[extropy-chat] Playing Go & demandingness in ethics

Russell Wallace russell.wallace at gmail.com
Wed Jan 4 23:29:45 UTC 2006

On 1/4/06, Jeff Medina <analyticphilosophy at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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? 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? 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?

That's a good question. For myself, I don't subscribe to strict
utilitarianism, or the idea that strangers automatically have a right to
claim my time or other resources; nonetheless I do hold it as my
self-assigned duty to try to do that which will be of most benefit to
humanity; so the question still applies.

As it happens, I justify resources spent on apparently frivolous things like
playing games or watching anime on the grounds that such activities are
necessary for maintaining productivity; and I think the justification is
valid; but to some extent this dodges the question, because I can easily
imagine situations where it would not be valid; and it is not obvious to me
that in that case I would immediately donate all my remaining resources to
the Singularity Institute or suchlike. Thinking about it, I really don't
know whether I would or not; I suspect that in any situation where I
regarded continued survival as of positive utility to myself, I would also
find a way of looking at it that meant I had a significantly nonzero chance
of making my own contribution with at least some of the available resources.

So I suppose I don't really have an answer to the original question, but I
agree it is a good one.

(The other question I don't have an answer to is how to discuss this sort of
stuff autobiographically without sounding as frightfully pompous as I do in
this post, alas :))

- Russell
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