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Tags moral questions , sam harris , science

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Old 12th October 2010, 07:46 PM   #281
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Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
You're saying that, but you're not actually engaging with the arguments (which everyone else who has ever looked at the properly find persuasive) that the idea of an instrumental good independent of any intrinsic good is self-contradictory and nonsensical.

You are instead proposing some kind of incoherent philosophy where A is good because it brings about B, and B is good because it brings about C, and C is good because it brings about D, and so on until you either retreat into circularity by saying N is good because it brings about A, or an infinite regress where it's turtles all the way down.
Harris doesn't appear to find it persuasive. Pinker doesn't appear to find it persuasive. Neither do I. Perhaps none of us are True Scotsman?

Look, no matter how you slice it, these notions of "intrinsic good" and "instrumental good" are hopeless abstractions. They're the moral equivalent of the cosmic ether. The reality is, we can do without them and be none the worse off, as I have demonstrated.

The fact that you continue to cling to them does not make them any less redundant, any less useless. The fact is, you simply refuse to engage, in any way, the approach to morality which dispenses with them. Instead, you simply continue to insist, without any proof or even evidence, that they must somehow be indispensible.

All this A B C D stuff that you're talking about here only makes sense if you first buy into an abstract notion of "good" floating out in imaginary space somewhere. That is, if you first choose to believe in some unanchored notion of Platonic "good", which is entirely unreal.

Once you drop that imaginary baggage and focus instead on what is demonstrably real -- that is, physics and biology -- all this obsession with some idealistic notion of "good" (intrinsic or instrumental) falls by the wayside.

Fact is, we don't make our moral decisions based on any such notions of abstract "good". "Good" = Tooth Fairy.
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Old 12th October 2010, 07:59 PM   #282
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
Harris doesn't appear to find it persuasive. Pinker doesn't appear to find it persuasive. Neither do I. Perhaps none of us are True Scotsman?

Look, no matter how you slice it, these notions of "intrinsic good" and "instrumental good" are hopeless abstractions. They're the moral equivalent of the cosmic ether. The reality is, we can do without them and be none the worse off, as I have demonstrated.
No, you cannot. They exhaust the potential sources of good in the universe. If you are claiming that X is good, you are claiming that it is an instrumental good, claiming that it is an intrinsic good, or just plain confused.

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The fact that you continue to cling to them does not make them any less redundant, any less useless. The fact is, you simply refuse to engage, in any way, the approach to morality which dispenses with them. Instead, you simply continue to insist, without any proof or even evidence, that they must somehow be indispensible.

All this A B C D stuff that you're talking about here only makes sense if you first buy into an abstract notion of "good" floating out in imaginary space somewhere. That is, if you first choose to believe in some unanchored notion of Platonic "good", which is entirely unreal.
Stop attributing this load of utter garbage me. I have told you as clearly as possible that you are wrong in claiming that I believe any such thing, and exactly why you are wrong. If you cannot currently understand why intellectual honesty is a virtue in discussions like these then I strongly suggest you go on one of your walks and do not come back until you have figured it out.

I realise that you really, really want "intrinsic good" to be a term that points to some some airy-fairy, unreal concept, because otherwise you've been talking nonsense for pages despite a great deal of patient correction on that point. However I think you should get over it and realise that it's not, it never has been, and that throwing a tantrum over it is not constructive.

"Good" is a value judgment made by humans. It is a cognitive category we put things in. If we are rational, we put things in that category for a reason: either because it is good in and of itself, or because it brings about a good.

You have admitted freely that you put things in this category. If you are rational, you do so on a basis other than circular arguments or a nonsensical infinite regress.

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Old 12th October 2010, 08:10 PM   #283
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Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
No, you cannot. They exhaust the potential sources of good in the universe. If you are claiming that X is good, you are claiming that it is an instrumental good, claiming that it is an intrinsic good, or just plain confused.
Unless, of course, you simply abandon this useless and redundant abstraction of "good", just as we have managed to jettison the useless and redundant notion of the cosmic ether.

Once you do that, of course, you can get on with dealing with morality as a function of our biology.

But until you do, you'll be struggling with the ether forever.
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Old 12th October 2010, 08:13 PM   #284
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Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
I realise that you really, really want "intrinsic good" to be a term that points to some some airy-fairy, unreal concept, because otherwise you've been talking nonsense for pages despite a great deal of patient correction on that point. However I think you should get over it and realise that it's not, it never has been, and that throwing a tantrum over it is not constructive.

"Good" is a value judgment made by humans. It is a cognitive category we put things in. If we are rational, we put things in that category for a reason: either because it is good in and of itself, or because it brings about a good.

You have admitted freely that you put things in this category. If you are rational, you do so on a basis other than circular arguments or a nonsensical infinite regress.
Who says we're rational?

Who says we actually use such alleged categories?

I think you misunderstand human nature.
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Old 12th October 2010, 09:14 PM   #285
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
Unless, of course, you simply abandon this useless and redundant abstraction of "good", just as we have managed to jettison the useless and redundant notion of the cosmic ether.

Once you do that, of course, you can get on with dealing with morality as a function of our biology.

