I'm trying to figure out whether there's a sensible and coherent way to call a persuasion technique unethical as a reflection on the technique, rather than solely the consequences.

The first step might be to back up and see whether there's a perfectly coherent way to distinguish among persuasion techniques, in case that becomes important.

Sure, there are sensible ways to distinguish among them. But if you had a good idea of what your subject's matter was like, and a good idea of how you would want it to be, and you had sufficient power, you could talk softly to them, or torture them, or disassemble their atoms and reshape them into a nearly identical version that had a few changed opinions, or barbecue them and feed them to a child and teach the child the opinions you wanted them to have. All four ways begin with an interlocutor and end with a person made out of mostly the same atoms thinking largely what you set out to have the person you are talking to think. (Note: I do not claim that for every mind, persuasion would work.) While these methods are distinct, there is a continuum of possibilities along the influence-manipulation-reconstruction-recycling axis.

I don't think there is a solid, sharp boundary marking a difference in kind between "influence" and Dark Art style "manipulation".

On slavery, which everyone agrees is always wrong...right?

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

by orthonormal 1 min read12th Aug 2010805 comments

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