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Implementing a Science of Morality
Posted: 04 June 2011 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Stream of consciousness:

I am convinced of the great value of a project to create a science of morality.  Even if such a science should prove ultimately impossible, the lessons learned in the effort would be invaluable.  It was Dr. Harris’ explicit goal in TML to provide seminal ideas for a science of morality.  We should now attempt to apply the scientific method to the problems of morality and ethics.

To begin with, what are the characteristics of this new science?  Is it an exact science like physics or a “soft” science like psychology?  I will assume for now that it is not some new third category.  If it is an exact science, we will need to have mathematical models.  I can’t think of a better model than Dr. Harris’ topological map with its local and absolute maxima and minima.  Such a model requires only a relatively simple 3-space.  To keep things simple, at least at the outset, let’s also postulate that our equations be functions, though not necessarily one-to-one mappings.  This is supported by my current inability to contemplate the moral implications of a mountainous overhang in the moral landscape.

The axes of the model space must have units and the units must have a well-defined scalar relationship.  The “upward” axis is obviously representative of increasing morality.  The origin of the graph suggests a moral equilibrium where good and evil cancel each other.  I suggest in all seriousness that the scalar unit of morality be termed the “harris.”  We may now plot the positions of Dr. Harris’  hypothetical women, one quite miserable and doomed and the other quite fulfilled and happy, along the morality axis at precise points.  I can only imagine that the happy woman has a very large, positive ordinate and that the poor wretched woman has a large negative one, but this remains to be determined.

As to the method of deriving the morality axis (H-axis) value I admit to being temporarily flummoxed, though I admit that the entity being measured is necessarily associated with a conscious being capable of experiencing some species of pain.  We must also decide what the remaining 2 axes represent.  It is certain that the ultimate H-value of an H-entity is dependent upon many independent variables such as nutrition, tyranny, control, &c.  Considering this fact, we must conclude that the problem may not admit of a single, canonical 3-space.

I can not see a way forward without a unit of consciousness to be assigned to each H-entity.  I suggest that this unit be termed the “turing.”  I also postulate a unit of something akin to contentment or joy, perhaps called the “buddha.”  It is not necessary to have precise mathematical equations to begin working with the suggested models.  We need only initially determine the nature of the various spaces and begin to contemplate their dynamics.

Ultimately, we will need to formulate useful equations for our model.  Given the nature of the quantities involved, these equations will need to begin life in a statistical form.  It is likely that they will remain in such a form.

I would love to hear suggestions for means and methods relevant to this project.  Dr. Harris has sparked a most intriguing discussion with TML, though his critics seem incapable of understanding what he is saying.  It would be irresponsible of those of us who do understand Dr. Harris’ thesis not to pursue it.

Peace.

Simplicissimus

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Posted: 01 April 2012 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I agree in that we need to get the ball rolling on this project. I was also quite excited after reading TML.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t know nearly enough about math and such to address the technical aspects of what you are proposing.
However, my feeling is that this “science of morality” would be more like a “method of morality” than an actual science.

This isn’t to say that we couldn’t use mathematical models or the scientific method, but I’m not sure that’s where we start. I would compare the “moral method” to the historical method or a legal method of some sort. That is to say, we might not be able to use equations to answer all of our questions. I’m not really sure how one could come up with an equation to answer the question “Should I donate food to my local homeless shelter?” with equations alone. Now, maybe I’m wrong, but I’m still having trouble coming up with a way to actually do that. I think we’re going to need more leverage than is typically provided by math and hard science. 

Perhaps the reality is a little less concrete. My only criticism of Mr. Harris’ book is that he presents this science of morality as though it would be on par with other sciences. Its not clear whether he means it to be a hard science or a soft science or whether he envisions it to be something quite different. My conclusion is that there must be a third category here.

Like the historical method, the moral method may be more subjective. Although historians do use graphs and even equations (on rare occasions) they don’t really use equations to determine whether or not a certain document is historically accurate. Instead, they sort of have an instruction manual for how to determine this. They do use archaeological evidence (things like radiocarbon dating are hard science) when possible, but many times they simply compare a document to others of the time period. They attempt to determine whether or not other documents from the same era tell the same story. If enough documents agree, the document in question will generally be accepted as historical fact.

In this same way, we may approach moral questions. I like your idea of applying values to certain moral questions, but again, I’m not sure exactly how we could do that. Whether we use math, science or some other method to determine the validity of a moral precept, we still need to come up with some kind of guidelines. I think Mr. Harris’ book is the beginning, but we need to move forward.

The question here is “how do we move forward?”. I hope that at some point Mr. Harris may read this and chime in to help clear things up. Nevertheless, he is a busy man, and I doubt he’ll ever have the time to do so. Therefore, its up to us to get things started.

My question to all of you is simply where do we begin? Let me know if you have any ideas. Thanx.

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Posted: 01 April 2012 05:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Perhaps if someone could give me a scientific reason why i shouldn’t kill X provided of course that I am not caught,  then it would be possible to elaborate on the concept.

