Ethical experimentation

by KatjaGraceMeteuphoric1 min read10th Nov 20192 comments



I suggested experimenting with different settings on personal characteristics that aren’t obviously good or bad. For instance, trying out being more or less perfectionistic for a day.

A particular variety of this that interests me is experimentation with different ethical principles, where opinion differs on which is correct. Both at levels of action (being a vegan for a week) and of abstract belief (being a virtue ethicist for a week).

I think this is a particularly non-obvious thing to do, because:

  1. You already have views on what is correct, and trading your good ethical principles for bad ethical principles seems unethical.
  2. Ethics seems like an area where experimentation is particularly unhelpful, being mostly about things outside of you that you don’t have direct access to, and also arguably inhabiting a separate realm that doesn’t interact with empirical facts. 

I think it is a good idea anyway. On 1, this is basically the same as the case for placebo controlled medical trials, assuming that the thing can actually help you be more ethical in the long run.

On 2, the main thing you have to go by on ethics is intuitions and arguments that are salient and moving to you. But people are notoriously bad at coming up with an unbiased selection of considerations to make salient on topics where they feel something, and it is easy to hear an argument and not really feel it. Actually trying to inhabit the different positions seems helpful for these.

I haven’t done this, but I have become a vegetarian for no great reason and in spite of my argument that it is not an effective use of effort, and then gone back to eating fish, and I found both things had pretty interesting effects on my intuitions about things and the arguments I thought about (possibly changing ethical positions for no good reason is especially good, because then your brain tries to make up its best reasons).

I was thinking of trying nihilism week soon, but then I got busy and maybe became a nihilist anyway, so we’ll see.