Re: Evil ? (was: Hypostases (was: Natural Order & Belief)

From: Bruno Marchal <>
Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2006 16:35:24 +0100

Le 14-déc.-06, à 11:43, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> But there is no true/false in saying that torture is bad, unless there
> is another
> hidden assumption such as "causing gratuitous suffering is bad", in
> which case
> the question becomes, why is causing gratuitous suffering bad?
> Ultimately you
> get to "it just is, so there!" It is the same in aesthetics:
> ultimately, you have to
> assert that you think this looks better than that because that's just
> what you
> think.
But there is no true/false in saying that prime numbers exist, unless
there is another deeper assumption such as "natural numbers obeys such
and such principles, in which case the question becomes, why are
natural numbers obeying those principles. Ultimately you get to "it
just is, that is why I take those axioms, I feel it to be true, etc."
Ultimately, you assert that you think that those axioms looks better
than others because that's just what you feel confident about.
Only before Godel (and Dedekind) could people believe that some axiom
in arithmetic have to be true in some absolute sense. The difference
between numbers and "bad/good" is that they are simpler and after many
centuries of reflection we know them better. About good/bad the
scientific study has not yet begin, probably because it is extremely
complex and also because it touches the religion and the social stuff
(religare = to make link (between subjects)).
> What would you say to the Romans who attended events at the Colliseum,
> and thought there was nothing wrong at all with feeding people to wild
> animals?
That they are barbarian having not the slightest humility in human
affair, and that I am not astonished by such behavior from the people
who did make the infinite blaspheme of mixing state and theology. We
are still paying the high price of such an inconsiderable confusion.
> What would you say to an alien species which had reached a high level
> of
> technological development by routinely killing the less intelligent
> portion of the
> population in order to control their numbers and improve the gene pool?
The same.
> What
> would you say to a citizen of Nazi Germany 70 years down the track if
> Hitler had
> succeeded in conquering Europe and every schoolchild had grown up
> learning
> what a great man he was?
Unless complete revisionism, I don't believe anyone would have take the
industrial murdering as something great. Of course such an event would
have maintained such a barbarism for a longer time, except that they
would have been revisionist.
It is not a coincidence that today the same who shows sign of
willingness to eliminate the jews (again) are those who shows
willingness to pretend the shoah has never happened.
> You could try to persuade them that your values were
> better and nobler, but you couldn't persuade them that your values are
> more
> rational or more consistent with the facts, because they aren't.
They could be more universal (like number theory or computer science or
the whole lobian interview).
What makes you so sure that civilization will not help all people to
understand the non normativeness of social values, so that, although we
cannot impose such value, we can still hope to teach them by example
and making them available to more and more individuals.
About ethical questions I am not a relativist, at all. Relativists
confuse hardness and unnameability of the concepts involved with
impossibility to give sense to those concepts.
> There are several differences between the axioms of ethics and
> aesthetics on
> the one hand and those of logic, mathematics and science on the other.
> One is
> that you can bet that any sentient species would arrive at exactly the
> same rules
> of arithmetic and chemistry, but might have completely bizarre, or at
> least very
> different, notions of ethics and aesthetics.
Of course I disagree. We could have different interest in the use of
resource in the universe, but I bet we could agree on general ethic
(like your beautiful formula: gratuitous (if that means something)
suffering is bad).
> Another is that matters of ethics and
> aesthetics are not really third person communicable:
I agree. But mathematical truth is already like that. We can agree on
the truth of many mathematical sentences like 17 is prime, but also on
ethical sentences, again like your "it is bad to inflict gratuitous
pain", and still been unable to define "true" "good", etc.
> an alien species may have
> notions about these that can only be understood by someone with their
> psychology.
This could be true for some piece of math, even piece of arithmetics.
> This is because ethics and aesthetics at a fundamental level involve
> emotion, whereas
> science and logic do not.
You say so. I doubt it. Math is full of emotion. For contingent reason
we have to hide them (if only for publishing motivation). And it is too
early to explain the intrinsic emotion "in" the math (although this
will develop by itself with the evolution of machines).
> An unconscious machine might systematically churn out
> mathematical theorems, but it won't ever provide an honest opinion as
> to whether
> eating beans is good or bad.
Why? If the machine has a built in fuzzy program like "do anything to
