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B. de Corbin
06 Jan 2015, 10:38
So....

We've all heard it - "There is no basis for morality without god(s)."

Is this true?

Is it possible to have a moral system based on something like, say, science?

If so, what might such a morality look like?

thalassa
06 Jan 2015, 11:21
No, and no.

I don't think that science is equipt to create a moral system. I think that it can be used to inform one, but I also think it can be misused to inform one with the same regularity of non-science.

I think the only reliably moral moral system can be one based on a very broad humanism and deep ecology combined with a pragmatic sort of utilitarianism that still respects individuality. As to what that looks like...I'm still working on that.

anunitu
06 Jan 2015, 11:24
I would not relay on science,but on my personal idea. If it was me that needed help,or needed the kindness of strangers(Moral judgement) what would I want or need other people to do. Morals are more how much empathy you have for your fellow humans. Say a person who robs others,has only their personal self in their thoughts. I think "Morals" are ether a part of your nature,and a lot of times no amount of religious connection could give morals. I site the BTK killer,who as it turned out was a decon in a church he attended with his wife. He seemed religious,and by the idea that religion gives moral strength,he seems to have slipped through the spiritual cracks....

B. de Corbin
06 Jan 2015, 11:55
...I think the only reliably moral moral system can be one based on a very broad humanism and deep ecology combined with a pragmatic sort of utilitarianism that still respects individuality. As to what that looks like...I'm still working on that.

To make this more interesting, may I suggest something?

Humanism is based on psychology (a science - finally! In the past it wasn't...).

Ecology is, obviously, based on science.

"Pragmatic utilitarianism that respects individuality" is (IMHO - am I wrong?) a fancy way of saying "realistically useful without causing undue harm to individuals." "Realistically useful" = cause/effect relationships... the foundation on which all science exists, while "respects individuality" = (again) psychology.

(I think we are close, though, to the place where "based on" (my phrasing) and "informed by" (your phrasing) start to mush together)

thalassa
06 Jan 2015, 11:59
To make this more interesting, may I suggest something?

Humanism is based on psychology (a science - finally! In the past it wasn't...).

Ecology is, obviously, based on science.

"Pragmatic utilitarianism that respects individuality" is (IMHO - am I wrong?) a fancy way of saying "realistically useful without causing undue harm to individuals." "Realistically useful" = cause/effect relationships... the foundation on which all science exists, while "respects individuality" = (again) psychology.

(I think we are close, though, to the place where "based on" (my phrasing) and "informed by" (your phrasing) start to mush together)

first, you ought to find out if I consider psychology a science....


...sometimes, my friend, sometimes


:p


(actually, I'm getting ready to leave my desk and only had time to be flippant)

<----naughty girl

habbalah
06 Jan 2015, 14:57
The idea of no morality without a higher power is total garbage. Just because you don't believe in higher powers doesn't mean you're going to go out and rape cows and raze villages. You might, but that doesn't make you an atheist. It just makes you someone with psychological issues.

Even if you don't have a higher power you believe in, the society you're a part of has a moral code, and at the core, they're mostly the same. Don't take what doesn't belong to you. Don't damage things that don't belong to you. Don't harm other people. Be responsible with mind/mood altering substances (and by that I mean don't drink and drive, don't take LSD while babysitting, etc). I don't think it's a stretch to imagine that if you don't want bad stuff to happen to you, you should avoid doing bad stuff to other people, lest you invite revenge.

As far as science being a guideline for morality, I'm very no on that. Some very immoral stuff has been done in the name of science, which may have produced results, but violated the free will and well-being of the test subjects involved.

B. de Corbin
07 Jan 2015, 10:13
As far as science being a guideline for morality, I'm very no on that. Some very immoral stuff has been done in the name of science, which may have produced results, but violated the free will and well-being of the test subjects involved.

Well, anything CAN be abused by somebody who whats to abuse it - including science (and, I think, pretty much every other thingy that morality might be based on is subject to abuse).

