# Can science answer moral questions?

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Questions of good and evil, right and wrong are commonly thought unanswerable by science. But Sam Harris argues that science can -- and should -- be an authority on moral issues, shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life.

I just watched this, and it's really interesting. Sam Harris argues that it's possible to use science to determine which actions cause human suffering and which actions contribute to human well-being (and the well-being of other animals), and that science can, in fact, answer moral questions.

For example, there's the question of women wearing veils or burkas. Harris says that we can ask whether mandatory veiling contributes to their well-being, whether it helps them succeed in society, and whether it helps them develop emotionally and individually in society -- and there is a definitive answer to the question. There's no "well, we'll have to respectfully disagree," but there can be definitive evidence to answer the questions and make a moral judgment.

(Watch the video for his entire argument, of course, since I doubt I can do it justice.)

I'm not sure what to make of his claims. What's your take?

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Morality can be summed up as what we 'ought' to do. Some people like to dwell on the problem of not being able to derive an 'ought' from an 'is', but I don't actually see it as a problem.

We may not be able to derive an ought from an is, but we can derive an "ought, if" from an "is". It is merely a matter of observing the conditions and determining the necessary course to meet the desired outcome. We are social animal, and as such, benefit from peace(at the least within our tribe). If we want an effective society, we ought foster peace. People do respect others more when they are given respect. If you want to be respected, you ought respect others. etc

We can use science to find the 'is' to inform our 'ought if's. So, yes, science can(and, imo, should) be used in answering moral questions.

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For example, there's the question of women wearing veils or burkas. Harris says that we can ask whether mandatory veiling contributes to their well-being, whether it helps them succeed in society, and whether it helps them develop emotionally and individually in society -- and there is a definitive answer to the question. There's no "well, we'll have to respectfully disagree," but there can be definitive evidence to answer the questions and make a moral judgment.

Problem with that is that, for the kind of people who want mandatory veiling, seeing an unveiled woman would probably solicit feelings of rage and anger (i.e., bad feelings); this is probably scientifically provable, as is the statement that rage/anger do not contribute to well-being (unless we don't count 'how happy you are' in the objective determination...), so you can probably objectively and scientifically prove that, for certain people, seeing unveiled women is bad for their well-being. The question of 'who's well-being do we care about the most' arises, and it all becomes subjective as far as I can see.

Also, what counts as 'emotionally developing'? Should we objectively determine (and then implement) what leads towards someone being more emotional, or less? and which emotions 'should' people feel, and under which circumstances? another subjective decision.

So, I think he's actually suggesting that we:

-- subjectively determine a few things that we want to treat as 'ethical goals'.

-- objectively determine:

---- what will lead towards these goals

---- how to prevent that which will lead away from these goals

-- and then implement the above objectively-determined stategies

-- if anyone disagrees with our objectives and suffers as a result of our actions, **** 'em.

Seems to make sense imo, as 'what is ethical' is inherently subjective, whilst 'how do we best achieve x' is a matter of fact, and best done objectively (maybe even scientifically), and it's not as if anyone cares if people who disagree suffer.

e.g.:

subjectively determine that 'suffering' is bad, and subjectively define 'suffering'

objectively prove that raping children counts as suffering

objectively prove that non-satiation of sex-drive counts as suffering

objectively deduce/prove that, for paedos, not raping children counts as suffering

subjectively determine that we don't really give a shit about the paedos

objectively determine the best way of preventing paedos from raping kiddies

subjectively reaffirm that, if this way involves inflicting pain on the paedos (prison, for example), we still don't care about them.

implement objectively determined strategies to achieve our subjective goals.

call it science

make video pluggin book

profit

can, in fact, answer moral questions

Science can probably answer tactical/strategic questions on the best way to achieve our subjective, non-scientifically arived-at goals.

e.g.: 'how best to convert everyone in the world to muslim'

but not: 'we should/shouldn't do that'.

