Science, Morality, and the Euthyphro Dilemma
There is a growing body of literature that suggests that the best way of understanding morality is through scientific studies of the brain. These range from weaker claims that neuroscience can help establish why humans seem to possess certain moral intuitions to much stronger claims that only through the scientific studies of brain and behavior it will be possible to establish rational moral codes. This paper explores both the weak and the strong versions of the argument. Proponents suggest that by rooting morality in science it will be possible to dispense with religion and God-derived morality. I show that strong versions of the argument are, just like religion, confronted by the Euthyphro Dilemma: either morality is an arbitrary set of rules or it requires an independent gauge of right and wrong.
Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer, and broadcaster. After studying neurobiology (at the University of Sussex) and history and philosophy of science (at Imperial College, London), he worked as a research psychologist at Sussex University’s Centre for Research into Perception and Cognition. For the past 15 years he has combined academic research with popular writing and broadcasting. Academically, his main areas of interest are the history of ideas, the history and philosophy of science, the history and philosophy of religion, theories of human nature, political philosophy, ethics, and the history and sociology of race and immigration. His books include From Fatwa to Jihad (2009; shortlisted for the 2010 George Orwell Prize); Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate (nominated for the 2009 Royal Society Science Book Prize); Man, Beast and Zombie: What Science Can And Cannot Tell Us About Human Nature (2000), and The Meaning of Race (1996). His next book, on the history of moral thought, will be published in 2012. He is a panelist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and a writer and presenter of Analysis, Radio 4’s flagship current affairs program. He has made a number of radio and TV documentaries on scientific, moral, and political issues and writes for a variety of publications including the Guardian, Times, Financial Times, Bergens Tidende, Göteborgs-Posten, The Australian, Prospect, New Statesman, Literary Review, and Nature.