Morality: Can science help determine human values? (in Debates)


AdminQBVerifex [Serenity In Chaos] March 22 2010 4:49 PM EDT

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions
Interesting to watch. Do you think he has anything important to add, do you think Science could help define what is right and wrong?

Revs March 22 2010 5:26 PM EDT

Typically ethics determines the right or wrong of science. The only problem is, science and technology is growing exponentially. And I'm afraid our morality and ethics seems to be inversely proportional.

Mythology [The Knighthood] March 23 2010 4:19 PM EDT

An interesting idea lost in the questions themselves and the guy's egotistical presentation.

I think personally it's a pretty flawed suggestion, basically the only way science can define if something is right or wrong is by the presets that are put into the equation in the first place and weightings of them therefore at most all it can be is a tool for finding answers faster to your own personal beliefs, something this guy clearly believes is very important to put onto others.

For example as its been estimated the world can only really properly maintain a human populace of 1.6 billion indefinitely the highest peak on the moral map will be for 1/4 of the world to cull the rest, something this guy may have trouble advocating as he seems hung up on how much clothing women wear...

DERPA [Red Permanent Assurance] March 23 2010 4:46 PM EDT

That estimate doesn't adhere well to scientific methodology as say killing another man out of jealous rage or stealing extension cables from Home Depot.

AdminQBVerifex [Serenity In Chaos] March 23 2010 4:46 PM EDT

I think you are right about his own beliefs getting in the way of his message, but there is something there you are overlooking. He said that there are ultimate truths to be shown about overall human values.

Let's say I believe that performing ritualistic sacrifices will absolve myself of any wrong doings I may have committed; does that mean my beliefs are impossible to explain? Are the reasons behind my actions too mysterious and mystical for us to ever hope to understand?

Does the idea that we could explain human values and moral questions with science run contrary to the very nature of religious beliefs?

Wraithlin March 23 2010 5:39 PM EDT

Christians believe that taking your own life will send you to hell.

Christians believe that taking another life will send you to hell.

Muslims believe that taking your own life in order to take a bunch of other lives can send you to heaven and grant you many virgins.

There are many, many disclaimers with the above statements, i.e. only in certain circumstances, only if you interpret such readings in such a way.

That is not my point i'm making, my point is that morality differs ALOT between different people. Perhaps a scientific approach to morality makes more sense to some people than does the current more religious based approach most people go with.

Each individual's morality is based largely upon how they were raised and who they were influenced by in thier lives, not upon any universal truths or logic.

I'm not advocating anything this guy says specifically, but I do like the idea of trying to find a way to have a united morality for all of mankind.

Cube March 23 2010 5:52 PM EDT

I agree with him to an extent. Morals can definitely exist outside of religion, but there is no absolute moral code.

You can reason out morals, but you can also reason out other morals based on other assumptions. I've always felt that ethics aren't absolute. While science (more accurately reason) can explain ethics, it's always dependent on circumstances.

If you start from an existing moral structure, the morals of covering a woman's face would have made perfect sense a thousand years ago. IE, I simply want my daughter to be able to find a proper husband.

If you have the ability to control all of society, you can probably create the most moral place on the planet, but you don't. Everyone is still simply one human being.

There are many, many disclaimers with the above statements, i.e. only in certain circumstances, only if you interpret such readings in such a way.

I think more than anything this is key. You can reason out some morals, but there will always be exceptions to the rule as the guy said. I'm surprised he doesn't seem to apply the exceptions to his own morals.

AdminQBVerifex [Serenity In Chaos] March 23 2010 6:27 PM EDT

Each individual's morality is based largely upon how they were raised and who they were influenced by in their lives, not upon any universal truths or logic.

I disagree, I believe that there ARE universal truths about humanity and that studying them would give us insight to how to change and improve society as a whole. I believe it is easier, from a moderate viewpoint, to say that each person is unique and that they can believe anything they want because they are an individual and free. That is the easy way out. No, I believe that sometimes what someone believes in can be wrong and detrimental to society, and that sometimes what they believe in must be changed.

If someone believes that cutting off your own pinky finger and throwing it in the sea gives you a special connection to your chosen deity, then I believe that person's belief is due to be criticized and possibly proven as completely detrimental to society and actively discouraged through any means necessary.
If you have the ability to control all of society, you can probably create the most moral place on the planet, but you don't. Everyone is still simply one human being.

It isn't necessary to stop or even discourage all immorality, just the particularly detrimental to society kind.

