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Sunday, February 03, 2008

The.Moral.Science

In a piece that starts softly, wavers a little bit but then progresses strongly and ends with a bang, Frank Furedi writes:
The slippage between a scientific fact and moral exhortation is accomplished with remarkable ease in a world where people lack the confidence to speak in the language of right and wrong. But turning science into an arbiter of policy and behaviour only serves to confuse matters. Science can provide facts about the way the world works, but it cannot say very much about what it all means and what we should do about it. Yes, the search for truth requires scientific experimentation and the discovery of new facts; but it also demands answers about the meaning of those facts, and those answers can only be clarified through moral, philosophical investigation and debate.
Frank brilliantly argues how under-informed, misguided people are trying to replace moral & religious authorities with a shadow of science. In most cases, I try to be a man driven by reason and science is a wonderful tool that helps me wade through the multitude of options available on a daily basis ranging from the trivial like the brand of tooth paste to weighty issues like child psychology.

But an extreme insistence on science in every walk of life (anatomically comfortable sexual position, your TV viewing angle shouldn't exceed 30 degrees, sun screen lotion with an SPF of 12.5.....) makes decision-making robotically boring. As humans with free will (don't we?) the fun comes with owning responsibilities for our actions. By thoroughly turning towards scientific proofs/experiments we deny ourselves in breathing a fresh whiff of air.

4 comments:

shreeja said...

Science makes more sense and is convincing as Scientific research is something hard to question simply because it’s proven, reliable, and valid, or atleast we assume it to be. A scientific truth can see development but rarely does anyone entirely overwrite it. On the other hand, Morality, or what is right and wrong, is not static
and unchanging; what is right to us may not be so to others, what is thought to be immoral at this point may not be considered so in another decade. Morality is subjective, transient and questionable.

On a side note, free will is not really that free. Read: environmental control

Prasad Venkataramana said...

Shreeja,
I think Frank (the author of that post) is primarily concerned in areas where science spills over into morality. Though your points are valid in a broad sense, I'm not sure if they apply in this context.

I can cite an example for your 'morality is subjective & questionable' comment which is mutually exclusive with science: Taliban treats women like shit - it is immoral for a woman to raise her voice when speaking to a man. Sweden respects women much better than many first world countries - recently women fought for equal rights saying that they too can bare their breasts in public swimming pools. The degree of morality perception is humongously different, but science doesn't come into the picture.

viswan said...

Dear Prasad,
The shades of fun ( or pain) of owning up responsibilities can still be there, even under the illumination by science. Science can tell us the dangers of excess calories,or excess alcohol or that of tobacco. Knowing fully well the facts, one can still over eat, drink or smoke.The burden of responsibility is only heightened- not lessened- by knowledge: I feel.
Viswanathan

Prasad Venkataramana said...

Viswan,
Absolutely. But when there is a need to look upto scientists for everything, it would almost feel like walking every step with the help of a guided hand. I agree with you when you say that responsibilty is only heightened with knowledge. But if one feels compelled to seek that knowledge for everything (s)he does from morning to night in order to make informed decisions, that kind of makes the person robotic.