This Week in Science and Morality – 3/16/15

This Week in Science and Morality – 3/16/15

Why Do People Do Bad (and Good) Things? That’s the fall focus of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum. Each week, we’ll gather some of the most interesting articles on the topic from across the online world. We hope they make you think—and share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Mind and Morality: A Dialogue

Research psychologist Michael McCullough believes that understanding our minds as mechanistic creates moral possibility. He’s led groundbreaking studies on the evolution and cultivation of moral behaviors such as forgiveness and gratitude. Arthur Zajonc is a physicist and contemplative, who believes that the farthest frontiers of science are bringing us back to a radical reorientation towards life and the foundations for our moral life. (On Being with Krista Tippett)

Is Humanity Fit for the Future? The Case for Moral Bioenhancement

Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson: Biomedical means of moral enhancement may turn out to be no more effective than traditional means of moral education or social reform, but they should not be rejected out of hand. Advances are already being made in this area. However, it is too early to predict how, or even if, any moral bioenhancement scheme will be achieved. Our ambition is not to launch a definitive and detailed solution to climate change or other mega-problems. Perhaps there is no realistic solution. Our ambition at this point is simply to put moral enhancement in general, and moral bioenhancement in particular, on the table. (Religion and Ethics, ABC)

Ethics in the Face of Ultimate Harm: On the Fanciful Future of Savulescu and Persson

Robert Sparrow: Given the existing scientific consensus on the grave threat posed by anthropogenic climate change and the urgent need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases now, talk of “moral bioenhancement” as a potential solution is entirely fantastic. Of course, one can’t help but suspect that Persson and Savulescu themselves do not really believe that moral bioenhancement offers any realistic prospect of avoiding climate change or reducing the risk of the use of weapons of mass destruction. But that hasn’t stopped them from mounting a provocative defense of a bold thesis, which is at very least interesting, challenging and entertaining. (Religion and Ethics, ABC)

Teaching Robots to Be Moral

Gary Marcus: In a future world ever more populated with robots, we’ll want them—whether driving cars or taking care of the elderly—to have some sort of moral compass. Elon Musk recently warned that artificial intelligence is the greatest existential threat to mankind. He may be overstating things, but he isn’t wrong to be concerned that, in building robots and artificial intelligence, we could potentially unleash a demon. We do, as I argued here, in 2012, need to learn to build moral machines. (The New Yorker)



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