What does Harris mean by “moral truth,” “well-being” and “best”?
Posted: 03 February 2011 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Does moral truth mean the truth about what makes people the happiest?

Does moral truth mean the truth about what desires people must have and gratify in order to be the happiest?

Or… Does moral truth mean the truth about what people need to do regardless of whether it makes them happy?

Is “well-being” just another word for happiness?

Does Harris think well-being (happiness) comes from gratifying our most intense desires? Or is there some desire-void standard for well-being, such that well-being does not come from gratifying desires?

Likewise, is a “well-being” based morality simply a desire/gratification based morality? Or does a well-being based morality also involve some things we simply should achieve regardless of desire gratification?

When Harris uses terms like “better” and “best,” does he simply mean that we all desire them more than the other options?

Such as when he says things like “Rather I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what people should do and should want – and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible.” [p28] does the term “best” mean that we desire it the most? Or does it mean that we must pursue it for reasons other than desiring it (desire-void reasons)?

I am tempted to assume that in every case, Harris sides with desire and its gratification and rejects any desire-void claims on our behavior. But I just want to be sure. What do you other readers think?

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Posted: 04 February 2011 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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He is saying that, in principle, science can help us understand (or could, if science itself became principled or “moral”) that a better or greater desire for us to have is one which would lead to a human society which considered “well-being” as a possibility for all and, therefore, a new society and new social structures than what exists at present. A new global state of human activity and community perhaps. A possibilty if brain structure and, therefore, brain health, was better understood. If our brains could be better understood then it would stand to reason that such information could be successfully diseminated among a wider, and, therefore, a more potentially educated community of humans (a more “enlightened” community). The only thing that either objects or obstructs this principle, and potential, is ignorance. And ignorance is due to factors of brain-health.

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Posted: 06 February 2011 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Benevolist28 - 03 February 2011 05:38 PM

Does moral truth mean the truth about what makes people the happiest?

Does moral truth mean the truth about what desires people must have and gratify in order to be the happiest?

Or… Does moral truth mean the truth about what people need to do regardless of whether it makes them happy?

Is “well-being” just another word for happiness?

Does Harris think well-being (happiness) comes from gratifying our most intense desires? Or is there some desire-void standard for well-being, such that well-being does not come from gratifying desires?

Likewise, is a “well-being” based morality simply a desire/gratification based morality? Or does a well-being based morality also involve some things we simply should achieve regardless of desire gratification?

When Harris uses terms like “better” and “best,” does he simply mean that we all desire them more than the other options?

Such as when he says things like “Rather I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what people should do and should want – and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible.” [p28] does the term “best” mean that we desire it the most? Or does it mean that we must pursue it for reasons other than desiring it (desire-void reasons)?

I am tempted to assume that in every case, Harris sides with desire and its gratification and rejects any desire-void claims on our behavior. But I just want to be sure. What do you other readers think?

To do what Sam wants to do would require all human beings to be of a developed mind.
One which is not controlled by personality and self-urges.

We can as a community and one belief of better for everyone work to a general well-being for all. But in truth the reality is that there are always those who without any conscience will go against that type of ideal.

It is basically a good idea and based on good sound principles. But it is one which can never come into full realization.

All the best.

Badd

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Posted: 10 February 2011 05:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Badd - 06 February 2011 10:15 AM

  But it is one which can never come into full realization.

All the best.

Badd

That is merely are belief that you have. We either know something or we believe that something could be true or possible. If it is all a good idea then why not at least believe it as a possibility? If one man can realise an ideal then it only stands to reason that all men may one day realise this ideal. There is only one factor between ideas and actuality. The factor is Time. When ideals are finally realised there is only the experience of living with them as a reality. Until that time they seem some way off in the future. You are merely confusing your current experience as a future possibility. There is a purpose for dreaming. The purpose is that one day we may wake up to them. If we do not at least dream a dream then we have nothing to wake up to.

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Posted: 11 February 2011 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Benevolist28 - 03 February 2011 05:38 PM

...is there some desire-void standard for well-being, such that well-being does not come from gratifying desires?...

The simple answer is no.  Having read the moral landscape, I understand Harris’ position to be that we can essentially adopt a moral axiom such as ‘it is good to maximize well-being’.  He points out that science also must be value based at it’s foundation.  To engage in science, we must value truth, or correspondence to reality, or evidence, or some similar type of thing.

