Science of Morality, Anyone?

Science of Morality, Anyone?

Where, in American culture, is the domain of knowledge that we would identify as morality studied and taught?

I suspect that if we do not quickly develop a science of morality that will make it possible for us to live together on this planet in a more harmonious manner our technology will help us to destroy the species and perhaps the planet soon.

It seems to me that we have given the subject matter of morality primarily over to religion. It also seems to me that if we ask the question ‘why do humans treat one another so terribly?’ we will find the answer in this moral aspect of human culture.

The ‘man of maxims’ “is the popular representative of the minds that are guided in their moral judgment solely by general rules, thinking that these will lead them to justice by a ready-made patent method, without the trouble of exerting patience, discrimination, impartiality—without any care to assure themselves whether they have the insight that comes from a hardly-earned estimate of temptation, or from a life vivid and intense enough to have created a wide fellow-feeling with all that is human.” George Eliot The Mill on the Floss

We can no longer leave this important matter in the hands of the Sunday-school. Morality must become a top priority for scientific study.

< googles > Ah, copying and pasting an OP to multiple forums againI see.

Anthropology has already made a study of the near-universal guidelines for human interaction. We know that regardless of the society, certain actions like murder, theft, lying, and rape (I’m going to use a VERY narrow definition of rape here) are considered to be major infractions to the harmony of the group. Most of those same “crimes” are permitted when engaging with people outside your own tribal unit. Considering that modern society is essentially one huge tribe where one has the right to expect order, regardless of one’s location, it would be an easy place to start with those very basic rules for a non-religious platform for morality.

I define it as “Any action that causes great physical, emotional, or mental harm to the reasonable, and egalitarian definition of harmony of society, shall be considered an immoral act. Further, any act that causes the unwarranted deprivation of life, liberty, property, or happiness of any member of the whole shall be considered to be immoral.”

It is important to remember that immoral is not the same as illegal nor should it be. I use the above maxim to guide my behaviour without needing a set of commandments from religion. I also understand that there is a sliding scale of morality, based on the circumstances. For example, I know that it is immoral of me to berate some verbally, since it causes them emotional or mental harm. That doesn’t mean that it is not warranted, or necessary to do so when they have initiated circumstances that have provoked my reaction. So while what I did was wrong, it is in my mind less wrong since they exhausted my other outlets of recourse. That little immoral act would be greatly preferable to the greater act of physically assaulting them etc…

So, what do you want to do about it?

No, thank you.

The science of morality has already been around for a long time. It has done a great deal of harm and no good.

In the 19th century, some scientists figured out that the white people of northern Europe were the most highly evolved people on the planet, and therefore practiced the highest morality. Other races were less evolved, and therefore less moral, going all the way down to native Africans who were basically apes and incapable of any moral behavior at all. This was the reigning view in some circles for many generations, and it was used to justify eugenics, segregation, bans on interracial marriage, and other abuses.

Then, after millions of lives had been ruined, it was discovered that it was based on pseudoscience all along. Millions of people suffered because of the delusions of a few scientists.

That’s one example of the science of morality going astray. There are many others. I have no desire to repeat those mistakes or make new ones in a similar vein. So, as I said, no thank you.

Scientist : “And in this experiment, we collide a “family values” activist with a “free love” advocate in order to analyse the results.”

  • WHOOSH *

  • SQUISH *

Scientist < sighs > : “This is SO much neater with particles.”

But surely you realize that by including words like “reasonable” and “unwarranted”, you’ve sidestepped a lot of the serious decisions–probably most of them. As Chesterton once said, “Men do not differ greatly on what they will call evil. They differ greatly on what evils they will call acceptable.” Most of us do not, on a daily basis, wrestle with the the question of whether or not to strangle our neighbors. We instead wrestle with the fine points, or else refuse to do so.

Most Americans would agree that it’s bad that children in third-world countries are forced to do hard labor. We disagree on what do to about it. Some of us want to end all American support for such practices by law and force American companies to apply decent labor standards. Others view child labor as an unfortunate but necessary step in the process of globalization. Hence they can self-justify the act of buying products made by children living in sub-human conditions.

