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Virian Ethics: The Soul in the Machine and the Question of Virian Ethics
« on: 2002-03-05 14:59:46 »
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Virian Ethics: The Soul in the Machine and the Question of Virian Ethics.

URL: http://virus.lucifer.com/bbs/index.php?board=32&action=display&threadid=11530

Authors: Hermit

Revision: 1.11 (Full mark-up)

Author’s notes for revision: 1.11
This is intended to serve as an introduction to a discussion which will occur over a series of posts and hopefully discussion under the general heading “Virian Ethics: Whatever” Virians are requested to begin their responses and comments on this post in this way, so as to allow easy identification of such posts in the archives.
In section 1.2 Corrected grammar.
In section 2.1.4, replaced Strange Laws. Accessed 2002-02-04 (Dead Link) with Strange Laws. Accessed 2002-09-07

This is an introductory version of this document, intended to lead to a series of documents on ethics and morality, in order to stimulate discussion on this topic with a view to further development of a Virian ethic. Comments and corrections are requested.

Abbreviated Copyright Notice
Copyright (C) The Church of Virus, 2002. All rights reserved. Unlimited distribution permitted in accordance with the terms of the Full copyright notice below.

Morals are “inherited”, ethics are considered. Ethics trump morals. This introductory article attempts to contrast “mundane morality” with “Virian ethics”, which I am going to suggest “should” be rational, intentional, and based on “memetic” principles. I will suggest that “morality” is out of place in a rational life, and that the deliberate application of ethics is required to produce results which, while they may appear “merely moral”, are in fact greatly superior to the “morality” espoused by the general population. A rational ethical stance allows the Virian to develop an appropriate response to unusual situations when the old “rule-of-thumb” morality inherited from our societies fails completely. This leads to the conclusion that the soul in the machine, or a spirothetic consciousness may be as valuable, perhaps more valuable, than a human.

Table of Contents
    Author’s notes for revision
    Abbreviated Copyright Notice
    Table of Contents

      1 Introduction
      2 Metaethics

        2.1 The Source and meaning of Morality
        2.2 The Source of Ethics and Meaning of Ethics

      3 Normative ethics

        3.1 Right and wrong conduct

      4 Observations

        4.1 We exist.
        4.2 Perception of Others
        4.3 Preservation
        4.4 Subordination of Preservation
        4.5 Reproduction
        4.6 Dependency
        4.7 Happiness

      5 Living Right

        6 Applied ethics
        7 Ethical Requisites
        8 Ethical Basis
        9 Ethical Principles

    Full copyright notice
    Authors’ addresses
    Appendix 1: The Story of the Widow's Son in ‘What is man? And other essays of Mark Twain’

1 Introduction
1.1 Given the Virian’s rational refusal to accept dogma, including dogma dictated by a particular society or individuals, we are left asking where our source of “morality” originates and indeed whether it is possible for a Virian to be “moral”.

1.2 To begin with, we need to determine the nature of morals and ethics. Morality refers to the first-order beliefs about good and evil by means of which some people believe that their behavior is guided. Ethics relate to the second-order, reflective explicit, philosophical consideration of so-called moral beliefs and practices.

1.3 The difference between ethics and morality is like the difference between musicology and music. Ethics is a conscious stepping back and reflecting on morality, just as musicology is a conscious reflection on music. Another analogy, which is sometimes made, is that the difference between ethics and morality is similar to the difference between a physicist and an engineer. The engineer has practical “rules of thumb” which he can apply to most situations – and in most situations, these “rules of thumb” will provide adequate results. The physicist may also have rules of thumb allowing a rough-take, but may also revert to first principles to determine what is right – and in so doing can develop new rules of thumb. Rules of thumb are generally more useful and qualitatively better suited to everyday life than either complex systems of rules or “gut-feel”, as with practice, they will be used as a matter of habit even when there is no time for complex analysis, and will generally give better results than “gut feel.” However, unless the “rules of thumb” are grounded in solid reasoning and consistently yield reasonable results, it may be that they are worse than no rules at all. We shall, in the course of these essays, examine some existing systems to determine whether this is the case.

