I love watching TED, because it gives you all this amazing food for thought! Today I watched a talk by a man named Sam Harris on the topic of moral relativism and how science can in fact explain and describe moral behaviour. Although some of his prejudices regarding various religious belief systems were patently related to social conditioning, I thought his argument on this topic was very well thought out and articulate and I would not disagree with 95% of the ideas he conveyed.
It is a very interesting phenomonon, as he discusses, that although in almost every other area of our lives we will conceed to there being “experts” in various arenas (ie. there are experts at football, and experts in chemical engineering, experts in nutrition and experts at knitting) yet for some reason we feel that all opinions are equal when it comes to morality. How are there no experts in morality? I think in order to address this question, you need to identify where morality stems from, and it clearly stems from actions an activities that benefit society as a whole. Many years ago there was no birth control and so having sex before marriage was morally reprehensible. Making this action morally wrong protected women from having to raise children without any assistance. However, should the behaviour of consensual sex now be considered morally inferior? We are led to believe so in our Christian society, yet there is no moral deficit in having sex with someone in a consensual manner.
So, by addressing morality as the optimal conditions for society to flourish and individuals to have peaceful and meaningful lives, there must intrinsically be experts in morality! Jeffery Dahmer is not someone whose opinion we would consider when discussing morality, and conversely the Dalai Lama is someone to whom we would listen.
Although I don’t agree with Sam Harris’ opinion regarding veils and muslim dictates in the way that he expressed himself, I do agree with the underlying attitude he is trying to express. All people, regardless of race, religion or gender should be provided with the opportunity to chose their actions for themselves. If that means that people wear burkhas or conversely walk around town wearing bikinis, that should be their choice. The world is getting very small very quickly and may well continue to do so over the next 100 years if we are to survive the coming climate change crisis. Addressing moral behaviour in such a manner that morality is promoted as the best way to benefit society, and science can give value to this, is a very interesting concept in our current time of religious uncertainties.