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

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Mon Jan 31 2005 - 15:06:25 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?

I didn't make it very clear that the former is moral decision-making on
a foundation of relatively obsolete evolved mechanisms with the
assumption that they are to be applied universally to all agents, times,
and instances.

The latter is about decision making with awareness and consideration
that effective choices will be crafted to meet local and specific needs
while being only a approximation of universal truths, and that there is
always a greater context to be considered.

>> 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.

I agree that our current notions of morality based on evolved mechanisms
tend to remain most effective in smaller communities.

My point is that smaller communities face increasing pressure to merge
with others, with increasing occurrence of conventionally held moral
beliefs being tested against each other, and the tendency is for those
which reflect a more accurate model of reality to be selected for their
greater utility.

> 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
> objective.)
> 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.

I see that Eliezer already responded to this, in agreement with my own
assessment of Gould as well as the reference to accretion of additional
adaptive functions by organisms until they reach a particular metastable
point. I would add only that I see the evolutionary pressure on human
societies rapidly increasing, rather than reaching stability any time soon.

- Jef

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