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Science of morality

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Title: Science of morality  
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Subject: The Moral Landscape, Ethical naturalism, Secular humanism, Secular morality, Morality of science
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Science of morality

Science of morality can refer to a number of ethically naturalistic views. In meta-ethics, ethical naturalism bases morality on rational and empirical consideration of the natural world.[1]

The idea of a science of morality has been explored by writers like Joseph Daleiden in The Science of Morality: The Individual, Community, and Future Generations or more recently by neuroscientist Sam Harris in the 2010 book The Moral Landscape. Harris' science of morality suggests that scientists using empirical knowledge, especially neuropsychology and metaphysical naturalism, in combination with axiomatic values as “first principles”, would be able to outline a universal basis for morality. Harris and Daleiden chiefly argue that society should consider normative ethics to be a domain of science whose purpose amounts to the pursuit of flourishing (well-being).[note 1] They add that "science" should not be so narrowly defined as to exclude important roles for any academic disciplines which base their conclusions on the weight of empirical evidence.[note 2] These ideas have not seen widespread acceptance by the scientific community, have been disputed by philosophers, and continue to generate public controversy – although they have also gained some support (e.g. Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, and other proponents).

Patricia Churchland sometimes refers to a neuroscience of morality in relation to her book Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality. The term "science of morality" is also sometimes used for the description of moral systems in different cultures or species. For a collection of the hypotheses of how moral intuitions are thought by some to have evolved and emerged, see moral psychology and the evolution of morality.

The idea of a normative science of morality has met with many criticisms. These critics include physicist Sean M. Carroll, who argues that morality cannot be part of science.[4] He and other critics cite the widely held "fact-value distinction", that the scientific method cannot answer "moral" questions, although it can describe the norms of different cultures. In contrast, moral scientists defend the position that such a division between values and scientific facts ("moral relativism") is not only arbitrary and illusory, but impeding progress towards taking action against documented cases of human rights violations in different cultures [5]

There are also questions of naturalistic fallacy, where the alleged fallacy is deriving moral claims from natural facts (although the term is sometimes used very differently: to refer to the alleged fallacy of calling behaviours that are natural to humans "moral").


  • Overview 1
  • Background 2
    • History 2.1
      • In philosophy 2.1.1
      • In the social sciences 2.1.2
      • Popular literature 2.1.3
    • Is–ought 2.2
    • Scientific methods 2.3
  • Defining morality 3
    • Disputed terms in science 3.1
    • "Morally good" 3.2
    • Limited relativity 3.3
    • Moral facts 3.4
  • Causes of flourishing 4
    • Good behaviour 4.1
      • The role of government 4.1.1
        • Earthly paradise
      • The role of punishment 4.1.2
    • Evaluative diversity 4.2
    • Research 4.3
    • Other implications 4.4
  • Other proponents 5
  • Criticisms 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
    • Cited literature 9.1
  • Further reading 10


In its weakest form, science of morality is the idea that we do not need divine authority to be critical of any so-called 'moral system' that causes unreasonable suffering. Daleiden, Harris and others discuss or support a stronger case, however. It is the idea that, once we accept the premises that are necessary for any empirical, secular, and philosophical discussion, we can define "morality" in a relevant way. Presumably, societies can then use the methods of science to provide some of the best answers to 'moral' questions. This means identifying which values and norms (e.g. free speech versus government censorship) are more likely to maximize the well-being of all conscious creatures.[6] In plainer words, Harris imagines a science premised on the use of the term "morality" to refer to the pursuit of flourishing for every conscious creature.[7] If an issue does not, in any way, concern conscious creatures, then it is devoid of morality by the definitions of science of morality. A universe full of nothing but rocks and dirt, for example, would be one without anything that can be meaningfully called "moral issues". Advocates of a science of morality believe that science needs to begin pursuing and debating "moral facts" about people's flourishing. Consequently, it is possible to be wrong about how to maximize flourishing as a general rule, and even in a specific situation.[8]

In sum, from the perspective of neuroscience and brain evolution, the routine rejection of scientific approaches to moral behavior based on Hume’s warning against deriving ought from is seems unfortunate, especially as the warning is limited to deductive inferences. The dictum can be set aside for a deeper, albeit programmatic, neurobiological perspective on what reasoning and problem-solving are, how social navigation works, how evaluation is accomplished by nervous systems, and how mammalian brains make decisions.

-Patricia Churchland in her book Braintrust (emphasis added)

The scientific search for empirical facts always requires operationalization. In other words, investigators need to agree to define terms to some extent before reasonable discussion can even begin.[9][10][11] Here, moral scientists purport to possess a more than adequate working definition: something is morally good if it promotes the flourishing of conscious creatures.[8] Although moral norms have often been defined as requiring supernatural origins, science of morality thus understands morality to describe facts about nature (i.e. how creatures can live in harmony). Daleiden adds that society can no longer afford to wait and see which values cause cultures to fall apart, and which ones allow them to succeed: scientific methods are what is needed.[12]

There are other consilient with the science of the day will make science of morality unintuitive at times. Daleiden says that the science rejects the idea of libertarian free will in favor of compatibilistic free will (discussed further below).[12]

Threatening violence against those who do not wish to wear burkas, or alternatively, empowering the freedom to choose, are unlikely to be equally effective ways of fostering well-being.

Even though flourishing remains a rather fuzzy term, it is far from meaningless. It is a decidedly grey area whether stealing someone's pencil or stealing their pen would be the more immoral action. Yet to the secular rationalist it seems likely that, in the majority of cases, forcing one class of people to cover themselves at all times in burkas under threats of violence is less moral than empowering the freedom to choose. Moral scientists maintain that to argue otherwise is to ignore empiricism and history (which have taught humanity a great deal about wellbeing), as well as all the moral strides that various societies have made against sexism, racism, and other causes of suffering.[8] Even with science's admitted degree of ignorance, and the various semantic issues, moral scientists can meaningfully discuss things as being almost certainly "better" or "worse" for promoting flourishing.[2] Harris hopes that seeing the role that science can play in normative ethics will empower critical thinkers to pass important "moral" judgment on the quality of fellow citizens' and societies' behaviors.[13]

Even once the terms of scientific moral discourse are accepted, this will not automatically cause moral behavior (i.e. not even among those who explicitly agree to the terms). Another main goal of the science of morality is therefore to discover the best ways to motivate and shape individuals. The aim is to make each citizen capable of balancing the desires of the present and the future, but also of themselves and others. Creating what Daleiden calls people who follow "conditioned self-interest", conditioned egoism, requires a program that applies everything psychology has discovered about humans, especially the most effective ways of promoting prosocial behaviors. Note that this does not at all suggest that the government, or any elite individual or group, should or would be solely charged with this task. Nor should the most private values, which have almost no bearing on society, be of much concern to society at all.[12]

Although it does at times, science of morality does not necessarily conflict with the moral teachings of all religions. Daleiden says that the science does not even conflict with many other moral systems -which can often be understood as simply emphasizing certain aspects of the science.[12]


The idea that science could help make moral prescriptions may be relatively new. Determining what constitutes "science" versus "non-science" is the challenge known as the demarcation problem.

