The Ethics of Teaching and Scientific Research

By Sidney Hook; Paul Kurtz et al. | Go to book overview

Rejoinder: Dr. Hibbs and
the Ethics of Discussion

Sidney Hook

Even a sympathetic listener must be puzzled by Dr. Hibbs' discussion of the problem before us. For his position seems to be obviously incoherent. He starts out by recognizing that there are problems of moral decision both in the kind of research we undertake, for example in recombinant DNA, and in the application of the outcome of research, as in weather modification. Whatever decision we make, and often the refusal to make a decision, expresses a policy. A policy is a normative value judgment. It is an elementary truth of logic, which thankfully is the same for engineers and humanists, that no aggregation of facts by themselves uniquely determines any policy. When it appears to do so, it is only because of commonly accepted implicit values in the situation.

Despite the fact that Dr. Hibbs acknowledges the indispensability of these moral judgments, he seems to be skeptical about the existence of any moral principles. The source of his skepticism rests partly on the confusion between deducing moral rules "from deeper principles" and applying moral rules to different situations, and partly on the mistaken assumption that in applying moral rules to different situations we change those rules, something which is no more the case in ethics than it is in medicine. The rules of medicine or diet do not change when they are applied to different patients.

Dr. Hibbs then goes onto assert the even more extraordinary view that "each type of science is so unique in itself that we must have a sep

-187-

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