“When one advances claims, one must first establish a standard of assessment. To make claims in the absence of such a standard is like trying to establish on the surface of a spinning potter’s wheel where the sun will rise and set. Without a fixed standard, one cannot clearly ascertain what is right and wrong, or what is beneficial and harmful.”

-Mozi, ‘A Condemnation of Fatalism’


Meta Note

I am constantly editing this framework, and it is tedious to keep it updated here as well. For the latest version that is synced with my personal document on the matter, see here: https://becomingstronger.postach.io/post/neo-mohism

Epistemic Status

This is more meant as a description of my personal moral philosophy than a prescriptive philosophy/religion for others to follow, but I hope to refine it to the point where most people would be on-board with it while still being useful. Please be charitable with your critique, as this is a work in progress (as my own moral philosophy is) which I whipped up in the span of an hour, and I have yet to settle on where Neo-Mohism ends and my personal ethics begin (if anywhere!). But do let me know what should be clarified more, or what you think is incorrect!

High Concept (TL;DR)

Humans accomplish goals more effectively when they cooperate, but humans have different goals and different ways they wish to cooperate. Inspired by the ancient philosophy of Mohism, this is an attempt to find a universal moral framework that most systems can agree on. The primary philosophy of Neo-Mohism is two-fold:

There are objective moral facts to be known, due to defining the goal of morality as " the well-being of all conscious creatures" (which includes all sentient beings, such as animals and Artificial General Intelligence)

All tenets of Neo-Mohism must always be open to revision via the epistemology of Bayesian Rationality.

Currently, all Neo-Mohists take a specialized Vow of Honesty, as they value truth for its own sake and believe deception is inherently harmful. Most Neo-Mohists live a vegan lifestyle, all of them are some form of vegetarian/reducetarian, and consider the killing/subjugation of animals to be immoral. You will often find Neo-Mohists involved in work that advances the well-being of humanity in some way, as they consider it to be their personal responsibility to improve the world (they have a particular emphasis on reducing suffering over improving happiness, given the current state of the world). They are also interested in improving their thinking, as they consider it to be the primary way well-being can be improved, and have few qualms about using technology to accomplish this.

Tenets

The first and highest tenet is that all tenets are subject to revision (except for this one).

Bayesian Rationality is the epistemology of choice for Neo-Mohists. Neo-Mohism does not make proclamations of certainty; all beliefs are required to have a confidence interval assigned to them (including all moral conclusions), and a Cardinal Sin of Neo-Mohism is to assign a probability of 1 or 0 to a belief. As per Bayesian Rationality, the ultimate arbiter of Neo-Mohist tenets is the ability to make advance, falsifiable predictions, allowing the universe to judge between competing ideas.

As Bayesian Rationality refines and corrects itself, so does the epistemology of Neo-Mohism. This is, admittedly, the greatest weakness of the philosophy.

It is unclear how useful it is to codify a moral framework beyond a certain point. It is important to pay attention to context, and not let an ethical framework get in the way of being ethical.

Any moral framework adopted should avoid "repugnant conclusions" that violate the principles of well-being (explained below), to the extent possible.

The word "morality" within this system is defined as "[X action] is that which ought to be done/not done, given the goal of well-being." As such, Neo-Mohism does not concern itself with any is/ought problem, and uses Consequentialism as a meta-ethic. The only problem to solve is whether wellbeing is a shared goal. Neo-Mohists argue that everyone cares about this, and that there are objective facts to be known in pursuit of this goal.

Well-being

Well-being is defined as "Suffering is bad (you are not well if you are suffering), and death is bad (you are not being if you are dead)", and only applies to conscious creatures who exist or who we are confident will exist (creatures that neither exist nor will ever exist do not have a "being" in any meaningful sense).

The Neo-Mohist pillars of well-being (the broad values that Neo-Mohists consider to be the necessary preconditions of avoiding suffering and death) are “Happiness”, "Truth", "Freedom", "Responsibility", and “Life”.

