Video Still, ‘Arctificial Territory’, 2009
So there are these science versus philosophy debates again.
I am on a break from writing up my thesis and have just read Emmanuel Levinas’ ‘Humanism of the Other’.
So scientist/physicist says that morals have to do with reason, which itself is based on empirical facts. That bothers me. Why, because ethics is contextual.
Scenario: If in a certain society reason means that culling people over the age of 60 is fine, as they have become a burden to society – and we all know how ethical stuff changes during situations of emergency, war, etc. – then reason tells us that we have to sacrifice our lives by being culled, so the rest of the population can have a better life (all well reasoned and empirically underlined). Sure, there were explanations for scientific ethical or should I say unethical research and conduct in Hitler’s Germany, Japan during WWII and the US to name a few. This is really not such great stuff, is it? Ethics is contextual and might often be very unethical in a different context. So throwing in reason – we human animals are very unreasonable and very ambivalent stuff – and mixing it with empiricism makes for some nice letter soup, perhaps.
The problem is this dualistic yes and no thinking of some scientists. Even if they juggle with multiverses, chaos and the Higgs Boson (that is all so exciting), at the end they want to catch the fly (unified theory, etc.). Although, this fly is perhaps many flies and might escape into other universes.
I love science. But seeing science as the only frame-work for life is a bit silly. Science as the master of all disciplines (coupled with evolutionary psychology and economics) is a scenario that makes me puke.
Quote Lawrence Krauss: “Ultimately, I think our understanding of neurobiology and evolutionary biology and psychology will reduce our understanding of morality to some well-defined biological constructs.” REDUCE!
Will this turn us into more ethical or less ethical people? I doubt it. Will it make for better societies? Not in a context, where the individual and their needs (see Ayn Rand and a certain interpretation of Austrian Economics in current neo-conservative and neo-liberal narratives) are seen as more important than perhaps altruistic or empathic or societal needs. Science is not value-free; and reason based on empirical facts is contextual.
Perhaps, there is the wish of genetically or bio-technologically enhancing our ethical stances (again within which context and which ideologies?) to make us more ethical as carers and nurses and more unethical as killing machines. On the other hand, if a biological model explains that being a killing machine is ethical, I am sure that there are governments waiting for a scientific justification.
So, I personally find more inspiration about ethics with philosophers and artists than with scientists. Science is great; it helps us explaining, deciphering and understanding the world and us. It can be as deadly (think about the Manhattan Project) as certain philosophies (the ones that propagate exclusion and racism etc.), and it is far more deadly than art. I would say so, as I am an artist. 🙂
Book: Levinas, Emmanuel. Humanism of the Other. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 2006.
Photo source: Gudrun Bielz