Another Take on Ethical Concerns (was The role of consciousness)

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Thu Apr 10 2008 - 18:09:36 MDT

Samantha writes

> > But we *do* have an idea of what selfish behavior
> > is, especially in this particular instance. By expressing
> > (and really, we assuming *acting* as though you have)
> > concerns for whether or not someone you don't know
> > in Africa gets tortured, you clearly are not selfish in
> > that regard. And if you refused to call someone who
> > was completely indifferent to the African's suffering
> > "selfish", then your use of terms would be at variance
> > with other speakers of English.
> I have concerns for those I don't know in the general sense
> of wishing all humans to be treated with at least what I
> consider minimum standards. But while I generally have
> this wish for all it is not my personal high[est] concern.
> Personally I don't believe it has anything to do with being
> "selfish" or not and I think that is sloppy use of loaded
> terminology.

Oh, all right. But you probably see what I was getting at.

> > Do you really expect us to believe that it's identically the
> > same to you whether they do it to you or do it
> > some random African? You really don't believe
> > that there is a fact of the matter?
> I hear that. It would certainly make a difference to me.

Well, at least you and I (and I think the vast majority)
agree on that.

To add on, suppose that you love X, and right
before an extremely painful operation, you express
sympathy for X and tell her so. Would you be lying
if you then added "of course, whether it's you who
undergoes the pain or some random African is
actually indifferent to me"? Or would that be the
truth (however hurtful the statement itself might be)?

> Even if I want to degrade someone I would want
> them to remember that also. Otherwise, whatever
> is the point?

Well, as you know, some people wish to degrade
others for sexual gratification. There are probably
other people who you and I would equally condemn
who might wish to degrade others in various ways.
That is the point. To these people, it may in fact
be very convenient that the victim remembers

I suggest that though (agreeing with Matt) it would
be better for them to not remember some hideous
thing that happened to them, that by *no means*
removes (a) the fact that something terrible did
happen to them and (b) *your* evident concern
that the *act* itself of so degrading them was
despicable. I agree with you, but your (b) was
not the point Matt and I were discussing (and
I think agreeing upon).

One of Matt's next questions was

>> 2. Is it ethical to rape someone and then erase
>> their memories completely (or fix them
>> afterwards so that they believe it never
>> happened, or they have a blackout)?

and I wrote

> Likewise, it is not ethical (by which, as I have said,
> I mean little more than "I disapprove" or "we
> customarily disapprove or we should disapprove").

and Samantha says

> I mean a great deal more than that. To force the will
> of another intelligent being in such a brutish fashion
> makes one obviously unfit for society.

That's a claim that depends on your particular society.
In some societies, exactly the reverse made people
unfit. Recall the Viking who refused to pinion English
babies on the end of his sword and swing them about.
The other Vikings thought this very strange, and it
probably lessened his status among them. But I think
that I agree totally with the general sentiment of what
you are saying. But very objectively speaking, it
comes down to little more than you and I and almost
everyone in our society today disapproving most

Matt's subsequent query:

>>> 5. Would you be upset if someone started torturing
>>> you and then said "don't worry, I've made a backup
>>> of your brain and I will use it to make an exact copy
>>> of you on my home planet, as soon as I figure out
>>> how to do so... which should only take a few years.
>>> I'm not going to torture your copy when it wakes up,
>>> so it's fine if I torture you now. In fact, I'm going to
>>> kill you soon so it won't matter at all. Your
>>> copy won't remember any of this."?
>> Naturally [I, Lee, responded] , that would be terrible.
>> The proper way to look at it is to sum over all
>> instances of your runtime, and try to evaluate
>> preferences accordingly.
> WHAT?? I don't need to sum over any instances to
> condemn such behavior toward or by any and all of
> my instances.

But someone might ask you "why?". It seems to me that
your most logical response---since you and I do certainly
and heartily agree on the answer---would be along the
lines that "overall benefit for me (Samantha)" would be
greatly lowered by such an outcome.

But honestly, it seems to me that you are more interested
in *condemning* the act itself rather than the outcome of
the act. Of course, the two are indeed normally tied
together, so I don't blame you. It's just that it's interesting
for me to note that the righteousness of behavior appears
to be much more important than the evaluation of the
actual results of actions. You might be interested in
Socrates' ancient question:

           Would it be better to be perfectly unjust and
           yet be regarded by everyone in society as
           perfectly just, or better to be perfectly just
           and yet be regarded by all as perfectly unjust?

which we might write a modern equivalent

           Would it be better to cheat and steal from
           everyone around you, yet do so in a fashion
           that you wouldn't ever be caught and would
           even have your reputation greatly enhanced
           or better to be perfectly honest, but have to
           undergo a great deal of disdain from others
           (for unstated hypothetical reasons)?

On that one, I myself, would prefer to be honest but
despised. Yet one can make a very similar sounding
modern version

           Would it be better to be a great liar and cheater
           (but in a way that because, say, you are so good
           at investing) no one's standard of living is reduced
           (but rather enhanced), and in every way esteemed
           by all as beneficent and just, or would it be better
           to be entirely upright but held up as a terrible
           example to everyone of a cheater and liar?

In that one, I admit that it would be better to be the cheater
and liar, IMO.

I ended by writing to Matt:

> > I agree completely. But our point of view implies, at least to me,
> > that we regard all our copies equally, on the same ontological
> > footing as it were. "Bad runtime" + "good runtime" is either bad
> > or good depending on which of the two is greater quantitatively.
> Is this really about ethics or some mad guess about some
> hypothetical future where nothing really matters because
> we are all redundantly backed up and no one really dies
> real death or suffers real suffering? Is it all just "experience"?
> Do we fall into techno- solipsism?

I think it is indeed about ethics. Also I think the actual experience
people (entities) undergo is of vital importance in making ethical
and moral decisions. We certainly do not want to fall into *any*
kind of solipsism!


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:01:02 MDT