Science and Morals

7 oktober 2010 | In Meta-ethics Neuroscience Self-indulgence | Comments?

Can basic moral questions be answered by science? The, oh, how to put this nicely, vocal moral theorist Sam Harris believe so. And so, as I will keep reminding you, do I. But, hopefully unlike me, he seems not to make a very good case for it. The marvelous Kwame Anthony Appiah (whose book ”Experiments in Ethics” is a very good read indeed, if you’re interested in experimental moral philosophy. Good, but somehow non-commital) made that much clear in his review in the New York Times the other day (the equally marvelous Roger Crisp agreed).

I’m very much torn about this issue. First, it’s a good thing that the attempt to address fundamental ethical and metaethical questions with scientific means gets this much attention. But the key issue at this stage is in the justification of this project. If that’s lacking, the attention will just lead to people dismissing it and likewise dismissing any other, better thought through attempts which comes along later. This happens all the time, when something is claimed to be a cancerogen, and the study is shown to be flawed, next time around even if the study is better, people wont heed the warning.

So, while the meta-ethical framework required to justify the scientific approach to moral questions is highly controversial and far from settled, one wishes that Harris would have made at least some effort to provide us with such a framework. So what am I saying? ”Call me”, I guess.

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