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Sam Harris is right and I have a proof. Unfortunately it's to large to fit in the margins of this blog.


Norm, what are your thoughts on Harris' point when he says the following:

So, while it is possible to say that one can't move from "is" to "ought," we should be honest about how we get to "is" in the first place. Scientific "is" statements rest on implicit "oughts" all the way down. When I say, "Water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen," I have uttered a quintessential statement of scientific fact. But what if someone doubts this statement? I can appeal to data from chemistry, describing the outcome of simple experiments. But in so doing, I implicitly appeal to the values of empiricism and logic. What if my interlocutor doesn't share these values? What can I say then? What evidence could prove that we should value evidence? What logic could demonstrate the importance of logic? As it turns out, these are the wrong questions. The right question is, why should we care what such a person thinks in the first place?

So it is with the linkage between morality and well-being: To say that morality is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that the well-being of conscious creatures is good, is exactly like saying that science is arbitrary (or culturally constructed, or merely personal), because we must first assume that a rational understanding of the universe is good. We need not enter either of these philosophical cul-de-sacs.

I feel this is one of his stronger points that should be addressed.

PZ isn't infallible, but then who is? I think Harris is spot-on in this one.

Harris is about to release a book on this subject, so the debate has only just barely begun. It appears to me that the objection is to the use of 'well-being' as a measurable unit of data. What I heard Harris say in the TED speech is that moral science won't be able to provide precise answers, but it can point out a range along a spectrum.

Harris is about to release a book on this subject, so the debate has only just barely begun.

What's good as well as interesting is how he's refining his ideas for his book by having debates with other scientists (and even with regular folks in his website; see his FAQ) before he releases it. I think this will allow him to address all the main points his objectors raise before the book even comes out.

I think this is the first goal of a "Science of Morality." The first thing any scientist (social scientist) will have to do is conduct study after study that tries to get at what morals are. What do people mean when they use that word? What do? Who do? etc... One person says killing outsiders is moral. No problem, log that in the lab book and keep studying. Pattern emerge, insights happen, and at worst we might get a new ontology to discuss moral questions.

I think the nutrition science is a good analogy. Eggs were bad, because cholesterol was bad, because people didn't like getting heart disease... then eggs were good, because they had good cholesterol in them, then it was the yokes, then... ought ought ought kept changing as the science evolved.

Science is theory and observation. I see not one problem with a rigrious, university level program that studies human morality. The theories about morality will have to be tested in much the fuzzy way that all social science theories are tested, often waiting for humanity to do something that seems to set up a control vs. variables situation.

The fear that people will over reach (both laymen and scientist) with their conclusions should not inhibit the pursuit. Again this is how much of Nutrition Science is abused.

I have no fear of people working over the problem and coming up with different indexes, or definitions of 'well-being' or 'good-morals' "On the greater good index by doctor so-in-so, we might be able to justify xxxx" Will be used again and again and debated and changed.

Science won't tell us what is a good moral decision, it will tell us, based on observations, when a moral decision might be more in tune with certain moral scales - rather than the will of the gods.

I followed the first couple of salvos in this Harris/Carroll battle, but frankly it got to the point of the argument just getting too philosophical and without (IMO) very practical real-world usefulness.

What I understood from Harris' talk and first blog post was that he was advocating exactly that, just looking past the less useful philosophical meanderings of this "ought/is" debate that has been raging for who knows how long, and start being practical and realize how the worldview that science gives us can actually make us see morality in a better light. I agree with that.

The response post from Carroll had some people even arguing for moral relativism, and it wasn't that clear for me that Carroll didn't say it as well in a more nuanced way. It'd be surprising to me though, if Carroll is a moral relativist. I know PZ isn't.

i was surprised to find myself liking the "rationalist anthem". it actually had some badass righteous elements in spite of the necessity of geek cred to fully grok it. video well done too. a- on it's own ground, b+ in it's musical context. not bad at all.

and- i agree with pz and norm and sean carrol- so far- but harris is so gutsy and determined, and apparently an underdog even among his constituency that i have to root for him. maybe it's not as complicated as we might think to define "wellbeing". we could start by asking the poor, i doubt their answers will differ significantly from one another. even if it comes down to providing meth and smack to whoever wants it, whenever they want it, it would still be cheaper for society as a whole to guarantee it's OWN wellbeing by doing so. and the social darwinists could par-tay all night long, yay.... i'll be over at the smack dispensary at the library. hot and cold running hookers-by-choice...gosh i love this stuff. i'm' kidding if this isn't clear. although i love the idea of librarians giving out free heroin and lap dances. for their own wellbeing, of course. :;

Oh please, genetic engineering is not the same as rubbing a couple of flowers together.

Open-pollination and hybridization have been taking place on this planet for millions of years.

Overnight transgenic engineering has not.

By comparing open-pollination and hybridization that has been taking place "for millions of years", with "overnight" transgenic engineering, you're implying that geneticists are working blindly, just like evolution. That's about the only way in which the comparison makes sense.

"Oh please, genetic engineering is not the same as rubbing a couple of flowers together." That wasn't what I wrote at all. Please read it again, particularly the conclusion! :)


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