[ExI] turing movie
anders at aleph.se
Fri Aug 8 10:45:02 UTC 2014
Giulio Prisco <giulio at gmail.com> , 8/8/2014 11:16 AM:re "To this day, that government has failed to fully own the shame of
that disgraceful affair." - some time ago the UK government said (in
perfect British style;-) that Turing's homosexual lifestyle was
illegal at the time, so legally speaking he deserved punishment. Of
course, they distanced themselves from the UK laws of the 1950s.
Which is sensible. Laws in the past have been immoral, but they were procedurally correct. That is, modern society acknowledges the validity of past society administration decision, at least back to some long time horizon or constitutional shift. Decisions can technically be made in the present to annul past decisions, but this is actually risky: stuff tends to build on decisions, so annulling something far back can have far-reaching consequences. For example, if the UK government decided to retroactively make homosexuality legal in the past, it could presumably open itself up for lawsuits for unlawful incarceration (yes, it could patch that obvious problem by a bill, but there would be lots of other holes - many administrative decision such as appointments would retroactively become unlawful, and hence their consequences also cast into doubt).
As far as I know, the Swedish government still is legally responsible for the witch burnings in the 1600s. However, the fact that witchcraft is now legal and that we deplore what happened doesn't mean it makes sense to pardon the witches.
Recognizing the difference between law, morals and ethics is important. Thanks to ethical discussion and societal shifts in morality we have changed laws to be more in line with what we think are truer or at least more up-to-date norms. We might wish we had done so earlier, but we cannot. If we want to show loyalty with those harmed by past bad decisions we can do a bunch of things in the present (like the UK is doing with establishing gay marriage or inclusiveness policies, or by celebrating Turing officially). But trying to change the past is futile: the pardon doesn't help Turing, is unfair to every other past oppressed homosexual who doesn't get the pardon, messes up legal logic and is even a bit of a cheap trick for current politicians to get off the hook.
Some moral things are illegal. That doesn't mean that we should wish some remote future retroactively pardons us for doing it, since it does not change the present at all. Instead we should work to make the laws in the present that mirror what we think is moral. But since we are fallible about morality this means we need accept that some of the morality we impose might indeed be misguided. Which is why banning things should not be done lightly.
Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University
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