There has been a debate on morality brewing of late over at LessWrong. As readers of this blog know, I am not particularly sympathetic to that outlet (despite the fact that two of my collaborators here are either fans or even involved in major ways with them — see how open minded I am?). Largely, this is because I think of the Singularity and related ideas as borderline pseudoscience, and have a hard time taking too seriously a number of other positions and claims made at LW. Still, in this case by friend Michael DeDora, who also writes here [Rationally Speaking], pointed me to two pieces by Eliezer Yudkowsky and one of the other LW authors that I’d like to comment on.
Massimo, so far as you went, I think I agree, although I’m not sure I was always following your selection of vocabulary. I’d say morality must account for actual anatomical desires and the tensions and conflicts between and among them. This seems to me to be what you’re calling “biology”. You say this isn’t physics, although I suspect Eliezer would say that biology is a manifestation of physics, which you seem to acknowledge by saying biology must be compatible with physics. I’d say mortality must account for actual environmental laws quite as much as it must account for desires, so I think I’m on board with you there.
Here’s where I think perhaps you’ve not gone far enough. I’m not persuaded that the reductionist worldview should be privileged above (or below) the holistic worldview. I see chicken-and-egg style feedback loops between the two, between us as individuals/communities and our substrate as anatomies/environments. As our morality should account for desires and laws, so it should account for actual individual wills and actual communal rules. It seems to make as much sense to say it’s esthetics all the way up as to say it’s logic all the way down. I see ethics as the meeting place of esthetics and epistemics, with both art and logic (feelings and reasons) playing our in our moral reasoning. Maybe you’re suggesting the same when you state that ethical reasoning is somewhere between math and literary criticism?
Posted by SHaGGGz on 01/24 at 11:46 PM
“But, despite Yudkowsky’s confident claim, morality isn’t a matter of logic “all the way down,” because it has to start with some axioms, some brute facts about the type of organisms that engage in moral reasoning to begin with”
But logic itself also starts with axioms. Emotions are logic all the way down, just a different kind of logic. Whereas conventional logic’s axioms are discrete, concise little rules for symbolic transformation, an axiom of emotional logic (“exiom”?) is something resembling a point along various spectra, something resembling the Big Five personality traits/factors. This point mingles with the other points to bias the direction the train of thought goes in.
So yes, while philosophers discussing ethical situations or whatever else conduct their discussion using highly technical concepts resembling the sort of symbolic manipulation at play in formal logic, if you interrogate for long enough how they got to that highly abstracted technical concept, you’ll find an exiom that’s discrepant from that/those of their opponent.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/25 at 12:09 AM
“Here’s where I think perhaps you’ve not gone far enough. I’m not persuaded that the reductionist worldview should be privileged above (or below) the holistic worldview.”
Right. What I’m obsessed with discovering is can Christians (not to single them out for critiques), say, continue to change the physical world in a dislocative quantum way yet retain their holistic Newtonian worldview? can they continue to perceive their minds/souls/spirits as holistic, but the physical world to be chopped up and rearranged?—industrialism has done just that.
Most do not think on these matters, they are do-ers, not thinkers; Christians are pragmatic as to the physical world, idealistic in moral questions. However there has always been that pragmatic-idealistic dialectic: my query concerns the future.
“I’d say mortality must account for actual environmental laws quite as much as it must account for desires, so I think I’m on board with you there.”
you meant to write morality, not mortality, correct?
Posted by Matthew on 01/27 at 11:03 PM
You have almost perfectly explained Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.
Well, at least a portion of it, where he explains that morality, in our case, is pretty much biologically constrained.