Science can answer moral questions
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09-12-2013, 02:24 AM (This post was last modified: 09-12-2013 02:27 AM by Youkay.)
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(08-12-2013 01:30 PM)nach_in Wrote:  Harris seems to forget that there is a logic abyss between descriptive and normative propositions. We can't derive how things ought to be without at least one normative premiss.

1) Yes, Harris only uses descriptive statements to derive his argument from. Descriptive/positive statements are factual statements that describe reality.

2) A normative statement is to say how things ought to be. So what you are saying is that "We can't derive how things ought to be without at least one premiss about how things ought to be."

3) In contrast to your statement, I think that this statement is true: "We can derive how things ought to be from describing and evaluating reality."

(08-12-2013 01:30 PM)nach_in Wrote:  At the beginning he says that values are facts about the well being of conscious creatures.

This is a postulate/axiom, on which his argument is based on. Also, he makes the distinction "moral values".

(08-12-2013 01:30 PM)nach_in Wrote:  While I can accept to some extent that idea, the part about "well being" hides a normative premiss, it implies that "good things are those that increase well being", after defining well being we can derive moral values from scientific, descriptive propositions. But we will always need the moral, non-descriptive axioms.

1) Yes, his other postulate is that increasing the well being of people is a good thing.

2) Yes, we can understand scientifically what influences the well being of people. A lot of studies are required to have a better understanding, but the concept is true.

3) Yes, the two aforementioned postulates are the basis for his argument and everything that derives from it. But the axiom is not non-descriptive, it is descriptive of reality. Also, I disagree that we need a normative axiom to have a normative conclusion. (See reason above)

(08-12-2013 01:30 PM)nach_in Wrote:  So no, Harris is wrong in this one, science can't answer (by itself) moral questions.

After accepting the two aforementioned postulates as being generally true, there is no reason to state such a thing.

(08-12-2013 01:30 PM)nach_in Wrote:  I'm not saying that a religious moral code is better than what he proposes as a science-based code, I'm just saying that even if his idea is better, it still needs a value element that can't be derived from facts alone

The value element is moral values are facts about the well being of conscious creatures.. You mentioned this yourself.


In conclusion, the first question to ask is if you agree with his postulates.

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09-12-2013, 04:59 AM (This post was last modified: 09-12-2013 05:11 AM by nach_in.)
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(09-12-2013 02:24 AM)Youkay Wrote:  
(08-12-2013 01:30 PM)nach_in Wrote:  Harris seems to forget that there is a logic abyss between descriptive and normative propositions. We can't derive how things ought to be without at least one normative premiss.

1) Yes, Harris only uses descriptive statements to derive his argument from. Descriptive/positive statements are factual statements that describe reality.

2) A normative statement is to say how things ought to be. So what you are saying is that "We can't derive how things ought to be without at least one premiss about how things ought to be."

3) In contrast to your statement, I think that this statement is true: "We can derive how things ought to be from describing and evaluating reality."

when you say that we can by evaluating reality you're introducing a hidden normative statement. Behind the evaluation there is some value by which the evaluation is made, so the third point is self contradictory

Quote:At the beginning he says that values are facts about the well being of conscious creatures.

This is a postulate/axiom, on which his argument is based on. Also, he makes the distinction "moral values".

Indeed, my quarrel with this axiom is that it seems descriptive, but it implies a judgement about the desirability of those facts, and he then derives his moral rules from that desirability. He basically defines his way into being right, which is a logiacl fallacy.

Quote:While I can accept to some extent that idea, the part about "well being" hides a normative premiss, it implies that "good things are those that increase well being", after defining well being we can derive moral values from scientific, descriptive propositions. But we will always need the moral, non-descriptive axioms.

1) Yes, his other postulate is that increasing the well being of people is a good thing.

2) Yes, we can understand scientifically what influences the well being of people. A lot of studies are required to have a better understanding, but the concept is true.

3) Yes, the two aforementioned postulates are the basis for his argument and everything that derives from it. But the axiom is not non-descriptive, it is descriptive of reality. Also, I disagree that we need a normative axiom to have a normative conclusion. (See reason above)

This part: "increasing the well being of people is a good thing" that's not a descriptive argument, it's a moral judgement. That's specifically the normative axiom in which Harris' idea is based.
From that point on we only need descriptive, scientific, statements. But we first need to agree on that premiss.

Quote:So no, Harris is wrong in this one, science can't answer (by itself) moral questions.