But until you do, you'll be struggling with the ether forever.
Do you think that any acts, traits or outcomes are preferable to others? Then you just made a value judgment, which must be based on some kind of idea that those acts, traits or outcomes are preferable just because they are, or are preferable because they lead to some other act/trait/outcome you prefer.
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Old 12th October 2010, 09:40 PM   #286
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Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
...
I don't see him as thinking outside the box at all, he's just making a very old philosophical error which has been made probably millions of times before. It's not new, clever or notably original.
...
This is not a paradigm shift, it's the same boring wallowing in the naturalistic fallacy. Just because something is normal or natural does not entail that it is moral.
...
So help me out here. If not a naturalistic version of morality, then what? Do you propose some magical pondering? Philosophers get it and biologists don't?

And how do you fit into the philosopher's version of reality the fact one can observe moral behaviors in non-human mammals? Are chimpanzees philosophizing when they sabotage another'e reward they view as unfair?
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Old 12th October 2010, 11:19 PM   #287
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
There you go.

It's a matter of balancing all of those concerns in a way that's actually informed, instead of consulting the ancient book or the magic oracle.

That's all it really is.

Some here are attempting to misrepresent SH's argument as if he were claiming that science will actually hand us the answers, but he explicitly dismisses this notion.

Rather, what he's saying is that moral decisions informed by science -- answers to moral questions and dilemmas arrived at with the help of science -- are objectively better than those which are not informed by science (such as those arrived at by using the methods of the Taliban).

In other words, the choice of a science-based morality is not arbitrary. It is, in fact, superior.
Hang on a minute, didn't we sort this out on page 4, or are you referring to a different lecture given by Sam Harris?

Remember Sam Harris says at the beginning, laying his argument out:

'It's generally understood that questions of morality, questions of good and evil, of right and wrong, are questions about which science officially has no opinion... it is thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value... most people here think that science will never answer the most important questions of human life, questions like what is worth living for, what is worth dying for, what constitutes a good life.
I'm going to argue that this is an illusion, the seperation between science and human values is an illusion...'

In other words, he explicitly promotes the notion that science will hand us the answers. He says, 'it is thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value'. Is this not what the disagreement between you and I has been about? If Sam Harris didn't mean that his lecture was supposed to demonstrate that science can tell us what we ought to value, (i.e. give us the answers) then why does he say this explicitly?

Let us be clear:

1. Everyone is in agreement with the idea that we should get the best information to inform our decisions. This has been said repeatedly. it is nothing new. Can we stop going round in circles?

I disagree with Sam Harris on this:

2. Science can tell us what we ought to value. To unpack this statement, I'm again going to refer to what Harris actually says:

'...most people here think that science will never answer the most important questions of human life, questions like what is worth living for, what is worth dying for, what constitutes a good life.'

Any lingering doubts that Sam Harris thinks science will give us the answers? Do you support this, or are you in agreement with me, that Harris is wrong in this instance?
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Old 12th October 2010, 11:39 PM   #288
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
So help me out here. If not a naturalistic version of morality, then what? Do you propose some magical pondering? Philosophers get it and biologists don't?
There is no magic here. That's just a straw man you and Piggy have made up, because you are trying really hard to position yourselves as being more scientific that everyone else. The fact is that I'm as grounded in the rationalist, scientific world-view as anyone else here. However yes, you are quite right here that there is a philosophical point to be gotten, philosophers get it, and you and Piggy don't.

Morality is an opinion. It is a value judgment, a subjective point of view that holds some outcomes, or acts, or people, or whatever as being preferable to others. Moral claims ("ought statements") are not true or false, nor can they be.

Scientific statements ("is statements") are true or false. They are a different category of claim entirely.

Moral claims are arrived at by some combination of "is" statements and "ought" statements. You need both, but you also need to keep the two distinct in your mind.

Piggy doesn't grasp this yet: He is still incapable of disentangling his "ought" statements from his "is" statements, and as far as he's concerned he doesn't need to learn to do that because he knows everything there is to know already from reading pop science books and watching Harris on youtube.

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And how do you fit into the philosopher's version of reality the fact one can observe moral behaviors in non-human mammals? Are chimpanzees philosophizing when they sabotage another'e reward they view as unfair?
The fact that you call it moral is a value judgment you make about the facts of their behaviour. Arguably chimpanzees are making some such value judgments - it seems fairly likely to me. I doubt they engage in discursive thought about the topic with a view to developing consistent or useful systems for analysing such judgments, but then again neither does Piggy and that doesn't make him immoral.

I find the fact that you are even advancing the idea that you have to be a philosopher to act morally very curious... what could you possibly have read that gave you such a strange idea? Piggy and the chimps could both be seen to act morally even though neither appears to be capable of philosophy.
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Old 12th October 2010, 11:42 PM   #289
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Piggy:

How do we move from 'what is' to 'what ought to be', without expressing a moral value that is not scientifically decidable?
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Old 13th October 2010, 12:25 AM   #290
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Thanks for the elaboration; while I am familiar with some of that terminology, it's good to be on the same page.

You posit that a utilitarian philosophy must be universal, maximalist, and consequentialist. I might quibble at certain aspects of the definition but for the sake of argument I'll accept this.

