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So why did you bring in the example of the predator?

The example of the predator and the quarry illustrates the nature and origin of self-interest and of conflict between incompatible moral values. Above all, it illustrates the indexicality of ethics.

Well, you can [certainly] get a more widely practiced morality out of defining mugging as moral...but the cost is defining mugging as moral

We are certainly not defining mugging as moral. The idea is not to make your morals as practised as possible, but to make morals realistic, adapted and possible to practice. Ethical fitnessism is well practiced and gives guidance in all situations. Hedonistic utilitarianism, for instance, suffers greatly from being practically impossible to practice.

And other animals?

Since humans share behavioural genes with other animals they are also taken into consideration in fitnessist contractarianism, unlike the case in traditional contractarianism.

The issue of “ethics per se” is by no means especially complicated nor unimportant. There flourishes a common misunderstanding that the function of ethics is to make people behave better, that ethics serves a purpose. On the contrary, the case is that ethics gives you the meaning of ‘better’. Ethics gives the purpose. When you have worked out what the purpose is, and what better means, you can work out how you want people to behave. This distinction is crucial because many people never seem to have actually understood the normative ethical problem. How ought I to behave? How ought I to behave when I am all alone? How ought I to behave if I so am the last human alive? Not “What may I do?”, but what ought I to do? Instead they think that ethics only is concerned with which rules society should enforce and which moral indoctrination people should be subjected to. This reconnects to Sam Harris and his Moral Landscape Challenge. Harris does not see the intrinsic, only the instrumental. But please, everything is not the decision method; the rightness criterion is also to be considered. In this discussion thread contributors seem to take ethics in itself for granted and to be focused on the social and universalizable function of ethics. But please, hold your horses! How did we just get passed the first and central problem? Not only Sam Harris writes as if ethics per se is to be neglected and by-passed.

"Morality" centrally refers to a set of beliefs and practices only attested in humans, ...

Morality does also apply to non-human organisms, for example close human relatives such as chimpanzees and why not alien life on other planets or future successors to humans?

... so any attempts to found morality in the behaviour of non human animals requires a translation stage.

Ethical fitnessism is not founded on the behaviour of non-human organisms. Please see the definition of ethical fitnessism in my original comment to DeVliegendeHollander.

No, they probably value something that can be cashed out in fitness promoting terms, like continued survival, or enhanced attractiveness based on resources.


Ethical fitnessism is more intuitive than any other established moral theory, since it is practiced more, not only by other animals, but by humans to, not only in prehistoric times, but in modern times as well.

You wonder why we need the fitness component, when we already have the contract component.

All contractarianism is necessarily based on self-interest. Traditional contractarianism is based on the self-interest of living humans. That is why it is criticised for disregarding future human generations and even other animals. Fitnessist contractarianism is based on the Darwinian self-interest, which is the intrinsic value of ethical fitnessism. Therefore it does not disregard future generations.

Ethics per se does not have any function.

I find that hard to understand. The practices of ethics reduces wasteful conflict, and allows people to satisfy their preferences.

Of course the practice of ethics has a function! But ethics per se does not; it gives a purpose.

Humans are animals affected by natural selection, wherefore no translation from animals to humans is necessary or even possible.

An individual is neither a predator nor a mugger by default. An individual is a predator or a mugger because of its traits and behaviour. Probably the mugger does not value the mugging itself. Humans who value the survival of their own behavioural genes would in all probability put into practice and enforce laws against mugging, since allowing mugging would risk adversely affecting not only each individual herself, but also other humans who to a large extent are carriers of the same behavioural genes as this individual. Please see my comment to gjm, where I mention “fitnessist contractarianism”, which, by the way, is universalizable.

Ethics per se does not have any function. Teaching ethics does. Discussing ethics does. Rational people do those things for a purpose. They do them as a means to an end. The end is given by ethics. Ethics gives you the purpose, but is not the purpose, or even a means to the purpose. But discussing ethics is a means to the purpose.

As a fitnessist I certainly do not “hold a position that affects only [my] own actions and [my] opinions of them”. I not only evaluate my own actions, but have opinions of the actions performed by other individuals as well. These opinions are based on how other individuals affect the survival of my behavioural genes. In that sense I pass moral judgement on others, like they pass moral judgement on me.

The fundamental question for any moral theory to answer is “Which actions should be performed?” and ethical fitnessism fully answers that question, although in an indexical fashion. The central question to answer is “Which actions should I myself perform?”, since that question is relevant to what I directly am in control of, namely my own body. The actions of other individuals I can, furthermore, only affect by my own actions, for example by what I say.

The principle is actually not “maximize long-term number of copies of genes that influence my behaviour”. The survival of my behavioural genes is directly linked to how long they survive and only indirectly linked to how many they are.

What I am “prepared to count as a ‘behavioural gene’” is not really the issue, rather the issue is what science counts as a behavioural gene. The Extended Phenotype [O.U.P., 1982] gives a good idea.

