Science and the Structure of Ethics

Science and the Structure of Ethics

Science and the Structure of Ethics

Science and the Structure of Ethics


Abraham Edel

I. The Nature and Complexity of the Problem

1. Issues in the "Relation of Science and Ethics"

Traditional views about the aloofness of ethics from science embody traditional conceptions of man and of science. Such slogans as "Science deals with the quantitative, not the qualitative," "Science deals with nature, not spirit," and "Science is theoretical, ethics is practical" give way before logical and mathematical analyses of order, the progress of psychology, the established importance of abstract theory in applied science. Contemporary reassessments in the philosophy of science as well as the tremendous advance of twentieth-century science call for recasting the problem of the relation of science and ethics in a fresh perspective.

The complexity of the problem is evident from the several ways in which it can be formulated. A familiar way is purely logical: Can ethical propositions be deduced from scientific propositions? This leads to a theoretical impasse or, at best, a long detour. A more promising way is logico-scientific: for given meanings of 'science' and of 'ethics,' what patterns of relations (logical, psychological or sociological, pragmatic-instrumental, historical) can be envisaged and which can actually be found? How have these relation-patterns changed with shifting conceptions of the nature of science and ethics? A third formulation is necessitated by the discovery of changeable components in the patterns: How far is the relation of science and ethics an evaluative problem, requiring policy determination?

In such restructuring of the problem we must distinguish the place of scientific results in ethical theory, the role of scientific method in ethical theory, and the impact of the scientific temper in ethical theory.

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