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Science of morality

by: Kory Stone/Business Manager

the moral landscape

The science of Good & Evil.
photo by Kory Stone

The battle of good and evil! As ancient as its origins are, and as symbolic to each and every culture, can science really revel the code to an objective morality? One man gives a solid voice to a gathering movement of those who think it can. Sam Harris, PhD. Neuroscientist and B.A. Stanford philosopher is shaking up the bedrock foundation of morality in “The Moral Landscape: How science can determine values.”

It has long been said among those in science, philosophy and theology that science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. But as is the nature of science to question everything. Harris’s argument brings to question this long held view in light of what we know today among all the different fields in science. He suggests that morality should be a science of its own, that it cannot be considered wholly subjective to culture or religion. But at the same time he does not suggest that “we are guaranteed to resolve every moral controversy or that differences of opinion won’t remain—but opinions will be increasingly constrained by facts.”

But, what facts? Harris goes on to point out that people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge; urging us to see that morality is rooted in the wellbeing of conscious creatures and that there are objective, definitive facts that we can say about that. Essentially, what we know about increasing wellbeing is the moral right and what decreases it is the moral wrong.

We have objective facts about what consists of health, but those facts can also, at the same time be subjective from person to person. Drinking milk is a healthy way for most, but not all, people to get calcium or vitamin D. Therefor a doctor who works within the confines of science can tell a person whether they ought to or not drink milk based on whether it is healthy for them or not. In addition,  the definition of a healthy 90 year old is going to be different from a 9 year old as is the definition of health in the year 213 compared to 2013. Just as health resists precise definition and yet is indispensable, so is morality. Furthermore, both are open to revision as we progress in the area of science.

Therefore, whether you question the premises of whether science can determine morality or not only good, it is scientific. In the spirit of science nothing is set as true before passing through the gauntlet, things can take years being thoroughly revived, questioned and criticized before it even becomes a theory. So if you read the book, as the saying goes, read it open mindedly but not so much your brains fall out.


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