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Posted: 25 May 2012 04:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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A science of morality is feasible when we consider the effects of toxic relationships. We can determine the right and wrong ways of relating to each other because they have profound implications for health as also for the cohesion and quality of society. This subject is huge and I am posting my findings ( http://kyrani99.wordpress.com/ )on how relationships that are toxic give rise to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, strokes and diabetes. And such immortality as is seen in toxic people, who gain pleasure from doing harm to those others around them with whom they are related, but also in the degradation of social structures that support them. IMO the medical industry has a great deal to answer for in this area. And that is most unfortunate as a science of morality would necessarily be based on medical science.

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Posted: 25 September 2012 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Philosophers have struggled for two and a half millennia to define “good”. SH now as the (admitted) problem of defining “wellbeing”. Without that step we’re no further forward. (And, of course, some of us think there’s an even more important concept of “duty” or “fulfilment” which is not just about the wellbeing of ouselves or others.)

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Posted: 30 October 2012 07:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Your challenge to develop a graphical model of well-being is intriguing.  I submit that one axis could be measured as the cultural acceptance of a behaviour.  The dilemma of the hypothetical women is generally a factor of their own internal moral compass being in conflict with the cultural acceptance of the potential behaviour.  I’m also at a loss as to how exactly this is measured but it seems as though an acceptable scale could be developed.  For example, if the dilemma is something like sex before “marriage” then it seems to me as though the self-identified culture of the woman will influence her behaviour and also her sense of well-being.  In a two-dimensional graph, the cultural axis would range from non-accepting to completely accepting.  If the behaviour of women consistently defies the cultural acceptance of the behaviour, then clearly there is something amiss with the stated cultural acceptance.  I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I think it’s food for further thought.

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Posted: 04 December 2012 01:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Simplicissimus - 04 June 2011 10:13 AM

To begin with, what are the characteristics of this new science?  Is it an exact science like physics or a “soft” science like psychology?

My guess is that it’s about as soft as a science gets.  Just because we still know so little about the brain, consciousness, etc.

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Posted: 04 December 2012 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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“If the behaviour of women consistently defies the cultural acceptance of the behaviour, then clearly there is something amiss with the stated cultural acceptance.  I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I think it’s food for further thought.”

What people actually do - or are inclined to do - is absolutely not a guide to morality. If that were so, war would be moral, for example. In any case, note that the criminal law is a very long list of things people actually do but which are regarded as immoral.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Nick_A - 01 April 2012 05:40 PM

Perhaps if someone could give me a scientific reason why i shouldn’t kill X provided of course that I am not caught,  then it would be possible to elaborate on the concept.

Well welfare has inherent or intrinsic worth. It is by definition a good state of affairs. Therefore in subtracting a good from the universe (I am assuming the victim is well) we are violating the principle of deontic logic: choose the better of two alternatives.

So anyway if I were to accept a murder, then that wuold be a algorith “sown” into the memescape and blessed with love. As a statistical rule that is not in good form, as it will result (see paragraph 1) in a subtraction of positive value from the landscape.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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logicophilosophicus - 25 September 2012 01:28 PM

Philosophers have struggled for two and a half millennia to define “good”. SH now as the (admitted) problem of defining “wellbeing”. Without that step we’re no further forward. (And, of course, some of us think there’s an even more important concept of “duty” or “fulfilment” which is not just about the wellbeing of ouselves or others.)

But he indicates there is a difference between married live and torture. It is for science to investigate the difference between tohe two (although it would be unethical to brain torture people for the point of a brain scan). Perhaps the negatives will have to be toned down, but there may be an ethical threshold where people enduring pain (naturally) can be scanned and compared to axiological questionairre data such that the brain side of the value domain can be discovered.

