Deriving ’ought from is’ scientifically?

By Ken Perrott 04/01/2011

Dr Richard Carrier

There has been a lot of debate recently about the role of science in deciding moral questions. And I am sure this will continue as scientific investigations reveal more about our morality.

One issue which keeps coming up, though, is the question of telling an “ought from an is.” Often this is presented dogmatically (“You can’t tell an ought from an is”) and justified as almost an ancient philosophical truism.

But this is now being challenged by some of the participants in this debate. recently I heard Richard Carrier, a philosopher and historian of science, on this. He rejects this specific dogma. In the interview Richard supplies a clear example:

“A surgeon ought to maintain high levels of hygiene in her work.”

Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it. And we can get there from two “is’s.”

  1. Unhygienic surrounding enable fatal infections, and
  2. A surgeon protects human life.

I thought it useful for him to divide the argument in this way. Too often we think only of the first is – the facts which have an immediate effect. Most people will acknowledge that science usually has a role in this area – and that is clear in our example. Science has established the role of hygiene in prevent fatal infections.

So there is wide acceptance that science can “inform” moral decisions such as these. But Many people, not just religious believers, will maintain that step 2 is not an “is.” One can’t prove logically or scientifically that “A surgeon protects human life” or the equivalent.

Well, I think in the case of surgeons it goes with the job, the definition of the profession., But the more general case would be the “is” that humans have such attributes. The claim that you can’t prove it is human to protect life, to desire the flourishing of human life, etc.

Getting rid of dogma

Personally I think this is another dogma that the philosophically, or religiously, inclined often cling to. But science is telling us a lot about ourselves these days. Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have helped us understand our biological and social evolution. Cognitive scientists and psychologists have provided understandings of our human thinking and instincts.

Consequently we have a better idea now of this second “is” – our human nature. We can appreciate how our social relations have developed, how our intuitions have evolved to aid social interaction. We can understand some of the physical and social reasons for our empathetic intuitions. Both in terms of basic nature but also in the way these adapt to social interactions and learning. And our knowledge about the differences and similarities of human societies today and historically help us overcome old racial and sexual biases which influenced our social interactions and our morality.

In effect this second “is” refers to our nature as sentient, conscious, intelligent, social, and empathetic beings.

So I agree with Richard. It’s about time we stopped repeating the old dogmatic mantra “You can’t get an ought from an is.” Lets realise we can do a lot to provide an objective basis for human morality. And we should not be intimidated into accepting an imposed “morality” which doesn’t have such an objective basis.

Incidentally, look forward to me from Richard Carrier on morality. He has three chapters in the book The End of Christianity published next July. One of them, Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them), provides a philosophical grounding for an objectively based morality.

See also:
The End of Christianity (Table of contents).
Skepconnect Richard Carrier interview

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0 Responses to “Deriving ’ought from is’ scientifically?”

  • In effect this second “is” refers to our nature as sentient, conscious, intelligent, social, and empathetic beings.

    This is true, but why should we act in this way?

    • Bob – you ask “but why should we act in this way?”

      Because it is in our nature, as I have explained. We don’t have to think it through – we often react intuitively or unconsciously in moral situations. Explanations can come after the fact and are usually little more than attempts to explain our intuitive reactions rather than acknowledging they are just reactions.

  • Nice example. If 2 were restated as “The primary goal of the work of a surgeon is to protect human life” then it becomes even clearer that it is an “is”.

    Sam Harris also has a lot to say on this. I’m currently reading “The Moral Landscape” – check for his presentations on youtube.

    • Yes, SteveNZ. I have read Sam’s new book “The Moral Landscape” and highly recommend it. However, I think the aspect 2 the objective nature of humans which provides a basis for our morality needs more attention and development.

  • I completely disagree that the second even can be an “is”, I think it is best rendered as “A surgeon ought to protect life”, as I’m fairly sure there’s probably been one somewhere at some point for whom this hasn’t been a fact. And I mean sure, you want to start with an ought like that and then derive other oughts that’s fine and definitely where science can make a contribution. Determining those initial oughts, however, still strikes me as outside the scope of science.

  • Well, Happy, in the case of a surgeon this is part of the definition. We create surgeons with that job by training them, education them. We don’t create people with these skills and then say “you choose but I think you ought to do this.”

    Similarly humans have evolved to have a nature – this is an objective fact. It’s not a matter of a zombie human evolving and then being told “you choose but I think you ought.”

    We are by nature a moral species – that’s how we evolved. It didn’t come from outside, it wasn’t injected into us.

    Science doesn’t impose that character. But it can investigate our nature and work to reveal how we evolved. Why we are moral beings.

  • Damn I was replying to this via e-mail the hard way, lucky you replied just before I hit send. Here’s a copy paste:

    On Tue, 2011-01-04 at 11:01 +1300, Ken Perrott wrote:
    “Well, Happy, ”

    You weren’t to know but HappyEvilSlosh is a way of making my IRL nickname Slosh a bit more unique so I would prefer that.

    ” in the case of a surgeon this is part of the definition. We create
    surgeons with that job by training them, education them. We don’t create people with these skills and then say “you choose but I think you ought to do this.””

    Yeah but I think this is where confusion is coming in. So for me the definition of a surgeon is no more than someone who does surgery. Surgeon’s are trained to cause the least harm it’s true, because as a society we’ve decided that’s what they ought to do. But I can think of no particular reason that this need be true of all surgeons everywhere and everywhen. In my opinion saying something like “The primary goal of the work of a surgeon is to protect human life” as another commenter on your post does is a statement of how the world
    should be, not necessarily how it is, confusing a linguistic ‘is’ with
    a philosophical ‘is’ if you like.

    “Similarly humans have evolved to have a nature – this is an objective fact. It’s not a matter of a zombie human evolving and then being told “you choose but I think you ought.””

    Well no of course not. In my opinion ethics and morality have evolved as an evolutionary stable strategy (although I tend to be hesitant to make this know because of various troubles in evolutionary psychology).

    But let’s say you further this metaphor and compare an ethical system to something like a cat. In the case of a cat the genome is where the information is carried and I can’t imagine anyone saying that a cat is an objective fact (unless your a Platonist I guess) other than that it exists. Rather the form of the cat is the one that best aids the transmission of the information carried within.

    Turning back to morals you’d then have that people are the place where information is carried making the morals that exist in a particular time/place merely those that best carry from one person to the next in said population. But not intrinsic truths in themselves.

    “We are by nature a moral species – that’s how we evolved. It didn’t come from outside, it wasn’t injected into us.”

    I’m not proposing different.

