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Is morality a science?


  

12 members have voted

  1. 1. Is morality a science?

    • Strongly Agree
    • Somewhat agree
    • No preference
    • Somewhat disagree
    • Strongly disagree


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Although science can study morality, morality itself is not a science.

 

The way I define morality is: A set of rules that allow entities to form a society.

 

Science can look at how the rules work (game theory), how they came about (evolution), potential variations (sociology) and how an organism fits into that scociety (psychology and behavoural sciences).

 

As science is about studying things, then Morality, as it is not a study can not be a science. But, because it can be studdied, it can be the subject of science.

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Morality is at its heart an arbitrary choice of values, used to define the terms "good" and "evil". Once you arbitrarily choose your values, science and logic can guide you in deducing what you should do to maximize those values. By using science and logic you can base your entire moral system on a single value, for example maximizing human happiness (however you define that), rather than using an inflexible set of rules like the Ten Commandments and other such laws.

 

Also, science can help you find what instinctive value systems we have.

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I've always taken the cynical view that morality is a result of our genetic programming. Us not not running around killing each other constantly offers us an evolutionary advantage. If you need to go to the grocery store for an hour I'll watch your toddler and take care of him for you, so then in the future whenever I need a hand with something, you might help me out. Watching someone's toddler seems like a trivial favor now; but would've been more crucial back when toddlers were eaten by saber-toothed tigers regularly.

 

Natural selection has allowed us to figure out the balance between selfish propagation of our own genetic line, and collective genetic propagation of the species. If I were on the side of the road starving, someone might help me; but if I break into someone's house to steal food, they might kill me. Morality is the part of our brain that gets tricks into carrying out our genetic functions by holding our emotions hostage. "Immoral" activities come with the promise of unpleasant emotions. If someone kills his own brother, then he will probably feel some guilt at some point. Back in cave man times, one's brother might have been his closest ally in hunting, fighting, and gathering food. So it was then, not only immoral to kill your brother, it was a terrible strategic blunder.

 

EDIT: I voted no to morality being a science because neuroscience and genetics are not yet on the level where we can adequately examine these phenomena.

Edited by mississippichem
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If you begin by defining science as a discipline which attempts to predict how matter will behave under various influences, then morality is certainly not a science, nor is it even trying to do what science does.

 

It is interesting to compare 'truths' of morality and of science by asking this question: Which are you more certain of, that murdering innocent babies is wrong is that the the Earth is subject to gravitational forces? It seems that we are equally certain of both truths, so it seems too facile just to regard morality as some kind of defective science.

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It is interesting to compare 'truths' of morality and of science by asking this question: Which are you more certain of, that murdering innocent babies is wrong is that the the Earth is subject to gravitational forces?

To illustrate the absurdity of posing this as a binary decision, please answer the following question:

 

Have you stopped beating your wife?

 

[ ] Yes

[ ] No

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To illustrate the absurdity of posing this as a binary decision, please answer the following question:

 

Have you stopped beating your wife?

 

[ ] Yes

[ ] No

 

I think he was saying the the wrongness of killing babies can't be quantified or observed as of now, to the point of mississippichem of neuroscience, not that killing babies isn't wrong. Also, I beat my fiancee since we aren't married yet.

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It is interesting to compare 'truths' of morality and of science by asking this question: Which are you more certain of, that murdering innocent babies is wrong is that the the Earth is subject to gravitational forces? It seems that we are equally certain of both truths, so it seems too facile just to regard morality as some kind of defective science.

 

I'm certain the earth is flat. Whether killing babies is bad or not is an arbitrary judgment based on the moral values held by the person making that moral judgment. This even dispite your use of the word murder implying the act is illegal and the word innocent implying they did nothing wrong. For example,

 

2 Samuel 12:13-18

13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a] the LORD, the son born to you will die."

 

15 After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth[b] on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

 

18 On the seventh day the child died.

 

While I doubt God's actions would be considered murder by the people in question, it seems close enough. Since God is considered good by definition, many Christians will say the act described was not immoral. The only way to convince someone who disagrees with you about morality is to convince them to reject their old values and replace them with new ones, or by using science or logic to deduce from their own values that the action does not maximize those values. But you can't prove a value.