Since real morality requires tackling such decisions, it can’t be defined by anthropologists poking around jungle tribes in the Amazon. Such tribes never dealt with such situations.

True, but my point was that such big questions are accepted universally without the need for an external source of law, ethics or morality.

Good example. Depending on your point of view, child labor could either totally unacceptable, or merely an unpleasant necessity. It depends on how you apply your ethical compass to the situation. These shades of gray arguments are likely never to be settled by any means other than individual philosophy due to their highly subjective nature. There are extremes of world views that are likely irreconcilable. Asking science to create some sort all encompassing theory of morality is most likely impossible. Humanity will have to grow up a bit more and shed it’s attachments to materialism and religion first.

I don’t think that’s a fair statement. We can understand a lot by conducting interviews with all societies, advanced and primitive. We now understand that those big no-no’s are pretty hardwired into our nature. It is possible that may be the limit of our ability to quantify moral or ethical decisions objectively. It may be possible that all those other questions may have to be solved through some collective method, such as democratic voting, or despotic order. Certainly, from a logical standpoint, Miltonian ethics make good logical sense; but humans are not logical creatures by nature.

You’ve outlined two often conflicting moral principles; the good of the community vs the good of the individual. Endless moral debates have occurred over the issue of when should an individual submit to the will of society and when should society tolerate a dissenting individual?

Now that’s funny. The OP is drivel, but this post is funny.

Well in an ideal society, the whole will create a system that does not overburden or oppress the individual to attain its goals. Likewise, the individual’s desires and expression of said desires, must be tolerated until they cause harm to the whole.

The problem with such a model is that it can only exist with the cooperation of all the other societies that the while in question interacts with. To use ITR Champion’s example of child labor: We could find ways to help emerging economies do without child labor, the problem is not our desire for their products at low prices, it is that there is a lack of consensus on the immorality of child labor within the other markets that also utilize the product. If we boycott them, they will sell to someone else. The only way to force change would be to assure a global set of standards and practices. Something like a human rights doctrine for business, while helping them to find more ethical ways to do business. It will never happen though, due to the "monkeysphere effect.

We have inherited certain moral instincts from our non human animal ancestors. These moral impulses are essential for our social harmony and for our survival as a species. We have allowed religion to take command of these matters and have failed to focus our rational abilities on these matters. A study of our history shows the disaster that has resulted. We have developed a technology that places great power in our hands and we lack the sophistication, especially in matters of morality, to control such great power.

We have the ability to perform a systematic and disciplined study (science) of any domain of knowledge. I am aiming for a science of morality and thereby to remove the impression that this is a responsibility only for theologians and priests. If we do not get a handle on this matter we will surly self-destruct before long.

The human brain is capable of a systematic and disciplined study of any domain of knowledge. One reason that we have so much difficulty with moral judgments is because no one knows any thing about these matters beyond what they learned in Sunday school or from their parents who are ignorant of such matters also. Religion is not morality. We have allowed religion to take over this domain of knowledge and thus many of our wars that are fought in the name of religion.

Lemme guess, next you’ll post this:

I claim that the Christian religion has failed to teach empathy; one of the most important moral concepts we have.

There are various definitions of empathy given by various individuals but almost all of them point to the same meaning. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs of another person. Empathy is often characterized as the ability to “walk in the shoes of another”, i.e. to acquire an emotional resonance with another.

In his classic work about modern art, “Abstraction and Empathy”, Wilhelm Worringer provides us with a theory of empathy derived from Theodor Lipps that can be usefully applied to objects of art as well as all objects including persons.

“The presupposition of the act of empathy is the general apperceptive activity. Every sensuous object, in so far as it exists for me, is always the product of two components, that which is sensuously given and of my apperceptive activity.”

Apperception—the process of understanding something perceived in terms of previous experience.

What does in so far as it exists for me mean. I would say that something exists for me when I comprehend that something. Comprehension is a hierarchical concept and can be usefully considered as in the shape of a pyramid. At the base of the comprehension pyramid is awareness that is followed by consciousness. We are aware of many things but we are conscious of much less. Consciousness is awareness plus our focused attention.

