[ExI] Ethics and Emotions are not axioms
thespike at satx.rr.com
Sun Jun 3 22:18:05 UTC 2007
At 02:53 PM 6/3/2007 -0700, Lee wrote:
>But what does my "should" really mean? Sadly, it means
>nothing more than "I approve" or "we approve". Again, the
>physicist's eye can discern *approval* and *disapproval*,
>but not Right or Wrong or Moral.
As one of my and Rory Barnes' characters in VALENCIES (a novel much
reviled on fictionwise.com) thought as she tossed restlessly beside a
gene sculptor she'd allowed to pick her up in a pub):
Beached and abandoned on the margins of sleep, Anla found once again
that though many of her friends swore by this state of consciousness
it had taken on for her the aspect of an anti-tsunami. Sleep's
enormous combers withdrew to the horizon without a glance over their
shoulders. In the quarter gravity of the unlit sleeping chamber,
excellent as it was for gymnastic screwing, or as presumably it would
be given a competent partner, she was queasy and bored.
Issues of metaphysical sturdiness came to her attention,
as they'd been known to do, provisionally penned in the kennels to
which she'd assigned them, whimpering for the final disposition she
was fairly unlikely to make on their behalf.
Morality was one. She was certainly no stranger to the
problems of axiology.
Lovely word, that. Axiology: theory of value. It seemed
to contain its own solutions: axe your way through the Gordian knot,
acts of piety, access to truth.
Ralf was proving to be a snorer; she kicked him
peevishly, and he rolled lightly on the webbing without waking.
Why should Ralf's profession seem to her so
self-evidently odious, while he happily accepted it as the epitome of
a right-thinking life? Calling him a dull shit, and adducing his
ineptitude at fornication as ad hominem evidence, was hardly
exhaustive, not to a midnight philosopher. Ah no, she'd been this way
before. It kept coming back to that silly question: "Why should we be moral?"
A surprisingly large number of people thought that you
should be, and even considered it to be a moral obligation. Ha ha,
boom boom. But suppose you used the word "should" as an evaluative
and motivational expression, instead of a normative one? If you wish
to climb to the top of the mountain, you should walk up rather than down.
Of course last time she'd come along this track she'd
detected a snag with "evaluative", too, but that was on the next
level up and you had to start somewhere.
All right, take Ralfo as your representative simple
unreflecting man. Persuade him of the vileness of imperialism. Crisis
for Ralf. Echoing voids of doubt, disillusion and guilt. Never again,
as the poet said, will he be certain that what he imagines are the
clear dictates of moral reason are not merely the ingrained and
customary beliefs of his time and place. Anla allowed herself a
fanfare of trumpets, bowing graciously.
Okay, so then he might ask himself what he could do in
the future to avoid prejudices and provincial mores, or, more to the
point, almost universally accepted mores--and thus to discover what
he really ought to do.
That was merely another normative enquiry, though; the
tough one was "show me that there is some form of behavior which I am
obliged to endorse. "
Moral constraint seemed to mean either that you should
pursue good ends and eschew bad ones, or that you should be faithful
to one or more correct rules of conduct. Greeks and Taoists versus
Hebrews and Confucians, yeah, yeah.
Chariots, it was incredible to think that they'd been
chewing on this for upward of four thousand years without coming to a
definitive, intuitively overwhelming conclusion. But then the
imperial ideologists thought they had, didn't they, with their jolly
old stochastic memetic-extrapolatory hedonic calculus or whatever the
fuck they were calling it these days. The least retardation of
optimal development for the greatest number, world without end, or at
least until the trend functions blur out. So they managed to get both
streams of thought into one ethical scholium without solving
anything. After all, why obey a rule like that? And who gets to
define as "good" those magical parameters making up the package
called "optimal development"?
The besieged libertarians on Chomsky, she thought
darkly, might differ from Ralf on the question of the good life.
Anyway, even if we all agreed that certain parameters
were good, why should that oblige us to promote their furtherance? It
might be prudent good sense to do so, and aesthetically pleasing, and
satisfy some itch we all have, and save us from being raped in the
common, but then the sublime constraining force you sort of imagine
the idea of moral obligation having just evaporates into self-serving
Admittedly there was that tricky number of Kant's about
us possessing a rational nature, and being noumena instead of brute
phenomena, and thus not being able to act immorally without
self-contradiction, but any fool could see that that went too far on
the one hand and not far enough on the other, and anyway what was
wrong with a bit of self-contradiction if you stopped when you needed
Anla giggled to herself, and wondered where Ben and the
others had got to. He was probably off by himself gloomily hastening
the day of the ophthalmologist. Well, was leaving Ben to his own
devices a matter for moral self-rebuke?
Shit, you'd think this bastard could do something to the
genes in his nasal cavity.
This man can see into the future. Fucking incredible,
really, you just rip out a few million eigenvectors from your
mathematical sketch of an octillion human beings, what's that in
hydrogen molecules, say three and a bit by ten to the twenty-three to
the gram, into ten to the twenty-seven, shit, brothers and sisters,
we're statistically equal to three kilograms of hydrogen gas, yes,
you plump for the major characteristics you think you'd like to play
with and code them up into genes and build yourself a little memetic
beastie that stands in for what you figure pushes and pulls thee and
me and all our star-spangled relatives, and you breed the little
buggers in a tasty itemized soup and watch the way the mutants go.
Wonderful, Ralf. Bug-culture precapitulates
bugged-culture. No way we can jump you won't know about in advance,
because the little bugs snitched on us.
Have you ever wondered, Ralf, if we're all just a big
stochastic biotic projection for the Charioteers? See how we run.
But you don't let us mutate, do you, Ralf? That's where
you fumbled the ball, Dr Asimov, in your ancient poems. The Empire
will never fall. We will live forever, and the boring Empire with us.
Anla lashed out viciously with her foot.
"Will you fucking stop snoring!"
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