The Moral Equivalent of the Parallel Postulate
By SEAN CARROLL - COSMIC VARIANCE
Added: Thu, 25 Mar 2010 00:00:00 UTC
The Sam Harris TED talk was posted on RD.net here. Russell Blackford has a post on it here
Sam Harris gave a TED talk, in which he claims that science can tell us what to value, or how to be moral. Unfortunately I completely disagree with his major point. (Via Jerry Coyne and 3 Quarks Daily.)
He starts by admitting that most people are skeptical that science can lead us to certain values; science can tell us what is, but not what ought to be. There is a old saying, going back to David Hume, that you canât derive ought from is. And Hume was right! You canât derive ought from is. Yet people insist on trying.
Harris uses an ancient strategy to slip morality into what starts out as description. He says:
Values are a certain kind of fact. They are facts about the well-being of conscious creatures… If weâre more concerned about our fellow primates than we are about insects, as indeed we are, itâs because we think they are exposed to a greater range of potential happiness and suffering. The crucial thing to notice here is that this is a factual claim.
Letâs grant the factual nature of the claim that primates are exposed to a greater range of happiness and suffering than insects or rocks. So what? That doesnât mean we should care about their suffering or happiness; it doesnât imply anything at all about morality, how we ought to feel, or how to draw the line between right and wrong.
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