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Adirian 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: Adirian 16 November 2007 06:46:24AM 0 points [-]

Our behavior is nothing more than the expression of our thoughts. If we behave as though something is a terminal value - we are doing nothing more than expressing our intents and regards, which is to say, we THINK of it as a terminal value. There is no distinction between physical action and mental thought, or between what is in our heads and what comes out of our mouths - our mind moves our muscles, and our thoughts direct our voice. There is no "actual thought" and - what? Nonactual thought? As if your body operated of its own will, acting against what your actual thoughts are. The mind is responsible for what the body does. I'm not eluding the distinction. I'm denying it.

Your language explains precisely why I said that you don't believe ethics is rational. Somewhat-rational means irrational - that is, something that is rational only some of the time it is, in fact, irrational. Either a thing is rational, and logic can reasonably and consistently be applied to it - or it isn't. There isn't "mathematical logic" and then "otherwise logic." Many have been going to great lengths to explain, among other things, how Bayesian Reasoning - derived entirely from a pretty little formula which is quite mathematical - is meaningful in daily thinking. There is just logic. It's the same logic in mathematics as it is in philosophy. It is only the axioms - the definitions - which vary.

Because axioms exist where rationality begins - that is their purpose. They are the definitions, the borders, from which rationality starts.

Incidentally, if you don't think ethics is like mathematical logic, and you've been reading and agreeing with anything Eliezer posts on the subject, you should take a foundations of mathematics course. He is going to great lengths to describe ethics in a way that is extremely mathematical, if the language has been stripped away for legibility. (For example, he explains infinite recursion, rather than using the word.) Which may, of course, be why he avoids the use of the word "axiom," and instead simply explains it. I'd also recommend a classical philosophy course - because the very FIELD of ethics is derived from precisely the thing you are suggesting is ridiculous, the search for mathematical, for logical, expressions of morality. The root of which I think it is clear is the value code upon which an individual builds their morality - a thing without rational value in itself, save as a definition, save as an axiom.

That is almost what I meant by axioms. Values. Terminal values, specifically. And also the basis of any individual's ethical code. The entire point of my post was linguistics - hence the sentence that axioms would be a simpler way of explaining terminal values. What I meant by "morality itself is a terminal value and an axiom," however, is akin to what you suggest - it is that if morality is treated as an irrational entity, as you seem want to do, then yes, absolutely everything someone thinks about right and wrong must be treated in a rational ethical system as an axiom. Which is, as you say, possibly true - but thoroughly worthless.