Thursday, November 11, 2010

the monoculture goes in on islam

Video - Sam Harris Science can answer moral questions.

Ted Talks | I'm going to speak today about the relationship between science and human values. Now, it's generally understood that questions of morality -- questions of good and evil and right and wrong -- are questions about which science officially has no opinion. It's thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value. And, consequently, most people -- I think most people probably here -- think that science will never answer the most important questions in human life: questions like, "What is worth living for?" "What is worth dying for?" "What constitutes a good life?"

So, I'm going to argue that this is an illusion -- that the separation between science and human values is an illusion -- and actually quite a dangerous one at this point in human history. Now, it's often said that science can not give us a foundation for morality and human values, because science deals with facts, and facts and values seem to belong to different spheres. It's often thought that there is no description of the way the world is that can tell us how the world ought to be. But I think this is quite clearly untrue. Values are a certain kind of fact. They are facts about the wellbeing of conscious creatures.

Why is it that we don't have ethical obligations toward rocks? Why don't we feel compassion for rocks? It's because we don't think rocks can suffer. And if we're more concerned about our fellow primates than we are about insects, as indeed we are, it's because we think they're exposed to a greater range of potential happiness and suffering. Now, the crucial thing to notice here is this is a factual claim: This is something that we could be right or wrong about. And if we have misconstrued the relationship between biological complexity and the possibilities of experience well then we could be wrong about the inner lives of insects.

And there is no notion, no version of human morality and human values that I've ever come across that is not at some point reducible to a concern about conscious experience and its possible changes. Even if you get your values from religion, even if you think that good and evil ultimately relate to conditions after death -- either to an eternity of happiness with God or an eternity of suffering in hell -- you are still concerned about consciousness and its changes. And to say that such changes can persist after death is itself a factual claim which, of course, may or may not be true. Fist tap Dale.