An aspiring rationalist who has been involved in the Columbus Rationality community since January 2016.


To first order, moral realism and moral anti-realism are the same thing

I can parse your comment a couple of different ways, so I will discuss multiple interpretations but forgive me if I've misunderstood.

If we are talking about 3^^^3 dust specks experienced by that many different people, then it doesn't change my intuition. My early exposure to the question included such unimaginably large numbers of people. I recognize scope insensitivity may be playing a role here, but I think there is more to it.

If we are talking about myself or some other individual experiencing 3^^^3 dust specks (or 3^^^3 people each experiencing 3^^^3 dust specks), then my intuition considers that a different situation. A single individual experiencing that many dust specks seems to amount to torture. Indeed, it may be worse than 50 years of regular torture because it may consume many more years to experience them all. I don't think of that as "moral learning" because it doesn't alter my position on the former case.

If I have to try to explain what is going on here in a systematic framework, I'd say the following. Splitting up harm among multiple people can be better than applying it to one person. For example, one person stubbing a toe on two different occasions is marginally worse than two people each stubbing one toe. Harms/moral offenses may separate into different classes such that no amount of a lower class can rise to match a higher class. For example, there may be no number of rodent murders that is morally worse than a single human murder. Duration of harm can outweigh intensity. For example, imagine mild electric shocks that are painful but don't cause injury and furthermore that receiving one followed by another doesn't make the second any more physically painful. Some slightly more intense shocks over a short time may be better than many more mild shocks over a long time. This comes in when weighing 50 years of torture vs 3^^^3 dusk specks experienced by one person though it is much harder to make the evaluation.

Those explanations feel a little like confabulations and rationalizations. However, they don't seem to be any more so than a total utilitarianism or average utilitarianism explanation for some moral intuitions. They do, however, give some intuition why a simple utilitarian approach may not be the "obviously correct" moral framework.

If I failed to address the "aggregation argument," please clarify what you are referring to.

To first order, moral realism and moral anti-realism are the same thing

At least as applied to most people, I agree with your claim that "in practice, and to a short-term, first-order approximation, moral realists and moral anti-realists seem very similar." As a moral anti-realist myself, a likely explanation for this seems to be that they are engaging in the kind of moral reasoning that evolution wired into them. Both the realist and anti-realist are then offering post hoc explanations for their behavior.

With any broad claims about humans like this, there are bound to be exceptions. Thus all the qualifications you put into your statement. I think I am one of those exceptions among the moral anti-realist. Though, I don't believe it in any way invalidates your "Argument A." If you're interested in hearing about a different kind of moral anti-realist, read on.

I'm known in my friend circle for advocating that rationalists should completely eschew the use of moral language (except as necessary to communicate to or manipulate people who do use it). I often find it difficult to have discussions of morality with both moral realists and anti-realists. I don't often find that I "can continue to have conversations and debates that are not immediately pointless." I often find people who claim to be moral anti-realists engaging in behavior and argument that seem antithetical to an anti-realist position. For example, when anti-realists exhibit intense moral outrage and think it justified/proper (esp. when they will never express that outrage to the offender, but only to disinterested third parties). If someone engages in a behavior that you would prefer they not, the question is how can you modify their behavior. You shouldn't get angry when others do what they want, and it differs from what you want. Likewise, it doesn't make sense to get mad at others for not behaving according to your moral intuitions (except possibly in their presence as a strategy for changing their behavior).

To a great extent, I have embraced the fact that my moral intuitions are an irrational set of preferences that don't have to and never will be made consistent. Why should I expect my moral intuitions to be any more consistent than my preferences for food or whom I find physically attractive? I won't claim I never engage in "moral learning," but it is significantly reduced and more often of the form of learning I had mistaken beliefs about the world than changing moral categories. When debating the torture vs. dust specks problem with friends, I came to the following answer: I prefer dust specks. Why? Because my moral intuitions are fundamentally irrational, but I predict I would be happier with the dust specks outcome. I fully recognize that this is inconsistent with my other intuition that harms are somehow additive and the clear math that any strictly increasing function for combining the harm from dust specks admits of a number of people receiving dust specks in their eyes that tallies to significantly more harm than the torture. (Though there are other functions for calculating total utility that can lead to the dust specks answer.)

Military AI as a Convergent Goal of Self-Improving AI

Not going to sign up with some random site. If you are the author, post a copy that doesn't require signup.

How Popper killed Particle Physics

I think moving to frontpage might have broken it. I've put the link back on.

Problems as dragons and papercuts

I'm not sure I agree. Sure, there are lots of problems of the "papercut" kind, but I feel like the problems that concern me the most are much more of the "dragon kind". For example:

  1. There are lots of jobs in my career field in my city, but there don't seem to be any that are actually do one of: do truly quality work, work on the latest technology where everything in the field will go in my opinion or produce a product/service that I care about. I'm not saying I can't get those jobs, I'm saying in 15+ years working in this city I've never even heard of one. I could move across country and it might solve the job problem, but leaving my family and friends is a "dragon".
  2. Meeting women I want to date seems to be a dragon problem. I only know 2 women who I have met that meet my criteria.
  3. I have projects I'd like to accomplish that will take many thousands of hours each. Given constraints of work, socializing, self care and trying to meet a girlfriend (see item 2), I'm looking at a really really long time before any of these projects nears completion even if I was able to be super dedicated to devoting a couple hours a day to them, which I have not been able to.

What is going on here? Copy me


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