Given this, I would claim that Harris's philosophy, at least to the extent it's expounded in the video, does not fit the first two criteria, and barely fits the third.

Harris is quite explicit at one point that he does not view all moral entities as equal--he believes that the reason we care about entities in a moral sense is because certain creatures are exposed to a "greater range of potential happiness and suffering". There is not a simple threshold where some creatures are moral and some are not; they can be placed on a gradient. This is of course consistent with ordinary common sense, where a person might be willing to eat an animal but not torture it.

Harris is also explicit about not being maximalist. Starting at about 5:10, he talks about a "moral landscape", and is clear that not all areas of the landscape are accessible, either through science or other means. A while later he does speak a bit about finding maxima on the landscape, but given his examples (such as food vs. poison) it's clear that he's not talking about absolute global maxima but rather ones that are merely similar in height.

As for consequentialism, it's not clear to me from the video what his stance is. Obviously, using science implies a data-driven approach that does seem likely to be focused on outcomes. But any complete moral framework must necessarily include a practical decision mechanism, and it's clear that the rule-systems we come up with (maxims, rights, laws, etc.) act as a kind of computational shortcut. Harris almost certainly knows this, and I'd suspect would agree that some rules can be quite useful even if they occasionally lead to undesirable outcomes.

Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
It's a specific kind of consistent value judgment, though. Kant would have you make consistent value judgments about which acts were right and which were wrong, and would have you do right acts and eschew wrong acts. That's consistent but he quite firmly rejects all consequentialist thinking - Kant is consistent, in fact, in holding that concern with outcomes is one of the things that we should not let distract us from what he saw as real morality.
Again, this is just semantic quibbling on my part, but I would says that a Kantian is merely a certain kind of consequentialist. All acts must necessarily have an immediate outcome, and a philosophy which operates on acts can be equivalently rephrased to act on immediate outcomes. The difference with a conventional consequentialist is that the latter is likely to look at longer-term outcomes.

Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
or if it is, it's a kooky corner case that is utilitarianism only in a fairly debatable semantic sense.
I'm happy to agree with that. But I don't think it's an entirely useless exercise. When pitting things against each other, such as moral systems, it can be helpful to put them in a common framework so one can evaluate their properties consistently.

Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
I think any moral theory that needs a spreadsheet is definitely open to criticism on the grounds that it's of limited usefulness, and even relatively straightforward utilitarian systems (like the QALYs used to make health care decisions) are already somewhat open to criticism on such grounds.
Indeed. That was perhaps the first conclusion I came to in my college philosophy class. These systems can be fun in a theoretical sense but are impossible to use in a practical sense. Occasionally I play around with moral systems that take time and computation into account, but it's a hard problem.

Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
I hope I answered this satisfactorily earlier, but if I didn't I'm happy to take another try at it.
You did, and thanks again. I'd like to hear if you disagree with my classification of Harris's philosophy.

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Old 13th October 2010, 01:35 AM   #291
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
<snip>

If science leads normal people to one sort of "ought", then it stands to reason that it will lead abnormal people to a quite different sort of "ought".
Where should the line be drawn between normal people and abnormal people?
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Old 13th October 2010, 03:05 AM   #292
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
Any lingering doubts that Sam Harris thinks science will give us the answers? Do you support this, or are you in agreement with me, that Harris is wrong in this instance?
I wonder why people get stuck in single sentences from a short lecture...after watching the lecture a couple of times, to me it seems obvious this is not a yes/no question to Harris.

I feel it would be more precise to say Harris argues science can help us in reaching a more clear view into our moral landscape both individually and collectively, thus making it easier to focus on the most relevant areas of human well-being (which I think he defines here, in a roundabout way, as the ultimate goal of moral development).

In other words, I think one of the points he's trying to get across is (ie. with his hinting towards the talk regarding gay peoples' rights), that science can, does and will help us in deciphering what actually are the most important factors in striving for the ever increasing well-being of our species.

All in all, I think it's useless to break a short lecture by a creative and intelligent man into separate phrases and try to find pros and cons from them. As with all of us, Harris' work is a whole. Putting this one small lecture into the framework with the rest of his public work may serve to enlighten the subject (from his POV) far more. At least so I feel.

Have a good one, ya'll!
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Old 13th October 2010, 05:36 AM   #293
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
Hang on a minute, didn't we sort this out on page 4, or are you referring to a different lecture given by Sam Harris?

Remember Sam Harris says at the beginning, laying his argument out:

'It's generally understood that questions of morality, questions of good and evil, of right and wrong, are questions about which science officially has no opinion... it is thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value... most people here think that science will never answer the most important questions of human life, questions like what is worth living for, what is worth dying for, what constitutes a good life.
I'm going to argue that this is an illusion, the seperation between science and human values is an illusion...'

In other words, he explicitly promotes the notion that science will hand us the answers. He says, 'it is thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value'. Is this not what the disagreement between you and I has been about? If Sam Harris didn't mean that his lecture was supposed to demonstrate that science can tell us what we ought to value, (i.e. give us the answers) then why does he say this explicitly?

Let us be clear:

1. Everyone is in agreement with the idea that we should get the best information to inform our decisions. This has been said repeatedly. it is nothing new. Can we stop going round in circles?

