There is beginning to be a conversation about approaching moral judgments from the modality of the scientific method. That is, not 'virtue is what my myth/god/culture says it is (moral relativism) but a systematic, objective science of ethics, equivalent to physics or chemistry.
I've found only two books on the subject: The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris, and The Science of Morality, by Joseph L. Daleiden.
Does anyone have any further references?
I this that this approach is fundamentally wrong-headed. Ethics is its own branch of philosophy, not a branch of logic, mathematics or science. This muddling of science and ethics can only lead to naturalistic fallacies.
Of course science and reason can inform ethics, in terms of the study of behaviors and people's value systems - descriptive approach. But at its core, the values that form the basis of any moral system are cultural, subjective (or inter-subjective), ultimately unfalsifiable and unscientific.
That is the very point being contested. And, if ethical theory is have have any more validity than "some people like beets, some don't", then it must be grounded, not just in reason, but in verifiable hypothesizes. In short, we should be able to build an internally rational logical system that says 'murder is wrong', and then apply that as a value judgement to human action.
I'm sympathetic to your position, George. In an important way, though, the idea of developing a science of ethics challenges the notion that the naturalistic fallacy really is a fallacy. If one can show how it is that our most deeply-held values arise naturalistically, through processes of biological and social evolution, through the application of game theory to the interactions of social creatures, then he will have raised the question as to whether the naturalistic fallacy really is a fallacy. What will be left for the defender of its fallaciousness to say will be something like, "Well, yes, you've shown how our actual values really have arisen, but you haven't shown that our actual values are the right ones." But then the problem will be one of characterizing what it means for a set of values to be the "right" ones. If it only means that they are maximally conducive to the welfare of social creatures living in society, then the ones that will be shown to have evolved will be the "right" ones precisely because they will have evolved to be maximally conducive to such welfare, unless one can show, via simulations or mathematical models, that although we have evolved our actual values through the operation of biological and social evolution, the process has been imperfect and has not given rise to the values that are *maximally* conducive to our welfare. If the question of what the "right" values are means something more, the defenders of a science of ethics might suspect that the "something more" it means is either truly meaningless or else theological, unless it is drawn in some meaningful, non-theological terms.
I think the job might perhaps be done by placing value on thinking, feeling beings, regardless of their social roles, but I am not sure.