1.4 The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. Ethical theories are divided into three general subject areas:

    1.4.1 Metaethics investigates where our ethical principles come from, and what they mean. Are they “merely” social inventions? Do they involve more than expressions of our individual emotions?
    1.4.2 Normative ethics involves a more practical task, which is to arrive at standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. Ideally, “moral” questions can be answered by consulting the “moral guidelines” provided by “normative theories”.
    1.4.3 Applied ethics involves examining specific controversial issues, using the conceptual tools of metaethics and normative ethics to attempt to resolve controversial issues.

1.5 The lines of distinction between metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics are often blurry and it is our intention to preserve this state, while attempting to avoid descending into morality or the disintegration of criticism.

2 Metaethics

    2.1 The Source and meaning of Morality

    2.1.1 Mankind has worried at the problems of morality and ethics since the beginnings of recorded history, but in real life, the problem has tended to be resolved by reference to cultural norms, sometimes justified by recourse to law, but more usually because “the gods said so.” Of course, this leads to the attitude that the believers in Judeo-Christian derived religions (particularly Islam), and far too many Americans hold, which is that an atheist, not having an absolute system of morality, cannot be moral. This would surely suggest that, as all Virians are atheists, that all Virians are immoral.

    2.1.2 While one could argue, that given that there is no believable record of any god having spoken to anyone at anytime, we can take “the gods” as being the priests speaking on behalf of a particular society and thus not very different from “the law says so”, but as we shall see in one of the latter essays, this would not fully address the issue, because a “moral system” must stand or fall on its own, rather than because of its source.

    2.1.3 We can understand this more clearly when we ask the question, as Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) attempted to do, of where and when “moral thinking” originates. He presented his subjects with a series of moral dilemmas, such as whether it is permissible to steal food to feed one's starving family. He then noted the reasoning his subjects used in justifying their particular decisions. Kohlberg concluded that there are five levels of moral development that people go through. In the first stage, starting at about age ten, people avoid breaking moral rules to avoid punishment. In the second stage, people follow moral rules only when it is to their advantage. In the third stage, starting about age 17, people try to live up to what is expected of them in small social groups, such as families. In the fourth stage, people fulfill the expectations of larger social groups, such as obeying laws that keep society together. In the fifth and final stage, starting at about age 24, people are guided by both absolute and relative moral principles; they follow these for altruistic reasons, though, and not because of what they might gain individually. According to Kohlberg, few people ever reach this level. Noteworthy that he effectively confirms that an “innate” sense of morality does not exist, that it is, in so far as it exists at all, cultured into people rather than bred into them.

    2.1.4 His studies also point to the greatest weakness in “common morality,” the fact that people today imagine that it is “given to them” by their gods means that they are not trained to consider what is handed to them as a “moral law” but instead tend to follow blindly what they manage to pick up for themselves, and so are left with a legalistically oriented hodge-podge generally justifying that which they have been raised with, and conferring the power to condemning morals which appear to differ. This is not a very good basis to build an ethical system, as the law merely tends to be the formulation of the particular prejudices of a particular society at a particular time. A moment’s consideration will show that this is not a very controversial position – it is proverbial that the law is frequently an ass, and never more spectacularly than when an outdated law is dredged up to prosecute a specific case long after society has abandoned the situation or mores when the law was required. Refer e.g. Strange Laws. Accessed 2002-09-07

    2.2 The Source of Ethics and Meaning of Ethics

    2.2.1 While ethics can and have been argued on the basis of various “divine injunctions,” to an atheist, this makes no sense at all. Indeed, to anyone rational looking at such ethical systems, it is immediately apparent that the gods worshipped by most people are as petty and prejudiced as their followers. Not a particularly comforting thought.

    2.2.2 So abandoning divinity we can search for other reasons for a particular ethical stance. Again, this is a well-trodden path. We know that “do as you would be done by”, better known as “The Golden Rule” is not good enough, the person being done over might not agree with your opinions (refer e.g. “Story of the Widow's Son in ‘What is man? And other essays of Mark Twain’”, Mark Twain and appended to this document).

    2.2.3 We might base a rational approach to ethics based on genetic similarity in defining “like us” for the purpose of making ethical decisions and such a conclusion, derived from a meta study of ethics, might be that our treatment of people should to some extent extend from those “most like ourselves” to those “least like ourselves” and that this aligns well with human behavior. Few would argue that we do not have a greater responsibility to our children than we do to a cockroach or prion. Unfortunately, even in recent history, the Ottomans (viz Armenia), Stalin (e.g. Georgia and Tajikistan), Hitler (Gypsies and Jews) and the USA (e.g. Iraq) have proved fairly conclusively that genetics fail us when they are too narrowly defined, allowing us to conclude that a “people like me” approach does not work very well when the world is as small today as it has become while Utism continues to dominate international (and to a large extent, interpersonal) relationships.