Happiness

Defined as "Hedonic Enjoyment" (the good feeling I get from drinking a glass of Boba Tea, the warmth I feel when I bask in the sun, the entertainment I get from watching a good movie, etc) and “Emotional Fulfillment” (having an intellectually-stimulating relationship, doing hard work aligned with one’s values, being mindful in the present moment, and self improvement). Neo-Mohists want themselves and everyone to be happy. Especially, they do not want anyone to suffer, as suffering is a problematic barrier to happiness in a way that lesser pleasure is not.

Humor is good, and should be used generously.

Truth

Defined as “that which comports with external reality”, or “that which exists regardless of what one believes”. There is an objective reality that we experience, and we can learn about this reality through Science and Rationality. Neo-Mohists desire to know what is true for its own sake, and want everyone to believe true things.

Freedom

Defined as “agency to make informed decisions”, from which we derive the importance of consent.

Responsibility

This can best be defined by Ghandi’s saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Many things exist outside our control, but it’s merely a matter of degree. If something goes wrong, a Neo-Mohist must admit any part they played in it, and resolve to do better in the future. Other people often cannot be relied upon to do the right thing. It is not enough to say “this has been delegated”. If a Neo-Mohist sees suffering that they can do something about, it is their responsibility to try and fix it.

Life

Defined as "the active state of a sentient agent", where "sentience" is defined as "anything that can suffer or reflect on the concept of suffering". Life provides meaning to an otherwise meaningless universe. All sentient creatures have moral weight (humans, animals, AI, aliens, etc), including ones far away from you (distance does not matter). Because all sentient beings have moral weight, it is immoral to subjugate, kill or eat them.

In particular, “sapience” is of special concern; a word here which includes everything under “Sentience”, as well as “the ability to be aware of one’s awareness, assign meaning to things, and make moral judgments (which also requires something like a Theory of Mind)”. Humanity is the only known species to have Sapience, and therefore the loss of humanity would be a terrible thing indeed, reducing our universe to a meaningless machine. Misanthropy is misguided at best, dangerous and immoral at worst.

 

Moral Conclusions

Derived from 'Freedom' and 'Life': Transhumanism

Everyone has the right to use technology to be whatever they wish to be, including *not dead*.

Derived from 'Truth' and 'Freedom': Radical Honesty

Premise:

Deception is a hostile act that deprives people of the ability to have a relationship with you based on fully informed consent. As such, any deception (including lies of omission) are immoral acts (although sometimes immoral acts must be performed to avoid more immoral acts). The closer your relationship, the more important honesty is.

Guidelines:

1.) Tell the truth in all circumstances (with the exceptions listed below). The importance of telling the truth increases with the amount of trust the other person is giving, and how much you care about your relationship with this person.

2.) Volunteer your thoughts liberally, but only when you have reason to believe that your audience wants to know them, or if your relationship would benefit from knowing them.

3.) If you wish to keep something private, say so explicitly.

Exceptions:

1.a.) Avoid telling the truth when you have confirmed that dishonesty is the least harmful alternative. Situations like this in social relationships are very rare, and should be exited as quickly as possible.

1.b.) Where exiting is not a meaningful option, long-term dishonesty may be the best policy, though we should be highly skeptical of this option as we are all biased to favor it.

2.) Where a person explicitly does not want honesty, there is no need to be honest with them.

3.) Since this is a practice meant for personal relationships, and is premised on consent and power dynamics, there is no significant requirement in this framework to be honest to entities that have power over you, such as governments and corporations.

4.) Sarcasm and friendly pranks are also acceptable.

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11 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:50 PM
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You‘ve really put some thought into this, thanks for sharing.

Though I don’t want to make a critique I would like to save you a bit of future trouble as a courtesy from someone who has trodden down the same path.

The issue with basing a philosophy on Mozi is that there are no ‘fixed standards’. All standards, like the rest of the universe, are forever in flux. Universal frameworks can not exist.

For the next stage I found reading Liezi was helpful.

Thanks for the feedback! 

Basing it on Mohism is more of an aesthetic decision than anything; if classical Mohism has an issue then Neo-Mohism should set out to solve it. :)

I think there's a difference between "no fixed standards" and "the ability to update standards in light of new evidence". Neo-Mohism is definitely about "strong opinions, weakly held" kind of thing. The standards it sets forth are only to be overturned by failing a test, and until then should be treated as the best answer so far.

