Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, April 9, 2012

Good and Evil -vs- Human Well Being

Harris asks a great question in his chapter on good and evil. He asks if we could replace words like good, bad, moral, and immoral, with actions that enhance, or are detrimental to the well being of all conscious creatures. would it take away anything from the argument? In some cases it certainly would. The religious are concerned with the end game of their conscious experience. Just because something will benefit someone on earth would not necessarily get them to heaven. In some cases it seems that the trend runs that way in the mind of the religious. Keeping Africans scared of condom use because of the metaphysical consequences seems abhorrent to me, but to the Vatican it is necessary to keep from stoking the coals of hell. Human suffering is also considered to be a virtue by very prominent christian figures from Paul to Mother Teresa. Would we have to leave the unproven assumptions of the religious out of the well being argument? Could we make a cost/bennefit analysis between aids prevention that could have possitive effects for an entire continent, and the potential of that there will be millions less aids victims in Africa that are going to hell for using a Trajan?


  1. I'm wondering on what non-arbitrary grounds we can exclude religious aspirations from the calculus of well-being? Studies are inconclusive, but it's still possible that some individuals really do flourish with religion and flounder without it... even if it could be persuasively demonstrated that humans in the aggregate do not. The pluralistic approach suggests that science's goal should be not to "determine" but to demaracte a range of potentially constructive human values.

    But I agree, I prefer a conception of well-being that entirely excludes hell and damnation. Seems like both are so obviously unsupported by rational evidence that it would not be unscientific to exclude them.

  2. Harris talks about the experience of conscious creatures and how we have to navigate the moral landscape in a way that allows us to reach one peak or another and avoids the lowest valleys. The religious generally believe that the peak of their conscious experience will happen after death. They are content to allow terrible things to happen on earth because the score will be settled in the afterlife. Their plans on making it to heaven often involve practices that are obviously detrimental to human flourishing. (The burka, apposing stem cell research, etc, etc) They are willing to make life harder for the rest of us, and themselves because the ultimate conscious experience is the afterlife. Some ideas will have to be excluded from the argument over what will be most beneficial for man in the long run. Their run is to the grave and then beyond. To run out the clock in this awful place and get to the next level. I don’t think it would be unscientific to exclude them; however, I am wondering if it is possible to. A science of morality may be possible, but I doubt we are far enough in our development as a species for it to change the zeitgeist. People in America have hard time wrapping their head around evolution….tell them that science can tell them one action is more moral than another sounds like a tall order. I know Harris thinks that this is the result of cynicism and a lack of imagination on my part. Maybe if we get started now, over time, it will be useful and commonplace to consulting scientists on issues of morality as it is to cure disease.