2001 : WHAT QUESTIONS HAVE DISAPPEARED?

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Publisher, Skeptic magazine; monthly columnist, Scientific American; Author, The Believing Brain
Can science answer moral and ethical questions?

From the time of the Enlightenment philosophers have speculated that the remarkable advances of science would one day spill over into the realm of moral philosophy, and that scientists would be able to discover answers to previously insoluble moral dilemmas and ethical conundrums. One of the reasons Ed Wilson's book Consilience was so successful was that he attempted to revive this Enlightenment dream. Alas, we seem no closer than we were when Voltaire, Diderot, and company first encouraged scientists to go after moral and ethical questions. Are such matters truly insoluble and thus out of the realm of science (since, as Peter Medewar noted, "science is the art of the soluble")? Should we abandon Ed Wilson's Enlightenment dream of applying evolutionary biology to the moral realm? Most scientists agree that moral questions are scientifically insoluble and they have abandoned the Enlightenment dream. But not all. We shall see.

MICHAEL SHERMER is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of the acclaimed public science lecture series at Caltech, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American. His books include Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and Denying History.