AdminQBnovice [Cult of the Valaraukar] March 23 2010 7:03 PM EDT

I'm not sure wrong actually exists. It's come to the point where I actually think the best way to look at it is to consider that maybe everything that can happen, has to happen eventually. Not to say that the response to any particular event would be wrong either, just another thing that must (given the endless passing of time) occur.

The idea that one person, country, time, or planet has the market on "truth" no longer sits well with me at all. I do not presume to know my own mind, let alone any sort of universal one.

AdminQBVerifex [Serenity In Chaos] March 23 2010 7:36 PM EDT

I'm not sure wrong actually exists. It's come to the point where I actually think the best way to look at it is to consider that maybe everything that can happen, has to happen eventually. Not to say that the response to any particular event would be wrong either, just another thing that must (given the endless passing of time) occur.

I don't mean wrong in the traditional, religious or even ethical way. I mean wrong from the standpoint where you have studied a lot of behaviors and the consequences of those actions, and which was the more beneficial in general of the two. So, a scientifically proven "wrong". Which is what this guy is talking about.
The idea that one person, country, time, or planet has the market on "truth" no longer sits well with me at all. I do not presume to know my own mind, let alone any sort of universal one.

I wouldn't trust one person or group of people to determine this by themselves. But I do think that using the scientific method, it might be possible to figure out what is wrong (in this strict definition), and what is right (also in a strict definition).

This kind of right or wrong would also possibly result in neither, so some things might not be right or wrong. These things wouldn't necessarily matter, which is what I suspect many things fit into this category.

AdminQBnovice [Cult of the Valaraukar] March 23 2010 7:47 PM EDT

benefits and consequences are both subjectively judged

DERPA [Red Permanent Assurance] March 23 2010 8:03 PM EDT

Sheets over woman is an obscure moral device from promoting ideals against sex and temptation. Which has had contradictory results for rape victims. While the thought we should live without problematic sex is grand, the enforcement is wrong. Worshiping an animal species as sacred living deities is warped belief while being a respectful means of treating fellow animals. The cross has no moral equivalence, it's a wooden yellow ribbon, or a moral device when used to harm vampires with the power of good. Ironic for one of the most sadistic forms of torture and punishment.
Religions don't hold the monopoly on morals by, printing millions of books, making too many claims, inciting any sort of hate. More or less amoral since they are unchanging while promoting right and wrong on basis of fear and punishment.
Won't waste time pointing out the science stance. Pursues facts, what you can prove, and doesn't prescribe much to the questions of good and evil when answers are meant to be true or false for tangible aspects.
With that separation of church and state I'm saying both are rarely right morally, not always wrong, and why we have governments. Bad ones when they claim the moral high ground. People are only as good as they can get away until they stop to think.

Cube March 25 2010 4:08 PM EDT

It isn't necessary to stop or even discourage all immorality, just the particularly detrimental to society kind.


Well, how to change morals is a completely different issue.

What I was trying to get at is that there are individual morals and societal morals. I think that you could possibly say absolutely that the morals/values of one society are better than another society.

When you focus on the individual however, if you do not have to ability to make large sweeping societal change I think that opens up the possibility for relative morals based on the situation.

I'm curious what your response to my example would have been. If you had a daughter in a society where she could only live a happy life, if you covered her face in public. Would you force her to do it? Let's say moving out of this society is not an option.

To take your finger example, change it to 30 people want to cut off your finger. And now your choice is to kill him or let him cut off your finger. If you choose to kill him, you might have to kill others as well.

As far as the morals of a society go, I definitely agree that you can judge them on an absolute basis.

Mythology [The Knighthood] March 25 2010 7:53 PM EDT

Verifex, as I said in my initial post, all this "scientific method" can be is almost like a jumped up excel spreadsheet. Someone initially has to say what is beneficial and what is not.

There is imo, one "truth", one "right + wrong". This is unique to everyone though and only they know it for themselves. For example a very caring person may on a bad day ignore a friend in need and for weeks after they will still be berating themselves whereas a lifetime criminal with 50+ convictions may steal a car and feel no remorse at all both because it is their own moral compass not societies. All the pillars of society do is attempt to modify them (to varying degrees of success).

I believe the point behind moral questions are that you discover people's morales, that's what the questions are for? Like a shortcut to finding out? A lot of the examples given in the presentation are more political debates and religious issues.

ResistanZ March 25 2010 8:01 PM EDT

There is no such thing as absolute morality or ethics. I'm a philosophy major, and I've taken multiple classes on the subject. If there is such a thing, no other philosopher has figured it truly out.