    “Science doesn’t impose that character. But it can investigate our nature and work to reveal how we evolved. Why we are moral beings.”

    Well sure but I think it’s extremely important to distinguish science informing morals from science determining morals. If we don’t in my opinion it makes us (scientists/humanists/etc) not better from many religions.

    To elaborate although I haven’t read the book I understand Harris defines the greatest good as that which aids the lifestyles of intelligent beings (or something along those lines) and although I fully support the idea that science and necessarily philosophy can derive many further ethics from that premise there seems to need to accept the premise that what he proposes is necessarily ‘good’ other than our egos.

    Hopefully that clears up my position a bit. 🙂

  • Slosh, I think the key thing is the nature of the number 2 argument. Harris talks about encouraging human flourishing as the goal and many if his critics agree that once that is accepted all else follows. But they seem to demand a deductive logic “proof” of that goal.

    Many would say why bother – it’s a pretty good goal I will go with that. And their resulting system corresponds to what many people agree on.

    Richard Carrier is arguing that one can derive this goal from basic philosophical grounds (I look forward to his book chapter). I believe that it arises naturally out of our human nature as a sentient, conscious, intelligent, social, empathetic species.

    Because I see this aspect as a key point and the “is-ought” argument as simple dogma ( not even well based in the basic literature apparently) I have posted this and brought attention to Richard’s interesting interview and upcoming book.

    I believe that this aspect while present in current discussions of the science if morality is rather weakly developed. Hence my concentration on it.

    I expect it will receive more attention in future – especially now that the discussion is underway (possibly because of Sam’s high profile).

  • I only insist on a proof of it because he (and others) seems to insist on referring to a scientifically derived morality. If it was called scientifically informed instead and acknowledged it was likely no more or less relative than many other systems I wouldn’t mind nearly so much.

  • Slosh – what are these “many other system”s you refer to?

    Regarding relativism. This is the main target of Sam’s book. It’s what it is really about. A fight against moral relativism.

    I think disconnecting ought from is creates moral relativism.

  • @Ken: I would say any of the moderate forms of any religion that rejiggers itself in order to not contradict science would qualify. I don’t agree with the basis of their morals (in particular if you take a moderate Christian example why assume some bits are true but others are only allegory) but they are still factually non-contradictory so in that sense no better or worse.

    I have no problem with moral relativism. I have no problem with saying I think that harming someone unnessarily is ‘bad’ while not feeling the need to ‘prove it rationally’. Also based on what I’ve read of criticisms of Harris he confuses moral relativism and moral nomativism. I think all morals are relative (making me the first one) but I don’t think that all should be tolerated (which is what the second one means and usually what Harris seems to be referring to when I’ve seen him quoted).

  • Sorry about the typos, late nights:
    *some bits /of the Bible/
    *moral normativism

  • Slosh perhaps you should define what you mean by moral relativism and normativism.

    Why do you say harming someone is bad? It’s not a matter if proving it but why say bad rather than good? That suggests that below your relativism there is an objective basis for your decision whether you admit it or not. And it is similar to most other people.

    Something to do with the nature of you being human?

  • Moral relativism is merely the philosophy that there are no universal ethical truths. Moral normativism is the idea that if moral relativism is true it then follows that all moral systems should be tolerated.

    You ask me why harming someone unnecessarily is bad and this is the idea I’m trying to get across. I just think it is. I can’t actually comprehend the thoughts of someone who thought differently. If I were to hypothesise why i think that I’d first argue that it could be that the populations that have considered this to be the case have been more successful than those that weren’t. You could perhaps compare the question to asking why someone has good eyesight. However it is important to note that something aiding a populations survival is neither good nor bad unless you consider the survival of that population to be good, in which case it’s relative to that assumption.

  • The fact that you think harming someone is bad and that almost everyone else thinks the same indicates that you have an objective basis for your morality. You may claim to be a relativist but in practice you aren’t.

    I guess that is at least better than the religious argument for “objective morality”. They may have the same objective basis for their moral decisions we have but they deny it arguing they have divine sanction. This divine label and separation from reality can quickly become the worst sort of moral relativism where even the most dreadful acts can be justified by their god.

  • How do you think there’s an objective basis. Do you think belief determines fact? Likely everybody thinks it because it’s a fairly universal meme that aids in population survivability. This doesn’t mean all fall into that category, nor that it is good outside of believing population survivability is good!

    In practice I am a relativist in that I think all morals are relative. That doesn’t mean I am moral free however, nor does it mean I’m normative which seems to be the one you allude to later. Sure some evolutionarily stable moral systems may be relative solely to being human but there’s no need to think all are.

    Consider this: in my proposed evolutionary psychological model there’s no need to assume that the morals that would aid best their reproduction need be the same not only based on location but could also depend upon socio-economic position (I would even go so far as to suggest that the success of Destiny Church within a certain group attests to that), climate or any of a number of other factors.

    Seriously think carefully about the evolutionary model and it’s exemplar features. A Cat isn’t the only outcome of evolution, thus not an objective truth, nor indeed is it a certain outcome. It just happend to be the form that survived reasonably good relative to it’s situation and relative to it’s ancestors. Similarly there’s no need to think an ethical system is an objective truth, it’s just the one that is reasonably good relative to it’s situation. No more, no less.

  • The objective basis for human morality is the nature of our species (point 2) as sentient, conscious, intelligent, social and empathetic. That means some things are “wired in.” Some are learned and accommodate to our insticts. There is a dialectical interaction between our moral logic and our moral intuitions.

    On the other hand every moral situations contain objective moral facts. (point 1).

    Logically then it is understandable that humans reach a large amount of agreement on moral issues. That dios not mean there are objective moral truths or laws. Just that it is logical on the basis of objective facts to come to a limited range of conclusions.

    People might describe themselves as moral relativists because they reject the concept of divine moral commands. My point is that those commands are themselves relativist, arbitrary, because they gave no objective basis but are given divine sanction. Very dangerous.

    Yet you and I will come to the same moral conclusion based on objective facts whether we acknowledge them or not. In that sense we are not moral relativists. Our moral positions have zn objective basis (points 1 & 2).


  • The objective basis for human morality is the nature of our species.”

    “On the other hand every moral situations contain objective facts.”

    With due respect where are you getting this other than pulling it out of your arse?

    I’m relativist not in the sense I object to divine moral commands but in that I object to the idea of any objectively true ethical facts. It’s not often I get to quote Shakespeare but I think he put it best when he said ‘nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ in the sense that there’s no requirement to view any statement/situation as inherently good or bad, that only exists in what human intelligence overlays upon it.