After accepting the two aforementioned postulates as being generally true, there is no reason to state such a thing.

I refuse to accept such postulates!! Tongue

Quote:I'm not saying that a religious moral code is better than what he proposes as a science-based code, I'm just saying that even if his idea is better, it still needs a value element that can't be derived from facts alone


The value element is moral values are facts about the well being of conscious creatures.. You mentioned this yourself.


In conclusion, the first question to ask is if you agree with his postulates.

Jokes aside, I agree with his postulates as a basis for a secular morality, but I don't agree in the notion that those postulates are all factual, there's at least one normative element that can't be derived from facts, it must be introduced as a moral value by a moral agent.
In other words, we can't logically derive moral values from facts, we must introduce them as axioms.

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09-12-2013, 05:15 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
I find the discussion between nach_in and Youkay WAAAY over my head. Need a dictionary on every few words. However it looks to my simple (and currently sinus headache impacted) mind like they are both more or less saying the same thing. The arguments work if you accept the premises which are axioms. Haven't seen the video BTW. Can't find the headphones to listen to it *bemoans cruel world and wishes for sleep, sinus meds, or death with about equal acceptance* so I'll have to later. ... So this is probably far from the best I'll ever post. I feel like a drooling idiot even before you both point out to me where I'm being a drooling idiot
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09-12-2013, 05:22 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(09-12-2013 05:15 AM)OddGamer Wrote:  I find the discussion between nach_in and Youkay WAAAY over my head. Need a dictionary on every few words. However it looks to my simple (and currently sinus headache impacted) mind like they are both more or less saying the same thing. The arguments work if you accept the premises which are axioms. Haven't seen the video BTW. Can't find the headphones to listen to it *bemoans cruel world and wishes for sleep, sinus meds, or death with about equal acceptance* so I'll have to later. ... So this is probably far from the best I'll ever post. I feel like a drooling idiot even before you both point out to me where I'm being a drooling idiot

actually you're kind of right, we agree that the arguments work if we accept the axioms.
We're discussing about the normative or descriptive nature of one of those axioms ("well being of concious beings is good"). I say it's normative, hence the whole argument is normative (aka non-descriptive) and Youkay says it is descriptive, and thus the whole argument is descriptive.

Or at least that's how I understand it Tongue

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09-12-2013, 07:00 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
Yes, we agree on some parts and disagree on other parts, well observed Smile

But nach_in, can we take it back to the start, please, and build it from there? I just want to ensure that we are both on the same page and dont talk past each other.

Sam Harris has, to my perception, following 2 postulates:

1) Good and bad can be related to the change induced in the well-being of conscious life forms

2) "The worst possible misery for everyone" can be described as "bad".
2.1) From this follow that every other scenario is "better". When plotted, all scenarios form a landscape in which low points are "bad" and high points are "good"
2.2) From this also follows that objective morality guides the way to a local maximum in the moral landscape

Now please elaborate which parts in your opinion are descriptive, which parts are normative, and which normative premiss is missing.

Also let me know if you agree or disagree in my formulation of the two postulates and their immediate conclusions.

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09-12-2013, 08:00 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(09-12-2013 07:00 AM)Youkay Wrote:  Yes, we agree on some parts and disagree on other parts, well observed Smile

But nach_in, can we take it back to the start, please, and build it from there? I just want to ensure that we are both on the same page and dont talk past each other.

Sam Harris has, to my perception, following 2 postulates:

1) Good and bad can be related to the change induced in the well-being of conscious life forms

2) "The worst possible misery for everyone" can be described as "bad".
2.1) From this follow that every other scenario is "better". When plotted, all scenarios form a landscape in which low points are "bad" and high points are "good"
2.2) From this also follows that objective morality guides the way to a local maximum in the moral landscape

Now please elaborate which parts in your opinion are descriptive, which parts are normative, and which normative premiss is missing.

Also let me know if you agree or disagree in my formulation of the two postulates and their immediate conclusions.

good idea, lets get things in order Smile

I agree those are the postulates and the conclusions are right as far as I can tell.

The normative premiss is hidden in the first and second postulates. There's nothing in nature that says that the well being of conscious beings is morally good, it may feel nice, but it's not necessarily good. On the other side, when we say "the worst possible misery [...] is bad" we're making a moral judgement, if we say it's just a description we're defining the word bad with a different meaning than the moral one.

