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Can science answer moral questions?

Freeman
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3/22/2010 7:09:07 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
In his upcoming book, The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris makes the case that science can answer some of the deepest and most important questions that relate to human life.

Over the past 150 years as science has continually eroded the influence of religious dogmatism, religion has managed to remain influential in one key area -- namely, in the realm of morals and ethics. Thankfully, this last domain of religious hegemony is going to come under attack from science. And once this attack has completed its goal, religion will have nothing left to say about the world, in terms of nature or morals.
Chancellor of Propaganda and Foreign Relations in the Franklin administration.

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." -- Steven Wright
Koopin
Posts: 12,090
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3/22/2010 7:14:06 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
For some reason, I doubt that this book is going to make religion have nothing left to say about the world in terms of nature or morals.
kfc
GeoLaureate8
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3/22/2010 7:22:32 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
Science by definition cannot answer metaphysical questions. Leave it to philosophy to answer questions of morality. Religion is utterly useless. Socrates destroyed the notion that religion can provide morals.
"We must raise the standard of the Old, free, decentralized, and strictly limited Republic."
-- Murray Rothbard

"The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended."
-- Frederic Bastiat
mongeese
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3/22/2010 7:22:47 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
Any chance you could summarize your video? I'm not exactly interested in spending 24 minutes watching a video over a topic that I doubt is feasable.
Freeman
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3/22/2010 7:34:14 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:22:47 PM, mongeese wrote:
Any chance you could summarize your video? I'm not exactly interested in spending 24 minutes watching a video over a topic that I doubt is feasable.

Harris outlines 4 basic points:

1: Claims about morals relate to claims about the experience of conscious creatures.
2: There are better and worse ways to provide for human flourishing.
3: The optimal methods that provide for human flourishing can be discovered through science, in particular psychology and neuroscience.
4: Religion is at fault by its insistence on separating questions about values from actual questions of suffering.
Chancellor of Propaganda and Foreign Relations in the Franklin administration.

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." -- Steven Wright
Freeman
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3/22/2010 7:41:23 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:22:32 PM, GeoLaureate8 wrote:
Science by definition cannot answer metaphysical questions.

Maybe you should listen to his argument before you say that.
Chancellor of Propaganda and Foreign Relations in the Franklin administration.

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." -- Steven Wright
GeoLaureate8
Posts: 12,252
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3/22/2010 7:46:47 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:41:23 PM, Freeman wrote:
At 3/22/2010 7:22:32 PM, GeoLaureate8 wrote:
Science by definition cannot answer metaphysical questions.

Maybe you should listen to his argument before you say that.

I heard most of it. METAphysics = beyond physics.
"We must raise the standard of the Old, free, decentralized, and strictly limited Republic."
-- Murray Rothbard

"The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended."
-- Frederic Bastiat
mongeese
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3/22/2010 7:58:56 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:34:14 PM, Freeman wrote:

Harris outlines 4 basic points:

1: Claims about morals relate to claims about the experience of conscious creatures.
2: There are better and worse ways to provide for human flourishing.
3: The optimal methods that provide for human flourishing can be discovered through science, in particular psychology and neuroscience.
4: Religion is at fault by its insistence on separating questions about values from actual questions of suffering.

First off, what exactly do you mean by "human flourishing"?
Second, what makes "human flourishing" the absolute end goal for morality? Perhaps there is something that must be placed above "human flourishing" to decide morality.
Freeman
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3/22/2010 8:13:27 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:58:56 PM, mongeese wrote:
At 3/22/2010 7:34:14 PM, Freeman wrote:

Harris outlines 4 basic points:

1: Claims about morals relate to claims about the experience of conscious creatures.
2: There are better and worse ways to provide for human flourishing.
3: The optimal methods that provide for human flourishing can be discovered through science, in particular psychology and neuroscience.
4: Religion is at fault by its insistence on separating questions about values from actual questions of suffering.

First off, what exactly do you mean by "human flourishing"?

Read this. http://www.tc.umn.edu...

Second, what makes "human flourishing" the absolute end goal for morality?

Hmm... Good question. I'll let Harris and other philosophers make that argument.

Seriously, the lecture he gave at TED was really good. He can explain his own argument better than I can.
Chancellor of Propaganda and Foreign Relations in the Franklin administration.

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." -- Steven Wright
popculturepooka
Posts: 7,924
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3/22/2010 11:00:19 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:09:07 PM, Freeman wrote:
In his upcoming book, The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris makes the case that science can answer some of the deepest and most important questions that relate to human life.

