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Richard_Hollerith comments on Tsuyoku vs. the Egalitarian Instinct - Less Wrong

26 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2007 05:49PM

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Comment author: Richard_Hollerith 01 April 2007 04:39:34AM 1 point [-]

Robin, I know this post is too long, but it is an issue I care deeply about!

Mr Britton, many claim that there is no way to settle this particular disagreement because it is over values. In contrast -- and I realize I am in the minority on this -- I believe that there is an objectively-valid proper ultimate goal.

More precisely, I do not know if there is or not, but if there is not, then life has no meaning, so I assume there is, and do my best to discern it even though any truly satisfactory knowledge of it will probably have to wait for future generations.

Natural selection _caused_ us to feel happiness and _decided_ what types of experiences lead to happiness.

To someone who knows evolutionary psychology, there is nothing surprising about the fact that many people claim that happiness is the proper goal of life. Let's call them "hedonists and utilitarians". But the existence of a causal chain -- in this case a grand one stretching back billions of years starting with the start of life and ending with hedonists and utilitarians -- does not by itself impose on me an obligation to continue that causal chain.

For example, the increase in entropy has been going on even longer than that, yet no one would criticize me for not devoting my life to maximizing the entropy of the universe.

The fact hedonism and utilitarianism are expected consequences of natural selection greatly reduces the probability that I have neglected another, more compelling cause of hedonism or utilitarianism, namely that they are the product of keen observers of reality and keen calculators of reality's ethical implications.

The fact that I used to care about happiness as end in itself is adequately explained by the operation of my genes and by cultural transmission from hedonists and utilitarians.

Natural selection caused massive amount of pain and suffering. The suffering was "unavoidable" in the sense that even if the course of evolution leading to sentience had taken a different path, according to our models, billions or organisms with complex adaptations much like brains would experience mental states much like suffering. I.e., as soon as one has decided the laws of physics and decided that the universe will start with a sterile Big Bang and decided that the universe will be populated with sentient life via natural selection, one has decided that the universe will see massive suffering.

Finally, to enter Confessional Mode a bit, one possible reason I've come to this belief is that I've experienced more than the usual amount of suffering.

Comment author: Hul-Gil 14 June 2011 10:40:20PM *  0 points [-]

Warning! Necropost (for benefit of future readers)!

More precisely, I do not know if there is or not, but if there is not, then life has no meaning

Unless, of course, it is valid to choose your own meaning.

The fact hedonism and utilitarianism are expected consequences of natural selection greatly reduces the probability that I have neglected another, more compelling cause of hedonism or utilitarianism, namely that they are the product of keen observers of reality and keen calculators of reality's ethical implications.

Careful; easy to fall into a false dichotomy here. They can be a consequence of natural selection and a correct result for a calculation of "reality's ethical implications."

I would even go so far as to say that they are the correct ethical position because they are a result of natural selection. Or, to phrase it slightly better: because our evolution ended up this way, utilitarianism is the correct ethical approach. A species that did not evolve to experience suffering or pleasure would have quite different moral values.

We have evolved to experience suffering and happiness, which I would say are a priori bad and good, respectively; thus, this evolution has caused utilitarianism to be the correct ethical position (by creating bad and good).