Tag Archive: Harris

The limits of critical rationalism

In Wirklichkeit ist die Methode der kritischen Prüfung an keinen intellektuellen oder sozialen Bereich ge­bunden. Es gibt keine sinnvolle Einschränkung ihrer Anwendung im Interesse der Erkenntnis, nur eine solche im Interesse der Auf­rechterhaltung bestimmter Bestände, bestimmter geistiger und sozialer Gegebenheiten, die man dem historischen Wandel gerne entziehen möchte. Auch die Beschränkung der kritischen Vernunft auf die Wissenschaften, die Technik und die Wirtschaft ist nicht besonders sinnvoll. Es gibt keine a priori feststehende saubere Trennung der Bereiche, keine Abschottung und Isolierung von Beständen, die sich auf jeden Fall durch­halten ließe. Auch innerhalb der Wissenschaften haben sich derartige Grenzziehungen nie bewährt. Und wer die Wertfreiheit der Wissenschaft etwa so deuten wollte, daß sich der Bereich des Moralischen, der Werte und der Normen grundsätzlich kritisch-rationaler Analyse entziehe, der hätte aus der Fragwürdigkeit normativer Wissen­schaften dogmatischen Charakters eine falsche Konsequenz gezogen. Als Instrument der positiven Begründung, der dogmatischen Rechtfertigung, mag die Logik in diesem Bereiche ebensowenig brauchbar sein wie in dem der Wissenschaft. Als Instrument kritischer Analyse und Prüfung, als Organon der Kritik, läßt sie sich nirgends ausschalten.

Moral imperatives

Could it be that the moral imperative not to destroy the means of correcting mistakes is the only moral imperative? That all other moral truths follow from it? [235]

On the is–ought canard

Certainly you can’t derive an ought from an is, but you can’t derive a factual theory from an is either. That is not what science does. The growth of knowledge does not consist of finding ways to justify one’s beliefs. It consists of finding good explanations. And, although factual evidence and moral maxims are logically independent, factual and moral explanations are not. Thus factual knowledge can be useful in criticizing moral explanations. [120]

Why truth is one of the first moral principles

[I]t would often be expedient, for the purpose of getting over some momentary embarrassment, or attaining some object immediately useful to ourselves or others, to tell a lie. But inasmuch as the cultivation in ourselves of a sensitive feeling on the subject of veracity, is one of the most useful, and the enfeeblement of that feeling one of the most hurtful, things to which our conduct can be instrumental; and inasmuch as any, even unintentional, deviation from truth does that much towards weakening the trustworthiness of human assertion, which is not only the principal support of all present social well-being, but the insufficiency of which does more than any one thing that can be named to keep back civilisation, virtue, everything on which human happiness on the largest scale depends; we feel that the violation, for a present advantage, of a rule of such transcendant expediency, is not expedient, and that he who, for the sake of a convenience to himself or to some other individual, does what depends on him to deprive mankind of the good, and inflict upon them the evil, involved in the greater or less reliance which they can place in each other’s word, acts the part of one of their worst enemies. Yet that even this rule, sacred as it is, admits of possible exceptions, is acknowledged by all moralists; the chief of which is when the withholding of some fact (as of information from a malefactor, or of bad news from a person dangerously ill) would save an individual (especially an individual other than oneself) from great and unmerited evil, and when the withholding can only be effected by denial. But in order that the exception may not extend itself beyond the need, and may have the least possible effect in weakening reliance on veracity, it ought to be recognised, and, if possible, its limits defined; and if the principle of utility is good for anything, it must be good for weighing these conflicting utilities against one another, and marking out the region within which one or the other pre­ponderates. [ch. II, 181]

What is utilitarianism?

According to the Greatest Happiness Principle, as above explained, the ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is an exist­ence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who in their opportu­nities of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison. This, being, according to the utilitarian opinion, the end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation. [ch. II, 167]