(creatures that neither exist nor will ever exist do not have a "being" in any meaningful sense)

What about those:

  • That did exist
  • Of uncertain existence (especially with regards to the future)?

“Truth” is defined as “that which comports with external reality”, or “that which exists regardless of what one believes”. There is an objective reality that we experience, and we can learn about this reality through observation and reason. Bayesian Rationality is the epistemology of choice for Neo-Mohists, who desire to know what is true for its own sake, and want everyone to believe true things.

And yet this can only be reflected by the knowledge one possesses.

Also, how do you feel about lies of omission? [Answered.]

The first and highest tenet is that all tenets are subject to revision. The ultimate arbiter of this philosophy is the ability to make advance, falsifiable predictions, allowing the universe to judge between competing ideas.

Many philosophies aspire to this, yet somehow we have more than one philosophy. This seems like a good idea in theory, but in practice everything gets anchored on particular ways of looking at the world and are less fluid than we would like. I don't object to the ideal, but it's a weird one because in theory every philosophy that includes it seems like it should converge to become the same thing, yet they don't.

I don't see why they should. Merely holding beliefs to be revisable, doesn't tell you how to revise them....and they are going to be revised by other meta-level beliefs (ie. epistemology), which will vary (and also reviseable!)

So if Alice and Bob start off with a shared object level belief and feel the need to revise it, they are only going to concur if they are revising it the same way.

Aumanns theorem is more or less wrong, at least extremely impractical, for similar reasons.

So if Alice and Bob start off with a shared object level belief and feel the need to revise it, they are only going to concur if they are revising it the same way.

Or if they hit the disagreement with an experiment and concur on the resolution.

That's just a way of assuming they agree on epistemology. In real life there is no firm agreement on what an experiment is, or how to draw a conclusion from one.

In general, what you say may be true. In specific cases, it may still work. (For example, two parties may be able to come up with an experiment they agree on. This may be easier if both parties are more similar to each other.)

Yes, but my claim was not that convergence would never occur, it was that it would not necessarily occur. Of course convergence can occur between parties that have similar epistemology, but in general that's not a given. It's not a refutation to say that it's only true in general.

Are you proposing this as a new thing that few yet believe in, but many should, or as a description of the system that already sorta seems to exist?

I look up Mohism, and... it kinda seems like this is just "how all vaguely liberal nation-states downstream of the the enlightenment already run" basically? 

Or at least if you accused them of NOT running this way (accusing them of being unethical, or not merit-based, or wasteful) they would already experience it as an attack?

Central elements of Mohist thought include advocacy of a unified ethical and political order grounded in a consequentialist ethic emphasizing impartial concern for all; active opposition to military aggression and injury to others; devotion to utility and frugality and condemnation of waste and luxury; support for a centralized, authoritarian state led by a virtuous, benevolent sovereign and managed by a hierarchical, merit-based bureaucracy... Mohist ethics and epistemology are characterized by a concern with finding objective standards that will guide judgment and action reliably and impartially so as to produce beneficial, morally right consequences. The Mohists assume that people are naturally motivated to do what they believe is right, and thus with proper moral education will generally tend to conform to the correct ethical norms. They believe strongly in the power of discussion and persuasion to solve ethical problems and motivate action, and they are confident that moral and political questions have objective answers that can be discovered and defended by inquiry.

Virtually the only thing missing here is voting on who the leader should be, and how that leader should be restricted to roughly a decade of service in the top role.

Also the "..." was to cut out a bit about heaven and ghosts, although descriptively it does seem that the political operators in many modern nation states do give lip service to a confused mishmash of the best/shared parts of many religions, so maybe even that's descriptively accurate?

The primary goal of this document is to articulate my personal moral philosophy, and I use the Mohism branding because it has strong corollaries to said moral philosophy, but otherwise I am reinventing it from scratch.

I do think that a lot of the core tenets are widely (if subconsciously) held. As for the ones that aren't widely held, I personally think they should be. But, like any good Neo-Mohist, I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. ;)

The phrasing of this as a philosophy for others to adopt is mostly an aesthetic decision, a reframing to help me look at it more critically.