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The Chicago Philosophy Meetup Message Board The Chicago Philosophy Meetup Discussion Forum › The Moral Landscape Challenge

The Moral Landscape Challenge

Miguel A
Chicago, IL
Post #: 1,277
Have you seen the challenge?:

The Moral Landscape Challenge

I think science has something to say about morality from a descriptive point of view (using e.g. evolutionary psychology and anthropological findings), but I have serious doubts about the possibility of a science of (normative) morality. Things such as the "is/ought" problem, and common problems with utilitarian approaches (such as the difficulty to measure "utility") come to mind.

Sam Harris keeps saying that all objections have been answered or addressed either in his book or in subsequent talks and articles, but I still don't find his arguments convincing.

I am particularly concerned about whether it is possible to define (at least in principle if not in practice) a concept of "well-being" for a group of individuals or a society as a whole. How do you aggregate the individual well-beings of individuals into a "collective well-being". A string of negative results about collective choice come to mind: Condorcet's paradox, Arrow's impossibility theorem, etc. I know Amartya Sen and others have work very hard looking for a way out of the negative results and impossibility theorems, but their work is not mentioned anywhere by Harris.

Do you have any ideas or opinions on this subject?

user 12130423
Buffalo Grove, IL
Post #: 29

I am listening to his book, and I am working on a reply!
A former member
Post #: 9
If experts (whether philosophers, or other experts) are to determine what well-being is for society as a whole, is that not implying that society must be run by technocratic elites? That is very much a political vision that favors a particular class of people.
Miguel A
Chicago, IL
Post #: 1,279
I don't think so, experts (doctors, engineers, economists, etc.) can contribute to the decision making process by providing information that can be useful in making decisions, but people are still free to use that information as they wish.
Miguel A
Chicago, IL
Post #: 1,280
On the other hand the concept of "collective well-being" is too imprecise to be the basis of a real "science of morality" (in the normative, not merely descriptive sense). It can however be loosely used in a similar way as we use the concept of "public health" - Harris uses some analogies between "well-being" and "health" to support his ideas. In that case it would make perfect sense to use some indicators as the measurement of "collective well-being", as experts are already doing in other fields - public health, economic growth, standard of living, etc. However the set of indicators chosen and how they are combined will always be somewhat arbitrary, and the relationship between a measurement of "public well-being" and its relation to (normative) morality will remain an open problem.
user 14003769
La Grange, IL
Post #: 62
However the set of indicators chosen and how they are combined will always be somewhat arbitrary, and the relationship between a measurement of "public well-being" and its relation to (normative) morality will remain an open problem.
Our (post)modern life is complex. Here is the most comprehensive system I have ever seen. Based on a longitudinal study on seems to cover values from the birth of civilization to the present and the individuals values from cradle to grave. Plus it is open ended...more can be laid down. (End sales pitch)

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