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Problem with that is that, for the kind of people who want mandatory veiling, seeing an unveiled woman would probably solicit feelings of rage and anger (i.e., bad feelings); this is probably scientifically provable, as is the statement that rage/anger do not contribute to well-being (unless we don't count 'how happy you are' in the objective determination...), so you can probably objectively and scientifically prove that, for certain people, seeing unveiled women is bad for their well-being. The question of 'who's well-being do we care about the most' arises, and it all becomes subjective as far as I can see.

Before the racial integration of schools in the US, many people would have flown into a rage at the idea of non-whites in the same schools as whites. Now it's accepted, and society is likely better off for it. I think a racial equality supporter would argue that the long-term benefits are far greater than the short-term anger.

Also, what counts as 'emotionally developing'? Should we objectively determine (and then implement) what leads towards someone being more emotional, or less? and which emotions 'should' people feel, and under which circumstances? another subjective decision.

Presumably there are various psychological systems to measure this. Harris would argue that with sufficient research would could determine which emotional states are best for a person -- that is, which states minimize suffering, maximize lifespan, and improve happiness. (As measured by the various scales of happiness psychologists have cooked up.) With better brain imaging and study, we could tell which brain states have adverse consequences and lead to problems.

Of course, as Harris points out in the video, there are many ways to be happy. There isn't one method to reducing suffering, there are many differing ones. It's science's job to figure out which ones work.

e.g.:

subjectively determine that 'suffering' is bad, and subjectively define 'suffering'

objectively prove that raping children counts as suffering

objectively prove that non-satiation of sex-drive counts as suffering

objectively deduce/prove that, for paedos, not raping children counts as suffering

subjectively determine that we don't really give a shit about the paedos

objectively determine the best way of preventing paedos from raping kiddies

subjectively reaffirm that, if this way involves inflicting pain on the paedos (prison, for example), we still don't care about them.

implement objectively determined strategies to achieve our subjective goals.

call it science

make video pluggin book

profit

From my perspective, a true system would also aim to reduce the suffering on the part of the paedophiles. Imprisonment is clearly not a system that stops recidivism and "treats" offenders, so it is science's role to determine what is different in the brains of criminals and those who cause suffering to others, and then to determine how to fix them.

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Before the racial integration of schools in the US, many people would have flown into a rage at the idea of non-whites in the same schools as whites. Now it's accepted, and society is likely better off for it. I think a racial equality supporter would argue that the long-term benefits are far greater than the short-term anger.

and a racist would argue otherwize; but, that'd be subjective.

we could always force cross-breed everyone to create one brownish race: the initial rage would be offset by the long-term benefits (absolutely NO racism, unlike other plans)?

Presumably there are various psychological systems to measure this. Harris would argue that with sufficient research would could determine which emotional states are best for a person -- that is, which states minimize suffering, maximize lifespan, and improve happiness. (As measured by the various scales of happiness psychologists have cooked up.) With better brain imaging and study, we could tell which brain states have adverse consequences and lead to problems.

how do you objectively determine the balance between those three things? e.g., drugs increase happiness followed by increased suffering on the come-down, with a risk of minimizing your lifespan.

Would risk- and comedown-free drugs be developed and then not only legal, but mandatory in order to increase happyness?

If someone like me has an emotionality that makes them angry when people make their desizions for them, is this emotional response deemed 'not in my best interests' as it deminishes the effect of the mandatory drugging (I end up sulky and angry) and thus doesn't maximize my happiness whilst minimizing my suffering? scientifically, would the most ethical response to that be to train me out of it? would druging me into a more submissive state be ethical, as i'd then be happier?

From my perspective, a true system would also aim to reduce the suffering on the part of the paedophiles. Imprisonment is clearly not a system that stops recidivism and "treats" offenders, so it is science's role to determine what is different in the brains of criminals and those who cause suffering to others, and then to determine how to fix them.

why not identify what it is in the minds of the victims that makes them not enjoy being raped and 'fix' that instead of 'fixing' rapists?

