Building a Moral Framework

Huh? The issue isn’t whether we need morals but how we can construct those morals. I am arguing that the scientific discovery of what is good for physical or mental health is sufficient for morality and the so called is/ought gap is empty rhetoric.

So your question is how does that give you a conclusion that worsening the health of someone else is bad?

The answer is the application of logic to the fact of human interdependence. The worsening health of someone else would mean the loss of efficiency in a potential ally in maintaining your own health.

If we want a real moral challenge then it would be when the needs of two people come into conflict. Suppose you need a new kidney then how would it be wrong to go take someone else’s kidney? If your own physical health is the only standard then I haven’t worked our how that would be bad. Remember, I constructed my moral framework from the basis of psychological health not physical health.

Science knows more than ever that the first, preeminent, hard wired, evolved commandment is Hippocrates’; do no harm.

My point is that you need morals in order to determine what is good for physical and mental health.

You are applying subjective opinion, not logic. It is your subjective opinion that loss of efficiency is morally bad.

Is war moral? Is harming someone else in self defense moral? Also, I still don’t see how evolved is the same as moral. Do you think it is possible for humans to have an evolved psychological trait that we would deem immoral?

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Not addressed to me, but if may butt in, yes, I think we may well have evolved traits that are immoral. Perhaps the ability to rise about those traits and control them is part of what sets us apart as human, and also explains our bad behavior when we fail to do so. I would think that if such is the case, it could be accepted either from an atheist or non-atheist perspective. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, humanity may have found it beneficial to rise above wanton killing and wasting of resources, and to find sharing and caring for one another and the environment to be beneficial to the survival of the species, whether told to do so by God or not.

Not addressed to me, but if may butt in, yes, I think we may well have evolved traits that are immoral. Perhaps the ability to rise about those traits and control them is part of what sets us apart as human, and also explains our bad behavior when we fail to do so. I would think that if such is the case, it could be accepted either from an atheist or non-atheist perspective. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, humanity may have found it beneficial to rise above wanton killing and wasting of resources, and to find sharing and caring for one another and the environment to be beneficial to the survival of the species, whether told to do so by God or not. They would then be reversing previously evolved tendencies to do otherwise.

You are very, very good. So good even flattery won’t work with you. And I am not in your league. But : ) I am dim but dogged as you know. Your paradigm will not shift, mine might. When I know what it is : )

It’s intuitive.

Yes, war can be moral. I find it all but impossible to think of a single example. Including WWII. The ‘all but’ looks… dishonest, to be honest. I can’t think of a single historical example. But feel it must be, in some circumstances, the lesser of two evils. Although I cannot think of one. I can come up with scenarios I’m sure. Eventually…

Harm in self defense is incidental. Even if the harm has to be intentional for the purposes of achieving defense. Especially defense of the weak. Failure to defend by not harming could be considered immoral. That is far easier to envisage.

Pushing the boat out, the more evolved, the more moral. And the more immoral. Our capabilities are two edged, as I’ve said elsewhere. Even caring and fairness, the individualizing moral foundations, must have their limits in constrained, fluid but ethics bound situations. The group binding foundations are barely positive above break even as survival factors. They all too easily go to the bad.

I feel…

Our morality is evolving. For the better. And worse (the evils of so called democracy in particular). We know, see and feel that. And we’re not wrong, no matter how subjective. The subjective is real (Kierkegaard) and we need phenomenological tools for dealing with it (Husserl), because we’re worth it (Rogers).

So, I conclude that I’m saying that morality is full of tension, but, as Theodore Parker said, bends towards justice. Equal shares of outcome in plenty.

Indeed - a friend of mine said he wants Jesus to retell the parable of the Good Samaritan, only this time have the Samaritan come on to the scene while the bandits are still about their dirty business. What would Jesus have the Samaritan do then? But of course this is to ask an entirely different question of such a parable than the one actually being asked and answered (who is my neighbor?).

It fascinates me that we don’t seem to have much scriptural investment in this (somewhat modern?) question apart from incidental reading between the lines that soldiers and rulers are all there for a reason. I’m not sure why that is, but if I’m not mistaken, our obsession with justifications of self-defense was not much shared in scriptures generally. It might easily enough have been a mere presumption that nobody then would have thought to challenge. (Thinking of the proverbial (6:34) enraged husband that is just naturally expected to exact vengeance on any intrusion of his property - including his wife.) And that isn’t even self-defense. It was more regulated in the levitical record, to be sure; but still - why such silence from Christ and his mileiu?


As you say, modern pacifist, vegetarian, Ahimsa agonies didn’t arise. They’d have thought one mad.

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He had it easy because the victim was unconscious. ; - )

Sufficient for who? Life could be meaningless and morality a subjective delusion of consciousness that will endure a millisecond of existence in the grand scheme of things. Science cannot resolve is/ought. It can offer its definition of healthy (e.g. long-life) and list actions more likely to lead to that scenario. Science can suggest what you ought to do in certain cases if you start with several assumptions. Those underlying assumptions cannot be built from science, however.


