Re: Measuring (quantifying) morality?

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Aug 26 2006 - 07:12:02 MDT

At 12:25 PM 8/25/2006 -0700, Eliezer wrote:
>Damien Broderick wrote:
>>It is therefore rather entertaining, if not thigh-slapping, to see you
>>making a joke that dubs those who pant after morality as morons. Thud.
>>Apologies to everyone for the appallingly heavy-handed exegesis.
>But Damien, just because human cognition creates the reference frame
>within which it is wrong to kill babies regardless of what anyone thinks
>of it - as Gordon Worley put it, "Morality is objective within a given
>frame of reference" - doesn't mean that there is no morality. Obviously I
>don't think that. I am quite happy to live in a cognitively created
>reference frame that says that killing babies is wrong, since, according
>to my reference frame, it is wrong regardless of what anyone thinks of it.

It is instructive though to examine "wrong to kill babies" to see why a
reference frame for that exists. Of course lots and lots of babies *are*
killed and again it is instructive to see why the general "wrong to kill
babies" has exceptions in practice. Probably the most common exception is
a situation where a new baby threatens the survival of an older but still
nursing one. That's easy to understand in gene survival terms.

>But a lot of moral *discussion* is moronic, which, if the joke needs a
>sting, provides it.

It doesn't have to be. For those who accept evolutionary psychology what
we (as evolved social primates) feel is moral can be understood in as an
outcome of evolution.

Keith Henson

>In other words the joke is orthogonal to whether morality is believed to
>be subjective or objective, and relies simply on the listener agreeing
>that many specific arguments about morality have been stupid, with
>nontrivial frequency. I could have made that joke in 1996 and it would
>have been the same joke.
>Exegesis complete.
>Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
>Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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