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James_Bach comments on Torture vs. Dust Specks - Less Wrong

41 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 October 2007 02:50AM

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Comment author: James_Bach 30 October 2007 07:30:57AM 7 points [-]

Yes the answer is obvious. The answer is that this question obviously does not yet have meaning. It's like an ink blot. Any meaning a person might think it has is completely inside his own mind. Is the inkblot a bunny? Is the inkblot a Grateful Dead concert? The right answer is not merely unknown, because there is no possible right answer.

A serious person-- one who take moral dilemmas seriously, anyway-- must learn more before proceeding.

The question is an inkblot because too many crucial variables have been left unspecified. For instance, in order for this to be an interesting moral dilemma I need to know that it is a situation that is physically possible, or else analogous to something that is possible. Otherwise, I can't know what other laws of physics or logic apply or don't apply, and therefore can't make an assessment. I need to know what my position is in this universe. I need to know why this power has been invested in me. I need to know the nature of the torture and who the person is who will be tortured. I need to consider such factors as what the torture may mean to other people who are aware of it (such as the people doing the torture). I need to know something about the costs and benefits involved. Will the person being tortured *know* they are being tortured? Or can it be arranged that they are born into the torture and consider it a normal part of their life. Will the person being tortured have *volunteered* to have been tortured? Will the dust motes have peppered the eyes of all those people anyway? Will the torture have happened anyway? Will choosing torture save other people from being tortured?

It would seem that torture is bad. On the other hand, just being alive is a form of torture. Each of us has a Sword of Damocles hanging over us. It's called mortality. Some people consider it torture when I keep telling them they haven't finished asking their question...