Re: Ethical theories

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Sat Jan 31 2004 - 14:07:49 MST

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> What I'm thinking of would be a theory of "ethical systems" rather
> than ethical acts. It would agree that any one act may be ethical or
> not depending on the ethical system within which you view the act.
> But it would give some high-level criteria for judging ethical
> systems as wholes.

Yes! That's certainly near the top of my list of fields worth study.

> I am working out an ethical theory of this nature myself (slowly, in
> my spare time), but I am wondering if a theory of this nature already
> exists.

I've been searching and putting out feelers on this for a couple of years,
and even the latest literature I'm aware of doesn't attempt to take a broad
enough perspective, in my opinion.

> So I was wondering what qualities there are that distinguish a good
> ethical system from a bad one. Is there a similar list of properties
> characterizing a "progressive" ethical system, which can be used to
> compare even "incommensurable" ethical systems?

It seems to me that the ultimate measure of an ethical system is
consistency. Within nested context levels, the consistency of ethical
principles should increase as the context becomes broader.

This holds despite the perception of local minima within smaller scopes of
applicability and time. For the same reason, in short, that children often
don't agree with their parents' view of what is best.

> Habermas's approach suggests that good ethical systems will have the
> property that most people, if given the opportunity to freely express
> their opinion in an appropriate situation, living in a society that
> imposes the ethical system will agree that the ethical system is a
> good idea.

The above seems to be as far as most current thinking goes, and leaves man
as the measure of moral systems. As we move in post-humanity we need
something broader. My own current thinking is that there appears to be an
"arrow of morality" that may be deduced from (still to be expanded)
complexity theory.

In agreement with those who say all ethical theory is based on survival
value, it seems to me that we have profound examples in the natural world of
the underlying nature of what "survival" means, and it's the survival -
actually the growth - of information that appears to be at the core, all the
way from thermodynamics through biological organisms to human societies and

The scary part, to most people, is that understanding this requires a
complete loss of the conventional boundries between self and other, and a
new concept of self at a higher level of organization.

- Jef

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