    Your “logical” argument may be valid, though I suspect not, but it is not yet clearly sound as you have not demonstarted to truth of point 1 and even point 2 I think needs some elaboration as you seem to be suggesting if I learn something or it’s “wired in” then it must be necessarily true. To point 1 that /humans reach a large amount of agreement/ would be a result of objective moral truths, but it is not valid to conclude that because there is agreement the objective moral truths exist, thus I’m not sure why you bothered including it.

    At any rate your final statement is irrelevant to the question I’m interested in. You’re asserting you and I will have the same ethical conclusions, I doubt it but w/e. I’m asking the meta-ethical question of whether ethical systems are relative or objective. Not to mention your conclusion contains your “our moral positions have an objective basis” and “every moral situation contains objective moral facts” premise, circular reasoning much?

  • The is-ought fallacy (Hume) is a real fallacy, and is why knowledge is justified, true belief (Plato). In order to be knowledge, a belief must both be justified by the evidence, and true by correspondence. If we consider justified a belief that only corresponds, we commit the is-ought fallacy. If we consider a belief true merely due to evidence in favor of it, we commit the ought-is fallacy.

    Related to moral truth–if a justified (answering the question of Ethics–“How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?”) moral standard doesn’t describe anything in reality, to consider it “true” commits the ought-is fallacy. If we take something from reality and call it moral truth, neglecting to consider whether it is justified (answering the question of Ethics), we commit the is-ought fallacy. In order for there to be moral truth, it must both correspond to (a) real being, and it must be justified (answering the question of Ethics). Its correspondence is not its justification (is=/=ought), and its justification is not its correspondence (ought=/=is).

  • “Bob – you ask “but why should we act in this way?”

    Because it is in our nature, as I have explained.”

    But why should we act according to our nature? Your answer seems to be “because it’s in our nature”, and we end up going in circles. But you’re making metaphysical commitments, essentially (it seems) that is=ought. But why make that commitment, and how can you justify it scientifically?

  • Slosh – you seem to gone off on an ego trip. My post and comments are presented seriously and with humility. If you don’t understand my position – OK check with questions. Not silly abuse. That only shows your unwillingness to consider my ideas.

    The quote from Shakespeare is very relevant. Our moral positions occur in our brain – mainly unconsciously or intuitively. They are based on the objective facts of the particular situation and of our human nature . But those facts in themselves are not a moral position. That is our job.

    Your attribution of circular reasoning to me arises from your misrepresentation not from me.

    And I am interested to hear a justification for your claim that we would not come to similar moral decisions? Why are you so confident if that?

  • Finishing of a post with ‘logical’ doesn’t strike me as humble. (I’m actually curious to know what your philosophical background is like since I had a look at the original thread – my bad on that btw – and it seems you’re getting a rough time there too. Not that it affects any of your statements particularly, just for my own edification) It was an expressian of exasperation not silly abuse. Those are both fairly major premises that you just seemed to magic out of nowhere and grant the status of fact. The fact we are even having this conversations shows I’m willing to consider you ideas, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to uncritically buy into everything you say. You want to make the statement that moral truths are objective facts go for your life, be ready to back it up though.

    Again you seem to use the idea that because morals may be informed by facts that they are indeed factual. You say that the objective facts of a situation (plus I guess the state of the brain) is not a moral position, and that is a later job, that sounds very much like a set up to a relativist position to me so I’m not sure what you are trying to imply.

    If my accusation of circular reasoning is unfounded you may wish to clarify those paragraphs rather than just saying I don’t understand you which, on it’s own, is amazingly unhelpful.

    I didn’t say I was confident that we wouldn’t come to similar moral decisions, just that I doubted it. Having said that if moral facts are objective we shouldn’t just be making similar moral decisions, they should surely be the same. Afterall you may be entitled to your own opinions but you aren’t entitled to your own facts. If I jump off a cliff and have no knowledge of gravity or its value I will still fall to my death at the same acceleration upto terminal velocity as someone else, can you honestly say you think moral truths also meet that standard? Because demonstrationgs like the rail car argument seems to demonstrate that the ethical status of something will depend on the extent of knowledge you have about and extent of activity required in a situation.

  • Slosh – let me quote some of your incorrect descriptions of my position here:

    “You want to make the statement that moral truths are objective facts “ – Completely wrong. Not my position.

    “you seem to use the idea that because morals may be informed by facts that they are indeed factual.” – Completely wrong. Not my position.

    “Having said that if moral facts are objective we shouldn’t just be making similar moral decisions, they should surely be the same. ” – Completely wrong. Not my position. I have not said moral facts are objective. I have talked about an objective basis for our moral decisions. Obviously this leads to individuals making similar decisions – not ones that are exactly the same.

    “can you honestly say you think moral truths also meet that standard? ” -[of gravity]. – Completely wrong. Not my position.

    There is no reason in what I have written for you to make these mistaken interpretations.

    Slosh – I suggest you sit back. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge you got this wrong. And read my post and comments again.

    I enjoy discussions on the topic – welcome honest and objective critique. I learn from this and it helps me develop my ideas. If I have got something wrong I want to know so that I can correct it.

    In general I learn from these discussions. (I even got some insight into how people interpret ‘relativism” differently from this one and that is useful).

    But dealing with straw men is sterile.

    Now, I appreciate how we all have trouble understanding something different, and it is natural to try to fit these ideas into a preconceived model. That surely comes through in the extensive debates I have been having on my blog.

    It is useful for me to correct these mistaken interpretations (part of my learning process) but after a while this intellectual stubbornness becomes tiring.

    Hopefully we can move on and you can engage with my real position. That would be fruitful.

  • “Bob – you ask “but why should we act in this way?”

    Because it is in our nature, as I have explained.”

    You write “Because it IS in our nature”. But still, how do you get from that to it’s how we ought to behave?

    (BTW, I’m sure I had another response here before, but it’s disappeared)

  • There is very good reason for me to have come to these ‘mistaken’ impressions, If you are claiming it’s possible to derive ought from is (I got this from the title of your post and comments like “every moral situations [sic] contain objective moral facts” – if it’s not what you mean you may wish to consider the phrasing you are using as words do actually mean things. Did you perhaps just mean every moral situation contains facts and the second moral was a typo?) you are likewise making the claim that (at least some) moral truths are objective truths. Otherwise you are just talking about deriving ought from ought plus some other objective facts in which case there’s actually nothing new here and would be basically my position of talking about facts informing moral decisions, but morals themselves still being relative to what axioms you decide to use in determining what is good.

