Dynamic ethics

From: Phil Goetz (philgoetz@yahoo.com)
Date: Wed Jan 18 2006 - 12:28:37 MST

--- Tony Garnock-Jones <tonyg@kcbbs.gen.nz> wrote:

> It seems to me that in recent months (? possibly longer), the content
> on
> the SL4-list is no longer... shocking enough to be properly SL4.
> Endless
> undergraduate-level discussions on basic philosophical issues. Are
> others noticing the same topic-drift, or have I just become
> dangerously
> comfortable with real SL4 content, so much so that it seems trivial
> now?

You're right.

Here's a higher SL idea to discuss:
Until now, all ethical systems proposed have implicitly suggested that
there is one "correct" system of ethics. This system of ethics
"should" be followed by all humans. Other animals, however, are not
expected to follow this system of ethics.

In a transhuman world, there will be no human-nohuman-subhuman
distinction. Any transhuman ethics must apply also to chimpanzees,
dogs, and Jupiter brains.

One might object to saying that a dog "should" follow an ethical code.
I would reply that a wolf has a very strong moral code, with precepts
such as

- the rights of dominant animals over less dominant ones
- a set of rules about mating
- an injunction against killing opponents in the pack during fights
- rules about how to treat strange wolves
- rules about how to treat pups (e.g., they are not required to observe
most of the rules until they're about 1 year of age; one should not nip
at them if they nip at you)

One might object that this code is inherited. Whether this code is
inherited or learned is unclear, in exactly the same way that it is for
humans. There is no distinction on this issue between humans and

We will need a multitude of ethical codes, because a human can make
subtle distinctions that a dog can't. Any code capable of being
implemented by a dog, could be improved on by a human.

This immediately suggests that ordinary humans today should use
different ethical codes, depending on their intelligence. This is of
course unacceptable today.

It also seems obvious to me that the "ethical landscape" is like any
other fitness landscape, meaning that there are a variety of local
maxima, which change in accordance with circumstances.

Thus, "ethics" is like an ecosystem, with many different ethical
systems that continually adapt to each other's presence.

One needs a framework for judging ethical codes - probably a
utilitarian one. (Mike Vassar says "utilitarian" refers to a subset of
what I mean by utilitarian, but I've forgotten the details.) We could
discuss whose utilities this framework considers - living organisms,
future organisms, possibly dead organisms (many cultures believe one
should honor the dead, rather than turning them into Soylent Green) -
and how one discounts for time, and how one weights utilties to
different types of organisms (by "IQ"?)

Two questions for discussion:

- Doesn't this suggest that any ethical system which has every human
observing the same ethical code is like an ecosystem containing only
one type of organism, or like a genetic algorithm that has converged,
and relies only on mutation for improvement? In general, more diverse
ecosystems are more stable and more productive. This would mean that
having only one single moral code for everyone is highly immoral.

- Can the notion of "niche" be transferred from ecosystems to ethical
systems? Does the presence of one moral code create opportunities for
the presence of different moral codes, which together increase overall
utility? Can one then say that a system of ethics is "bad" only if it
is mostly parasitic, or if it causes instability that tends to lead to
a lower overall utility (e.g., idealistic moral codes that invite
invasion by cheaters)?

- Is it beneficial to impose different ethical systems on a complex
system's subcomponents? That is, should a complex personality contain
a hierarchy of ethical codes, for each of its components? This
question could be applied to humans, but is easier to understand if you
apply it to Jupiter brains.

- Phil

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