[ExI] Meta question

Anders anders at aleph.se
Fri Aug 19 21:37:55 UTC 2016

On 2016-08-19 17:42, Keith Henson wrote:
> On Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 2:14 AM, Anders <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
>> I was deeply moved by Spike's story about the Messerschmitt engineer. Yes,
>> this is what real moral education is about.
> It's been a long time, but I can't remember _any_ moral eduction in
> school.  Still, I think I made the right choices even without such
> education.

School is often a hindrance for education. What I meant by moral 
education is learning to be virtuous; sometimes by hearing an important 
lesson like from the engineer, sometimes by taking a stand like you 
about the certification or the capacitance.

I think Aristotle was right on the money in the Nichomachean ethics: we 
should strive to be excellent people, and the way to be virtuous is by 
learning to act in virtuous ways. This is not something you learn by 
hearing good arguments, but by doing the right things (or failing, and 
trying harder again). This kind of virtue ethics is IMHO limited, so you 
may want to figure out your moral system using more modern approaches or 
thinking really hard about who you want to be, but there is a key truth 
to that setting down good habits can make doing the right choices easier 
and more natural.

I have just spent the entire evening adding an awkward correction factor 
to a graph in a paper. It is handling the difference in star density 
inside the Milky Way and in the universe at large, but the number gets 
cube-rooted and the overall function is plotted on a log-scale so the 
difference is minimal: if you compare with and without you see a 
difference, but nobody would really notice the flaw if I left it out. 
But I would know I had fudged my calculations, or more correctly, chosen 
some recreation over providing the best scientific analysis of the 
question at hand. There is a professional ethics in science, and I want 
to be good at the sane parts of it. Hence late evening wrestling with 
curve fitting. This experience is leaving neural traces that likely will 
make me a bit more conscientious as a researcher in the future.

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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