"Objective" Morality

From: Marcello Mathias Herreshoff (m@marcello.gotdns.com)
Date: Mon Aug 08 2005 - 20:03:56 MDT


I have been reading the SL4 list for some time now. I have repeatedly seen
people (mostly Mark Geddes but sometimes others) use the phrase "Objective

For a list which is supposed to be humanities best hope, I find this highly
disconcerting. The phrase "Objective Morality" (sometimes pronounced
"Universal Morality") makes as much sense as "colorless green idea".
Any statements about it is vacuous.

Consider it means for a statement to be objective. It means that a rational
system using Bayes' Law and reasonable priors (and there are ways of getting
these!) will arrive at that conclusion that the statement is highly probable
given the available evidence.

I encourage you to read Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation:
for the full explanation.

For example, if you don't believe that the accuracy of Newton's Law of
Universal Gravitation is objective, observe the moon's orbit. It very
accurately matches the theory. Because this evidence is rather improbable
given ignorance, but highly probable assuming Universal Gravitation, and
because the law should have a reasonably high prior, one can safely conclude
that Newton's law is in fact accurate.

Now, what about objective morality? The only way to find out would be by
testing the morality of some test scenarios. However, this can not be done
because performing the test would entail already having some definition of

Naturally, any definition of morality would pass with flying colors if it
were tested against itself this way! Thus the likelihood of the evidence is
the same whether our hypothetical "objective" morality is objective or not.
The only possible piece of evidence has no strength whatsoever. "Objective"
is a complete misnomer for anything with this property.

Note that I am *not* saying that there is no optimal definition of morality
for human kind, determinable by Coherent Extrapolated Volition. I'm simply
saying that this optimal morality does not have a special place in the grand
scheme of things and that if we don't try to instantiate it, we won't.

-=+Marcello Mathias Herreshoff

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