Here is my concern with this:  if we want to have a science of morality, shouldn’t the limited set of values that are needed for science in general be sufficient?  The need to introduce a moral axiom seems to indicate some misfit between science and morality.

We do have axioms in some fields such as math, but we accept those axioms because they so absolutely and unfailingly ground out in the empirical observation.  But a moral axiom seems resistant to this type of grounding out.  We can confirm that 2+2=4, and it always turns out to be true no matter if we are counting fingers, toes, or Justin Bieber posters.  How do we empirically verify that well-being is good?

Consider these questions:
(1) Water is made of hydrogen and oxygen.
(2) We have an obligation to help people in need.

I can think of a number of ways to confirm (1).  But I don’t see how to experimentally test (2).

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There simply are no absolute values or goals.  It would be convenient and reassuring if there were a rock upon which we could anchor our values, but alas there is none.  The meeker among us create an imaginary rock they call god.  Those who are brave enough to value truth over false certainty sail forth, navigating by our own internal compass, as supernatural fairy tales wash away and fade in our trailing wake.

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Posted: 12 May 2011 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Midwest Skeptic - 12 February 2011 02:38 AM

Here is my concern with this:  if we want to have a science of morality, shouldn’t the limited set of values that are needed for science in general be sufficient?  The need to introduce a moral axiom seems to indicate some misfit between science and morality.

Spoken like a true Skeptic, Midwest. I definitely agree that scientific values are moral values. But I think they are only a subset of all moral values. Medicine introduces new values other than purely scientific ones: health and doing no harm. A science of morality has to introduce extra values also: the well-being of conscious creatures (may I also suggest obliging no-one?). As Sam has said, he is really merely advocating that the field of Mental Health become our moral compass.

Midwest Skeptic - 12 February 2011 02:38 AM

We do have axioms in some fields such as math, but we accept those axioms because they so absolutely and unfailingly ground out in the empirical observation.  But a moral axiom seems resistant to this type of grounding out.  We can confirm that 2+2=4, and it always turns out to be true no matter if we are counting fingers, toes, or Justin Bieber posters.  How do we empirically verify that well-being is good?

All of arithmetic is counting. Counting is a human activity that maps very clearly onto the real world at the human-scale but gets fuzzier as you look more closely. I have a cookie and you have a cookie. Great 1 + 1 = 2. Or does it? Actually both cookies came from the same batch that was split into 24 and we already at the other 22. And look… you’ve already dropped several dozen crumbs from your cookie all over the floor (messy messy!). And wait… the cookies are still hot and moist (we sure ate the other ones fast!) look at all that steam coming off your cookie… the moisture is leaving. But isn’t that moisture part of the cookie? Now I put my cookie over your cookie. The steam from your cookie is hitting the bottom of my cookie and being absorbed. Now let’s look microscopically. Where is the actual boundary between your cookie and my hand (oops… here’s your cookie back) your cookie and your hand, your cookie and the atmosphere. There’s a whole science of surface chemistry for this. There is also Xeno’s Paradox, if you are familiar with that. Calculus did not ‘solve’ Xeno’s Paradox. It just got around it. We still do not know if the universe is fundamentally discrete or analogue or if that even makes sense to ask.

And yet… you clearly have 1 cookie, and I clearly have 1 cookie. Counting is a useful thing people do, it describes the world in a very useful way and absolutely has right and wrong answers, but we’ll just get lost if we dwell on the objective basis of counting. And so with morality - it’s a useful thing that we do, it describes the world in a useful way, it has right and wrong answers, but we’ll just got lost if we dwell on the objective basis. Sam are you writing this down?

Midwest Skeptic - 12 February 2011 02:38 AM

Consider these questions:
(1) Water is made of hydrogen and oxygen.
(2) We have an obligation to help people in need.
I can think of a number of ways to confirm (1).  But I don’t see how to experimentally test (2).

‘We have an obligation to help people in need.’ is a categorical imperative. Let’s look at the sorts of imperatives found in medicine:

Get 6-8 hours sleep. Get 4 x 45 minute sessions of exercise at your target heart rate per weak. Eat a balanced diet. Don’t over eat. Don’t take harmful amounts of toxic substances. Avoid physical injury. Have good relationships with other people.

Medicine does not say:  Sleep. Exercise. Eat healthy food. Don’t do drugs.  That’s not a prescription for health. Categorically following these obligations is a good way to become unhealthy.