 

I've always taken the cynical view that morality is a result of our genetic programming. Us not not running around killing each other constantly offers us an evolutionary advantage. If you need to go to the grocery store for an hour I'll watch your toddler and take care of him for you, so then in the future whenever I need a hand with something, you might help me out. Watching someone's toddler seems like a trivial favor now; but would've been more crucial back when toddlers were eaten by saber-toothed tigers regularly.

 

Natural selection has allowed us to figure out the balance between selfish propagation of our own genetic line, and collective genetic propagation of the species. If I were on the side of the road starving, someone might help me; but if I break into someone's house to steal food, they might kill me. Morality is the part of our brain that gets tricks into carrying out our genetic functions by holding our emotions hostage. "Immoral" activities come with the promise of unpleasant emotions. If someone kills his own brother, then he will probably feel some guilt at some point. Back in cave man times, one's brother might have been his closest ally in hunting, fighting, and gathering food. So it was then, not only immoral to kill your brother, it was a terrible strategic blunder.

 

EDIT: I voted no to morality being a science because neuroscience and genetics are not yet on the level where we can adequately examine these phenomena.

 

I agree with you about the importance of instinctive behaviors and values. However, much of our morality deals with suppressing our instinctive impulses. We have both a biological system for judging value (candy is good because it tastes good), we have a social system for judging values (candy is bad because it rots your teeth and is empty calories), and I'd say most people have a personal system for judging value, similar yet distinct from the social and biological ones. The only chance we have for now of finding universal values are those that are biologically based, yet some of those are obsolete or for other reasons looked down upon.

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I'm certain the earth is flat. Whether killing babies is bad or not is an arbitrary judgment based on the moral values held by the person making that moral judgment. This even dispite your use of the word murder implying the act is illegal and the word innocent implying they did nothing wrong. For example,

Murdering innocent babies is always wrong, but Earth's gravity is variable. So I am more certain of the former.

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Murdering innocent babies is always wrong, but Earth's gravity is variable. So I am more certain of the former.

 

Earth's gravity can be quantified to give an approximate acceleration of [math] 9.8 m/s^{2} [/math]. What is the wrongness value for killing babies? Please show your work and express your answer in appropriate units.

Edited by mississippichem
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By that example I was just trying to show that both morality and science have their own certainties, even though the former is just trying to describe essential values for human life in a social context, while the latter is trying to predict the behavior of matter under various conditions in the future. Since these two goals are entirely distinct, it doesn't make much sense to criticize either discipline in terms of its failure to adopt the methods or reflect the values of the other.

 

The kind of difference at play here was described by Dilthey as the distinction between disciplines of prediction (e.g., science) and disciplines of Verstehen (understanding), such as art, literature, and morality. While it is certainly a correct understanding of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' to say that it deals with the themes of free will and fate, this correctness cannot be demonstrated in the same way that Newtonian mechanics can be shown to be correct within certain limits. Theories about art, literature, and morality are 'correct' when they offer interpretations which add significant coherence to their relevant data, which render our understanding of it clearer, which add relevant meaning to it, etc., but they are not correct in the way that science is in terms of their ability to make predictions about how matter will behave in the future based on empirical data collected so far.

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Prove it.

Earth's gravity can be quantified to give an approximate acceleration of [math] 9.8 m/s^{2} [/math]. What is the wrongness value for killing babies?

Try to kill your own babies and you will see.

Please show your work and express your answer in appropriate units.

1. All scientific propositions are based on our certainty that we are thinking.

2. Science presupposes integrity.

3. Scientific conclusions are provisional whereas moral principles are not!

By that example I was just trying to show that both morality and science have their own certainties, even though the former is just trying to describe essential values for human life in a social context, while the latter is trying to predict the behavior of matter under various conditions in the future.

It's like comparing apples and oranges. Even if both propositions are certain, though both are approached by different avenues. This is another reason why scientism is not so humble a creed as it might be. There is an illusion among those dedicated to the creed that only science can achieve true certainty compared to all other avenues of knowledge. And even then, the certainty of science is only provisional. Our certainty about gravity, for example, is provisional and subject to incoming evidence; whereas our certainty about the immorality of killing innocent children is absolute.

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Try to kill your own babies and you will see.

 

Again something people have done. I believe the socially acceptable way to do it was to abandon the baby somewhere. Edit: also as sacrifices to the gods, such as Moloch.

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Try to kill your own babies and you will see.

 

That doesn't mean killing all babies is wrong. It doesn't really prove anything.

