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

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sat May 7 14:21:19 UTC 2005

At 01:02 PM 06/05/05 -0400, you wrote:
>"Keith Henson" <hkhenson at rogers.com> Wrote:
>>mind concepts like good, evil, ethics and morality are
>>dependent on objective reality.
>If that were true you would expect a general consensus on what is good and
>evil, but any two minds seem to have three opinions on morality.

And those opinions are subject to wild swings depending on 
environmental/ecological/memetic circumstances.  Exactly what you would 
expect from gene based theory.

>And if that
>were true you would expect there would be consequences for being wrong, that
>is, for being evil; however monsters who torture people every day have lived
>long happy lives and died in their bed.

True of course.  But evolution makes the claim that every physical and 
psychological trait all living things have is either a direct or indirect 
result of evolution.  Since torturing monsters not only exist but are 
relatively common, you need to ask what is the evolutionary basis for this 
behavior?  (I would call it vile behavior, but that characterization might 
get in the way of understanding the basis for it.)

We do understand how rape probably has a genetic basis *and* why it is 
rare.  Rape is a high risk/high reward optional reproductive mode from the 
gene's viewpoint.  It occurs at low frequency presumably because the 
reproductive advantage of this mode falls rapidly as it becomes more 
common.  I.e., the ESS, evolutionary stable strategy, for rape as a 
reproductive mode in a population stabilizes at a low percentage of the 
population.  Any higher and this parasitic reproductive mode would not pay 
off.  (The provisioning pair bonded males of the rape victims were the 
genetic victims if they supported children resulting from rape.)

Incidentally before anyone jumps down my throat over such statements, to 
the extent rape behavior has a basis in genes I would favor editing them 
out.  Of course with abortion for rape pregnancies (a good idea!) this will 
happen eventually anyway.

>>There are reasons rooted in what is good for *genes*
>Genes have there view of morality and I have mine. Genes think the most evil
>thing in the universe was the invention of contraception. I disagree.

If you think about it, that's not entirely true.  Genes *invented* 
contraception.  Ovulation is suppressed in humans and our closest relatives 
by lactation, same as ovulation is suppressed by birth control 
pills.  Ovulation suppression is certainly an evolved feature.

Genes are "concerned" about getting into later generations.*  For very high 
K factor animals who have to split their energy between bearing and caring, 
the optimal number of babies is not the highest number possible.  Too many 
kids and *none* of them are likely to survive.

The number of kids that make sense to genes is variable as well.  Good 
times where you can move into new territory and have plenty to eat should 
set the number higher.  Bad times, a couple might be lucky to raise one.

Of course most of this evolution occurred in hunter gatherer bands and 
tribes, an environment that for better or worse most of our ancestors left 
behind a long time ago.

We are so far out of the envelope of our hunter gatherer ancestors that 
prediction based on them is not always accurate.  For example, the well 
known trait of women above a certain economic level to strongly curtail 
births (if they are not prevented from doing so) is not something you would 
expect from our evolutionary background.  As EO Wilson says we are just 
incredibly lucky.

Keith Henson

* Of course genes are not "concerned" at all.  But the effect of 
evolution--genes that are good a getting into the next generation become 
more common over time--has the same end result as if genes were agents with 

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