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Recently I was in a discussion about morality in which someone suggested that morality can indeed be scientific. I reminded the person of Hume’s Guillotine, which eviscerates the idea of secular ethics. Hume’s Guillotine basically states that a person cannot derive values from facts alone, only other facts. To derive values, one must first arbitrarily adopt an over-arching moral framework, and then evaluate the facts in light of the framework.

Still, the person persisted and linked to a commentary by someone claiming that systems of morality can be rationally evaluated using Game Theory, such as the famous test Prisoner’s Dilemma. In Prisoner’s Dilemma a situation is introduced where two prisoners are taken together in relation to the same crime. Both have to decide whether to testify against the other. If A testifies against B, and vice versa, both get two years. If neither A nor B testifies against each other, both only get one year. But if A testifies against B and B stays silent, A goes free and B gets three years. Interesting to think about.

Prisoner’s dilemma itself is an amoral, arbitrary test. It can be used to observe and quantify a set of results but does not clarify morality, nor make predictive results for a previously untested population, especially when a new version of the dilemma is rolled out with different trade-offs.

The article they linked to was posted at Scientific American, at the url:  http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/game-theory-and-the-golden-punishment-rule/

Here is why the article’s conclusions are non sequitur logic fallacies:

Testing a given moral framework would necessitate adjusting the dilemma itself to be in line with that framework. What’s good and bad would be different so the system of justice and types of payoffs involved would be different.

Even if the system of justice & payoffs remained situationally the same across the different moral frameworks being evaluated, the moral interpretation of whatever result was produced – what would be considered a good outcome and what would be considered a bad outcome – would also need to be changed to be evaluated according to the given moral framework being considered.

For example, if a moral framework valued telling the truth and punishing criminal behavior, then two people covering up the wrongdoing and therefore serving minimal time would be considered a ~negative~ outcome.

But if someone had Humanist values – the ideas that truth is secondary to manipulating outcomes and that crimes should only be punished if the perpetrator gets caught – then covering up the wrongdoing and serving minimal time for it would be considered a ~positive~ outcome.

Because of these differences it’s impossible to dispassionately ~morally~ evaluate the outcomes of disparate moral frameworks. They will always be evaluated according to whatever happens to be the moral framework of the person doing the evaluating.

This exposes the main non sequitur logic fallacy with rationalism itself. Rationalism pretends to be scientific and objective, but it ~assumes~ it’s own subjective morality as much as any other arbitrary moral framework. And because the scientific method is limited to the realm of facts, the moral conclusions reached are ~not~ scientific at all but purely philosophical.

Yet rationalists try to sell their moral conclusions as somehow being scientific, just like the article we’re discussing is trying to do.

Rationalists pretend all morality is relative, yet what they value is whatever leads to their own empowerment over others and personal enrichment. So their morality is that it’s moral to subjugate others and live off the efforts of others. Their morality boils down to: themselves as gods.

This is why every attempt to “scientifically” create a utopia by rationally manipulating people – such as in game theory – has wound up empowering and enriching the endeavor’s leaders while subjugating and impoverishing everyone else involved.

It’s sad but not surprising that such a commentary would be posted by Scientific American.   Much of the scientific establishment in the West is guilty of confusing arbitrary secular ethics with science, and for the same reasons- They are trying to help usher in that utopia they think we’re always on the verge of but which, sadly, we will never realize because of mankind’s selfish nature.  Hopefully one day they will become scientific enough to actually see that morality and science are separate entities.

In the meantime, when it comes to applied Prisoner’s Dilemma, the test subject is always the prisoner.

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