Or, with the paedo example: scientifically speaking, should you give paedos chemicals that remove their sex-drive, or give kids chemicals that make them pass out and not remember it (thus not objectively suffering)?

Hell, sounds better to tranq kids: 'fixing' the paedos means that kids don't suffer and paedos don't have fun; tranqing kids just means that kids don't suffer, so objectively that approach is better apart from the fact that their parents would mind (just don't let them find out?).

(btw, I agree that our response should protect kids whilst also trying to help the paedos, not only 'cos it's nice but also 'cos any approach would work better with their co-operation; but not quite to the extent that i'd agree with the 'tranqing kids' approach. I cannot, however, justify this objectively: tranqing kids whilst their parents aren't watching results in no objective suffering and increases overall happiness at the low cost of a few minutes missing from a child's life*, so seems to be the nash equillibrium?

*You could bury this cost by doing it when they would be napping anyway).

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and a racist would argue otherwize; but, that'd be subjective.

we could always force cross-breed everyone to create one brownish race: the initial rage would be offset by the long-term benefits (absolutely NO racism, unlike other plans)?

Sure. And I could do a scientific research study to see which program would cost more, which would be more effective in reducing racism, and which would cause sales of artificial tanning cream to tank, resulting in a destruction of the economy. It doesn't have to be subjective, does it?

how do you objectively determine the balance between those three things? e.g., drugs increase happiness followed by increased suffering on the come-down, with a risk of minimizing your lifespan.

Would risk- and comedown-free drugs be developed and then not only legal, but mandatory in order to increase happyness?

Hmm. Brave New World anyone? I don't know if the government's role should be to facilitate happiness or require it; I'd prefer the former.

why not identify what it is in the minds of the victims that makes them not enjoy being raped and 'fix' that instead of 'fixing' rapists?

Or, with the paedo example: scientifically speaking, should you give paedos chemicals that remove their sex-drive, or give kids chemicals that make them pass out and not remember it (thus not objectively suffering)?

Hell, sounds better to tranq kids: 'fixing' the paedos means that kids don't suffer and paedos don't have fun; tranqing kids just means that kids don't suffer, so objectively that approach is better apart from the fact that their parents would mind (just don't let them find out?).

There are quite a few ways to achieve happiness, as Sam Harris points out in the video. We'd have to evaluate the costs and benefits of each system -- how much does it cost to organize a tranquilization program for pedophiles to satiate their urges? How much would it cost to treat pedophiles? Which has a higher success rate?

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mm. Brave New World anyone? I don't know if the government's role should be to facilitate happiness or require it; I'd prefer the former.

As would I; but that's subjective (objectively, we may well be happyer with mandatory hapiness).

but that's my point: I can't see how we could completely remove subjectivity from the equasion, or even reduce the subjectivity to unviersally accepted axioms ('i like fun'; 'i don't like pain'); and if the system objectively determines the best way of achieving subjective goals, then the entire system's ethical validity is subjective (I get the impression that Harris thinks this'll be an entirely objectively correct ethical system that removes subjectivity).

There are quite a few ways to achieve happiness, as Sam Harris points out in the video. We'd have to evaluate the costs and benefits of each system -- how much does it cost to organize a tranquilization program for pedophiles to satiate their urges? How much would it cost to treat pedophiles? Which has a higher success rate?

...

I kinda offered that as a reducto ad absurdum... are we actually considering, for the sake of argument, tranqing kids as a viable option?

if so, then I really think the best all-round bet is to tranq them, as it min/max'es suffering/happiness. Look, I drew a chart:

                               paedos          kids

raping kids
...whilst they're asleep                     :-|
nullifying sex-drive            :-|             :-|



nullifying their sex-drive makes no one suffer or happy, whilst tranqing (ok, how do you spell that word please?) kids at least makes one group happy whilst not making anyone suffer. The costs would, presumably, be comparable, but if not are you saying that if tranqing kids is cheaper, it's objectively the best way?

