Re: ethics, joyous growth, etc.

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Tue Feb 03 2004 - 05:19:47 MST

Damien Broderick's quote from Ken MacLeod can be thought about
through the lense of in-group / out-group ethics.

Lots of ethics have very different rules/guidance relating to how to
behave in relation to the members of one's in-group (family, tribe
enthnic group, religion, club, nation, etc.) as compared to the out-group
(anyone else).

Usually ethics structure this way lead to less nastiness between the in-
group members but frequently more natiness in relation to the out-

But this result doesn't prove that acting 'morally' or 'ethically' is worse
than not not acting 'morally' or 'ethically'. It just shows that that the
ethics/morals in question are not designed to reduce nastiness between

It's interesting to see what humans do to religious codes that seem to
argue that we should treat the out group well. Chistianity specifically
talks about that (Good Samaritan story, thou shalt not kill [humans]).
But plenty of Christians have killed people. But I think the common
feature is that most people killed by Christians are outgroups in relation
to the specific Christian communities doing the killing.

My feeling is that humans have evolved in a tribal setting where they
have been in intense competition with other tribes (we are more like
Chimpansees than Bonobos in this regard). So we do NOT have a
natural anthropocentric hard-wired ethical framework. I think we are
trained culturally (in most cases) and perhaps are hard-wired to bond to
an in-group which we usually treat well and will defend. (As an aside
the in-group can include more than humans - it can include dogs,
horses, cars, computers, works of art......depending on how our bonding
process goes!!). But we find it scarily easy to be nasty to anyone or
anything that is outside the in-group if it threatens us or gets in the way.

If AGIs are going to be very clever one day and they are likely to
spread themselves through the universe then not only for our sake but
for the sake of anything in the rest of the universe, I think we need to
help AGIs develop a 'universal' (is that a pun??) ethic that puts (?????)
nothing in an out-group for the AGI. So everything would be treated
with consideration and respect for its its actual or potential selfhood (or
something). I haven't thought through this sort of 'no-outgroup' ethic.
Are there people who have workable ethics of this sort.

By the way, my guess would be that if one adopted a universal no-out-
group philosophy that it would have to have some gradation of
consideration - otherwise the person adopting the philosophy would not
be able to act in any way for fear of negatively affect the rest of the
universe - can't walk 'cos the dust might be affected beneath my feet.

But the value of a universal ethic is that there is mindfulness whenever
anything is done and the level of respect shown to some category or
element of the universe can be tweaked up or down according to
experience and growing wisdom without having to fundamentally
challenge the structure of the ethic in order to get nicer behaviour.

Cheers, Philip

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