Philosophy has not always been understood as being very separate from science, and empiricism has long since started playing a major role in modern philosophy. The scientific method provides details, some of which challenge traditions or intuitions, about human nature. These details become vital to forming any conception of morality.


In philosophy

Language lags behind science, and too frequently refuses its aid to knowledge. The innovations of philosophy upon long-received expressions are slow and difficult. Philology is apt to refuse the contributions of the other sciences. It prides itself on its poverty. And this is the more to be regretted, inasmuch as all languages had their birth in a period when moral and intellectual cultivation could only be in their infancy.

Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, in his book Deontology, or The Science of Morality (published in 1834, after his death) discussed some of the ways moral investigations are a science. He criticizes deontological ethics for failing to recognize that it needed to make the same presumptions as his science of morality to really work – whilst pursuing rules that were to be obeyed in every situation (something that worried Bentham).[15]

Positivism and pragmatism are also philosophies related to the science. John Dewey, a pragmatist, maintains that overly theoretical moral systems are not useful in real life. He believes that moral considerations, while they should not be oversimplified, must certainly make use of facts about everything from what the individual desires, what others desire, the nature of people (e.g. humans) in general, and even data about likely outcomes of behaviours.[16]

Some positions on morality may hold that all facts are, in general, discovered by the sciences, but that there are no things worth calling "Moral" facts. These include certain forms of moral anti-realism, such as error theory as famously advocated by J.L. Mackie, and non-cognitivism as advocated by Simon Blackburn. Science of morality operates under a philosophy of moral naturalism. This form of moral realism is the view that moral facts are facts about nature.[note 3] W.V.O. Quine similarly advocated "naturalizing" epistemology by looking to natural sciences like psychology for a full explanation of knowledge. This motivated naturalism in philosophy generally, helping give rise to a resurgence of moral naturalism in the last half of the 20th century.

Philosophical movements like eliminative and revisionary materialism warn that philosophy is like science in that it may need to redefine or eliminate concepts as human understanding progresses. For instance, science of morality may never provide an immutable definition of relevant terms like the "flourishing" that it pursues, because it must adapt to new scientific knowledge. Harris believes that our knowledge about humanity's history gives us an idea of what flourishing entails, and that modern scientific understanding offers even more insight (see positive psychology).[17]

In the social sciences

Maria Ossowska used the methods of science to understand the origins of moral norms.

Maria Ossowska, Polish sociologist and philosopher, thought that sociology was inextricably related to philosophical reflections on morality, including normative ethics. She proposed that science analyze: (a) existing social norms and their history, (b) the psychology of morality, and the way that individuals interact with moral matters and prescriptions, and (c) the sociology of morality.[18]

Science of morality opposes the ideas of paleontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould, who argued that science and religion occupy "non-overlapping magisteria". To Gould, science is concerned with questions of fact and theory, but not with meaning and morality – the magisteria of religion. In the same vein, Edward Teller proposed that politics decides what is right, whereas science decides what is true.[19]

Popular literature

The theory and methods of a normative science of morality are explicitly discussed in Joseph Daleiden's The Science of Morality: The Individual, Community, and Future Generations (1998). Daleiden's book, in contrast to Harris, extensively discusses the relevant philosophical literature. In The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Sam Harris's goal is to show how moral truth can be backed by "science", or more specifically, empirical knowledge, critical thinking, philosophy, but most controversially, the scientific method.


What one ought to do to be moral depends on there being definition of what constitutes a 'moral' goal in the first place. A case in point: it seems one ought not to infect themselves with various diseases and eat rotten foods if one has a goal of being healthy. Those who believe that morality can be derived from scientific evidence argue that there is no meaningfully 'healthier choice' (any more than there is a 'moral choice') unless we define these terms. Daleiden remarks that central here is the idea of the "contingent statement". This because ought-statements, he says, are of the form "if you want X, you ought to do Y." Moral oughts would thus be a type of contingent statement: "if you want to increase flourishing, you morally ought to do Z".[20]

Patricia Churchland offers that, accepting Hume's is-ought problem, the use of induction from premises and definitions remains a valid way of reasoning in life and science.[21]

Scientific methods

Some of the philosophy and findings of science are important to understanding how a science of morality might work.

Harris discusses little philosophy beyond warning that the science must not become entrenched in applying any specific moral system. Daleiden spends a great deal more time explaining how many ideas from philosophy might be applied within science of morality. He believes that the science must use hybrids from various approaches to ethics, law, and human nature. Daleiden finds especially useful the consequentialist metaethics of utilitarianism, as well as John Rawls's ideas of Justice as Fairness. Daleiden admires the veil of ignorance as a way of thinking about ethics objectively.[23]

Daleiden warns that science is probabilistic, and that certainty is not possible. One should therefore expect that moral prescriptions will change as humans gain understanding.[24] The psychologist Leonard Carmichael discussed this idea as well.[note 4] Daleiden continues: tradition should not be the basis of moral norms. While traditions can be appreciated as survivors of some form of natural group selection, this process is extremely slow, and it is a process where societies with poor values must fall apart. Empiricism, to moral scientists, is the more reasonable method of establishing norms.[26] Daleiden says this is especially the case considering traditions too often become "time bound" based on the limited knowledge of the past, and are designed to meet the needs of people from those times.[27][note 5]

Without free will, we at first seem diminished, merely the playthings of external forces. But really, determinism hardly makes us the playthings of external forces. Rather we are the forces themselves, concentrated and directed in patterns whose regularities we are just beginning to discern.

-Thomas W. Clark[29]

All human actions depend on motivations. Harris and Daleiden both believe that research into the psychology and neuroscience of free will gives us good reason to reject libertarianism (which is a contra-causal form of free will). Only compatibilistic free will is valid in their view; the form of free will that Daniel Dennett called the only form of free will "worth wanting".[30] Humans, then, sometimes have the freedom to act according to their motives, but the motives themselves are largely affected by other factors.[31] Daleiden worries about the stigma attached to the word determinism. He recommends thinking in terms of a "Law of Causal Behaviour": every effect has a cause, and so too does every human choice.[32] That is why the causes of good behaviour can be identified and promoted (as discussed later). This also involves treating humans as morally responsible in practice (although, with compatibilistic free will, it would be committing the single cause fallacy to treat them as solely morally responsible).[note 6]

Normative values and science have always been deeply intertwined. Harris explains that the scientific method has settled on values in answering the question "what should I believe, and why should I believe it?"[33] It is thus a mistake to think of science as a value free enterprise.[34]

Defining morality

Disputed terms in science

Empirical investigation into physics requires operationalization, yet it would not be distracted if a pseudoscience adopted and misused their term "center of gravity"

There may be some disagreement over the exact definitions of happiness and suffering in general, concepts of great importance to science of morality, but Harris says that these disagreements should not be taken too seriously. He mentions that even a lack of firm agreement within the scientific community over terms like "life" or "health" has not prevented researchers from making progress. Furthermore, it is even less likely that others' use of the term "healthy" in an unjustified manner would have any effect on the progress of more serious researchers and thinkers.[35]

In practice, this is thanks to the fact that academics often establish and agree on other clear working definitions (the focus is to avoid debating words beyond necessity).[36] Moreover, the usefulness of these scientific constructs can be subjected to tests of construct validity. This is one sense in which some definitions can be better than others. For instance, just as scientists have generally agreed on practical grounds of sorting "Earth's atmosphere" into 5 categories (i.e. layers), so too might they decide to sort "flourishing" practically into a number of categories (e.g. positive psychology is exploring the possibility that happiness comes in generally 5 varieties).

