[ExI] Universal timeless principles

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 5 18:02:18 UTC 2015

On Oct 5, 2558 BE, at 9:09 AM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Sun, Oct 4, 2015 at 7:13 AM, BillK <pharos at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On 3 October 2015 at 11:03, Anders Sandberg  wrote:
>> > On 2015-10-02 17:12, William Flynn Wallace wrote:
>> >> Anders says above that we have discovered universal timeless principles.
>> >> I'd like to know what they are and who proposed them, because that's
>> >> chutzpah of the highest order.  Oh boy - let's discuss that one.
>> >
>> >
>> > Here is one: a thing is identical to itself. (1)
>> > Here is another one: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity
>> > and rights." (2)
>> > Here is a third one: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at
>> > the same time, will that it should become a universal law." (3)
>> >
>> <big snip>
>> >
>> > [ Do I believe in timeless principles? Kind of. There are statements in
>> > physics that are invariant of translations, rotations, Lorenz boosts and
>> > other transformations, and of course math remains math. Whether physics and
>> > math are "out there" or just in minds is hard to tell (I lean towards that
>> > at least physics is out there in some form), but clearly any minds that know
>> > some subset of correct, invariant physics and math can derive other correct
>> > conclusions from it. And other minds with the same information can make the
>> > same derivations and reach the same conclusions - no matter when or where.
>> > So there are knowable principles in these domains every sufficiently
>> > informed and smart mind would know. Things get iffy with values, since they
>> > might be far more linked to the entities experiencing them, but clearly we
>> > can do analyse game theory and make statements like "If agent A is trying to
>> > optimize X, agent B optimizes Y, and X and Y do not interact, then they can
>> > get more of X and Y by cooperating". So I think we can get pretty close to
>> > universal principles in this framework, even if it turns out that they
>> > merely reside inside minds knowing about the outside world. ]
>> Physics and Science change over time. Until we know everything change
>> will continue.
>> Before the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, science thought
>> it had found universal principles.
>> Re philosophical principles, if even philosophers can't agree among
>> themselves can they really be called universal timeless principles?
>> Certainly all the followers of various holy books and ethical systems
>> will not agree with the suggested universal principles. The search for
>> universal principles may not be successful but it is useful in
>> providing some sort of guidance in human affairs.
>> Though humans being what they are, they can always find reasons to
>> make exceptions to applying their favourite universal principle. As
>> the saying goes, 'Every man has his price'. (Not always money, of
>> course).
> ​I probably should not even attempt to discuss number 1.  How can a thing be compared to itself unless it is two things?  Never mind.  
> Re "out there" - Would the universe exist if there were no people to observe it?  This has to be the silliest question because it cannot be answered.

I don't think it's silly unless you presuppose questions can only be answered in a certain way. In fact, my view is that something exists beyond observation is implied in observation itself. In other words, awareness implies something to be aware of.

> I am going to try for one:  Assume that the human race is worth keeping.  (Yeah, I know, some days.......).  Then it follows that whatever is good for it is good (unless you figure that that means unlimited population growth).  Just unpack 'good' and you have what is moral.  Haha.  Maybe sort of circular?  Consequentialist anyway.  ("Do you think we should just attempt to change their minds by bombing them back to the Stone Age?"  "I dunno.  Let's try it.  Could work out."

The presumption here is one can also morally decide whether humans can continue to exist. As if that's a live option or should be. Even allowing this, your answer here is also binary: If something is worth it, then it must be infinitely worth it. Imagine this, by way of parody that's not meant in jest: Is it worth having lunch today? Amongst the likely alternatives, maybe. Okay, so then is it worth then destroying all life on Earth to have lunch today?

> Philosophers could not even agree on the value of philosophy, I think. 

That's the argument from disagreement. If you take the argument from disagreement seriously, then shouldn't you apply it to all endeavors? Do scientists all agree on X? No, well, then X should be chucked out. X might be extended to all of science. In any field -- science, math, history, music, what and whether to have for lunch today -- you'll find a dissenter. 

(To pre-empt the argument that science or other fields all have means of settling such disagreements: No, there are dissenting voices there too. Not all scientists agree on how to settle science questions. Not all historians agree... And so forth.)

> And just why do they know any more about anything than the rest of us do? 

I wouldn't presume they know more, though one can't be sure until one familiarizes oneself with their work.

> I know - they have a diploma, like the Straw Man in the Wizard of Oz.

Sure, though not all philosophers are the same and someone like George H. Smith lacks academic credentials. ;) 

> Authoritarians are afraid of letting people make their own decisions, and libertarians are afraid of letting others make their decisions for them. 

Not exactly. Libertarians should consistently want everyone to choose for themselves. It's not a fear or dislike of mysterious others, but a love of freedom that should underly that point of view.

As a side note, for me, the central questions of political philosophy are:

1. Does anyone have right to rule others?
2. Does anyone have the duty to obey others?

And the "libertarian" answer to both these is No.

> When will this ever end?  Ha.  Put some sort of social contract in place and let people tinker with it forever - that is just exactly what we have done and I can't think of a better way.

Social contract theory is basically used to justify existing power arrangements.

> Our system in the USA at least gives the appearance of letting hoi polloi have a say in their laws.  As Churchill said......
> A final solution:  program our genes with powerful instincts so that we simply cannot do anything antihuman.  Take away free will, if you will.  If you never had it, you'll never miss it.

That's the authoritarian position, no? If people don't meet someone's social ideal, then change the people. Why would that ever be a good thing to enforce on others?


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