Re: Ethics and Morality

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 08 Oct 1997 20:22:19 -0500

John K Clark wrote:
> Then even if you succeeded in your task all you would have done is provide
> an objective definition for the words "good" and "evil", but no reason why
> you should do good and avoid evil and thus no reason to favor one definition
> over another. Dreaming up objective definitions is no great trick, that's why
> I said "an" objective definition not "the" objective definition.

Exactly, and that's why I specified "the" objective definition rather than
"an" objective definition. There are many objective definitions of reality,
but only one of them is right.

> >Does the existence of "objective cardinality" cause there to be more
> >of things?
> Yes. You're talking about "things" so I must assume you're talking about
> finite numbers because there is no proof there is an infinite number of any
> thing. If two finite sets could be put into a one to one correspondence and
> yet one set have more members than another then logic would not work in this
> alternate universe and the phrase "more of things" becomes gibberish.

I'm sorry, explain this to me again. You're saying that the existence of
numbers causes there to be more objects? Objective cardinality is a force
pervading the Universe which causes all numbers to increase?

> >If you went to an alternate Universe where numbers did not exist,
> >how would things be the slightest bit different?
> But I couldn't go there because then there would have to be at least 2
> universes and 2 does not exist, the only thing that does is the null set.

By a similar token, you can't visit another Universe where External morality
is absent, because this would be a logical fallacy - assuming that External
morality exists here, that is.

We now think (although we're not really sure) that Fermat's Last Theorem is
true. You can't say: "But suppose we visited another Universe where FLT is
false, how would things be the slightest bit different?" Admittedly, FLT
doesn't seem like a major underpinning of the laws of physics - but you can't
negate FLT without blowing away the math that does describe/underpin the laws
of physics.

Before Andrew J. Wiles, we didn't know whether FLT was true, but we knew that
if it was true you couldn't visit a Universe where it was false, and if it was
false you couldn't visit a Universe where it was true - not without things
being drastically different, at least. I am making an analogous statement
with respect to External morality.

> +>>Alternate conversation:
> +>>Obviously "Objective Reality" isn't being defined as what causes the
> +>>neural events that I experience as belief, but in some different way.
> +> Obviously, and for that very reason it's equally obvious to me that
> +> whatever "Objective Reality" is defined to be it should have no interest
> +> to you.
> Quite correct, if you were to define "Objective Reality" in such a way that
> the neural events in my brain were not part of it then I would have no
> interest in "Objective Reality".

Nice bait-and-switch, but you should know better than to try changing
definitions on me. Just because "Objective Reality" isn't defined as what you
believe, doesn't mean that what you believe isn't a *part*, a *subset* of
Objective Reality. So I repeat: If I define Objective Reality so that your
neurons don't define OR but are merely part of it, does this mean OR has no
interest to you? If I say that your goals don't define External morality but
are merely a part of it, does this mean EM has no interest to you?

> >Just because you can't think of something [Objective Morality]
> >doesn't mean it isn't there.
> That's certainly true, but in the case of objective morality I don't even
> want to try to look for it because I can't see any puzzle it could solve if I
> found it. Again, that doesn't prove such puzzles are nonexistent but there
> are plenty of very difficult problems that I already know for a fact to exist
> and life is short.

I agree that life is short; that's why Singularitarian Externalism holds that
we should attempt to enhance intelligence instead of trying to solve EM - make
do with interim solutions.

If you can't see what puzzle we're trying to solve, it's because you refuse to
acknowledge the possibility that the value of a goal is part of objective
reality. As long as you're willing to admit the possibility, then the puzzle
is: "Are the values of goals part of objective reality, and if so, what are they?"

> >My ethical imperatives are all interim solutions and are presented
> >as such. Wouldn't the Universe be a much nicer place if everyone
> >else did the same?
> Your ideas about what is ethical and what is not are similar to my own
> (except for your belief that a crack neighborhood is as bad as the Holocaust),
> and yes, I think that if most people behaved as we do then the Universe would
> be a much nicer place, but other people have a different opinions and may not
> even want to live in a nicer place.

I wish I knew which opinion was correct.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.