[extropy-chat] The Good (was Are ancestor simulations immoral?)

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Sat Jun 3 21:09:39 UTC 2006

Jef writes

> > > For those who have bought into Kant's Categorical Imperative, then
> > > that argument will seem to make sense.  "Without a doubt I would not
> > > want  *my* simulation shut down, given my belief that life is better
> > > than no life at all, therefore I am morally bound to say that runtime
> > > of any simulation of sentience is good."
> > >
> > > Sounds attractive, and it's good as far as it goes, but it is
> > > ultimately incoherent.
> > >
> > > With apologies to Lee, I'll use that word again, because it is
> > > essential:  There is no intrinsic good.  "Good" is always necessarily
> > > from the point of view of some subjective agent.
> >
> > #!?%#&*$!  No word is *essential*.  To believe that some particular
> > word *is* essential, I fear, uncovers a bug in your thinking. As I've
> > said before, all of us here have perfectly good vocabularies,
> Lee, I was using "essential" in its primary sense of capturing the
> essence, rather than it's secondary meaning of indispensable.

Sorry; that meaning didn't occur to me. But you have to admit that
you've picked the rarer meaning, sowing confusion :-)

> > Worse, Jef persists not only in using a phrase I don't understand
> > at all,  "intrinsic good", but denies that it even exists!
> Lee, having never me you in person, I have to wonder whether your
> histrionics are real or just part of your email game.

Alas, it may be bizarre (sorry about that), but it's for better
or worse, the real me.

> It seems pretty silly that you would argue that I can't refer to
> a concept that represents something that doesn't actually exist.

Oh, well, you have a point there. I know what people mean when
they use the terms "God" and "unicorn". 

> I would venture to assert that the concept of "intrinsic good" is well
> known to anyone who has thought deeply about ethics. An intrinsic good
> is something which is considered good in and of itself. It's
> interesting to me is that there are so many mutually exclusive beliefs
> as to what goods are actually worthy of that description.  Hedonists
> claim that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.  Kantians claim that
> that good will is the only intrinsic good.  Aristotle claimed that
> truth is the only intrinsic good.  Some people claim that love is the
> only intrinsic good in the universe.

Okay, thanks for the explanation. You've swerved into a description/
definition that I can understand!

> Jef [I] claims that, just as with each of the world's religions claiming
> to possess or have access to the only true way, seekers or believers
> of intrinsic good are asking the wrong question and therefore getting
> the wrong answer.

Well, it's not too surprising. Arguing about whether something is
"intrinsically" good, I would think, would be as non-productive as
arguing whether certain essences inhere in one thing or another.
Why don't people quit using fancy abstractions and speak in simple
everyday terms?  It's *OBVIOUS* that you can examine any substance
in the universe, and be unable to show that it has either the
essence of "intrinsic goodness", or that is has the property
of "intrinsic goodness". 

Like I say, the moment a word or phrase starts posing communications
difficulties---or even appears at all suspect---ditch it in favor
of (if need be) longer or more circuitous descriptions. The only
point is to get the ideas across.

> There is no intrinsic good because good is inherently subjective.
> What appears good within any given context can always be shown to
> be not good from a different context.

That does not sound correct to me! You cannot necessarily *show*
anything to anyone. The other entity is, in the final analysis,
a physical device. It may simply not be wired to incorporate into
its concepts whatever it is that you wish to *show*. Try, for
example, showing to Hitler that Jews are as acceptable as other

> I think it's important that futurists get this crucial point,
> because we are poised for dramatic expansion of the context
> of our lives and we need to understand what we mean by good
> so we can make more effective decisions.

Do we really have to use that concept?  Why is it essential
(in the "required" meaning of the word)?  Ultimately, you can
always say the much more accurate "X approves of Y", or "humans
generally favor Y".  Usage of terms like "good" indicates---
sorry---an adherence to Aristotelian definitions. 

> > Well, how about this:  since it doesn't exist, would you mind
> > dropping it from your discourse?
> Again, I really can't tell when you're being silly and when you're
> being serious Lee.

I'm quite serious!  For heaven's sake, why does this seem silly?
Why must you be wed to certain terms and phrases?  Surely it's
occurred to you that our terms (and even concepts)---which we
have inherited from the recent past---may today not be optimal
nor even appropriate?

> > > The greatest assurance of good in human culture is the fact that
> > > we share a common evolutionary heritage... and thus we hold deeply
> > > and widely shared values.
> >
> > Yes, that's true, we do. But many other animals are solitary
> > by nature.
> Not sure what point you're making here.

Just want to make sure that you're restricting your descriptions
to human evolved entities.

> > > Increasing awareness of these increasingly shared values with
> > > [will] lead to increasingly effective social decision-making
> > > that will be increasingly seen as good.
> >
> > I believe that this indeed is the way we've progressed the last
> > 10,000 years or so, but I don't think that you've put your finger
> > on the actual mechanism.
> Our preferences are the result of an evolutionary process that has
> operated over cosmic time, almost all of that without conscious
> awareness, let alone intention.   At a low level, we have instinctive
> feelings of good and bad built into us by that process.

Well, I'd say we have instinctive preferences. And you'll have
to admit that in ev psych books, you'll not find many references
to "good" and "bad". But you'll find plenty of references to 

> Just recently we have arrived at an even higher level of organization
> where we can use information technology to increase our awareness of
> our values,


> apply our increasing awareness of what works, and thereby
> implement increasingly effective decision-making, intentionally
> promoting our values into the future, which is the very essence of
> morality.

Okay, though I'm not sure what the "essence of morality" is  :-)
But you're dead right (pardon the expression) to speak of us
perpetuating our values into the future.

> > For, were it just a matter of "increasing awareness", then why
> > just the last 10,000 years?  We had at least 80,000 years before
> > that to become aware of our "shared values", but nothing really
> > happened.
> It has always been about "what works" in the sense of natural
> selection.  Only recently are we becoming aware of our subjective
> values and our increasingly objective understanding of what works,
> and thus able to play an intentional role in our further development.

I really have to reject your pragmatic "what works". Just because
something works does not mean that we as "enlightened" people are
going to approve of it. What if the U.S. were to conclude that its
interests were best served by holding the rest of the world in
nuclear terror?  That may actually "work" just fine---given history
as a guide---but most of us would strenuously object.


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