I disagree with Sam Harris on this:

2. Science can tell us what we ought to value. To unpack this statement, I'm again going to refer to what Harris actually says:

'...most people here think that science will never answer the most important questions of human life, questions like what is worth living for, what is worth dying for, what constitutes a good life.'

Any lingering doubts that Sam Harris thinks science will give us the answers?
Yes. And thank you for laying it out like this, as it seems that his statements can be understood in at least two different ways, and I think you have picked an understanding which was not Harris' intention. He tells us later in the lecture, by the use of specific examples, that he is not saying what you have just described. But perhaps more importantly, to put that interpretation on his statements opens him to criticisms that are fairly naive - that is, it requires relatively little sophisticated knowledge in the field of philosophy to recognize the validity of these criticisms, and one can safely ignore several centuries of progression in this discourse and refer back to Hume in order to invalidate Harris' statements. Or as Kevin Lowe put it, "people smarter than you have been discussing these exact issues for much longer than you have been alive." If I were to seriously consider this interpretation you have put forward, I think it is more likely I had the wrong end of the stick than Harris had somehow managed to forget his training and experience or fail to invest any effort in understanding the progression of this discussion prior to choosing to write a book on the topic.

"It is thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value...I'm going to argue that this is an illusion."

Now, you and others suggest that he is answering whether or not science can tell us what we ought to value by looking at what is valued (and that he is answering in the affirmative). My understanding of this instead is that he is essentially arguing that this is not a well-formed statement. And this explains Kevin Lowe's criticism that he never does get around to explaining how one gets from an 'is' to an 'ought'. It's because that is not what he is arguing. Instead, he shows (in a necessarily abbreviated fashion for an 18 minute talk) that if you unpack the assumptions hidden within that statement, it is an illusion that the statement is meaningful.

Ivor the Engineer provided examples of the application of this illusion to science, in post 253. It is similar to other statements like "science cannot study the supernatural", which also become meaningless once you pull aside the veil of illusion.

Now, I realize that most of you here are committed to your understanding of what Harris is saying. And not having read the book, it could be that I am wrong and that Harris really is stuck on sort of juvenile philosophical plane. Perhaps Kuko 4000 can say something in this regard.

Linda
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Old 13th October 2010, 05:49 AM   #294
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Originally Posted by fls View Post
And not having read the book, it could be that I am wrong and that Harris really is stuck on sort of juvenile philosophical plane. Perhaps Kuko 4000 can say something in this regard.

Linda

I hope to comment more later when I have more time on my hands.

In the meanwhile, this article from Harris (response to the early criticism, concerning especially the TED video) should help the conversation move along:

http://www.project-reason.org/newsfe...e_of_science3/

Originally Posted by Sam Harris
When I speak of there being right and wrong answers to questions of morality, I am saying that there are facts about human and animal wellbeing that we can, in principle, know—simply because wellbeing (and states of consciousness altogether) must lawfully relate to states of the brain and to states of the world.
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I’ve now had these basic objections hurled at me a thousand different ways—from YouTube comments that end by calling me “a Mossad agent” to scarcely more serious efforts by scientists like Sean Carroll which attempt to debunk my reasoning as circular or otherwise based on unwarranted assumptions. Many of my critics piously cite Hume’s is/ought distinction as though it were well known to be the last word on the subject of morality until the end of time. Indeed, Carroll appears to think that Hume’s lazy analysis of facts and values is so compelling that he elevates it to the status of mathematical truth:
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Old 13th October 2010, 07:17 AM   #295
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Originally Posted by Kevin_Lowe View Post
Do you think that any acts, traits or outcomes are preferable to others? Then you just made a value judgment, which must be based on some kind of idea that those acts, traits or outcomes are preferable just because they are, or are preferable because they lead to some other act/trait/outcome you prefer.
No, the reason we think some acts are preferable to others is simply because we are human beings, and not, say, stonefish.

If we were stonefish, we'd have no objection to being made to lie still all day and do nothing.

Seriously, Kevin, a biological approach simply does not require this step.
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Old 13th October 2010, 07:24 AM   #296
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
Hang on a minute, didn't we sort this out on page 4, or are you referring to a different lecture given by Sam Harris?

Remember Sam Harris says at the beginning, laying his argument out:

'It's generally understood that questions of morality, questions of good and evil, of right and wrong, are questions about which science officially has no opinion... it is thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value... most people here think that science will never answer the most important questions of human life, questions like what is worth living for, what is worth dying for, what constitutes a good life.
I'm going to argue that this is an illusion, the seperation between science and human values is an illusion...'

In other words, he explicitly promotes the notion that science will hand us the answers. He says, 'it is thought that science can help us get what we value, but it can never tell us what we ought to value'. Is this not what the disagreement between you and I has been about? If Sam Harris didn't mean that his lecture was supposed to demonstrate that science can tell us what we ought to value, (i.e. give us the answers) then why does he say this explicitly?

Let us be clear:

1. Everyone is in agreement with the idea that we should get the best information to inform our decisions. This has been said repeatedly. it is nothing new. Can we stop going round in circles?