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One must consider that there are more downsides than merely who suffers. For example, no scheme could be perfectly secret, so children would know they had been "violated" while young. Would this emotionally harm them? If so, would we be able to prevent that harm when they found out through some kind of treatment? Would that treatment harm them? How much would all this cost?

I think we would have to start with a set of axioms: define the role of government, agree upon methods of psychological assessment, and agree on how to run the cost/benefit analyses. Once those are established, couldn't it work?

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I just watched this, and it's really interesting. Sam Harris argues that it's possible to use science to determine which actions cause human suffering and which actions contribute to human well-being (and the well-being of other animals), and that science can, in fact, answer moral questions.

He did a slightly longer version with more nuance and detail... which also had a Q&A... at Google a coupla weeks ago. Another worthy watch.

UrA-8rTxXf0

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I think we would have to start with a set of axioms: define the role of government, agree upon methods of psychological assessment, and agree on how to run the cost/benefit analyses. Once those are established, couldn't it work?

Well, yes; but that stops it being objective, is my point. We're going to have to use some non-scientific process to determine the axioms -- including stuff like self-determination vs. state-regulation, whether it's acceptable to chemically/psychologically alter people or not, the balance between happiness, not suffering, and life-duration, who is the system for the betterment of (not everyone would agree to 'everyone'), etc.

Afterwards, everything can (presumably) be scientifically derived from these. But, that's pretty-much what we can do at the moment; yet he's arguing as if it'd be an entirely non-subjective system (but, based on subjective axioms, the system itself would be entirely subjective).

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To address the original question, no, science alone cannot answer moral questions. By that I mean you have to place some non-derived axioms; for example, a definition of desirable or undesirable outcomes, or an assumption of "suffering" as bad, or even a definition of suffering.

Only then can you use science to make statements within the framework you have constructed. But as soon as someone disagrees with your framework, you are screwed, and back to moral subjectivity.

[Edit: Hmmm - typed this without reading the thread. It seems that I pretty much agree with Dak's post above.]

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Some of the criticisms above are pretty common... So common, in fact, that Harris has responded to much of it in writing.

http://www.project-reason.org/newsfeed/item/moral_confusion_in_the_name_of_science3/

Last month, I had the privilege of speaking at the 2010 TED conference for exactly 18 minutes. The short format of these talks is a brilliant innovation and surely the reason for their potent half-life on the Internet. However, 18 minutes is not a lot of time in which to present a detailed argument. My intent was to begin a conversation about how we can understand morality in universal, scientific terms. Many people who loved my talk, misunderstood what I was saying, and loved it for the wrong reasons; and many of my critics were right to think that I had said something extremely controversial. I was not suggesting that science can give us an evolutionary or neurobiological account of what people do in the name of “morality.” Nor was I merely saying that science can help us get what we want out of life. Both of these would have been quite banal claims to make (unless one happens to doubt the truth of evolution or the mind’s dependency on the brain). Rather I was suggesting that science can, in principle, help us understand what we
should
do and
should
want—and, perforce, what
other people
should do and want in order to live the best lives possible. My claim is that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, and such answers may one day fall within reach of the maturing sciences of mind. <
>

Moral relativism is clearly an attempt to pay intellectual reparations for the crimes of western colonialism, ethnocentrism, and racism. This is, I think, the only charitable thing to be said about it. Needless to say, it was not my purpose at TED to defend the idiosyncrasies of the West as any more enlightened, in principle, than those of any other culture. Rather, I was arguing that the most basic facts about human flourishing must transcend culture, just as most other facts do. And if there are facts which are truly a matter of cultural construction—if, for instance, learning a specific language or tattooing your face fundamentally alters the possibilities of human experience—well, then these facts also arise from (neurophysiological) processes that transcend culture.

