What is Eliezer Yudkowsky's meta-ethical theory?

Hm. I can say truthfully that I don't care whether I like vanilla or chocolate ice cream more. I suppose that the statement of my utility with regard to eating vanilla vs. chocolate ice cream would be 'I assign higher utility to eating the flavor of ice cream which tastes better to me.' That is, I only care about a state of my mind. So, if the circumstances changed so I could procure that state of mind by other means (ex: eating vanilla instead of chocolate ice cream), I would have no problem with that. The action that I would take after being hit by the a... (read more)

What is Eliezer Yudkowsky's meta-ethical theory?

by lukeprog 1 min read29th Jan 2011375 comments


In You Provably Can't Trust Yourself, Eliezer tried to figured out why his audience didn't understand his meta-ethics sequence even after they had followed him through philosophy of language and quantum physics. Meta-ethics is my specialty, and I can't figure out what Eliezer's meta-ethical position is. And at least at this point, professionals like Robin Hanson and Toby Ord couldn't figure it out, either.

Part of the problem is that because Eliezer has gotten little value from professional philosophy, he writes about morality in a highly idiosyncratic way, using terms that would require reading hundreds of posts to understand. I might understand Eliezer's meta-ethics better if he would just cough up his positions on standard meta-ethical debates like cognitivism, motivation, the sources of normativity, moral epistemology, and so on. Nick Beckstead recently told me he thinks Eliezer's meta-ethical views are similar to those of Michael Smith, but I'm not seeing it.

If you think you can help me (and others) understand Eliezer's meta-ethical theory, please leave a comment!

Update: This comment by Richard Chappell made sense of Eliezer's meta-ethics for me.