RE: Defining Right and Wrong

From: Billy Brown (
Date: Mon Nov 25 2002 - 10:23:36 MST

Michael Roy Ames wrote:
> You wrote:
> > But really, most systems of ethics are attempts to
> > solve a global optimization problem that could be
> > loosely described as "for all significant entities,
> > maximize the extent to which each entity acheives
> > positive outcomes while minimizing negative
> > outcomes".
> I wish that this were true, but I suspect that it is not. For the
> systems of ethics that have *lasted* your statement is true - the
> other systems didn't optimize well enough, and died.

Well, I'll grant you that there is another school of 'thought', which
explicitly rejects any attempt to understand or justify the rules of an
ethical system in favor of blind faith in some higher authority. But even
then, the reason people accept such systems is usually an underlying
expectation that they will promote whatever it is they consider good, and
restrain whatever they consider bad.

> Your loose
> description is a good start... now we just have to fill in all those
> pesky definitions for words like 'significant', 'positive/negative'
> and 'outcomes' ;)

Heavens, no. If you want to approach ethics as an objective, scientific
problem the last thing you want to do is make unsupported assumptions about
anything. You certainly can't justify assuming that your own values are more
correct than anyone else's, or that you have a better grasp of who matters
than some other group does - the very fact that there is disagreement on
these points is a sure sighn that you need hard data before you can come to
any conclusions.

That's why I started by suggesting a calculation where each person rates the
desireability of a possible future by its own standards, and you look at
everything capable of having an opinion. Spend some time studying that kind
of simulation and you might be able to identify entities you can safely
ignore, or rating systems that don't work for one reason or another. But the
data has to come first, and it has to be interpreted independantly of any
one person's preconceived notions of what the final result 'ought' to be.
Otherwise you're just manufacturing excuses for whatever ethical system you
started out with.


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