Ok, we’re all Spitzered out. I had many reactions to a piece I wrote about the affair(s). Some were baffling — apparently I am anti-Semitic for implying that a man who breaks the very laws he makes might be one sandwich short of a picnic, for instance. Which at least alerted me to the fact that Spitzer is Jewish. Many more were interesting and thought-provoking. This comment. by e-mail from Steve:
You talk about how morality is not a good basis for policy but science is. Yet science doesn’t say what we should do, just what will happen. We need a moral system to make normative statements–science is completely positive (economists go to great lengths to make this distinction in econ 101)–which is what you make clear implicitly when you note how immoral it is for a policy “based on morality” to fail to educate girls and 1/4th of them end up with should-have-been-preventable STDs.
I think its important to speak clearly on this issue and not let the religious right claim morality as its province and relegate the rest of us to acknowledging we are the “against morality” side.
It doesn’t make for good rhetoric, but honestly, we are exactly like them–we want to impose our policies on other people based on our worldview whether we call it religion or “science.” The difference is that our policies aren’t counter-productive by our own
measures–in short, our policies aren’t stupid. And your article never stated that directly.
This comment takes me back to a debate that I became aware of way back when, when the editors of the Journal “Epidemiology” said that scientists shouldn’t mess with policy. I’ve returned to the theme more recently at The Inverse Square and elsewhere: are science and moral outrage incompatible? Is it wrong for scientists to be politically engaged? My own feeling is that scientists have a duty to use data to guide policies in ways which will maximise well-being and minimise harm, especially for those least able to protect or provide for themselves. In other words, we should use science to promote outcomes that are moral. So I agree with Steve’s thoughtful position.
I did, however, have reactions that cast a different light on morality. This one, also by e-mail, from Diana Mohyi:
I would like to ask you why you have not chosen to become a prostitute? What is the core reason for which you have chosen not to be involved in this “profession”? Is it perhaps, your code of morality? I am very sure that these prostitutes would much rather be in your position than in theirs. What is the difference between animals and human beings? Morality. Morality is what keeps us from deteriorating into an animal state. Morality is reality. No politician is perfect. And in the end it is the reality of morality which has consistently revealed this reality.
Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
(James 1:5): “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally, and without reproach; and it will be given to him.”
Psalms 14:1 “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”
Psalms 53:1 “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.”
I hope that you will consider using the Bible as your source of Wisdom and instruction as I’m positive that God is the best source of Wisdom because He has never failed me.
That’s empirical, at least, though some would argue Diana’s sample size is rather small.