    So we’re part way there. You are pointing out specific things where you think I have misinterpreted you but again if you could make educated guesses at where you think the misinterpretetation has happened and elaborate your position that would be way more helpful than just ‘you are wrong’.

  • I’ve just been reading “The Empathic Civilization” by Jeremy Rifkin which I highly recommend (and will be reviewing at some stage soon). In the book he mentions the “is/ought gap” and suggests that empathic consciousness overcomes such a gap as it relies on both feelings (empathy) and reason. It seems to me that using empathy AND reason one should be able to determine the peaks on the “moral landscape” describe by Sam Harris in his book of the same name.
    In my opinion, Rifkin, makes a good case for empathy as playing a key role in developing a global consciousness that will provide moral guidance for “a world in crisis”. However, as he does so in just over 600 pages it is difficult to summarise his points easily.

  • Yes, that second “moral” ( made in a lazy comment not the post) is certainly a typo and I have corrected it.

    Now please indicate where I have made “the claim that (at least some) moral truths are objective truths.” If I have I will correct it.

    Personally I feel that the context makes clear that second “moral” is out of place. However, in future writings I might include a section differentiating my approach from the parody you seem to have picked up. I think there is a tendency by some to assume that anyone critical of moral relativism is actually advancing objective morality or objective moral truths. I think that is lazy but a specific section might help those people.

    I can appreciate for reasons of ego you wish to place all the blame for your misunderstanding on me. But, seriously, I personally think I am making my approach clear. Although you have helped me see a way to improve that.

    Your claim that I am “deriving ought from ought” is another misrepresentation. My point 2 deals with that briefly. I have dealt with it more thoroughly in other posts and extensive comments on my blog.

    It’s an important point, one that some people have particular problems with (or are intellectually stubborn about) and one that is dealt with more by the psychologists than the philosophers of science and other scientists in the debate. Mechanically seeing or describing this as an “axiom” is not adequate.

  • Thanks for the book recommendation Michael. It certainly looks very relevant and I will follow it up.

    I found de Waal’s book on empathy useful but this looks to be more relevant to human society and modern problems.

    I look forward to your review – will it be on your blog?

  • Happyevilslosh said “Well sure but I think it’s extremely important to distinguish science informing morals from science determining morals. If we don’t in my opinion it makes us (scientists/humanists/etc) not better from many religions.”

    Science is the investigation of the physical world so I would agree that science can only inform morals. Science itself cannot determine morals, as such, but it may identify better moral choices. However, developing a moral system based on science would differ from religion in that objective facts form a much better basis for morality than fantasy.

    My personal view is that using science to inform morality might be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed as impossible. Science is all about observing nature and detecting patterns, observing consequences etc. Surely this, coupled with our improved understanding of how the human brain and body works, should provide a reasonable basis to inform morality.

    I suspect that one of the reasons that some people resist the idea of science informing morality is that it will suggest that many of our actions are immoral. As a comparison, consider the substantial resistance to the concept of anthropogenic global warming. Despite the substantial scientific evidence there is still much resistance to AGW, and of those who do acknowledge the evidence for AGW are doing very little to counter the problem.

  • Hi Ken

    Yes it will be on my blog. It is a very thought provoking book, which at 615 pages long (plus references) has kept me occupied for most of the holiday break. There are a few of his ideas that I disagree with (for example he ties the Enlightenment to materialism and capitalism) but it certainly is a great read.
    Basically he looks at the development of empathy in humans biologically (mirror neurons), psychologically (various theories – he doesn’t like Freud much) and across history. He also points out that the most “empathic surges” occur when there are significant advances in technology which result in more people living and working in close proximity. He also points out that such technological advances involve advances in the way we communicate and typically involve significant accelerations in entropic flow – for example, the conversion of energy rich oil reserves, accumulated over millennia, into “energy poor” carbon dioxide.

  • @Michael: And another one enters the fray. 😉

    If Rifkin is the guy I think he is then I saw his TED talk and well… while it was all very optimistic and would be great and all I think as soon as you try to apply it it’ll fail. One of those things like socialism and dictatorships which looks great on paper but tend not to work in practice. In particular I think any such system would need a way of dealing with free voters or, since I’m being careful not to project, people who simply aren’t empathetic and I’m not convinced from what I saw that that had been dealt with. Does the book have anything to say on this that the talk (or I) missed?

    @Ken: The claim that at least some some moral truths are objective truths is derivable from the statement that it’s possible to derive ought from is. If it is possible then there is at least one ought (which I’m rendering as moral truth) that is derivable from at least one is (which I’m rendering as objective fact) and if one is derivable from the other then the moral truth must be an objective truth. That is unless you are of the position that some aspects of reality are relative but I’ve not seen you say anything that would indicate this.

    I’m not making a false dichotomy where criticising one position is bolstering another, however in this case you seem to disagree with the statement ‘morals are relative’, thus you must think at least one moral isn’t.

    I’m not sure why you think I’m placing blame on anyone with regards to misunderstanding nor why you think it’s due to ego (It would be easy for me to snidely mark it up to projection, however). I’m saying I didn’t understand you and it would be great if you could clarify your position.

    I’m not saying you think you are deriving “ought from ought”, all these posts are in fact testament to that. Rather you seem to make posts which indicate it in some places. Consider this line of reasoning.
    – You appear to think it’s possible to derive is from ought
    – If that is the case there is at at least one set of non-empty objective facts (is’s) from which it’s possible to derive at least one moral truth (ought)
    – If the objective facts are… well… objective then it follows that the moral truth derived must also be objective.
    – Thus you are saying there is such a thing as an objective moral truth.

    If the last statement isn’t true then it seems to me that you have to abandon the first statement (it’s possible to derive is from ought) as I’m reasonably sure all the others are sound which leaves you with the conclusion that it is not in fact possible which further means ought is necessary to derive an ought.

    I’m not proposing axioms as a stubborn or lazy method, rather as the way in which they exist in maths where at the basis everything is a set of axioms from which you derive everything else you want to get your hands on. Not that this relative basis has not made mathematics useless, just that the answers you get will depend upon the inital assumptions, or axioms, you have made. To seriously propose both that it’s possible to build a consistent body of moral truths and to have moral truths also be relative will require something like an axiomatic basis.

  • Slosh – you have it all wrong – although your claim “You appear to think it’s possible to derive is from ought” is probably a typo.

    Yes, I am arguing against the dogma that you can’t get an ought form an is.

