RE: An essay I just wrote on the Singularity.

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Sat Jan 03 2004 - 19:48:21 MST

Perry Metzger wrote:
> Why do we torture animals to produce tastier food? Because they can't
> fight back and we like tasty food. Is this moral or immoral? I unask
> the question -- it is meaningless.

Perry, it's easy to argue that there is no objective morality, but so what?
It's easy to argue that there's no objective *anything*. That's not such an
interesting sort of argument, is it?

Sure, to argue that killing cows is worse than killing bugs but better than
killing humans, you need to begin from some assumption, such as the
assumption that causing pain to sentient beings is bad. Without making SOME
assumption -- however abstract -- as to "basic morality" one can't have a
meaningful moral discussion. All discussions of morality must proceed
within some common framework of moral understanding, and hence, as you say,
morality is not objective.

However, to argue that the helium atom exists you also need to begin from
some assumptions, such as assumptions about the reliability of laboratory
instruments, the meaningfulness of various chemical terms, etc. In fact, to
even begin to have a conversation about helium atoms with someone, a whole
network of social preconceptions has to be shared. Try talking about helium
atoms with an Amazonian tribesperson who has just barely emerged from the
jungle for the first time and has had little contact with Western

It's not enough to argue that morality is subjective -- when you poke
anything hard enough, even a big hard granite rock, it begins to look
subjective (and I'm not even gonna get started on quantum philosophy right
now...). To make a nontrivial argument, you have to argue that morality is
MORE subjective than the rest of the world....

And, I'm not so sure that it is. Much of morality is very subjective and
culturally-dependent. But, at the core of morality lies the core value of
compassion, which may perhaps NOT be more subjective than the big hard
granite rock outside my window....

Just as a rock has a kind of "partial objectivity" that distinguishes it
from more thoroughly subjective things like hallucinations and delusions;
so, perhaps, does compassion?

The question is never whether X has objective, absolute reality or not.
Nothing does. And the point is not to argue that X is subjective, therefore
meaningless -- that kind of nihilism was already found wanting by
Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and the whole proto-existentialist crew. The point is
to make the right pragmatic distinctions in the inbetween realm of "partial
objectivity" or "semi-reality" (Phil Dick) or "polyphonic reality" (Mikhail
Bakhtin) where actual living experience and actual science both lie...

Or, anyway, there's your (free for nothin'!) dose of Goertzellian philosophy
for the day ;) ;-p

-- Ben G

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