Can Science Answer Moral Questions? (Pt. 2, Ctd.)

Sam Harris has responded to cosmologist Sean Carroll’s latest response to his TED talk, maintaining that science can help us create a universal foundation for morality:

Imagine that we had a machine that could produce any possible brain state (this would be the ultimate virtual reality device, more or less like the Matrix). This machine would allow every human being to sample all available mental states (some would not be available without changing a person’s brain, however). I think we can ignore most of the philosophical and scientific wrinkles here and simply stipulate that it is possible, or even likely, that given an infinite amount of time and perfect recall, we would agree about a range of brain states that qualify as good (as in, “Wow, that was so great, I can’t imagine anything better”) and bad (as in, “I’d rather die than experience that again.”) There might be controversy over specific states—after all, some people do like Marmite—but being members of the same species with very similar brains, we are likely to converge to remarkable degree. I might find that brain state X242358B is my absolute favorite, and Carroll might prefer X979793L, but the fear that we will radically diverge in our judgments about what constitutes well-being seems pretty far-fetched. The possibility that my hell will be someone else’s heaven, and vice versa, seems hardly worth considering. And yet, whatever divergence did occur must also depend on facts about the brains in question.
Even if there were 10,000 different ways for groups of human beings to maximally thrive (all trade-offs and personal idiosyncrasies considered), there will be many ways for them not to thrive—and the difference between luxuriating on a peak of the moral landscape and languishing in a valley of internecine horror will translate into facts that can be scientifically understood.

Category: Morals


Leave a Reply