RE: computer pain

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sun, 24 Dec 2006 19:17:19 +1100

Brent Meeker writes:

> >> If your species doesn't define as unethical that which is contrary to
> >> continuation of the species, your species won't be around to long.
> >> Our problem is that cultural evolution has been so rapid compared to
> >> biological evolution that some of our hardwired values are not so good
> >> for continuation of our (and many other) species. I don't think
> >> ethics is a matter of definitions; that's like trying to fly by
> >> settling on a definition of "airplane". But looking at the long run
> >> survival of the species might produce some good ethical rules;
> >> particularly if we could predict the future consequences clearly.
> >
> > If slavery could be scientifically shown to promote the well-being of
> > the species as a whole does that mean we should have slavery? Does it
> > mean that slavery is good?
> Note that I didn't say "promote the well-being"; I said "contrary to the continuation". If the species could not continue without slavery, then there are two possible futures. In one of them there's a species that thinks slavery is OK - in the other there is no opinion on the subject.

OK, but it is possible to have an ethical system contrary to the continuation of the
species as well. There are probably peopel in the world today who think that humans
should deliberately stop breeding and die out because their continued existence is
detrimental to the survival of other species on the planet. If you point out to them
that such a policy is contrary to evolution (if "contrary to evolution" is possible) or
whatever, they might agree with you, but still insist that quietly dying out is the good
and noble thing to do. They have certain values with a certain end in mind, and their
ethical system is perfectly reasonable in that context. That most of us consider it foolish
and do not want to adopt it does not mean that there is a flaw in the logic or in the
empirical facts.

Words like "irrational" are sometimes used imprecisely. Someone who decides to jump
off a tall building might be called irrational on the basis of that information alone. If he
does it because he believes he is superman and able to fly then he is irrational: he is
not superman and he will punge to his death. If he does it because he wants to kill
himself then he is not irrational, because jumping off a tall enough building is a perfectly
reasonable means towards this end. We might try equally hard in each case to dissuade
him from jumping, but the approach would be different because the underlying thought
processes are different.

Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Sun Dec 24 2006 - 03:17:35 PST

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