Re: sentient rights (was RE: Battleground God)

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Fri Feb 22 2002 - 04:14:04 MST

On Thu, Feb 21, 2002 at 04:34:52PM -0800, wrote:
> Anders writes:
> > The principles do not seem to be enough to constrain an ethical system;
> > they do not form a set of ethical axioms or constrain the basis for
> > extropian ethics. They certainly have ethical content, but this content
> > deals more with desirability of different things than the core
> > "mechanics" of an ethical system.
> But doesn't Extropianism give us a handle by which to judge the
> desirability of different world outcomes? And doesn't this, in itself,
> constitute an ethical framework?

Is stealing wrong, according to the extropian principles? We can make
deductions from the principles; we could maybe use the text of Self
Direction to deduce that coercion is not acceptable, and since theft is
to some extent coercion, hence theft is not acceptable. This could be
shored up by looking at supporting statements elsewhere in the text. But
in the end we would only have a weak ethical statement that does not
really tell us why stealing is bad: it is bad because coercion is bad,
and that is bad because it weakens the connection between personal
choice and personal outcome, decreasing personal responsibility. And
that is bad because it goes against self-direction. But why is
self-direction in the principles?

> > Personally I would say that this is not a flaw. Extropianism rather
> > inherits the ethical underpinnings of its parent philosophies of
> > libertarianism and humanism (a kind of philosophical object
> > inheritance); it is compatible with most versions of them, and does not
> > as expressed in the principles have to redo all the immense work that
> > has been done on expressing ethics and politics elsewhere. It is a bit
> > like how Robert Nozick simply starts _Anarchy, State, Utopia_ by simply
> > assuming certain rights - the book is not about deriving them, it is
> > what conclusions can be made *after* they have been derived.
> I am not so comfortable thinking that we can graft conventional
> libertarianism onto Extropianism, or that we can start with libertarian
> ethics as a foundation for our Extropian ethical system. Haven't Max
> and others attempted to distance themselves from a strict libertarianism
> in order to open the movement to a wider range of political philosophies?

I would say that it is not a case of grafting libertarianism onto
extropianism. The libertarian ideas are already integral with the
principles, in the form of underlying assumptions. It is a bit like my
posting about the humanist roots of transhumanism: transhumanism
developed from humanism and incorporates much of it in its core
assumptions - even when such assumptions are seldom clearly aired. In
the same way extropianism derives from the transhumanist and libertarian
discourse, inhereiting ethical and other ideas by default.

Extropianism may not be much like conventional libertarianism (and even
less like specific libertarian movements), but the principles does not
make much sense if read in a context entirely free from libertarian and
humanist assumptions. After all, why is an open society where ideas and
products are produced and tested in an evolutionary manner preferable to
(say) a centrally controlled society? Why should the philosophy
advocated help individual humans rather than the collective? In fact,
one reason many people instinctively react with disgust to the
principles when they read them is that they come from an entirely
different philosophical background and has no familiarity with the
libertarian-humanist ideas - to many swedes, for example, they make
almost no sense at all.

Perhaps the clearest example of why the principles are not neutral is
the reading list. Why are those books there? Because they resonate with
the ideas of the principles. Imagine a list where Rand, Friedman and
Branden were replaced by Marx, Lenin and Mao. Would that list make the
slightest sense with the principles? If the extropian principles are
unrelated to the discourse in humanism and libertarianism, they ought to
be fairly neutral to what kind of political and ethical writings they
are combined with, but this is not the case.

> Even in the early days of this list, when most contributors were staunch
> Libertarians, we explored outside the libertarian box. We talked about
> private law systems where communists who shared everything could live
> and work side by side with capitalists who paid a fine for breathing
> the other guy's air. We looked at forms of anarchy which were well
> beyond the libertarian mainstream. All this was an attempt to further
> Extropian goals of self transformation and expansion by giving people
> maximum freedom to experiment with interpersonal relations and agreements.

Sure. Extropianism is about evolving and trying out new ideas, so
clearly we should not limit ourselves only to Approved Libertarian Ideas
(TM). But there is a difference between being ready to think about
unexpected or uncomfortable questions (Is state sponsored eugenics
always bad? Can a free market hypereconomy evolve into a virtual planned
economy, and would that be good? Is borganisms a better form of
existence than individuals?) and accepting all of these questions as
valid extropian positions. I'm perfectly willing to consider the
utilitarian idea of nuking Afghanistan to promote safety and speed the
singularity, but that doesn't mean it would be an extropian idea even if
it was a good idea.

Most of the libertarian inheritance in extropian thought is not on the
political level but rather on such core assumptions that individuals
matter, that it is better to be free than unfree, that each human has
their own life goals that they should be allowed to strive towards, that
initiating coercion is bad and so on. What kind of market is best is not
really a part of the inhereited set of ideas or the principles, but
something that has to be investigated from this basis.

> One of the big question marks in the Principles which we did not explore
> much is whether they should be seen as collective or individual. When we
> seek to maximize extropy, as defined by the Principles, are we trying
> to do so each of us individually for ourselves, or for society and the
> world as a whole? Is my goal a world with maximal extropy, or is it a
> world in which I personally have maximized my potentials? I don't see
> the Principles as giving a clear guideline for answering this question.

I'm not even sure "maximizing extropy" has any meaning. What if extropy
is best regarded as a qualitative property and/or something individual
that cannot be compared across individuals?

> This is perhaps the most fundamental ethical question we face. It is
> the difference between being generous and being selfish; between being
> trustworthy and being a cheat; between being honest and lying for self
> benefit. If I can benefit myself by harming another, without getting
> caught, should I do so? It arguably maximizes my own potentials for
> extropy, but also arguably reduces the net extropy for the two of us.
> Although Extropianism is often seen as an individualistic philosophy, I
> think most of us would agree that from the ethical perspective, we care
> about more than our own personal benefit. We want to see a world where
> the potentials promoted by Extropianism are available to as many people
> as possible. I don't know if many of us would go so far as to say that
> we would sacrifice ourselves if it increased the net extropy of the world,
> but we are far from being dedicated only to our own selfish goals.

True. I would say this is where the principles do not quite give us
help, and even most libertarian ethical systems do not clearly describe
the reasons to behave "truly" altruistically. This may be a fruitful
area of philosophical investigation.

Personally I see a value in complex and contingent systems outside of
myself; not only do they have a value to me (which is to some extent
just aesthetics), but they can have value to themselves too. A universe
with more beings that strive to grow and expand their potential seems to
be more extropic than a universe with less such beings. Even if extropy
is qualitative and incomensurable between individuals, one could always
compare how much these individuals value their extropy (for example
through a pricing comparision - how much of your resources would you pay
to increase your extropy further?). In fact, I think there is a deep
connection between extropy, perceived value and economic growth.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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