Friday, June 29, 2018

Republicans Prepare to Gut Social Security

One Fifth of Social Security Beneficiaries Receive Disability or Young Survivors Benefits

A huge number of elderly people and others depend for their very lives upon social security,  While fact checker says Trump did not say he has a moral obligation to cut Social security. (According to, but they go on to discuss plans to scuttle it by Sam Johnson ranking Republican on ways and means committee).There are several ways it is endangered by the Republican agenda,

Fact Sheet by Social Security Administration

In 2016, nearly 61 million Americans will receive approximately $918 billion in Social Security benefits. 
Snapshot of a Month: June 2016 Beneficiary Data ο Retired workers 40.7 million $55 billion $1,348 average monthly benefit dependents 3 million $2 billion ο Disabled workers 8.9 million $10.3 billion $1,166 average monthly benefit dependents 1.9 million $0.7 billion ο Survivors 6.1 million $6.8 billion  
Social Security is the major source of income for most of the elderly. 

Nearly nine out of ten individuals age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits. ο Social Security benefits represent about 34% of the income of the elderly. ο Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 48% of married couples and 71% of unmarried persons receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security. ο Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 21% of married couples and about 43% of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.  
Social Security provides more than just retirement benefits. 
 ο Retired workers and their dependents account for 71% of total benefits paid. ο Disabled workers and their dependents account for 16% of total benefits paid.  About 90 percent of workers age 21-64 in covered employment in 2016 and their families have protection in the event of a long-term disability.  Just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67.  67% of the private sector workforce has no long-term disability insurance. ο Survivors of deceased workers account for about 13% of total benefits paid.  About one in eight of today’s 20-year-olds will die before reaching age 67.  About 96% of persons aged 20-49 who worked in covered employment in 2016 have survivors insurance protection for their young children and the surviving spouse caring for the children.
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SS also gives life insurance and disability

About 60 million people, or more than one in every six U.S. residents, collected Social Security benefits in June 2016.  While older Americans make up about four in five beneficiaries, another one-fifth of beneficiaries received Disability Insurance (DI) or were young survivors of deceased workers.In addition to Social Security’s retirement benefits, workers earn life insurance and DI protection by making Social Security payroll tax contributions:
  • About 96 percent of people aged 20-49 who worked in jobs covered by Social Security in 2015 have earned life insurance protection through Social Security.
  • For a young worker with average earnings, a spouse, and two children, that’s equivalent to a life insurance policy with a face value of over $600,000, according to Social Security’s actuaries.
  • About 90 percent of people aged 21-64 who worked in covered employment in 2015 are insured through Social Security in case of severe disability.
The risk of disability or premature death is greater than many realize.  Some 6 percent of recent entrants to the labor force will die before reaching the full retirement age, and many more will become disabled.

AARP has an excellent fact sheet on  who is dependent upon social security. They make the point that it is funded for another 24 years. The idea that we need to wipe it out or cut back now to save it is nonsense,

Social Security Benefits Are Fully Funded for Another 24 Years. The Social Security trust funds have accumulated more than $2.6 trillion in assets, and their value is estimated to peak at $3.7 trillion in 2022. After that year, the trust funds assets will begin to be drawn down in order to pay full benefits. Beginning in 2036, according to the Social Security trustees, the Social Security trust funds will be exhausted. Without any changes, Social Security

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Despite the immediate soundness of the program, into which most America s have paid throughout their lives, Republicans can't wait to gut it and there are several ways it is endangered, Even though Trump himself did not say, his movement helped build the congressional support and it;s certain will not block their moves to gut the program,

reps plan to gut

Josh Marshall warns, "Republicans apparently aren't going to be satisfied with phasing out Medicare. They're going to try to pass huge cuts to Social Security this year too. Not Bush-style partial phaseout but just big, big cuts. And you're out of luck even if you're a current beneficiary. "
The Washington Examiner describes it thusly:
The bill…would reduce costs by changing the benefits formula to reduce payments progressively for high earners. It would also gradually raise the full retirement age from 67 to 69 for people who are today 49 or younger. Lastly, it would change the inflation metric used to calculate benefits to one that shows lower inflation, essentially slowing the growth in benefits, and eliminate cost of living adjustments for high earners.

If the left leaning Mother Jones is too radical consider the extremely conservative and highky repected source Forbes magazine,
This blog is about financial deceptions, swindles and costly untruths.
Dec 14,2016

The latest GOP proposal, which flies in the face of Donald Trump's campaign promises to protect the program, is more of the same. Cut benefits and harm retirees who depend upon it.
Although arguably the GOP plan could put more money back into the Social Security Trust Fund, it does so at an extreme cost. And since there are other funding alternatives, it's a cruel way to save the program.

forbes gop ss cuts will hurt You

Here's how the GOP cuts would work, according to the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank:
-- Workers making around $50,000 would see checks shrink by between 11% and 35%.
-- The first year for receiving full benefits would climb to 67.
-- Nearly every income bracket would see a reduction, save for the very bottom.
-- People making around $12,280 in 2016 who have worked for 30 years would see an increase of around 20%.
-- But young people making the same amount would be hit hard by the changes. If they had 14 years of work experience by 2016, they would see their benefits cut in half.
-- The plan would also cut entirely cost of living adjustments (COLA) for retirees earning above $85,000.
That last item on killing the COLA would hurt the most. Keep in mind that Social Security is the only government retirement benefit that adjusts payments based on inflation. If the cost of living goes up, you can keep up with rising prices -- somewhat.
There is no COLA for 401(k) or IRA withdrawals. And private, inflation-adjusted annuities are the exception, not the rule.
Moreover, there's a better way of funding Social Security, which will begin to trim payments in 2034 if nothing is done. Simply raise the earnings cap subject to Social Security taxes, which is set artificially low at $118,000.

see also CBS news article on cuts

list of things you can do on twitter for political action to be part of the resistance,

Call your Congressman!