AdminQBVerifex [Serenity In Chaos] March 25 2010 8:03 PM EDT

Ahh, but stark, does that mean that since nobody has figured it out that it is impossible to figure out?

ResistanZ March 25 2010 8:05 PM EDT

Yes, it is impossible to figure out, because there are an infinite number of viewpoints. You'd need a single entity to determine true universal morality, which some people see in the form of a god, but neither can be quantified by science.

Wraithlin March 25 2010 8:30 PM EDT

philosophers aren't scientists though, so it's obvious they haven't tried to "prove" any morals as being absolute.

just attacking the idea of perfect morality from a philosophical point of view is a waste of time as you are correct; with unlimited points of view, any and all sets of moral codes can be seen as wrong and evil.

and since humans are obviously not going to come to a consensus on exactly what god believes any time soon, this man has considered logic and science as an alternative.

I'm not sure how'd you go about doing it, but if you could actually scientifically come up with a set of morals, that proof would be taking the place of a supreme being. Logic = god in this case.

I have no idea how to start down this path, but I do know that if you could figure out how to begin it, the path would take you to a pefect set of morals.

Sickone March 25 2010 8:33 PM EDT

There is no such thing as "human values" per se.

There's only "survival" and "procreation".
So, basically, selfishness.
Everything else is derived from that, even if some of them need a really roundabout way to get to them.
Yes, even altruism, that's just a whole different level of selfishness (at the group level). Don't make me explain why.

In other words, whatever benefits or could end up benefitting "your" group of people, while preferably not hurting other groups of people that could hurt you, that's "moral".
Everything that would not end up benefitting your people, while risking to or directly harming other people, that's "non-moral".
There's always a gray area in between, due to the inability to properly quantify and foresee all possible combinations of what could or might happen, but that's all there is to it, in a nutshell.

So, yeah, science could totally do that.

{CB1}Sparticus [Screwed Justice] March 25 2010 10:14 PM EDT

pff

Mythology [The Knighthood] March 26 2010 6:57 AM EDT

Sickone,

1) That's the whole point of why it can't work, what you have simply deemed as "benefiting" one group, *is* the whole crusp of a moral question.

That is exactly what I'm saying, the moment you set the parameters of "benefit" into a computer, you're basically setting it with your own moral compass.

2) Where human values come from does not negate their existence, that's like saying Coca Cola is an evil corporation for what they do in the 3rd world, therefore their PR department doesn't exist. Something hundreds employed their may feel is false.

So long as human's acknowledge their past origins, if you know freud, acknowledge the existence of the id while not ignoring it listening to it's needs, they can grow and evolve. Each moralistic act may as you point out stem originally from a need to survive and reproduce, does that lessen them, if that fact is acknowledged?

This may be a fairly poor example of what i'm trying to get at, I remember a teaching that one should look "good", something I'd railed against for a long time, one should look however scruffy you want and if people like you then they are the important ones or something like that, to judge on appearance was very "base" level. The teaching was if you look good, people will have a more positive reaction to you, especially if you feel you look good to the point where you have a good level of congruence and in turn true confidence, by the positive reaction they give you you in turn will give them a positive reaction. Net result? win, win.

Sickone March 26 2010 7:23 AM EDT

That is exactly what I'm saying, the moment you set the parameters of "benefit" into a computer, you're basically setting it with your own moral compass.


Just because the setting might have ranges, and those ranges might differ from one person to another entering those settings doesn't mean there isn't one range of settings a majority would agree on, and there will always be some precise settings with very little range which most would find somewhat adequate.
That's why "fuzzy logic" algorythms were invented at all in the first place, by the way, to deal with ranges and uncertainties/probabilities rather than absolutes.

It would be a lot easier to enter the whole range of "moral values" that were ever expressed by anybody into a machine and statistically collate what would generally be perceived as either moral or non-moral than it would be to ask those questions from each and every one possible human.
A properly programmed machine (emphasis on PROPERLY) will be better at determining morality than a bunch of random people.

Mythology [The Knighthood] March 26 2010 7:10 PM EDT

Well if you use that, then the machine would generally do whatever the Chinese deem morally acceptable, as there are a lot more of them to push the weighting way off toward what they believe by like 50%.

Sickone March 27 2010 7:20 AM EDT

So, exactly what are you trying to say, Mythology ?
That there is no such thing as generally agreed upon "human values" to begin with, and that it's all heavily subjective instead of at least noticeably objective ? ;)
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