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(The Atlantic)   Listen up religion and philosophy - you know that monopoly you've had on values and morality for all of human history? Well science is coming to get you, so watch out   (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com) divider line
    More: Cool, human history, Keepers, monopoly, principles, right and wrong, morality, philosophy  
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6226 clicks; posted to Fandom » on 23 Mar 2010 at 5:21 PM (12 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



573 Comments     (+0 »)


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2010-03-23 1:50:47 PM  
It's all about undefined terms.

/that's right
 
2010-03-23 2:19:33 PM  
Science(n): The natural philosophies.


Sorry to burst your bubble there subby, but science has been a philosophy for as long as it's been.

But you go ahead and pretend it's special. This is your thread and you can do what you want.
 
2010-03-23 2:21:09 PM  
I think the point Harris makes, and it's one i buy, is that fundamentally all human morality strives towards making people happy/contented.

All of it. Period.

There is simply no need to actually analyze *whether* we want to be happy. It's a fact of nature that we do, just as its a fact of nature that we want to eat. It's built into our brains.

The difficulty is that the locus of happiness is often hard to find. For someone like Bentham, it's very straightforward; whatever makes you happy in the now is the most moral thing. But for other people you need to dig deeper. So when a religious person seemingly puts himself through hell, we have to realize that he does so in order to achieve happiness *in the afterlife*. It's all about coming around to a state of happiness, even if you believe that happiness to be in the afterlife.

And the idea is that once we all recognize this basic fact, that morality simply is the quest for human happiness, we can then use science to figure out what happiness means and how we get there.
 
2010-03-23 2:25:44 PM  
SCIENCE!
 
2010-03-23 2:28:46 PM  
National Socialism is nothing but applied biology. ~ Rudolph Hess
 
2010-03-23 2:35:29 PM  

DamnYankees:

And the idea is that once we all recognize this basic fact, that morality simply is the quest for human happiness, we can then use science to figure out what happiness means and how we get there.


I want whatever drugs those scientists will invent.
 
2010-03-23 2:40:20 PM  

CtrlAltDelete: SCIENCE!


img696.imageshack.usView Full Size
 
2010-03-23 2:47:02 PM  

DamnYankees: The difficulty is that the locus of happiness is often hard to find. For someone like Bentham, it's very straightforward; whatever makes you happy in the now is the most moral thing. But for other people you need to dig deeper. So when a religious person seemingly puts himself through hell, we have to realize that he does so in order to achieve happiness *in the afterlife*. It's all about coming around to a state of happiness, even if you believe that happiness to be in the afterlife.

And the idea is that once we all recognize this basic fact, that morality simply is the quest for human happiness, we can then use science to figure out what happiness means and how we get there.


I don't think this is a good description because it implies that a morality based on irrational beliefs has some value. He hammered on the point that we do not have to give equal weight to all moral systems.

It's the sort of thinking that leads to people saying "Maybe Saudi women don't want to drive."*

*Actual quote from a friend's professor
 
2010-03-23 2:48:23 PM  

FishyFred: I don't think this is a good description because it implies that a morality based on irrational beliefs has some value.


What do you mean "irrational beliefs"? I'm not sure what you are referring to.

Do you mean the desire to be happy is irrational? Or that the methods we choose to get there are?
 
2010-03-23 2:52:04 PM  
Bookmark.

DamnYankees: It's all about coming around to a state of happiness, even if you believe that happiness to be in the afterlife


I believe J. S. Mill beat Science to the punch by about 150 years or so.
 
2010-03-23 2:52:14 PM  

Bevets: National Socialism is nothing but applied biology. ~ Rudolph Hess


Soooo...science = Nazis?

Jesus, that's a level of retarded I didn't think even YOU could get to.
 
2010-03-23 2:52:42 PM  

FishyFred: It's the sort of thinking that leads to people saying "Maybe Saudi women don't want to drive."*


Or "Nine out of ten people enjoy gang rape."
 
2010-03-23 2:52:46 PM  

Talon: I believe J. S. Mill beat Science to the punch by about 150 years or so.


Indeed, but now we have neuroscience, which can physically map "happy" to a brain state. So we're getting closer.
 
2010-03-23 2:53:23 PM  

ne2d: FishyFred: It's the sort of thinking that leads to people saying "Maybe Saudi women don't want to drive."*

Or "Nine out of ten people enjoy gang rape."


Hahahaha. Wow. I'd never heard that one before.
 
2010-03-23 3:00:48 PM  
YES! He (rightfully) condemns cultural relativism! I was worried at first, but he was just leading into a scathing critique of it, which needs to be done far more often. Some shiat is just plain wrong, especially from a rational perspective. Oppression is not justifiable, regardless of whether or not a given moral system allows/promotes it.
 
