Today we considered Max Weber’s view that science and ethics do not overlap.
On Weber’s view, the scientist describes empirical facts. None of these facts, though, have normative force; the scientist tells you how the world is, but not how it ought to be. Or to use one of Weber’s analogies, science is like a map: it tells you where you are, but not where you should be going.
One reason that Weber finds it so easy to split science and ethics, as we saw, is that his assumptions are deeply Kantian (sometimes also called ‘deontologist’). On the Kantian view, ethical action is action that maintains a ‘good will’, by always acting in such a way as to treat other people as ends, and in such a way that one’s action could be made a general law. The liar, for example, is not acting in such a way that his actions could be made a general law, and so he embodying a sort of contradiction. The nice thing about Kant’s view of ethics, of course, is that it allows us to be very clear about where our responsibilities begin and end in a morally messy world.
Finally we spoke briefly about consequentialism. Whereas a Kantian focusses on maintaining a good will, a consequentialist is focussed on consequences: maximizing pleasure, or happiness, in as many people as possible. We spoke briefly about cases that might make you want to be a consequentialist, for example cases where you have to make a decision about large numbers of people. More on consequentialism next week.