All of Richard8's Comments + Replies

The Meaning of Right

Suppose we were to write down all (input, output) pairs for the ideal "one-place function" described by Eliezer on a oblong stone tablet somewhere. This stone tablet would then contain perfect moral wisdom. It would tell us the right course of action in any possible situation.

This tablet would be the result of computation, but it's computation that nobody can actually do, as we currently only have access to approximations to the ideal Morality(X) function. Thus, as far as we're concerned, this tablet is just a giant look-up table. Its content... (read more)

Fake Norms, or "Truth" vs. Truth

Eliezer, Do you think that all public declarations of faith should be met by gasps and frozen shock, or just those which are framed using your particular phrasing? Also, the existence of a social norm implies penalties for flagrant violators. If Jews (for example) persist in encouraging theistical utterances by other Jews, what steps do you think society at large is justified in taking?

Is Morality Given?

Robin:

Discarding false mathematical and scientific conjectures is indeed much easier than discarding false moral conjectures. However, as Eliezer pointed out in an earlier post, a scientist who can come up with a hypothesis that has a 10% chance of being true has already gone most of the way from ignorance to knowledge. I would argue that hypothesis generation is a poorly-understood nonrational process in all three cases. A mathematician who believes he has found truth can undertake the further steps of writing a formal proof and submitting his work to ... (read more)

Is Morality Given?

Robin,

I don't know how people are capable of discerning moral truths. I also don't know how people are capable of discerning scientific or mathematical truths. It seems to me that these are similar capabilities, and the one is no more suprising or unlikely than the other.

Is Morality Given?

Robin,

I don't understand your counterfactual.

"Good" and "Evil" are the names for what people perceive with their moral sense. I think we've agreed that this perception correlates to something universally observable (namely, social survival), so these labels are firmly anchored in the physical world. It looks to me like you're trying to assign these names to something else altogether (namely, something which does not correlate with human moral intuitions), and it's not clear to me how this makes sense.

Is Morality Given?

Robin,

Our moral intuitions correspond with moral truths for much the same reason that our rational predictions correspond with more concrete physical truths. A man who ignores reason will stick his hand back in the fire after being burned the first time. Such behavior will kill him, probably sooner rather than later. An man who is blind to good and evil may do quite well for himself, but a society whose citizens ignore virtue will suffer approximately the same fate as the twice-burned fool.

Is Morality Given?

Robin, As Eliezer has pointed out, evolution is a nonhuman optimizer which is in many ways more powerful than the human mind. On the assumption that humans have a moral sense, I don't think we should expect to be able to understand why. That might simply be a problem which is too difficult for people to solve. That aside, a man's virtues benefit the society he lives in; his inclination to punish sin will encourage others to act virtuously as well. If his society is a small tribe of his relatives, then even the weaker forms of kin selection theory can explain the benefit of knowledge of good and evil.

Is Morality Given?

I don't think you have to postulate Space Cannibals in order to imagine rational creatures who don't think murder is wrong. For a recent example, consider Rwanda 1994.

And I think it's quite possible that there might exist moral facts which humans are incapable of perceiving. We aren't just universal Turing machines, after all. Billions of years of evolution might produce creatures with moral blind spots, anologous to the blind spot in the human eye. Just as the squid's eye has no blind spot, a different evolutionary path might produce creatures with a greater or lesser innate capacity to perceive goodness than ourselves.

Is Morality Preference?

A duty is half of a contract--it comes from some obligation assumed (perhaps implicitly) in the past. A man may in general assign a very high priority to keeping his promises. He may feel a moral obligation to do so, independent of the specific nature of the promise. Should keeping a promise be difficult or unpleasant, he will balance his desire to avoid unpleasantness with his desire to be the sort of person who repays what was given.

For example, a man who has enjoyed the rights and privileges of a citizen may feel he has a duty to support the interests of his country. Certainly many citizens of the various States felt so, two hundred and thirty-two years ago.