Science, Morality, Possible Worlds, Scientism, and Ways of Knowing
One interesting subset of the discussion is the ice cream question.
Chunky Monkey is the best possible ice cream.
The ice cream question is the one that is closest to the issue of morality. Again, one might suggest that all we need to do is collect neurological data relevant to the functioning of pleasure centers in the brain when one eats different kinds of ice cream, and decide which does the best job. But that’s the question “What effect do different flavors of ice cream have on the brain?” (which is scientific), not “What flavor of ice cream is the best?” (not). To answer the latter question, we would have to know how to translate “the best ice cream” into specific actions in human brains. We can (and do) discuss how that might be done, but deciding which translation is right is — you guessed it — not a scientific question. If I like creamy New-England-style ice cream, and you prefer something more gelato-y, neither one of us is wrong in the sense that it is wrong to say that the universe is contracting. Even if you collect data and show beyond a reasonable doubt that New York Super Fudge Chunk lights up my brain more effectively in every conceivable way than Chunky Monkey does, I’m still not “wrong” to prefer the latter. It’s a judgment, not a statement about empirically measurable features of reality. We can talk about how we should relate such judgments to reality — and we do! — but that talk doesn’t itself lie within the purview of science. It’s aesthetics, or taste, or philosophy.
One thing Sean doesn’t say (possibly because it’s tangential to his discussion) is simply this: as assertion based your ice cream preference is an opinion, and personal opinions — if they truly are opinions — are neither right nor wrong. Where some people go off the rails is when they assert opinions as if they are facts. If you start from the position that “Chunky Monkey is the best possible ice cream” is objectively true, then you’re building a house of cards; the argument is not going to hold up. Yet this seems to happen quite a bit, at least in certain discussions in which I have participated.