Is it unbiased or impersonal if we don't want to change our society towards what is right based on research into the biological grounding of psychology?

Say that scientists found that (a) the concept of human gender has a relatively crisp demarcation on genetic grounds, or (b) that religious beliefs are not the result of individual engagement with spiritual beings but are biosocially geared towards reflecting the religious beliefs of our parents/culture.

In order for moral society to be objectively grounded, would we need to restrict transgender and religious freedom of expression, or do we value freedom so much that we shouldn't? Is it unbiased because we value freedom more than social progress?

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    "Right" is an evaluative category , not a factual one, and so are "fair" and "better". No research results alone can tell us what is 'right', which society is 'fair and better', or what to value more, see fact–value distinction. Any value judgments are biased in the sense that different people have different values and apply theirs when evaluating what is 'best'.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 3:22
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    Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 6:56
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    Making a choice requires bias. One outcome is more favorable than another. The best any member of a society can do is to make choices that benefit both the individual and society as a whole. Unfortunately, concepts like right and wrong are not static. They change over time and that's where debates and conflicts arise.
    – user64314
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


Let us suppose that we identified all the biochemical mechanisms associated with conditions like major depressive disorder or schizophrenia. (We assume that our progress on the biological side of things will confirm those psychological categories, rather than lead to an entirely new DSM, if you will, though note that historically, we passed from terms like melancholia and dementia praecox to the hopefully more useful contemporary phrasing.) Yet would such discoveries show that these emotional and cognitive conditions must be maintained, simply because they seem to be "caused" by biological factors?

Now, it isn't likely anyway that we would find out that biology itself was so much a reliable source of the grounding you are asking about, because we would in turn have to pass from biology to chemistry to quantum physics in the one direction, and from psychology to sociology to ecology to cosmology in the other. In other words: why would biological explanations of psychology outweigh ecological ones, and so on?

Insofar as we cherish freedom of expression and yet pose to ourselves questions about "harm"-reducing limitations hereof, we face the question of paternalism. We might argue against gender-affirming care and religious enculturation on the one hand, while arguing for medication/therapy regimens on the other, vis-à-vis the various states of mind under immediate discussion here, supposing we made the relevant discoveries. However, to fully justify paternalism would require much better metaethical theories besides, much better, that is, than are currently available. Uncertainty over bridge-principles for dealing with is/ought gaps or "naturalistic fallacies" suggests that it is possible that ethical concepts are not particularly subordinate to biology, psychology, or other such disciplines (although, to be fair, it's not really known that such separations of concepts are absolute; c.f. the uptake in moral psychology as a family of research programs).

The application of dichotomies like bias/impartiality, then, must be situated to some extent less abstrusely. I.e. we can also ask about impartiality in forming theories of freedom, rather than just the impartiality (or lack thereof) of such theories "from the outside," in comparison to an external framework. And really, it would be rather incredible to think that we had to wait for decades (or centuries!) of scientific analysis of gender, religion, and mental health before coming to perfectly acceptable conclusions in practical reasoning about these topics. If our metaethics were telling us to wait on such things, it wouldn't be much of a metaethics.

EDIT: another complicating factor is the possibility that there are scientific debates that have already been resolved enough to where, if the results are applicable to some moral questions, then we're already in a position to run through those applications. For example, it seems relatively obvious to me that some people's religious beliefs were not simply transmitted to them from previous generations, and that some people's gender identities are not dependent on an inflexible biological substrate. If we make our moral theories turn on the endless progress of science, the kind of moral progress we would be looking to make could well end up paralyzing us or changing our decisions with every new, supposedly pertinent, discovery. And so I would be tempted, were I in that kind of cognitive position, to defer to whatever my local moral intuitions were telling me (if anything).


You should consider Hume's Is-Ought distinction: we simply cannot extract how we ought to behave, from facts about how the world is. It is a category-error to think so. We can use facts towards making decisions, but how we balance priorities and solve moral dilemmas, involves making decisions about what kind of people we want to be, which the world cannot make for us.

You might like to read this answer, about how different jurisdictions have focused on different priorities, in relation to their cultures and histories: Is artificially generating images of minors in sexual positions unethical? In particular, see how the USA had prioritised free-speech, whereas European states have tended to focus on avoiding moral hazards and harms pre-emptively.

What reveals 'bias'? Look at how specific laws have been argued for, like drag bans ignoring clothing choice as free-speech. This conflict with the US Constitution means these laws self-evidently won't work, cannot be upheld. They would presumably criminalise kilts and religious robes that have never been an issue. So, that reveals how they must then be about making a statement rather than actually changing the law. Which is to say, about specific candidates for office showing commitment to stoking this as a 'culture war' issue, and distracting from government policy priorities of substance.

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