    2.2.4 In addition, nobody even slightly empathetic is likely to agree with an animal having to suffer unnecessarily even when they rationally hold that it is better for an animal to suffer than a person (and some even disagree with that). What happens when a hypothetical spirothetic “neural network” is “tortured”? Would this be ethical? At what point of consciousness in an artificial life form would torture cease to be ethical – if at any point?

    2.2.5 I would like to suggest that the clue lies in the last paragraph. I would suggest that it is in similarity of thought process and of meme that we must now draw our basis for ethical decisions. So perhaps human, non-human genetics becomes less of a distinction than how a particular consciousness thinks, and what it thinks.

3 Normative ethics

    3.1 Right and wrong conduct

      3.1.1 Let us turn our attention to observationally (principally biological) based principles (Refer Section 4, Observations). These observations create a bolus of "what is" in a biological sense. Any hypothesis or conclusions we draw should be consistent with the above observations or be identified as a conflict between what is and what should (or ought) to be done. Such a conflict must be extremely solidly grounded or the ethics we promote will create a tension which will lead to unhappiness - identified in section 4.7 as a being biologically unsupportable.

    On the one hand:

      3.1.2 When we examine ethical systems in isolation from what we are, we run into the danger of rapidly removing ourselves from reality by ignoring "what we are" when determining "what we should do." The primary reason for this is the vast range of "what we are" and the secondary reason being our ease of justifying positions, even when these are positions in opposition to "human nature". Whatever that may be. And herein lies a vicious problem. Even when similar, every person is different and attaches different values to things. Thus any consensus statement about values or ethical systems will tend towards the rather unuseful generalized platitude - or will require fencing about to limit the scope of applicability. Attempts to become more specific will generate more heat than light.

    And on the other hand:

      3.1.3 In view of the above, perhaps we should ask two kinds of questions without differentiating between them. Questions of the classes of "why do we do?", and "what ought we to do?". I suggest this largely because it is difficult to achieve conviction that there is a meaningful line between them. We work the way we do for many reasons and have conceptions of what we ought to do which are very much related to the way we function. People from different communities have very different views of “do’s” and “ought’s” - yet within communities these tend to be closely aligned. While differentiation may be useful, we might only introduce this if it seems necessary.

    A resolution?

      3.1.4 The above dichotomy may be resolvable by attempting to discover a biological justification for the establishment of a general principle and then extending from this into more specific systems until an ethos, which we can agree is rational, has been developed. The areas where we have difficulty may then be explored and restricted until we isolate areas of difficulty and can examine them clearly. This would clearly conform to the Descartian principles of investigation.

4 Observations:

    4.1 We exist.

    4.2 Perception of Others

      4.2.1 We are descended from "pack" animals, having affiliation directly dependent on the strength of our perception of others being "most like" ourselves.
      4.2.2 Appearance is important in determining those "like ourselves".
      4.2.3 Ideas are useful to assist us in identifying those "like ourselves".
      4.2.4 Ideas may be more important than appearance in identifying those "like ourselves".

    4.3 Preservation

      4.3.1 We attempt to preserve ourselves and distribute our genes.
      4.3.2 We attempt to preserve our packs and distribute our packs genes in preference to those of other packs.
      4.3.3 We attempt to preserve and distribute our ideas.

    4.4 Subordination of Preservation

      4.4.1 The urge for self-preservation may be subordinated to the dissemination of our genes.
      4.4.2 The urge for self-preservation may be subordinated to the dissemination of our ideas.
      4.4.3 The urge for self-preservation may be subordinated to the interests of our pack.

    4.5 Reproduction

      4.5.1 We reproduce.
      4.5.2 When we reproduce we are disseminating our genes.
      4.5.3 When we reproduce we are creating opportunities to disseminate our ideas.

    4.6 Dependency

      4.6.1 All life is to a greater or lesser interdependent.
      4.6.2 It is frequently the case that we are dependent on other life even where the dependency is not self-evident.

    4.7 Happiness

      4.7.1 Happy people are more effective and accomplish the above better than sad people.
      4.7.2 Happiness is a function of self-perception and group-acceptance/interaction.