I disagree with Sam Harris on this:

2. Science can tell us what we ought to value. To unpack this statement, I'm again going to refer to what Harris actually says:

'...most people here think that science will never answer the most important questions of human life, questions like what is worth living for, what is worth dying for, what constitutes a good life.'

Any lingering doubts that Sam Harris thinks science will give us the answers? Do you support this, or are you in agreement with me, that Harris is wrong in this instance?
Take a look at that quote again, and put it in the full context of the lecture, including his explicit statement that science will never give us the answer to questions such as "Should we bomb Iran?"

He's arguing against a wall of separation between science and values, and arguing that science can indeed lead us to answers to questions such as "What is a good life?"

And he's correct when he says that science can tell us what we ought to value. That's no different, actually, from saying that scientifically-informed decisions are superior to uninformed decisions, when applied to these questions.

I know that it sounds shocking to say that science can, for instance, tell us what is worth dying for.

But consider this....

Is it worth dying for the honor of an ancient scripture?

If you have a non-scientific view of the world, your answer could well be "Yes".

But if your world-view is informed by contemporary science, you come to a different conclusion.

So there you are. Science can indeed change our conclusions about what is worth dying for.
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Old 13th October 2010, 07:26 AM   #297
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
Piggy:

How do we move from 'what is' to 'what ought to be', without expressing a moral value that is not scientifically decidable?
Well, how about we take an example and walk through it?
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Old 13th October 2010, 07:27 AM   #298
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Originally Posted by Ivor the Engineer View Post
Where should the line be drawn between normal people and abnormal people?
I don't say there's a line. That would be like asking where the "line" is between our atmosphere and outer space. There's none to be found, but I still know that my house is in the atmosphere and a probe on its way to Mars is in outer space.

Similarly, Bundy is clearly abnormal.
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Old 13th October 2010, 07:42 AM   #299
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Originally Posted by fls View Post
Yes. And thank you for laying it out like this, as it seems that his statements can be understood in at least two different ways, and I think you have picked an understanding which was not Harris' intention. He tells us later in the lecture, by the use of specific examples, that he is not saying what you have just described. But perhaps more importantly, to put that interpretation on his statements opens him to criticisms that are fairly naive - that is, it requires relatively little sophisticated knowledge in the field of philosophy to recognize the validity of these criticisms, and one can safely ignore several centuries of progression in this discourse and refer back to Hume in order to invalidate Harris' statements.
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The problem with this lecture is that Harris equivocates. He lays out argument A, and presents argument B. He is not clear. This is why supposedly intelligent folk seem to be arguing past each other on this thread.

Either Harris is extremely sloppy (he equivocates accidentally) or he equivocates intentionally and I tend to think the latter is more probable because he uses recognizable terms in moral philosophy to set out his case at the beginning. If I was to be uncharitable, I would say that this is an unfortunate case of 'the Emperor's New Clothes', although with a slight twist as this time a few other people, as well as the Emperor, have bought into the illusion.

Also, please point out where he is not saying what I have described. Yes he says that some moral questions cannot be answered by science, but he is never clear on why some questions can be and others can't be. There are basically two types of moral disagreement. Those where we disagree over facts and those where we disagree over values. Science can obviously help to decide the first point, but it cannot help to decide the second - what does Harris think? The subtitle of his book is, 'How Science Can Determine Human Values'. The man is hardly making immodest claims! If it is not his intention to show how science (what is) can determine oughts (what should be), then he should stop repeatedly alluding to it. Especially, as you kind of point out, he should know better.
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Old 13th October 2010, 08:06 AM   #300
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Ha! I've just realised.

The subtitle of Harris' book, 'The Moral Landscape' is:

'How Science Can Determine Human Values'

Another wonderful piece of equivocation.

This can either mean:

a) Science can tell us what values humans have

or

b) Science can tell us what values humans should have

What is it? Is it a), which is easily defensible, yet nothing novel? or is it b), which is ground breaking and explosive yet not easily defensible? You can see how this happens to a person. Sorry to be cynical, but there you go.
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Old 13th October 2010, 08:16 AM   #301
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
The problem with this lecture is that Harris equivocates. He lays out argument A, and presents argument B. He is not clear. This is why supposedly intelligent folk seem to be arguing past each other on this thread.

Either Harris is extremely sloppy (he equivocates accidentally) or he equivocates intentionally and I tend to think the latter is more probable because he uses recognizable terms in moral philosophy to set out his case at the beginning. If I was to be uncharitable, I would say that this is an unfortunate case of 'the Emperor's New Clothes', although with a slight twist as this time a few other people, as well as the Emperor, have bought into the illusion.

Also, please point out where he is not saying what I have described. Yes he says that some moral questions cannot be answered by science, but he is never clear on why some questions can be and others can't be. There are basically two types of moral disagreement. Those where we disagree over facts and those where we disagree over values. Science can obviously help to decide the first point, but it cannot help to decide the second - what does Harris think? The subtitle of his book is, 'How Science Can Determine Human Values'. The man is hardly making immodest claims! If it is not his intention to show how science (what is) can determine oughts (what should be), then he should stop repeatedly alluding to it. Especially, as you kind of point out, he should know better.
Perhaps he wasn't expecting people to choose a rather simple reading of his statements. I've been caught by that same sort issue myself, so I have some sympathy for him.

