Let us look at human values as a scientist looks at the
phenomenon he chose for studying. What do we mean by human
values? First of all, this is something we appreciate and want to
have, or achieve. Values are something we qualify as good, and
are prepared to set as our goals in life. Second, we usually do
not include satisfaction of our physical needs into the concept,
even though we appreciate it and have to achieve it all the time,
often simply in order to survive. It would be fair to say that
the concept of values describes that part of our goals which are
not immediately necessary for survival. We call these aspects of
life spiritual, as opposed to the other aspects, which are re
ferred to as physical, or biological.
Goals of organized systems form a hierarchy. When two diffe
rent goals come into confilct, we call for a higher goal, or a
principle, or a value, which we choose to resolve the conflict.
The thing which interests us at most today is the highest of
these principles: the Supreme Goal, or the Supreme Value of human
life. This is the problem of ethics. Philosophy and religion work
on this problem traditionally. How does it look from the scien
tist's point of view?
The first attempt of an answer leads to a discouraging
result. Science is alien to ethics by its very essence. It ans
wers only to the questions of how things are, but not how they
ought to be. It does not say what is good and what is bad. As an
American philosopher remarked, no matter how carefully you study
the railroad schedule, you will not find there an indication
where you want to go.
It is thinkable, however, that science could kill ethics as
an independent subject. For somebody who lived in the 19th centu
ry and took seriously and consistently the implications of the
science of his time, like Karl Marx did, it was quite natural to
believe that the problem of ethics was not real, but imagined.
In the nineteenth century the picture of the world given by
science was broadly as follows. Very small particles of matter
move about in virtually empty three-dimensional space. These
particles act on one another with forces which are uniquely
determined by their positioning and velocities.The forces of
interaction, in their turn, uniquely determine, in accordance
with Newton's laws, the subsequent movement of particles. Thus
each subsequent state of the world is determined, in a unique
way, by its preceding state. Determinism was an intrinsic feature
of the scientific worldview of that time. In such a world there
was no room for freedom: it was illusory. Humans, themselves
merely aggregates of particles, had as much freedom as wound-up
With this worldview, the problem of ethics is not to decide
what is good and what is evil, but simply to predict how people
will behave in given circumstances. It is only a branch of sci
ence, the science of behavior. This trend of thinking was the
thoeretical basis for the Marxist economic determinism, and the
Leninist totalitarianism which brought misery and dehumanisation
to millions, if not billions of people. In the twentieth
century the scientific worldview has undergone a radical change.
It has turned out that subatomic physics cannot be understood
within the framework of the Naive Realism of the nineteenth
century scientists. The theory of Relativity and, especially,
Quantum Mechanics require that our worldview be based on Criti
cal Philosophy, according to which all our theories and mental
pictures of the world are only devices to organize and foresee
our experience, and not the images of the world as it "really"
is. Thus along with the twentieth-century's specific discove
ries in the physics of the microworld, we must regard the inevi
tability of critical philosophy as a scientific discovery -- one
of the greatest of the twentieth century.
We now know that the notion that the world is "really" space
in which small particles move along definite trajectories, is
illusory: it is contradicted by experimental facts. We also know
that determinism, i.e. the notion that in the last analysis all
the events in the world must have specific causes, is illusory
too. On the contrary, freedom, which was banned from the science
of the nineteenth century as an illusion, became a part, if not
the essence, of reality. The mechanistic world-view saw the laws
of nature as something that uniquely prescribes how events should
develop, with indeterminacy resulting only from our lack of
knowledge; contemporary science regards the laws of nature as
only restrictions imposed on a basically non-deterministic world.
There is genuine freedom in the world. When we observe it
from the outside, it takes the form of quantum-mechanical
unpredictability; when we observe it from within, we call it our
free will. We know that the reason why our behaviour is unpre
dictable from the outside is that we have ultimate freedom of
choice. This freedom is the very essence of our personalities,
the treasure of our lives. It is given us as the first element of
the world we come into. Logically, the concept of free will is
primary, impossible to derive or to explain from anything else.
The concept of necessity, including the concept of a natural law,
is a derivative: we call necessary, or predetermined, those
things which cannot be changed at will.
Thus the modern philosophy of science leaves ethics separate
from science, and, of course, extremely important, because the
kind of life we have depends on the kind of goals we set. Science
gives us knowledge, but does not immediately direct our will.
The gap separating knowledge and will can never be fully
bridged. It is true -- and important -- that knowledge can direct
will, make certain decisions natural, highly probable or almost
inevitable. But there is no necessity on the path from knowledge
to action. With any given knowledge we are still free to set any
goal at will. Goals can be logically derived only from goals, not
Then is there any way in which science is relevant to
ethics? I believe there is. The link between the two is provided
by the concept of evolution, and by the inborn feature of human
beings which I call the will for immortality.