My comment on ‘Moral molecules’ – a new theory of what goodness is made of | Psyche Ideas was as follows:
The idea of trying to identify various moral positions as combinations of just a few basic elements is interesting. And it may be useful for understanding where people’s moral positions come from and how to encourage them in other directions (if that is what we want to do). But to conclude that “the theory provides us at last with a scientific guide for how to be good” demonstrates both an unfortunate hubris and (as I see it) a complete misunderstanding of the problem of what it means to “be good” in the face of competing demands whose relative weights may vary from person to person and time to time (and may in the end just be functions of some chemical concentrations in our brains).
To which the author responded with a question – which was presumably rhetorical since Aeon+Psyche only allow one comment per responder, but which I will nonetheless respond to here.
The question was “Alan, what do you think it means to be good?”
And so, not being one to give in so easily, I had to find his email address and answer – as follows:
I was intrigued by your article and find the idea of trying to identify various moral positions as combinations of just a few basic elements both interesting and potentially useful (eg for understanding and maybe influencing those positions – both in others and in ourselves). But I found it a stretch to conclude that “the theory provides us at last with a scientific guide for how to be good”.
I am sorry if my comment seemed to imply that I had anything better to offer. But unfortunately your response “Alan, what do you think it means to be good?” strikes me as a cheap shot, since (as I presume you know) the Aeon+Psyche commenting system gives me no opportunity to reply. But since you ask, I will answer.
The answer though is just that I have no idea (and do not think my comment implied any claim otherwise). What I do think is that the very theory you discuss makes it quite plausible that there is no possible “scientific guide for how to be good” because the various moral elements might be mutually non-comparable. And I would be very interested in hearing of any path you can suggest for overcoming that challenge.