Is vs. Ought (was: A Physicist Experiments With Cultural

Robin Hanson (
Thu, 18 Nov 1999 13:14:43 -0500

Chris Hibbert wrote:
>> And as far as I can tell, all interesting moral/ethical/ought
>> questions are equivalent to questions about what various creatures
>> want.
>I find that pretty surprising, Robin. I might be willing to grant that you
>and I have read enough game theory to have the underlying chain of
>reasoning in our heads to be able to get from our model of the nature of
>thinking agents to simple rules like tit-for-tat, or the golden rule, but I
>sure don't see how Joe or Jane on-the-street's desires lead directly to
>reasonable ethical rules. Care to say more?

An ethical rule seems uninteresting to me if no creature in the universe has any inclination to follow it. But if some creature does have such an inclination, it seems that is because the creature in some sense "wants" to follow the ethical rule. So ethics only seems interesting to the extent some creatures want to be ethical.

Robin Hanson Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323