Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

VAuroch comments on Free to Optimize - Less Wrong

25 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2009 01:41AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (80)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 01:39:05AM 0 points [-]

Is there anywhere that doesn't have that principle? It seems like a system of laws where ignorance was a valid excuse would be impossible to manage, and nontrivial even for a superintelligent AI. You would have to be able to peer inside someone else's specific brainstate for awareness of a specific concept, or of their entire past history. And how do you judge someone who had once know the law, but has since forgotten it?

Besides that, abandoning the concept of ignorantia non excusat creates an incentive to never learn the laws. Even with a perfect AI running the judicial system, that's undesirable.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 01:44:31AM 1 point [-]

You would have to be able to peer inside someone else's specific brainstate for awareness of a specific concept, or of their entire past history.

In principle, I suppose. In practice, several real-world legal structures depend on the court deciding, as a question of law, what was going on inside a person's mind at a particular time.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 01:58:14AM -1 points [-]

And are those legal structures actually accurate? I have very strong doubts about the potential accuracy in the absence of overwhelming circumstantial evidence such as statements they made at the time away from witnesses they'd want to conceal the truth from.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 02:34:33AM 1 point [-]

I'm not claiming they're accurate. I'm claiming that our inability to reliably read minds does not in practice prevent us from creating legal structures that depend on the court deciding what was going on in someone's mind, and consequently it is insufficient to explain the "Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse" principle.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 02:45:34AM -1 points [-]

I claim that their (known-but-unquantified) inaccuracy is sufficient to explain it. When you know a tool is flawed, you avoid it wherever possible.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 03:56:55AM 0 points [-]

If the court's known inaccuracy about a defendant's state of mind is sufficient to explain why we don't treat people who break a law differently based on the court's beliefs about their knowledge of the law, it is also sufficient to explain why we don't treat people who break a law differently based on the court's beliefs about other states of mind, such as the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

Unfortunately, that second thing turns out to be false... we do treat those people differently.

When an explanation turns out to explain falsehoods just as easily as truths, I don't consider it an adequate explanation for those truths.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 06:33:13AM -1 points [-]

I chose my words carefully: I said "avoid it wherever possible". Some distinctions will naturally fall on the side where it's deemed appropriate/necessary, generally, as in the case of manslaughter, when the difference is of enormous perceived moral significance.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 03:26:03PM 0 points [-]

So, if the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" principle were repealed by some culture C, would that surprise you, or would you merely consider it a demonstration that punishing people who are ignorant of the law is of enormous perceived moral significance to members of C?

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 11:26:29PM 0 points [-]

It would greatly surprise me if any culture viewed the possibility of punishing an accidental crime, no matter how severe, as worse than allowing people guilty of serious crimes to go unpunished using a specious claim of ignorance.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 December 2013 12:08:58AM 1 point [-]

OK, that answers my question, thanks.

For my own part, I would find that no more surprising than discovering a culture that viewed the punishing of an innocent person as worse than letting a guilty person go free.

Comment author: Carinthium 02 December 2013 08:16:55AM 1 point [-]

It's a matter of the best results that can be attained. The legal system can choose between being unambigious (which requires very complicated language) and being understandable to an ordinary person (which requires simple language). It is impossible to have both.

The problem is that any system which chooses the latter option is itself unjust as it will inevitably create ambigious scenarios. You then have to choose between generousness in interpretation whenever an ambigiuity exists, ignorance of the true meaning of the law as an excuse, and having to convict people ignorant of how to interpret the law as there is no correct intepretation to apply to the facts. The alternative of 'the spirit of the law' is illusionary, as shown by the massive amount of bias humans have interpreting such a vague concept.