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Old 13th October 2010, 08:18 AM   #302
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
I don't say there's a line. That would be like asking where the "line" is between our atmosphere and outer space. There's none to be found, but I still know that my house is in the atmosphere and a probe on its way to Mars is in outer space.

Similarly, Bundy is clearly abnormal.
Normal and abnormal are mutually exclusive categories. You have to draw a line (i.e. select criteria) to decide in to which category an individual falls.

An example of an arbitrary dividing line you are implicitly using would be something like "Normal people do not torture, rape and murder others for entertainment."

Without drawing arbitrary lines all we have is a description of what is. For example, you could not define behaviour as being right or wrong, better or worse, but only that it happens x% of the time under conditions y.
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Old 13th October 2010, 09:26 AM   #303
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
The problem with this lecture is that Harris equivocates. He lays out argument A, and presents argument B. He is not clear. This is why supposedly intelligent folk seem to be arguing past each other on this thread.
I agree with fls. If you go scouting for contradictions in the narrow acontextual statements he makes at various points in the talk, you can certainly find them. But if you listen to the entire lecture to try to understand his thesis, it's pretty clear.

I like fls's comparison to the science/religion "wall" and how it collapses upon investigation. That, it seems to me, is clearly the kind of thing he's on about here.
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Old 13th October 2010, 09:27 AM   #304
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Originally Posted by Ivor the Engineer View Post
Normal and abnormal are mutually exclusive categories. You have to draw a line (i.e. select criteria) to decide in to which category an individual falls.

An example of an arbitrary dividing line you are implicitly using would be something like "Normal people do not torture, rape and murder others for entertainment."

Without drawing arbitrary lines all we have is a description of what is. For example, you could not define behaviour as being right or wrong, better or worse, but only that it happens x% of the time under conditions y.
This is a pointless exercise (go find the "line" separating our atmosphere from outer space), and in any case, it's irrelevant to my point regarding Bundy.
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Old 13th October 2010, 12:20 PM   #305
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
No it is not, your simple assertion ('like it or not') will not do. Science can answer positive questions about what is. It cannot by itself answer normative questions about how things ought to be. Like it or not, ought refers to 'what should be' and not 'what is'. If you can demonstrate how we derive what 'ought to be' from 'what is', without at some point expressing a moral value that is not decidable scientifically, then congratulations you've solved a puzzle of Philosophy that has stood the test of time from Hume onwards. Please proceed.
This is the non-paradigm shifted version of the subject.

Let's look at an analogy. Can one use the scientific process to determine intelligence?

Someone who does not have an IQ allowing the ability to read is clearly not as intelligent as the computer genius who developed Facebook.

Can one make a value judgement who is more intelligent here based on observed evidence?


So you observe the computer genius has no friends and despite his billions seems to regret his social isolation. And the person who cannot read has a constantly cheerful disposition and lots of social interactions with the same people suggesting they are his friends.

Can we make a value judgement who is happier here (provided we analyze sufficient data previously established as a measure of happiness)?



Can we study features of perceived beauty, determine which are consistent across cultures, not determined by cultural influence and make a value judgement on what humans naturally perceive as beautiful?



If you agree, then science can determine intelligence, happiness and beauty. Science doesn't 'make' intelligence, happiness or beauty. There is no absolute value in the Universe for these things. Even intelligence is relative to what one uses as an objective measure. But what is that measure? Reading or social skills?



What people don't always recognize is that morality, love, beauty and so on are just as naturalistic as anything else which is a function of the human brain. Morality is no different qualitatively than intelligence. We can easily prove these esoteric things are the same because people with specific brain damage demonstrate just how the brain evaluates and manifests morality, beauty and love.




Back to determining the "ought". Is 26 degrees centigrade hot? Well that depends. Is it the ambient air or the temperature of a human body? Science cannot determine 'hot' until 'relative to what' is added to the problem. But would you make the claim determining 'hot' is outside the realm of science?



Why is a moral ought any different from an objective hot? It's not when you add in the 'relative to what'. It may be that you end up with a range of "ought" rather than clear black and white "oughts". But there is a range of 'hot' as well.


My point is, if you are going to make the claim something is outside the realm of science, then tell us what that outside is. Is it some function that is not within the biological processes of the brain? Pixie dust? Invisible sky daddies? Magic?

I can see the same categories for morality and beauty as I can see for intelligence and hot. One just needs to be reminded all these value judgements involve 'relative to something', not an absolute value. But that is a common issue in all kinds of things no one argues are outside the realm of science.
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Old 13th October 2010, 02:11 PM   #306
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
This is a pointless exercise (go find the "line" separating our atmosphere from outer space), and in any case, it's irrelevant to my point regarding Bundy.
My point is that the line separating our atmosphere from outer space is wherever we choose to put it. We can use all sorts of scientific measurements and reasoning to justify why we would put it at a particular altitude, but ultimately the decision would be based on a consensus or compromise of preference between interested parties.

Using Bundy as an example of abnormal is trivial because his behaviour makes him an outlier. We don't need science to tell us his behaviour was wrong. In the real world you claim to inhabit the problems and situations which throw up ethical questions are rarely so stark.