I saw on facebook someone said "I am not going to ask them for anything," but that is self defeating. Not only is it our right (they are supposedly there to represent us) but is is also one of the most effective things we can do, even if we don't expect them to listen, It's a great organizing tool and get';s people involved and it can be effective, There was a point in 19989 when the government almost invaded Nicaragua, we put up a massive effort of contracting congress and they backed down,

* Although you may find it easiest to always call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to reach your senators or representative, you can also find the direct number to any member's office by consulting the Senate phone list or House phone list.

Tips on Calling Your Member of Congress

When you dial 202-224-3121 you are directed to an operator at the Capitol switchboard. This switchboard can direct you to both senators as well as representatives.
Once the operator answers, ask to be connected to whomever you are trying to reach. They will send you to your senator's or representative's office line, and a legislative assistant will answer the phone.
It is important to let them know why you are calling and what issue you are calling about. You will sometimes be able to speak directly to your senator or representative, but more often you will speak to a staff person in the member's office. This person keeps track of how many people called and their positions on issues, and provides a summary to the member. Be assured that your call does count, even if you are not able to speak directly to your senator or representative.
It is usually most effective to call your own senators and representatives, as each is primarily concerned with residents from his or her district. However, you may occasionally find it useful to call other members, if they are on a certain committee or in a particular position to help get a bill passed.
* Although you may find it easiest to always call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to reach your senators or representative, you can also find the direct number to any member's office by consulting the Senate phone list or House phone list.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Religious Leaders Arrested at White House

Not all Christians are   for Trump. i don;t know the author but My sister posted it on  face book:please give some political or theological comments.

Shane Claiborne
BREAKING... Eleven faith leaders have been arrested at the White House. Here is our statement from today's witness.
Those arrested were: Rev. William Barber, Shane Claiborne, Don Golden, executive director of Red Letter Christians; Rev. Adam Taylor, Executive Director of Sojourners; Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, Rev. Alex Dyer; Rev. Chaz Howard, UPenn Chaplain; Rev. Doug Pagitt, Vote Common Good; Noel Castellanos, executive director, Christian Community Development Association; Rev. William Gipson; and Jane Saari.
As members of the clergy, we have made vows to proclaim the truth of Scripture and lead people of faith in making sound moral choices in their private and public lives. Today we joined together in a prayer of defiance outside the White House to demonstrate that we will not cooperate with policies that separate families. We invite others to join us by taking direct action at places in our communities where the policy violence of this administration is being executed.
We believe such public actions by clergy and people of faith are especially important in this moment because Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other representatives of this administration have recently misused Scripture to defend against a moral critique of their “zero tolerance” policy at the border. But this recent policy decision is not the only way our government is violently separating families, and the President’s Executive Order in response to the nation’s moral outrage does nothing to rescind this administration’s expressed commitment to an “America First” agenda. The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that this agenda criminalizes non-white immigrants and separates parents from children, children from healthcare, clear water and food (SNAP), and government from its moral obligation to equal protection under the law.
Jesus said that nations will be judged by how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the incarcerated and the immigrant. “Woe unto you who legislate evil,” the prophet Isaiah declares, “and rob the poor of their right.” President Trump and the members of his administration and of the US Congress who enable his agenda have abandoned both God’s call to love and justice and the Constitution’s commitment to establish justice for every person.
We pray with genuine love and concern for the souls every person in government. Our grievance is not personal and we know from experience that people can change. But when those who have been elected or appointed to legislate and execute policy are acting to harm others and separate families, we are morally obligated to resist. In the long tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience, we willingly accept the consequences for our actions and refuse to demonize those who are sent to arrest us. But as citizens of this country, we cannot cooperate when we know acts of violence are being executed in our name. We will not cooperate with policies that separate families.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ethical Naturalism and Value Systems part 2 of 3

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 The Is/Ought Dichotomy

            The “is-ought” problem tells us that we can’t derive what should be just from a description of what is. If we look at what Harris is saying, he’s really not deriving a view of what ought to be by understanding what is, although he wants us to think he is. He thinks it’s possible to do this just by being real accurate with the “is.” But he’s already reduced reality so it wont include transcendent ought. So he’s already hedged his bets against the argument. In reality there is no reason why we should accept that the “ought” is already in place and that it’s already a given that pleasant physical circumstances as outcome are the only valid good available. This has not been established by anything. It’s just an assertion that is put in the position to be a default given that alternatives are ruled out ideologically. There’s nothing about biological facts that establish an “ought.” We might show that religious belief has harmed more people than Polio (perhaps) but if true that still would not tell us why it’s wrong to do so. Harris’s basic answer to this argument is that people who make such criticisms have too narrow a concept of science. “Science simply represents our best effort to understand what’s going on in the universe, and the boundary between it and the rest of rational thought cannot always be drawn.”[1]  That is his answer to the issue of is-ought, basically no answer at all. What difference does it make if it is our best efforts (which I doubt)? Best efforts don’t change is to ought. What difference does it make if we broaden our scope of understanding for science? What he’s really saying is that science is the only true ethics. In saying that, he’s clearing the way to replace real ethical thinking with the reductionist ideology that makes up his understanding of science. All the scientific precision there is can’t turn “is” into “ought”—there is simply no reason why facts by themselves represent what should be. As Philosopher Robert Nozick tells us:

Ethical truths find no place within the contemporary scientific picture of the world. No such truths are established in any scientific theory or tested by any scientific procedure—microscopes and telescopes reveal no ethical facts. In the guise of a complete picture of the world, science seems to leave no room for any ethical facts. What kind of facts are these, what makes them hold true?[2]

Brain Earp, again tells us:

Example: It’s a fact that rape occurs in nature — among chimpanzees, for instance; and there are some evolutionary arguments to explain its existence in humans and non-humans alike. But this fact tells us exactly nothing about whether it’s OK to rape people. This is because “natural” doesn’t entail “right” (just as “unnatural” doesn’t necessarily mean “wrong”) — indeed, the correct answer is that it’s not OK, and this is a judgment we make at the interface of moral philosophy and common sense: it’s not an output of science.
The domain of science is to describe nature, and then to explain its descriptions in terms of deeper patterns or laws. Science cannot tell us how to live. It cannot tell us right and wrong. If a system of thought claims to be doing those things, it cannot be science. If a scientist tells you she has some statements about how you ought to behave, they cannot be scientific statements, and the lab-coat is no longer speaking as a scientist. Questions about “How should we live?” — for better or worse — fall outside the purview of “objective” science. We have to sort them out, messily, by ourselves.[3]

If the current state of affairs (what is) is the basis of what should be than political repression and backward understanding of the environment and focus on short term needs only, as well as greed and even cruelty must be what should be. That certainly sums up what is as far as life on earth goes.
            Rachels defends ethical naturalism against the “is-ought” argument and his defense is a bit more involved than Harris’s. He argues that evaluative conclusions can sometimes be drawn from factual premises. His example is if the only difference between doing  A and not doing A is a child will suffer intense prolonged pain, then it’s better not to do A.[4] Wait, this in principle is no different than Harris’s answer and it’s based upon the same “trick.” I use the term advisedly because they may not intend to trick, but they are tricking themselves because there is clearly a value that’s being inserted into the process that is kept unspoken and asserted as though the it’s the only valid conclusion that comes form the nature of the case but it’s clearly loaded at the front before the example is made. The idea that doing is wrong because all other things being equal it would result in the pain of a child assumes form the outset that our values are such that paining children is wrong. This is fraught with a host of assumptions: that there is a right and wrong, that children are more innocent than adults, that it’s wrong to harm the innocent, that’s more wrong to harm the innocent than the not so innocent, and so on. Yes, these are values with which we all agree. There is, however, no evidence that they are arrived at logically as a result of some magic transmutation of “is” into “ought.” Rather the “ought” is assumed form the beginning, it is loaded into the example, otherwise why use a child? The basis of those values is proved by this example to be logically derived from the nature of the case but could well be derived from fine feelings or a sense of right intuited from the Spirit or any number of things. Its use as an emotional ploy suggests the flaw in using it, because it suggests a value already built in. He also argues that beliefs are tied to motivations, those stem from behavior and that is based upon “is,” upon the factual nature of the human psyche and other situations that are derived from the nature of the case.[5] Yes it is undeniable that an evocation of ethical duty or obligation must revolve around actual facts rather than mere abstractions or there is no actual ethical concern. That in no way means that the “ought” is derived form the mere facts of the nature of the case apart form the value systems employed to evaluate them.