    This does not mean that the objective facts simply dictate a single moral decision. Far from it. (Read Harris’s book – he only really mentions the moral landscape in passing but it gets the point across). As well as separate families of choice there is also the question of probabilities, trial and error, the subjective aspects of the deciding groups, etc..

    It is silly to call a human decision, which may involve all sorts of emotions, intuitions, prejudices etc., “objective” just because it is made by people with certain objective natures and objective facts from the situation were considered.

    I am not saying there are such things as objective moral truths – quite the opposite.

  • Yeah it is, it should read “You appear to think it possible to derive ought from is”. Swap the two around.

    Saying you can’t get ought from is isn’t dogma if you have an argument to back it up!

    You seem to overlook though that while objective facts don’t simply dictate a single moral truth, which I agree with completely, then the other things that do are subjective things since you’ve already ruled out the objective ones, thus making moral truths subjective. Inform them by science all you want and if they are based on non-objective truths then they are non-objective. Your last sentence in the third paragraph seems to suggest that you think that ethical truths may be derived from popular vote, but to then say that those truths are objective _is_ argument ad populum and _is_ a logical fallacy.

    if no set of objective facts dictate a single moral decision then you _can’t_ derive is from ought and in fact it’s equivalent to the meta-ethical statement that ethics are relative. (Note that in my argument I was talking about at least one moral truth, not all moral truths and it is thus a stronger statement).

    I agree that it’s silly to call any human decision objective, which is why I’m trying to get across that morals, as a human decision, are relative.

    If you aren’t saying that there is such a thing as objective moral truths then you are both a moral relativist and saying you can’t derive ought solely from is and there is really no discussion to have here.

  • @happyevilslosh “And another one enters the fray. ;)”

    I prefer to think of it as an exchange of ideas/vigorous debate
    thanks for pointing out that Rifkin has a TED talk (I should have thought of that!)
    I agree that what Rifkin proposed is a very big idea, and I suspect that many people won’t (want to) understand it, however, I guess I am a bit of an optimist. As far as I’m concerned the only option is to try solving the problems in our world/society. The alternative is to just sit around complaining about things and watching things slide. And though it is easy to be pessimistic about the possibility that human beings could become more empathic one only has to look at progress that has been made in many populations with regards to civil rights – women, African Americans, homosexuals etc to derive at least some optimism.

  • Your civil rights examples I think are interesting. In my opinion that is not in fact a case of people becoming, on average, more empathic but rather an expansion of the group they are empathic to. Not that that at all diminishes the achievement but rather that it would imply there will be some distribution of empathies among the population that is fixed and I’m not sure how well Rifkin’s ideas work in that framework. The other criticisms are valid. I do well tend to err on the side of cynicism. 😛

  • Michael – as far as science determining values. I think the discussion gets portrayed that way partly as a provocation – as in the recent Phoenix debate. And in the title of Sam Harris’s new book. In practice when one looks at the arguments I don”t think this is a real issue. Its more that yes science can inform our moral discussions. But also science is revealing more about our nature and how this influences our morality (One of the objective is’s I talk about). it is also revealing more about our moral and religious history and origins.

    I think Pat Churchland referred to the popular negative image this might produce. Arrogant scientists in lab coats, applying electrodes to our heads and telling us what to do to be right.

    An image to make us all shudder – one no-one wants.

    Mind you we have that other image – decrepit and immoral old men wearing dresses and crosses around their necks telling us what is right and wrong, that they are infallible and we will burn in hell if we don’t accept and follow their obscene prejudices.

    That is certainly historically more likely and dangerous.

    Which I think is another reason why we keep hearing that science can’t tell us right and wrong. Its the argument by default. Religions claims it can tell us, history shows them to be a failure, they can’t support their claim so that repackage it as a problem for science. Science can’t tell us so religion must be able to – by default.

  • Slosh – true “Saying you can’t get ought from is isn’t dogma if you have an argument to back it up!”

    In practice though hardly anyone seems to make any attempt to justify – it is just repeated as a mantra. As a dogma. Even by scientists and philosophers I otherwise respect.

    And as I point out that if one looks at Hume, who is often used as an authority, this dogmatic claim does not seem to be supported. In fact he seems to say that an ethical system which makes no attempt to provide arguments, is’s , for their oughts, is a vulgar religion. And that they have a responsibility to provide justifications for their moral claims.

    I won’t debate with your your attempts to put words in my mouthy. I think I have made myself clear with specific example of your misunderstandings and misrepresentations. You do nothing for your position to continue to distort my meanings.

    Perhaps you should provide us with a justification for your own moral positions

  • Do you mean my ethical positions or my meta-ethical positions?

    Naturally I cannot back up my ethical positions since as I’ve said I consider all to be relative and so would simply be listing things that I think to be good or bad.

    My meta-ethical position is that ethics are relative. It follows because I see no compelling argument that attributes like ‘good’ exist outside of interpretation. That would further imply that you can’t derive morals solely from objective facts and thus they must be inferred for other subjective truths and thus are relative. In a way I guess it would follow from the modification of postmodernism such that an interpretation of objective facts is not itself objective (As a contrived illustration of this concept do you know that the colour I see green as is the same colour you see it as? The colour itself is an objective fact, the interpretation need not be. Similarly a situation is an objective fact, but the interpretation of it being good or bad also need not be).

    i will make the additional statement that in fact in general I think that any truth is subjective is the simplest explanation, and this includes the natural sciences. However, in the natural sciences you are inherently testing that there are objective truths every time you do an experiment (if there wasn’t you wouldn’t obtain convergent evidence). In addition when experiments are done the facts determined are very rarely completely changed but rather tend to be refined to more exact answers. On the other hand with ethics it seems that changing knowledge of a particular situation doesn’t refine the answer but rather can drastically change it even with quite minor alterations. This to me does not bode well for those who claim it’s possible for moral truths to not be relative.

    Yes you have gave example of where I’ve made misunderstandings or misrepresentations but not said _why_ they are so. This to me is a communication fail. I think it’s a shame that your instinct is just to give up. Also how about my step where is implies ought leads to obective ethical truths. That is based solely on the title of your spiel and as far as I can tell you claim to not agree with the conclusion so where do you think the error is happening? You seem to have been conspicuously silent on it.

    I have some questions that I would like you to answer specifically to get your position more closely nailed:
    1) Do you think it’s possible to derive what ought to be from what is?
    2) Do you think objective ethical truths exist?
    3) If your answer to 1 is yes and 2 is no where do you think the flaw is in my logical argument put forward earlier?
    4) If your answer to question 1 is yes what sort of methods do you think would be best to determine what ought to be? (Just saying science is not a sufficient answer)
    5) What sort of sources have you read on the topic? (Your definitions of words like relativist seem to heavily imply largely pop-culture books and sympathetic blogs to me and I want to know if this is accurate.)

