Ethics and Morality

John K Clark (
Sun, 5 Oct 1997 22:55:39 -0700 (PDT)


On Sat, 04 Oct 1997 "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" <> Wrote:

>Consider Conway's "Game of Life". Life proceeding under the cellular
>automaton rules is independent of all external influences. If some
>living beings evolved on that vast grid, their religions would surely
>be false, and their fate decided by no greater authority. They would
>be beyond the protection of God. They would have no guarantee that
>the just would prevail, or that they would reach Singularity, or
>that any greater principle guided their Universe - save that two
>maintain and three give birth.

The physics in such a would be much simpler than in ours but just as in ours
the laws of physics are only half the picture, the other half is initial
conditions. Because there is more than one way to produce a pattern in Life
you can not run the game backwards to find those initial conditions.

>Right and wrong are objective facts, and not facts which we or *any*
>volitional agent were consulted about.

If so then I see no reason to obey its principles, even if I knew them. I'll
make objective morality a deal, I won't bother it if it won't bother me.

>For all we know, the Holocaust was a wonderful thing

There is only one way anybody could convince me that the Holocaust was a
wonderful thing, send in their Nanomachines and massively rewire my brain,
and even then "I" wouldn't be convinced because the resulting creature would
be so radically different that it would no longer be me. If objective morality
says mass murder is good then I say objective morality can kiss my ass
because subjective morality is better.

>What we are evolved to regard as "right" is as irrelevant as the
>numbers we evolved to see as "real".

Irrelevant to who?

>Right and wrong are objective facts, and not facts which we or *any*
>volitional agent were consulted about. [...] True right and wrong
>are outside of our opinions and unaffected by >them.

If there is an objective morality then I agree that our opinions do not
effect it, and I would go further and say that objective morality does not
effect our opinions. If we do not effect it and it does not effect us then
Ockham's Razor says that the Objective Morality Theory is not needed.
Einstein did not prove that the luminiferous ether was nonexistent, he only
proved that the idea was silly, but that was enough

>You and I can no more affect right and wrong that way than we can
>flatten the Earth.

Then "morality" doesn't need your help so don't worry about it, let it keep
doing whatever in the world it's doing, and if anybody asks your opinion about
starting a second Holocaust keep advising them that it's a very bad idea.

>With respect to ethics, you can't prevail over some higher authority

So all objective ethics means is that if somebody more powerful than yourself
tells you not to do something then you'd better not do it? In some cases that
might be good advice but seems a bit anticlimactic for such a grand concept.

>You can either be wrong, or right. Opinions are either wrong or

I don't like sweet potatoes. Am I right or wrong?

>It's as if a debate over the shape of the Earth was being conducted,
>where one side wanted to know what the shape "really" was and the
>other fought valiantly for freedom of opinion and decried any side
>that tyranically declared a single truth, or even that a single
>truth existed.

No, it's not like the shape of the Earth, it's as if the debate was over
whether the Three Stooges were funny. Suppose you watch a film of the stooges
and laugh, but then somebody says "Yudkowsky you have made an error, that
joke was not funny. I have found that Objective Humor exists and with my
comic algorithm I can calculate the humor content of any message string to
16 decimal places and do it in polynomial time. The calculation proves
conclusively that the joke was not even slightly funny, it produced a zero."

And yet you still laughed. "Objective Humor" didn't think it was funny, but
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky did.

John K Clark

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