Some questions to ask:

  • Am I making people stronger, or weaker?
  • What would they think if they knew exactly what I was doing?
  • If lots of people used this technique, would the world be better off or worse off? Is that already happening and am I just keeping pace? Am I being substantially less evil than average?
  • Is this the sort of Dark Art that corrupts anything it touches (like telling people to have faith) or is it more neutral toward the content conveyed (like using colorful illustrations or having a handsome presenter speak a talk)?

(I've recently joked that SIAI should change its motto from "Don't be jerks" to "Be less evil than Google".)

"Am I making people stronger, or weaker?" That's a very important question, and sometimes hard to get right.

Consider a theist for whom the belief in god is a fundamental aspect of his life, whose faith makes him strong because it gives him something to protect. Breaking (or weakening) his belief in god before he built himself a line of retreat can do much more harm than good.

What should be done is first building the line of retreat, showing him that even without a god, his life does not become pointless, his ethics won't crumble to dust, and the... (read more)

3JesseGalef9yGreat questions! Regarding the second one, "What would [people] think if they knew exactly what I was doing?" - I absolutely agree that it's important as a pragmatic issue. If someone will get upset by a technique - justified or not - we need to factor that into the decision to use it. But do you think their discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense, or merely socially frowned upon? Society tends to form its conventions for a reason, but those reasons aren't necessarily tied to a consistent conception of morality. That said, I agree that if people get upset by a practice, it's a good warning sign that the practice could be unethical and merits careful thought. ...Which could be exactly what you meant by asking the question. By the way, I'm looking forward to meeting you at Skepticon next month - I'll be moderating a panel you'll be on!

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

by orthonormal 1 min read12th Aug 2010805 comments


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