That pesky sense of oughtness

by Mark McIntyre

Science has done an admirable job of exploring and describing the processes and functions of the things I see around me. I am not an astrophysicist but because of advances in science, it is possible for me to know more about the composition and operation of stars than the best scientist of several hundred years ago. We have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the physical universe.

Similarly, we have also progressed in our understanding of the human body. Medical science has improved our quality and length of life. For advances in medicine I am grateful.

Yet what science does not do very well is tell us what ought to be and why. So many of the people I meet and talk with express disappointment with the way things are. We are not satisfied with who we are and what we have. There is often a sense that something is missing or that something is wrong with the world. They express a sense that the world ought to be different than it is.

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If the material world is all that there is, where does this sense of oughtness come from? If our life is determined by our genetics, why do we strive to be something different? Where do we get a sense of beauty? If everything we see is the product of chance, why would a mountain be considered majestic or a sunset considered sublime? Why should loving my neighbor be better than hurting him? If survival of the fittest is the rule by which we live, why should I care about posterity or the environment? On what basis should I value tolerance of others if I make my own rules…


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