Re: ETHICS: value-sets and value-systems

Eric Watt Forste (
Tue, 21 Oct 1997 12:37:22 -0700

Mitchell Porter writes:
> I'm intrigued by Eric's idea that "the summum bonum is
> the generalizably extrinsic". I don't think it's any more
> defensible as a proposed Absolute Good than any other candidate,
> so I suppose I find it of interest as a psychological hypothesis
> ("this is what we're really after") and as a hedonic heuristic
> ("this is the thing to seek"). In fact, maybe so much emphasis
> is placed on nano and AI in extropian/transhuman circles
> because they promise to make so much else possible, and are
> therefore further examples of powerful extrinsic goods.

Thanks for diagnosing my thinking. You're right, it probably is
more of a psychological hypothesis or hedonic heuristic or both
than a moral principle. Your paraphrase identifying my clumsy
English phrase with the old Latin one makes me a little
uncomfortable, though I can see how I gave that impression, because
I tried to head off that impression by quacking about how I found
it quite likely that Aristotle's "summum bonum" is a meaningless
phrase. They might be the same though... that would just mean
that my phrase is meaningless too. ;)

The possibility of a summum bonum would to me imply the possibility
of a permanent end to all progress. Whether my resisting this idea
is merely wishful thinking on my part I am not sure yet.

But you make an excellent diagnosis in pointing out the generalizable
extrinsicity of proposed projects in nano and AI, because thinking
about that is indeed one of things that prompted the development
of this idea for me.