Re: Quest for trans guide.

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sat May 04 2002 - 10:21:56 MDT

Mike & Donna Deering wrote:
> Eliezer writes:
> >What is it that differentiates "justice" from "revenge" if not the
> >justification of maintaining order in a community?
> Justice may have a role in the proper functioning of a society, but that's
> not what I am referring to here. I see justice as of value itself. I want
> to live in a universe that is not "evil". That leaves "good" or "morally
> balanced". I quote these terms because I realize they are going to require
> some explanation to separate them from their religious historical context.
> I am not advocating any religious philosophy (I don't personally to any). I
> think these terms are more basic than any religion. I think they are the
> reason many people seek out religion. I person directly feels these
> concepts (not in a metaphysical sense) and looks for an explanation or a
> framework to understand them. Consequently many people are vulnerable to
> deception by those who would use these concepts for their own purposes.
> When you observe some action or activity that is good it makes you feel
> good, and vice versa. When you observe someone doing irreversible serious
> harm to another not deserving it, you feel bad and want to make it right and
> that will make you feel better. But here is the important part: The reason
> you feel bad is you observe that the universe is out of balance. There is a
> stain of evil on it which must be removed for the universe to return to
> balance. Because you know that if it is not corrected and if more stains
> accumulate that the universe will become an evil place. And the more evil
> it becomes the easier it is for evil actions to take place. And of course,
> the more evil actions the worse you feel. It sounds kind of circular but
> it's not an explanation, it's reality, and reality is often circular. We
> have all felt this. Case in point: we hear that someone has tortured and
> murdered a young child, we feel that the universe is out of balance and
> needs to be made right. The word for this is justice. It's not for
> society, not for the victims, not for us, it's for the universe.

But the actions that you call "justice" and I call "revenge" are, under my
view, a further stain on the universe. That justice in our contemporary
society - harming or killing people to halt them from committing a crime,
throwing others in jail and restricting their freedoms - does in fact
minimize the total amount of stain on the universe more than a complete lack
of justice is its sole philosophical justification. That it is a necessary
evil does not make it any less evil. The stain on the universe caused by
child abuse does not go away if you shoot the abuser. The stain is a part
of the indelible past history of the universe; it is eternal. Shooting the
child abuser adds another stain, albeit a lesser one. The sole
justification for doing so is that you are supposedly, in this way, helping
to prevent further child abuse which would be an even greater stain on the
universe than the killing of a child abuser.

And if the Singularity brings the adding of further stains to a shrieking
halt, then hurting a child abuser, if you could do it, would be a pure
negative-sum game. Justice does not erase past stains on the universe; it
minimizes the number of new stains created. Stripped of this justification,
justice is merely revenge. Short of time travel nothing is ever going to
wipe out those past stains, and I really don't know the rules of morality
under time travel, so I don't know if even that would do it; but failing
time travel, the past history of the universe is an eternal crystal.
Nothing can change it; nothing can balance it. It may be hard to accept
that our actions are eternal and that nothing can ever give us a clean
slate; that we can outweigh our mistakes but not actually erase them; so
it's important to remember that good deeds, like evil deeds, also become
part of the indelible history of the universe.

> Why do I care if you don't share my ideas about justice? Because you are
> writing the code of the friendliness system of the first AI. You are going
> to be training it in friendliness, and testing it against your moral system.
> Your moral character is of prime importance to all of us. It is an issue.

I don't dispute that, as long as people realize that it's not the only
issue; to have an AI built by an earnest fool is an unnecessary risk but
there are still ways for an imperfect philosopher to build a better

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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