RE: computer pain

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2006 23:07:26 +1100

Brent Meeker writes:
> Jef Allbright wrote:
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > (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.)
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > 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
> Well said! I agree almost completely - I'm a little uncertain about (3) and (4) above and the meaning of "scope". Together with the qualifications of Peter Jones regarding the lack of universal agreement on even the best supported theories of science, you have provided a good outline of the development of ethics in a way parallel with the scientific development of knowledge.
> There's a good paper on the relation facts and values by Oliver Curry which bears on many of the above points:

That is a well-written paper, particularly good on an explanation of the "naturalistic
fallacy", covering what we have been discussing in this thread (and the parallel thread
on evil etc. with which it seems to have crossed over). Basically, the paper argues that
Humes edict that you can't get is from ought is no impediment to a naturalistic explanation
of ethics, and that incidentally Hume himself had a naturalistic explanation. Another
statement of the naturalistic fallacy is that explanation is not the same as justification:
that while Darwinian mechanisms may explain why we have certain ethical systems that
does not constitute justification for those sytems. To this Curry counters:

"In case this is all rather abstract, let me re-state the point by way of an analogy. Suppose
that instead of being about morality and why people find certain things morally good and bad,
this article had been about sweetness, and why people find certain things sweet and certain things
sour. The Humean-Darwinian would have argued that humans have an evolved digestive system
that distinguishes between good and bad sources of nutrition and energy; and that the human
‘sweet tooth’ is an evolved preference for foods with high sugar-content over foods with low
sugar-content. If one accepted this premise, it would make no sense to complain that evolution
may have explained why humans find certain things sweet, but it cannot tell us whether these
things are really sweet or not. It follows from the premises of the argument that there is no
criterion of sweetness independent of human psychology, and hence this question cannot arise."

That's fine if we stop at explanation at the descriptive level. But sweetness lacks the further dimension
of "ought": if I say "sugar is sweet" I am stating a fact about the relationship between sugar and my
tastebuds, while if I say "murder is bad" I am not only stating a fact about how I feel about it, I am
also making a profound claim about the world. In a sense, I think this latter claim or feeling is illusory
and there is nothing to it beyond genes and upbringing, but I still have it, and moreover I can have
such feelings in conflict with genes and upbringing. As G.E. Moore said (also quoted in the article),
if I identify "good" with some natural object X, it is always possible to ask, "is X good?", which means
that "good" must essentially be something else, "simple, indefinable, unanalysable object of thought",
which only contingently coincides with natural objects or their properties. The same applies even if
you include as "natural object" commands from God.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Fri Dec 22 2006 - 07:07:46 PST

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