Here's a couple of ethical questions for you to use science to answer:

1) Should the cost of higher education be placed on students or the state?

2) Which state benefits should be universal and which should be means tested?
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Old 13th October 2010, 02:26 PM   #307
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Here's a couple more for science to answer:

Should physicians help in the excution of prisoners on death row?

How many resources should be used to save one person's life?
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Old 13th October 2010, 02:30 PM   #308
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Originally Posted by Ivor the Engineer View Post
Here's a couple of ethical questions for you to use science to answer:

1) Should the cost of higher education be placed on students or the state?

2) Which state benefits should be universal and which should be means tested?
Doing so of course without relying on any "intrinsic good", unscientific, choices hidden (or blatently obvious) somewhere in the analyses.

Then, is the Death Penalty ok?
Abortion? First trimester? Third?
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Old 13th October 2010, 03:02 PM   #309
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Originally Posted by Skeptic Ginger View Post
Let's look at an analogy. Can one use the scientific process to determine intelligence?
No, one cannot. "Intelligence" is not a scientifically meaningful term, but a subjective value judgement on how clever you think a person is.

Quote:
Someone who does not have an IQ allowing the ability to read is clearly not as intelligent as the computer genius who developed Facebook.
Most IQ tests require reading ability, so it is not that a person can't read because s/he has a low IQ, rather has a low IQ because s/he can't read the questions in the test. For IQ tests that don't require literacy, there is still the issue that they test only a limited number of a person's mental capacities. A person might be highly gifted in capacities that the test designers subjectively chose not to include in the test. And the test designers have also subjectively chosen which sort of answers score as "gifted".

Quote:
Can one make a value judgement who is more intelligent here based on observed evidence?
Only subjectively.

Quote:
Can we make a value judgement who is happier here (provided we analyze sufficient data previously established as a measure of happiness)?
Subjectively, because we decided subjectively which properties are a measure of "happiness".

Quote:
Can we study features of perceived beauty, determine which are consistent across cultures, not determined by cultural influence and make a value judgement on what humans naturally perceive as beautiful?
No, we cannot. There is no such thing as "human nature" that can be distinguished from cultural influence, as everything humans do is influenced by culture. As cultural anthropologists have always said "human culture" = "human nature". You might as well put a fish on the moon to test how it "swims naturally" without the "influence of water".

When it comes to appreciating beauty, there are certainly ideas about beauty that are widely shared among different cultures, but this does not prove they are not determined by cultural influence. It might just as easily mean that some cultural memes have a lot of staying power and originate in the culture that our common ancestors in Africa had. Or they might have spread through cultural exchange.

Let's also not forget that while different cultures may have -- on average -- ideas about beauty in common, they also have many individuals all having their own ideas of what is beautiful.

Quote:
What people don't always recognize is that morality, love, beauty and so on are just as naturalistic as anything else which is a function of the human brain.
In other words, just as naturalistic as God, the Tooth Fairy and pixiedust, which are functions of the human brain.

Quote:
But would you make the claim determining 'hot' is outside the realm of science?
Yes, I would make that claim. Science can tell me the temperature, but it cannot tell me whether I should consider it hot or not. That would be a subjective value judgement.

Quote:
It may be that you end up with a range of "ought" rather than clear black and white "oughts". But there is a range of 'hot' as well.
A range that can shift very dramatically with the circumstances. 26 degrees Celsius is pretty hot for the Artic winter, but downright chilly for the equator. 3000 degrees Celsius isn't hot for the surface of a star, but it is too hot for an oven. If the ranges of moral behaviour are similarly flexible, morality is useless.

Quote:
My point is, if you are going to make the claim something is outside the realm of science, then tell us what that outside is. Is it some function that is not within the biological processes of the brain? Pixie dust? Invisible sky daddies? Magic?
That "outside" is pretty much the same place "Pixie dust", "Invisible Sky Daddies" and "Magic" inhabit. It is a place intimately familiar to everyone of us, a place everyone of us knows better than what is inside the realm of science. You might call it "memespace" or "culture", it consists of the narratives we tell each other. And it is not really a place.
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Old 13th October 2010, 03:34 PM   #310
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Originally Posted by Ivor the Engineer View Post
My point is that the line separating our atmosphere from outer space is wherever we choose to put it. We can use all sorts of scientific measurements and reasoning to justify why we would put it at a particular altitude, but ultimately the decision would be based on a consensus or compromise of preference between interested parties.

Using Bundy as an example of abnormal is trivial because his behaviour makes him an outlier. We don't need science to tell us his behaviour was wrong. In the real world you claim to inhabit the problems and situations which throw up ethical questions are rarely so stark.

Here's a couple of ethical questions for you to use science to answer:

1) Should the cost of higher education be placed on students or the state?

2) Which state benefits should be universal and which should be means tested?
But that has nothing to do with the actual discussion of Bundy we were having.

The question was not whether or not we need science to object morally to his actions. Clearly, we do not.

I was simply asked whether science could be used by Bundy to justify his own actions, and the answer is clearly yes.

(That said, science has quite a bit to say about the question of what do to about people like him.)

Yes, using Bundy as an example of abnormal is trivial. That's what makes it a good example.