5 Living Right

    6 Applied ethics

      7 Ethical Requisites:

        7.1 We should care for ourselves
        7.2 We should care or others on a continuum from where we care for them as much (or more) as we care for ourselves to where we could care less, based on our identification of closeness.
        7.3 We should recognize that ideas are more important than appearance in determining closeness.
        7.4 We should recognize that where we have a short life, our ideas can last for much longer than our lives.
        7.5 We should weight ideas as being more worthy of protection than even survival of the self.
        7.6 We should differentiate between "doing good" and "not doing harm" The former is active, the latter passive.
        7.7 We should differentiate between those "in our pack" and those "outside our pack" when evaluating actions.

    8 Ethical Basis:

      “Respecting” implies being true to or preserving. Attempting to order "doing good"

        8.1 respecting our ideas
        8.2 respecting "our pack's" ideas
        8.3 respecting the ideas of others not in "our pack"
        8.4 distributing our ideas
        8.5 distributing "our pack's" ideas
        8.6 distributing the ideas of others not in "our pack"
        8.7 preserving ourselves
        8.8 preserving "our pack"
        8.9 distributing our genes
        8.10 distributing "our pack's" genes
        8.11 preserving others not in "our pack"
        8.12 distributing the genes of others not in "our pack"

    9 Ethical Principles:

      9.1 If no good can be done, then we should avoid doing harm.
      9.2 If harm must be done, then it should be minimized.
      9.3 Good and harm should be measured in terms of the greatest good for the greatest number (ordered by closeness to those like ourselves).
      9.4 We are individually entirely responsible for our own ethics and this responsibility cannot be divested to another or a group.
      9.5 Where the target of a potential ethical action is able to communicate, the communications of the target should be given precedence over our ideas.

        9.5.1 This does not imply that we should act contrary to our interests (ideas, distribution, preservation), although this could be considered if the cost to our interests is deemed low and the benefit to the target deemed high.
        9.5.2 Where the target of a potential ethical action is unable to communicate, the ethical action should be evaluated according to our own interests and weighted as denoted above as if we were the target of the potential ethical action.
        9.5.3 As we are able to rationalize any action, it behooves us to not act rather than act in the event that a situation is unclear, and to require a clear and present danger before taking any action, which would lead to the injury or perception of injury of another.

      9.6 Examining the "idea infection" situation under these rules means that if you are asked to stop, that you must stop. (I don't want to listen to you.)
      9.7 If you are asked to participate in an action you deem wrong that you are free to decline. ("Beat me please." "No." is acceptable. "Yes" may be acceptable if "No" causes a greater harm, but the harm to self is an intrinsic part of the decision).
      9.8 If you engage in an action, which could injure another, that you should have a "greater cause." The "greater cause" can only be a danger or injury which when weighted according to the above criteria outweighs the injury, which must be done to avoid the “greater harm”.
      9.9 Having committed to a course of action, then other rational people may depend on that commitment in order to make their own decisions. This implies that having made a commitment, that we should endeavor to adhere to it. (My "yes" means "yes", and my "no" means "no").
      9.10 Having committed to a course of action, you are correct in withdrawing from that commitment if, at any time, it becomes apparent that more harm will be done by continuing that action than will be caused by withdrawing from that action.

Full Copyright Statement
Copyright (C) The Church of Virus (2002).  All Rights Reserved.

This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any kind, provided that the Abbreviated Copyright Notice [supra] and this paragraph are included as an inseparable component of all such copies and derivative works, and that the terms of this copyright statement shall be binding on derivative works. However, this document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing the copyright notice or references to the Church of Virus, except as needed for the purpose of developing further Church of Virus documents or as required to translate it into languages other than English, in which case the procedures for copyrights defined by the Church of Virus from time to time must be followed.
The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be revoked by the Church of Virus or its successors or assigns.
This document and the information contained herein is provided on an "AS IS" basis and the Church of Virus disclaims all warranties, express or implied, including but not limited to any warranty that the use of the information herein will not infringe any rights or any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. You are specifically warned that study of documents produced by the Church of Virus may lead to a permanent change in your attitudes or behavior as a result of exposure to the memeplexii and component memes embedded in such documents.

