Moral science?

If I piqued anyone’s interests with my previous entries maybe I can start this one with an open ended question. Do you think there can be such a thing as moral science?

To define it, it would be equal essentially to physical or biological science in that it would describe universal processes that go on in the world or within a specific set, like human beings.

A moral science would thus describe at the very least, a framework according to which to determine how ALL people form their morals and at most determine the actual morals that are universal to all people.

It is important to distinguish this from the imposition of ones morals on to others. This would not be the objective of moral science anymore than it is an objective of physical sciences to impose ones arbitrary idea of why objects attract each other on to all others to believe. It is about observing, hypothesizing and then testing the hypothesis.

Someone attempted to create such a scientific framework already. I’m not sure he’s the only one (probably not), but he’s the one who caught my attention. He is Stefan Molyneux and his theory is called “Universally Preferable Behavior“. I’ve read Part 1 where he explains most of his theory and I have to say it’s quite interesting. Stefan Molyneux is quite an unorthodox and somewhat controversial philosopher with a bit of a cult following. My assumption is that the latter is due to him being one of those easily impressive people with leadership qualities that tend to, intentionally or not, attract a little too much zeal from those impressed. I’m not a big fan of personallity cults, but it’s no reason to completely dismiss the man and his ideas. Often the best and most revolutionary ideas have been brought about by most controversial of persons.

But I’m not necessarily making up my mind about whether UPB is a valid moral science theory or not. By default I do subscribe, to an extent, to moral relativism if not because I believe that morals are always subjective and cannot be a part of predictable patterns, then because I don’t yet understand such patterns. Just because something hasn’t been discovered yet, doesn’t mean it wont be, and attempts like the UPB are thus worth paying attention to.

One thing I continue to believe as strongly as ever though is this. I can hardly go wrong if I adopt only a single moral principle, or just The Principle if you wish, a “prime directive” to use trek-speak: non-initiation of force. Whether one is a moral absolutist or a moral relativist if both can agree that at least we wont force each others beliefs and morals on to each other we can make tremendous proggress as we continue to journey through life and explore the world and our beliefs.

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  • http://jollybox.de Thomas Jollans

    This is part of what ethicists and other philosophers have been trying for centuries, and we haven't seen a lot of firm results I know of. If anything, it might be proven that there is no universal moral law.

    The thing with morals is that they categorize into "good" and "bad", while natural science tries to find truth on every subject. It's easy to see that different people judge things very differently, AND that there has been a lot of change in this respect during history.

    There are a number of ways to try to prove/find morals. For example, you can define an ultimate goal (such as pleasure) and say that everything directed toward that goal is good (teleology).

    You can have a look at what has "always" been regarded as good, and assume that that has to be right, but that obviously doesn't work, for example: "married women are to stay at home and take care of religion, family and food". I think we (at least) can agree that that's a load of tosh, but that's what you get when you regard history. Natural fallacy.

    Here we have a simple problem: all natural science is based on observation. I hold it proven that observation is flawed here.

  • http://www.freedomainradio.com Stefan Molyneux

    Thank you for your interest in the theory, and the book, I hope that you enjoy part two — I just wanted to mention that the book is free to anyone who wants it, in audiobook and PDF format.

    Best wishes!

  • Dave Bockman

    "But I’m not necessarily making up my mind about whether UPB is a valid moral science theory or not."

    What methodology will you use to determine the truth or falsehood of the assertion, "UPB is valid"?

  • admin

    This is part of what ethicists and other philosophers have been trying for centuries, and we haven’t seen a lot of firm results I know of. If anything, it might be proven that there is no universal moral law.

    Same could be claimed for systems of social organization. All of them so far involved legitimization of coercion through a coercive monopoly known as "the government" and all of them arguably failed. State capitalism and democracy are collapsing as we speak and I would say they never worked to begin with because I don't consider a system which relies on initiated violence to "work" as successful.

    So I see coercion as the problem (the only fundamental common link between all these systems). And while I and other voluntaryists are being so daring (from the perspective of statists) perhaps we could identify a common problem with all of the moral science theories as well and attempt to resolve it.

