Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Who Says Science has Nothing to Say About Morality?

Sam Harris is one of the original proponents of the philosophy of New Atheism (cf. my post dated 6 November 2011). Some of his books are: The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape.

Please click on 'YouTube' to watch this video. It is a lecture by Sam Harris.

Sam refers to David Hume's distinction between 'is' and 'ought'. The 'is' part is clearly in the purview of science. But even the 'ought' part can come in when we realize that the well-being of the ecosphere is OUR responsibility entirely, and only scientific reasoning and methods can ensure this. Naturally, the justification for the maximum good of the largest number follows from this. The only way to be selfish sensibly is to care for the happiness of others. This 'science of morality' is a far cry from what passes as 'moral science' in religious teaching.

Some other points made by Sam Harris are: 
  • It makes sense to raise compassionate children.
  • It may be necessary to shun certain kinds of knowledge (in our pursuit of truth). This may be so for, for example, to forestall internecine wars.
  • There is no need to postulate the existence of free will.
  • Even subjective 'facts' can be subjected to objective analysis. 
  • People can be wrong about their perceived subjective knowledge.
  • Sometimes one has to weigh justice against fairness, and tilt a little towards fairness (even at the cost of absolute justice).
In short, scientific reasoning CAN be used for dealing with questions of morality. The scientific method is supreme.