Discussions with Joe Dees and other members of the CoV. Especial thanks to KMO for his formulation, "Feed the hungry" the essence of which is captured in Mark Twain's "Story of the Widow's Son" appended below.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 2002-02-04
“Story of the Widow's Son in ‘What is man? And other essays of Mark Twain’”, Mark Twain.


Authors’ addresses: lhermit@hotmail.com

Appendix 1: The Story of the Widow's Son in ‘What is man? And other essays of Mark Twain’
“Story of the Widow's Son in ‘What is man? And other essays of Mark Twain’”, Mark Twain.

Old Man: I will tell you a little story:

Once upon a time an infidel was guest in the house of a Christian widow whose little boy was ill and near to death. The infidel often watched by the bedside and entertained the boy with talk, and he used these opportunities to satisfy a strong longing in his nature - that desire which is in us all to better other people’s condition by having them think as we think.  He was successful. But the dying boy, in his last moments, reproached him and said: “I believed, and was happy in it; you have taken my belief away, and my comfort.  Now I have nothing left, and I die miserable; for the things which you have told me do not take the place of that which I have lost.

And the mother, also, reproached the Infidel, and said: “My child is forever lost, and my heart is broken.  How could you do this cruel thing?  We have done you no harm, but only kindness; we made our house your home, you were welcome to all we had, and this is our reward.

The heart of the infidel was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he said: “It was wrong--I see it now; but I was only trying to do him good. In my view he was in error; it seemed my duty to teach him the truth.

Then the mother said: “I had taught him, all his little life, what I believed to be the truth, and in his believing faith both of us were happy. Now he is dead, - and lost; and I am miserable. Our faith came down to us through centuries of believing ancestors; what right had you, or any one, to disturb it?  Where was your honor, where was your shame?

Young Man: He was a miscreant, and deserved death!

Old Man: He thought so himself, and said so.

Young Man: Ah - you see, His conscience was awakened!!

Old Man: Yes, his Self-Disapproval was. It pained him to see the mother suffer.  He was sorry he had done a thing which brought him pain.  It did not occur to him to think of the mother when he was misteaching the boy, for he was absorbed in providing pleasure for himself, then.  Providing it by satisfying what he believed to be a call of duty.

Young Man: Call it what you please, it is to me a case of awakened conscience.  That awakened conscience could never get itself into that species of trouble again.  A cure like that is a permanent cure.

Old Man: Pardon - I had not finished the story. We are creatures of outside influences - we originate nothing within. Whenever we take a new line of thought and drift into a new line of belief and action, the impulse is always suggested from the outside. Remorse so preyed upon the infidel that it dissolved his harshness toward the boy's religion and made him come to regard it with tolerance, next with kindness, for the boy’s sake and the mother’s. Finally he found himself examining it. From that moment his progress in his new trend was steady and rapid. He became a believing Christian. And now his remorse for having robbed the dying boy of his faith and his salvation was bitterer than ever. It gave him no rest, no peace. He [/b]must[/b] have rest and peace--it is the law of nature. There seemed but one way to get it; he must devote himself to saving imperiled souls. He became a missionary. He landed in a pagan country ill and helpless. A native widow took him into her humble home and nursed him back to convalescence.  Then her young boy was taken hopelessly ill, and the grateful missionary helped her tend him. Here was his first opportunity to repair a part of the wrong done to the other boy by doing a precious service for this one by undermining his foolish faith in his false gods. He was successful. But the dying boy in his last moments reproached him and said: “I believed, and was happy in it; you have taken my belief away, and my comfort. Now I have nothing left, and I die miserable; for the things which you have told me do not take the place of that which I have lost.

And the mother, also, reproached the missionary, and said: “My child is forever lost, and my heart is broken. How could you do this cruel thing?  We had done you no harm, but only kindness; we made our house your home, you were welcome to all we had, and this is our reward.

The heart of the missionary was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he said: “It was wrong - I see it now; but I was only trying to do him good. In my view he was in error; it seemed my duty to teach him the truth.

Then the mother said: “I had taught him, all his little life, what I believed to be the truth, and in his believing faith both of us were happy. Now he is dead - and lost; and I am miserable. Our faith came down to us through centuries of believing ancestors; what right had you, or any one, to disturb it? Where was your honor, where was your shame?

The missionary's anguish of remorse and sense of treachery were as bitter and persecuting and unappeasable, now, as they had been in the former case. The story is finished.  What is your comment?

