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Monday, April 9, 2012

Is Ethics a Science?

Elsewhere I have presented an ethical model, a conjecture, an imagined structure that:
1) explains human behavior in all its forms, unifying various dimensions, complexities, elements of human behavior;
2) predicts human behavior generally and so can be tested, refined, or changed;
3) generates principles and models for behaving in specific situations and thus provides a guide to behavior and a resolution of issues related to human behavior.

Moreover I argue that this model is inclusive and explains the most prominent of other ethical theories.

So doesn't that make ethics a science--meeting all the criteria that Popper established for scientific statements and method? And if you argue that ethics is actually a branch of philosophy, then doesn't that make philosophy a science?

No, I think not. Here is why.

1) Description is not prescription. Explanation of what is (e.g. how most or even all persons behave) does not necessarily infer what should be (e.g. how most or even all persons should behave). Ethics to be ethics is founded and even limited by human nature which is discovered and revealed through scientific inquiry. Values and moralities can be ascertained and studied and even shown to have predictable outcomes. They can be taught, cojoled, proscribed, forced. But that does not make them necessarily desireable or, indeed, valuable. Something is needed beyond or outside scientific inquiry.

2) The experience that is used to test and verify the ethical theory or model is not sense or empirical experience. It is direct or "lived" or "ground" experience of persons in the activity of sensing, imagining, thinking, verifying, choosing.

3) The principles, imperatives, guidelines that are generated are informed by, but not based on, empirical evidence. They are ultimately based on choice--our progressive, cumulative, communal decision making as to the desired meaning and future of the human species, including the human institutions which condition and embody that chosen meaning and future.

So, yes, ethics is a branch of philosophy, the love of wisdom, not of science though the sciences and their methods are necessary sine qua nons to the endeavor. And the progress of science will also lead to the progress of philosophy. But philosophy comes after science and all the other human behaviors in the world. It is a "secondary" reflection grounded in the experience of the experience of building and knnowing the world through art, science, history, religion, politics. It is the critique of these activities and of the cultures and moralities they constitute based on a more primary experience of what it means to be fully human.

Ethics (including politics) is the primary outcome of this critique and guides us in the decision-making as to the meaning and future of the human prospect. Ethics, therefore, is both a very personal as well as collaborative enterprise. Yes, a product of corrupting old men like me who have lived a full life, but also for the hopefully corrupted young who are in fact now making our future.

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