistry & physics, it‟s • Faith (belief without necessary, but NOT sufficient, to evidence) determine right from wrong • Subjective certainty • Reasoning (NOT science or • Scripture religion) that brought about • Authority changes in our criminal justice • Science has informed system advances in our morality: • Only administer enough • Torture punishment to deter without a • Racism perverse incentive structure • The worse the crime, the worse the punishmentVer. 011611 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fbplK-J5IA tjz-13
  • 14. Lawrence KraussPhysicist, The Origins Project, Author, “Quantum Man: Richard Feynman‟s Life in Science” Agrees that: • Our morality is constrained by our biology AND the social contract • It‟s impossible to define morality without science (=“secular empiricism”) • Science is the way to determine the consequences of our actions • Science ethos: honesty, openess, creativity, anti-authoritarianism, full disclosure==a moral society • When humans behave irrationally it‟s usually based on incomplete information (e.g., Stem cell debate: Blastocysts cannot be used for reproduction; there is no “moment of conception” – huge number of steps between the union of sperm and egg and a new entity • Questions science can ask & answer: • Is a woman safer if she‟s in a cloth bag? • Is her self-worth improved? • Is she freer to manifest her capabilities as a human being? Ver. 011611 tjz-14
  • 15. Comments by Simon BlackburnBertrand Russel Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, Author, “How to Read Hume” Agrees Reservations • Empirical investigation is • Two kinds of mental states: good idea • Beliefs: knowledge about the • We should be more charitable world & loyal • Desires/Concerns: motivators • Recognize that charity often to change the world goes awry (e.g., Biafra food • Values reflect desires; things that aid) “must” be done • Benefits come when values • Difficulty: What IS human are tempered by science (e.g., flourishing? Drugged zombie?; male & female brain studies Fool‟s Paradise (Delusion)?; will help break down gender Suppressed desires (Stoic)?; barriers) Greediness? • How to prioritize well-being of self vs family vs friends vs world? Ver. 011611 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8vYq6Xm2To tjz-15
  • 16. “The Moral Landscape” (293 pages) References (~880; 14%) Notes (364;15%)Ver. 011611 tjz-16
  • 17. Let‟s DialogVer. 011611
  • 18. Possible Dialog Topics: Recap• What are the dimensions of human flourishing?• Do UU‟s Seven Principles cover all the dimensions?• What risks does “faith” (belief without evidence) pose to human flourishing?• What, if anything, should UUs do about “women in cloth bags”?• Perhaps deception, even more than violence, is the chief enemy of human cooperation• Is it ethical to prolong minor suffering to create happier memories?• What else? Ver. 011611 tjz-18
  • 19. Dialog Topic: Dimensions of Human Flourishing & UU‟s 7 PrinciplesMoral actions to cultivate because they increase human flourishing: Health • Physical: Eating/exercise habits keeping you at a healthy weight • Emotional: Thinking habits keeping you feeling good ? • Cognitive: Thinking habits keeping you thinking rationally • Sexual: All habits keeping you sexual satisfied ? ? Financial ? • Spending habits keeping you out of debt (Friendly & Healthy) Social & Political • Family: etc. • Friends: etc. • Neighbors: etc. • Churches, clubs, teams, … : etc. • Strangers: etc. Environmental…?(Unfriendly & Unhealthy) Social & Political • e.g., Sociopaths = 3% Males, 1% Females… Ver. 011611 tjz-19
  • 20. Dialog Topic: Human Flourishing & Declaration of Human RightsMoral actions to cultivate because they increase human flourishing: Health • Physical: Eating/exercise habits keeping you at a healthy weight • Emotional: Thinking habits keeping you feeling good • Cognitive: Thinking habits keeping you thinking rationally • Sexual: All habits keeping you sexual satisfied Financial • Spending habits keeping you out of debt ? (Friendly & Healthy) Social & Political ? • Family: etc. • Friends: etc. • Neighbors: etc. • Churches, clubs, teams, … : etc. • Strangers: etc. Environmental ?…(Unfriendly & Unhealthy) Social & Political • e.g., Sociopaths = 3% Males, 1% Females… Ver. 011611 tjz-20
  • 21. Dialog Topic: Human Flourishing & The Ten Commandments(“Immoral”?) Actions to avoid because they decrease human flourishing?: Health ? • Physical: Eating/exercise habits keeping you from a healthy weight • Emotional: Thinking habits keeping you from feeling good? • Cognitive: Thinking habits keeping you from thinking rationally • Sexual: All habits keeping you from sexual satisfaction ? ? Financial ? • Spending habits keeping you in debt (Friendly & Healthy) Social & Political • Family: etc. • Friends: etc. • Neighbors: etc. • Churches, clubs, teams, … : etc. • Strangers: etc. Environmental ?…?(Unfriendly & Unhealthy) Social & Political • e.g., Sociopaths = 3% Males, 1% Females… Ver. 011611 tjz-21
  • 22. Judgments of Facts & Values  Facts: the way things are - “This DVD weighs .55 ounces”  Values: what‟s worthwhile (or not)? • Aesthetic - “This is great science fiction” • Comparative - “Star Wars #1 is better than #2.” •Instrumental - “Netflix can easily mail this.” • Interpretive - “War will always be with us.” •Moral -”It‟s wrong to copy this DVD basedVer. 011611 on harm, fairness & authority.” tjz-22
  • 23. The Moral Landscape: “Introduction” Chapter Text Chapter Notes • Better or worse human • Dennett: “If „ought‟ cannot flourishing? - depends on be derived from „is‟, what facts about brain states, can it be derived from? the world & behavior • Moral truth: Theft is wrong • Values do derive from facts because it harms human (e.g., DVD copies lead to flourishing in measurable measurable harm) ways • Hume (“ought from is”) & • Nutritional truth: Eating sat. Gould (“NOMA”) are fat is wrong because it simply mistaken. harms human bodies in measurable ways.Possible Dialog Topics• What are the dimensions of human flourishing?• Do UU‟s Seven Principles cover all the dimensions?Ver. 011611 tjz-23
  • 24. Outcomes for Human Flourishing: “The Moral Landscape”Ver. 011611 tjz-24
  • 25. Chapter 1: “Moral Truth” Chapter 1 Notes • A psychopath‟s pleasures are NOT an “alternate morality”. Without empathy they cannot experience generalizable human flourishing.Ver. 011611 tjz-25
  • 26. Chapter 4: “Religion” Chapter 4 Notes• “Religion brings benefits to developing societies, but the happiest and most secure societies are the most secular• Best predictor of social well-being is tolerance of differences (e.g., gays, lesbians, women, other religions, etc.). Tolerance does NOT flourish under orthodox religions.• Religion is why we‟re talking about gay marriage instead of a national energy policy.”Ver. 011611 tjz-26