Continuing with the pyramid analogy, knowing follows consciousness and understanding is at the pinnacle of the pyramid. We know less than we are conscious of and we understand less than we know. Understanding is about meaning whereas knowing is about knowledge. To move from knowing something to a point when that something is meaningful to me, i.e. understood by me, is a big step for man and a giant step for mankind.

My very best friend is meaningful to me and my very worst enemy must, for security reasons, also be meaningful to me. The American failures in Vietnam and Iraq are greatly the result of the fact that our government and our citizens never understood these ‘foreigners’. We failed at the very important relationship—we did not empathesize with the people and thus failed to understand our enemy. It is quite possible that if we had understood them we would never have gone to war with them.

If we had empathy with Germany in the 1930s would we have stopped Hitler before he forced us into war?Right?

The problem here is that you are blaming science for these immoralities. The racist point of view had no good scientific backing. Even if some scientists held that view it was because of their cultural background and not because of scientific evidence. It was based off of pseudoscience, not actual science.

Taking the op seriously …

Any scientific study first must recognize what it accepts axiomatically and clearly identify it. How does one do that when the goal is to study the axioms themselves (which of course moral values are)?

One can only do that by studying morality without placing any value on the morals or the outcomes. One can scientifically study the processes by which moral codes form and how we make decisions. (Such as in the field of neuroeconomics for example, and perhaps eventually evolutionary psychology and sociobiology.)

But I think that the study of the processes by which we develop moral codes is not what the op has in mind. He instead wants to take a particular moral system and use it to evaluate moral systems - which gets a little Escheresque.

Just curious, but why would you do that? It isn’t even taking itself seriously. The second post by the OP isn’t responsive at all; it’s just a copy of the second post at the other site. I saved him the bother of reposting the third.

Ignorance on my part. Never mind.

We study, in various places, what I usually hear called “ethics” but which seems to be the point referenced in the OP.

I agree that there is a historic and somewhat artificial link between religion and morality as they are perceived in the US. I find it offensive. For example, CNN has a “Faith and Values Correspondent”. The two topics seem to me more exclusive than linked.

I think Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have both broached the study of ethics in their recent books about religion and athiesm. Their arguments sound good to me.

There have been sad historic movements involving the science (or the supposed science) of ethics or morality and ugly topics like genocide. I don’t think these demonstrate that the study of ethics and the attempt to develop science around ethics is a bad thing to do, though they demonstrate things that can go wrong in the process. Similarly, the fact that doctors practiced bloodletting for a long time hardly demonstrates that doing medical research today is a bad idea.

Well, if we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater, i’d say we’re pretty much sunk on all methods of determining and studying morality. I can’t think of an approach that hasn’t resulted in horrible acts.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for not looking at the matter at all, to play devil’s advocate. There would be no great cause of positiveness, but then there’d also be no great cause of negativeness, either.

I don’t think we can remove religion from the equation when considering why we treat others as we do, mainly because so many of us are religious. A question of point-of-view won’t do much good if we don’t actually look at points-of-view.

Since such tribes don’t deal with “real morality”, does this mean their actions are amoral? Does the ability to be really moral (or immoral, I suppose) require that we need to address each example of “real morality”? Would it be possible for you to provide a list of “fake” morality, such as those decision as made by such tribes?

I personally do not believe that we are “hardwired” in such a way, as I’ve expressed in other threads. But even if I accept that for the sake of argument, I don’t see it leading to fixed, objective findings about morality. C. S. Lewis offered a famous example along these lines: if we see a man falling into a river and being surrounded by hungry alligators, we have an instinct that tells us to help the guy and an instinct that tells us to save our own skin. Morality comes in when we decide which instinct to obey.

There’s also the fact that some universals fly against our morality. For instance, one supposed human universal is a division of labor by gender, with women raising children while men do physical labor and fighting. Yet most people today would reject that as a moral precept. (And atheists with particular vehemence, I think.)