There is no problem with being related to pomegranates. I do believe that humans share behavioral genes with them, but that does not mean that focusing on the production of pomegranates would maximize the survival of my behavioural genes. Such a production would seem to be a short-sighted and narrow-minded behaviour and probably not the behaviour which natural selection tends to maximize.

Perhaps there today does not seem to be much difference between maximizing the survival of one’s behavioural genes and maximizing “long-term human happiness” or “long-term human numbers”, but over time the difference will add up and show itself. For example, the difference would be apparent when we create new entertainment technology so well adapted to our prehistoric minds and bodies that there is no way for hedonists to resist the urge of such endless happiness, or when we evolve beyond humans, when my behavioural genes are carried on into new species.

On a theoretical level ethical fitnessism has stronger arguments than have the moral theories of maximizing long-term human happiness or long-term human numbers. Fitnessism lacks neither hedonism, altruism, intuitiveness, nor consideration of future generations, and is complete, consistent, to the purpose and non-dependent on indoctrination. The application of any other moral theory through its behaviour is per definition evolutionarily self-defeating and undermines its own long-term existence.

No worries! I appreciate that you ask questions. First I will make some clarifications about the four points in your previous comment.

  • The proposition: "People and/or other animals actually act so as to maximize genetic fitness" is, as you stated, not true. There is no disagreement about this.

  • We do not "get from there to" ethical fitnessism. In fact, we do not violate Hume's law at all, i.e., we do not deduce any normative ethical statement from a set of only factual statements.

  • The statement that: "'Acting so as to maximize genetic fitness' is a principle that approximates actual people's and cultures' ethical systems, but unlike them has some kind of scientific underpinning" is also neither true nor claimed by ethical fitnessism.

  • The norm that: "We should act so as to maximize genetic fitness" is not really a fitnessist norm, since fitnessism prescribes actions for individuals (and not so much for "us") and always specifies who's fitness and what kind of fitness we are talking about, namely the behavioural fitness of the individual in question. Instead, please see my original response to DeVliegendeHollander’s comment on the definition of ethical fitnessism and the rightness criterion based on Dawkins’s central theorem of the extended phenotype. The question about the word ‘should’ was addressed in my previous comment to you.

I hope this made everything clearer.

Since I am a fitnessist you should conclude that I:

  • approve of actions that increase my behavioural fitness, and disapprove of ones that do not;

    * care nothing about other ethical principles, unless they match up with this. 
  • tend to act in ways that increase my behavioural fitness, even if doing so makes my own life markedly less pleasant.

  • tend to try to get other people to increase my own behavioural fitness.

Now to the examples:

  • Ethical fitnessism is actually not about having as many children as possible; rather it is about the long term survival of one's behavioural genes. The long term survival of an individual’s behavioural genes can be achieved in many ways, especially considering that an individual shares behavioural genes with many other individuals. For instance, all humans are closely related to all (and socially dependant on many) other humans, making humans exceptionally important to each other, but even other species are important due to our common heritage and shared behavioural genes. So in your example you should also consider the harm and possible injury caused to the woman and the increased risk to your female relatives, friends and children, especially. Socially and reproductively successful humans, both men and women, share a common interest in curbing violence and upholding the rule of law. Moreover fitnessism does not tell us to simply follow the instincts which have evolved due to natural selection. Since we humans have radically changed our environment with the emergence of modern society and technology, and since we have such a decisive impact on the future of life on Earth, we have to think much further ahead and afar than other animals. To exploit other individuals for selfish short-term gains at the expense of what we hold dear and valuable in the long term, is morally wrong. Rather than maximizing the number of her own offspring, a fitnessist acts so as to increase the probability of the long-term existence of the body of organic life which we are all part of and related to.

  • It simply is not "the only way" for you to pass on your genes, since you are not an alien. As explained in the previous example you can support the survival of your behavioural genes in other related individuals.

  • Of course you should care! You are related to every other human on the planet. But if you instead truly are an alien and therefore are genetically unrelated to life on Earth, you should still try to survive for as long as possible, because that is the behaviour which is favoured by natural selection, since your genes are inside your own body.

Ethical fitnessism states that an individual should maximize the behavioural fitness of this individual, not short term but in endless time (if this is the behaviour which tends to be maximized as a consequence of natural selection). If my behavioural fitness is in conflict with yours or not is a matter of to which extent we share behavioural genes. Humans share genes to a great extent with each other, so I believe that humans’ indexical Darwinian self-interests coincide more than they are in conflict. This leads to a decision method which is not treated in the original link, namely fitnessist contractarianism, which is universalizable. Fitnessist contractarianism is explained in “Ethical Fitnessism. The Ethic of the Fittest Behaviour”, which is in Swedish, I am afraid. A short explanation is that it is a method for human social and political decision making when humans are acting in accordance with their own Darwinian self-interest. To find common ground for social and political decision making for closely related individuals, such as humans, is clearly possible. For example, avoiding nuclear war seems to benefit each individual’s behavioural fitness, just as the common prosperity of humans seems to do.

