Saturday, May 28, 2011

Science and Morality: Two Different Worlds?

Can science give us a foundation for morality and human values? Or is ethics definitely beyond its reach? Sam Harris argues that the separation between science and human values is an illusion, and a rather dangerous one. He sees values as a certain kind of facts, namely, “facts about the well-being of conscious creatures”, both personal and collective. And notions of human morality are, according to him, “at some point reducible to a concern about conscious experience and its possible changes.” That is why we have no ethical obligations towards inanimate objects or inferior animals such as insects, for instance. He doesn't claim that science could give us the answers to every conceivable moral question, neither that we are able to access all the states of conscious creatures' well-being. He says that, even if we are not capable of finding all the answers, the simple fact of admitting that there are right and wrong answers to such questions could change the way we talk about morality. In his excellent TED talk (see the video below) he provides very good (and well-humored) arguments in favor of these allegations. Very enlightening in post-modern times!

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1 comment:

  1. Having lived in a multi-cultural community all my life I have been exposed to diverse cultural practices, some which puzzle me and others that seem completely "normal". Sam Harris' point, if I may try and summarize it in a sentence, is that just like in science there are objective truths, rules and laws that govern the natural world, there are also rules that determine whether or not human actions are deemed morally good/bad. While there are moral truths, such as killing is bad and that every man has the right to be free. Other moral issues that diver more between cultures, such as wearing a burka, are less black and white. The speaker seems to assume that there is a right way to live while what the MC was trying to get at (I think through his questions) is that what gives one culture the right to judge another. How is it that one person from a certain culture can believe himself to have the moral authority to condemn the action of another.

    He mentions that admitting that this mentality can change the way we talk about morality but is it truly the RIGHT way to talk about something as subjective as morality. It was an interesting talk and a subject that truly needs to be debated at length. Thanks for the post!