Over the past 150 years as science has continually eroded the influence of religious dogmatism, religion has managed to remain influential in one key area -- namely, in the realm of morals and ethics. Thankfully, this last domain of religious hegemony is going to come under attack from science. And once this attack has completed its goal, religion will have nothing left to say about the world, in terms of nature or morals.





Good ole scientism.
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Floid
Posts: 751
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3/23/2010 3:24:52 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
Science does not answer moral questions. That isn't its goal or what it is set up to do There may be an evolutionary answer that traces how morality developed, but that doesn't really answer moral questions. Other than that, morality and science don't really have much to do with each other.

Although looking at things logically is a quasi-scientific way can lead to a development of moral systems as has been done in the past.
Zetsubou
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3/23/2010 3:29:47 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:22:32 PM, GeoLaureate8 wrote:
Science by definition cannot answer metaphysical questions. Leave it to philosophy to answer questions of morality. Religion is utterly useless. Socrates destroyed the notion that religion can provide morals.

And people brought it? An Honest Athist is a Nihist.
'sup DDO -- july 2013
GeoLaureate8
Posts: 12,252
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3/23/2010 3:33:09 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/23/2010 3:29:47 AM, Zetsubou wrote:
At 3/22/2010 7:22:32 PM, GeoLaureate8 wrote:
Science by definition cannot answer metaphysical questions. Leave it to philosophy to answer questions of morality. Religion is utterly useless. Socrates destroyed the notion that religion can provide morals.

And people brought it? An Honest Athist is a Nihist.

People brought what? I'm not an Atheist nor a Nihilist, I don't know what you're talking about.
"We must raise the standard of the Old, free, decentralized, and strictly limited Republic."
-- Murray Rothbard

"The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended."
-- Frederic Bastiat
Zetsubou
Posts: 4,933
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3/23/2010 3:36:47 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/23/2010 3:33:09 AM, GeoLaureate8 wrote:
At 3/23/2010 3:29:47 AM, Zetsubou wrote:
At 3/22/2010 7:22:32 PM, GeoLaureate8 wrote:
Science by definition cannot answer metaphysical questions. Leave it to philosophy to answer questions of morality. Religion is utterly useless. Socrates destroyed the notion that religion can provide morals.

And people brought it? An Honest Athist is a Nihist.

People brought what? I'm not an Atheist nor a Nihilist, I don't know what you're talking about.

Socrates destroyed the notion that religion can provide morals.

Brought it, the concept.
'sup DDO -- july 2013
nickthengineer
Posts: 251
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3/23/2010 12:18:58 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
Is it just me, or does anybody else have the eery feeling that non-Christian scientists feel a deep need to make science answer moral questions because of the Creation science movement? Say what you will about Creationism, but without it, it's obvious that atheists and evolutionists wouldn't feel the need to push back by reaching for a foothold in the realm of morals so that they can claim science answers everything about everything.

Off the topic, if the US decided to blow the crap out of Iran, it would either be because we are threatened by what they have to say/are doing or just because we are evil and want to destroy anyone who thinks differently than we do. But back to the scientists, well, we know that they are always nice and fair and never have ulterior motives when they publish theories.
I evolved from stupid. (http://www.debate.org...)
InsertNameHere
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3/23/2010 12:20:12 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/23/2010 5:15:29 AM, J.Kenyon wrote:
Um, hello? Secular philosophy has only been answering moral questions for, oh a couple millenia.

Bah, philosophy does nothing but confuse me. xD
Puck
Posts: 6,457
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3/23/2010 1:51:34 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/23/2010 12:18:58 PM, nickthengineer wrote:
Is it just me, or does anybody else have the eery feeling that non-Christian scientists feel a deep need to make science answer moral questions because of the Creation science movement? Say what you will about Creationism, but without it, it's obvious that atheists and evolutionists wouldn't feel the need to push back by reaching for a foothold in the realm of morals so that they can claim science answers everything about everything.

Nope. Just you. :P Kinda silly assertion that scientists feel threatened by creationists. :P As already noted, secular moral theories have been touted since Ancient Greece.
J.Kenyon
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3/23/2010 4:56:35 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/23/2010 12:18:58 PM, nickthengineer wrote:
Is it just me, or does anybody else have the eery feeling that non-Christian scientists feel a deep need to make science answer moral questions because of the Creation science movement? Say what you will about Creationism, but without it, it's obvious that atheists and evolutionists wouldn't feel the need to push back by reaching for a foothold in the realm of morals so that they can claim science answers everything about everything.