    I'm not as proficient in philosophy to be qualified for it, but this is why at least I remain open minded towards someone elses attempts. I know it's too serious a matter though not to jump too quickly to adoption of any particular theory, except the default one, moral relativism coupled with the non-aggression principle.

    The thing with morals is that they categorize into “good” and “bad”, while natural science tries to find truth on every subject. It’s easy to see that different people judge things very differently, AND that there has been a lot of change in this respect during history.

    Yes, Stefan has actually made that distinction in Part 1. Physical science measures what "is" whereas moral science should measure what "should be" the way I understood it, based on what is the desired objective. Like, if you want to live you have to eat (thus eating is a prefered behavior). If you want to be on good terms with your neighbor, don't aggress against him etc. A judgment of a choice (its morality) is dependent on your judgment of a consequence, but you can't control a consequence, only choice, thus consequences cannot be moral or immoral, but choice of an act can.

    There are a number of ways to try to prove/find morals. For example, you can define an ultimate goal (such as pleasure) and say that everything directed toward that goal is good (teleology).

    Yes, but not everyone might share that goal or have the same definition of "pleasure", "happiness" etc.

    You can have a look at what has “always” been regarded as good, and assume that that has to be right, but that obviously doesn’t work, for example: “married women are to stay at home and take care of religion, family and food”. I think we (at least) can agree that that’s a load of tosh, but that’s what you get when you regard history. Natural fallacy.

    Also agreed. Not only is that kind of collectivist (always regarded as good by whom? The majority norm?), but is like observing only the effect instead of both the cause and the effect, I think. It seems like an incomplete framework.

    Here we have a simple problem: all natural science is based on observation. I hold it proven that observation is flawed here.

    Well, I wouldn't necessarily cop it out there. I'm still open to a possibility, perhaps partly due to UPB, that morality CAN be objectively observed like other natural behaviors. Stefan, for example, defines morals as "prefered behavior" which kinda makes it clearer what we're talking about and I think it makes sense because when someone says "you should do this" it's clearly an expression of prefered behavior. So the task is to observe how humans prefer to behave and seek which of those behaviors are universal to all humans, not just on mere chance (like at this point in time all humans happen to like this or that), but rather on basis of logic and evidence which cannot be refuted by any arbitrary decision…

  • admin

    @Stefan Molyneux

    Thank you for your interest in the theory, and the book, I hope that you enjoy part two — I just wanted to mention that the book is free to anyone who wants it, in audiobook and PDF format.

    Best wishes!

    Thanks! I'm listening and reading at the same time. I kinda like the combination. :) AFAIK it's rare to have the author also be the speaker of the audio version.

    @Dave Bockman

    What methodology will you use to determine the truth or falsehood of the assertion, “UPB is valid”?

    I'm not sure yet. I've read a critique by Danny Shahar today already and it's quite a heavy read for me so I can probably hardly match their level of disection. I'm likely to just read the rest of the critiques (and Danny has a whole slew of articles on that here) and then eventually think it over for myself and see if the critiques make more sense than the actual theory.

    In the end, it's really up to each individual to decide for self whether something is worth adopting or not, but I doubt I will ever take a position so absolute that I wouldn't be open to refutal. For instance I'm a voluntaryist and I hold to the non-initiation of force principle without a compromise, but I wouldn't mind anyone putting up a challenge to it with some reasonable arguments. If it's internally consistant it will hold and non-contradictory with presented evidence it will hold. Otherwise, it's gonna be challenged.

    I was challenged by an old friend Taco in a rather hostile debate which made me explore animal rights and then eventually led me to interest in relativism and choosing to read Stefan's book. :D I remain convinced at voluntaryism (I'd say it wins out), but I'm equipped with far better understanding of some related issues (where do rights come from, what about animals, how relevant is relativism etc..).

    Cheers

  • admin

    To be honest I'm not sure I can answer that too convincingly since about the only reason I adopt moral relativism is because I don't want to impose my moral standard on anyone. So effectively, the non-initiation of force principle IS why I am morally relativistic in everything else.

