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Are ALL Moral Utterances reducible to Scientific Statements?

  1. Aug 17, 2004 #1
    Moral statements are often thought of as having nothing to do with science. As such, they have always been thought of as having something to do only with religion, customs and rules of the society. How true or realistic are these claims? Is there any way in which moral statements or utterances can be reduced to pure scientific statements? For example, moral statements are traditionally thought to impart judgements about the world in virtue of what is wrong or right. If Moral statements are reducible to scientific statements, ought we then to argue that scientific statements are also judgements about the world in virtue of what is generally good or bad, or simply what is wrong or right? Or simply, can scientific truths be moral?
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2004
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  3. Aug 17, 2004 #2
    There is clearly a difference between scientific laws and moral rules. If a scientific law is true, then nothing in the universe disobeys it. On the other hand, people sometimes violate moral laws. Moral laws say how people ought to behave; they don’t say what people will in fact do. Moral laws are normative, while scientific laws are descriptive.
    -Elliott Sober
  4. Aug 17, 2004 #3
    Are you then implying that it may not be possible to reduce the sentence:

    'it is wrong not to recycle.'

    into a scientific statement of act?
  5. Aug 18, 2004 #4
    Soilent Green, anyone?
    Context and consequences ought to be looked at.
  6. Aug 18, 2004 #5


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    The scientific statement would be, If you recycle the results will be so-and-so. If you don't recycle the results will be this other. And the statement would have to be verified by calculation and experiment so far as possible, and disagreemants oover it could be settled empirically, in principle.

    But science can't tell you which outcome is preferable; global warming, for example, might be good for some people and bad for others. So some kind of non-scientific morality, whether religion, or objectivism, or consequentialism, has to be invoked to decide the question.
  7. Aug 18, 2004 #6
    So, is science pursuing truth or kowledge just for the sake of it? Are we implying that science is not qualified to make moral judgements about its own results. Can't science be selective of truths of its own findings? Must science always tell it all? Or should it economise with the truth?

    First, the issue is about reducing any moral statement into a scientific one so that no moral statement is ever limited to or left at the level of supernatural interpretation and sanction. Wether the resulting scientific interpretations are good or bad, at least any human decision resulting from it is never at the mercy of myths and supernaturalism. That is, we decide and be contented at the level of scientific findings and sanctions.
  8. Aug 19, 2004 #7


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    Science cannot yet see into the human heart, although they are making progress. Until then they can only observe behaviors, and that is not sufficient to develop a moral truth. Evolutionists have made some stabs at deriving morality from our evolutionary past, things like kin selection and altruism. These remain controversial, mostly because the traditional authorities on morality and ethics resist being moved aside.
  9. Aug 19, 2004 #8
    Not to mention that, scientifically speaking, the concepts of truth and morality only have demonstrable meaning according to their function in a given context. In other words, if anything has any kind of innate meaning it cannot be proven by modern science; we are evidently the belief makers, we make everything meaningful or meaningless.
  10. Aug 19, 2004 #9


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    I agree completely. Especially with the last sentence. In this world, outside of humanity there is neither value or morality.
  11. Aug 19, 2004 #10

    In that case, both of you are grounding that the human life form is purposive with a clearly accountable scientific origin. Shouldn't that then imply that any meaning or purpose that we construct of such a life form must have scientific clearance before wholesaling it to the society at large? Wouldn't that relieve us of fundamental errors resulting from mere opinions and speculations?
  12. Aug 20, 2004 #11
    Perhaps, but science is simply not ready for such an endeavor. Science is not all powerful, science does not need to be. It knows its limits and seeks to expand them, but does not exceed them for the moment it does, it ceases to be science.
  13. Aug 21, 2004 #12
    Philocrat wrote:

    Well certainly, if humans always acted logically. Morality, while subjective in regards to the universe (multiverse? :uhh: ), has a certain "objectivity" in regards to the human race.

    It bothers a large majority of us to see someone we have spent a lot of time with and grown close to die. It bothers us to see something that was "ours" taken from us. In relation to humans there appears to be a certain objectivity to morality. While there are cultural differences, as a whole we generally share many of the same root feelings. Most likely a result of evolution.

    Anyways back to the point of your topic. Humans tend to act on these subjective and "scientifically meaningless" moral inclinations and emotions more so than their "logical" brain. That is simply the way we are built. So, while I will admit that it is illogical, all of our "true" knowledge that we obtain through science will be subservient and guided by our subjective but ruling emotions.
  14. Aug 21, 2004 #13
    Correct.....but emotions have their values, even if it's ephemerally so, but they are replacible when we succeed scientically in finding the best or perfect convergence formula.....or simply when we succeed in overcoming physical destruction. The point of convergence is simply where anything on its causal pathway actually overcomes being destroyed along with its 'final form' and all its 'causal and relational properties'. People genuinely desire this. Look at a place like Hollywood where nearly 100% of the movie stars go under the knife in the hope of staying young and employable. This is a genuine desire and quite rightly the best frame of mind to be, if life itself as we inherited it and currently know it is worth its claims. Now, this genuine desire, need, hope or whatever you may wish to call it is now being repeated across the globe. People genuinely wish not to die....to stay young.....or simply to live forever, and I can say from my own detailed examinations of all these issues that there is absolutely nothing wrong in thinking of and desiring such a possibility, if it is subsequently made available by science. You know as well as I do that people would sell their toes to buy such a technology should it ever become available. Hollywood and many cities around the world are ready with lots of money to buy such a technology should it be possible.