No, they arise from common sense, common humanity. What your mother told you. What you tell your kids. Instinct. Evolved, instinct. And experience. You don’t need science. But it helps.

Regardless of instinct and what my mother told me, morality cannot be built on science without first supplying several assumptions. We aren’t reconstructing morality from science, we are using science to attain the goal of our moral system. We can attempt to show reciprocal altruism developed in our species. But so did jealousy and many other things not so good. Many people have also had extremely different moral ideologies despite some commonalities. Common sense has led to billions of misogynists and slave owners all convinced they were right. Science doesn’t bridge the gap between is/ought but granted a worldview (a specific set of assumptions), it has usefulness. It can certainly tell us to get a booster IF we value our health and physical longevity and if we love our neighbors. Science can’t tell us we ought to love our neighbors even if that’s common sense. Temper that with the reality that its not really clear who is our neighbor throughout history.


Where did you get that from? I didn’t say any such thing and I don’t think any such thing. I used only logic to connect that up to an impact on my own personal health. A great many of the things we categorize under morality is simply long term rather than short term thinking.

Now I am not arguing at this point that what is better for physical health is sufficient for a complete system of morality (see the moral conflict I mentioned), but I am not entirely sure that someone cannot do this.

There is a lot of semantic involved in this. And I have little doubt that a lot religious ideas are wrapped up in what many people mean by morality. My point is that logical necessities for survival can do most of the work and thus I think animals have developed a good deal of morality without religion. And we do NOT need anything to tell us that survival is good. The voices of anyone perverse enough to decide survival is not good are rather silent. But as far as any morality that I believe in, I don’t think it is the difference between man and animals and I definitely don’t think religion is the difference between morality and no morality.

The guiding ideals of science can be considered a sort of morality, I suppose, But aside from those what morality is required for the determination of the positive and negative impacts on human health by different chemicals and other things?

Well yes that is a good point! My argument is only that is possible for some people to construct a moral framework based on things from science. It is certainly not my argument that this is sufficient for all people or even most people.

In fact this and the discussion above suggests another moral problem to consider. We know there are many people who do choose that survival is not preferable and some of them see that as sufficient reason to throw all morality out the window and start killing innocent people. While other people would do no such thing. I suppose that could be a kind of acid test for many different moral frameworks…

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Jumping on a grenade to save friends certainly isn’t good for a person’s physical health either.

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So… maybe it can be the difference needed for a better morality.

Perhaps we need @T_aquaticus to weigh in on this. For even if some of the ideas originally come from religion some may see no need to keep the religious part of it and instead incorporate them into an ideological basis for morality like humanism, perhaps.

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Interesting discussion. From my perspectve, whether a pew warmer or a village atheist, we are all moral. That is just a brute fact of reality to me. At least the vast majority of us. Some people are admittedly “broken.”

The question to me is what worldview can best account for a morality that is not subjective? I think theism wins and really is the only show in town. This does not mean I believe I have found objective morality or that I can prove my beliefs or morality correct or that I think non-theists are immoral. Just that from the perspective of world-views, theism has a better time of conceptually tackling objective morality, whether or not we can possess such a thing. Sometimes the adherents of objective morality grounded in God aren’t always the most moral! Of course, the concept of objective morality itself could be rejected in favor or a subject one.


It seems to me that a moral framework derived from religion is the most subjective and relative of them all. The only thing that makes morality absolute is good reasons why some behavior is better than others and the only thing that makes it objective is the scientific evidence to back up those reasons.

No. Like I said, there may be something better about the morality coming from religion, but objectivity and absoluteness are not among them. Boasting that your moral dictator is more powerful than another moral dictator is NOT enough to do any such thing. However powerful, your dictator can still still be a devil in disguise. The only way to know for sure is to find the reasons why your God has given such commandments.

More than that, there is something decidedly emotionally charged and subjective about the morality that tells people to jump on a grenade to save another. I just don’t see how that could ever be objective in any way whatsoever. For me the point is that objectivity is not the be all and end all of reality let alone morality. Such a conviction is the only reason I believe in any of this religious stuff. Its subjectivity is the whole point of it as far as I can see and trying to compete with the objectivity of science is never going to work.

Building a moral framework is a daunting task and I do not think science would provide us with such. Indeed, looking at human history gives us an endless good and bad activities, whatever the political, religious or social structures were in play.

I am inclined to view this area as determined by good will (moral) persons and broken by persons of bad will. Religion has endeavored to identify good will and often has tried to impose this on a social level with limited success and often ghastly failures. Yet religion (at least Christianity as I understand it) identifies the type of personal characteristics a moral person should try to cultivate, and this may be applied on a personal and communal level. Good willed persons have been religious and non-religious, so I think it is the person’s ‘make-up’ that is the important point.

Yep, morality has evolved and is evolving. In the right direction. Although fairness has a way to go. And it’s always crystal clear who our neighbour is. And how that obeys the inverse cube law…

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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