2010-03-23 3:08:07 PM  

DamnYankees: What do you mean "irrational beliefs"? I'm not sure what you are referring to.


I'm referring to a belief in an afterlife based on worldly events. The way you described it highlights the fact that different people feel happiness from different things in different ways. That's true, but if you make a big deal out of it, it will likely lead to the conclusion that anything is okay as long as it makes someone happy.
 
2010-03-23 3:09:55 PM  

FishyFred: I'm referring to a belief in an afterlife based on worldly events. The way you described it highlights the fact that different people feel happiness from different things in different ways. That's true, but if you make a big deal out of it, it will likely lead to the conclusion that anything is okay as long as it makes someone happy.


Well that just gets down to the science of it - what is it that works? And that's empirical. I don't think it works very well to believe in an afterlife, but I might be empirically wrong. The point is that these are things which are theoretically knowable and which science can converge on.
 
2010-03-23 3:14:12 PM  

DamnYankees: ne2d: FishyFred: It's the sort of thinking that leads to people saying "Maybe Saudi women don't want to drive."*

Or "Nine out of ten people enjoy gang rape."

Hahahaha. Wow. I'd never heard that one before.


I have, but probably just because my boyfriend's a statistician.
 
2010-03-23 3:36:25 PM  

Naman: YES! He (rightfully) condemns cultural relativism! I was worried at first, but he was just leading into a scathing critique of it, which needs to be done far more often. Some shiat is just plain wrong


exactly. it was an excellent speech.

it's time for rationalists to politely raise a hand and not-so-politely say "bullshiat" to oppressive worldviews
 
2010-03-23 3:47:23 PM  
It works, biatches!

/anyone got a transcript?
//can't play videos here. :-/
 
2010-03-23 4:23:52 PM  

vartian: I want whatever drugs those scientists will invent.


They're even more awesome if you take them right before you go to the Feelies.
 
2010-03-23 4:27:18 PM  

DamnYankees: All of it. Period.


Not quite. Some of it is about making sure there are still humans around to be alive, as a precursor to having them be happy. However, I expect that would be argued as a question of prioritization.

DamnYankees: And the idea is that once we all recognize this basic fact, that morality simply is the quest for human happiness, we can then use science to figure out what happiness means and how we get there.

vartian: I want whatever drugs those scientists will invent.


A neat example of the problems when you don't factor in that survival precursor. Otherwise, "feed every human large amounts of chocolate laced with cocaine and opiates" becomes an excellent approach.

FishyFred: I don't think this is a good description because it implies that a morality based on irrational beliefs has some value.


Well, it generally does have some. Although unliklely, it might even get lucky, and have more value than "rational" ones. (If the system has been around for a while, it's more likely to have some value to its components.)
 
2010-03-23 4:29:01 PM  

abb3w: Not quite. Some of it is about making sure there are still humans around to be alive, as a precursor to having them be happy. However, I expect that would be argued as a question of prioritization.


But isn't one merely a manifestation of the other? Why, on a human level, do we care if humans continue to survive? Presumably because it makes us happier and more contented than the alternative.
 
2010-03-23 4:37:45 PM  

DamnYankees: Why, on a human level, do we care if humans continue to survive? Presumably because it makes us happier and more contented than the alternative.


I think it is something similar to what you said about happiness earlier, that it's just an accepted fact of nature that we do. I would think that it is an abstraction of the general desire to propagate which all successful organisms must have. The better off your group of humans are, the better the chances for the survival and eventual reproduction of your offspring.

Wouldn't you consider anyone who truly wished, not just in a moment of frustration, that the entire human race DIAF to be anormal?
 
2010-03-23 4:39:25 PM  

bighasbeen: Wouldn't you consider anyone who truly wished, not just in a moment of frustration, that the entire human race DIAF to be anormal?


Exactly right. We have evolved so that propogation gives us a positive feelings. It's not subjective - it's just what we are as biological machines.
 
2010-03-23 4:45:08 PM  

xanadian: anyone got a transcript?
//can't play videos here. :-/


Nope, TED doesn't do transcripts of their videos. If can't play TED, they usually have them on Youtube, but if its sans-video completely for you, you're kinda SOL.

He argues for a moral value system based on scientific reasoning, with the fundamental premise being that humans naturally value the alleviation of suffering and being happy.

His initial point from which the argument is build is that the above claim - that we naturally value the well-being of conscious beings and the alleviation of suffering - is a factual claim. We could in fact be wrong about the mental machinations of insect life and learn that they do feel pain, longing, sincerity etc and would have to adjust our values accordingly.

He argues that being moral, like being a physicist, is something that we can be objectively be "good" at (again beginning with the underlying framework mentioned above). Thus a person such as the Dalai Lama might be the Ed Witten of moral living, while he, Harris, is the Ted Bundy equivalent to String Theory.