Harris also emphasizes that the ideas captured by the word "flourishing", like "health", may also change over time.[8] Ancient civilizations, where life expectancies were around 25 years old, may not have expected we could some day consider healthy an individual living comfortably to over 80 years old. Likewise, humans are continuing to make strides in moral development, attaining new heights of cooperation and empathy, and discovering new horizons in the use of the word "flourishing" – the same way we have for the word "healthy".[35] Jeremy Rifkin describes such key moral revolutions throughout human history in The Empathic Civilization, and predicts a new revolution in which we overcome our tribe focused empathy and extend it to others we may never meet.[37]

The first step for the so-called science of morality is not, therefore, any sort of revelation. Rather, it is to establish early working definitions (which can and will evolve with time).[13] Defining terms like this, based on implications for methodology and possible conclusions (see operationalization) is an important part of any science. This is well demonstrated by the attempts of positive psychology to address topics about which many are opinionated. In such areas of science that overlap with philosophy or religion, arguments over the supposed meaning of a word sometimes stand in the way of progress. That is, discussions risk becoming arguments over what the definition of a word should be, rather than simply agreeing on other working definitions in order to facilitate communication.[36] Two hundred years ago, Bentham said this is part of understanding how scientists can begin to debate moral facts; they must first define key terms like 'moral'.[14]

"Morally good"

Michael Shermer explains that this is where science of morality can come in. "The first principle is the well-being of conscious creatures, from which we can build a science-based system of moral values by quantifying whether or not X increases or decreases well-being". Activities like lying or stealing, and even certain cultural values, for example, will be more morally "wrong" because they tend to cause more suffering than alternative social practices.[38] Science of morality, then, is a social morality; it must mediate between the varied needs and desires of many individuals across time. Harris and Daleiden both contend that this is what many religious thinkers are doing, only they are factoring an after life into their pursuit of well-being.[35][39]

Psychology holds that subjective experiences very often correspond to objective facts (e.g. about the brain). For instance, clinical depression certainly has a subjective component (when feelings of depression are experienced by an individual) but it has also been operationally defined and objectively studied (e.g. described in terms of physical characteristics of the brain, resulting in a biology of depression). These are concepts that are indispensable in science of morality.

This scientific conception of morality is also in a position to give meaning to the difference between oughts "in general" as opposed to "moral oughts"; between "good for me" and "morally good". That is, once researchers have agreed to terms, there is a difference between arguing that "he ought to use more poison on his victim, since he wants to be a good murderer" versus "he morally ought to use no poison at all, since he wants to be a morally good person".[note 7]

Bentham was opinionated regarding the purpose of what he called "morality". He says that "To detect the fallacies which lie hid under the surface, to prevent the aberrations of sympathy and antipathy, to bring to view and to call into activity those springs of action whose operation leads to an undoubted balance of happiness, is the important part of moral science."[40] He was also critical of philosophers who respected only classical texts, rather than scientific methods, to understand and improve their moral systems.[41]

Dewey notes that "We test scientific hypotheses by bringing about their antecedents and seeing if the results are as they predicted. Similarly, we test value judgments by acting on them and seeing if we value the consequences in the way the judgment predicted."[16] Additionally, values, to Dewey, are clearly determined and modified, to some extent, during the pursuit of those values. For all the importance of science and philosophy, morality is ultimately practiced (or neglected) at the scale of life, with the myriad facts of specific situations.[16][note 8]

With accepted terms for scientific discourse on normative morality, discussions that have no bearing on "the flourishing of conscious creatures" would simply not be moral discussions.[8] Operationalizing terms related to morality or physics still does not prevent use and misuse outside the scientific community.

Limited relativity

In some sense, from a cosmic perspective, everything is irrelevant. According to Daleiden, a "cosmic perspective" is not how we realize the act of valuing; only conscious beings can determine what is of value for themselves.[42] Science of morality is the empirical discourse of concern for the conscious experiences of creatures. While scientists should approach moral issues as objectively as possible, one should not expect that meaningful discussion can be had about increasing well-being from a perspective of complete indifference about well-being. This was discussed above, and is in much the same vein as the science of medicine. The focus on conscious flourishing is the cosmically arbitrary starting premise of science of morality. Ethical systems that do not grant that premise have always suffered from "cosmic irrelevance".[43]

Moral relativists point out that different cultures, and even individuals, use 'morality' to mean different things. They may argue that scientists' defining "morality" as "maximizing people's flourishing" still amounts to just one culture's view (i.e. a different culture may value preserving nature instead of people's lives). The idea is that simply defining 'morality' grants no additional sort of authority to power – or more strongly, that there is no such authority at all when one group rejects the norms of the other.[note 9].

Jonathan Meddings, a writer for the Young Australian Skeptics, argues that:

Harris engages various issues he thinks might be raised by relativists.[35][45] Moral scientists do not seek some divine authority. Nor do they expect that the definitions of morality themselves will cause everyone to feel some metaphysical urge to be moral, or even cause any kind of punishment for delinquency (see the section Causes of flourishing below). Instead, supporters like Harris seek to show how "morality" can be meaningfully understood through the lens of science. Harris says, about morality, science, and rationality in general, in all of these things- "a person can always play the trump card, 'What is that to me?' – and if we don't find it compelling elsewhere, I don't see why it must have special force on questions of good and evil". A person can always question or reject the terms of discourse (even in science). Harris maintains, however, that we can talk about morality as scientifically as anything else, and as usual, ignore those people who are not interested in discussion.[13]

Ronald Lindsay, President of the Center for Inquiry, made a similar point, and argued that scientists and skeptics should use the word "morality", because of the important connotations it still has with many people when it comes to motivating action.[46]

The ideas of cultural relativity, to Daleiden, do offer some lessons: investigators must be careful not to judge a person's behaviour without understanding the environmental context. An action may be necessary and more moral once we are aware of circumstances.[47] However, Daleiden emphasizes that this does not mean all ethical norms or systems are equally effective at promoting flourishing[47] and he often offers the equal treatment of women as a reliably superior norm, wherever it is practiced.

