Can science answer moral questions?

By Ken Perrott 25/03/2010

Here’s a great TED talk by Sam Harris. He is well known for his best selling books The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and its follow-up Letter to a Christian Nation. But he has recently been researching the neuroscience of morality and ethics. Sam has a a degree in philosophy from Stanford and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. He is the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.

Harris has a new book coming out in November – The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. It should be fascinating.

A fact-based morality

He is certainly in good form in this video. He argues for a fact-based morality which enables moral logic and decisions. This conflicts with ideas of moral relativism and god-given morality, or “objective morality.”

I think his arguments are important. Science has made important progress in researching the evolutionary origins of moral intuitions and their role in today’s morality. But very few people have argued for recognition of a fact-base morality, an objectively-based morality, underpinning moral logical and a sense of universal moral truth. This is not the same as the objective morality” arguments of religious apologists or divine command morality theory of conservative Christians. I have argued before that these are just covers for a morality based on arbitrary will and obedience. That it leads to justification for some of the worst forms of  moral relativism (see Human Morality I: Religious confusion, II: Objective morality, III: Moral intuition, IV: Role of religion and V: The secular conscience).

Anyway, watch the video. I am sure you will find it interesting and stimulating.

See also: Sam Harris on science and morality by Russell Blackford


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