Value systems

            Value systems make up the basis of ethical thinking. Intrinsic value is what supplies the reason for action in ethics.[6] Ethics is about what we do, how we live, as a result of examining our actions in relation to our values. We all agree that pleasant outcome; absence of pain is a good thing.[7] Yet we believe for different reasons. The reductionists try to justify it as an outgrowth of survival instinct, the Christian as an expression of God’s love. It matters which way we do it because the decision is ultimately the expression of a value system, that decision will determine how we decide our actions. If we write off human values as merely the opinions of a different set of mammals, if we say “o well marmoset actions are marmoset ethics,” that’s all it is just the way a different set of organisms spins the survival mode, then we might wind up justifying a whole set of dehumanizing actions. If we are led down the garden path by the priests of knowledge and taught to think of these dehumanizing actions as merely a means to an end, we may lose the human values that would enable us to regret such actions. Behind what might seem like split hairs lurk the justifications and rationalizations for destructive and dehumanizing decisions. One could see, for example, rationalizing loss of freedom by an appeal to concrete nature of the outcome and there fleeting transitory nature of the “merely human” value of freedom. The space between is and “ought” must be kept in order not to sanctify what “is.” The danger is too great that deriving “ought” from “is” will produce a way of thinking about “is” that forever links it with “ought.”
            One of the things that make ethical philosophy and moral philosophy seem so aloof, transitory and “unscientific” is the relative nature of their value systems. Value systems are relative and arbitrary to the extent that we either hold them or we don’t. We can’t prove what values we should hold. In order to be able to prove what value system we should hold to we would have to have a prior value system to put in place to say it with, if we could have that it would solve the issue there be no need to say it. That’s what the scientific ethics reductionists think they are doing; they think they are giving us a stable grounding in “is.” It’s really an appeal to the fortress of facts idea. The problem with that is that it begs the question about which value system we should assume. We can’t be confused by the humanitarian nature of the outcome oriented ethics. Just because it values things we deem “good” doesn’t mean it’s the only access to the good. Deontologists value happiness, peace, absence of carnage, too. The problem is, values come into conflict. Take Harris’s example, do we use our billion to cure malaria or help feed people? I assume he would base that upon which is killing the most. The problem there’s more to consider in the equation. What do we have to do to provide those particular goods? If we have to take food out of the mouths of people being sustained by that funding in order to save other lives with malaria have we produced a net good? We only shift around evils if we create starving masses to cure disease. By the same token a deontological approach could see feeding the hungry and curing disease both as values that must be met. This leads to the argument about replacing all other forms of ethics with consequentialist ethics. This is clearly something that Harris seeks to do. He defines ethics in such a way that ethics is about producing certain kinds of consequences, as we have seen.
            I stated above that intrinsic values are what motivate action in ethics. There are other kinds of values;[8] there are values that derived from the things they accrue, for example in consequentialist ethics various states or attitudes are moral values because the outcome of holding them is the desired outcome. For example the outcome of holding non racist attitudes is seen as clearing the way for freedom and human potential that leads to more happiness and less pain for people of color and even for those who would hold the prejudiced attitudes. Yet there’s also an intrinsic value there. The intrinsic value is one that is the object of the outcome; we might term it “pleasure,” more like “fulfillment,” “human potential.” What is the point of keeping people alive? Why should we care if more people die of Malaria or are harmed by religion, why care about either? We care because we value human life both in the sense of protecting it, and enhancing the quality of it. That is an end in itself. We can’t say why we value human life, except in terms of either expressing feelings or expressing ideas about the nature of the universe. We have no scientific data that tells us why we should value it. We can’t prove logically that we should. The fact that we do feel that we should may well be grounds of notion of the “self evident” nature of moral motions, but is not a scientifically provable or even logically provable proposition. The whole of ethical theory is about figuring out what to do with and how best to make use of these values we hold. We organize our thinking into schools of thought and design ethical systems for this purpose.
            The Strength of moral philosophy is it’s diversity of value systems. Diversity is strength and not a weakness. The assertion all three make, Harris, Churchland and Wilson is that consequntialist ethics is the only real basis for ethics. That’s clearly not the case if we go by the field of ethics itself. There’s no scientific proof for the assertion that teleological ethics is the only true basis for ethics without dragging a surreptitious value system into the equation, and thus if we look at moral philosophy and ethics as an academic field its loaded with other view points, with other values systems and other ways of implanting values. Consequence is only one of many. For example deontolgocal ethics asserts that there is intrinsic value in the acts themselves. For example there may be value in truth telling even though the result of telling the truth may be harmful.[9] Lying may be wrong even if no harm results. There are two main types of deontological theories, intuitionism which holds that moral principles are self evident upon reflection, and the second types is rationalism, which uses a second order principle is used to generate a set of first order principles.”[10] They both seem to ground ethics in duty.[11] This is just scratching the surface; there are many other views of ethics, including Virtue ethics where one focuses upon the kind of person one should be rather than means to act ethically,[12] and even aesthetic ethics which does not seek the good but the beautiful or the aesthetically fulfilling. Dorothy Emmett shows that aesthetic ethics can be as consistent and logical as any other kind.[13] To just assert that ethics is about one thing, pleasure over pain, stopping pain, outcomes that result in fewer deaths, is absurd. If we impose a hidden value system while pretending to ground values in a scientific fact we ignore the basis of all ethical thinking, not to mention the diversity of the field. Trying to shift from deontological or other form of decision making to outcome oriented ethics on the grounds that “this is obviously what ethics is about” is absurd.
            Values motivate ethical thinking and actions; we choose the ethical system that best serves our values. The flexibility to change form one system to another is strength because it allows for new approaches. It would be stifling to assert one system over the others and to close off alternatives by terming it “fact.” There are good arguments against consequentialism as an ethical theory. It’s been hinted at already that consequentialism ignores the basis of intrinsic value and thus can at times force the individual to violate intrinsic values in order to meet the demands of gaining certain out come. Various life boat scenarios often depict this kind of thinking. The life boat analogy was first proposed by Garrett Hardin (in 1974) its application was closely related to environmental ethics. The life boat idea imaged 50 people in a life boat with room for 10 more, but they are surrounded by 100 swimmers. Who will be let on to row? Garrett’s intention was to criticize the spaceship earth idea.[14] Life boat examples are often used in high school and perhaps middle school to introduce students to ethical thinking. Teachers are advised that students often go for the outcome oriented solution, so they have to be advised to think about other options: “Discussions about the lifeboat are influenced strongly by how the question is posed. Be sure to allow room for solutions that maximize fairness (i.e. drawing straws) by asking students to focus on how they are making their decision. Students often default to solutions that are outcome-based. It is useful to be able to show that there are other approaches that can be applied. ”[15] One might be led to let the old woman drawn because she can’t row and well as the middle aged man swimming more strongly  than she, unless of course one realizes that a higher value might be protecting the weak and taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. Certainly the life boat idea does cast a spot light on the tendency of values to collide. It points up the potential for outcome oriented thinking to force upon the individual acts considered immoral by conscience. It’s then that we realize we need a system that recognizes the intrinsic nature of values and a flexibility that allows us to re-consider our options. We have no factual basis in science that would tell us, “yes it’s better to save this one and let the other drawn.” Now it’s true we don’t have a clear cut means of understanding the right choice in any other system either, but that’s not a reason to close off the option with the pretense that science give us the factual basis form which to act.
            Why should we laud one set of values over others? To use an example already given, we can choose human values over Marmoset values because we are human. We have no actual reason to suspect that marmoset’s think ethically, science might actually help us there. I’m not arguing that science is of no use. Yet since we are human and we know that we can think ethically, that in itself is reason enough to accept human values. We can also identify the intrinsic values. Values intrinsic to other species probably would not always be intrinsic to us, it makes no since therefore that we don’t use human values.

[1] Harris, Ibid., 29.
[2] Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations. Cambridge, Mass.: Bellknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1981, 399.
[3] Earp, Ibid.
[4] Rachels, Ibid., 4.
[5] Ibid., 6.
[6] Robin Attfield, Value, Obligation and Meta-Ethics, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Georgia: Editions Rodopi  B.V. Value Inquiry Book Series,1995, 29
MA (Oxon), PhD (Wales) has been Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University since 1992. Robin Attfield read Greats (Literae Humaniores) at Christ Church and theology at Regent's Park College, Oxford.
[7] Nozick, Ibid., 399.
[8] Attfield, Ibid. 29-30.
[9] Lois P. Pojman, (editor), Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Indianapolis, In.: Hackett Publishing Company inc., Third edition.  2003, Originally 1993, 193.
[10] Ibid., 193
[11] Ibid., 193.
[12] Find, virtue ethics
[13] Find moral Prisim
[14] Garrett Hardin, “Life Boat Ethics, The Case Against Helping the Poor,” Psychology Today, September (1974) 38-40, continued  123-124.
[15] Teaching Background, “The Life Boat,” Teacher Instructions, hosted by Northwest Association for Biomedical Research. online resource:  accessed 5/24/13.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ethical Natualism and Value Systems:

The Illusion of Moral Landscapes (part 1)

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 E.O. Wilson

            The ideological tendencies of scientism seek to scrap traditional philosophically based ethics and produce a whole new ethical system based upon a scientific understanding of human biology. The official name for the school is “ethical naturalism.”[1] “Bio-ethics” implies the genuine ethical issues that emerge from biologically based intrusion of humanity into the natural processes of living; cloning, artificial insemination and the like. What I call “Ethical naturalism” is an attempt to actually replace the philosophical discipline of ethics with one derived from science.[2] Of course the major issue is that science has no mission to determine how we should live. Ethics is primarily about understanding how we should live, how we treat others, how we decide what actions to take in a given situations. These are not scientific questions they are philosophical questions. In their attempt to wipe out all other forms of knowledge the scientism movement seeks to eradicate philosophy from human thought. In this chapter I will argue that applying science to ethics is the fallacy of trying to derive an “ought” form an “is.” I also argue that the diversity of ethical theory is not a weakness but a strength and one that disproves the wisdom of this urge to reduce ethics to science.
            Most people find ethics very frustrating to study because it is complex, based upon a lot of rules, and one never finds a clear cut exposition of what it all means. Another reason people find the academic study of ethics frustrating, I think, is that church conditions them to expect a simple list of rules. We are given to understand form Christian devotionals that it’s a simple straight forward thing to “love everyone” or something. The actual study of ethics is not only complex but based upon many texts. There is no one authority that ethicists look to but there is a multiplicity of schools and theories and it’s hard to get any leverage for one view. It takes years of study to come to a conclusion that one theory really captures it all and even then there’s no guarantee you’ve got it right. While I would argue that this is a necessary and desirable state of affairs it’s the opposite of what most people come to expect from religious training. Moreover, modern ethics is descriptive and not prescriptive. This is something most people can’t accept, or even understand. People not trained in philosophical ethics expect that modern ethicists are supposed to be telling us the best ethical view rather than just analyzing what goes into the making of the various views.
            Ethical thinking is divided into two major schools of thought: deontological ethics and teleological ethics. The former is based upon the notion that ethical thinking proceeds from rule keeping, that the good is derived from an understanding of duty and obligation. There’s a specific aspect of deontological thought called ‘rule deontology’ which says that ethical thinking should be understood in terms of rule keeping, or that the nature of duty and obligation is        best understood by an understanding of  rules. A lot of people think deontology is just a simple rule keeping mentality; just follow the rules and don’t understand them. That’s the simplistic version. The rules have reference to duty and obligation which is the real meat of deontological understanding. The latter school, the teleological says that ethical action should be judged by the “consequence” of that action. The outcome is where we determine the right or wrong, the “do” or “don’t” in a situation. This kind of thinking is also called ‘consequentialism.’ What both of these have in common is that they each seek to find the “good” in actions. That means they are about values. The good isn’t some natural substance we can discover in parts per million, it’s not a molecular structure; it’s a result of the valuations we place on concepts, ideas, and actions.
            Beginning ethics students have a tendency to try and unite deontology and teleology. “Why don’t we just combine them and say we get at that which is good by both,” or “why does it matter?” We can’t combine because either one is exclusive of the other. Either the valuation of good is loaded in the front and is there before we begin or what comes first is neutral and it’s not made good or bad until we attach value to it. Thus it’s outcome that determines the valuation. That doesn’t mean that deontological ethics is not about values too. The values in deontology are front end loaded so to speak: duty and obligation. In teleological ethics they come out of the result in relation to the values of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. In a way we could say that teleological ethics only real value is avoiding pain. If the outcome determines it then we can’t say that part of it is outcome and part is before hand. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. So we find that Kant has a hybrid system where he uses both. He uses them in different ways, at different points. That way they don’t get in each other’s way.
             Most ethical systems are going to be one or the other of these two schools. The attempt to make a scientifically determined ethical system from understanding human biology is a version of teleological ethics. They seek to derive the good from the outcome; that fits values of a utilitarian nature. So ethics is about values. We made ethical axioms based upon the values that we take to a given issue. It’s the subjective aspect of value-based thinking that scientism finds so objectionable. Ethics doesn’t give us clean neat little paint-by-numbers solutions. It’s not totalitarian. It requires reflection, it offers conflicting solutions. As Dorothy Emmett put it “morality is always contestable.”[3] Those who seek scientific precision and no need to question further don’t like traditional ethics because it doesn’t yield neat easy solutions but requires a life-time of study and thought. Those who seek cold hard objective fortress of facts don’t want to have to spend years thinking about it and then still risk being wrong. James Rachels made a famous defense of ethical naturalism in which he expressed the idea that ethics not being based upon scientific fact is an oddity:

Ethical naturalism is the idea that ethics can be understood in terms of natural science. One way of making this more specific is to say that moral properties (such as goodness and rightness) are identical with natural properties, that is properties that figure into scientific descriptions or explanations of things. Ethical naturalists also hold that justified moral beliefs are beliefs justified by a particular kind of causal process. Thus C.D. Broad observed that ‘if naturalism be true, ethics is not an autonomous science, it’s a department or an application of one or more of the natural or historical sciences.’ [4]

We see there the tendency to crowd out all other forms of thought but the scientistic ideology. Rachels expresses surprise that no one thought this way before, for example in the early twentieth century. “During this period philosophy was thought to be independent of the sciences. This may seem a strange notion especially where ethics is concerned. One might expect moral philosophers to work in the context of information provided by psychology which describes the nature of human thinking and motivation.”[5] That would only be strange if one based right and wrong upon desires and motivations rather than something beyond human valuation, or if one based ought upon something other than what is (such as what should be). The ethical naturalists remove the transcendent grounding and based ethics squarely upon scientific data as though it’s perfectly natural to think science tells us how to live, or as the values are built into nature and all we have to do is get some scientific data. Examining the thought of three famous ethical naturalists this becomes apparent.

