[SEQ RERUN] What Would You Do Without Morality?

by MinibearRex1 min read19th Jun 20123 comments


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Today's post, What Would You Do Without Morality? was originally published on 29 June 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


If your own theory of morality was disproved, and you were persuaded that there was no morality, that everything was permissible and nothing was forbidden, what would you do? Would you still tip cabdrivers?

Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was The Opposite Sex, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.

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[-][anonymous]9y 3

Close your eyes, take as long as necessary to answer: What would you do, if nothing were right?

This is the life I lead now. I live as though there were no natural rights [1] and as though there were no God, in a determined universe that existed long before me and which will exist long after me, me being a non-vitalist sort of me at that.

Law, economics, convention and biology keep me from doing some of what I'd like to do in this world. Fortunately they keep others from doing what they'd like to do in this world, too, as some of it wouldn't be very nice for me at all.

My motives are likely my preference for things, sometimes gussied up as what is right or wrong but that, too, is a preference for my self-perception. I think of myself as a failed egoist.

Morality not being real is similar to the soul not being real. No captain in the boat doesn't mean there's no boat and no ocean and no storm.

[1] http://ovo127.com/2010/09/24/trevor-blake-yes-you-can-say-no-a-review-of-the-myth-of-natural-rights-by-l-a-rollins/

My ethics are, as many commented their were in the original thread, not supported by logic. And I don't mean in an unconsidered way. Morality does not come from outside me. My "morality" is a reflection of my desires. It is not pure pleasure seeking because my desires have a longer time-view than that.

How could this ever be disproved? It is not proved in the first place. I was raised Catholic and so experienced strong claims for a right and wrong that exist outside of me. On reflection, I have largely innoculated myself against believing any claims like that, and yet I do keep looking and wondering. I mention this since the one "disproof" of my ethics I can imagine is to be shown something that leads me to believe there is a creditable source of morality outside my own desires.

Eliezer seems to equate proving all utilities are equal (or 0) with disproving all moralities. I can not easily imagine finding the same utility in receiving oral sex from a healthy loving partner as I find in putting my healthy useful hand in a running blender on a whim.

So saying "yes, I would still tip cabdrivers" seems a little dishonest. I would still tip cabdrivers because I would want to, which means I would find more utility in it than in NOT tipping cabdrivers, so I would have failed to perform the axiomatic steps.

I suppose if I do perform the axiomatic steps, if there were no morality in the sense that all utilities were equal, I would be dead, or more probably would never have been alive. Life does not survive without utility, probably all life, certainly chordata.

And I would certainly still read overcomingbias.com since that is already immoral, I should be working instead.

If there remains a non-zero probability of the proof being wrong, I'd carry on with my ethics, of course.

But if that's ruled out, there would be no reason to favor any one action over any other action. Still, I don't think I'd ever torture myself, even though the hypothetical postulates that this would be a pointless aversion. I'd have to admit that I have no good reasons for not doing something else, yet I'd go the path of the least resistance with maybe some short-term happy activities (i.e. eating tasty animal products) and then suicide in a relatively painless way. I have no intuition that non-existence is worse than happiness, and I would still find my aversion to suffering motivating enough to determine the choice of action.