by Jacob Billings
Edited by Amielle Moreno
What is the meaning of life? While such a question is intractable to address, some meaning might be gathered by exploring how the most rapidly evolving world view, the sciences, stand in juxtaposition against traditional influences on individual morality.Briefly, let’s lay out a snapshot of this expanding domain of shared knowledge.
Humans are definitely composed of stuff, and this stuff does everything we know to be happening. On the other hand, social moralities are those precepts that guide individual behavior. They are the direct antecedents to the question, “What should I do?”
For some, the worldview offered by the sciences provides a valuable and satisfying collection of expectations that effectively predict an action’s resolution. Such predictions are highly valuable because what we decide to do is always a well-constructed estimate of optimal behavior to adopt given one’s present knowledge about the world. Thus to know new things about the world is to influence behavior.
From this perspective, a scientific morality is qualitatively different than traditional moralizing. For instance: Whereas the description of a Christ ultimately provides a medium for Christians to directly enunciate the moral code of an archetypically perfect person, the sciences observe in the variety of human behaviors how each is embedded within personal and collective experiences.
Because the sciences have dispensed with the concept of transcendent perfection, the moral guidance provided by the sciences is subjective. The aggregates of stuff that we observe around us are there because they have adopted some sustainable form. The celestial bodies are roughly spherical, crystalline structures facilitate the seeding of new crystals, and people living in harmony with the environment tend to meet fewer periods of destructive opposition. Projecting this sustainability principle onto the individual level, optimal decision making tends to support the well-being of the self as well as the environment in which the self abides. And because species that despoil the environment at the cost of their offspring tend to go extinct, the people who we find today tend to share an evolved motivation to work towards the benefit of future generations.
Rather than relying on a transcendent value system for a set of rules by which to live a moral life, a scientific morality thus motivates good living through understanding how to operate within the environment.
So who’s up for a discussion about global climate change…?