Young Man: The man’s conscience is a fool! It was morbid. It didn’t know right from wrong.

Old Man: I am not sorry to hear you say that. If you grant that one man’s conscience doesn't know right from wrong, it is an admission that there are others like it.  This single admission pulls down the whole doctrine of infallibility of judgment in consciences. Meantime there is one thing which I ask you to notice.

Young Man: What is that?

Old Man: That in both cases the man’s act gave him no spiritual discomfort, and that he was quite satisfied with it and got pleasure out of it. But afterward when it resulted in pain to him, he was sorry.  Sorry it had inflicted pain upon the others, but for no reason under the sun except that their pain gave him pain. Our consciences take no notice of pain inflicted upon others until it reaches a point where it gives pain to us. In all cases without exception we are absolutely indifferent to another person's pain until his sufferings make us uncomfortable. Many an infidel would not have been troubled by that Christian mother’s distress. Don’t you believe that?

Young Man: Yes. You might almost say it of the average infidel, I think.

Old Man: And many a missionary, sternly fortified by his sense of duty, would not have been troubled by the pagan mother’s distress - Jesuit missionaries in Canada in the early French times, for instance; see episodes quoted by Parkman.

Young Man: Well, let us adjourn. Where have we arrived?

Old Man: At this. That we (mankind) have ticketed ourselves with a number of qualities to which we have given misleading names. Love, Hate, Charity, Compassion, Avarice, Benevolence, and so on. I mean we attach misleading meanings to the names. They are all forms of self-contentment, self-gratification, but the names so disguise them that they distract our attention from the fact. Also we have smuggled a word into the dictionary which ought not to be there at all--Self-Sacrifice.  It describes a thing which does not exist. But worst of all, we ignore and never mention the Sole Impulse which dictates and compels a man's every act:  the imperious necessity of securing his own approval, in every emergency and at all costs.  To it we owe all that we are.  It is our breath, our heart, our blood.  It is our only spur, our whip, our goad, our only impelling power; we have no other. Without it we should be mere inert images, corpses; no one would do anything, there would be no progress, the world would stand still. We ought to stand reverently uncovered when the name of that stupendous power is uttered.

Young Man: I am not convinced.

Old Man: You will be when you think.
« Last Edit: 2007-08-25 17:49:30 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999

RE: virus: Virian Ethics: The Soul in the Machine and the Question of Virian Ethics
« Reply #1 on: 2002-03-14 06:18:25 »
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Virian Ethics: The Soul in the Machine and the Question of Virian Ethics, L'
Ermit [lhermit@hotmail.com]
Tue 2002/03/05 22:04

Story of the Widow's Son in 'What is man? And other essays of Mark

"Story of
the Widow's Son in 'What is man? And other essays of Mark Twain'", Mark

Old Man: I will tell you a little story:

Once upon a time an infidel was guest in the house of a Christian widow...


In general, we pack animals consent to being available to have genetic and
memetic exchanges with each other, but hermits for instance, at least those
who are not of the Merlinesque Tarot species, have withdrawn this consent,
as have for instance, at least to some extent, cenobites and anchorites and
creationists and cabbages and kings.

It could be said that the truth is a perception that requires the consent of
the perceiver. (l 'Ermit remarked in a recent post that offence cannot be
given, only taken. I agree with this and suspect that it is the same with

If so, it could be said that it can never be wrong to tell the truth because
it's status as such depends upon the consent of the perceiver.The dying
child was to blame for his own unhappiness because he consented to it.

The thought strikes me that a rational basis for /Ethics/ as opposed to
/Morality/ could be proposed on the following  lines;
<Blunderov here clears his throat and declaims>
Actions have consequences. The extent to which one is prepared to /own/ the
consequences of actions or inactions determines the nature and extent of
one's ethics. (This principle likewise applies to communities, or
collectives of whatever nature, that act, or attempt to act, in concert.) It
is more rational to be in control of ones life than not. It follows
therefore that it is more rational to be /ethical / than not.
/Own/, above, is admittedly vague but perhaps may serve as a useful point of
Fond regards

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Re:Virian Ethics: The Soul in the Machine and the Question of Virian Ethics
« Reply #2 on: 2002-03-14 11:19:13 »
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Actions have consequences. The extent to which one is prepared to /own/ the consequences of actions or inactions determines the nature and extent of one's ethics.

