Bioethics Blogs

The Significance of Philosophical Ethics in a Scientific World


By: Michael S. Dauber

In the course of my studies and in my everyday experiences, I have often been asked about the significance of philosophy. What is it? Does philosophy even matter anymore since science answers many of our pressing questions?

There is a grain of truth in this sentiment; as the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is quick to point out, science can answer many of the questions philosophy has traditionally attempted to answer. However, this is not always the case: indeed, the primary role of philosophy in our world is to understand things that science simply cannot answer.

The most significant of these questions is ethics and morality. Science – which is specifically centered on questions about the physical world – may tell us in what manner we exist, how life occurs and how to sustain it, but it does not tell us how to live our lives with other people, nor is it particularly relevant to questions regarding non-physical phenomena, such as how consciousness operates and whether or not God exists.

Now, how to live one’s life is a complicated question, as the answer largely depends on a person’s specific situation, desires, dreams, and role in society. Some, like Immanuel Kant, James Griffin, and Brian Orend, even argue that the fact that our species can have opinions on how to live a good life at all gives us rights to be free from harm from others.

How do we begin to establish how best to live our lives? The most basic, broad component is to distinguish things that we can and cannot do, both to ourselves and to others.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.