John C. Wright explains why Sam Harris’s latest crusade is misplaced; empiricism is useless with regards answering non-empirical questions, thereby rendering the derivation of “ought” from “is’ impossible:
Here is my proof.
- Do you agree that the international scientific community has
reduced all empirical entities to certain basic constants, namely mass,
length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, moles of substance,
such that any empirical subject (such as the acceleration due to
gravity of a cannonball or color defined as light-frequency) can be
expressed in terms of these measurable quantities or some calculated
derivation of these quantities? (I do note that for subatomic
particles, some additional fundamentals are needed, but these are also
quantities, and not qualities, and therefore do not effect the
- A quality is a judgment concerning an imponderable entity, such as
true or untrue, valid or invalid, comely or ugly. A quantity is a
multitude of magnitudes, or in other words, a quantity can be measured
against a standard or counted with numbers or both. Do you agree that no
quality can be reduced to quantity by any means whatsoever?For example,
do you agree that counting the number of vowels used to express a given
sentence written in ink in Esperanto will not necessarily tell you
whether the sentence is true or false, fairminded or slanderous,
self-evident or self-contradictory, lovely poetry or ungainly prose?
That also measuring with utmost care the jots over the small I’s and
small J’s even to the extend of counting every ink molecule will not
give you sufficient information to make these judgment?
- If all empirical statements can be reduced to measured fundamental
quantities, and no statements about imponderables such as good and bad,
valid and invalid, fair or foul can be reduced to measurable fundamental
qualities, then they have no overlap whatsoever in topic or probative
value, Ergo no imponderable can be proved or disproved by purely
empirical statement, no matter how numerous or complex.
To head off an obvious objection, the quantities facts about the
molecules and atoms in a man’s brain have some sort of unknown relation
to his ability to make qualitative judgments. Drunkenness or drugs or a
blow to the head can, for example, impede the operations of memory and
judgment and other cognitive powers, or drive him mad, or kill a man
altogether. There is, however, not a single iota of evidence showing a
relation between the imponderable cognitive content and any quantitative
facts about brain molecules.
WRF3, you are now formally invited to do your thing. But if you don’t mind an observation, this “Rolf Andreassen” at Mr. Wright’s site is presenting arguments that sound remarkably similar to those you have made here in the past.
This should be interesting. “How much does a thought weigh?” has always struck me as being a question akin to “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” or “why does purple?” But perhaps we shall be convinced otherwise.