[ExI] Religions and violence.

Jebadiah Moore jebdm at jebdm.net
Sat Aug 7 08:34:10 UTC 2010

2010/8/3 samantha <sjatkins at mac.com>

> For damn good reason it should not.  The individual is the unit of ethics
> and moral responsibility.  To hold and individual liable for what she did
> not do is utterly broken.

I agree about holding people liable for things they didn't do is dumb.

But I question your belief that the individual is the unit of ethics and
moral responsibility.  If you're using something as ephemeral and
ill-definable as a person as your basic unit, something's probably wrong.

Moral responsibility is an extremely dubious concept, philosophically at
least.  (Practically, the concept has some advantages.)  For instance, it's
pretty easy to argue that continuity of being doesn't exist, so you could
easily argue that the person that just committed whatever crime isn't you.
 What if a criminal has amnesia and no longer remembers their crime?  What
if the criminal gets Ship of Theseus'd?  What if a criminal has a split
personality disorder?

And why are only individuals subject to ethics?  Consider cases where
corporations do things that would be considered unethical if they were
individuals, but where the breach is not easily attributable to any
particular individual within the corporation.  What about institutions such
as Soviet-style "communism"?  What about dangerous memes?  What about
distributed AIs?  What about drug crime and the related imprisonment?  In
all these cases, you might be able assign blame to an individual (or some
individuals) somewhere, if you stretch, but doing so isn't really very

It seems much more useful to study our values (which underlie our moral
intuitions and desires more generally), and then devise ways of putting
together rules or implementing some other form of organization in order to
spur progress towards them.  This still functionally fulfils the shoes of
ethics, but does so without having to invoke some hokey natural law mess,
and which allows a more rational and scientific approach.

For obvious reasons it's often going to be easiest to talk about what we
should and should not do in terms of individuals, but that doesn't mean that
we should necessarily put them on a pedestal.

 Say, as in "they shall pay for what they have done until the umpteenth
> generation".
>  Yet another pseudo-religious hideous thought to be sure.

Hideous, yes.  But only religious in the sense that it invokes natural law
and justice--which you yourself have done.  (The language is evocative of
religious law, sure, but it's the same kind of language that most ancient
law codes have used, secular or religious.)

Jebadiah Moore
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