Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Morality as a Mathematical Equation

Sam Harris, co-founder of Project Reason, has written a book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. On The Daily Show last night he argued that science can provide a clearer picture of moral right and wrong than religion can.

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His argument is compelling. Scientific inquiry can shed light on the moral impact that actions have on people's well being. I have some criticisms about an example of Harris' own moral reasoning that he presents.

He talks about how the Taliban in Afghanistan's treatment of women is wrong but does not consider what role foreign powers have had in perpetuating this oppression. Before the Soviets invaded there in 1979, conditions there were better for men and women. Radicals were armed by the United States in the name of defeating communism without consideration of who they were arming. One of these radicals was Osama bin Laden.

We should remember that it was only 90 years ago that in the United States women won the right to vote. In the 19th century it was considered obscene for a women to expose her ankles. They did not gain liberation through violence and, although frustrating at times, generally worked out better than it would have through violence.

Dr. Harris does seem to have a compelling argument for a new moral reasoning but he shows that no one individual, not even me, has a perfect scientific perspective.