[ExI] re Odyssey, hero

William Flynn Wallace foozler83 at gmail.com
Fri Oct 2 15:12:27 UTC 2015

On Fri, Oct 2, 2015 at 4:24 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:

> While one certainly *can* judge anything in any way, there are some
> judgements that make more sense than others. Critiquing the Illiad for not
> taking climate change seriously is kind of pointless. Arguing whether
> Odysseus should be regarded as a hero is far more apt; I can imagine
> ancient Greeks discussing it too at a symposium.
> Analysing past views via current views is OK. It is possible to say that
> ancient Greek treatment of women was unequal and indeed unjust according to
> universal timeless principles we have discovered. But we have to (more or
> less explicitely) say "given these ethical positions, Odysseus was..." and
> we can analyse how these views have shifted.
> But *starting* with the view that current ethics is the one correct ethics
> and then making judgements about a work that clearly is a great example of
> how some values have shifted enormously seems to be a problematic approach.
> Because it undermines itself: the whole approach is predicated on us being
> right *now*, and using the very same approach in the past (using values we
> now regard as wrong) it would have produced bad judgements - so using it
> has to assume we know we are perfecly right now, despite millennia of
> people being wrong yet convinced about the very same thing.
> The problem is when the naive projection of our values gets in the way of
> learning anything from the text, or enjoying it. By current standards
> Melville's Moby Dick is a paean to environmental destruction, colonialism
> and racism. Yet it would be stupid to throw it away as a deeply immoral
> book. We can gleefully point out assumptions Melville did not notice that
> date the work, but it is unreasonable to hold him morally responsible
> outside his world. That is just as silly as criticising the Illiad's
> climate change policy.
> There are interesting cases like HP. Lovecraft where one can argue that
> racism was actually integral to his stories. I am not convinced this
> renders them unreadable or immoral, but I can see for example why the SF
> community is starting to reconsider giving out awards in his name. As
> transhumanists it behooves us to look at some of the similar skeletons in
> our intellectual cupboards and think about whether to dress them up and
> hide them, drag them into the light, or throw away everything tainted with
> them.
> --
> Anders Sandberg
> Future of Humanity Institute
> Oxford Martin School
> Oxford University
> ​When we assemble our own moral structure we undoubtedly use, consciously
> or unconsciously much of what we have observed in reality, in print, in
> movies and so on.  In the 60s I was quite taken with Barry Goldwater and
> Robert Heinlein, though much has changed since then.

​So my moral sense has evolved and probably will continue to do so. I am a
work in progress.

But I can only judge things as I currently think.  I can consider things in
historical context, certainly,  - to do otherwise is naive, as Anders says
- and that often provides a great contrast with my current view.  My
current view is the 'right' one.  When my view changes , it will be the
right one.  I never argue that any view is absolute since change always
occurs.  Do I set myself up at the judge of everything?  Don't we all?  Do
we libertarians believe that authoritarianism is the wrong way to go about
many things?  Don't we?  If we didn't think we were right, then we wouldn't
hold to our views, would we?

A huge problem is that we very often do not know what the ethos was at the
time of Homer, or Augustine, or most historical figures.  We know only what
the elite thought because only the elite wrote.

And didn't someone say that history was the account (lies, that is) written
by the winners?

By the way, Moby Dick only sold 2500 copies in the author's lifetime.  I
doubt we can find much written about it and so cannot tell what most people
thought of it.

Can we, in fact, conclude that a work such as the Iliad, or Moby Dick,
reflected the ethos of the times?  I think we surely cannot do that.  Even
if we could know that, and even if Odysseus was a hero by their standards,
I still think he's a thug who could have dismissed and sent away those he
killed.  I did enjoy the work a lot - that did not ruin it for me.  It was
a good lesson in different moralities.

As an aside, do we even know that the Old Testament was fact and not
morality tales like Aesop?  No, we don't.

I can understand other views, but I have to judge by my own.  Don't we all?

​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.

bill w

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