E.O. Wilson

            We can see this motivation in the thinking of E.O. Wilson, who in this generation is probably the grand daddy of scientific ethics:

Centuries of debate on the origin of ethics come down to this: Either ethical principles, such as justice and human rights, are independent of human experience, or they are human inventions. The distinction is more than an exercise for academic philosophers. The choice between these two understandings makes all the difference in the way we view ourselves as a species. It measures the authority of religion, and it determines the conduct of moral reasoning.

The two assumptions in competition are like islands in a sea of chaos, as different as life and death, matter and the void. One cannot learn which is correct by pure logic; the answer will eventually be reached through an accumulation of objective evidence. Moral reasoning, I believe, is at every level intrinsically consilient with -- compatible with, intertwined with -- the natural sciences. (I use a form of the word "consilience" -- literally a "jumping together" of knowledge as a result of the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation -- because its rarity has preserved its precision.)[6]

The first problem loaded into this quotation is the implication that there is no value in back of ethics; the value application is so obvious that just knowing the fact will obtain it for us. Notice that eliminates any sort of value oritend thinking, such as philosophy and religion. It’s all just a matter of logic and facts. What facts, how do we interpit them? That seems not to occur to him. He brings it all down to religion vs science. Notice there is no philosophy in his world. It’s not a matter of philosophy, religion and science, but just religion and science. Philosophy has ceased to exist for him. It seems to be a matter of hard fast get it right with scientific precision vs. the shaky nature of religious faith which has nothing to offer apart from faith. He asserts in the second paragraph that science and religion are competing. Competing for what? They exist to provide two totally different kinds of knowledge. Science is about the workings of the natural world, which has nothing to do with determining what should be done and religion is there to give us an understanding of aspects of reality that are beyond scientific understanding. That would seem to be scientism’s point; there is nothing beyond their grasp. In the second paragraph he asserts that logic and empirical evidence will agree in the end. Is this a statement of faith? Logic can’t be decided by empirical matters, Popper told us this in the chapter on Fortress of facts. We can’t prove a universal principle with empirical evidence. Wilson says that “moral reasoning” will dove tail with scientific objective evidence, yet I say the implications of scientism will destroy ethical thinking altogether. Look at the ominous beginning to the subject; ethics requires a multiplicity of views it’s about the subjective issue of values yet these are the aspects Wilson sees as the problem that he wants to eliminate.
            Wilson seems to indicate that through scientific understanding we will bring together different disciplines. Of course the implications are clear that theology won’t be one of them and it seems as though philosophy doesn’t exist for him. So he’s really talking about bringing together different kinds of scientific disciplines to take over a form of thinking that has never been understood as part of the scientific domain (remember, as we said in chapter one, the title of his book—consilience—refers to the reduction of all forms of knowledge to science alone). In this sense there’s a strange reversal of roles. Traditionally the religious ethical thinking tends to be the one pursuing for objective ethics on the grounds that God’s word gives us a universal inviolable standard that makes moral decisions clear. The atheist is usually the relativist. Here the atheist takes over the objectivists’ ground; science will establish facts of ethics so we don’t need to wonder anymore. The religious thinker winds up recognizing the relative nature of a value based assumption. What we need to realize at this point is that conservative types of Christian thinkers have always made a mistake in thinking that the issues in morality are about objective proof. Because they have made an issue of objectivity, they have played into the hands of the biologically based ethicists. Objectivity and certainty are not the big issues in ethics. They never have been. He seems to assume that all religious ethics and philosophical ethics rely upon transcendence, nor does he seem to see the difference in transcendence and transcendentalism.  “The choice between transcendentalism and empiricism will be the coming century’s version of the struggle for men’s souls. Moral reasoning will either remain centered in idioms of theology and philosophy, where it is now, or it will shift toward science-based material analysis. Where it settles will depend on which world view is proved correct…”[7]

            The myth of ethical uncertainty and fear of ethical uncertainty are seen in Chruchland and Harris re-telling of the myth of the enlightenment. By re-telling the myth of the enlightenment I mean the old idea: religion is stupid and oppressive and stifles scientific knowledge and keeps us bogged down in superstition, while science frees us (from religion and superstition) for a bright shining future of gadgets and control of nature and getting things right.


            Patricia S. Chruchland, (1943--) is a Canadian-American Philosopher who works in the filed of  neurophilosophy. She has taught at University of California, San Diego since 1984. In Braintrust: What Neuro Science Tells us about Morality[8] Chruchland’s basic argument is that morality is social, and social life is essentially the interactions of different sets of neurons. Values originate in the brain and grow out of the social interaction of these sets of Neurons. Thus there’s no trick to moral values, they are just imposed upon us by the goals our neurons set for us and the demands of social interaction. The title of the second chapter is “Brain Based values.”

Moral values ground a life that is a social life. At the root of human moral practices are social desires; most fundamentally these involve attachment to family members, care for friends and need to belong. Motivated by these values individually and collectively we try to solve problems that can cause misery and instability and threaten survival. Since are brains are organized to value self welfare as well as welfare of kith and kin, conflicts frequently arise between the needs of self and the needs of others. Social problem solving grounded by social urges leads to ways of handling these conflicts…robust institutions about right and wrong take root and flower.[9]

