MORAL PHILOSOPHY: “Science Can Answer Moral Questions” / Sam Harris

3 thoughts on “MORAL PHILOSOPHY: “Science Can Answer Moral Questions” / Sam Harris

  1. Pingback: Sam Harris, the fact-value distinction, and the problem with a science of morality | SelfAwarePatterns

  2. “The other thing that seems to disturb people who listen Harris on this topic is that they cannot conceive how “science” can quantify “well-being””

    I’d say that is because it can’t. Science can’t answer weather it is better to spend $1,000,000 to give your mother a heart transplant vs. spending $1,000,000 to give 10,000 kids in South America a series of vaccines. Science can help us *inform* our value judgments, to tell us whether the vaccines work, how much they will affect life expectancy, etc., but in the end which is “better” for “well being”, whether your mom is more important than a bunch of kids in South America, is a value judgement, not a scientific question.

  3. The critique of Harris has predominantly focused on his thesis moral values can be objectively determined through science. It seems to me, however, that the more important argument he is making is that there can be and ought to be a universal conception of human values. This seems to bother people who argue that a “leveling” of moral values would rob the world and humanity of its cultural diversity. I say there is plenty of diversity to be found in your songs, dance, food, and other cultural features that don’t impinge how you wish to express, for one example, your sexuality.

    The other thing that seems to disturb people who listen Harris on this topic is that they cannot conceive how “science” can quantify “well-being”. Again, as with the notion of a universal conception of values, there is a fear of a “leveling” or homogenizing of our personalities. In my reading or listening to Harris, it seems to me that with his peaks-and-valleys graphic of well-being there are always different levels of well-being that can be chosen. What represents a ‘flourishing” for one, may not be the same for another on the micro-level but in terms of the larger issues of human well-being there are right-and-wrong answers that can be recognized as objective and not only subjective or relative.

    What is really important about Harris, I think, is his challenge to humanity to finally believe what is front of its very eyes–that certain things sponsor well-being or happiness or whatever you wish to call it–but that too often we deny this in order to listen to some social authority who tells us to deny that feeling. Thus, the palpable store Harris tells about a father who would kill his daughter who had been raped because it would dishonor the family. What well-being could possibly be enhanced for anyone–including society–to produce such a result. The only gain I can see here is a reinforcement of the benighted authority that considered such an action “right” and moral.

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