Moral facts

Harris argues that there may be multiple peaks on the moral landscape of optimized human societies, but even more ways for a society not to be on a peak

It may be important to get clearer on the sorts of moral facts to expect from a science of morality.[note 10]

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson says that, even though philosophers often highlight and discuss some of the most challenging moral situations, there are still many more "moral no brainers". Compared with morally grey issues, clearer cases of immorality can be more urgent and important to resolve.[49] Michael Shermer opines that "It doesn't take rocket science – or religion" to deem the average acid attack to be wrong.[38][note 11] As philosopher Alonzo Fyfe points out, if one intends to cause a great deal of harm to many people, it is easy enough to guess which actions are likely to do the most damage (i.e. be the most immoral).[51]

Harris believes that identifying "moral peaks" would necessarily mean identifying the more obviously sub-optimal ethical systems (and maybe some re-occurring obstacles to flourishing in societies). Moreover, some religious and private intuitions about what is right may be vindicated by science; this can happen whether or not the beliefs were held for justified reasons in the first place.[8][35]

Satisfying every desire, or living in complete bliss, are not realistic goals in the eyes of Daleiden. Even the Buddhist ideal of having no desires, and hence no unsatisfied desires, is extremely difficult to achieve and maintain for a whole society – not least of all for younger people (who, Daleiden says, have less self-control). Science of morality could never yield a utopia. Nevertheless, science of morality could greatly increase well-being for very many people.[52]

It is unlikely that humans will create a moral code that can answer all moral questions. The complexity of situations where flourishing is at stake does not lend itself to simple, unconditional rules (the field of [67]

Earthly paradise

Harris claims that if some degree of conditioning, such transhumanism, or genetic modification allowed everyone greater well-being, then they would actually be good things.

Daleiden specifies that government, like any organization, should have limited power. He says "centralization of power irrevocably in the hands of one person or an elite has always ultimately led to great evil for the human race. It was the novel experiment of democracy – a clear break with tradition – that ended the long tradition of tyranny.”[68] He is also explicit that government should only use law to enforce the most basic, reasonable, evidence and widely supported moral norms. In other words, there are a great many moral norms that should never be the task of the government to enforce.[69]

The role of punishment

One author has argued that to attain a society where people are motivated by conditioned self-interest, punishment must go hand-in-hand with reward.[70] For instance, in this line of reasoning, prison remains necessary for many perpetrators of crimes. This is so, even if libertarian free will is false. This is because punishment can still serve its purposes: it deters others from committing their own crimes, educates and reminds everyone about what the society stands for, incapacitates the criminal from doing more harm, goes some way to relieving or repaying the victim, and corrects the criminal (also see recidivism). This author argues that, at least, any prison system should be pursuing those goals, and that it is an empirical question as to what sorts of punishment realize these goals most effectively, and how well various prison systems actually serve these purposes.[71]

Evaluative diversity

According to Tim Dean, moral diversity likely evolved through frequency-dependent selection because different moral approaches are vulnerable to different sets of situations which threatened our ancestors.[72] The need for modern teams to be competitive, supportive, stable, and innovative suggests that maximal human flourishing continues to rely upon evaluative diversity. Christopher Santos-Lang has therefore argued that management of morality should, like the management of ecosystems, preserve diversity.[73] He advocated for adaptive management, warning that early efforts of scientists to manage ecosystems backfired.[74]


Science of morality should identify basic components required for human flourishing, drawing heavily on findings from positive psychology. In a proto-scientific example, Abraham Maslow suggested a hierarchy of needs: basic physical survival, then social and self-esteem needs, and lastly philosophical and self-actualization. In contemporary positive psychology, three years of research resulted in a systematic classification and measurement of universal strengths and virtues, Martin E. P. Seligman and Christopher Peterson's Character Strengths and Virtues.

Research looking for optimal ethical systems can draw on all the methods of science, especially those used by positive psychology. While this might include obvious methods like asking people to self-report what they think they need to flourish in life – psychology has shown that people are often surprisingly incorrect on these matters (particularly when it comes to making predictions and recollections). Some cases in point: having too many varieties of consumer goods actually creates consumer choice anxiety; when it comes to removing bandages, Dan Ariely's research suggests that "getting it over with as quickly as possible" may cause more negative memories than if one went slowly (with breaks) while being careful never to reach a 'peak' in pain; stress is not always harmful (such stress is called eustress). While very careful use of self-report can still be illuminating (e.g. bogus pipeline techniques), in the end, unconscious methods of inquiry seem to be more promising. Some unconscious methods of data collection include the Implicit Association Test and neuroimaging. In these ways, science can further our understanding of what humans need to flourish, and what ways of organizing society provide the greatest hope for flourishing.

Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel and researcher Cynthia Fu describe their findings that depression can be diagnosed very accurately just by looking at fMRI brain scans.[75] This is because researchers have made strides identifying neural correlates for, among other things, emotions. A doctor's second opinion would still be used, they explain. But the two researchers suggest that mental illnesses may someday be diagnosable by looking at such brain scans alone.

Extensive study of cooperation has shed some light on the objective (and subjective) advantages of teamwork and empathy.

The brain areas that are consistently involved when humans reason about moral issues have been investigated by a quantitative large-scale meta-analysis of the brain activity changes reported in the moral neuroscience literature.[76] In fact, the neural network underlying moral decisions overlapped with the network pertaining to representing others' intentions (i.e., theory of mind) and the network pertaining to representing others' (vicariously experienced) emotional states (i.e., empathy). This supports the notion that moral reasoning is related to both seeing things from other persons’ points of view and to grasping others’ feelings These results provide evidence that the neural network underlying moral decisions is probably domain-global (i.e., there might be no such things as a "moral module" in the human brain) and might be dissociable into cognitive and affective sub-systems.

There is evidence to suggest that a risk factor for becoming victims of bullying is deficient moral development. Examples of deficient moral development may be something like neglecting an agent's intentions during an action, or blaming them for accidents. In other words, victims of bullying may be more likely to make less accurate moral assessments, for some reason. The researchers also found that, in contrast, bullies were just as morally developed as victim defenders. The difference is that bullies are more able to disengage themselves. That is, for whatever reason, bullies end up suppressing their feelings of compassion and conscience.[77]

Egalitarians point out the various adverse effects of the trickle up effect (when money flows from the poor to the rich) when it causes economic inequality.[78] Psychologist Daniel Gilbert also explains, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, why excessive luxury goods(over and above having basic needs met) does not lead as reliably to happiness as a good job and social network. It is in a similar vein that Daleiden suggests that people do not need to be as motivated by excessive salaries the way they may be in the United States. Society could instead leverage other motives, even prestige or power.[79]

Other implications

Philosopher Paul Kurtz coined the term "Eupraxophy" to refer to a type of scientific and philosophical approach to normative ethics. Kurtz believes that the careful, secular pursuit of normative rules is vital to society.


Deutsch is worried about the implications of moral nihilism being taken too seriously. He advocates defending (always as peacefully as is possible) values including tolerance, openness, reason, and respect for others. He adds that such a moral framework allows an alternative to war only if both sides embrace it.[80]

Sean M. Carroll maintains that, although we would like it to be, morality is not a scientific domain.[81]

Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer argued in his book, The Life You Can Save, that it is important for all conscious creatures for nations to have "cultures of giving". He has expressed in books like Animal Liberation that, because of so-called "speciesism", animal rights are too often neglected by humanistic ethical movements. Singer holds more of a personistic stance.

Critics have suggested that a belief that some cultures are "wrong" or somehow less optimal could lead to paternalism. As a result, one nation may force their own culture upon another – particularly because moral realists risk becoming dogmatic in their decisions about what is "bad". On the other hand, if it is agreed that a culture is suffering unduly – it may be a good thing if the other cultures save them from themselves. Generally, this need not ever require any force at all, as persuasion and example can be far more effective. That is not to say that war is always avoidable, such as in extreme cases of fighting fascism.