And as for a bright line dividing atmosphere and outer space, I can't agree with your thinking. There is no line to be found, and no need to attempt to draw one. Why would we?

Finally, why are you asking me those specific questions, when I have made it abundantly clear that I agree with Harris that science cannot hand us answers to every human dilemma we face?
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Old 13th October 2010, 03:52 PM   #311
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Well and Good, Biology can tell me what is healthy human behavior.
Procreation is natural to Human kind, and something we've certainly evolved to do.
But I haven't participated in procreation. I've disobeyed this biolological "imperative."
I don't even intend to be a parent.
Am I an immoral deviant?
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Old 13th October 2010, 03:58 PM   #312
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Originally Posted by Apathia View Post
Am I an immoral deviant?
Well, yeah. And by that token, so am I.

Are you, by any chance, single?

Just askin'.
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Old 13th October 2010, 04:03 PM   #313
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Originally Posted by fls View Post
Perhaps he wasn't expecting people to choose a rather simple reading of his statements. I've been caught by that same sort issue myself, so I have some sympathy for him.

Linda
fls, I am happy to concede if I have misunderstood Sam Harris. I have provided plenty of examples of why I believe he suggests that we can derive an ought from an is. Here is another one from the talk:

"There is not a description of the way the world is that can tell us the way the world ought to be ... I think that this is quite clearly untrue.'

I take issue with him on this point. It is an extremely important point in the history of moral philosophy. I can't believe that Sam Harris does not know he is not making it, when he elucidates it in exact language like this. I am mystified as to why several posters in this thread seem to think that it is a problem to take issue with Sam Harris over this.
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Old 13th October 2010, 04:03 PM   #314
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Originally Posted by Apathia View Post
Well and Good, Biology can tell me what is healthy human behavior.
Procreation is natural to Human kind, and something we've certainly evolved to do.
But I haven't participated in procreation. I've disobeyed this biolological "imperative."
I don't even intend to be a parent.
Am I an immoral deviant?
Yes. That's why we like you.
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Old 13th October 2010, 04:07 PM   #315
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
Take a look at that quote again, and put it in the full context of the lecture, including his explicit statement that science will never give us the answer to questions such as "Should we bomb Iran?"
Ok, I'm glad you brought this up as I think it is where Harris shoots himself in the foot. Why can science never give us the answers to questions such as 'Should we bomb Iran'? Is it because the disagreement here is between competing values that are not scientifically decidable?
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Old 13th October 2010, 04:22 PM   #316
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Originally Posted by Democracy Simulator View Post
Ok, I'm glad you brought this up as I think it is where Harris shoots himself in the foot. Why can science never give us the answers to questions such as 'Should we bomb Iran'? Is it because the disagreement here is between competing values that are not scientifically decidable?
I don't read him as saying that we definitely will not get an answer from science on this particular point. Although that may well be true.

But he's certainly correct in stating that science cannot be depended on to give us answers to every question, if only for the simple reason that reality is not required to only offer us dilemmas which have solutions.

Even if we were able to answer every scientific question with perfect accuracy, there is still the potential for dilemmas in which the competing choices are equally balanced.

And of course in the real world even those of us who are open to scientifically-informed solutions must share the globe with those who are not. And in a democracy, that throws a mighty big wrench in the machinery of actually attempting to apply science-based solutions to actual problems.
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Old 13th October 2010, 05:08 PM   #317
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I'm looking forward to Piggy's answers to Ivor the Engineer and AlBell's posts.
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Old 13th October 2010, 06:00 PM   #318
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Quote:
But he's certainly correct in stating that science cannot be depended on to give us answers to every question, if only for the simple reason that reality is not required to only offer us dilemmas which have solutions.

Even if we were able to answer every scientific question with perfect accuracy, there is still the potential for dilemmas in which the competing choices are equally balanced.
Ok. So would these dilemmas rightly be called moral dilemmas? They are not factual dilemmas. Therefore science can't solve moral dilemmas? Once all the facts are in and we still are in disagreement about what we ought to do, science cannot avail us? This brings me back to:

Can we move from 'what is' to 'what ought to be', without expressing a moral value (or moral premise if you prefer) that is not scientifically decidable?

What is your position on this? Do you agree or disagree?
What do you think that Sam Harris' position is on this? Does he agree or disagree?

Forgive me if I have got both you and Sam Harris wrong, but you have both given some indication that you think the statement is not true. Back on page 3 you say clearly:

Quote:
I don't believe there does need to be any purely arbitrary moral premise.
What does purely arbitrary moral premise mean? Does it mean a moral premise that is not scientifically decidable?

I think if we can clear these few points up, I will have an understanding of your position.
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Old 13th October 2010, 06:23 PM   #319
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Originally Posted by Piggy View Post
Well, yeah. And by that token, so am I.

Are you, by any chance, single?

Just askin'.
I'm single and anatomically male but with some gender issues.

In a scientific utopia I'd have been cured of my unreproductive tendencies and would have become a father.

I'm unrepentant!
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Old 13th October 2010, 06:27 PM   #320
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Originally Posted by Piscivore View Post
Yes. That's why we like you.
It would be so lonely if I couldn't find such a fine lot of criminals with which to associate here!
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