Well, it seems that we’re all in violent agreement here. I think that both sides of this argument are true at once.
Sam Harris wants to establish “well being of conscious creatures” as moral benchmark allowing us to take a measure of rightness an wrongness.
Yet his ideas regarding free will and consciousness and our ability to make manifest moral certainty in a world that seems to lack it otherwise seem to be at odds with each other. Sam has expressed belief in an entirely physically deterministic universe, one in which everything that does happen does so for a reason, which denies us the ability to choose one ‘moral’ behavior over another.
To the extent that ‘morality’ exists in such a universe is as a result of our doing, and yet we do not choose our doing. We ourselves are the result of our doing, not the other way around, our doing is not the result of “us”.
Look at our gun law debate in the U.S. If we were a society willing or interested in passing gun laws to curb senseless gun violence, then we would likely not be a society that needed gun laws to curb senseless gun violence. It’s hard to get around the idea that we are what we eat.
I can appreciate the “well being of conscious creatures” as substitute moral benchmark for god and the church, but I think it misses the mark as none of those words are sufficiently well defined as to know what they mean. The phrase is vague and arbitrary.
However, I do think that we might salvage the the idea “health” from the wreckage and find in this concept the basis of objective morality. We might then correctly say that which enhances health is morally superior to that which does not.
I think that we might substitute Dennett’s concept of “evitability” for health. If there is anything that we are trying to preserve, that’s it. Though clearly possible in an open system, thermodynamically, life is not the most likely or the most “inevitable” result of the physical processes of the universe. Thus life is the evitable or least likely result. Life is the rarity. This rarity is what gives life value in an otherwise very dead universe. No living thing on this planet is independent of the other living things, past and present. Instead we are interdependent. And life does not start every time a child is concieved or born. The fact is it’s the same life, passed generation to generation up the tree of life. This makes life, very, very special, very evitable. It really only happened once.
Dennett sees evitabilty as providing a few degrees of freedom of will for living things in an otherwise deterministic, inevitable universe. That’s why he’s called a ‘compatiblilist’. I think that I think I agree. All we can do act to increase or maintain evitability or health. It’s very difficult to intentionally act against that, (commit suicide) but it’s possible and it’s that possibility that we hold out against an otherwise invevitable, deterministic universe that cares little for living anomalies.Evolution has provided us with a few ‘proven’ degrees of freedom regarding just how we ‘choose’ to increase our or maintain our evitabiltiy but that’s it. Otherwise shit happens.
So what life does is value life by maintaining homeostasis and by increasing the degrees of freedom of choice. I think that this, the preservation of homeostasis or the staving off of the otherwise inevitable, should serve as the fundamental benchmark by which we measure morality.
Finally, having said all of that. I hear strong overtones of the Tragedy Of the Commons in this thread. What is it to the “individual” to take ‘unfair’ advantage of the commons? What constitutes unfair? Why should the individual care for the group? I think the answer lies above.The individual is dependent and interdependent on the group….meaning the entire ecology. The other path is that of the cancer cell whose misguided moral strategy brings about an end to all the evitability that made it possible. That strategy works, but not for long and that’s why it’s morally less satisfying. Sooner or later, all the strategies fail.
If there is any thing to being human, it would be the unique ability to come to grips with this fact. We are all temporary passengers on spaceship earth. Anything we do to ‘rock the boat’, or disturb homeostasis or reduce the few degrees of freedom that life enjoys hard won by evolution on this planet could be considered less moral than it could have been. I think a moral life is like a clean backpacking trip. Pack it in, pack it out, leave only footprints, take only memories.
but what do i know, i’m just one cell.