preserve self-integrity", and if it happens that "eating beans" seems,
for such a machine to be dangerous (for correct or incorrect reason),
then the machine could develop some "honest" opinion on that matter.
Robot on Mars could develop opinion like "martian sand is not good for
the working of our wheels".
> Finally, although in scientific discourse people might
> eventually concede that they are dealing with axioms, in ethics
> especially this is
> often taken as offensive, and part of the purpose of religion is to
> give an absolute
> status to which at some level everyone knows is not absolute.
This just illustrates my main point here. It is only with Vatican II
that modern catholic theologians have agreed that it is impossible that
faith could be in opposition with reason(*), and this despite it can be
argued that christian theology is 2/3 plotinian (and thus rationalist).
This cannot be used to forget that Christian religion has been
normative on ethic during many centuries and this explain why axiomatic
thinking on ethical questions can still today seems offensive. With
comp, just speculating a little bit, ethical questions are as absolute
as they are NON normative.
(*) see also the encyclic by Jean Paul II (Fides and Ratio). See also
Al Ghazali for a deep muslim explanation of that very idea. Of course
fanatics of any obedience (christian, marxist, muslims, ...) mock such
ideas. That's why all "intellectuals" are enemy of any fanatics.
>> Not in any normative sense. But once we bet on a theory (like comp),
>> then we get mathematical tools which can provide general explanation
>> of
>> what is bad, and also explain why such definition cannot be normative,
>> making the bad/good distinctions an ideal goal for complex
>> sufficiently
>> self-sustaining machines societies.
> What if they're Nazi machines?
In "Conscience and Mécanisme", well actually in this list too (a long
time ago) I have proposed a simple recursive axiomatic of "conscience"
(moral consciousness or moral superiority, or moral goodness).
1) A machine is said to be good if the machine is not bad.
2) And there exist to kind of bad machines: those who asserts they are
good and those who asserts their are bad.
Given that the main assertion of the nazi is that they are good (see
mein kampf) , it follows they are bad.
Better to fight or run away from such nazi machines ...
> I am touched by your confidence that the rational will lead to the
> good,
> and I wish it were so, but it isn't and it never has been.
G* proves that rationality lead to the good. Like Plotinus I hope
and/or bet that rationality lead to the good. It is my faith, if you
But G* proves also that any machine believing strongly or just
asserting (without interrogation mark) that rationality leads to the
good will be irrational and will be lead to the bad.
G* is full of "true propositions" which when asserted, proved, or
institutionalized, become false. (cf BDt -> ~Dt)
This, imo, explains many confusions and even many suffering when lobian
machines try to argue on those matter and forget the interrogation
mark. With comp there is a sense to say that we are at best "divine
hypotheses", and God will "rightly" abandon us the day "we" take for
granted that we are His/Her/It *last* word. This could really be a
sort of cosmic fatal error for "us", but a chance for more humble
different divine hypothesis (spider? bacteria? ...).
More on the ground, I do believe "democracy" is a progress, and that we
are making some ethical progress on this planet, albeit slowly. In
particular if a "random "child is thirsty then the probability that he
will drink water is bigger in a democracy than in a non democracy. And
that is good, no?. Democracy is even a meta-progress in the non
normative comp sense. It does not tell us what is good or wrong, on the
contrary, it shows us a way to doubt political ideas by letting us try
different political programs and revising them (by democracy I mean
only repeated "honest" elections). But of course democracy does not
*necessarily* lead to the good.
> I would only be
> a little less frightened of a rational murderous regime than of an
> irrational
> one.
That remark is related with many conceptual difficulties including the
free will question (like your use of the term "gratuitous" which is the
only weakness I see in your axiom for "bad" above). To be short I will
just ask you how could a murder be irrational? It seems to me that a
murder without ratio can only be a sort of accident, or a non sense
(like a really gratuitous act perhaps).
I would be frightened to be killed in *any* situation, but in any case
I would prefer to know the ratio. If the killer is just insane, this is
equivalent as bad luck (like to be killed by a natural catastrophe). If
the killer is a sadist, I would prefer the killer acknowledging it
(instead of inventing pretext or confusing lies). If the killer is a
racist, then it will hurt me morally much more (bad ratio, promise of
many other victims, etc.), if the killer decides to kill me for
ideological ratio, well it is like racism (bad ratio).
As doctor you probably know that victim who survive some natural
disaster recover quite more easily, for equivalent 3-wounds, than
victims who have been the target of purposefully human organized
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Received on Thu Dec 14 2006 - 10:36:34 PST

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