Ought from Is?
In his new book The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris claims that science ‘reveals’ values to us. Kwame Anthony Appiah is one of the many who have pointed out that Harris makes the common mistake of seeking to derive an ‘ought’ from a series of mere ‘is’ statements, a mistake pointed out by David Hume centuries ago.
But the relationship between natural science and normative ethics does raise interesting questions. Let’s assume that Harris is correct in thinking that the right action is that which maximizes overall well-being, and assume also that well-being consists in the greatest balance of pleasure over pain. Pleasantness and painfulness are properties that scientists — psychologists in particular, but others too — can talk about, and if we assume that these properties can be measured in some way or other, then we find that the property that makes actions right is a property that can be studied by natural science.
But what is the relation between rightness and the property of maximizing well-being? In recent years, several naturalistically inclined philosophers have been inclined towards identifying them. So, just as heat turns out to be the same as molecular kinetic energy, so rightness turns out to be the same as maximizing well-being.
Full article: http://www.practicalethicsnews.com/practicalethics/2010/10/science-and-morality.html
You can find Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape in the BHA Amazon store.