Patrick Truchon's Web Portal

A Science of Ethics?

Posted by Patrick on March 23, 2010

Sam Harries gives an excellent TED talk [1] about ethics and morality, arguing that values reduce to fact.  He gives great examples of moral questions that clearly (at least to me) have “wrong answers”, but he seems to hastily jump to the conclusion that morality must therefore be objective (like science is).

Reasonably, morality is not completely relative (to individuals, or cultures, or time, or…), but does it automatically mean that it is objective?  After all, arbitrariness is not the only alternative to objectivity, and “moral expertise” could still exist without complete objectivity.  So in that sense, maybe morality should be compared to the arts more than to the sciences (grounded in the subjective, but not arbitrary).

Science deals with what is and morality with how we ought to act.  What kind of a bridge could there be between the two?  Nature is the way it it is regardless of what we believe about it.  Is the same true about morality?  I can conceive of someone breaking moral “laws” because he doesn’t care about them, but can I conceive of someone breaking the laws of physics because he doesn’t care about them?

From a different angle, does reducing values to facts reduces morality to a mere game of finding the best means of acheiving various ends.  There seems to be something off with the idea that I should be nice to others because they’ll be nice to me, instead of because being nice to others is a good end in itself.

If morality is not grounded in facts (the way science is), what is it grounded in?

Links:

  1. TED: Same Harries, <http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/801>
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