  • Slosh, I find your talk about truths, objective truths, etc rather vague. As a scientist I am used to more precision, particularly differentiation between objective facts and our picture or reflection of those facts. From some of your comments I think you confuse these.

    However. At this stage the only question I will ask of you relates to assumptions vs knowledge.

    You say you can’t back up your ethical positions  and you seem to imply that one arrives at moral decisions in an arbitrary manner. Without underlying cause or reason.

    Now I think that probably is the same for most people. In fact we arrive at our moral decisions or actions intuitively. Most people if asked will attempt to justify it, rationalise it. But it would probably be more honest to say “I don’t know!” personally I see a claim of relative morality is probably in this class. 

    However, do you acknowledge that in such situations saying “I don’t know” is more honest?

    Do you acknowledge that we don’t know reasons for a lot of the things we do because they are not directly accessible to us?

    However, do you then acknowledge that just because we are ignorant doesn’t mean there is no reason? And this reason may be accessible to scientific investigation?

    If you acknowledge these things certain facts become interesting. We find an amazing commonality in moral positions (in general) across societies and across cultures (and religions). It is pretty obvious we can reach quite a high level of agreement within a society.

    Now why should this be! If morality was relative and we could just use personal choice without any underlying guidance then we shouldn’t expect the uniformity we find.

    To a scientist this is an invitation to look for an underlying objective reality driving our morality. I believe that people working in this area have reason to think that much of our morality is wired in and derived from the fact that we are social and empathetic creatures.

    Our morality is so intuitive that even many of the scientists involved in the debate are not vocalizing this – they just assume it. I think some of the philosophers involved are just lost and not capable of recognizing these aspects of human nature. It’s outside their field as they normally perceive it.

    Really this and my question is directed at my concept of an important is involved in reaching our oughts. The fact that our species is sentient, conscious, intelligent, social and empathetic. Research us showing how this is and how it compares with other animals.

    Of course this does not imply a mechanical one way link leading to a inevitably uniform moral code by any means. The real world is a lot more complex.

    I reject your assertions that I am responsible for your misunderstandings of me. I could speculate on the reasons but really you should take responsibility yourself. There has been too much putting of words in others mouths.

    It is silly to accuse me of “giving up” just because of your inability to understand. As for my reading – you could peruse my blog. Over 30 book reviews posted in the last 16 months. But of course there has been reading ouf other books, articles and papers (I only review what I get free – eg Sam’s book I had to pay for).. Also lectures/videos. A lot of the work is fairly recent.

    Enough for the moment.

  • I find your implication by noting yourself out as a scientist to be interesting. I’m midway through a PhD myself and although only have one paper under my name am no stranger to scentific writing. The different qusetions of truths are not vague. When I say objective truth I’m treating it as synonymous with universal truth, subjective truth is truth in the sense that say I might find something true but that doesn’t necessarily means it holds for everyone. Think along the lines of people’s interpretations of meanings of movies will be differing based on things like knowledge and psychology and thus subjective truths.

    Now I didn’t say that one arrives at moral truths without cause or reason. Possible reasons are societal, religious, “empathic” (which seemingly refers to ones innate to one’s psychology), etc. Saying they are relative is not saying the spring out of nowhere.

    I think your example of scientific investigation finding structure and thus it’s on objective truth to be incorrect. As a mathematician I will come out and say that all the truths in mathematics rely solely on the things you assume and thus every equation is relative to the assumptions (talking pure maths rather than applied maths here). In a similar way I fully support the idea that natural science can inform ethical systems and that formal science can investigate the structure of ethical systems but those things don’t make the ethical truths within those ethical systems universally true.

    I wasn’t saying you are responsible for the misunderstandings, I’m saying you’re responsible in for not being helpful in clearing them in. In particular you seem to have answered _none_ of the specific questions I asked.

    And as much as I would love to spend however long it would take to read your blog posts I have a talk to prepare to present at a conferenc in a month so It’s a long way down the list. I’ll have to make do with this conversation. Sam Harris however I will knock off immediately. His book is based on the idea “good” things pertain to increases in the “flourishing of conscious creatures.” but apparently doesn’t address why that should be considered good. Thus while his ethical system may be interesting in it’s own right it’s still entirely relative to that initial assumption.

    PS After a more in-depth reading of the wiki article I posted I realise I have inappropriately been using subjective truth and relative truth interchangeable (and in fact did it in the above I think). It turns out this isn’t entirely the case since if you have a God passing ethical laws it’s considered subjective but not relative, if you replace subjective truth with relative truth in the above it will obtain the intended meaning.

  • Also sciblogs really needs an edit feature so I can fix typos. 😛

  • Happyevilslosh said ” (As a contrived illustration of this concept do you know that the colour I see green as is the same colour you see it as? The colour itself is an objective fact, the interpretation need not be. Similarly a situation is an objective fact, but the interpretation of it being good or bad also need not be).”

    Yes, but using science can we not describe the particular colour green as a reflection of specific wavelengths, resulting in a more objective shared agreement of the colour green?
    I agree with you that many shared observations etc can be quite subjective and dependent on who is involved, but would maintain that by applying science one could reach a position of shared and objective agreement. I think many disagreements can be but down to a misunderstanding of each others views which is why I find Rifkin’s empathy arguments so fascinating.

    One of the reasons I like sciblogs is that even when some of the contributions challenge my own opinions and ideas, a vigorous discussion can clarify the other persons viewpoint and reasoning and may result in a change in my own viewpoint.

    Your comments about subjective/relative ethics/truth make me think more deeply about my own ideas. I am still not completely convinced by all of Sam Harris’ arguments but it does seem to me he is taking a step in the right direction. I think his is a very nascent area of study and as such doesn’t have all the answers (yet?). In some ways I agree that ethics or morality is relative, in that it will depend on the parameters of the situation, however, for any specific situation I would contend that there are good moral outcomes and bad moral outcomes, which science can help us identify.

  • Re the green thing: Well see that’s sort of what I’m getting at. So the question of the wavelength and the ‘objective truth’ of the colour green is absolutely amenable to scientific investigation, but it can’t, for the purposes of this example, tell you how the individual people are perceiving the colour.

    As another different example consider the spelling of the word ‘socks’. As an English speaker I would hear someone spell thing thing what I wear on my feet under my shoes, however (apparently) as a Spanish speaker I would hear you say ‘I’m OK, how are you?’ Note that the specific sound, the thing that science would investigate, doesn’t change in either case but the perception is drastically different.