I seriously doubt any scientist feels threatened by your creation fairy tales. That being said, I am strongly opposed to the scientism put forth by Harris.
Puck
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3/24/2010 3:06:12 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
And agreed; I'm not a fan of Harris at the best of times. I'll wait to hear his argument before passing judgement, though based on past argumentation I doubt I'll be impressed. :P
Floid
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3/24/2010 3:42:37 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
Is it just me, or does anybody else have the eery feeling that non-Christian scientists feel a deep need to make science answer moral questions because of the Creation science movement?

No, it is you and some of the other conspiracy theory type creationist who think that scientist are focused on trying to disprove religion and not on trying to discover more about nature. The entire science versus religion dualism is a construct of the side who think they have the absolute answers from the all powerful creator on their side, not by those who simply try to follow where the evidence leads.

Say what you will about Creationism, but without it, it's obvious that atheists and evolutionists wouldn't feel the need to push back by reaching for a foothold in the realm of morals so that they can claim science answers everything about everything.

I think most people would claim that philosophy and not science is what intrudes on that realm and there are a whole lot of Christian philosphers who have intruded on that realm also.

Off the topic, if the US decided to blow the crap out of Iran, it would either be because we are threatened by what they have to say/are doing or just because we are evil and want to destroy anyone who thinks differently than we do.

It would be because we are still a largely irrational people who have yet to learn from history that in hindsight what we see as a eminent threat today turns out to be our own hypochondria acting up after we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and wasted thousands of lives to eliminate our phantom threats.

But back to the scientists, well, we know that they are always nice and fair and never have ulterior motives when they publish theories.

You live in a world of straw men. Anytime you have large groups of people some are going to be dishonest, frauds, or hacks. But on the other hand, to think that tens of thousands of scientist all of the world and over 150 years have created an entire branch of science just because they wanted to disprove the first few chapters of the Bible sounds like you have an ulterior motive as well...
MTGandP
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3/24/2010 5:14:25 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:09:07 PM, Freeman wrote:
In his upcoming book, The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris makes the case that science can answer some of the deepest and most important questions that relate to human life.

Over the past 150 years as science has continually eroded the influence of religious dogmatism, religion has managed to remain influential in one key area -- namely, in the realm of morals and ethics. Thankfully, this last domain of religious hegemony is going to come under attack from science. And once this attack has completed its goal, religion will have nothing left to say about the world, in terms of nature or morals.

I doubt that science OR religion is adequately equipped to answer ethical questions. Science does not deal with metaphysics, and religion is too dogmatized to be able to support the making of rational decisions. Real moral insights come from moral philosophy and metaphysics.
MTGandP
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3/24/2010 5:17:52 AM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:34:14 PM, Freeman wrote:
At 3/22/2010 7:22:47 PM, mongeese wrote:
Any chance you could summarize your video? I'm not exactly interested in spending 24 minutes watching a video over a topic that I doubt is feasable.

Harris outlines 4 basic points:

1: Claims about morals relate to claims about the experience of conscious creatures.
2: There are better and worse ways to provide for human flourishing.
3: The optimal methods that provide for human flourishing can be discovered through science, in particular psychology and neuroscience.
4: Religion is at fault by its insistence on separating questions about values from actual questions of suffering.

I don't dispute three of those claims. But #2 seems to beg the question. Harris says that science can answer moral questions, but then assumes that our moral goal should be to provide for human flourishing. Is this claim supported by science? I certainly don't see how.
Freeman
Posts: 1,239
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3/30/2010 12:20:28 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 7:58:56 PM, mongeese wrote:
At 3/22/2010 7:34:14 PM, Freeman wrote:

Harris outlines 4 basic points:

1: Claims about morals relate to claims about the experience of conscious creatures.
2: There are better and worse ways to provide for human flourishing.
3: The optimal methods that provide for human flourishing can be discovered through science, in particular psychology and neuroscience.
4: Religion is at fault by its insistence on separating questions about values from actual questions of suffering.

First off, what exactly do you mean by "human flourishing"?
Second, what makes "human flourishing" the absolute end goal for morality? Perhaps there is something that must be placed above "human flourishing" to decide morality.

What on Earth could be more self evidently important to morality than human flourishing? Even if you're religious, you are still committed to the proposition that God's mandates should be followed so that people can achieve human flourishing in another life (i.e. Heaven).