During a discussion on the role that naturalism might play in professions like nursing, Philosopher Trevor Hussey calls the popular view that science is unconcerned with morality "too simplistic". Although his main focus in the paper is naturalism in nursing, he goes on to explain that science can, at very least, be interested in morality at a descriptive level. He even briefly entertains the idea that morality could itself be a scientific subject, writing that one might argue "..that moral judgements are subject to the same kinds of rational, empirical examination as the rest of the world: they are a subject for science – although a difficult one. If this could be shown to be so, morality would be contained within naturalism. However, I will not assume the truth of moral realism here." [note 17]

In assessing specific measures of well-being, Daleiden disputes the usefulness of the common economic measure gross domestic product (GDP) as a meaningful indicator.[83] His criticisms are in line with supporters using a more eclectic measure such as gross domestic happiness (GDH).

Daleiden provides examples of how science can use empirical evidence to assess the effect that specific behaviors can have on the well-being of individuals and society with regard to various moral issues. He argues that science supports decriminalization and regulation of drugs, euthanasia under some circumstances, and the permission of sexual behaviors that are not tolerated in some cultures (he cites homosexuality as an example). Daleiden further argues that in seeking to reduce human suffering, abortion should not only be permissible, but at times a moral obligation (as in the case of a mother of a potential child who would faces the probability of much suffering). Like all moral claims in his book, however, Daleiden is adamant that these decisions remain grounded in, and contingent on empirical evidence.[12][note 18]

Other proponents

Patricia Churchland is a philosopher at University of California - San Diego well known for supporting eliminative materialism (the position that certain terms used in materialistic philosophies need elimination or revision). To Churchland, the ideas of philosophers should be grounded in science, making them more like "theoretical" scientists. She cites facts about early visual processing, explaining that valence is assigned to stimulus subconsciously; this process is seen in children and may have a large biological component. Churchland uses this an example of science limiting the scope of relevant philosophical theories.[84] Regarding her book Braintrust, some of what she discussed on evolutionary neurological understanding of facts/values and is/ought, falls within the general structure that Sam Harris has laid out. She describes what he is asking us to envision, that if false beliefs were factored out, the remaining evaluative facts should become apparent, and that should result in a agreement on values. She agrees especially it would be most likely at the extreme ends of the spectrum, in the clear-cut cases of flourishing or not flourishing.

However, Churchland anticipates a lot of cases lie in the middle ground, that can lead to disagreement and it's uncertain whether this might be due to a disagreement about facts, or a fundamental disagreement on values. She continues, that there may be cases where there are simply no more facts that can shed any light on the matter. She also mentions pernicious cases, such as questions involving just war and preemptive strikes, were there is always most likely be some value disagreement. Referring to Harris understanding of a science of morality, she says he handles many issues very well, but Churchland claims to play devil's advocate, and offers three worries: arrogance (or silliness) on the part of academics, in providing condescending or unrealistic advice; ideological enthusiasm at the behest of demagogy, as in the cultural revolution in China; and finally, do-goodery that takes on a bad problem and makes it worse, when one ought not to have interfered on a presumption of having the normative high-ground.[85]

Steven Pinker says that science, broadly enough defined to consist of general reason and evidence-based belief, is certainly how we learn what is right and wrong. On the other hand, Pinker says that "science" is often understood as separate from philosophy and other necessary components of good moral thinking, which would make science necessary but insufficient. Asked whether science can tell us what is right and wrong, Pinker says "Yes and No", depending on how broadly or narrowly a science is being discussed.[86]

In debate, Peter Singer expressed the same contingent agreement with the idea of a science of morality (i.e. he agrees that broadly defined, science can tell us what is right and wrong). Sam Harris explained that he is appealing to the broad use of 'science' which he says means more than lab coated researchers in laboratories – it includes secular philosophizing and scientific theory.[21]


Many criticisms of the concept of a science of morality revolve around the implications of calling "good" what allows a society to flourish. In the past, some leaders have appealed to science dogmatically in order to justify certain moral claims. The results, like social Darwinism, have later come to be seen as undesirable, misguided, wrong or evil and this could be taken to imply that future attempts at a science of morality could very well be later seen in the same critical light. There is also the concern that a science of morality could fail to correctly identify what is good. For instance, it may identify physical pleasure with the good and fail to consider uniquely human aspects of goodness, producing an ethical system where everyone hedonistically pursues physical pleasure in an ultimately dehumanizing way, to the total exclusion of any genuine intellectual or spiritual good, as in Aldous Huxley's 1931 novel Brave New World.

C. S. Lewis predicted in his 1943 philosophy book The Abolition of Man, that a future generation of "conditioners" could change human nature "through eugenics, pre-natal conditioning, and an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology" so that all future generations will be involuntarily imprinted with its moral values (or lack thereof) which they would presumably justify through science or pseudoscience. Lewis argues that this would be the effective end of the human race. Lewis regards certain first principles in ethics shared across all major cultures (natural law) to be the essence of humanity and argues that regarding these principles as subject to modification has a dehumanizing effect; ultimately reducing persons to objects to be manipulated by scientific technique, rather than fellow persons who use scientific techniques on objects. He says, "A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery." These themes are further developed in his 1945 novel, That Hideous Strength.

