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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Science Cannot Teach Us to Be Good

By Daniel Jacobson
Big Ideas at Slate.com

Here is an excerpt:

Consider first the relativist conception of morality, on which goodness consists in conformity with the widely accepted practices of one’s society. Sometimes such behavior is called pro-social, a tendentious term that seems to imply that non-conformity is antisocial. If to be virtuous is to be fully enculturated, as this view claims, then moral dissent must be both mistaken (since moral facts are at bottom sociological facts) and vicious (since goodness is conformity).

Although many social scientists advocate this view, it rests on a premise that cannot claim any scientific backing: the normative principle that it is always illegitimate to criticize another culture by standards it does not accept. This is widely seen as a failure of tolerance, as cultural imperialism or ethnocentrism. The relativists don’t seem to notice that their own principle puts such criticism out of bounds, since conformity to widely accepted ethnocentrism is virtuous by their lights. In fact, no one holds the relativist principle consistently.

The entire article is here.