i have a theory that it is possible to root our moral value statements in the soil of reason by identifying one goal that is not just common to all human beings, like hunger (we’re all aiming to fill different bellies), but is actually shared by at least the vast majority of our entire species (with dissent being statistically negligible).

our best options for moving toward this (practically) universal aim could be determined by considering relevant information provided through scientific inquiry, empirical observation, critical thinking, etc. (what i refer to as 'rationally obtained pertinent information' or ropi for short)

the universal aim, combined with ropi, together create a context, within which the truth or falsity (or truth-value) of all moral value statements can be determined. i refer to this unique yet ubiquitous context as the universal moral-value legitimizing context.

i then argue that the biologically inherent impulse of all forms of life to not just survive but thrive wherever possible constitutes just such a universal aim. (it has recently been brought to my attention that this concept of 'the universal aim' is basically identical, to albert schweitzer's concept of 'the will to live' which he employs toward similar--yet sufficiently dissimilar--ends.)

my argument is a direct response to hume's is/ought barrier (as implied by the title) and depends on the philosophically uncontroversial idea that value statements concerning goal oriented behavior can be unproblematically assigned truth value.

i'd really love to get any kind of feedback on this.

note: i wrote an article about this with a very wide audience in mind (not that i have an audience). so if you'd like more explanation of any of this, you can find the article on the front page of my blog, which i've tentatively named 'anomic'.

Tags: harris, hume, morality, sam, science

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Your post here on AN does not do your idea justice. I recommend to everyone that they read your blog before commenting.

That being said, I think you're onto something here. Identifying the base aim to flourish is spot on. I have not been able to think of anything that supercedes the need/desire to flourish or thrive. I also agree with your statement about animal cruelty being more about the impact on humans than on animals themselves.
A better rule of thumb to moral reasoning than "Do unto others..." is absolutely necessary as we head on into the 21st century with 7 billion humans elbowing each other in the ribs.

I've been finding that it is more helpful to think in terms of better/worse instead of right/wrong. The best ways to deal with some specific situations are known. Also the worst ways are pretty commonly understood. For some things, of course, not all things. We know that there are no absolutes and so an absolutist way of thinking cannot be the best way to approach problem solving.

I'm looking forward to your future articles.
thanks for your reply jacob! it's great to get support from like-minded people. i've posted about my theory on a few other forums where i've been getting a modest amount of feedback. and a few things that need clarification have been brought to my attention, so i plan to post an addendum to the article soon. so watch for that if you're interested.
Kevin, seems like you have a friend in samuel harris, whose new book "the moral landscape" was just released and is on this exact topic. I just read it and as far as I can tell, there's no arguing with the perspective put forth. the goal of flourishing is a great common way to describe the basic needs of humanity without getting hung up on small inconsistencies and extremes. Hopefully this mindset will catch on more thoroughly and change will come about
i just finished reading that book today! i had been waiting for october 5th (the release date) for months! it was seeing his ted talk that prompted me to get my own thoughts on the topic out in public.

thanks for your feedback!
My main disagreement with his blog, from which this is supposedly a summary of, is his valuation of "to flourish". I think his fascination that all humans, in 2010, should be able to flourish, is an entirely humanistic approach. And so what he calls and absolute is only really an absolute for a certain group of people. He dares state that persons who do not think that all humans should flourish are "memetic diseases", well, I guess I know my place now, thank you very much!

Humans were flourishing when the population went from the 1000s to the first millions. Since then humans have been fighting nature all the way, and winning, we have OVER flourished. We are now extinguishing our own ecosystem and resorting to massive space investments in order to open up an option B since we are destroying option A.

That is sheer stupidity. If humanity continues on its present course there will be a select few who will achieve world domination through AI and disembodiement through technology and the rest of the population will be in servitude to the dominant cast, moreso than in todays technological environment, which is already was more unbalanced than at any previous point in human history.

His EUREKA moment is that we can pass the is/ought barrier by agreeing on a similar "aim" well duh, that the very distinction moral relativists make, every moral depends on an objective. Any sentence containing an "ought" oughto contain it's "aim". Therefore "is" and "ought" remain entirely separate entities.
So, I don't quite understand, should humans NOT flourish? flourish isn't defined by the consumption of a society in this case, it's determined by a quality of life and ability to pursue ones personal interests. That to me would seem like a sound rational, not to mention that the 'ability to flourish' is also a facilitating factor in environmental awareness- the more successful a society, the greater their ability to adjust to and conserve the environment is. Higher education levels improves on many aspects of society, and is an integral part of what we need to pass this critical time in our history- the mass advent of technology, without the social maturity to use it responsibly.
~and whats with the disembodied overlords of humanity thing? there's more income disparity in the US than ever before, but humanity? you are familiar with Feudalism, correct? Or how about the thousands of years of institutionalized slavery? I'd reckon that those times were a bit more unbalanced than today
To me you seem to live in a little, short historied, dream world. Income disparity in the USA and in the world IS increasing. The wealth difference between aristocracy and peasants was not greater than our celebrity/financial guru driven society. And even if we dismiss feodalism, still we are only looking at an minute portion of human history! India has indentured slaves, Brazil has indentured slaves, we have women in the N.America sold into the sex trade. These phenomenoms are not decreasing they are increasing.

