Clarifying the continually controversial relationship between science, morality
Posted on January 25, 2013
Recently author and prominent skeptic Michael Shermer contributed to Edge.org’s collection of essays on the question, “What Should We Be Worried About?”
Shermer’s answer: “The Is-Ought Fallacy of Science and Morality.”
We should be worried that scientists have given up the search for determining right and wrong and which values lead to human flourishing just as the research tools for doing so are coming online through such fields as evolutionary ethics, experimental ethics, neuroethics, and related fields. The Is-Ought problem (sometimes rendered as the “naturalistic fallacy”) is itself a fallacy. Morals and values must be based on the way things are in order to establish the best conditions for human flourishing. Before we abandon the ship just as it leaves port, let’s give science a chance to steer a course toward a destination where scientists at least have a voice in the conversation on how best we should live.
Philosopher of science (and friend) Massimo Pigliucci is not prone to letting swipes at philosophy go without response. So, as he marvelously did several months ago with Lawrence Krauss, Pigliucci has taken to his blog Rationally Speaking to calmly and cooly explained why Shermer’s position on the relationship between science and morality is unsupportable. Pigliucci’s article is admittedly long, but once again, it should be considered required reading for anyone interested in this subject.
Here’s a glimpse:
Shermer then goes on to add a market economy to the mix of his favorite ideologies, claiming that “it decreases violence and increases peace significantly” (hardly surprising, coming from a well known libertarian). Once more, without even going to question the empirical assertion, shouldn’t we at least admit that “market economy” is a highly heterogeneous category (think US vs China), and that some market economies decrease fairness, do not provide universal access to health care and education, lower workers’ wages, and overall negatively affect human flourishing? How should we rank our values in order to make sense of the data? How do the data by themselves establish a guide to which values we should hold? And why should we follow whatever the current science says, as opposed to having discussions about where we would like science and technology (and economics) themselves to go?
You can read the full essay here.