I could say that the worst scenario is one in which everyone has their needs satisfied, because it leads to stagnation and it prevents adaptation and survival.
From that point on I could build a different moral landscape, basing morality on evolutionary adaptability instead of well being, and call it objective and scientific. But I would be hiding a moral judgement in my first premiss, the one that says that survivability is morally preferable to any other value.


Also notice that when we say something is good, we're saying it ought to be: "it's good to eat"="we ought to eat"

So, if we unveil Harris' postulates, I think they look like this:

1) The well being of concious beings is good (We ought to make concious being be well [definition needed btw]) <--normative premiss

2) Actions can increase or decrease the well being of conscious beings <-- descriptive premiss
2.1) Actions are good if they increase the well being <-- moral conclusion

3) There are different conditions in which conscious beings can be found:
a) A state of maximum well being
b) A state of minimum well being
(both are descriptive based on whatever definition of well being we use)
3.1 We can call a) good, and b) bad (using 1) as reference)
3.1) From this follow that every scenario other than b) is "better". When plotted, all scenarios form a landscape in which low points are "bad" and high points are "good"
3.2) From this also follows that objective morality guides the way to a local maximum in the moral landscape

As you can see, he uses a normative premiss at first, and it's a subjective one, it could be any other and it will have the same result on the definition of the moral code, it would only change the core value.

From that it follows that science can't (by itself) answer moral questions, it first needs a moral choice about which value is the best, it needs a frame of reference that is not provided by nature.

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09-12-2013, 09:56 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  The normative premiss is hidden in the first and second postulates. There's nothing in nature that says that the well being of conscious beings is morally good, it may feel nice, but it's not necessarily good.

I agree that there indeed is a normative premiss.

But well being has nothing to do with feeling good. In no way is this meant in a hedonistic way. Well being is more physical and mental health related.

(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  On the other side, when we say "the worst possible misery [...] is bad" we're making a moral judgement, if we say it's just a description we're defining the word bad with a different meaning than the moral one.

From this I understand that you are differentiating between bad and the "moral" bad? I don't understand why you would feel the need to do that.

(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  I could say that the worst scenario is one in which everyone has their needs satisfied, because it leads to stagnation and it prevents adaptation and survival.

You could say that but you couldn't use it as a postulate because there is plenty of room to speak against it. A postulate needs to be a hypothesis, which is generally accepted to be true. Hence, you can not build an argument or a moral landscape on that statement.

(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  Also notice that when we say something is good, we're saying it ought to be: "it's good to eat"="we ought to eat"

Maybe only this example is off, but based on this example I wouldn't say that. We could definitely argue that it is good to eat for your physical and mental well being, purely based on scientific facts.

(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  1) The well being of concious beings is good (We ought to make concious being be well [definition needed btw]) <--normative premiss

2) Actions can increase or decrease the well being of conscious beings <-- descriptive premiss
2.1) Actions are good if they increase the well being <-- moral conclusion

It is a different way of formulating what I said, so we agree. And I understand what you meant by the normative premiss.

(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  3) There are different conditions in which conscious beings can be found:
a) A state of maximum well being
b) A state of minimum well being
(both are descriptive based on whatever definition of well being we use)
3.1 We can call a) good, and b) bad (using 1) as reference)
3.1) From this follow that every scenario other than b) is "better". When plotted, all scenarios form a landscape in which low points are "bad" and high points are "good"
3.2) From this also follows that objective morality guides the way to a local maximum in the moral landscape

Again, we agree.

(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  As you can see, he uses a normative premiss at first, and it's a subjective one, it could be any other and it will have the same result on the definition of the moral code, it would only change the core value.

This is an important point we disagree upon and around which our arguments revolve. I think we should focus on this one. And you do not need to quote everything up there, because I am going to repeat myself down here anyway.

The question is if his first premiss is subjective or objective. If subjective, indeed it could be any other. But if a reasonable approach only leads to the premiss he offered, then it is an objective one.

I would like to use my formulation, because it is more general, if you don't mind:
Good and bad can be related to the change induced in the well-being of conscious life forms.

More specifically, increasing the well being of conscious life forms is good, whereas decreasing it is bad.

I do not differentiate between good and morally good. Do you? if yes, why?

Based on which generally acceptable premiss can you possibly value the well-being of a conscious life form to be bad, or alternatively value the misery of one to be good?

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09-12-2013, 10:48 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(09-12-2013 09:56 AM)Youkay Wrote:  This is an important point we disagree upon and around which our arguments revolve. I think we should focus on this one. And you do not need to quote everything up there, because I am going to repeat myself down here anyway.

