[extropy-chat] A crushing defense of objective ethics. Universal Volition and 'Ought' from 'is'.

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Sat May 7 11:43:23 UTC 2005

On Sat, May 07, 2005 at 06:39:02PM +1200, Marc Geddes wrote:

> My argument only requires that the ultimate fate of
> the universe be indeterminate and could be changed
> though the actions we take.

According to our current knowledge, there's nothing indeterminate in the fate
of the universe http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_uni/uni_101fate.html
and, also according to our current knowledge, there's nothing we can do about
it -- on global scale, that is. 
> You agree that people (subjective experience) is of
> supreme important right?  Well, if the universe ever
> ends, then all people in it will die and all
> subjective experience will end as well.

Which would kinda suck.
> Therefore it follows that we *ought* to take the
> actions required to keep the universe existing in the
> long run.  And which actions these are is entirely a

For the sake of the argument, what if there's something I can do in the local
neighbourhood which will greatly prolong the local life but will screw the
rest of them cosmic commons (by, say, increasing the dark energy pressure

Generally, what if your ethics interferes with your economic interests?
(Nothing new in that, obviously: we're all soaking in it).

> matter which could be determined through an empirical
> investigation of the state in which the universe
> currently *is*

Very easy cause of action: immediately start populating our own lightcone,
restructuring matter in the wake to maximize the amount of computation
extractable until global inflation rate will make communication impossible
even on very small assemblies. 

All very ethical; unfortunately this will prevent emergence of new life and
will require translating existing life (if we're going to bother, they're all
so dumb) into an emulation system indistinguishable from how universe
otherwise would have evolved. (Notice that this would run contrary to
evolutionary behaviour, which would completely populate the substrate, and
crank at maximum rate possible).

I'm not even being advocatus diaboli in this one, you know. 

> I entirely agree that morality is important to us
> human beings, and should be based on something solid. 
> But the alternative to basing morality on empirical
> data is to base it on 'social consensus', as you admit
> below.  Do you really call social consensus 'solid'? 
> I'd say its far more unreliable and changeable than
> empirical data!  

The social consensus are evolutionary algorithms, modulated with chance and
faulty models (based on empirical data). This is as empirical as it gets;
what you do with it will depend on the amount of crunch you can spend on your
> The trouble with basing morality on 'social consensus'
> is that this reduces morality to simple 'might makes
> right'.  If there is no other standard of judgement

This isn't true even for most primitive organisms (where cooperation is very
widespread) -- and entirely untrue for social organisms, especially the human

> outside 'social consensus' then obviously what the
> majority say must be taken as right.  A very dubious
> position indeed...
> Still, there the debate must rest for now.  As I said
> on wta-talk, the debate could rage on forever.

So you're effectively agreeing you can't extract global-scale (spatially and 
temporally) behaviour algorithms valid for all and sundry critters from
measurements (empirical data) on reality.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a>
ICBM: 48.07078, 11.61144            http://www.leitl.org
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http://moleculardevices.org         http://nanomachines.net
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