Can Science Answer Moral Questions?

Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, gave a TED talk entitled “Science can answer moral questions.” Basically, what he is trying to imply in this talk is that there should not be a separation between science and human values because that belief is only an illusion. As we all know, science is the study of facts and Sam Harris believes that values are certain kind of facts. How then values became such facts? According to Mr. Harris, values are facts about the well-beings of conscious creatures. He justifies his position by asking his audience about how they can feel that they have moral obligations towards someone or something. Under what situations they can say that morality should be considered? His example was about rocks. He answered his question why we don’t have ethical or moral obligations towards rocks (that it’s okay if we kick them just for fun) by saying that as humans, we definitely think that rocks cannot suffer so we don’t really care about them. Sam Harris said that this is actually a factual claim, that we could be right or wrong about it. That is why science and morality should not be separated. In addition, he said that culture changes us by changing our brains that is why cultural variation can be understood in the context of the maturing science of the mind. Thus, implying that neurobiology will soon be the key to moral understanding. 

In Sam Harris’ talk, he is implying that moral propositions are a kind of empirical facts. He is actually saying that if something is objectively true, it is automatically a fact. But I don’t agree with Mr. Harris at this point because I think mathematical statements are objectively true but I don’t think that they are facts in nature. Also, I don’t think that being objectively true should be universal. I am pertaining to Sam Harris’ example about the morality of rocks. I believe that morality should be applied only to human beings that are aware of our social surroundings and not to rocks, insects, plants, etc. One more thing that I am concerned about is the title of his talk that “Science can answer moral questions.” In what sense does science can answer moral questions? He did not even elaborate this part and I think I am not satisfied with what examples he presented. He mentioned about corporal punishment of children as being legal in several US States. Does this mean that if science proves that corporal punishment is indeed a key for the improvement of children’s performance and good behaviour, corporal punishment can be considered as a moral act?  I don’t think so. Again, does this mean that if empirical evidence shows that violence against gay people can actually decrease the number of gays in the world, repression of gays can be considered as moral? I don’t think so. So I think that if we let science answer moral questions and decide what is right and what is wrong, then things like corporal punishment, repression of gays, violence against women, slavery and the likes can be better and more moral than what we have used to know. I think the best solution we can do is to combine both the knowledge of philosophy and science to make our world as moral as possible.

 

–2011-36849

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