[ Edited: 25 January 2013 06:43 AM by Hypersoup]
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Posted: 25 January 2013 08:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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I see this discussion has died down so I thought I would try to stoke it up again.
This is a very ambitious undertaking because human well-being is such a broad term and encompasses every aspect of our lives from social and economic status to psychological and physical health. Ken Wilber has been attempting to do something very similar, for a very long time, with his Integral theory by drawing together a myriad of different paradigms under one umbrella. It may be useful for some of you to take a look at that philosophy too. I find it very interesting that both integral theory and Dr. Harris’ moral landscape, as well as many other so-called “sciences of happiness”, seem to have been inspired by eastern philosophy in general and buddhism in particular. This, IMO, is no accident and has been going on for quite a while now. The best way forward, as a global civilization, will be to synthesize East and West, Science and Spirituality, Natural and Technological, Individual and Collective, Subjective and Objective. I have been interested in these different domains for many years and would like to contribute positively in some small way if I am able. The primary question has already been asked: Where to begin? The only thing I can think of, which has already begun, is to start throwing stuff at the wall and see what sticks. However, It has been pointed out to me, for the very first time, on this forum, that the pursuit of knowledge, which, in itself, can never be certain, is a never-ending process of guesses or explanations and the criticism of those explanations, using logic and reason. This is a constant struggle to find equilibrium or answers that work or make sense, until shown, again using logic and reason, to be fallible. Those who use this approach call themselves fallibilists and I see the immense truth and value in this attitude and approach to both philosophy and science. There are a lot of posts, on this forum, which are critical of Dr. Harris’ ideas and I, for one, originally felt threatened by this, because I have seen the value in this pursuit, bought into it, and have come to believe that we can no longer leave morality and ethics up to the Religionists because *theirs* is clearly based upon many untruths and can, in fact, be harmful and dangerous. It is a battle to be sure, with many fronts, both internally and externally, but this is how such things seem to be done. So, we should continue to pursue this project, in the name of science, and absorb “what-ever works” from where-ever we can even if it comes from what ight be considered the “enemy camp” or even better the “loyal opposition”. We must be willing to be honest with ourselves and all others from the very beginning and be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water and become “dogmatists” and “absolutists” ourselves. We must always be open to finding the great “Middle Way” which can cut through the extremes towards truth and understanding.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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That definitely doesn’t work. If you decide which things are bad (say, torture) and THEN look for corresponding brain states, you can’t then use the latter as a criterion for the former. How did you INITIALLY know it was bad? Also, can you dstinguish morally bad torture from meaningless accidental agony?
Anyway, morality Involves the state of mind of the agent, not the subject. I once damaged my car on a fence post because I swerved to avoid a hedgehog - the morality of the action was undiminished when I discovered that the hedgehog was actually a pile of horsedroppings.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Sorry - my last was @ hypersoup.

Cypher - I think this is a toughie. SH certainly thinks spirituality has a place, but I’m not sure what he means by it. Does meditation simply clear your wholly material circuits? Or does it give you some kind of access to or heightened awareness of something external or transcendental? Or is it just a feelgood experience?

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Posted: 25 January 2013 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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logicophilosophicus - 25 January 2013 08:50 AM

Cypher - I think this is a toughie. SH certainly thinks spirituality has a place, but I’m not sure what he means by it. Does meditation simply clear your wholly material circuits? Or does it give you some kind of access to or heightened awareness of something external or transcendental? Or is it just a feelgood experience?

Those are some really good questions logicophilosophicus. I believe that meditation does clear the circuits so to speak. For me, meditation helps me to free my mind just enough to escape the cage of itself, if that makes any sense. For example, the teachings in buddhism are like a vessel with which to cross the river from one side to the other where *it/they* are abandoned.  Also, as human beings, we have an opposible thumb with which to grasp at stuff and make collections of things. The mind appears to have a similar member (ego) with which to grasp at thoughts and ideas, which I believe arise naturally but mysteriously on their own accord, and claim these for itself and make an identity out of them. For me, meditation helps to relax this tendency and lets *me* simply experience reality “as it is”. There is something that is kind of transcendental about all of this but it is extremely difficult to explain and their is a lot of BS associated with it. Truly, there are thoughts which are harmful and thoughts which are helpful like there are people who are harmful and people who are helpful which either contribute or detract from well-being and that is what I think this science of morality is all about.

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Posted: 25 January 2013 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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logicophilosophicus - 25 January 2013 08:36 AM

That definitely doesn’t work. If you decide which things are bad (say, torture) and THEN look for corresponding brain states, you can’t then use the latter as a criterion for the former. How did you INITIALLY know it was bad? Also, can you dstinguish morally bad torture from meaningless accidental agony?

phenomenology and existentialism. There is intuitive worth to certain states of affairs, and using memory and rationality we can order them in terms of preferability. I mean what do you spend your income on, do you roll a dice and eat cardboard twice a week? Of course you may deny real basis of value language exists, but i argue it is no illusion of language but that the language (eg better, worse etc) was caused by phenomenological experience. Hurrerl said it would be sad he the only sciences were natural sciences. I think that evaluative consciousness is an adaptation just as are arms and legs. We are guardians - entrusted and responsible, and this is a rather romantic (and sometimes terrifying) function of our genes.

[ Edited: 25 January 2013 10:52 AM by Hypersoup]
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Posted: 25 January 2013 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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logicophilosophicus - 25 January 2013 08:36 AM

I once damaged my car on a fence post because I swerved to avoid a hedgehog - the morality of the action was undiminished when I discovered that the hedgehog was actually a pile of horsedroppings.

That is a funny story unless you were injured in the process. I too would try to avoid the little critters in the road, that is, until one time I almost lost control of the car and realized I had put my very life in jeopardy for that of a lesser being.  It sounds arrogant, I know, but surely there are degrees of value with regards to all living creatures. I have a wife and a family, and friends, and co-workers, and my absence, either temporarily or permanently, would ripple through their lives as well. This doesn’t mean to say that I wouldn’t try to avoid the little creatures if it seems safe to do so, and I most surely would never, intentionally, try to run one of them down, because that would be cruel and evil, in my opinion.

[ Edited: 25 January 2013 11:24 AM by Cypher]
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