But - if one understands why, psychologically, it is wrong to violate another's "free will," and why, physically, it is wrong to violate another person's "well being," it seems to me that one will have a much better basis for making moral judgments than those which are normally used (i.e.: it's what god wants, or "it's just the way we do things in this culture...").

habbalah
07 Jan 2015, 11:49
Well, anything CAN be abused by somebody who whats to abuse it - including science (and, I think, pretty much every other thingy that morality might be based on is subject to abuse).

But - if one understands why, psychologically, it is wrong to violate another's "free will," and why, physically, it is wrong to violate another person's "well being," it seems to me that one will have a much better basis for making moral judgments than those which are normally used (i.e.: it's what god wants, or "it's just the way we do things in this culture...").

Both are very good points. I might need to think more on this.

Aeran
07 Jan 2015, 21:12
What do you mean by "a moral system based on something like, say, science?" Are you asking whether it's possible to validate a moral system with the scientific method? Or are you asking whether it's possible to compose a valid moral system using solely our current scientific understanding (that is, excluding any field of knowledge not considered "scientific" - which of course brings up the debate of what is and isn't a scientific field)? I think it's important to distinguish between the two, one is a fairly constant method of inquiry into the nature of existence, the other is a constantly changing knowledge base attained by that method.

thalassa
08 Jan 2015, 02:38
So...I still don't think "science" can build/create a moral system (as opposed to being used to inform one).

Morality is subjective. Its based in abstract ideas, both of which are then applied to concrete events. Its the very opposite of science, if you go by Steven Jay Gould's idea of non-overlapping magesteria (which I and many others disagree with either in total or in part). In the Thalassa graph of human stuff, its either firmly in the "religion" section or mostly in the "fuck" zone.

http://www.paganforum.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=121&d=1297097967

And by "science", I mean the system of knowledge and techniques that we use to answer the "how" of how the universe works, how we came to be here on this mudball, how we can cure or prevent illnesses, etc. "Religion" on the other hand, is about "why"--why are are here (and is there a purpose to it)? why does my life have value (and is it equal in value to yours or his or hers)?

The underlying basis of morality is this--what are we worth? What is the value of life?

Science can't *really* answer that... How would you determine the value of a life empirically? I can think of thousands of ways...and all of them well and truly suck (and are wrong).

Psychology (a very squishy science) can inform us of (and how to treat) different diseases and disorders of thought and emotional well being, it can inform us of more effective modes of teaching or parenting, it can offer insight into how crowds act in certain situations. Ecology can tell us how an ecosystem functions, and how economically we are interacting with our environment. I can use biochemistry and neurology to explain that love is a hormonal reaction and certain neurons firing and...but really? That's not what love is. I can use math to explain the proportions of symmetry and the golden ration to validate beauty....but that's not what beauty is either.

Science (and I love it, but its not a panacea to all our ills) reduces things to a number. In transplants, its about who gets the organ....prospective recipients are judged based on a statistically derived value that predicts a good prognosis. A loving and awesome father doesn't get to spend another few years with his small children and pregnant wife because some jailed serial rapist has a better number. Even using a hypothetically different set of data--lets use someone's societal "worth"...the rich guy that beats his wife gets the kidney over the poor kid...


(and on that incomplete thought, I gotta go to work!)

B. de Corbin
08 Jan 2015, 06:52
Hmmmmm.....

I'm looking at a book called The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, where this topic is discussed -


In this explosive new book, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a “moral landscape.” Because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, Harris foresees a time when science will no longer limit itself to merely describing what people do in the name of “morality”; in principle, science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possible.

thalassa
08 Jan 2015, 08:53
So...given that I haven't read the book, but am familiar with Sam Harris and have seen quite a bit of his commentary, in print and in person, on the subject of this book)...I have some feelings on this.


