[extropy-chat] Prime Directive

Anders Sandberg asa at nada.kth.se
Fri Oct 27 09:11:40 UTC 2006

A B wrote:
> Robert writes:
> "Might I suggest that "consciousness" is a poor criteria for deciding what
> to preserve or not preserve.  Yes I know -- without that our moral compass
> is adrift in a sea of chaos.  Life is a dish almost always served cold."
> Should we just abandon the quaint notion of ethics altogether? Should we
> just leave physics as the only judge of what is morally acceptable or
> abhorrent? Surely you can foresee that doing so would make this a rather
> unpleasant and/or unjust Universe for the majority of conscious beings.
> That doesn't bother you?

I also wonder why consciousness, of all properties, should be ethically
important. Why not the ability to experience love, or having six legs?
What is it about consciousness that makes it so special?

Kant had the idea that rationality was the important thing for moral
agency. A being unable to make rational considerations would be unable to
behave morally (and certainly unable to formulate an ethics, a theory of
moral behavior). This doesn't mean that one ought to treat non-rational
entities in any way one likes, but the moral restrictions are much lesser
than for interactions with other moral agents. One can argue for example
that hurting animals is bad both because it breaks aesthetic values and
makes the person hurting the animals a more brutal person.

I wonder if we really would end up with a mostly unpleasant (it can't
really become unjust in this case) universe if we acknowledged physics as
the underlying basis for morality. Sure, a stupid "might makes right"
world is upleasant. But with sufficient rationality among all the rational
entities they would be able to foresee consequences well. All the entities
who would be badly off in the might makes right world would hence band
together to ensure that it would not occur (e.g. by resisting the strong
or by making it irrational to pursue that world because they would
irrevocably blow up a doomsday device if it did occur, etc). While we
today do not have any great theory of how one should behave we can still
as moderately rational beings construct systems of heuristics that have
good evidence and reasoning behind them that promote wellbeing.

Anders Sandberg,
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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