I recently wrote the following article about morality for the Sagebrush where I am putting forth the idea that not only can we extrapolate from the the way the world is to the way the world should be, but that we must do this. I am putting forth the radical notion that there is such a thing as “right” and “wrong” answers to questions of morality. As this seems like the kind of group that might have something to add to this, I post the unedited version below:
“If you walked through campus these past two weeks, no doubt you came across that Crazy Screaming Christian Guy (CSCG) telling us that we all “deserve hell.” Alongside CSCG’s claim that homosexuality is like putting gasoline in your exhaust pipe and describing cunnilingus as sticking pineapple pizza up your nose, he pronounced that science cannot address morality, that science deems us all amoral apes with no responsibilities to no one, and that only (his) religion can save us.
Unfortunately, he is not alone in this belief. It’s generally accepted that questions of morality are questions to which science provides no answer. Science may tell us how to get what we want, but it can lay no claim on what we ought to want. More broadly it is thought that the way the world “is” cannot tell us how it “ought to be.”
However, this is completely wrong as all systems of morality are reducible, ultimately, to a concern for the well-being of conscious entities. This concern places “value” on behaviors which increase well-being while decrying those that do not. Since values correlate to the real world effects science can indeed answer these fundamental questions. This is not to say that all possible questions of morality will one day be answered by a supercomputer or derived using axioms or equations, but rather to say that questions of human morality have right and wrong answers.
Some might object that the notion of “well-being” is open to interpretation and it is therefore impossible to develop an objective science of morality. Consider though that “food” is also open to interpretation but there is clear distinction between food and poison. The same logic applies to the concept of “health”: obviously there is a difference between healthy and dead. These differences matter.
And just as there are many ways to become healthy and many kinds of foods, there are many ways to answer moral questions objectively. Just because there are many right answers, does not mean there are no truths to be known, whether it be in studies of health, food, or morality.
Some others might object, wouldn’t an objective study of morality necessitate the exclusion of exceptions? In other words, a universal moral truth can’t admit of any exceptions – if it’s wrong to lie, it’s always wrong to lie. But why should this be true? For example, in the game of chess (a realm of perfect objectivity), a principle like “don’t lose your queen” is a good rule to follow. Sure, there are exceptions, there are times when losing your queen is a smart move, but the fact that there are exceptions does not change the sound principle of retaining your queen.
Not only can science answer questions of morality, it must answer these questions. For too long, the fundamental questions of human well-being have been suffocated by religious dogma (like CSCG says it should remain) and political expediency. This is why we spend more time talking about gay marriage and illegal immigration than we do about alleviating poverty and ending genocides.
It is through science and reason alone that we can come to know and shape all aspects of our world. Simply by admitting this we will have advanced the conversation about morality by millennia.”