Harris states that the thesis of his book is this:



Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science. On this view, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life.


source-- http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-critics

I can buy the first two sentences, but IMO, the idea that the third is a logical conclusion of one and two is like saying 1+1=53. Also, I don't think that is what the thesis of his arguement is (having heard him speak)--there was no "potentially"....Sam Harris's arguement is the exact opposite of Steven Jay Gould's--instead of non-overlapping magesteria, he's essentally claiming for entirely overlapping magesteria, and renaming "religion" as "philosophy" (maybe, in my graph, philosophy=the purple part). Science and philosophy are not the same thing (at best, they overlap in a venn diagram as there is a philosophy of science, and some philosophy can be conducted scientifically).

I've got to go with no. I don't find his arguement compelling. Better scientists and philosophers than myself have critiqued his arguement, and I think some of what they have to say goes a long way to explaining why I think "no" better than I can. Among these, are my two biggest issues (I also take issue with his "well-being of conscious creatures" as the scientific basis for what is moral) :



Surely there’s something about this that sounds attractive. Morality has something to do with the well-being of conscious creatures, or so it seems to me. When moral systems lose sight of this, they loses much of their point (don’t they?) and are likely to become counterproductive, harsh, or even cruel. Harris does well to point this out and to argue for it at length. It’s an important take-home lesson. But as I’ll come to, Harris goes much further.

Surely, too, Harris has a point in arguing that science can inform our choices, including those which we label “moral.” If our aim is to reduce suffering, for example, science may offer us information about how to do so. As we discover more and more about the world, our developing moral ideas may increasingly be molded by advances in scientific knowledge. Furthermore, Harris is surely correct to deprecate any clear boundary between science and other areas of empirical inquiry, such as the investigative work of historians. He makes the compelling point that rational inquiry into the world around us (and into our own psychological nature) can provide crucial information for practical decision-making. We are still a long way, I suggest, from a situation where we can discard such things as folk understandings of what makes people happy, our own accumulated experiences as individuals, and insights from literature; and we must continue to reflect on all of these things. In principle, however, much useful information can be obtained from more formal kinds of empirical inquiry.

At the same time, however, Harris overreaches when he claims that science can determine human values. Indeed, it’s not clear how much the book really argues such a thing, despite its provocative subtitle. Harris presupposes that we should be motivated by one very important value, namely the well-being of conscious creatures, but he does not claim that this is a scientific result (or a result from any other field of empirical inquiry). If, however, we combine this fundamental value with knowledge as to how conscious creatures’ well-being can actually be aided, we can then decide how to act. We can also criticize existing moral systems, customs, laws, political policies, and so on, if we are informed by scientific knowledge of how they affect the well-being of conscious creatures.

While this is all coherent, Harris is not thereby giving an account of how science can determine our most fundamental values or the totality of our values. If we presuppose the well-being of conscious creatures as a fundamental value, much else may fall into place, but that initial presupposition does not come from science. It is not an empirical finding. Thus, even if we accept everything else in The Moral Landscape, it does not provide an account in which our policies, customs, critiques of policies and customs, and so on, can be determined solely by empirical findings: eventually, empirical investigation runs out, and we must at some point simply presuppose a value at the bottom of the system, a sort of Grundnorm that controls everything else.

Harris is highly critical of the claim, associated with Hume, that we cannot derive an “ought” solely from an “is” – without starting with people’s actual values and desires. He is, however, no more successful in deriving “ought” from “is” than anyone else has ever been. The whole intellectual system of The Moral Landscape depends on an “ought” being built into its foundations.


the full critique--http://jetpress.org/v21/blackford3.htm

...if I could jump up and down and say "what this guy said" without getting wierd looks from my coworkers, I would...




Also, more on the "ought" vs "is" problem is this (which I think is the underlying flaw to the idea of science determinging morality):



I’ll start by saying what the “is/ought” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is–ought_problem) divide is, in case you haven’t heard of this before. It’s an old idea, tracing at least to David Hume, and its gist is that there is no way to reason from facts about the way the world is, to statements about the way the world should be. You can’t derive values from data. I’ll use one example to illustrate and then move on.

