RE: computer pain

From: Jef Allbright <>
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2006 11:46:20 -0800

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Brent Meeker writes:
> > 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.

I was preparing a response to related questions from Stathis in a
separate post when I noticed that he had already done an excellent job
of clarifying the issue here. I would add only the following:

The fundamental importance of context cannot be overemphasized in
discussions of Self, Free-will, Morality, etc., anywhere that the
subjective and the objective are considered together. Like
particle/wave duality, we can only get answers consistent with the
context of our questions.

* Many have attempted to bridge the gap between is and ought, but
haven't fully grasped the futility of attempting to find the
intersection of a point of view and its inverse.
* Many have shaken their heads wisely and stated that is and ought are
entirely disjoint, so nothing useful can be said about any supposed
relations between the two.
* Very few have realized the essential relativity of ALL our models of
thought, that there is no privileged frame of reference for making
objective distinctions between is and ought because we are inextricably
part of the system we are trying to describe, and THAT is what grounds
the subjective within the objective.

There can be no absolute or objective basis for claims of moral value,
because subjective assessment is intrinsic to the issue.
But we, as effective agents within the context of an evolving
environment, can *absolutely agree* that:
* subjective assessments have objective consequences, which then feed
back to influence future subjective assessments.
* actions are assessed as "good" to the extent that they are perceived
to promote into the future the present values of the (necessarily
subjective) assessor.
* actions are assessed as "better" to the extent that they are perceived
to promote "good" over greater scope of consequences.
* actions are assessed as "right in principle" (or "moral") to the
extent that they are perceived to be "better" over greater context of

So a pragmatic theory of ethics is clearly achievable, and by the very
nature of its subject, desirable.

Key is that for any subjective agent there are no absolutes and there
never have been, while we continue to be pulled along in the direction
of increasing synergetic advantage.

Paradox is always a matter of insufficient context--in the bigger
picture, all the pieces must fit.

- Jef

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Received on Fri Dec 22 2006 - 14:48:58 PST

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