Re: Ethics (was FAI (aka 'Reality Hacking'))

From: Phil Goetz (
Date: Mon Jan 31 2005 - 11:40:21 MST

--- Jef Allbright <> wrote:

> What morality is:
> Choices about "right" and "wrong" behavior based on
> an assumed
> foundation that extends beyond the individual to the
> group, and beyond
> the immediate to the practically eternal, and beyond
> the situation at
> hand to classes of situations in general. Morality
> as so defined and
> practiced is an illusion leading to apparent
> paradox, but one that is
> very commonly accepted and practiced. Most of our
> current moral
> foundation is a result of evolutionary processes,
> promoting survival of
> the species and the group, without the expense of
> reasoning through the
> issues. It worked well for a very long time.

I understand and basically agree with this.

> What morality is becoming:
> Choices based on local values and circumstances,
> approximations to what
> works in the greater reality, providing local
> efficacy and a valuable
> source of diversity to the larger group.

I don't understand what you're getting at here.
What's the difference between this, and the former?

> Overview:
> Just as with the thermodynamic "arrow of time",
> there is an analogous
> "arrow of morality" by which that which works (and
> is therefore seen as
> good) within local contexts will tend in the
> direction of that which
> works within a larger context as the local contexts
> combine to form
> larger contexts of interaction. This is a true
> relationship between
> physics and morality.

I think there are two wrong assumptions in your
idea that this occurs and that it makes morality
more objective.

1. You assume that morality that works in a larger
system is more objective than morality that works in
a smaller system. I don't think so. Most of what
we regard as moral behavior, in fact (generally,
everything involving reciprocity), is more adaptive
in small communities. Moving to a larger system
may simply destroy the evolutionary stability of
a complex moral system and replace it with a
simpler one. In any case, there's no reason to
believe that the new system is more objective.

2. You assume that social systems naturally become
more complex as time goes on. I have two objections
to this:

A) Societies seem to follow a growth-boom-crash
pattern; there may very well be tendencies for
societies to become less stable as they become more
complex, making crash inevitable. This has been
a popular idea at least since Rousseau. It is
usually stated in terms of "moral decay". So all
those people would disagree with any notion that
increasing complexity leads to a betterment of
morals. (I suppose betterment = becoming more

B) See Stephen Gould's book /Full House/. The
entire book is a debunking of the idea that
evolution causes systems to become more complex
over time. Gould claims, with much data to back
him up, that evolution is a random walk, and that
there is no tendency for species to increase in
complexity over time. The distribution of species
complexity may grow wider over time, but that is
only because there is a limiting "left-wall"
minimal level of complexity below which a species
cannot go. This makes species complexity a
one-dimensional random walk with a left boundary.

- Phil G.

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