Re: ETHICS: reprogramming others, trials, justice (was Re: remorse, whatever that is)

Anders Sandberg (
Sun, 6 Jul 1997 14:38:11 +0200 (MET DST)

On Fri, 4 Jul 1997, Michael M. Butler wrote:

> Are you joking, or have you made up your mind about this?
> I'm not being sarcastic here--but I have a very mixed reaction
> to the notion of "fixing" people, especially without their consent.

Yes, this is a tricky ethical problem. It is a special case of a more
general problem that crops up in our discussions from time to time,
that of the ethics of changing thinking beings. Is it ethical to
modify the genes of an embryo, since we do not know if it will like
the results? Is it ethical to modify the memes of a child through
upbringing or schooling? These questions get tricky because the
individual which is modified cannot give informed consent (the
criminal might not want to stop being sociopathic, the embryo has no
mind and the child might not understand the ramifications of

One might argue that such changes "kill" or undo the future
unmodified individual (this argument has been used against genetic
modifications), but in that case education and upbringing are also
destroying potential future personalities. One might disregard
potential individuals completely, and just look at the likely
results, trying to make them as good as possible (measured by one's
moral standards). One might try to find a "value attractor" state:
the future individual will likely agree that it was a good idea to be
changed (but this is hard to achieve reliably). One might hide one's
head in the sand and simply say modifications are unethical, but in
that case we should not try to influence our children at all, which
is clearly necessary for them to grow up into our culture (or into
functioning adults).

Tricky questions.

> I have another series of bones to pick with the entire idea of
> "trials"--they seem to be mostly about making the local mass of
> primates feel better. _Sometimes_ that includes feeling like you'd
> have gotten a fair shake if you were in the defendant's shoes, but
> I daresay that's not prominent in the mind of many of today's jurors.

Unfortunately I think you are right.

I think the problem today is that we get too emotional about crimes.
What is the (ideal) purpose of a system of laws and law enforcement?
IMHO it is to make sure crimes (undesirable acts) doesn't happen too
often and have small consequences. Today we are too much thinking in
terms of justice and revenge; they are human ideas and emotions
rather than objective facts.

Perhaps it would be more efficient to put all the money spent on
catching thieves into installing better locks. If somebody commits
murder, the victim cannot be brought back but it is possible to make
sure the murderer doesn't murder more people.

How to implement something like this, and convince the vengeful
primates about it is a non-trivial problem.

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