As for ethical fitnessism being a moral theory, I think your argument is based on meta-ethics, wherefore I recommend that you read the original blog post that I linked to, giving extra attention to part 2: “The Non-universalizable Ethic of the Predator and the Quarry”. Rightness criteria are indexical, but decision methods are universalizable.

Of course this is related to the scientific question if “objective” moral values exist or not. I believe that no such values exist, since no such values have ever been observed, nor are necessary to explain anything in the natural world. Using Occam’s razor, I deny their existence. Instead I believe that “subjective” moral values exist, since I believe that such values are observed every day, when for example studying the behaviour of humans or other living organisms.

Regarding your last question, ethical fitnessism states that an individual should maximize his or her own behavioural fitness. Ethical fitnessism prescribes how an individual should act, wherefore it is a normative ethical statement. But the statement:

People (and other animals) have a tendency to act in ways that in evolutionary history have resulted in more copies of the genes they carry.

is a factual statement.

The sentence:

What is true is that organisms tend to act according to ethical fitnessism, which is what I stated.

does not imply any causation.

Natural selection favours certain behaviour, and ethical fitnessism is simply defined as:

…the ethic whose behaviour tends to be maximized as a consequence of natural selection.

Which behaviour that is is an open scientific question. There is no claim that ethical fitnessism causes organisms to perform any behaviour; natural selection is the cause.

It is true that “organisms do not act according to ethical fitnessism”, but that is not what I stated. What is true is that organisms tend to act according to ethical fitnessism, which is what I stated. It is true by definition. I believe that a strong argument for a moral theory is that it is being practiced more than other moral theories.

As a consequentialist it is hard to predict which actions in fact will maximize the intrinsic value and in retrospect a behaviour that might have been seen as favourable at the time can have been a huge mistake in the long run and such behaviour will not be favoured by natural selection. Natural selection might seem short-sighted but it is not.

None of your propositions reflect any claims made by ethical fitnessism.

Ethical fitnessism is a normal moral theory just as hedonistic utilitarianism, but with differences in its meta-ethics and intrinsic value. It violates neither Hume’s law nor the naturalistic fallacy. It is not the case that nature or evolution implies that ethical fitnessism is right in any higher meaning.

Fitnessism has no special naturalistic definition of the word 'should'. It uses 'should' in the same sense as utilitarianism does.

For a further description and explanation of fitnessism please see my response to DeVliegendeHollander.

The definition of ethical fitnessism can be found in “Ethical Fitnessism. The Ethic of the Fittest Behaviour”, which is mainly in Swedish but there is an English abstract. In the abstract you find the definition:

…the ethic whose behaviour tends to be maximized as a consequence of natural selection.

Exactly which behaviour that is is a scientific question. Dawkins's central theorem of the extended phenotype:

An animal’s behaviour tends to maximize the survival of the genes ‘for’ that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing the behaviour. [Dawkins, 1982, The Extended Phenotype, Oxford University Press, p. 248]

seems to suggest that the behaviour which is maximized is the behaviour which follows the following rightness criterion:

An action is right for an individual if and only if the action maximizes the survival of the genes for this individual’s behaviour.

Of course this is up for debate and further scientific research is necessary. There is no disagreement, I think, that animals are adaptation-executers, but still natural selection will favour certain behaviour over other behaviour. It is also evident that evolution by no means leads to perfection, for example we have vestigiality.

The focus of ethical fitnessism is not survival of the individual, but the survival of the behavioural genes of the individual, not short term but in endless time. Since most individuals share behavioural genes to a great extent with other individuals there are good reasons for not causing harm to related individuals. If I had the option to sacrifice myself for the guaranteed continued survival of humanity and its successors for millions of years I would do so and I believe that natural selection would favour such a behaviour.

A strong argument for ethical fitnessism is that by definition natural selection will cause organisms to tend to act according to ethical fitnessism. Fitnessist behaviour will out-compete other behaviour, such as for example the behaviour that hedonistic utilitarianism promotes. This means that hedonistic utilitarian behaviour in the long run cannot survive in a system affected by natural selection. But the argument doesn’t end there. Let us ask ourselves what behaviour conscious beings will believe is right to perform. That natural selection would favour conscious belief in a behaviour which is distinctly different from the behaviour which the organism is actually performing, seems unlikely. Most probably natural selection favours conscious belief in the behaviour which the organism is actually performing.

I also love to play other types of games! Mostly other boardgames, but also some computer games.

I could not find a source for Kasparov's IQ to be 137, many sites states that he has an alleged or estimated IQ of 190, which doesn't sound very reliable.

As for the IQ average of LW it seem to be under some doubt also, because of the large risk of selection bias.

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