    I don’t know what you know of postmodernism (read about the Sokal affair for a giggle) but I’ve heard a lot of people claim that it states that there is no such thing as universal truth. But based on my own investigation of it I disagree that it implies that at all, I would really encourage the different interpretation that ‘there is no universal interpretation of an objective fact’.

    This is getting a little OT though.

  • Slosh, I will only respond to your comments on Sam’s arguments. I think they are key to what I am saying and that some people seem to have problems with.

    You say “His book is based on the idea “good” things pertain to increases in the “flourishing of conscious creatures.” but apparently doesn’t address why that should be considered good.”

    True that is one of the common criticisms. (incidentally the book has a lot more than this in it). But as I have said the dogmatic assertion of you can’t get an ought from an is is actually a cop out. Because that is not justified in any way by those who use it. I suspect they are just repeating something they have never bothered checking.  A mantra.

    Of course it would be quite legitimate to just declare that is how we define good. Your axiom as it were. I think this is far more justified than the way religions define good as divine commands. And a lot safer. I am unsure as to why Sam just doesn’t say that. Possibly because he has been concentrating more on the is of the objective facts of moral situations

    I tried to get across the point in my last comment that most of the people in this debate don’t bother going into a justification of this “axiomatic position.” They just seem to assume it.

    That is OK but they don’t need to. Our growing understanding of our human nature provides a good objective basis for this assumption. It comes naturally from our nature as sentient, conscious, intelligent, social and empathetic beings. We are hardwired to have strong intuitions of right and wrong. That is all the justification we need. This intuitive definition is far more than an axiom.

    That is one if the reasons I say our morality is objectively based. We derive our oughts in part from the is of our human nature. 

    Consequently we have an excellent reason to be optimistic about reaching quite a lot of agreement on moral codes. And we can understand why we have so much commonality accrue different societies and cultures on moral issues

  • @Ken
    Are you able to provide a reference, or more information, on what you refer to as the recent Phoenix debate? The last thing I listened to re Sam Harris was at

    @Slosh. What is your PhD in?

    I’ve found some of the points made by both of you very interesting and I can’t say that I have yet worked out exactly where I stand (or should I say I can’t quite yet articulate what I think yet. I’m trying to get to grips with the terminology and some of the philosophical concepts surrounding this area).
    I think one of the challenges is the terminology. I suspect in the same way that Slosh points out that we all have a different interpretation of the colour green, that we all may currently have slightly different interpretations of “relative”, “ethics” and “morality”.
    With regards to morality, and based on my understanding of Sam Harris’ work, I think it makes sense to describe different actions and ideas as being more moral or less moral, which I guess could be described as “relativism”.
    I think the nature of blogging makes it more challenging to exchange ideas, and I think it would be a very interesting conversation if both of you were discussing this in the same room (though perhaps one would have to hide any sharp objects first – lol).

  • @Michael: The area is phylogenetics, which for the uninitiated is the application of methods from maths, statistics and theoretical computer science to questions regarding evolutionary histories. My own background is for the most part maths and computer science though, my knowledge of stats and biology has… increased drastically since I started. ;P Also phylogenetics doesn’t actually exist as a PhD major so I’m enrolled in it under maths.

    I might make the little addition to that in your sentence “describe different actions and ideas as being more moral or less moral, which I guess could be described as “relativism”.” this isn’t how I’ve been using relativism—and I don’t _think_, though I’m not certain, it’s how many philosophers would use it either, Rather with regards to what the truths are based on rather than how strong those truths are. So with Harris it’s relative because he’s made the assumption that the flourishing of intelligent beings is ‘good’ (not that I disagree with the idea of his premise, but it’s still the assumption he’s started with) so his system will be relative to that, this is like fundamentalist Christian ethics is relative to the belief that the Bible is the unerring word of God. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a word to describe relative orderings of the ethics themselves but I think using relativism in that case would be a bad plan since it’s already in use in an idea not too distant. I guess using relative that way could be possibly be compared to the way the colloquial use of theory is to mean ‘guess’. Something you can’t really do anything about but that muddies the water when trying to talk about it in a formal framework where said term already exist with a specific meaning.

  • @Ken: I don’t think saying ‘is’ with regards to human nature is appropriate, and thus it doesn’t serve as an objective basis. So it is fine to say, for example, acceleration due to gravity _is_ 9.81…m/s/s because it’s fixed and consistent everywhere. Human nature on the other hand isn’t unchanging and isn’t constant across the population. And so compare it to the statements ‘birds fly’ (which is an is statement despite appearance) then you’d probably immediately say ‘not all of them’ even though those that don’t are in the minority, in the same sense I think it’s fine to talk about what is human nature for most people but doubt it will hold for all members and thus isn’t an is.

    So, returning to Harris say if nobody thought it was good to kill then there would be no need for a law against it because noone would do it, not to mention no wars nor death penalty. In fact the line of where conscious becomes not conscious is worth thinking about as well as that line will not be solid but fuzzy and given that is it appropriate to sacrifice ‘probably’ not conscious beings in order to further the survival of the conscious ones? Looking past the problem that I’m not personally familiar with any metric for consciousness. What about someone who’s braindead? Is it appropriate to experiment with them while they’re still alive given that they aren’t conscious? Similarly if you instead are concerned with say conservationism Harris’ premise may not be a sufficient criterium – iirc 80% of air comes from algae so we don’t _need_ a lot of the forest that exists, and even if we did there’s no reason we couldn’t replace it with tree farms on the same land and still have the same, or better, carbon dioxide to oxygen transfer. What you should get from this is that I think Harris’ idea is a good starting point but I would say he’s going to need to add in a fair few more axioms to get anywhere.

    So, returning to the first paragraph, what’s to be done? You could take a page out of political thoery (and I think the comparison between the questions ‘what is the best political party?’ and ‘what is the best ethical system?’ is worth thinking about since both will depend upon what your particular beliefs, goals and opinions are) and define a political system that coincides with the ethics of _most_ people in a population, BUt should you continue down this line of reasoning then you’d have to put aside the idea of universal moral truths as what you are coming up with are merely those the appeal to most in your population.

    Do you have any thoughts about alternative possibilities to the third paragraph?

  • Slosh – again you fall back into the straw man approach. it seems you are having trouble actually modeling what I say and impose your own incorrect interpretation:
    “you’d have to put aside the idea of universal moral truths” – Incorrect – That is not my position.

    And you are wrong to describe my reference to human nature as inappropriate. You have to look a little more widely than comparing this view with gravity.