In other words, an existential* approach to ethics, yes? I agree with you, although I wonder if this was not what Hermit was suggesting under item 9.4.

*In other words, if we assume that existence precedes essence to some degree (i.e we are not the product of design and we lack a predefined purpose that we are to adhere to), then man must define himself, a process that implies the recognition  not only of human subjectivity but of the environment within which this takes place.  In defining oneself one iin this manner one inevitably must take responsibility (which is then implied in the concept of subjectivity).

Which is all reasonable enough when argued from first principles, but which is more difficult when placed in context. The context in question being our genetic and memetic inheritance, with the former arguably preceding 'existence' (i.e we are not a tabula rasa and much of our behaviour would appear to spring from our genes,  though the environment undoubtedly plays its part).

If I have read Hermit's document correctly, what is being considered is a notion of ethics that would take those concerns into account?

On Existentialism: http://members.aol.com/DonJohnR/Philosophy/S_Human.html
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Re:Virian Ethics: The Soul in the Machine and the Question of Virian Ethics
« Reply #3 on: 2002-03-14 12:19:42 »
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As background to the above, a piece I wrote sometime ago (in a hurry, I should warn you). It may or may not be helpful. It may or may not be nonsense...

Ethics from First Principles

Kant argued that moral principles must be regarded as being both reversible (i.e. few people would wish to be murdered or stolen from and therefore it is logical that others would wish to be treated in that manner) and universal - with this being a problem, since groups like the thugees or concepts like the jihad clearly abrogate the universal proscription of murder.

Duty vs Compassion

Kant also argued that we had no ethical obligations to animals - anything without a capacity for rationality should be regarded as a means to our ends. Later on, Schopenhauer regarded this as abhorrent and suggested that if we were unable to extend ethical sympathies towards animals* it boded ill with regard to our ability to do so to other members of our own species. In contrast to Kant, Schopenhauer regarded compassion, rather than duty, as being the foundation of duty. Such a concept is problematic; compassion might elicit behaviour that conflicts with ethical codes in a manner that the Kantian concept of duty does not, for example we might shelter a murderer or terrorist from punishment.  To elaborate on this distinction, you might argue that compassion is the root of much ethical behaviour, with conceptions of duty being much more culturally derived. As Mark Twain put it, 'morality' comes from books - "Theoretical morals are the sort you get on your mother's knee, in good books, and from the pulpit. You gather them in your head, and not in your heart; they are theory without practice."

  • Please recall my previous post opposing 'animal rights' when reading that.

    Compassion and Pack Ethics

    In nature there are many accounts of social behaviour, such as the schooling of fish, the grouping of apes, and the flocking of birds. It isn't necessarily the case that this social co-operation is entered into for the benefit of the individuals within the pack/tribe/herd etc. In the case of lions (the only social felid) there is no apparent benefit in terms of being able to hunt increased amounts of food. Of the felids, lions are the only species who live at the three extremes of a preference for large prey, an open habitat and a high population density. Thus it is easy for a kill to be seen at a distance, and scavenging another's kill is far more likely for lions than it is for other felids. A lone lion has perhaps almost as high a chance of having her kill shared as a pride member does, however for a lone lion there is a far lower likelihood that the cofeeder is related. Thus prides of related females (and there are no examples of prides forming from unrelated females) form simply to ensure that all their kills have a high likelihood of benefiting their own genes. Similarly, unlike wolves (for example) male lions who have acquired a new mate will slaughter any children the female may already possess as a threat to the survival of his genes.

    For another example, in troops attacked by leopards, aged, post reproduction-age lemurs have been observed to linger at the rear of the escaping troop and to engage the leopard in what often amounts to a suicidal fight. As the old male delays the leopard's pursuit by sacrificing his very life, the females and young escape and live to fulfill their several destinies.

    In other words, social animals will co-operate within a 'tribe' but the flipside of that is that this co-operation is not ncessarily extended to members of the same species outside of that tribe (although, when not competing, many ape species send off all the females or males to join other tribes for the continued diversity of the tribe.  intertribal adoption of females/young is also frequently seen in 'primitive' humans and in animals. Similarly, dolphins have been known to rescue drowning humans). Within a tribe social altruism and co-operation appears to be largely instinctive (apes grooming each other, elephants and dolphins caring for their ill), with evidence of humans caring for their maimed and elderly and forming ethical systems, such as the code of hammurabi, independently  of religious moral systems (although the genetic imperative still comes into play -consider Aristotle's advocacy of leaving crippled infants on the hillside to die).