See also


  1. ^ Harris explains that, to some extent, the term flourishing is intended to be a catch-all term for those states that creatures consider positive, and which must be harmonized with other times and individuals.[2]
  2. ^ Daleiden writes that “Moral issues need to be discussed in the less politically pressured form of academia. Some might argue that religions could perform this function… However, virtually all religions base their moral judgements on flawed premises such as divine revelation, natural law, and free will. They usually rely little on the methods of scientific inquiry. Therefore, it is almost serendipitous if they arrive at value judgements designed to promote human happiness. Hence it again falls to the academic community to undertake the empirical studies and analysis necessary to decide moral issues, just as for any other subject of human inquiry."[3]
  3. ^ One prominent school of moral naturalist thought is that of the Mark Timmons, who apply the "Moral Twin Earth" thought experiment. Other moral naturalists include reductionists Peter Railton and Frank Jackson, and neo-Aristotelians such as Rosalind Hursthouse and Judith Jarvis Thomson.
  4. ^ To quote Carmichael: "We do not turn aside from what we know about astronomy at any time because there is still a great deal we do not know, or because so much of what we once thought we knew is no longer recognized as true. May not the same argument be accepted in our thinking about ethical and esthetic judgements?"[25]
  5. ^ Daleiden elaborates: “Like the moral rules of religious institutions, any so-called universal rules or commandments that may benefit society and the individual under one set of circumstances may result in great misery under different conditions.”[28]
  6. ^ Daleiden's entire second chapter (pages 53–86) is dedicated to attempting to dismantle various conceptions of "free will". In his book's summary he writes "The concept of free will is a metaphysical myth stemming from confusion between the idea that humans possess the ability to choose – which all higher-order animals possess to some extent – and the notion that humans are free to choose without the constraints of those determining factors that motivate choice: genetics and environment." He makes other arguments, including that a lacking free will does not mean behaviour will be predictable in practice, and that holding people responsible (again, in practice) is important to shaping behaviour.[12]
  7. ^ This is a common example in law, but is especially based on Daleiden's description of the difference between more private values, as opposed to more socially relevant values[12]
  8. ^ John Dewey described how part of the moral process can sometimes mean shifting one's values according to how well they satisfy some more primitive, and even partially unconscious values or desires. He provides the example of the connoisseur; one may be better able to discern the relevant factors of a meal which make it more or less enjoyable. The connoisseur is thus better able to select such higher order values.[16] Dewey further believes that understanding the means to an end is an important part of understanding the ends themselves. The relative weightings of qualities of a suit, for example, are not fixed for the shopper, but rather established throughout the process of considering possible uses for the suit (e.g. "Ok, so they come in different colours, and now that I think of it, my Boss likes Blue- so I want blue").
  9. ^ The disagreement, then, may be a practical one. That is, why does the definition of morality matter if nothing has changed? Perhaps there are facts about what tends to promote human flourishing (complete with notable exceptions like, again, psychopaths). It will still be the case that many are ignorant or in denial about such facts. At very least, this seems to be a case for abandoning the word "morality", which has metaphysical connotations to many, and adopting new language (e.g. from law, defining what it means to be a "goodcitizen").
  10. ^ Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss defends the position that, even if one disagreed that science can determine what is right and wrong, rejecting science is to reject any hope of moral knowledge. Krauss argues that knowing something is moral entails knowing various facts about reality. Furthermore, he says that science has already shown us that the world is very often not what we expected (e.g. made of atoms). He discusses how knowing certain facts which are most relevant to moral appraisals is impossible without science's systematic empirical investigation. Krauss uses the example of embryonic stem cell research, and suggests that various morally relevant facts have been discovered by science, and would not have otherwise been known.[48]
  11. ^ A long tradition of more nuanced philosophical discussions on the topic of morality can and should be reconciled with science of morality. Some of these issues are especially complex, however. Patricia Churchland offers a particularly intractable example: "no one has the slightest idea how to cmopare the mild headache of five-million against the broken legs of two, or the needs of one's own two children against the needs of a hundred unrelated brain-damaged children in Serbia."[50]
  12. ^ Dewey talked about how certain habits (of thought or action) promote more flourishing than others. He says an example might be that one of the most important habits is that of keeping other habits flexible. This is because context is important to moral considerations, and the rules that work in one situation or society may not work as well in others. He nevertheless mentions independent thought, critical inquiry, experimentation, imagination, and sympathy for others as generally reliable rules of thumb. Dewey is also extremely critical of any supposed moral system which emphasizes uncritical obedience – because this only damages people's ability to learn better values.[16]
  13. ^ relevant researchers includeJean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg and James Rest
  14. ^ This includes differential reinforcement
  15. ^ There are many domains related to the study of human tendencies as they relate to morality. Fields like evolutionary biology look at the evolution of cooperation.Evolutionary ethics has similar interests. There is furthermore the study of reciprocal altruism
  16. ^ Daleiden explains, based on the research of James Rest "it would take a Ph.D. in philosophy to make the more difficult ethical judgements. Even these people would find it much easier to make the correct judgement in the abstract than when personally faced with their own moral dilemmas.”[63]
  17. ^ Hussey writes "The relationship between naturalism and morality and politics is complicated, and is difficult to state in a few sentences because it involves deep philosophical issues. Only the briefest discussion is possible here. The most popular view is that science, and hence naturalism, is concerned with objective facts and not with values: with what is the case rather than what ought to be. But this is too simplistic." He gives a reason immediately: "First, at the very least, science can study morality and politics at a descriptive level and try to understand their workings within societies and in the lives of individuals, and investigate their evolutionary origins, their social propagation, and so on." Hussey then describes how scientists must adhere to certain values, but also how values guide what it is that science may investigate. His real interest in the paper is to justify naturalism as a nursing practice, yet he does eventually write: "Finally, the idea that science and morality are separate realms, one dealing with facts the other with values, is not as certain and clear-cut as it seems. Various versions of moral realism are now widely discussed among philosophers (e.g. Railton, 1986, 1996, 2003; Sayre-McCord, 1988; Dancy, 1993; Casebeer, 2003; Shafer-Landau, 2003; Baghramian, 2004; Smith, 1994, 2004). Despite their differences, moral realists generally agree on two principles. First, that our moral utterances, such as ‘Murder is morally wrong’ or ‘We ought to be honest’ are genuine statements and hence they are capable of being either true or false. Second, what makes them either true or false are aspects of the real world, open to objective examination. It can be argued that it is an implication of this thesis that moral judgements are subject to the same kinds of rational, empirical examination as the rest of the world: they are a subject for science – although a difficult one." He continues "If this could be shown to be so, morality would be contained within naturalism. However, I will not assume the truth of moral realism here. It is sufficient to say that it has at least as much credibility as any theory claiming a supernatural or divine foundation for morality: views which, while popular among the general public, do not have widespread support among moral philosophers – for what that is worth." Hussey thus directs discussion back towards Naturalism in nursing because his main point in all this was, in the end, to prove that naturalistic moralities are not necessarily less credible than supernatural ones, and may even be more credible.[82]
  18. ^ Joseph Daleiden's final word regarding his book, The Science of Morality, is that “[The study of ethics] should be included with the social sciences and be subject to as rigorous a scientific program of research as any other area of human behaviour. Lacking this scientific rigour, the moral conclusions drawn in this volume must be considered as working hypotheses, some with greater degree of evidentiary support than others. It is the process by which to assess and transmit moral norms that was the primary focus of this work, and I hope it will serve as a new way of deciding moral issues.”


