Re: Defining Right and Wrong

From: Michael Roy Ames (
Date: Sun Nov 24 2002 - 13:55:25 MST

Dear Ben,

You wrote:
> On a slightly different note, I am still not sure what
> you mean by "empirically verifiable ethical/moral
> system." This almost strikes me as a nonsequitur.

Yeah. Heh. Its what everyone wants, but nobody has. Do we ground
our morals in the views of one person? A whole bunch of people? In
a measure of some situation? Or what? Currently morals seem to be
grounded in concensus opinion, and as such, Friendly AI's cloud of
pan-human characteristics would attempt to capture that.

> Could you give me an example of the empirical verification of
> an ethical/moral system, and then an example of the empirical
refutation of
> one?

Sure. It's nothing fancy.

First, one has to define the goal. Here are some examples of goals:

To get to heaven.
To be considered a good person by oneself and others.
To perpetuate the human species.
To increase the quantity and quality of sentience in this Galaxy.
To increase in complexity of the universe.

Second, one has to define the system that is intended to reach (or
move towards) a goal. Here are some examples of systems:

Friendly AI.

Third, you compare how well actions take within the system move
toward (or reach) the goal. If actions within the system do in fact
achieve the goal, then the system is verified. Otherwise it is

This can be summed up with the short phrases like: Does the system
achieve its goals? Does it work?


I ask myself "what is the most Right goal"? or "what goal encompasses
all the other Right goals?". Then I ask myself "what has the
universe been doing up to now? (that we know of)". And one answer
appeared to be 'Increasing in complexity'. This seems to be the
answer the Universe is giving us when we ask "what are you doing?".
This answer correlates well with many of the human moral systems that
have grown and prospered over the centuries. Even now we, as humans,
are attempting to push the complexity of our environment and
ourselves to ever greater heights. This seems to be what the
universe *does*, and as such, I suspect it is the Right thing to do.
My definition of Rightness makes a first stab at measuring sentient
actions against-and-within this background of what the universe is
moving toward. Although we are the universe measuring itself, and it
seems circular, it is not. It is just self-contained.

Actually, Ben, I have you to thank for some of these ideas. Please
pull them apart if you can, because I would love to get it Right ;>

Michael Roy Ames

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