Example. It’s a fact that rape occurs in nature — among chimpanzees, for instance; and there are some evolutionary arguments to explain its existence in humans and non-humans alike. But this fact tells us exactly nothing about whether it’s OK to rape people. This is because “natural” doesn’t entail “right” (just as “unnatural” doesn’t necessarily mean wrong) — indeed, the correct answer is that it’s not OK, and this is a judgement we make at the interface of moral philosophy and common sense: it’s not an output of science.

You get the idea. The domain of science is to describe nature, and then to explain its descriptions in terms of deeper patterns or laws. Science cannot tell us how to live. It cannot tell us right and wrong. If a system of thought claims to be doing those things, it cannot be science. If a scientist tells you she has some statements about how you ought to behave, they cannot be scientific statements, and the lab-coat is no longer speaking as a scientist. Questions about “How should we live?” — for better or worse — fall outside the purview of “objective” science. We have to sort them out, messily, by ourselves.

Now: if there were a way to get from “is” to “ought” it would take a work of philosophical genius to lay it out, and Harris’ book is not a work of philosophical genius. I can summarize his argument in a few lines:

1. Morality is “all about” improving the well-being of conscious creatures.
2. Facts about the well-being of conscious creatures are accessible to science.
3. Therefore science can tell us what’s objectively “moral” — that is, it can tell us whether something increases, or decreases, the well-being of conscious creatures.
Here’
s the problem. Premise (1) is a philosophical premise. It’s not a fact of science, it’s not a fact of nature, it’s not derivable from science, it’s not derivable from nature: it’s a value judgment. You might think this is a good premise; you might not – and even if you think it’s basically on track, there’s a lot of philosophical work to be done to spell it out. (Exhibit A – how do you define well-being in the first place, “scientifically” or otherwise?)

What this boils down to, then, is that given a certain philosophical value, premise, or starting-point, science can feed us relevant facts in our sorting-out of how to live. Ok, but so what? That’s just what science has always been able to do. This is just secular moral philosophy, minding the facts.

http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2011/11/sam-harris-is-wrong-about-science-and-morality/


Even if one argues (as Sam Hume does) on the basis of "well-being" (such a slippery term) of conscious creatures being the basis for morality (scientifically derived, of course) that rap is bad (which is is) because it doesn't maintain the "well being" of the victim...who is to say that scientifically speaking it doesn't have another function that does preserve "well being". What does science define as "well being"? That which preserves an individual? A species? A population? What about when well being of person A interferes with the well being of species B? Or when the well being of population A interferes with the rest of the ecosystem (which doesn't contain conscious creatures).




I fully think that science should INFORM morality. I just don't think it should CREATE it because I don't think it is the only way to encounter the world (and I think that "value" can not be determined by quantification alone).

anunitu
08 Jan 2015, 09:09
It is my opinion that morality has a great deal to do with empathy. If you are unable to "Feel" how your actions will effect others,then there is no "What if" in your decision making.

I do understand how moral issues are a part of philosophy,but there is a BASE to morality that if absent may lead to terrible acts against others at times by intention,and also simply by omission.

MaskedOne
10 Jan 2015, 20:30
So...given that I haven't read the book, but am familiar with Sam Harris and have seen quite a bit of his commentary, in print and in person, on the subject of this book)...I have some feelings on this.


Harris states that the thesis of his book is this:



I can buy the first two sentences, but IMO, the idea that the third is a logical conclusion of one and two is like saying 1+1=53. Also, I don't think that is what the thesis of his arguement is (having heard him speak)--there was no "potentially"....Sam Harris's arguement is the exact opposite of Steven Jay Gould's--instead of non-overlapping magesteria, he's essentally claiming for entirely overlapping magesteria, and renaming "religion" as "philosophy" (maybe, in my graph, philosophy=the purple part). Science and philosophy are not the same thing (at best, they overlap in a venn diagram as there is a philosophy of science, and some philosophy can be conducted scientifically).