  1. ^ Lenman, James (2008). Edward N. Zalta, ed. "Moral Naturalism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 ed.). 
  2. ^ a b Sam Harris (2010), page 183: "Much of the skepticism I encounter when speaking about these issues comes from people who think "happiness" is a superficial state of mind and that there are far more important things in life than "being happy." Some reasers may think that concepts like "well-being" and "flourishing" are similarly effete. However, I don't know of any better terms with which to signify the most positive states of being to which we can aspire. One of the virtues of thinking about a moral landscape, the heights of which remain to be discovered, is that it frees us from these semantic difficulties. Generally speaking, we need only worry about what it will mean to move "up" as opposed to "down".
  3. ^ Daleiden (1998) page 191.
  4. ^ Sean Carroll (2010-05-04). "'"Science And Morality: You Can’t Derive 'Ought' From 'Is. NPR. Retrieved 2010-06-14. Casting morality as a maximization problem might seem overly restrictive at first glance, but the procedure can potentially account for a wide variety of approaches. A libertarian might want to maximize a feeling of personal freedom, while a traditional utilitarian might want to maximize some version of happiness. The point is simply that the goal of morality should be to create certain conditions that are, in principle, directly measurable by empirical means. ...Nevertheless, I want to argue that this program is simply not possible. ... Morality is not part of science, however much we would like it to be. There are a large number of arguments one could advance for in support of this claim, but I'll stick to three. 
  5. ^ Sam Harris (2010-03-29). "Moral confusion in the name of “science”". PROJECT REASON. Retrieved 2014-12-06. There are also very practical, moral concerns that follow from the glib idea that anyone is free to value anything—the most consequential being that it is precisely what allows highly educated, secular, and otherwise well-intentioned people to pause thoughtfully, and often interminably, before condemning practices like compulsory veiling, genital excision, bride-burning, forced marriage, and the other cheerful products of alternative “morality” found elsewhere in the world. Fanciers of Hume’s is/ought distinction never seem to realize what the stakes are, and they do not see what an abject failure of compassion their intellectual “tolerance” of moral difference amounts to. While much of this debate must be had in academic terms, this is not merely an academic debate. There are women and girls getting their faces burned off with acid at this moment for daring to learn to read, or for not consenting to marry men they have never met, or even for the crime of getting raped. 
  6. ^ Morality, "When effective benevolence is brought into the realms of Deontology, when the greatest good, the universal happiness, is made thecentral point round which all action revolves the golden era of moral science will commence.."
  7. ^ on from pg. 39 in The Moral Landscape
  8. ^ a b c d e f, "Sam Harris: Science Can Answer Moral Questions."
  9. ^ NMJ Woodhouse (2003). Special relativity. London: Springer. p. 58.  
  10. ^| page 56 for example
  11. ^| page 395 for example
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Daleiden, Joseph (1998). Chapter 20: Summary and conclusions. Pages 485–500
  13. ^ a b c d Sam Harris (May 7, 2010). "Toward a Science of Morality". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-06-14. In February, I spoke at the 2010 TED conference, where I briefly argued that morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science. 
  14. ^ a b Deontology or, the Science of Morality, "Language lags behind science, and too frequently refuses its aid to knowledge. The innovations of philosophy upon long-received expressions are slow and difficult. Philology is apt to refuse the contributions of the other sciences. It prides itself on its poverty. And this is the more to be regretted, inasmuch as all languages had their birth in a period when moral and intellectual cultivation could only be in their infancy. / A time will come, it is earnestly to be hoped, when morality, like chemistry, will create its own fit nomenclature."
  15. ^ or, the Science of Morality
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Dewey's Moral Philosophy"
  17. ^ "The Moral Landscape", pg. 183
  18. ^ Marcin T. Zdrenka. (2006). "Moral philosopher or sociologist of morals?". Journal of Classical Sociology.
  19. ^ Essays on Science and Society. "Science and Morality".
  20. ^ p24, Daleiden (1998)
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^ Churchland, Patricia Smith (2011). Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality. Princeton University Press. pp. 7–9.  
  23. ^ 247, 275, 284, Daleiden (1998), and the page 120 quote: “…some merely reflect a shift in emphasis…they are not mutually exclusive; rather, they all offer valuable insights as to how the members of society can institute a code of ethical behaviour that will benefit all.”
  24. ^ p502, Daleiden (1998)
  25. ^ Leaonard Carmichael, the chapter "Absolutes, Relativism and the Scientific Psychology of Human Nature", H. Schoeck and J. Wiggins (eds), in the book "Relativism and the Study of Man, Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1961, page 16
  26. ^ p306, Daleiden (1998)
  27. ^ p218 and 509, Daleiden (1998)
  28. ^ p208, Daleiden (1998)
  29. ^, "Free Will and Naturalism: A Reply to Corliss Lamont"
  30. ^ see Elbow Room
  31. ^ 62, Daleiden (1998)
  32. ^ 77, Daleiden (1998)
  33. ^ "The Moral Landscape", pg. 144
  34. ^ 314, Daleiden
  35. ^ a b c d e f The Center for Inquiry, Sam Harris talks "the Moral Landscape" in NYC
  36. ^ a b Stanovich, K. E. (2007). How to Think Straight About Psychology. Boston: Pearson Education.
  37. ^
  38. ^ a b
  39. ^ 509, Daleiden
  40. ^ [1]
  41. ^ "Read modern books less and ancient more. Go for the moral sciences to Aristotle, to Plato. For metaphysics, not to Locke, but still to Aristotle. For Botany, not to Linnaeus, but to Theophrastus to Elian... This is precisely the way to talk of everything and know nothing; to be as much farther from knowledge in almost every science as a child who cannot tell his letters is from the most intelligent professor."
  42. ^ 90, Daleiden (1998)
  43. ^ Daleiden (1998)
  44. ^ Meddings, Jonathan. "In Defense of the Science of Morality". Young Australian Skeptics. 
  45. ^ "The Moral Landscape"
  46. ^
  47. ^ a b 100, Daleiden
  48. ^ The science network, the great debate, Part 2 with Lawrence Kraus
  49. ^ Center Stage podcast, "Why secularism and humanism need evolutionary theory", with David Sloan Wilson
  50. ^ The Moral Landscape (2010), on page 68
  51. ^ Podcast: Morality in the Real World, Alonzo Fyfe, Episode 9, 4 minutes 25 seconds
  52. ^ 15, Daleiden (1998), quote "This is not another social engineering scheme that promises to create a utopia where humankind lives in absolute bliss. But it does offer to improve the human condition substantially." and discussion on 246
  53. ^ The Moral Landscape (2010), on page 211, note 51, referring to George Ainslie's "Breakdown of Will"
  54. ^ 110, Daleiden (1998), quote: “Although specific norms must change to meet changing human needs, and a norm itself is only a guideline that must be judged in light of the specific circumstances, there may be overall principles that are useful in setting norms.”
  55. ^
  56. ^ Bioethics: an anthology By Helga Kuhse, Peter Singer
  57. ^ Applied ethics: a non-consequentialist approach By David S. Oderberg
  58. ^ 150, Daleiden (1998)
  59. ^ 150, Daleiden (1998), quote: : “It is insufficient just to present moral knowledge as information; to effect changes in behaviour, it must strongly affect a person’s sense of empathy or, better still, hold out the promise of rewards or punishment.”
  60. ^ 176, Daleiden (1998), quote “…many of our genetically endowed coping mechanisms may be “obsolete” in the context of present society. Earlier I discussed one such obsolete instinctual response-aggression. In a nuclear age, unless we learn to curb this instinct, which may have been essential to our prehistoric ancestors’ survival, it may lead to our eventual demise as a species.”
  61. ^ 306, Daleiden (1998)
  62. ^ a b James R. Rest, Development in Judging Moral Issues. (1979). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  63. ^ 211, Daleiden (1998)
  64. ^ a b 332–334, Daleiden (1998)
  65. ^ 323, 326, Daleiden (1998)
  66. ^ Point of Inquiry Podcast, "Don't Be Such a Scientist
  67. ^ Asked "Let's say scientists do end up discovering moral truths. How are they supposed to enforce their findings? Would they become something like policemen or priests?" Harris writes "They wouldn’t necessarily enforce them any more than they enforce their knowledge about human health. What are scientists doing with the knowledge that smoking causes cancer or obesity is bad for your health, or that the common cold is spread by not washing your hands? We’re not living in some Orwellian world where we have scientists in lab coats at every door. Imagine we discovered that there is a best way to teach your children to be compassionate, or to defer short-term gratification in the service of a long-term goal. What if it turns out to be true that calcium intake in the first two years of life has a significant effect on a child’s emotional life? If we learn that, what parent wouldn’t want that knowledge? The fear of a "Brave New World" component to this argument is unfounded."
  68. ^ 219, Daleiden (1998)
  69. ^ 273–274, Daleiden (1998)
  70. ^ 77, Daleiden (1998), quote “We use rewards and punishments, praise and blame, in training any animal. The human species is only different in degree in this regard, not in kind.”
  71. ^ 289, Daleiden (1998)
  72. ^ Dean, Tim (2012). "Evolution and moral diversity". Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 7. 
  73. ^ Santos-Lang, Christopher (2014). "Our responsibility to manage evaluative diversity". ACM SIGCAS Computers & Society 44 (2): 16–19.  
  74. ^ Santos-Lang, Christopher (2014). "Moral Ecology Approaches to Machine Ethics". In van Rysewyk, Simon; Pontier, Matthijs. Machine Medical Ethics (PDF). Switzerland: Springer. pp. 111–127.  
  75. ^
  76. ^ "Bzdok, D. et al. Parsing the neural correlates of moral cognition: ALE meta-analysis on morality, theory of mind, and empathy. Brain Struct Funct, 2011."
  77. ^ "The Moral Psychology of Bullies and Their Victims"
  78. ^ "Inequality: The Mother of All Evils?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  79. ^ 144, Daleiden (1998), quote: “Although there is less income disparity in countries such as Japan, Korea, Germany, Sweden, and most industrialized nations, there is no evidence to suggest that their labor forces work less diligently, and the savings rate in each of these countries exceeds that of the United States.”
  80. ^ a b Edge.Org, Question Center, "What Now?", David Deutsch's entry
  81. ^
  82. ^ Naturalistic nursing, Trevor Hussey (2011), Nursing Philosophy, Vol 12, Pg.45–52.
  83. ^ 225, Daleiden (1998)
  84. ^
  85. ^
  86. ^