Secular conception of ethics ---> Human flourishing is important in this life

Religious conception of ethics ---> Human flourishing is important in another life

Both conceptions are dependent upon the claim that human flourishing is the only thing that's important. In either case, the best strategy for maximizing human happiness/flourishing is discovered by learning facts about the world. And, as should be obvious, science is quite good at helping us learn facts about the world. Ergo, science has a lot to say about what constitutes right and wrong actions.
Chancellor of Propaganda and Foreign Relations in the Franklin administration.

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." -- Steven Wright
RoyLatham
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4/1/2010 11:11:46 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
I'm not usually a fan of Harris, but I think this lecture was quite good. I don't think he is claiming whole lot, as it seems people who haven't watched lecture seem to be supposing. I think what he is saying is that morality can be derived from the nature of man, and that science can help identify the nature of man. That thinking is very much in line with "we hold these truths to be self-evident ..." which is to say thatmorality can be derived by observation.

Science doesn't actually compute which moral values are best, but it may provide factual information on how comfortable and functional people are in a society that has a certain set of moral rules. He also makes the important point that different sets of moral rules may be equivalently suitable to human nature, but that doesn't mean that all behaviors can be acceptable.
Freeman
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4/5/2010 1:02:04 PM
Posted: 6 years ago
At 3/22/2010 11:00:19 PM, popculturepooka wrote:
At 3/22/2010 7:09:07 PM, Freeman wrote:
In his upcoming book, The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris makes the case that science can answer some of the deepest and most important questions that relate to human life.

Over the past 150 years as science has continually eroded the influence of religious dogmatism, religion has managed to remain influential in one key area -- namely, in the realm of morals and ethics. Thankfully, this last domain of religious hegemony is going to come under attack from science. And once this attack has completed its goal, religion will have nothing left to say about the world, in terms of nature or morals.


Good ole scientism.

In his own words, here is how he attempts to move from facts to values.

The Worst Possible Misery for Everyone
(Getting from "is" to "ought" 1.0)

FACT #1: There are behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which potentially lead to the worst possible misery for everyone. There are also behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which do not, and which, in fact, lead to states of wellbeing for many sentient creatures, to the degree that wellbeing is possible in this universe.

FACT #2: While it may often be difficult in practice, distinguishing between these two sets is possible in principle.

FACT #3: Our "values" are ways of thinking about this domain of possibilities. If we value liberty, privacy, benevolence, dignity, freedom of expression, honesty, good manners, the right to own property, etc.—we value these things only in so far as we judge them to be part of the second set of factors conducive to (someone's) wellbeing.

FACT #4: Values, therefore, are (explicit or implicit) judgments about how the universe works and are themselves facts about our universe (i.e. states of the human brain). (Religious values, focusing on God's will or the law of karma, are no exception: the reason to respect God's will or the law of karma is to avoid the worst possible misery for many, most, or even all sentient beings).

FACT #5: It is possible to be confused or mistaken about how the universe works. It is, therefore, possible to have the wrong values (i.e. values which lead toward, rather than away from, the worst possible misery for everyone).

FACT #6: Given that the wellbeing of humans and animals must depend on states of the world and on states of their brains, and science represents our most systematic means of understanding these states, science can potentially help us avoid the worst possible misery for everyone.

FACT #7: In so far as our subsidiary values can be in conflict—e.g. individual rights vs. collective security; the right to privacy vs. freedom of expression—it may be possible to decide which priorities will most fully avoid the worst possible misery for many, most, or even all sentient beings. Science, therefore, can in principle (if not always in practice) determine and prioritize our subsidiary values (e.g. should we value "honor"? If so, when and how much?).

FACT #8: One cannot reasonably ask, "But why is the worst possible misery for everyone bad?"—for if the worst possible misery for everyone isn't bad, the word "bad" has no meaning. (This would be like asking, "But why is a perfect circle round?" The question can be posed, but it expresses only confusion, not an intelligible basis for skeptical doubt.) Likewise, one cannot ask, "But why ought we avoid the worst possible misery for everyone?"—for if the term "ought" has any application at all, it is in urging us away from the worst possible misery for everyone.

FACT #9: One can, therefore, derive "ought" from "is": for if there is a behavior, intention, cultural practice, etc. that seems likely to produce the worst possible misery for everyone, one ought not adopt it. (All lesser ethical concerns and obligations follow from this).
Chancellor of Propaganda and Foreign Relations in the Franklin administration.

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." -- Steven Wright