[extropy-chat] In defense of moral relativism

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sun May 1 16:16:47 UTC 2005

At 10:42 AM 29/04/05 +0200, you wrote:
>I don't see what point you are making. Assuming you are referring to
>the last paragraph quoted as a non-sequitur, let me rephrase it:
>History shows that the convinction of being the sole depository of the
>Truth *always* leads to mass murder. For me, this is a good enough
>reason to keep as far from the Truth as I can.

You have the cart before the horse here.  People rationalize mass murder as 
fighting for "Truth."   But the memes people think are causing genocides, 
wars, terrorism and relates social disruptions are a result of a behavioral 
switch (ultimately gene based).  The switch, in response to environmental 
signals, turns up the gain on xenophobic memes.  The amplified memes then 
divert the attention of a band/tribe/nation into synchronizing their 
warriors for an attack on a neighboring group or destroying some fraction 
of the population based on some perceivable difference or a made up one if 
none are present.

The history of Easter Island is instructive, though so are the rest of the 
wars, genocides, pogroms, etc, Rwanda being a clear example.

>On 4/29/05, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky <sentience at pobox.com> wrote:
> > Giu1i0 Pri5c0 wrote:
> > >
> > > Eliezer asks, "How do you rally people to fight for the idea that
> > > nothing is worth fighting for?". But moral relativism does not say
> > > that nothing is worth fighting for. It simply acknowledges that "worth
> > > fighting for" is a value judgment which depends on many factors and
> > > may vary according to circumstances. You still fight for your ideas,
> > > but acknowledging that you are fighting for your ideas and not for The
> > > Truth. Then perhaps you can keep things in perspective and avoid
> > > committing atrocities in defense of your ideas.
> > >
> > > This is, indeed, the main reason why I don't like the very concepts of
> > > absolute truth, or objective morality: the "I Am The Champion Of The
> > > Truth" stance leads to gassing people for thinking different.
> >
> > That's a complete non-sequitur.  Morality exists within a human mind.

Indeed.  And minds, having been built by genes, are biased in certain very 
predictable ways.  "Be nice to relatives more or less in proportion to how 
closely they are related."  "Don't fight with strangers unless they are 
competing for the same short supply resources you need to feed relatives."

> > Reality, as best we can figure out how it works, was around at least 13
> > billion years before ever humans showed on the scene.  I'm not sure what
> > "absolute truth" is but if you define it in such a way that it equates to
> > "external reality" then I'm all for external reality.

What I said above is the absolute truth *and* external reality.  If you 
don't belive it (and my tribe is facing a bleak future) we will try to kill 
every one of you heretics (except we might keep your tribe's young women).


Keith Henson

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list