    If that makes moral relativism self contradictory then maybe it is. Either that or I am not really a moral relativist or I am but only to an extent, if that's possible? I gotta say I'm not a big fan of relativism in general, but it's just something that remains when you have no better answers and wish to acknowledge everybody's right to come up with their own answers. Relativism is like saying "ok I'm just gonna take my best guess at what's right or true until I have a better idea". Aren't all relativists kind of like that? They're like scientists who don't yet understand certain laws of physics and so they declare that they're whatever they guess they are, whatever "feels" right at the moment.

    If I were to be absolutely morally relativist I would have to say that initiating force can be right for one even while it's not right for another, but that means that if the one who is "right" to initiate force initiates force on someone who believes it's "wrong" you obviously have a conflict. The one who doesn't believe in initiating force will defend himself from the one who does and they'd both be right and wrong at the same time, depending on from whose perspective you're looking. If we pretend that there's an objective viewpoint to that, and one of them gets killed we'd have to say that this killing was both morally right and morally wrong at the same time.

    But, "fortunately" for relativism, it never has to consider an objective viewpoint because to a true relativist everything is subjective and so what to an objectivist is a total contradiction to a relativist it's irrelevant. No further analysis required. It's just the way it is, apparently.

    But if I say I'm a moral absolutist then doesn't that mean I essentially say I'd be right to force my moral on everybody else, whatever I decide that moral to be?

    I guess the answer lies in NAP itself. If NAP is the absolute moral principle then there are no contradictions objectively. So I guess I'm an absolutist as far as the NAP is concerned and relativist as far as the other arbitrary moral judgments are concerned.

    Thus if I considered masochistic sex (between consenting adults) as immoral because I'm an absolute moralist with regards to NAP (this I prioritize it over every other moral) I wouldn't force people to not have such sex (nor seek governments to make laws coercively prohibiting it).

    So either nothing except actions involving force can be considered actions on which we can apply morality or there are different kinds of morality, the primary (acts involving force or coercion) or secondary (acts not involving force or coercion).

    What do you think?

  • admin

    You know.. I really sometimes have a feeling that, at least as far as morality is concerned, the distinction between relative and absolute is a false dichotomy that only serves to confuse everyone.

    On one hand you have people (like christians) saying how moral relativism is pure evil, because supposedly the god told them all of the morals and so the idea that individuals can come up with their own morals is an abomination.

    On the other hand you have others saying how moral absolutism is pure evil because it leads to people deciding what is moral for other people.

    But the more I think about these things the more I realize the sheer beauty of the non-coercion principle. It is NEITHER relativist nor absolutist or it is BOTH at the same time, so it probably just doesn't matter. It is completely off the whole paradigm involving absolute and relative.

    Its moral statement is: "You shall not INITIATE force on any other human"

    Is it absolute? Not really because by its very definition it is impossible to apply it and impose it on everyone else at the same time.

    Is it relative? Not really, because you are applying it through self defense when someone does initiate force on you (which is what you pointed out).

    So it's not really either. It is a moral that doesn't actually fit the whole (and I must say rather tiresome) relative vs. absolute paradigm.

    And it is about the most natural principle I have ever knew in my life.

  • http://www.jollybox.de Thomas Jollans

    [as I often do, I admit to not having read all comments ;-)]

    Danijel, indeed, I don't beleive it possible to logically deduce a globally functional "correct" social system. By extension, this can mean that society cannot function in a world as populous as ours if people can travel from one subsociety to the next in next to no time. This is dodgy argumentation, may be passed of as natural fallacy, etc, but, to me, it sounds more or less reasonable, even if it's not nice.

  • admin

    This is dodgy argumentation, may be passed of as natural fallacy, etc, but, to me, it sounds more or less reasonable, even if it’s not nice.

    Yeah, it's not nice. :P And yeah it's dodgy, cause it sounds like a poor excuse like many others spouted by those who don't know how to make peace with the fact that they can't support government and be against violence at the same time. :P

    Cheers

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