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.


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Please officer, don't arrest me today. I did the zero-ethics version the last week, this is my control week; you would ruin my experiment.

Something in this space seems interesting, but a major worry I have is that much of the point of ethics is to have safeguards about doing things that are easy/convenient/harmful (where the harm might be either your future self, or other people).

If you have an injunction against pirating music or eating meat or white-lying, and then for a week you switch to treating those as permissible... one major obvious effect is just going to be "yup, it sure is convenient to do this thing I had an injunction against", which one probably already knew. 

The particular examples you give seem to mostly be doing more interesting things. My impression is your point here is less about the changing the actions you do, and more about changing the "why" behind those actions. Something in this space seems interesting and perhaps important. I expect this experiment to be more-upside when you're experimenting with ethics other than removing injunctions.

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