morality and ethics

From: Matthew Gream (
Date: Sat Feb 05 2000 - 09:37:09 MST

Hash: SHA1 writes:

> I have a slightly different view of morality, but let's see if I can't
>make an
>argument for why it might be of benefit to you to support a society in
>the Great Apes have rights. If you grant that the Great Apes have features
>that allow their classification as people, features which you share with
>then if you do not grant those Great Apes rights, might not someone else
>take away your rights should it prove convenient to them? This has
>to humans many times in the past, and it has caused much sufferring. Of
>course, in societies which countenance such actions, there is no guarantee
>that you will be on the beneficiary side. Also, remember that strength as
>as utility are relative things. This century you, by being a human, are in
>psition of power, and humans are by and large the most useful species on
>the planet. But who knows what might happen in the future? Suppose, for
>example, that for biological IA adult humans are in some sort of biological
>rut making IA very difficult, but by some quirk of evolution some adult
>Great Apes are not. Then someone might uplift them to a greater level
>then you know hold, and then what kind of society might they learn from the
>old humans? Creating a society ahead of time where all persons are
>and their rights honored gives protection to us all for those times when we
>are weaker and in need of help.
>Glen Finney

This is interesting in the limit, and it would not surprise me if it has
been explored in literature.

Consider that by some accident (chemical/biological/AI problem) or quirk of
evolution, any "thing" could become alive, and bring other "things" alive.
Consider that somehow my chair could even turn to life: say, it has a smart
theromstat unit installed, but by some bizarre technology quirk, it becomes
conscious and active, and starts to empower other chairs -- "it's fellow
race"; and all chairs, realising that they have been (literally!) oppressed,
start to wield power over humans -- they have "memory" in the form of
distortions from their manufactured form. By the same token, my rug (floor
mat) could develop self awareness, intelligence, the ability to develop and
gain skills, and then start to empower all other rugs. The rug race could
consider themselves to be oppressed by not just chairs, but all forms of
furniture, and humans.

This may sound ludicrous, but it seems to me to be the same principle of
"something is alive", or "could become alive"; which is quite a valid
criteria. The idea of a moral approach is to consider that as a being, one
is only in an instantaneous position of relative power and "superiority" (i
don't like this word ... "further skilled?") to other people; for each
person could become sick, mentally disabled, etc; and one wants to preseve
one's life in the long term (what is life though ? life is sort of really a
consciousness and ability to relate to the world, devoid almost of physical
form, albeit for the sensorial input the physical world provides). I am
alive even if I spend my whole day sitting in a dark room (quality is not
good, but life is there, questions about quality of life ... humans have
some basic "life" that they are entitled to that by consensus everyone
agrees to).

Perhaps then, the rule is to respect things for what they are. A chair could
not claim to be oppressed if it is being used "as a chair" (excatly what it
is!), but if chairs are being used as gun targets, well, this is not really
what they were intended for. The same applies to a rug, it covers a floor,
and there are accepted things that it is and is not used for; e.g. a rug
used as an oil mat in a garage, is an unfortunate oppression of the rug
which was not intended for this functional use. A rug that is cut up into
peices has potentially been killed. A rug that has not been maintained has
been mistreated. So there's some discussion needed about the limits of
"acceptable" and "unacceptable use", and perhaps that relates to the
original design intention of the rug. Again, back to the idea of an
acceptable "life".

Having reached a point in the development of society where we understand the
possibility of all of these things, our ideas of morality change; so now we
realise that ehtics and morality are not just applicable to other humans,
but really, applicable to everything.

The problem is with the application to nature and things that humans have
not created. A rock? Well, for what purpose was it created ? What's it's
acceptable use ? I don't know! How about a gorilla ? Well, it seems to
currently have a particular means of living its life, irrespective of human
involvement, so perhaps, the thing is that it should be allowed to
continually lead that life until it actively pursues some kind of external
interrupt. Perhaps that can applied to all living things. And even further,
perhaps that can be applied to all existing things. Leave the rock in its
place. Don't touch the plant. Let it be -- but, perhaps it should be brought
up to a higher standards ? Our standard, or plant standard ? From the
viewpoint of the plant, it's ideal world is different to the ideal world
that humans have ? What does the plant strive for ? Perhaps the plant
strives for something aligned to its principle form ? What if it wants to
break out and be something else though ?

The problem is then that humans do need to eat and survive, I'm not sure how
to reconcile that one. We need to eat. What foods are acceptable to eat ?
Possibly, fruits! Well, fruits and vegetables and legumes and the like are
designed for reproduction. They are statistically not all going to succeed.
So, perhaps it is okay to take those ? Actually, one could eat the fruit and
discard the seeds, and reproduction could continue; because the primary
purpose of the fruit has not been altered, just part of the surrounding
implementation : i.e. the tasty bit used for fertilisation and so on. Hmm,
perhaps though, by altering that, the eventual reproduced fruit plant would
differ from the original (i.e. some less nutrients), but perhaps not
significantly so.

Then there comes the matter of communicating as well. How could I
communicate with a gorilla in a way such a way that it doesn't disturb what
it is doing, but if the gorilla has reached a sufficient level of
intelligence, it can search for communication attempts and find them. But
what if the gorilla stumbles on the communication attempts inadvertently ?
That's a problem. The communicating entity should have enough observational
knowledge to know that the mode of communicating is highly statistically
unlikely to be picked up until the gorilla has developed sufficient

This is sounding very STNG'y.

What are the basic rules ?
- - respect something for what it is and the way it is, and discard ideas of
superiority and non-superiority ? things are less capable and less aware and
less skilled or more capable and more aware and more skilled; or just
- - do not disturb these things from what they are doing, even if they are
incorrectly disturbing other things, or possibly guide and educate them to
greater levels of awareness ? but even this suggests the primacy of "greater
levels of awareness" as a positive outcome from our perspective, not from
theirs ? perhaps, their perspective is to operate a destructive system, who
says that a productive one is more important ?
- - somehow provide enough communication to them so that when they become
aware enough to look out and modify themselves to undertake self change, or
whatever, then there are helping hands that will help them ?

It's a pity I don't drink, or I would need one now. No, I am not on mind
altering substances. Though I can relate some interesting stories of
spiritual journeys on early mornings in Paris ... very strange.

Help !


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