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'Can Science answer Moral questions

  1. Apr 9, 2010 #1
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 9, 2010 #2

    russ_watters

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    Re: Sam Harris

    Issues with specific religous beliefs are not acceptable for discussion here and aren't relevant to the issue anyway. That part of the OP has therefore been deleted.

    For the general issue itself, I agree with Harris completely. Regarding the criticism by Carroll:
    Yeah, actually it does. It means minimization of suffering (and therefore maximization of development) is an important component to morality.
    There are two problems with this:
    1. The two objectives at the beginning of the quote are assumed by socialists/communists to be mutually exclusive, but in reality, they are not. But even that is a non sequitur. Ultimately, neither zeroes-in on the real goal of the advancement of civilization: higher standards of living. This is nearly universally accepted. The point being, whichever worldview results in the higher standard of living must be the "best". Ironically, he describes exactly the method by which you would measure/prove this. Even more ironic, he invokes "personal choice" as a wildcard, when in fact it is only compatible with one of the possible methods!
    2. #1 is important for figuring out how to get where we want to go, but ultimately it is itself a non sequitur on the initial question because scientific theories don't have goals, they only seek to explain what IS and how what IS works. It's a bit like trying to attach a goal to evolution: evolution has no goal, it just goes where the environment drives it. So too with morality. Morality evolves to take human development where it wants to go. If humans are interested in collective good, morality will evolve in a way that maximizes collective good. If humans are interested in individual rights and everything else be damned, morality will evolve to achieve that. That morality doesn't make the choice for us is not a flaw in morality - it's not the purpose of morality.

    [edit: More...] Evolving a system where individual rights are paramount is actually not hard: it is Hobbes' "state of nature" and is much easier than evolving a collective good. The goal of policial theory since Hobbes has therefore been to maximize collective good while maintaining as much of individual rights as possible. The need for this isn't unique to humans - it can be seen all over the animal kingdom that evolution of successful (as in - simply surviving and thriving) animal species in a lot of/most cases requires social structures that adequately deal with the issue of balancing individual rights with collective good.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2010
  4. Apr 9, 2010 #3
    Re: Sam Harris



    Nice.

    "The point being, whichever worldview results in the higher standard of living must be the "best"." Is this not related to Spinoza's ethics?

    Too bad for the specific reference, that was the whole point of the thread.
     
  5. Apr 10, 2010 #4
    Re: Sam Harris

    This is the primary issue with Harris' whole argument. That he cites examples where most people would agree ethically and claims this makes the presumption of ethical righteousness objective. He liberally utilizes the appeal to authority and appeal to emotion through out.
    But what is considered a "higher standard of living"? Obviously many people have differing opinions on this. Many people believe that we can only establish a higher standard of living by not eating animals. Many people believe that we can only establish a higher standard of living by renouncing technology. I am sure we could come up with several differing opinions on this and based on their own goals for a higher standard of living we can come up with ways in which to achieve that higher standard. But this does not point the way to "the best". Even is a consensus of goals can be established it in no way detracts from the fact that it is a subjective consensus.
     
  6. Apr 10, 2010 #5

    russ_watters

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    Re: Sam Harris

    Nusc, I don't see your point. Could you explain it in more detail please.
     
  7. Apr 10, 2010 #6
    Re: Sam Harris

    I listened to the first sentence and turned the rest of it off. 100% of the statistic that he stated was pulled out of his ass. Why am I listening to a lightweight on a heavy subject?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  8. Apr 10, 2010 #7
    Re: Sam Harris

    Don't worry about it. I'll find out elsewhere.
     
  9. Apr 10, 2010 #8
    Re: Sam Harris

    How is this a problem? The purpose of Harris' talk was addressing 'How Science can answer moral questions"
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2010
  10. Apr 10, 2010 #9
    Re: Sam Harris

    I grudgingly listened. When I started reading his response to criticism though I could no longer muster the patience.

    Skimming I found this bit rather poor form for argument...
     