I must say, the vehemence and condescension with which the is/ought objection has been thrown in my face astounds me. And it confirms my sense that this bit of bad philosophy has done tremendous harm to the thinking of smart (and not so smart) people.

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I don't see how that answers the objection. He's saying two things: that there is an objective "ought, if," and that there is an objective "if," which he calls "living the best lives possible." He seems to be addressing objections to the second statement by defending the first.

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Science illuminates, like a flashlight. A flashlight will show you your options, but you must decide which way to go. If you want to go jump off a cliff but its too dark to see, the flashlight will help you get there, just as it can help you find your way home if that's where you're headed. Science is a tool, not a guide. Another analogy is a compass: it points north, but you use it not to follow the little arrow but to know what direction you're going.

Once you define what "good" and "bad" are -- what ought and what ought not -- science can tell you whether something fits the definition. Science can't tell you what ought to be. It can however examine your sense of empathy and a few other physiological aspects related to morality, but even so claiming that this makes it "right" is the naturalistic fallacy.

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I can only encourage people to review the link I shared instead of merely the short snippets I put forth with my post (not suggesting anybody above did this, just want to make the request).

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I can only encourage people to review the link I shared instead of merely the short snippets I put forth with my post (not suggesting anybody above did this, just want to make the request).

http://www.project-reason.org/newsfeed/item/moral_confusion_in_the_name_of_science3/

Thus, by starting my talk with the assertion that values depend upon actual or potential changes in consciousness, and that some changes are better than others, I merely assumed what I set out to prove. This is what philosophers call “begging the question.” I am, therefore, an idiot.

One of my critics put the concern this way: “Why should human wellbeing matter to us?” Well, why should logical coherence matter to us? Why should historical veracity matter to us? Why should experimental evidence matter to us? These are profound and profoundly stupid questions. No framework of knowledge can withstand such skepticism, for none is perfectly self-justifying. Without being able to stand entirely outside of a framework, one is always open to the charge that the framework rests on nothing, that its axioms are wrong, or that there are foundational questions it cannot answer. So what? Science and rationality generally are based on intuitions and concepts that cannot be reduced or justified.

So yeah... Even science rests on subjective assumptions (that we all agree on as scientists). That in no way justifies the claim to have objective answers to morality. Even if all of humanity agreed with him as to the objective of increasing well-being, of how well-being might be increased, and what sorts of well-being exist, it would still only be subjectively validated. He disparages consensus and part of his claim depends on consensus (we all agree these are dumb objections!).

Sure, we could put the few people who might disagree (eg psychopaths) in jail, but that still doesn't give inherent justification, only a might-makes-right approach. Which I agree with... someone who gets their kicks from decreasing human well-being should be dealt with by the rest of us in the name of increasing human well-being. Cause we said so, and we can. Not cause it's "inherently the right thing to do" or other silly excuses.

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Sure, we could put the few people who might disagree (eg psychopaths) in jail, but that still doesn't give inherent justification, only a might-makes-right approach. Which I agree with... someone who gets their kicks from decreasing human well-being should be dealt with by the rest of us in the name of increasing human well-being. Cause we said so, and we can. Not cause it's "inherently the right thing to do" or other silly excuses.

If science is all we have to justify our behavior, as a society. . .how about a little physics?

Hypothesis:

If: I tie a secured rope around your neck (with your hands tied behind your back, of course), and drop you from a height of five-or-more feet,

Then: You no longer threaten my children or grandchildren with sexual assault.

I am willing to conduct this experiment until the supply child rapers (whether the children are tranquilized, nor not) is exhausted. Repetition is an important aspect of experimental methodology, you know.

Some of us have no problem taking oppositional action to predators who would prey upon those we are charged to protect.

In the words of The Sage: "Cause we said so, and we can. Not cause it's "inherently the right thing to do" or other silly excuses."

Bill Wolfe

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I can only encourage people to review the link I shared instead of merely the short snippets I put forth with my post (not suggesting anybody above did this, just want to make the request).

