[extropy-chat] Playing Go & demandingness in ethics

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Wed Jan 4 21:25:03 UTC 2006

On Jan 4, 2006, at 10:53 AM, Jeff Medina wrote:

> On 1/4/06, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky <sentience at pobox.com> wrote:
>> Let me clarify:  Playing Go has a positive side effect, you get  
>> better
>> at Go and learn generalizable skills.  Playing Go is fun.
> Playing Go has the negative side effect of its opportunity cost. For
> example, if someone smart enough to play Go well is spending time
> playing Go, they aren't making contributions they otherwise could to
> the solution of technical problems that would contribute to the
> well-being of {a subset of the current and future morally significant
> population} greater than playing Go contributes to the subset of the
> population that enjoys playing Go or benefits from the generalizable
> skills Go has imparted on its players.

Does your life belong to you or to those faceless others? If it  
belongs to you then the net benefit for others is not relevant except  
in the context of the value you personally place on being of benefit  
to others.

> This is not to pick on Go. It just gave me an opportunity to seed a
> discussion on demandingness in ethics, which has re-emerged in the
> past few days to steal some of my CPU cycles.
> Demandingness is a common criticism of consequentialist ethics --
> e.g., don't ever eat a fancy pasta dish, as you can nearly always
> replace it with oatmeal or some other nutritious, less expensive food,
> be just as healthy, and donate the difference in cost to charitable
> causes (this sort of replacement argument applies to a bewildering
> proportion of most of our daily activities and decisions). Though it
> isn't argued as often, it applies to deontological systems and a
> number of virtue ethical systems.

Generally tell those making demands what to do with their demands in  
no uncertain terms.  Life is about more than mere utility.

> Now given that many people interested in transhumanism express an
> interest in the ethical arguments for various technological
> developments, the permissibility of enhancement, the right to
> morphological freedom (whether others consider what you're doing
> 'enhancement' or not)... why are the demands of our alleged beliefs
> nigh universally ignored?

I do not make such arguments generally.  I would rather argue from  
the right to your own life and pursuit of happiness.   I don't  
require or seek permission to maximize my own life.

> It is just a fact of human psychology that
> we can't motivate ourselves to moral behavior if it's not right in our
> face, or if it doesn't present immediate & painful consequences to
> ignore it?

We have some not useless propensity to distrust moral pronouncements  
and decisions.  Since so much so-called morality is quite groundless  
and inimical to our well-being that is a useful defense.  However, it  
is in our interest to develop increased ability to act according to  
our best understanding including in ethical matters regardless of our  
conditioning and evolutionary psychology.

> It is an illusory problem because none of us really care
> about ethics at all, and are only engaged in a social reciprocity
> game? Or is there some other explanation? And should and can we do
> something to change, acting more in accord with the demands of our
> ethics?

Please clarify exactly what you are asking.  I don't believe it is in  
anyone's interest to justify everything they do in the manner you  
spoke of above.

- samantha

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