Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Science and Values

On a topic relevant to an ethic of nonviolence

My first instinct on these matters is to say "Read your Dostoevsky, people." On the question of whether scientific knowledge can lead us to moral truth, start with Notes from the Underground, then try The Brothers Karamazov (along the way, you might find insights in Demons, The Adolescent, Crime and Punishment, and The Idiot). Dostoevsky was on it.

My second thought is to remember why I finally stopped eating animals. My wife forwarded me some articles regarding the mental, emotional, and social lives of animals. These articles were based on scientific research, providing scientific knowledge about animals. It was these facts about animals that finally led me to stop eating meat.

But then I remember that many people are aware of scientific facts about the mental and emotional capacity of animals, but still find little dilemma at all about eating meat. At best, science can inform our moral values (and it certainly can). Over the long movement of history, this informing of moral values might (usually in hindsight) resemble the source of moral values. But on that, I'm skeptical. There are still all sorts of irrational* sources of human values. Even when we are informed by scientific fact, we still use those irrational values to interpret how we are actually supposed to live in light of that fact.

*I don't use the word entirely negatively.

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