RE: computer pain

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2006 21:23:58 +1100

Jef Allbright writes:

> peterdjones wrote:
> > Moral and natural laws.
> >
> >
> > An investigation of natural laws, and, in parallel, a defence
> > of ethical objectivism.The objectivity, to at least some
> > extent, of science will be assumed; the sceptic may differ,
> > but there is no convincing some people).
> <snip>
> > As ethical objectivism is a work-in-progress
> > there are many variants, and a considerable literature
> > discussing which is the correct one.
> I agree with the thrust of this post and I think there are a few key
> concepts which can further clarify thinking on this subject:
> (1) Although moral assessment is inherently subjective--being relative
> to internal values--all rational agents share some values in common due
> to sharing a common evolutionary heritage or even more fundamentally,
> being subject to the same physical laws of the universe.

That may be so, but we don't exactly have a lot of intelligent species to make
the comparison. It is not difficult to imagine species with different evolutionary
heritages which would have different ethics to our own, certainly in the details
and probably in many of the core values.
> (2) From the point of view of any subjective agent, what is "good" is
> what is assessed to promote the agent's values into the future.
> (3) From the point of view of any subjective agent, what is "better" is
> what is assessed as "good" over increasing scope.
> (4) From the point of view of any subjective agent, what is increasingly
> "right" or moral, is decision-making assessed as promoting increasingly
> shared values over increasing scope of agents and interactions.
> From the foregoing it can be seen that while there can be no objective
> morality, nor any absolute morality, it is reasonable to expect
> increasing agreement on the relative morality of actions within an
> expanding context. Further, similar to the entropic arrow of time, we
> can conceive of an arrow of morality corresponding to the ratcheting
> forward of an increasingly broad context of shared values (survivors of
> coevolutionary competition) promoted via awareness of increasingly
> effective principles of interaction (scientific knowledge of what works,
> extracted from regularities in the environment.)

What if the ratcheting forward of shared values is at odds with evolutionary
expediency, i.e. there is some unethical policy that improves the fitness of the
species? To avoid such a dilemna you would have define as ethical everything
improves the fitness of the species, and I'm not sure you want to do that.
> Further, from this theory of metaethics we can derive a practical system
> of social decision-making based on (1) increasing fine-grained knowledge
> of shared values, and (2) application of increasingly effective
> principles, selected with regard to models of probable outcomes in a
> Rawlsian mode of broad rather than narrow self-interest.

This is really quite a good proposal for building better societies, and one that
I would go along with, but meta-ethical problems arise if someone simply
rejects that shared values are important (eg. believes that the values of the
strong outweigh those of the weak), and ethical problems arise when it is
time to decide what exactly these shared values are and how they should
best be promoted. You know this of course, and it is what makes ethics and
aesthetics different to the natural sciences.

> I apologize for the extremely terse and sparse nature of this outline,
> but I wanted to contribute these keystones despite lacking the time to
> provide expanded background, examples, justifications, or
> clarifications. I hope that these seeds of thought may contribute to a
> flourishing garden both on and offlist.
> - Jef

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Fri Dec 22 2006 - 05:24:17 PST

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