A good article to read by Sam Harris
The meaning of “science”
Most criticisms of The Moral Landscape seem to stumble over its subtitle, “How Science Can Determine Human Values,” and I admit that this wording has become an albatross. To my surprise, many people think about science primarily in terms of academic titles, budgets, and architecture, and not in terms of the logical and empirical intuitions that allow us to form justified beliefs about the world. The point of my book was not to argue that “science” bureaucratically construed can subsume all talk about morality. My purpose was to show that moral truths exist and that they must fall (in principle, if not in practice) within some (perhaps never to be complete) understanding of the way conscious minds arise in this universe. For practical reasons, it is often necessary to draw boundaries between academic disciplines, but physicists, chemists, biologists, and psychologists rely on the same processes of thought and observation that govern all our efforts to stay in touch with reality. This larger domain of justified truth-claims is “science” in my sense.
For instance, what was the source of the Black Death that killed nearly half the population of Europe in the 14th century? It appears to have been Yersinia pestis, a bacterium that was delivered to unsuspecting people by fleabite. The fleas were transported to the Continent by rats, which were themselves carried by merchant ships. What kind of facts are these? Are they facts of nautical history, zoology, epidemiology, or medicine? Strange question. They belong to all these disciplines—and perhaps to several not yet invented. The only thing that matters is that this account of the Black Death appears to be true. (Note 6/9/14: Or perhaps it isn’t true.)
I read the book, and he made sense to me. One concept that stands out, is "flourishing". He uses the example of the burqa, does it enhance flourishing or inhibit it? An easy test such as this makes sense to me. Some people call spanking of children "discipline" and I wonder if spanked children flourish as well as child management that shuns it? To be moral is to promote flourishing.
According to Should Parents Spank Their Kids? researchers found
"correlations between physical punishment and an increase in childhood anxiety and depression, an increase in behavioral problems, including aggression, and impaired cognitive development—even when the child’s prepunishment behavior and development were taken into consideration."
Remember, correlation does not mean cause, but that the two factors exist together.
Thank you Joan - so glad you are here to give your insight and wisdom.