When a species has flourished as much has humanity has, it would be advantageous to take a step back and appreciate what has been done and recognise that there comes a point where less is more. When species flourish within balance, life is beautiful; however when a species such as ours as flourished beyond all measure and against all other life forms, it looses its appeal entirely.
I have no argument with your final point at the end of your response; when there is not responsible growth, it looses its appeal. responsibility is a big part, however, your assertion that things are worse now than they ever have been is completely misguided. to say that black market slavery now is WORSE than the institutionalized slavery that was socially accepted is complete nonsense! Under Feudalism, the peasants had no ownership of their possessions, or their land! How is there more equity in a system in which one person has total control over every possession of thousands of people? Even one century ago Clear Cutting forests was accepted practice, with no thought to the long term consequences of soil erosion or of ecosystem. You are probably of the same thought that the fifties was a better decade than the nineties, although many forget the rampant addiction to amphetamines, institutionalized racism, mcCarthyism, and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation! Humanities progress is moving towards more awareness and more equality, albeit slowly and with resistance. Yes, capitalism is an inherently flawed and income disparity in our generation is on the rise, however that must be kept in perspective if you are going to make a blanket statement like "the income disparity between aristocracy and peasants was not greater..." if you take inflation into account over the centuries, there is no comparison.
Again, you seem to only select for comparison two very short spans of history, feudalism, which we have now in different forms, now a majority of humanity are merely tenents, barely owners of their TV sets and bedding, if it's not on borrowed money; and on slavery, which is also present only for a very short period of humanity. Slavery (old fashioned and modern) is only possible in large populations where individuals are severely undervalued. The more humans there are, the more undervalued each one will become. But this time frame is petty to me, I prefer to look at humanity in a longer perspective, before we became overpopulated and required religions and slavery to control the masses. You ask about the 50s LOL, who cares about the 50s! Such very small timeframes they are barely worth our attention.
Humans are always doing what they "ought" to do. We are not special. We are a species with observable, predictable behavior patterns. Humans form groups, establish pecking orders, define moral codes and ultimately, build civilizations. There are individual differences within the species, but these differences do not define the norms.

I think the fact that humans are able to advance technology from one generation to the next fuels the ethnocentric delusion that human nature is likewise advancing. It is not. Each new generation of humans has exactly one lifetime to learn the lessons that were learned by their parents. We don't learn those lessons without life experience and we can not inherit life experience from others.

The basic behaviors of human beings are fairly consistent across history. Greed, generosity, cowardice, murder, infidelity, understanding, courage, etc. have all manifested throughout human history. We subjectively judge some of these as "good" and others as "bad." But, all we are really doing is expressing personal preference.

Check out this blog: http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blogs/we-are-dancing-bears-an
I would concur with what you are expressing. I would consider myself a misanthrope, however, Doesn't it seem that the ability for our species, at least in the US, to adapt and make more reasonable changes in the paradigm that benefit people as a whole should be considered progress? I understand your analogy using the dancing bear, but wouldn't the domestication of the dog be more suited? once feral and wild, through cultivation and training they have become a civilized (so to speak) creature that lives symbiotically with us? we, likewise, have been domesticating ourselves (there is evolutionary evidence for this~ in the fifties a russian decided to domesticate the fox. by killing the captive foxes that showed fear of humans and breeding those that didn't, he created over generation foxes that were essentially lapdogs~ they had a change in features though; rigid ears became floppy, a change in coat patternization, shorter more uncontrolled tails, and a change in the structure of the teeth and skull shape. once viewed as a whole, and compared with the evolution of the human being, it seems as though the same changes have happened to humans as well.) While the normal human 'vices' are still in ample supply, It does seem that, at least in a few select nations, people are beginning to become more cooperative with one another. we as a species are of a low maturity, maybe that of an 8 year old; but i would not go as far as to say that politics and international interaction is the same as the middle ages. Given our maturity as a species, I would say we have made at least a little progress.
The Russian fox thing is really interesting. Just winging it, I would guess that the changes in physical characteristics were random and not analogous to the physical characteristics of domesticated humans.

I would say we have made at least a little progress. Maybe you are right. I don't think the species has changed one iota, but designing a system of government where power is divided among several structures and those in power, rotated out periodically may be a cultural advancement that does a good job of damage control against the baser quality of humans.


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