Re: ExI = Truth First ?

Daniel Fabulich (
Fri, 15 May 1998 17:43:00 -0400 (EDT)

uOn Fri, 15 May 1998, Ian Goddard wrote:

> In the Extropian society, is the core principle:
> "We acknowledge only those truths that are useful."
> Such seems to be the consensus, stated in so many
> words, of some of the members of this list. If so,
> then truth is a subset of the set of "utility" (U),
> and as such, x is a member of U if and only if x
> is useful. So the Extropian principle would be:
> "We acknowledge only those things that are useful."
> The Nazi Party found the extermination of all who
> disagreed with their agenda very useful and adhered
> faithfully to the utility-first principle that many
> on the ExI list adhere to. Does ExI = Nazism? I say
> no! I believe it is not the right ExI principle. I
> believe that to the extent we are directed to that
> principle we are infected with totalitarian memes.

To this I answer: Do you honestly believe that WWII was the best thing
that could have happened to Germany? Wouldn't the German government be
leaps and bounds better off if that whole little fiasco had never
happened? Besides, think about all the "Einsteins" which Germany COULD
have kept, but lost thanks to the Nazi holocaust!

To put this in a more concise logical fashion, your critique of
utilitarianism in favor of "truth" USES utility as its criterion of moral
value. If using a one-to-one truth function brings about optimal utility,
as you argue, then by all means we should adopt it; but this is BECAUSE of
utilitarianism, not in spite of it.

> In the case of countering national socialism, the
> utility (appealing to the utilitarian) of truth-
> first is that it is not true that your agenda, or
> your well-being, is maximized by the initiation of
> aggression upon other humans. Einstein escaped the
> Nazis, how many Einstein's did not? Even more, not
> killing people but using them as slaves also does
> not maximize the well-being of slaveholders versus
> a society in which all are free to come and go.
> The descendants of slave holders are better off
> because of free markets, not antebellum slavery.
> In sum, I believe truth can lead to Extropia!
> What's wrong with a truth-first principle?

My problem with truth-first as a PRINCIPLE appears when the pursuit of
truth is actually antithetical to human utility, in which case I maintain
that utilitarianism ought to win out. The holocaust, for example, was not
a failure of utilitarianism as a principle, but a failure in application
of a good principle. Had they correctly evaluated the consequences of
their actions, they would have seen that WWII was the last thing Germany
really needed, and that persecuting the Jews was a waste of their own
utility as well as their victims.

Compare this example to a thought-experiment. If the pursuit of truth is
more important than human utility, then we should pursue truth even to the
expense of human utility. So even if further studies in, say, science are
miserable to us, and where TECHNOLOGY would serve us better than further
studies of astronomical bodies, we would still be morally obligated to
pursue truth.

<thought experiment> Suppose you are studying an important effect in
quantum mechanics, but one which can be put off until later without
significant losses in utility. Then, you look out the window and you
see: A Drowning Child (tm) [the philosopher's favorite play toy!].
You could save that child now and study quantum effects later,
OR you could just ignore the child and continue the pursuit of the
one-to-one truth function. Despite the fact that utilitarianism demands
that you save that child, truth-first demands that truth comes first, and
utility second. You ignore the child, and finish observing your quantum
effect before even considering saving him/her. </thought experiment>

This moral conclusion is unsound by my thinking, and so I challenge its
underlying premise: that truth comes before utility. Instead, we should
say that the pursuit of truth is aligned with utility most of the time,
and so the pursuit of truth is useful to that extent, but when they are
set against one another, utility comes first.