Cited literature

  • Bentham, Jeremy J. (1834). Deontology, or The Science of Morality. Longman, Rees, Orme, Green, and Longman.
    *this book is in the public domain and available online
  • Daleiden, Joseph L. (1998). The Science of Morality: The Individual, Community, and Future Generations. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-225-0.
  • Harris, S. (2010). The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4391-7121-9.
  • James R. Rest. Development in Judging Moral Issues. (1979). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Further reading

Aldous Huxley's novel

The role of government

Religion, although it is not the best method of determining moral norms, has often been very effective at promoting them. Religions often satisfy many of Daleiden's criteria for raising people to be conditioned egoists, especially by practicing the aforementioned elements of prosocial training. He suggests that this is what they are doing when they instill a sense of virtue and justice, right and wrong. They also effectively use art and myths to educate people about moral situations.[65] Biologist Randy Olson believes that the use of the arts, including stories, is likely important for science communication in general.[66]

Discussing his proposed training, Daleiden says “Call it indoctrination if you wish; I find nothing repugnant in training children to be honest, kind, and hardworking.”[64] Also described above are the reasons that it should be the intention of adults to shape children, or presumably "indoctrinate" them, to think critically. He adds that the focus is on especially socially relevant values (e.g. kindness, sharing, reasoning) and not the more personal, private values (e.g. a preference like writing novels versus painting on canvas).[64]

Prosocial training includes everything from instilling explicit virtues, building character strengths, and forming mental associations. Prosocial training also requires some level of practiced reasoning. Daleiden discusses moral development research by James Rest suggesting that intelligence, abstract reasoning, is also a factor in making moral judgments.[62][note 16] Rest also emphasized that moral judgements alone do not predict moral behaviour. As Rest puts it “Moral judgement may be closely related to advocacy behaviour, which in turn influences social institutions, which in turn creates a system of norms and sanctions that influences people’s behaviour.”[62] The point is: the entire prosocial training regime is an important part of creating conditioned egoists. Daleiden's last factor in prosocial training, mental associations, is quite familiar: he says it has been traditionally understood as the conscience – where the student learns to feel empathy, and to feel regret for harming others. Unless an individual can, and begins to feel empathy, it may be unlikely that any amount of reasoning, or any coherent moral system will motivate them to behave very altruistically.

In terms of game theory research, the goal is to create as many non-zero sum scenarios as possible. Daleiden expounds: Reaching the goal of conditioned self-interest requires knowledge from fields including sociobiology, moral development.[note 13] and behaviourism.[note 14] The result is a comprehensive program that encourages good behaviour. It starts with the knowledge that humans are one of many animals that have evolved altruistic tendencies.[note 15] Besides altruistic instincts, the program comprises the development of a sense of social identity, ensuring that there are consequences for actions, providing economic incentives, and lastly, providing moral training. Daleiden discuss the program's last element, prosocial moral training, the most.[61]

That is why Daleiden says that society should aim for its members to aspire to more than egoistic behavior, or even rational egoism. He confronts the hypothesis that everyone pursuing their own self-interest will somehow result in everyone cooperating, and calls it bunk. Instead, Daleiden advocates for "conditioned self-interest" (aka conditioned rational egoists). These are individuals who pursue their self-interest, and for various reasons, their self-interest amounts to altruistic behavior. This is important, because humans have evolved many tendencies that can be maladaptive to civilized society. A case in point: our sometimes-uncontrollable aggression (see also evolutionary psychology).[60]

Critics might propose that science of morality fails to answer the question "even having defined good, why do it?", something that is often expected of a moral system. Even those philosophical theories that Daleiden admires most (utilitarianism and Rawlsian justice) are, in his view, incomplete, in that “neither theory seems to offer an adequate motivational basis to insure widespread acceptance."[58] He comments elsewhere that even the possession of a coherent moral system, based on reality, does not necessarily change or motivate a person's behavior.[59]

Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.

Good behaviour

Causes of flourishing

Personism argues that we must include non-humans, to some extent, in any conception of a moral society. This is because conscious creatures exist along a large spectrum, at different ranges of "personhood".[55][56][57]

To the extent that there are moral facts, individuals or groups can be mistaken about these facts (instances of the illusion of introspection) whereas others may become moral experts (e.g. the Dalai Lama). For instance, over-emphasizing a value like submission might lead to more suffering than other values. Thus some groups or individuals, like the Taliban, may have as little a place in serious discussions about morality as they do in discussions about string theory. Harris argues, "just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality."[13]

Moral traditions which focus on "will" may also be obsolete. Dewey called it "magical thinking" to believe that a desire to control immoral habits is enough to actually control them. He advocates the use of various methods to make it easier for people to do the right thing, and recognizes that some situations make it more challenging than others.[16] Certain habits make moral behavior easier as well.[note 12] These issues of moral responsibility are especially relevant in light of modern science, including the neuroscience of free will.

Any conclusions reached using science and regarding moral norms would not be absolute.[54] Even a rule like "never cut open a child's stomach against their will" may find exception in certain cases such as emergency appendectomy. Likewise, it may sometimes be as practically impossible to determine the more moral route as it is to determine the number of birds in flight around the earth.[35] The moral norms identified by science of morality will always be subject to revision in light of new evidence.

). Golden Rule) or rules of thumb (like the free speech is a defunct pursuit; science of morality instead tentatively advocates general values (like high degrees of moral absolutism Daleiden says that [16] Dewey refuses to provide supreme principles or laws of morality because he believes real life is too dynamic.[53]

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