I've got to go with no. I don't find his arguement compelling. Better scientists and philosophers than myself have critiqued his arguement, and I think some of what they have to say goes a long way to explaining why I think "no" better than I can. Among these, are my two biggest issues (I also take issue with his "well-being of conscious creatures" as the scientific basis for what is moral) :




Also, more on the "ought" vs "is" problem is this (which I think is the underlying flaw to the idea of science determinging morality):



Even if one argues (as Sam Hume does) on the basis of "well-being" (such a slippery term) of conscious creatures being the basis for morality (scientifically derived, of course) that rap is bad (which is is) because it doesn't maintain the "well being" of the victim...who is to say that scientifically speaking it doesn't have another function that does preserve "well being". What does science define as "well being"? That which preserves an individual? A species? A population? What about when well being of person A interferes with the well being of species B? Or when the well being of population A interferes with the rest of the ecosystem (which doesn't contain conscious creatures).




I fully think that science should INFORM morality. I just don't think it should CREATE it because I don't think it is the only way to encounter the world (and I think that "value" can not be determined by quantification alone).

Is it a dramatic oversimplification to rephrase this as,

"Science can tell you how to be good....

once you get around to telling science in clear, precise language what good is"

satanic witch
11 Jan 2015, 00:06
I actually dont have moral code for my religion. Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law kinda mintallity .i think without religion at all people would still have morals.

okoserce
15 Jan 2015, 18:49
While you can seek morality and make judgments upon it from either (or both) Science or Religion (philosophy, etc)... Morality itself is separate of the two. As above it often comes down to don't be a jerk and try to better yourself..pretty simple but broad applications. There is a scientific basis however for aspects of morality like altruism but I don't think science has a firm hold of morality and that's not really the purpose behind science either.

LunarHarvest
17 Jan 2015, 23:34
So....

We've all heard it - "There is no basis for morality without god(s)."

Is this true?

Is it possible to have a moral system based on something like, say, science?

If so, what might such a morality look like?
Not necessarily, although religion often serves as an organisational basis for the educational purpose of teaching moral behaviour to individuals.

Ultimately science does not create anything, in of itself. It observes and brings forth conclusions we call fact, theory, and hypothesis. All of which can change in a split second. That being said, there is another reason that I believe that science cannot create morality, and that is that science is not a social thing. Morality deals with the social interactions of human beings, and the expected behaviours therein. Science cannot observe that which does not exist, and cannot develop fact or theory based off of it.

Ultimately the greatest challenge to a completely secular morality is how to justify the positions of good and bad behaviour according to its principles. Good and bad are the basic principles and fundamentals of any philosophical outlook or morality, as well as how a society organises its leadership hierarchy, its economics and its very behavioural codes.

To conclude, could human beings come up with their own moral systems without the institution or belief in religion or spirituality? Possibly, but in doing so they would have to at least address fundamental philosophical questions. In my opinion, this system would lack some of the legitimacy that comes from religion initially, but could perhaps sustain itself off of tradition and strict social order and proper enforcement. That being said, there is very little to hold it together and justify its positions, so it can easily fall apart.

Ultimately there is no real way to predict the outcome because all societies are influenced by religion and spirituality in their cultural values and traditions, so a completely secular morality is, in my opinion, impossible.

nbdy
22 Jan 2015, 06:53
Which came first the behavior or the moral code? Religion attempts to qualify the code and science attempts to quantify the code, but the code pre-exists a person's idea of either religion or science because there can be no meaningful cohabitation of a species without a social code. I can think of no living thing that does not have some type of code for behavior. Even cells have a code of behavior. There are scientific and religious descriptions of this code and explanations for the source of the code, but neither of these human constructs is the source.