    Without deviating from the topic, I am trying to find out whether all the moral statements that we casually issue around the planet have detailed scientific implications or origins and whether by understanding this it may in the end lead to the scientific improvement of the human life conditions at the underlying structural level.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2004
  15. Aug 22, 2004 #14
    Philocrat wrote:

    As you know from my previous post, I feel that we have what we call morality as a survival mechanism grown out of evolution. Because working together (morality) simply works to help everyone survive. I think "morality" as it is then would differ under different environments and for different lifeforms. So I suppose whatever you are considering "scientific origins and implications" would differ depending on the lifeform and the environment that the lifeform inhabits.

    What exactly would you consider a statement with a scientific origin to be?
  16. Aug 22, 2004 #15
    I mean such statments as:

    1. It is wrong to punch a man in the face

    2. The trespasser shall be punished

    3. Don't do to others what you would not like to be done to you

    4. Be charitable or it's good to be charitable

    and so on.....now, I am asking: are statments like these ones reducible to pure scientific statements? If they are translatable, would the results be morally equivalent? I am suspecting such translations would have consequences on such notions as punishment, justice, self-control, rationality etc. It should also mean that science can directly address human behaviour without vague intermediate devices as ordinary oppinions, assumptions, speculations and the emotions that we mentioned above that usually cloud clear thinking and prudent judgements in our daily interactions with each other.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2004
  17. Aug 22, 2004 #16
    Yes, evolution does evolve so many strange properties in things....and emotion is one of them. And come to think of it, when it comes to emotion, there is no single soul who is above it, no matter how intelligent, rich, brave and powerful you think you are. Emotion catches you when you least expect......yet science seems to suggest that emotion has evolutionary value that's why it was selected in the first place. But what is not yet clear is whether emotion would still be necessary in later times when the human reality is scientifically re-engineered. Would it?
  18. Oct 17, 2004 #17
    If a moral statment can PREDICT ALL POSSIBLE HUMAN ACTIONS moral or amoral, then it can be stated in scientific terms.

    The moment it becomes relative and subjective, it loses all it's scientific merits.

    Good luck coming up with such a moral argument.
  19. Oct 19, 2004 #18
    Yes, but at the moment on the surface of the society that we purportedly share in the frurtherance of the human existence, we are our own juries and judges of each other. And very dangerously, it seems that anything goes. Yes, we continuously judge and punish ourselves, very often wrongly. Error of judgements in our daily decision systems, is precisely why I posed this questions. Although, science still has a long way to go in the process of perfecting its tools, it is now written in my own personal suspicion that science in the end may be the only answer to this problem. For example, there are many bad things that we do, for which we judge and blame each other that may be entirely a scientific problem within the human system. So the puzzle that requires an immediate answer is why we may blame each other for something that may be entirely an underlying scientific problem. Look at repeated offenders, for example, some of which are beyond oral or penal correction. Even with the fact that some do grow out of it, the fact still remains that there are equally those that repeatedly offend and beyond oral or penal correction. In the future science and other related disciplines may have to intervene to explain this.

    So the question still remains; can moral utterances alone cure, let alone explain, deviant undesirable human behaviours, or are they reducible to scientific statements that may ease things up and invite a possible rethink? Well, that's the puzzle!
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2004
  20. Oct 19, 2004 #19
    One of these questions has already been answered by the Elliot Sober quote mentioned earlier. No moral claim is reducible to a scientific claim. Moral claims are normative, or prescriptive, they tell us what ought to be the case. Scientific claims are descriptive, not prescriptive. You can't get any "oughts" from science, although science may be instrumental in allowing us to figure out how best to pursue things we antecedently regard as valuable, science itself is mute on questions of value.
  21. Oct 20, 2004 #20
    Well, that's only if you have a deep-seated presumption that causal relations in the underlying structure and function of the world are orginally and fundamentally stagnant and non-progressive. Well, anyone is entitle to their own opinion, yet from my own detailed research into the subject there is nothing which logically rules out the fact that things could equally be otherwise. No one knows this for certain. For all we know, the world may very well in the opposite contain causal and mutational pathways that are structually and functionally progressive. Instead of making such a bold claim, it's probably a safer option to leave the opposite possibilities at this early stage open while continually but conscientiously studying, revsing and re-engineering all the best available options at our disposal. Stagnation is the last thing for us to assume at this early hour.
    The possibility of life in the first place is perhaps the very best and only reason why we must think and act progressively. And most importantly, my own studies show that you cannot think and act progressively without being prescriptive.

    Think Nature! May the 'Book of nature' serve you well and bring you all that is good!
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2004
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