Have done. Could you highlight the bit that answers this:

I don't see how that answers the objection. He's saying two things: that there is an objective "ought, if," and that there is an objective "if," which he calls "living the best lives possible." He seems to be addressing objections to the second statement by defending the first.

I can't find it.

E.g., take slavery: criminalizing it is objectively detrimental to the slavers and in the benifit of the slaves; why, then, is it objectively true to the slavers that slavery is bad?

If your answer contains the premise 'we should all band together to do what's in our collective best interests', then why is it objectively true to the slavers that collectivism is best, bearing in mind that they'd objectively be worse off adopting collectivism as they'd have to free the slaves.

Note that I have no problem with trying to inflict my morals onto the slavers (i.e., ban slavery); just that I don't claim it's universally objectively true that slavery is bad or that my morals are objectively 'better' or more valid than theirs.

Objectively better than theirs for the slaves, yes. And, given that I wouldn't enslave but could be one, objectively better for me, yes. But objectively worse for the slavers. Without a Higher Authority to appeal to, I'm afraid we're stuck with moral relativism, which means no universal objective morality.

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Have done. Could you highlight the bit that answers this:

I can't find it.

E.g., take slavery: criminalizing it is objectively detrimental to the slavers and in the benifit of the slaves; why, then, is it objectively true to the slavers that slavery is bad?

Sure. It's where he talks about well-being of conscious creatures. The slave owner acts in a way which diminishes the well-being of conscious creatures, ergo his acts are objectively immoral. This is reinforced by the idea of attempting to create a thriving global human society.

My further claim is that wellbeing is what we can intelligibly value—and “morality” (whatever people’s associations with this term happen to be) really relates to the intentions and behaviors that affect the wellbeing of conscious creatures.

<...>

It seems rather obvious that fairness, justice, compassion, and a general awareness of terrestrial reality have rather a lot to do with our creating a thriving global civilization—and, therefore, with the greater wellbeing of humanity. And, as I emphasized in my talk, there may be many different ways for individuals and communities to thrive—many peaks on the moral landscape—so if there is real diversity in how people can be deeply fulfilled in life, this diversity can be accounted for and honored in the context of science. As I said in my talk, the concept of “wellbeing,” like the concept of “health,” is truly open for revision and discovery.

<...>

So what about people who think that morality has nothing to do with anyone’s wellbeing? I am saying that we need not worry about them—just as we don’t worry about the people who think that their “physics” is synonymous with astrology, or sympathetic magic, or Vedanta. We are free to define “physics” any way we want. Some definitions will be useless, or worse. We are free to define “morality” any way we want. Some definitions will be useless, or worse—and many are so bad that we can know, far in advance of any breakthrough in the sciences of mind, that they have no place in a serious conversation about human values.

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Have done. Could you highlight the bit that answers this:

I already highlighted it: he calls the people who disagree with his premise "profoundly stupid" because he can't "withstand such skepticism".

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...because he can't "withstand such skepticism".

Actually, per your own quoted material, he did not say that "he" can't withstand it. He said this:

No framework of knowledge can withstand such skepticism, for none is perfectly self-justifying. Without being able to stand entirely outside of a framework, one is always open to the charge that the framework rests on nothing, that its axioms are wrong, or that there are foundational questions it cannot answer.

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Actually he did. It's simply a special case of the more general thing he said. "his framework of knowledge for dealing with morality" is a subset of "all frameworks of knowledge".

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Right then. I'll simply correct the other misrepresentation put forth in your previous post.

he calls the people who disagree with his premise "profoundly stupid"

Actually, he was not referring to people who disagree with his premise as profoundly stupid. Per your own quoted material, he said this:

One of my critics put the concern this way: “Why should human wellbeing matter to us?” Well, why should logical coherence matter to us? Why should historical veracity matter to us? Why should experimental evidence matter to us? These are profound and profoundly stupid questions.