There are a number of problems with it that I'd like to see explored, but overall its a very eloquently stated argument that received a standing ovation from much of the audience, fairly rare for TED talks.
 
2010-03-23 4:46:54 PM  

ninjakirby: There are a number of problems with it that I'd like to see explored, but overall its a very eloquently stated argument that received a standing ovation from much of the audience, fairly rare for TED talks.


You have problems with it? Clearly you are the Ed Gein of this thread.
 
2010-03-23 4:52:49 PM  

DamnYankees: We have evolved so that propogation gives us a positive feelings.


The act certainly does.
 
2010-03-23 4:53:54 PM  

bighasbeen: DamnYankees: We have evolved so that propogation gives us a positive feelings.

The act certainly does.


tehresistance.files.wordpress.comView Full Size


Oh yes...
 
2010-03-23 4:54:48 PM  

DamnYankees: You have problems with it? Clearly you are the Ed Gein of this thread.


Hah. Several of his statements need challenging. I watched this video a few times yesterday (even subbed it, but I'm not as funny or provocative as some), working on a write up of it now.

A number of the arguments, such as the "Are we really going to pretend we know so little about human well-being that we'll ignore what happens to women in the middle-east" are not actually arguments - they're appeals.

They appear supported by the rest of the speech but are more just stand-alone emotional pleas without support from the arguments structure. I'd like to know if that was accidental, or he was limited on time and could expand on that or what.
 
2010-03-23 4:56:03 PM  

ninjakirby: "Are we really going to pretend we know so little about human well-being that we'll ignore what happens to women in the middle-east" are not actually arguments - they're appeals.


Well I think he didn't make that argument because it was obvious given his audience. I don't think he is incapable of making the argument if you ask him to.
 
2010-03-23 5:07:48 PM  

DamnYankees: But isn't one merely a manifestation of the other? Why, on a human level, do we care if humans continue to survive? Presumably because it makes us happier and more contented than the alternative.


It's a chicken-and-the-egg problem.
Note, however, that the egg was around long before the chicken evolved.

There's also a variant of the Ship of Theseus problem lurking offshore: What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
 
2010-03-23 5:12:45 PM  
Bevets:

National Socialism is nothing but applied biology. ~ Rudolph Hess

ninjakirby:

Several of his statements need challenging...

They appear supported by the rest of the speech but are more just stand-alone emotional pleas without support from the arguments structure.


But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? ~ Charles Darwin

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. ~ J.B.S. Haldane

The ultimate irony is that this philosophy implies that Darwinism itself is just another meme, competing in the infectivity sweepstakes by attaching itself to that seductive word "science." Dawkins ceaselessly urges us to be rational, but be does so in the name of a philosophy that implies that no such thing as rationality exists because our thoughts are at the mercy of our genes and memes. The proper conclusion is that the Dawkins poor brain has been infected by the Darwin meme, a virus of the mind if ever there was one, and we wonder if he will ever be able to find the cure. ~ Phillip Johnson
 
2010-03-23 5:19:29 PM  

abb3w: It's a chicken-and-the-egg problem.


I actually don't think it is. I'm not asking which came first. I'm merely asking that, for the purposes of a scientific morality, can not one be reduced to the other? This has nothing to do with ontology. It's just about creating a common basis of moral reasoning to apply scientific principles.
 
2010-03-23 5:22:41 PM  

Bevets: National Socialism is nothing but applied biology. ~ Rudolph Hess


Should I start mentioning all the God-ordered genocide in the bible (including the killing of the unborn)?
 
2010-03-23 5:35:05 PM  

DamnYankees: I think the point Harris makes, and it's one i buy, is that fundamentally all human morality strives towards making people happy/contented.


Hmm...I never thought about that.
 
2010-03-23 5:36:43 PM  
I never understood the "ZOMG IRRATIONAL THINKING IN ANY FORM EQUAL BAD" argument.

Because, you know what? I could easily argue that EMPATHY is irrational. I mean, among other things, this is a mental process that can cause us to feel sympathy or sadness, not just for other people, but for things that don't exist .

For instance: Who here watched Up?

Who here cried during the first ten minutes?

Okay. Now, keep in mind that you were crying/feeling awful over the horrible experiences of SOMEONE WHO IS NOT REAL, and, furthermore, doesn't really even look all that real . And yet, you connected with him! Felt his pain! Even though he's imaginary.

That's kiiiindaaa insane.

Unless, of course, you want to define sanity via consensus, but... then, there's more religious people in the world than non-religious.
 
