Selecting Values (was: Thought love)

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Mon Jul 10 2000 - 11:16:11 MDT

Anders Sandberg wrote:
>The fascinating question, the one that I have not yet seen a truly good
>answer to, is: "How do we select our values?". We are entering the same
>dilemma as the protagonist in Egan's _Reasons to be Cheerful_ - how do we
>bootstrap a value system if we ignore the default settings? But if we don't
>ignore them (rather hard anyway) we instead must select our values, our
>tastes, based on other values we know are biased in complex and often
>obscurely self-serving ways.

I can't see how you could select values without reference to some
"meta-values", i.e., things you like and don't like about values.
But these meta-values may also be biased in complex and self-serving
ways. So which, of your values or meta-values, do you trust the most?

For example, one meta-value is simplicity and coherence, wanting to have a
simple coherent set of values across a wide range of issues, rather than
an apparently random assortment of values across different issues. Given
this meta-value, I can look for patterns in my values and try to reduce
the "errors" between my current values and my simpler model of my values.
And this is to some extent what I do. But it begs the question of why
I should want my values to be simple and coherent.

I think most of the interesting work in this area in the next few decades
will be to integrate our values with the coming knowledge of where those
values came from and what functions they have served, both evolutionarily
and culturally. One should at the very least not have a value that
becomes incoherent when one learns where it came from.

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

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