A related thread of mine (my first thread here) appears to be both too long and too confusing.
To make this post perhaps more interesting, I will focus on rebutting a contrary mainstream position (moral relativism?) provided by Occam: “Morality is a culturally and personally determined behavioral choice. As such, it’s about as accessible to scientific definition as is my aversion to cucumbers. Different societies have developed wide variations of what they defined as moral or ethical behavior. Apparently, by your concept of science being able to inform us about or possibly define moral behavior, only one of these myriad behaviors would be considered moral.”
It is fact that we can assemble representative examples of all known past and present practiced cultural moral standards (practiced over several generations by large groups of people). Then it will be empirically true or false that the normal methods of science can extract any underlying, necessary characteristics from these practiced cultural moral standards. If ‘true’ (provisionally true in the sense of truth from science) Occam’s position is refuted.
A promising hypothesis for being provisionally true is: “Virtually all cultural moral standards increase, on average, the benefits of cooperation in a group and are unselfish in at least the short term.”
But ideally, science is independent of culture. If so, anything science reveals about moral behavior MUST ALSO BE independent of culture. So the above hypothesis MUST be incapable of telling us, for instance, if a practiced moral standard that said women are morally obligated to be submissive to men is ‘really’ immoral. This odious to us cultural standard is actually consistent with the hypothesis. The groups who benefit are preferentially men, and to a lesser extent women (due to living in a society with rules rather than in social chaos), and the group morally obligated to be unselfish are women. But all is not doom and gloom.
Moral philosophy provides a storehouse of tools for assisting us in understanding which contradictory moral standard is ‘actually’ the most moral.
For example, moral philosophy could assist us making judgments about the ‘best’ size and the ‘best’ level of commitment (level of unselfishness) for groups that people belong to. These various groups could include family, friends, co-workers, countrymen, all people, all conscious beings, and perhaps even all ecosystems. Here, ‘best’ could mean the choice expected to best meet whatever the individuals in the groups define as their needs and preferences.
That work could also include 1) determining the limits to what kind of benefits people can agree to pursue by cooperation and still be considered to be acting morally, and 2) choosing or deriving heuristics (cultural standards) like the Golden Rule that enable us to reliably make moral choices instantly.
So science might provide an objective, culturally independent and arguably even species independent core (based on the above hypothesis for instance) and moral philosophy could then flesh it out into a full morality capable of effective moral guidance for humans.
But if a science based morality MUST have all this help from moral philosophy, what good is it?
The above hypothesis says that to be moral, behaviors must, on average, produce benefits – not burdens. Second, since any such science based core of a morality is defined by the necessary characteristics common to virtually all practiced cultural moral standards, it is likely to be more consistent with our moral intuitions than any available alternative. This means any such science based morality will likely be more consistent, for example, with John Rawl’s “reflective equilibrium” criterion for moral behavior. (However, moral philosophy would have to be called on to advocate Rawls’ necessary companion “veil of ignorance” criterion.) Defining moral behaviors in terms of benefits combined with the promise of greater consistency with moral intuitions (and therefore more likely to be consistently conformed to) could justify a group concluding that such a derived science based morality is more likely than any other available option to meet their members wants and needs (to be their rational choice).
Ultimately, if Occam’s assertion can be refuted is an empirical question. Can the above hypothesis, or something close to it, really be shown to be provisionally true as a matter of science?