If you want to test (2) try it… sell everything and give it all away except for an amount that will keep you from being ‘in need’. Well, there are people who have done this. There are also people who are/were in need and have been given charity. We can do a scientific study on these people that includes before/after neural scans and get some pretty good experimental results to help us evaluate the hypothesis.
———-

What I want to know is, what would be the basic metrics of ethics? Medicine has basic metrics beyond Sam’s droll example of “not vomiting all the time”: it has blood pressure, pupil dilation, pulse, reflexes, and a host of blood tests.

What would it look like to go for an ‘ethical checkup’ ?  Would you read statements about your well-being and look at pictures of your family, friends, and enemies while in a brain scanner? Would you then be prescribed things to meditate on and given a sheet on how to have a mature conversation with your brother-in law?

[ Edited: 12 May 2011 08:23 AM by Scruffy]
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Posted: 27 September 2011 10:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Scruffy - 12 May 2011 12:17 PM
Midwest Skeptic - 12 February 2011 02:38 AM

Here is my concern with this:  if we want to have a science of morality, shouldn’t the limited set of values that are needed for science in general be sufficient?  The need to introduce a moral axiom seems to indicate some misfit between science and morality.

Spoken like a true Skeptic, Midwest. I definitely agree that scientific values are moral values. But I think they are only a subset of all moral values.

I do not agree with this.  The only scientific value needed is a desire to have accurate knowledge of reality.  But I simply consider this to be a value - not a “scientific” value per se.  People wish to know things, and science provides a means for them to acquire this knowledge.  Valuing knowledge did not come from science, science came from valuing knowledge.

If Harris needs to introduce other values to have a science of morality, it’s not really science anymore.  Science alone is adequate to to collect knowledge.  If ordinary science is incapable of collecting moral knowledge (without injecting presupposed additional values) then that means there is no moral knowledge floating around out there to collect.

Morality is a human construct - if it where a natural construct then plain old science would be able to study it, and we’d be able to do moral experiments just like we do physics or chemistry experiments.

Scruffy - 12 May 2011 12:17 PM

Medicine introduces new values other than purely scientific ones: health and doing no harm. A science of morality has to introduce extra values also: the well-being of conscious creatures (may I also suggest obliging no-one?).

People desire to live a long life, be free from pain, and so on.  Medicine exists to help people meet these goals.  Medical values are purely instrumental values.  A value such as “regular exercise is good” is not an intrinsic value.  Exercise is not good in and of itself.  Exercise is good (in a medical sense) just to the extent that it helps people meet their goals.  “Regular exercise is good” is an instrumental value only.  To use Kant’s terminology, medical values are hypothetical values, not categorical values.

Most people want to live a long time, but there is no obligation to want this.  There is no logical or factual error in not wishing for a long life.  Most people happen to want a long life, and medicine is a practice means to help people acheive their goals.

I see morality in very much the same way.  For example
Most people happen to be opposed to murder.  There is no logical requirement nor intrinsic obligation to hold this view.  Most people do hold the view and a societal system of morals helps people to achieve their goals (to reduce the number of murders, for instance).  I see morality as no more than a practical means for people to meet goals regarding how everyone should behave.  Analogous to how science helps people meet their goals for knowledge and medicine helps people meet their goals for health.

Science, medicine, and morality are all practical, instrumental (not intrinsic) systems for helping people to meet their goals.  If people had different goals in these areas (and there is nothing logically wrong with that), then different systems might exist to help them meet these different goals.

I further believe that there can be no absolute goals.  No statement of the form, you ought to desire (or oppose) X, can be true.  You ought to oppose murder would be such a statement.  This statement is telling us what desires we ought to desire, or what values we ought to value.  There would have to be some a priori absolute desire or value against which to judge the truth of such a statement - but there can be no such thing.

Scruffy - 12 May 2011 12:17 PM

As Sam has said, he is really merely advocating that the field of Mental Health become our moral compass.

And who is going to define what is “mental health”?  Not so long ago, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder.  If Sam examines everyone in his fMRI brain scanner, he may be able to say some brains deviate from the norm, but who is to say that deviating from the norm is bad?  Is it just the majority - might makes right?

The sad truth is that majority rule is all that morality boils down to.

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There simply are no absolute values or goals.  It would be convenient and reassuring if there were a rock upon which we could anchor our values, but alas there is none.  The meeker among us create an imaginary rock they call god.  Those who are brave enough to value truth over false certainty sail forth, navigating by our own internal compass, as supernatural fairy tales wash away and fade in our trailing wake.

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