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g comments on Terminal Values and Instrumental Values - Less Wrong

54 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 November 2007 07:56AM

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Comment author: g 16 November 2007 12:43:24AM 1 point [-]

Adirian, re gun control, are you sure? I haven't studied people's attitudes to that issue, but what you describe sounds very strange and quite unlike the thought processes of the only pro-gun-control person whose thought processes I know really well, namely me. Allowing people to do things is (in itself) just about always positive; gun control is desirable (if it is) because of effects such as (allegedly) reducing gun crime, reducing accidents involving guns, making it less likely that people will think of killing people as a natural way to deal with conflicts, etc.

At least, that's how I think, and so far as I can tell from the few gun control discussions I've been in it's also how other people who are in favour of gun control think. I'd guess (though obviously I could be very wrong) that anyone who thinks of either gun abolition or gun ownership as a terminal value or disvalue is doing so as a cognitive shorthand, having already come to some strong opinion on the likely consequences of having more guns or fewer guns.

I'm sure there are plenty of people for whom guns produce a positive or negative visceral reaction (e.g., because they're seen as representing gratuitous violence, or freedom, or power over potential attackers, or something). I don't think that's the same thing as treating gun abolition or gun ownership as a terminal value; it's just another source of bias which, if they're wise, they'll try to overcome when thinking about the issue. (Few people are wise.)

It's hardly surprising if pro-gun-control people prefer to frame the issue by challenging their opponents to show that guns reduce crime, or if anti-gun-control people prefer to frame it by challenging theirs to show that guns increase crime. Everyone likes to put the burden of proof on their opponents. (Remark: "Burden of proof" is a rather silly phrase. What's really involved in saying that the burden of proof lies on the advocates of position X is the claim that the probability of X, prior to any nonobvious arguments that might be offered, is low. This is a nice example of something Eliezer has pointed out a few times: we tend to phrase what we say about reasoning in quasi-moral terms -- A "owes" B some evidence, B has "justified" her position, etc. -- when it is generally more useful to think in terms of probability-updating. Or belief-updating or something, if for some reason you don't like using the term "probability" for these things. End of remark.)

I don't understand your appeal to Goedel's theorem. Thinking of ethics as (like) a logical system and applying Goedel might lead to some conclusion like "There will always be situations for which your principles yield no clear answer", though actually I don't see why anyone would expect the conditions of Goedel's theorem to hold in this context so I'm not even convinced of that; but once you decide to think of terminal values as axioms you've *already* explained (kinda) "why you can't rationalize a conceptual terminal value down any further".