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

From: Thomas Buckner (
Date: Tue Feb 01 2005 - 20:03:47 MST

--- Phil Goetz <> wrote:

> --- Jef Allbright <> wrote:
> > This is the heart of the question of interest
> to me.
> > If I understand
> > you correctly, you are saying there is
> essentially
> > no progress in human
> > society toward more objective understanding
> of the
> > world around them. I
> > argue that progress, at all scales, is
> inevitable.
> >
> > Am I understanding you correctly? If we can
> agree
> > on this point of
> > departure, then I would be very interested in
> > exploring further.
> >
> > - Jef
> There is a school of thought that would argue
> this,
> notably Thomas Kuhn (/The Structure of
> Scientific
> Revolutions, 1966 or so). 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. I can imagine some examples in
> which
> a better understanding can lead to more
> objective
> morality:
> - If we understand how charging interest for
> loans
> develops an economy, we will not call charging
> interest immoral.
> - If it turns out that homosexuality is largely
> genetically or environmentally determined,
> rather
> than a free choice, people may accept it more.
> 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. For example
> - Child molesters were in most cases molested
> or abused themselves as children.
> - Stepparents are more likely to abuse
> stepchildren
> than natural parents are to abuse natural
> children.
> But this makes genetic sense for them.
> - 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.
> 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?

This is why I prefer 'ethical'. You pose these
questions as if they were difficult. They are
not, when properly posed. Simply ask, 'What is
ethical in this case?" Abuse/molestation
represent abuses of power, coercion, etc. These
are unethical. Knowing there is an historical or
evolutionary reason does not excuse unethical

'Promiscuity' is a different case, prejudged by
the use of a word with negative connotations.
Bonobos, our closest primate relatives, are very
promiscuous within their bands, and with them sex
is a social lubricant, damping down competition
and violence. The males have large testicles, and
the competition occurs between sperm cells, not
males. They can get away with this because their
small 'tribes' are not big enough to create much
risk of STD's evolving to take advantage of all
the unsafe sex. Male and female bonobos are about
the same size and neither sex is dominant. Humans
are not bonobos, but we're not walruses or
kangaroos either (tournament species where one
large bull owns all the smaller cows until a
challenger can beat him almost to death).
Scientists have discovered a division of labor in
human spermatozoa; some of them clump to block
sperm from other males. The design of the human
penis, along with the fact that human intercourse
lasts more than thirty seconds, indicates that we
have evolved a coital style to break up these
clumps which may have been deposited previously
by another male. Upshot: monogamy is unnatural in
humans. We have monogamy because of historical
reasons having to do with property, inheritance,
and so on.
Promiscuity is therefore not 'immoral' in a
society where it is traditionally accepted. As I
pointed out to a friend, the whole sexual guilt
issue does not mean sex causes guilt, but rather
that you were trained to feel guilt.
Where males enforce a double standard against
women, evolutionary strategy is only part of the
reason. Human societies are capable of expressing
a wide range of positions between bonobo-type
equality/promiscuity (such as some American
Indian tribes before the European conquest, or
Amsterdam for that matter) to walrus-type
violence and jealousy (welcome to Afghanistan!)

I feel confident that I could make a solid
logical case that for humans, 'Amsterdam' is far
more ethical than 'Afghanistan'. However, I also
know that most people would not be able to follow
the logic, much less willing. They would even
assert that my 'ethical logic' is 'immoral'.

> 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.
> Just thinking aloud.
> '
> - Phil
I think it may have been E.O. Wilson who made the
point that, in the mists of prehistory, the rule
was that if you met a stranger, one not from your
own tribe of forty or sixty related people, you
killed him. It was the safe thing to do.
Otherwise he might report your presence to his
tribe and they might kill you. Over time the
circle of people-you-don't-kill expanded to
include villages, city-states, kingdoms. We have
arrived at the point where, on paper at least, we
are not supposed to kill anybody on the planet
except under certain legal circumstances. Even
the killing of wild animals has begun to be
proscribed in some cases. So what if the human
species bifurcates? Sentient beings have
inalienable rights. If you wish to suggest that
it could become "no longer feasible to maintain
moral relations between them" I think you would
be under the obligation to explain how, or why
that could happen. The ethical approach would be
to widen the circle again, to include all
sentient beings, and expect them to behave
ethically also. It's the social contract, baby,

Tom Buckner

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:50 MDT