Can you derive and ought from an is? Watch

JohnPaul_
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Is a science of morality possible.

I think it is 100%. My views are easily summed up by Sam Harris's book The Moral Landscape if anyone hasn't read it but if you disagree or conform to what 90% of philosophers think then I'd like to hear the counter-arguments. As briefly as possible please to allow a back and forth of debate, if that is in your wish.


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Infraspecies
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It depends what one chooses to define as "morality"
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jamie092
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The feeling of an act being good or evil comes naturally to us; imagine a farmer in the year 0 who had his crops stolen. He would have been angry that his time was wasted, and then he would have realized that if it was OK for anyone to come and take his crops whenever they felt like it, he would find himself in a tough position. I think situations like these almost necessitated the concept of morality.

I think it's pretty clear that there are no such thing as absolute morals in the sense that religions would have it. I'm arguing from the position that god doesn't exist. If someone asserts that there are absolute moral truths because god says so, then there are more fundamental arguments to be had with them. It would be like teaching a calculus course to somebody innumerate.

Anyway, this farmer has to co-exist with the people who live near him (collectively we can call them a society), and so they agree on a set of rules they will live by in order for everyone to achieve what's in their best interest (Harris would call it maximizing their well-being). They might not know what is in their best interest, or even how best to achieve it, but if a member of the society breaks the agreed-upon rules then they are doing something wrong. The rules that guard against people doing the things that make them most impossible to live (such as murder) with then get turned into laws. To break these laws is also morally wrong, but there are certain (moral) rules that aren't punishable by law, as the shunning the wrong-doer will receive from the rest of the society is deemed punishment enough.

So in an ideal society in which everyone has had input into the formation of the rules (moral and legal), unlawful acts are a subset of immoral acts. I've definitely gone off on a tangent here in trying to work out the difference between morals and laws from the ground up, but the main part of my post is in bold. Holding that there are no objective (religious-like) moral truths that predate society, then morals are completely determined by what society as a whole wants. Due to the fact that we are not entirely rational beings with limitless computational power, we aren't always going to know what is best for us nor the best way to achieve it. This is where a "science of morality" is called for.

I think what Harris was saying in the moral landscape is not only that for any given society, science could help it (or completely) determine its morals, but that we can say with objectivity that the conclusions we draw from this science hold for any society. The most common objection to this is that society A might be working from different axioms than society B, therefore the moral "truths" that hold in one society A may not hold in B. This is true, but what Harris is arguing - as far as I can see - is that these axioms coincide; that we can have a science of morality that has axioms such as "no member of the society wants to be caused physical pain for no reason" which should be applicable to any society. Whether, using these axioms, a science of morality could spit out the kind of moral truths we have now might be questionable, it's definitely where I'd look if I were to attack Harris' argument.

Edit: You did say to keep it brief, so the part of my post that's worth replying to is basically the last paragraph. I reckon the only (potential) flaw in the Moral Landscape is that the proposed science of morality might spit out different results for different societies, and so you can't necessarily say that all moral truths that hold in one society will hold in another. I have the feeling that Harris wants to be able to say that societies like ours are objectively better (that is, more effective at maximizing well-being) than tribal societies, for example. While I agree that there are some axioms any society should agree on (killing is wrong etc.) which would make our society better than any society that doesn't outlaw killing, I don't think that in general the set of moral values the science gives us will agree for different societies.

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If the science did spit out the same set A of moral values for each society, then to each society s_i that had the set of moral values M_i you could assign the set S_i:=M_i \cap A of morals they have which agree with the set the science spits out. You could then put a partial ordering on those societies such that s_i>s_j iff M_j\subset M_i, so that in some cases you could objectively say that one society is better than another. You still couldn't compare any two societies though.
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