So right and wrong are just a concept that has grown out of the need to solve social conflicts and resolve tension between the needs of the individual and those of the group. The most troubling aspect of the way she talks is that the brain seems to be a little man inside who is doing the real thinking and then fooling us into thinking it’s our idea. Brains care. Neurons care. We don’t care, we just think we do, brains do. She goes on to ask “how do brains come to care about others?”[10] It’s actually the unseen pilot, the real us inside us that does the caring. She gives a naturalistic take on how caring forms as a biological urge, of course it’s totally divorced from even an ideal much less a spiritual reality of love. Her answer is rooted in self preservation, and somehow the sense is turned outward to others, probably because we depend upon others for our own survival.[11] She discusses the evidence that mammals understand the way in which their own survival is tied up with the survival of the group.
            Thus what she’s doing is building a biological basis for social contract theory. The fact of it being grounded in nature and brain chemistry is supposed to give it a magic “ought” that makes it right. After all, the concept of right is nothing more than a chimera designed to cover up the practical need for social alliances. “Depending upon ecological considerations and fitness considerations, strong caring for the well being of offspring has in some mammalian species has extended further to encompass kin or mates or friends or even strangers as the circle widens. This widening of other caring in social behavior marks the emergence of what eventually flowers into morality.”[12] So caring is just an accident of having peptides like Oxycotin. [13] It doesn’t mean anything accept in pragmatic terms. Chruchland shows total unconcern for moral philosophy in her understanding of the moral dimension. She’s supposed to be informing us about what science tells us about morality but it sort of slips out that the moral thing is just a joke, charade, delusion or gimmick. “We could engage in a semantic wrangle about weather these values are really moral values (emphasis hers) but a wrangle about words is apt to be unrewarding.”[14]  A wrangler over words is apt to be quite unrewarding, especially when it might disprove your thesis. “Of course only humans have human morality. But that is not news only a [15]tedious tautology. One might as well note that only marmosets have marmoset morality…” Her whole concept of morality apparently is just a semantic game. At that rate informing us of what science tells us about morality is a joke; apparently it’s telling us that morality is just a word game. She goes on, however, in trying to construct a meaningful social contract theory.
            Indeed she does define morality as something basically akin to science:

Morality seems to me to be a natural phenomenon—constrained by the forces of natural selection, rooted in neurobiology, shaped by the local ecology, and modified by cultural developments. Nevertheless, fairness requires me to acknowledge that this sort of naturalistic approach to morality has often seemed insensitive to metaphysical ideas about morality, such as that morality is essentially dependent on a supernatural source of moral information and moral worth. Because this is a not uncommon view, it may be useful to consider what a supernatural approach can teach us.[16]

Of course there is also the idea that morality has a lot to do with such supernatural entities as Immanuel Kant, and we might also ask what concepts of duty and obligation and the kingdom of ends has to tell us about morality. Churchland doesn’t mess around with armatures in moral philosophy such as Kant, nor with Moore, Macintyre, or Rawls. Instead, she arbitrarily defines morality by the biological basis for behaviors labeled as “moral” rather than by the subject matter or the logic or some ontological basis. This relates to what we said about reductionism in that chapter (5) because it’s simply re-labeling and losing of phenomena. Any aspects of moral thinking not reducible to brain chemistry are just assumed not to matter and to merely be a matter of semantics.
            Of course when it comes to exploring what “a supernatural view has to teach us” she just plays the same trick again; reduces the supernatural out of existence and reduces moral thinking to biology. Rather than argue against the existence of God, however, she merely “deconstructs” morality by first taking apart conscience. Appealing to Socrates she points that conscience doesn’t always advise us the right way, it doesn’t always tell us the same things.[17] Of course there are not very many moral philosophers of the stature of Kant who tells us about conscience. Who is to say that Socrates didn’t take the right way given the circumstances?


