Monday, April 6, 2009

Synthesizing Wilkinson, Schwitzgebel, and Yudkowsky on Morality


"I go to great lengths to "save the world" (as I believe from my epistemic vantage point). When I consider doing less, I consider that this would make me a horrible awful unforgivable person. And then I cheerfully shake hands with others who aren't trying at all to save the world. I seem to want to have my cake and eat it too - to instantiate Goetz's Paradox: "Society tells you to work to make yourself more valuable. Then it tells you that when you reason morally, you must assume that all lives are equally valuable. You can't have it both ways." Is this an inherent subjective asymmetry - does morality just look different from the outside than inside?"


"The creature moved solely by instrumental, self-regarding rationality has a name: sociopath... A handful of sociopaths exist, but gods live only in myths and textbooks. Flesh and blood human animals are, like the naked mole rat, “hypersocial.”... But we humans are not socially programmed robots. We are clever conformists. We can glimpse the advantages in “defection,” in pretending to pull our weight and writing our own rules when it suits us... Nature’s solution is our taste for “altruistic punishment,” the disposition to hammer norm shirkers despite the personal cost. How not self-interested we are we? This not self-interested: We are so obsessed with conformity that we will hurt ourselves to hurt those who refuse to conform."


"Suppose Sally hits Hank and a liberally-minded teacher comes up and asks her how it made her feel to hurt Hank...The reality is that the child is being asked to reflect in a situation where she knows that the teacher will approve of one answer and condemn another. This isn't free reflection; and the answer the child gives may not reflect her real feelings and values. Instead, it seems, it is a kind of imposition -- and one perhaps all the more effective if the child mistakes the resulting judgment for one that is genuinely her own. Therefore, maybe, a liberal-seeming style of moral education is effective not because we have in us all an inclination toward the good that only needs encouragement to flower, but rather because reflection in teacher-child, parent-child, and similar social contexts is really an insidious form of imposition -- and thus, perhaps, the conservative's best secret tool."

: Eliezer wonders whether it is OK to hold ourselves to different standards than we hold others, Wilkinson wonders how to put our tendency to conform to norms to good use, Schwitzegebel argues that maybe in some situations we already do. Everyone would be better off if stochastic morality was the assumption, because binary reasoning lead to the dark, empty caverns of rationalization and stagnation. Currently not every life is created equal, but if enough improvements are made at some point they could be. Yes I said it, improvements. How to proceed? Nihilism, epistemology, or science.