    Clearly, for example, human morphology has an objective basis in our DNA and its interaction with the environment over time. This objective does not mean that all human morphology is exactly the same. Just go to any busy mall and have a look. There is a huge variation. However, we can confidently describe certain features, and ranges, typical of human morphology.

    I see human morality as being objectively based on the is’s of the facts of the situation and the facts of human nature and their interactions). This does not lead to “universal moral truths” – far from it. Just as we have a range in human morphology we can have a range in human morality. I don’t describe this a relativism – the fact of an objective basis does put limits on ranges and distributions.

    You may be correct that Sam has to add in, or acknowledge, some axioms – or I would say the objective basis of human nature. I hope he does but there does not currently seem to be pressure on him to do this (or the attention is currently elsewhere). While philosophers and the philosophically inclined just throw the is/ought dogma at him as a mantra he won’t go further. He will just reject it – as he should. Dogma is never a good basis for the development of ideas.

    Similarly to accuse him of advocating “universal moral truths” because he is arguing against moral relativism is only obscuring the real important parts of the discussion. He is certainly well past that issue. His important critics come from the science and philosophical directions – mainly atheist – he is done with the fight against religion on this issue. His book makes that clear.

  • That was an inappropriate interpretation of ‘you’d’. In the context I was continuing the line of thought from previous paragraphs and using it as some people use the word ‘one’ (I personally find it’s use stilted and pretentious sounding).

    I hate to be the one to break it to you but even though you don’t describe your view as relativism it _is_, technically speaking, relativism. In fact if you are advocating DNA based moral systems you are probably more relativist than I’m presently willing to be.

    As to basing it on the outcomes of DNA I think this to be risky. The history of evolution is partially the history of some system evolved for something being coopted and used for something else. To say that humans have in evolved to act in a certain way generally therefore they ought to act in that way runs counter to that and also reminds me of arguments that run along the lines of ‘black people aren’t as intelligent as white people therefore they ought to be labourers’ or possible even watch the movie Gattaca.

    As to Harris just rejecting something he doesn’t agree with that’s really a very daft thing to say. If someone brings up a very real problem you don’t just reject it! What would be the problem with Harris saying ‘if is assumed then…’? There are plenty of maths papers whose conclusions are explicitly contingent on the continuum hypothesis or P not equalling NP or various other things. The only reason I can guess that he, or his supporters, wouldn’t be willing to do that is because they, possibly accurately, perceive that it would be viewed by the wider public as a weakening of their position.

    If you are arguing against any moral relativism in the technical sense then you are necessariy advocating universal moral truth, it follows because one is definably the opposite of the other, there is no in between. If you are arguing against it in the non-technical all-moral-systems-should-be-tolerated sense then it isn’t but that isn’t what philosophers are talking about when they talk about relativism and as a scientist you really should know better than to equivocate between them. I will refer back to my fifth post “from what I’ve read of criticisms of Harris he confuses moral relativism and moral nomativism. [sic]”

    Finally I might emphasise what you probably already know that technical language doesn’t exist just to make the subject obtuse but rather to talk about complicated ideas in an effective way. As such rather than using your own personal definitions for things like relativism you may want to actually read up and use the words used in the fields in order to ease getting your ideas across to other people, _especially_ given your seeming resistance on clarifying your thoughts and definiing the words you’re using.

  • Slosh – I don’t mind breaking it to you that I couldn’t give a stuff that you think my position amounts to “relativism.” It is sufficiently different from your “relativism” to have put you knickers in a twist (which makes the differentiation important) and I gave up worrying about names several decades ago.

    And what a silly presumption to claim I am basing human morality on DNA – you cannot get to that conclusion by any honest means. Did you read “morphology” as “morality” by any chance?

    Harris is big enough and ugly enough to defend himself – he doesn’t need me. All I am saying is that criticism relying on simple dogma won’t get to the real issue. And people who resort to “you can’t get an ought from an is” are using it as a dogmatic mantra 9 times out of 10. I don’t respect that.

    I am sorry you don’t understand my arguments for objectively based morality. It is your loss to choose to interpret them as “advocating universal moral truth” even after I have clarified that point many, many times. You will never understand new ideas like this if you choose to stick with a pre-conceived model and try to adjust reality to fit.

    As for getting my ideas across. Yes I wish to do that. I have written quite extensively on my blog on the question of morality and discussed the ideas with quite a few commenters. Some of them, probably for ideological/religious reasons refuse to understand and choose to attempt to confuse things. As I said – their loss. Others either accept the idea, express an interest or even oppose it for a while. I am pleased when the latter group actually acknowledge that their original interpretation was mistaken.

    But I suspect this is not going to happen with you.

    However, let me say your comments have helped me appreciate why some people have problems with the ideas. Which I find encouraging.

  • Michael – you may be aware of the debate – I only used Phoenix because I think it was held there and wasn’t able to provide a link.

    I have posted about it at Telling right from wrong? and elsewhere.

    The videos of each presentation and the panel are on The Science Network (at The Great Debate)).

    I find this debate a useful complement to the Edge Seminar on “The New Science of Morality.” (see The new science of morality).

    Audio and video of the presentations there are available at Edge: THE NEW SCIENCE OF MORALITY. (Except for Marc Hauser – his was removed after the misconduct scanal broke).

  • My “knickers are in a twist” because you seem to think that ‘ought-implies-is’ scientifically implies neither universal moral truths nor moral relativism and yes, logical inconsistencies do bug me. I’m not most people simply repeating the dogma you are so fixated on and you haven’t really addressed the logical argument I put forward. You both avoid defining the terms you are using (that list of questions yet being unanswered) and refuse to use those in common use within the field (note in particular they aren’t _my_ terms – when technical ones exist I use them). You seem to somehow think that objective moral truths are somehow distinct to universal moral truths yet I have only ever seen the two used interchangeably. The DNA thing I did misread the context of but the reply I would’ve written is already cleverly hidden in my previous posts (it’s to do with knowing the properties of a single basis not being sufficient should there be more than one). I find it amusing you saying that when people who disagree with you do so it’s because they don’t understand your clearly brilliant arguments. Clearly you’re a genius of unimaginable proportions and they “refuse to understand” rather than find your writing inconsistent, unclear and unparsimonious with agreed upon definitions. Whatever, I’m done here. Enjoy your dogma. Feel free to write this of as me admitting you are right if it helps you sleep at night. Since you were pushing for me to admit I was wrong earlier I’m guessing this is important to you. I’m personally more interested in working out what logically follows from evidence, where it is available, but it’s your life.

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