 

 

1. All scientific propositions are based on our certainty that we are thinking.

 

Descartes said that the only thing we can be certain of is that we are thinking.

 

2. Science presupposes integrity.

 

No it doesn't, that's why it is necessary to test and retest hypothesis. If it presupposes integrity we'd take people on their word

 

3. Scientific conclusions are provisional whereas moral principles are not!

 

How are they provisional and morals are not? Moral values change all the time. The cherub's job in Jewish theology was to take the souls of aborted babies, and other things, because abortion was an accepted method of population control.

 

It's like comparing apples and oranges. Even if both propositions are certain, though both are approached by different avenues. This is another reason why scientism is not so humble a creed as it might be. There is an illusion among those dedicated to the creed that only science can achieve true certainty compared to all other avenues of knowledge. And even then, the certainty of science is only provisional. Our certainty about gravity, for example, is provisional and subject to incoming evidence; whereas our certainty about the immorality of killing innocent children is absolute.

 

No, one of the first things professors teach is that science always has a margin of uncertainty. You are arguing that morality has a certain value but can give no value to it. That is the point is that it isn't scientific because it can't be quantified. There are places and times were killing children was morally acceptable, but there has never been a society where gravity doesn't have an effect.

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That doesn't mean killing all babies is wrong. It doesn't really prove anything.

 

 

 

 

Descartes said that the only thing we can be certain of is that we are thinking.

 

 

 

No it doesn't, that's why it is necessary to test and retest hypothesis. If it presupposes integrity we'd take people on their word

 

 

 

How are they provisional and morals are not? Moral values change all the time. The cherub's job in Jewish theology was to take the souls of aborted babies, and other things, because abortion was an accepted method of population control.

 

 

 

No, one of the first things professors teach is that science always has a margin of uncertainty. You are arguing that morality has a certain value but can give no value to it. That is the point is that it isn't scientific because it can't be quantified. There are places and times were killing children was morally acceptable, but there has never been a society where gravity doesn't have an effect.

What if there was evidence that murdering babies was OK? I can't imagine what kind of evidence that could possibly be, and I am sure that its very far fetched. But evidence against Earth being subject to gravity is also very far fetched.

 

I think the absurdity of Marat's question is mostly because of the emotional reaction any of us would have at murdering babies. Nobody would feel awful about giving up gravity, but we get a very strong reaction to baby killing. One choice is way easier than the other, but not for the same reasons. Again, it's comparing apples to oranges.

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What if there was evidence that murdering babies was OK? I can't imagine what kind of evidence that could possibly be, and I am sure that its very far fetched. But evidence against Earth being subject to gravity is also very far fetched.

 

The evidence of infanticide is not immoral could be that it is a valid form of population control, babies with obvious deformities couldn't survive in the society were this is being practiced, a family can't afford a child, etc. I don't believe any of these to be that far fetched.

 

I think the absurdity of Marat's question is mostly because of the emotional reaction any of us would have at murdering babies. Nobody would feel awful about giving up gravity, but we get a very strong reaction to baby killing. One choice is way easier than the other, but not for the same reasons. Again, it's comparing apples to oranges.

 

 

I think all of us would be dead if we gave up gravity. The laws of gravity ending would be far more destructive than random killing of babies, its not murder unless it's illegal. I don't see what you're arguing, you say killing babies and gravity is like comparing apples to oranges, so are you saying that morality isn't science?

 

 

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Needimprovement, do you understand that although we both agree that killing babies is immoral, morality is not a natural law, morality is a constantly changing idea. There have been many societies that have moralized things we cannot conceive of tolerating. Quite recently in our own society it was ok for barely pubescent girls to be married to old men, can you imagine that being allowed now? Well it is in some polygamy cults here in the US and in some cultures babies were regularly sacrificed to their God or Gods. Our current ideas of morality are not only arbitrary they are also quite new and can and probably will change in the future.

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My argument is essentially that morality and science are incommensurable, so the question, 'Is morality a science?' really has to be regarded as undefined, like asking, 'Is snow a bad philosopher?' The kind of certainty the unexcused homicide of infants carries in our culture is quite emphatic, but it is nothing like the equally solid certainty of Coriolis forces explaining why freely-hanging pictures on walls all slant in the same way in the same place.

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That doesn't mean killing all babies is wrong. It doesn't really prove anything.

