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

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Tue Feb 01 2005 - 09:11:30 MST

Phil Goetz wrote:

>But I agree with you that human society tends toward more objective
>understanding of the world around them with time,altho with occasional setbacks.
>Where you are losing me is in connecting that
>with morality.

Phil, it appears we mostly agree on our observations, but our thinking
has not yet converged on what may be implied for the future of moral
thinking and behavior.

A meta-observation:
It may be interesting and useful to note as a meta-observation that as
you and I continue exploration of this topic, I expect our thinking to
tend to converge toward a more accurate model of moral issues, for
exactly the same reason that I expect local variations on moral
standards to converge over time toward a more objectively accurate model
of what works and is therefore considered good.

Another (relevant, I think) meta-observation:
As I read your examples above, I experienced a familiar sensation of
moving in and out of another's conceptual framework. Within my model of
the framework you present, your examples and questions cohere, but then
I "widen back" to encompass also my view, and I perceive, not wrongness,
but incompleteness in the original sub-context.

For each example you provided, I watched as my initial reaction was
"that's not a moral issue, but rather a situation that can be evaluated
in terms of its consequences and managed", and then I would zoom in a
little closer and see "oh, yes that is covered by moral standards within
some groups."

So, referring back to my earlier description of "what morality is" and
"what morality is becoming", I think the key difference here is that you
are referring to moral issues within the more common, conventional
framework of moral standards held, but not questioned, by a community,
and I am referring to morality in a more abstract sense of making
choices of right and wrong, with awareness that they are local and
approximate, but based on principles that apply at any scale and can be
increasingly agreed upon with increasing scale of context (awareness.)

I'll try to provide some more specific comments on your examples below.

>I can imagine some examples in which
>a better understanding can lead to more objective
>- If we understand how charging interest for loans
>develops an economy, we will not call charging
>interest immoral.
This one's difficult for me, since I see nothing wrong in general with
one person offering and another person accepting a loan with interest
terms. However, I am aware of loan-sharking, imposing usurious terms by
taking advantage of the desperate situation of another and I do consider
that to be immoral behavior.
Why? It is not effective cooperation, because it harms the Other, and
thus diminishes future opportunities for Self.

>- If it turns out that homosexuality is largely
>genetically or environmentally determined, rather
>than a free choice, people may accept it more.
I can understand this as a moral issue if I place myself in the
unquestioning evolved mindset of the conventional morality mentioned
earlier. From the mindset that I propose and hold, homosexuality and
its causes are not a moral issue per se. However the bias some people
hold against homosexuals can certainly be considered immoral since it
reduces cooperation by diminishing the Other and unreasonably rejecting
a source of diversity.

>But I don't know that this always plays out so neatly.
>The more we understand about human behavior,
>the more we can trace it to causes, and the less
>responsible people seem to be for their behavior.
>Complete understanding may simply explode even
>the notion of morality.

I don't think that the cause of an action has any bearing on whether or
not it's moral. I do think understanding causes is useful when devising
a response or corrective action.

>For example
>- Child molesters were in most cases molested
>or abused themselves as children.

Molesting children is immoral because it is anticooperative and damaging
to Other. The cause is irrelevant to the morality, but relevant to any
possible corrective action.

>- Stepparents are more likely to abuse stepchildren
>than natural parents are to abuse natural children.
>But this makes genetic sense for them.

Same comments as for the child molesters example.

>- It makes more evolutionary sense for men than for
>women to be promiscuous; at the same time, it makes
>more sense for men than for women not to tolerate
>promiscuity in their mate.

Promiscuity is immoral to the extent that it diminishes Self or Other.
Understanding the evolved basis for this can help guide one in making
good choices.

>Does understanding the cause of "immoral" behavior
>make it more acceptable? More moral? Or does it
>just leave us unable to figure out what "moral" means?

I've stated that the causes of immoral behavior do not affect the
rightness or wrongness of the behavior, but may have some bearing on how
best to respond to the behavior.

My thesis is that our understanding of morality is undergoing a
maturation involving greater awareness, and that as our awareness
continues to increase with time, so will our morality.

>Also, post-singularity, the human species may
>rapidly diverge into a large number of species
>such that it is no longer feasible to maintain
>moral relations between them. So increasing
>knowledge may make the subjectivity of morality
>more obvious.

I think we are moving toward a system of greater appreciation of local
diversity, within a framework of shared principles based on increasing
knowledge of what works and is therefore considered good.

>Just thinking aloud.

Your thinking is appreciated.

- Jef

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