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If your answer contains the premise 'we should all band together to do what's in our collective best interests', then why is it objectively true to the slavers that collectivism is best, bearing in mind that they'd objectively be worse off adopting collectivism as they'd have to free the slaves.

Sure. It's where he talks about well-being of conscious creatures.

Obviously, it's objectively in the slavers' best interests to prioritize what's in their well-being, not all conscious creatures, otherwize they'd have to free the slaves and get 'ethical' jobs that'd no doubt pay less and be harder.

'All concious creatures', btw, could be taken to mean that I can't lay mouse-traps down or eat bacon. Objectively speaking, why should I give a crap about rats and cows?

Objectively speaking why should we even prioritize all humans? I'm sure there's any number of people for whom, like the slavers, it is objectively true that it's in their best interests to prioritize their own best interests, and not everyone's as a whole.

One of my critics put the concern this way: “Why should human wellbeing matter to us?” Well, why should logical coherence matter to us? Why should historical veracity matter to us? Why should experimental evidence matter to us? These are profound and profoundly stupid questions.

does he then go on to give an answer?

I think you'll find many people who don't agree that they matter: advertizers, for example, are in the business of persuasion, yet for them logical coherance matters naught. Similar could be said of the media and government; and i'm sure the latter will place 'historical veracity' below 'perception management' if given half the chance. Objectively these attitudes are in their best interests.

They're not particularly in mine, but then why, objectively, should those people do what's best for me? It's demonstrably not in their best interests, and presumably any other way of justifying it would require an unsubstantiatable, subjective and probably emotion-driven desizion to 'be nice people'.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/objectively

OBJECTIVELY:

Of or having to do with a material object;

Having actual existence or reality;

Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.

'we should be nice to one-another' is a personal prejudice (probably emotionally arrived at), and it's a nice one that I have too, but any system that is fundamentally based on it is neither universal nor objective.

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does he then go on to give an answer?

So, he dismissed the question as profoundly stupid, yet you still want him to give an answer? I think this is a situation where we must realize that a response of "that's not even wrong" is appropriate, but YMMV.

While I appreciate that you may not accept it as such, I see the below as further insight into his claim which is relevant to the question you've put forth.

It is absolutely clear that, whatever they might believe about what they are doing, psychopaths are seeking some form of wellbeing (excitement, ecstasy, feelings of power, etc.), but because of their neurological deficits, they are doing a very bad job of it. We can say that a psychopath like Ted Bundy takes satisfaction in the wrong things, because living a life purposed toward raping and killing women does not allow for deeper and more generalizable forms of human flourishing. Compare Bundy’s deficits to those of a delusional physicist who finds meaningful patterns and mathematical significance in the wrong places (John Nash might have been a good example, while suffering the positive symptoms of his schizophrenia). His “Eureka!” detectors are poorly coupled to reality; he sees meaningful patterns where most people would not—and these patterns will be a very poor guide to the proper goals of physics (i.e. understanding the physical world). Is there any doubt that Ted Bundy’s “Yes! I love this!” detectors were poorly coupled to the possibilities of finding deep fulfillment in this life, or that his overriding obsession with raping and killing young women was a poor guide to the proper goals of morality (i.e. living a fulfilling life with others)?

And while people like Bundy may want some very weird things out of life, no one wants utter, interminable misery. And if someone claims to want this, we are free to treat them like someone who claims to believe that 2 + 2 = 5 or that all events are self-caused. On the subject of morality, as on every other subject, some people are not worth listening to.

The moment we admit that consciousness is the context in which any discussion of values makes sense, we must admit that there are facts to be known about how the experience of conscious creatures can change—and these facts can be studied, in principle, with the tools of science. Do pigs suffer more than cows do when being led to slaughter? Would humanity suffer more or less, on balance, if the U.S. unilaterally gave up all its nuclear weapons? Questions like these are very difficult to answer. But this does not mean that they don’t have answers.

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