 

 

Descartes said that the only thing we can be certain of is that we are thinking.

Precisely! He was right.

 

No it doesn't, that's why it is necessary to test and retest hypothesis. If it presupposes integrity we'd take people on their word

Without integrity you are free to falsify the results! (And some do...)

How are they provisional and morals are not? Moral values change all the time. The cherub's job in Jewish theology was to take the souls of aborted babies, and other things, because abortion was an accepted method of population control.

They don't! Values like love and respect for the rights of others never change.

 

By that example I was just trying to show that both morality and science have their own certainties, even though the former is just trying to describe essential values for human life in a social context, while the latter is trying to predict the behavior of matter under various conditions in the future.

I don't see what you're arguing, you say killing babies and gravity is like comparing apples to oranges, so are you saying that morality isn't science?

On what grounds you assert that it must be one or the other?

 

My argument is essentially that morality and science are incommensurable, so the question, 'Is morality a science?' really has to be regarded as undefined, like asking, 'Is snow a bad philosopher?' The kind of certainty the unexcused homicide of infants carries in our culture is quite emphatic, but it is nothing like the equally solid certainty of Coriolis forces explaining why freely-hanging pictures on walls all slant in the same way in the same place.

I voted "strongly agree" on behalf of Marc Oraison. He defines morality as "the science of what man ought to be by reason of what he is" (p. 22).

Edited by needimprovement
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They don't! Values like love and respect for the rights of others never change.

 

 

 

 

 

So you deny that 150 years ago having skin that was darker than the average European meant you were property in the good old USA. Your owner could do pretty much anything he wanted from rape to murder with your person and you had no recourse. In more ancient history it was ok to own humans, and do anything you wanted with them. I think there is ample evidence you are incorrect...

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What if there was evidence that murdering babies was OK? I can't imagine what kind of evidence that could possibly be, and I am sure that its very far fetched. But evidence against Earth being subject to gravity is also very far fetched.

 

I think the absurdity of Marat's question is mostly because of the emotional reaction any of us would have at murdering babies. Nobody would feel awful about giving up gravity, but we get a very strong reaction to baby killing. One choice is way easier than the other, but not for the same reasons. Again, it's comparing apples to oranges.

Have a read of this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide#Infanticide_throughout_history_and_pre-history

 

And this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide#Explanations_for_the_practice

 

In thae last link, it gives reasons where the family is unable to support the new child and thus it is better that a single child die than a whole family. In this case it is ethical because the death of one outways the death of many.

 

Another common reason that killing babies could be ethical is for population control. In a society without contraceptions and very little understanding of how and why women become pregnant, there are going to be many more children born than the environment could sustain. The only recourse, other than the society going extinct, is to kill babies that would push the population over the limit that the environment could support. This could occur in times of natural disaster (like drought, crop failure, locust plagues, etc). So, in these circumstances it is better than a few die than many.

 

This means there are valid, ethical and moral reasons to kill babies. There is the evidence you asked for that supports that killign babies is OK. Of course, it doesn't mean that in every circumstance it is OK, but that there exists situations where doing so is acceptable. This proves that morality is not absolute.

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Precisely! He was right.

 

Without integrity you are free to falsify the results! (And some do...)

 

So you agree your argument had no basis?

 

They don't! Values like love and respect for the rights of others never change.

 

I just gave you examples, as well as moontanman's point of slavery, of how they change. Examples of killing babies, slavery, war, rape, etc show how morals and values do change. I would say that certain emotions don't change, but the values associated with those emotions do change all the time.

 

 

On what grounds you assert that it must be one or the other?

 

One the grounds that the assertion is the basis of this entire thread.

 

 

I voted "strongly agree" on behalf of Marc Oraison. He defines morality as "the science of what man ought to be by reason of what he is" (p. 22).

 

That is a nicely circular argument.

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Where do you think baby oil comes from? :rolleyes:

 

Been there, done that

 

———

 

Ran across this, which is relevant

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/01/18/the-moral-landscape/

 

[C]oncepts relevant to morality aren’t empirical ones, and can’t be tested by doing experiments. Morality depends on science (you can make moral mistakes if you don’t understand the real world), but it isn’t a subset of it. Science describes what happens, while morality passes judgments on what should and should not happen, which is simply different.

 

Morality isn't a science, per se, but neither is it wholly religious.

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