  11. Apr 10, 2010 #10

    russ_watters

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    Re: Sam Harris

    I disagree. The key components of a higher standard of living are again, nearly universally accepted: lifespan, freedom and comfort. Since the difference between the "haves" and "have nots" in the world today and throughout history is so stark, it is easy to pin-down the differences that make the "haves" be "haves". Life expectancy is an objective measure, but the components of development that make it happen: reliable shelter, running water, refrigeration, sanitation, inocculation.... Though these alone won't put someone above the povety line in a western country, they (off the top of my head...there are probably more...) are the essentials of what separates modern man from the ancients. Because of the nature of humans, these things are only reliably achievable with a certain basic ethics/morality/politics.
    That's rediculous - or at best, just completely without basis. We've gotten where we are now with an ethics that includes eating animals.
    Well that would need to be explained more before it could be accepted as reasonable. Most of the components of "standard of living" require technology to exist. What would this standard of living that you are referring to look like?
    Well here's another news flash: evolution is a consensus goal. Every few weeks we get people in the biology forum asking where evolution is going, what the next step is, what could make humans objectively "better", etc. Just like with biological evolution, these questions are all non sequiturs as related to ethics. Evolution doesn't have a set goal of its own and neither does ethics. Evolution seeks to cause organisms to thrive and spread: has our ethics not helped enable humans to thrive and spread throughout the globe? Most of the nuts and bolts such as whether humans evolve to enjoy Brittney Spears or Dvorak (which people currently spend a rediculous amount of useless effort debating) are irrelevant to the issue of what constitutes "development". Whichever is the most successful at providing a society that meets the generic goals of making humans survive and thrive is "better".

    The problem is that most people don't accept that that way of looking at ethics can result in the ethical system that we have now. It takes no effort to just blindly follow the 10 Commandments and accept that they are the Right way of doing things. It is more difficult to actually think about and derive ethics than to just accept what is fed to you.
     
  12. Apr 10, 2010 #11
    Re: Sam Harris

    I have no doubt that I or anyone else can use logic and reason to answer our individual ethical dilemmas. The issue is whether or not the goals which we base our lines of reasoning on are subjective or objective as the goal is a major aspect of the ethical dilemma in and of itself.
     
  13. Apr 10, 2010 #12
    Re: Sam Harris

    Find out what? There is no question in the OP.
     
  14. Apr 10, 2010 #13
    Re: Sam Harris

    russ deleted it.
     
  15. Apr 10, 2010 #14
    Re: Sam Harris

    Subjective. Who says that I will be happier to live longer? Perhaps I would be happier to live a shorter time span if my perceived quality of life will be greater by ignoring those things that will increase my longevity. And what exactly constitutes freedom and comfort? To what degree am I willing to sacrifice my comfort for freedom and vice versa? Or to what degree am I willing to sacrifice longevity for freedom and comfort and vice versa?

    Harris hit the crux, in my opinion, with the word "values", as we each value different things to differing degrees and our ethical choices will be based upon what we value more or less.

    Edit: Sorry, I forgot the rest of your post.
    Better is still subjective. Even the idea that humans need or ought to survive is based on a subjective loyalty to our species. There is no reason why humans ought to develop and become "better" or even last another hundred years.
     
  16. Apr 10, 2010 #15

    russ_watters

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    Re: Sam Harris

    Something important to keep in mind, that I'm not sure people keep focused: My view of ethics feeds on human nature, it doesn't attempt to countermand human nature. This is the essential issue of the fight between communsim/socialism and democracy/capitalism as framed by Carroll. The problem is simple: if you attempt to fight human nature, you end up with conflict. You find a system that works with human nature and you will will be much more successful in achieving your goals.

    In the 20th century, communism/socialism and democracy/capitalism both attempted to further human development in essentially the same ways, under the criteria I listed above. Communism/socialism failed, democracy/capitalism succeeded. Why? Because in order to function as designed, communism/socialism requires people to act contrary to their nature. By contrast, democracy/capitalism harnesses human nature to achieve the same goals.
     
  17. Apr 10, 2010 #16
    Re: Sam Harris

    What kind of socialism are you referring to?
     
  18. Apr 10, 2010 #17

    russ_watters

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    Re: Sam Harris

    On that, we are certainly agreed. How we get from point a to point b is almost always relatively easy to figure out with logic. Whether we want to get to point b or to point c (and why) is the real issue here.
     
  19. Apr 10, 2010 #18
    Re: Sam Harris

    Ah. That was his way of suggesting that you ask elsewhere.
     
  20. Apr 10, 2010 #19

    russ_watters

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    Re: Sam Harris

    You posted about an awfully big philosophical issue for your only real point to be looking for a citation of a specific (and frankly, only tangentially relevant) point in a specific religious text. If you're not interested in discussing anything else you posted, so be it - we'll carry on without you.

    That said, you went in a different direction with your post #3. Perhaps you would like to elaborate on what you were driving at with post #3 because it looked interesting to me, but was somewhat vague/undeveloped.
     
  21. Apr 10, 2010 #20
    Re: Sam Harris

    Well his talk raises new debate on moral relativism. Spinoza held that nothing is inherently good or evil. So it's pretty much up to us to decide (subjectivism) what is, what 'we think' is 'good' or 'evil'. Harris sees no compromise between Islam and Christianity as they are fundamentally irreconcilable and destructive.

    And what socialism were you referring to?
     
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