    When we look at Neanderthal skeletons for instance, we see that some had injuries that would have left them unable to hunt, gather or participate, that have healed over, indicating that they had been nurtured. 

    As further evidence of this we might consider the status of psychopathy as a psychological aberration. There are studies which indicate a sense of morality to be roughly congruent to an emotional sense; certain serial killers appear to lack an emotional centre, and have no feelings for other people. As such, they appear to lack an equivalent moral centre, which, for want of a better word, I have usually referred to as a capacity for empathy (assuming that affectvity and empathy are seen as simply the rewards and penalties which have developed to keep us cooperative).

    UTism and Pack Ethics

    Conversely, warefare between tribes (and prejudice against minority groups) appear to be endemic to human existence. Other examples would include the concept of a fatwah, wherein, in the case of Islam, provision is made to declare a death sentence on an individual deemed guilty of blasphemy, as with the notorious case of Salman Rushdie (this regards religion as a form of extended tribal system).

    To obfuscate the issue somewhat, theories which hold that conflict between groups emerges because of the emergeance of inter-group competition attributable to the real or perceived incompatibility of goals (in order for hostility to emerge) suffers from the problem that studies have often found the hostility to be greatest in cases where the rival groups have the most in common; even when there is no conflict of interest and no record of previous hostility. To quote Richard Dawkins:
    "One of the more frightening aspects of human nature is a tendency to gravitate towards 'Us' and against 'Them'. Worse, Us versus Them disputes have a natural tendency to reach down the generations, leading to vendettas of frightening historical tenacity. Where labels are not provided to feed our natural divisiveness, we manufacture them. Children separate out into gangs, often with distinguishing labels. In certain districts of Los Angeles, a young person innocently sporting the wrong brand of trainers is in danger of being shot. Experiments have been done in which children, with no particular reason to sort themselves into gangs, are provided with, say, green or blue labels. In short order, enmities spring up between the greens and the blues: fierce loyalties to one's own colour, vendettas against the other. These can become surprisingly vicious. That's what happens when you don't even try to segregate children. Now, imagine that you deliberately stamp a green or a blue label on a child at birth. Send this child to a blue school and that child to a green school. Encourage green boys to assume that they will grow up to marry green girls, while blue girls will marry blue boys. Take for granted that, the moment they have a baby of their own, it too must have the same coloured label tied around its neck"

    A better theory is the social identity theory, which holds that as man at least roughly fits into the category of a social animal, there is a basic need to assert a social identity, and that inter-group conflicts arise because each group inevitably compares itself to the other. In the case of dissimilarity, this will inevitably be to the detriment of the other group. In the case of similarity, the absence of distinguishing features (depriving the group of any other against which to define itself) also leads to friction. This isn't necessarily to say that such behaviour is instinctive, but given that the distinction between nature and nurture is not especially meaningful as far as mankind is concerned, there's nothing to say it isn't (it's certainly deeply ingrained). Regardless of the similarity of the disparate groups competition between them was found to enhance morale, cohesiveness and cooperation.The more intense the conflict, the more the behaviour of members functioned according to their group membership.  I also recall that there are studies which indicate that in cases where a large majority group co-exists with a smaller minority group, it appears instinctive for the majority to 'turn' on the minority - it only takes a cursory knowledge of anthropology to realise how widespread the practice of scapegoating (ritual or otherwise) actually is.

    For example, the historian Niall Ferguson suggests that in societies where the ethnic majority represent less than eighty percent of the population, internecine conflicts are more or less inevitable.

    Getting Back to the Point

    For all of the above, Hermit is right to seek to suggest that memetic affiliation is far more meaningful than racial affiliation, particularly in a social context that is more pluralist than hitherto, especially where communications allows three people of different nationalities to discuss matters in the way we have been doing here - the MoD predicts the rise of a global elite with closer affinities than with their own countrymen on exactly that ground. I think my question would be how to ensure that Virus does not become something that instigates, rather than assuages,  UTistic behaviour - when competing with other ideologies that will not neccessarily be easy.

    [Credits: Discussions with CoV members, especially Joe - on Kant, and Walter/Bill - on animals. Also discussions with non-list friend Sarah]
  • « Last Edit: 2002-03-19 03:17:57 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged
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