2010-03-23 5:40:06 PM  
It's true that you can have no system of values without either a supreme arbiter (either real or imagined) or a specified goal, in this case it's "constructing a society which best enables its citizens to flourish". Either one acts as an anchor for moral decisions. What Harris is suggesting is that because humans are largely identical and there's more overlap in human experience than most suppose, it's possible to go about the task of finding a system whereby human beings can flourish in a scientific way. That's not outrageous. It's why we have political science, economics and sociology. They're fuzzy sciences because they have to deal with a wide margin of error due to the variety of human inclinations and cultural attitudes, but we've been able to pry some generally useful answers from each field nonetheless.
 
2010-03-23 5:41:06 PM  

Felgraf: I could easily argue that EMPATHY is irrational


I can also argue that planes are able to fly thanks to magic. And then we would both be wrong.

Empathy is an evolved behavior that exists for very good reasons. Its genesis is rational, even if it sometimes causes irrational behavior.
 
2010-03-23 5:43:56 PM  

DamnYankees: I think the point Harris makes, and it's one i buy, is that fundamentally all human morality strives towards making people happy/contented.


Somebody should come up with a word for this philosophy...
 
2010-03-23 5:44:39 PM  
Live it like you love it
 
2010-03-23 5:44:55 PM  
Has anyone mentioned that every sperm is sacred yet?
 
2010-03-23 5:47:00 PM  
t3knomanser

Yes, but aren't there also logical and rational sources of religious belief (among other things, borne out of our pattern-recognition erring on the side of caution, and sometimes attributing/'seeing' order where there is none)?

Furthermore, there are some people who really *aren't* that good at functioning 'morally' without a "Because god says so"/"Because it's the rules". Of course, whether it's religion, society, or simple wiring that causes that, I'm not sure myself...
 
2010-03-23 5:47:26 PM  

Bevets: Bevets:

National Socialism is nothing but applied biology. ~ Rudolph Hess

ninjakirby:

Several of his statements need challenging...

They appear supported by the rest of the speech but are more just stand-alone emotional pleas without support from the arguments structure.

But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? ~ Charles Darwin

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. ~ J.B.S. Haldane

The ultimate irony is that this philosophy implies that Darwinism itself is just another meme, competing in the infectivity sweepstakes by attaching itself to that seductive word "science." Dawkins ceaselessly urges us to be rational, but be does so in the name of a philosophy that implies that no such thing as rationality exists because our thoughts are at the mercy of our genes and memes. The proper conclusion is that the Dawkins poor brain has been infected by the Darwin meme, a virus of the mind if ever there was one, and we wonder if he will ever be able to find the cure. ~ Phillip Johnson


Yes, we can't trust our own thoughts. That is why when we start imagining that we have invisible friends based on zero evidence we need to take a long look at ourselves.
 
2010-03-23 5:47:35 PM  
felgraf: "I never understood the "ZOMG IRRATIONAL THINKING IN ANY FORM EQUAL BAD" argument."

You're right that we're naturally irrational. Which is why we don't need faith on top of that. When people make poor decisions based on religious belief that results in disaster, such as the death of a child due to medical neglect, that's preventable. That kid didn't need to die. We're born with our emotions, and we can't help experiencing them, but we're not born with religion and consequently something can be done about it.
 
2010-03-23 5:47:54 PM  

ninjakirby: They appear supported by the rest of the speech but are more just stand-alone emotional pleas without support from the arguments structure. I'd like to know if that was accidental, or he was limited on time and could expand on that or what.


Well, you are time limited at TED talks so I'm going to go with that as being part of the reason. Of course thats true of all conferences, you have to stay in a time limit and I'm thinking he wanted to focus on other things.
 
2010-03-23 5:48:50 PM  

Naman: YES! He (rightfully) condemns cultural relativism! I was worried at first, but he was just leading into a scathing critique of it, which needs to be done far more often. Some shiat is just plain wrong, especially from a rational perspective. Oppression is not justifiable, regardless of whether or not a given moral system allows/promotes it.


This has been the point going back thousands of years; King, Gandhi, Sidhartha, et al.

Anyone who ever fought against a morally oppressive regime was standing up for this point, it isn't exactly original. Now it's completely true, but it's not original.

It's also why, as a Christian, I don't feel I have the right to set legislation because it supports my moral views of the world, instead I feel I have an ethical obligation to seek legislation that has a much wider reaching realm.
 
2010-03-23 5:49:15 PM  
Nobody has mentioned Starship Troopers yet? The book, not the movie. In the book one of the characters (a teacher) mentions that they have developed a scientifically precise system of morality, and that they were developing another system for dealing with non-human species. I just mention this because I know Farkers love references.
 
2010-03-23 5:50:10 PM  

thenapalm: CtrlAltDelete: SCIENCE!


When you're a meth maker, that's the location you want to get.
 
2010-03-23 5:52:10 PM  
he makes the mistake in assuming morality is something more than a vacuous construct that does not exist
 
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