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Jef_Allbright comments on The Third Alternative - Less Wrong

55 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 May 2007 11:47PM

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Comment author: Jef_Allbright 07 May 2007 11:25:09PM -1 points [-]

Eliezer points out that claims of the "Noble Truth" variety are generally package-deal fallacies, and I would add that with moral claims there are always two key elements of "truth". (1) subjective values, and (2) objective instrumentality. The "subjective truth" of an agent's values is impervious to direct challenge ('no accounting for taste'), while the "objective truth" of instrumental effectiveness is susceptible to demonstration of alternatives.

The Santa Clause myth (in the strong sense described above, rather than simply as a cultural activity) is then seen more clearly as (1) promoting a complex set of values including the importance of wonder and honesty, but also the importance of third-party monitoring of behavior and direct reward, and (2) the rather ineffectual instrumental method of lying to children in the form of a myth. From this it may be seen more clearly that the Santa Clause myth scores poorly in terms of both values and instrumentality, and this is reflected in how little seriousness it is accorded in our society.

Other Noble Lies, for example Aryan superiority, White Man's Burden, Manifest Destiny, Separate but Equal, War Against Drugs, War Against Terror, etc., can be assessed similarly and the perceived "goodness" can be seen to vary in terms of context of shared values and scope of effectiveness.

While this analysis might seem disheartening due to the relentless ratcheting forward of increasingly effective methods as a result of technological progress, there is reason for hope as we see that same technological progress facilitating increasing context of shared values and decision-making, and while subjective values are impervious to direct attack, the do tend to evolve as a result of agents selecting preferentially for what tends to work.

The only "Noble Lie" which might properly be considered essential is the seemingly unfounded belief in the intrinsic value of the self, without which there could be no decision-making and thus no action and the question of "goodness" would be moot. And that is only a lie to the extent that we believe the Self is discrete.

- Jef