            Sam Harris wrote the Moral Landscape, subtitle: “how can science determine human values?” So it’s not going to just inform us of our values but “determine” them. Presumably regardless of what we do value, the priests of knowledge, those lucky enough to go to big name universities and major in genetics will determine what we want in the future. Harris begins by observing that he’s talked with thousands of people, most of them well educated, who believe that human values are not based upon truth content, and that well being and misery are so poorly defined we can’t know what they mean.[18] He warns that he’s not trying to give a scientific account of what people do in the name of morality. Nor is he suggesting that science can help us get what we want out of life. “Rather I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want –and therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible. My claim is that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, such answers may one day fall within reach of maturing science of the mind.” [19] So apparently it’s not just a matter of understanding what human beings value and want, but of teaching them what they should value and want? Who is to decide this? Science can tell us what to think is, but it can’t tell us what is right. According to Churchland there is no true “right and wrong,” just brains wanting things. Science can make it seem right in our minds through control so that what we want is what science tells us to want. But of course this is “helping” we who are too feeble to help ourselves, we who are stuck in the religious thinking. He just told us science we can’t help us get what we want then he tells us that it will. How can this be? Because he wants to use science to change what we want to what he wants us to want. But of course he masks this in terms of what we should want. Then what does it mean that he includes telling others what they should want? Then falling within reach of the science of the mind? That’s not a hint about control? He wants science to reach beyond the mere ability to explain the physical workings of the world and to become the orbiter of values. Of course that means arbitration of values would be controlled by scientists. None of these would be Svengalis can ever explain how science can know what the proper values are in the first place. Presumably they will choose pleasure over pain for the greatest number, but how do they know that’s what should be?
            He goes on treading on the toes of ethicists. He says, “Once we see that a concern for well being (defined as deeply and inclusively as possible) is the only intelligible basis for morality and values, we will see that there must be a science of morality.”[20] In light of this quotation it is apparent that Harris’s ethics are basically teleological. He’s clearly a consequentialist if not a utilitarian.[21] In other words, it is the end result that makes an action moral, not duty or obligation to act, but how the action turns out. The extent to which it conforms to the desired goal is what makes it moral. The way he works it out is that science will tell us which of the problems is more devastating and which hurts more people that will tell us how to spend our resources. “…would it be better to spend our next billion dollars eradicating racism or malaria?”[22] So he’s already working from an implicit value system that’s based upon an ethical philosophy which has already put in place well being as the end toward which ethical thinking must strive, and the underlying value behind ethical theory, to the exclusion of deontology (duty and obligation) and all other theories. He does this before he has the scientific means to determine the value system. So this is really a shell game. He’s going to give us the means to determine what’s best for us but we have to determine it within a framework he’s already picked out that excludes alternatives. Not that we all wouldn’t agree that we should do “what’s best” but the issue is how we know what’s best. He’s already decided the supreme issue is the outcome in terms of physical comfort and avoidance of physical pain. He doesn’t recognize that this a value that he’s put in place as a philosophical underpinning, so we don’t get a answer to weather or not we embrace that as a value.
            He deals with the issue of the subjective nature of ethics, which is the basis of relativism. He distinguishes between subjective/objective in two senses, practice and principle. He’s opposed to ideals of good, such as Platnoic forms. He’s only speaking in terms of a diminished naturalistic sort of good that comes as a side effect of the way we do things. That’s good in terms of our value system, he assumes we all value outcome as a moral goal. His distinction between experience (practice) and ideal (principle) allows him to say that we can do things better without trying to establish the moral good, but then that’s supposed to give us a moral good.[23] When he brings religious views into it he thinks that ideas of heaven and hell prove that religious views are really based upon pleasure and pain too. They are not really concerned with the good for its own sake but with avoiding hell. [24] In this manner he seems to be attempting to reduce all value systems to his own. One of the major problems with his handling of value systems is the basis for adopting one. It’s obviously simplistic and self serving to just assume everyone is about the same value system I want. It’s also delusion to assume that there are not hidden subtexts in one’s value system.  One of the major problems in determining a value system is in assuming that the “ought” or “one should” aspect of a valuation of actions can be determined by factually ascertaining the nature of things. We see this assumption in Harris’s statement about science as coming to understand what’s going on in the universe. What do we mean by “going on?” There are multiple aspects to what’s going on, how we determine which of those is crucial? What if we decide that what’s going on is going on spiritually? We are not supposed to think that because that’s not what science tells us. Science isn’t going to tell us what’s “going on” in any but a materliasitc framework. So the reductionist view has so truncated reality that it dictates the disappearance of a whole aspect of reality embraced by the vast majority of people to suit the ideological framework put in place by a tiny elite who want us to accept their values as facts. This is the bias we set in place just by reducing the field of ethics to scientific proof.
            There is another troubling aspect to Harris’s take on science and ethics. Brain Earp, Research Associate, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics tells us that Harris tries to subsume ethics under the banner of science.[25] We can see that in the wording of Harris’s argument. In saying that science is about finding “what’s going on in the universe” that pretty much subsumes everything that isn’t excluded form existence. Earp talks about a lecture that Harris gave at say about morality?” When prompted by Dawkins interview that he was going up against questions with which moral philosophers had grappled for centuries Harris said: “Well, I actually think that the frontier between science and philosophy actually doesn’t exist… Philosophy is the womb of the sciences. The moment something becomes experimentally tractable, then the sciences bud off from philosophy. And every science has philosophy built into it. So there is no partition in my mind.”[26] If there is no ground between philosophy and science then he’s subsuming ethics under the banner of science and there need be no difficulty. The problem is he’s not content to just allow philosophy to continue doing it’s thing, he wants to take over its ground but then impose his reduction and re-label everything and replace real moral philosophy with ideology (see the C.D. Board quote fn 4). He takes out moral reasoning and replaces it with reduction to numbers. Imposes a surreptitious value system in the guise of “facts,” and replaces duty and obligation with teleological thinking. This view is supposed to carry the assurance of being factual proof of what’s “going on in the universe” yet this just transgresses one of the basic concepts of modern thought. This is a problem sometimes referred to as “Hume’s Fork”[27] but more commonly called ‘the is-ought. part 2

[1] James Rachels, “Naturalism” pdf,  accessed 5/27/13. Originally published in Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Hugh Lafollette, ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000, 74-91, 2.
[2] Ibid. 2
[3] find Dorothy Emmett, morality is contestable.
[4] C.D. Broad quoted in Rachels, Op cit., 2. Original quotation by Broad, C. D.: “Some of the Main Problems of Ethics,” Philosophy, 31 (1946) 99-117
[5] Ibid.,1.
[6] E.O. Wilson, “the Biological Basis of Morality.” The Atlantic Online: The Atlantic Monthly Digital Edition (April, 1998) URL:  visited July 25, 2012.
[7] E.O. Wilson, Consilience, New York: Knopf, Inc., 1998, p.240
[8] Patrcia S. Churchland, Braintrust: What Nueroscience tells us about Morality. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 2011, 12.
[9] Ibid., 12.
[10] Ibid., 12.
[11] Ibid., 13.
[12] Ibid.,14.
[13] Ibid.,14.
[14] Ibid., 26.
[15] Ibid.,26.
[16] Ibid., 191
[17] Ibid., 193
[18] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values.” New York: Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2010, 28.
[19] Ibid. 28 (emphasis his).
[20] Ibid 28
[21] One difference in being a utilitarian as opposed to a general consequendtilsit would be that the utilitarian. would be that the utilitarian has the dictum of “greatest good for the greatest number.” Whereas a consequentialist who is not a utilitarian my try to forgo that idea.
[22] Ibid., 28
[23] Ibid., 30
[24] Ibid., 33
[25] Brain Earp, “Sam Harris is Wrong About Science and Morality,” Practical Ethics, ethics in the news, blog, University of Oxford, Nov. 17, 2011.  accessed 5/21/2013
The Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics  is at Oxford it’s a major think tank that deals with modern concerns of ethics and science.
[26] Ibid.
[27] “Hume’s fork” really refers to several things that all fall under the general category of “synthetic and a pripori.” The is-ought dichotomy falls under this rue brick in the sense that it’s a juxtaposition of a practical empirical sate of affairs “the is” vs a an ideal transcendent concept (the ought). The “is/ought” problem originally appears Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature, book III, part I, section 1.