The question is if his first premiss is subjective or objective. If subjective, indeed it could be any other. But if a reasonable approach only leads to the premiss he offered, then it is an objective one.

It is subjective because it's not derived from the objective reality, it may be very reasonable and the whole world could agree, but it would still be subjective. I don't say that in a pejorative way, I'm just using the adjective to point out that there is no moral law in reality in the like of natural laws.
Also, being subjective makes it non-universal, and it puts the whole morality discussion back on the table.

Quote:I would like to use my formulation, because it is more general, if you don't mind:
Good and bad can be related to the change induced in the well-being of conscious life forms.

More specifically, increasing the well being of conscious life forms is good, whereas decreasing it is bad.

Your formulation implies a moral premiss, that's why I don't like it, it's more general because it's two statements in one: "well being on concious life forms is good" and "well being changes (increases or decreases)"

the premiss "well being of concious beings is good" can't be derived from observation, that's why it is subjective.

Quote:I do not differentiate between good and morally good. Do you? if yes, why?

I don't either, but I think that when Harris uses the word "bad" (answering two comments at once like a boss) he does it with a different meaning than the usual moral meaning, he basically is defining his way into being right, he's changing the meaning of "bad" to look like an objective description of a fact while accommodating his moral conclusion.

It's like saying "the sky is blue, therefore the sky has feelings", it mixes the meanings of the word blue. With the word "bad" Harris makes up a definition and he mixes it with the other meaning. It's either that or he makes a non-sequitur.

The same thing can be done for the word good, but I'd like to make sure we don't make that mistake.


Quote:Based on which generally acceptable premiss can you possibly value the well-being of a conscious life form to be bad, or alternatively value the misery of one to be good?

I'm not saying that the well being of conscious beings is not morally good, I'm saying that it is not an objective conclusion we can derive from observation of reality alone.

Also (as a side note), the lack of definition of well being makes things harder, who defines what well being is? how is it defined?
Without a good definition we can easily fall in a circular reasoning: well being of concious beings is good because that's what is good for concious beings.



My point is basically this: Science can't answer moral questions by itself, because it will always need at least one moral premiss provided by a moral agent.
That moral premiss can't be observed in reality and thus is not objective, is subjective of the agent that provides it.

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09-12-2013, 11:00 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  I could say that the worst scenario is one in which everyone has their needs satisfied, because it leads to stagnation and it prevents adaptation and survival.

From that point on I could build a different moral landscape, basing morality on evolutionary adaptability instead of well being, and call it objective and scientific. But I would be hiding a moral judgement in my first premiss, the one that says that survivability is morally preferable to any other value.

Consider Daniel Dennett kind of talks about this - from what you are saying, you would be building this different moral landscape due to self forming actions.

Dennett puts forth the notion that although our actions might be pre-determined, we can still be free in the ways that really matter(at least to us), because of the abilities which we evolved. Viewed this way, free will is about freedom to make decisions without being under pressure and not subject to what have become the impossibilities of freedom from causality itself.
***
Dunno. I could be wrong, I only skimmed, I just woke up and this connected for me. I'm with Nach... but I may need some coffee before I can get another braincell to spark Drinking Beverage I have no idea what I just wrote.

A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels. ~ Albert Einstein
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09-12-2013, 11:05 AM
RE: Science can answer moral questions
(09-12-2013 11:00 AM)kim Wrote:  
(09-12-2013 08:00 AM)nach_in Wrote:  I could say that the worst scenario is one in which everyone has their needs satisfied, because it leads to stagnation and it prevents adaptation and survival.

From that point on I could build a different moral landscape, basing morality on evolutionary adaptability instead of well being, and call it objective and scientific. But I would be hiding a moral judgement in my first premiss, the one that says that survivability is morally preferable to any other value.

Consider Daniel Dennett kind of talks about this - from what you are saying, you would be building this different moral landscape due to self forming actions.

Dennett puts forth the notion that although our actions might be pre-determined, we can still be free in the ways that really matter(at least to us), because of the abilities which we evolved. Viewed this way, free will is about freedom to make decisions without being under pressure and not subject to what have become the impossibilities of freedom from causality itself.
***
Dunno. I could be wrong, I only skimmed, I just woke up and this connected for me. I'm with Nach... but I may need some coffee before I can get another braincell to spark Drinking Beverage I have no idea what I just wrote.

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sorry, didn't get much of that Tongue

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