Facts and morals

Status quaestionis: Sex ed, economics, and political science are not viewed as moral fields of inquiry. In this sense we see the moral as opposed to the scientific, since science deals with straight facts and not the various moral interpretations that are put upon them. But smoking, thinking bad racial thoughts, being “Anti-American” or “against equality”, or “not standing with the President during the war” etc. are all immoral, though we insist that this is read straight off the facts.

Look, I’m more prone than anyone to interpret this cynically. It seems like mere moral hypocrisy and/or an expression of will to power. At the very least, any naive or unqualified attempt to either identify or divide morals and facts ought to be viewed with suspicion.* But if we give the facts the benefit of the doubt, we might read them as reflecting this: we divide morals from facts to indicate a lack of consensus, though we recognize that mere consensus would never suffice to make something moral. So there is a broad consensus that smoking is wrong, and so it can be considered immoral; though we recognize that it can’t be moral simply because of the consensus. On the other hand, there is no broad consensus that the Gospel is true, and so we can’t base morals off of it, even though we recognize that whether it is moral or not has nothing to do with consensus.

One problem or qualification we would have to make in this is that there were certainly times when there was more consensus that the Gospels were true than that smoking was harmful, though even at these very times we were more zealous in being anti-smoking than pro-Gospel. I’m thinking of the first no-smoking sections of the Late ’80’s or the first smoking bans if the mid-90’s. But we might just say that all sides agree that not all consensus is equal – the consensus with a scientific case is better than mere popular consensus, say.


*Yes, I recognize the problem that sentence has with self-reference.

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