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Matt_Simpson comments on The Danger of Stories - LessWrong

9 Post author: Matt_Simpson 08 November 2009 02:53AM

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Comment author: Matt_Simpson 08 November 2009 09:49:18PM *  2 points [-]

Rough definitions: good for agent X - net positive utility for agent X, evil for agent X - net negative utility for agent X. Or possibly: evil for agent X - a utility function that conflicts with that of agent X.

Good and evil don't have to be "written into the structure of the universe" to be coherent concepts. I assume you make choices. What is your criterion for choice? I also assume that you aren't completely selfish. You care about the welfare of other people at least to some degree right?

Of course, if two people/agents truly have differing utility functions, what is good to one may be evil to the other, but that doesn't invalidate the concepts of good and evil.

Comment author: DanArmak 08 November 2009 09:54:45PM 4 points [-]

That's not 'good and evil', just 'desired and undesired' - much milder and broader concepts.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 08 November 2009 10:23:14PM *  2 points [-]

I call an action "good" when it is what you should do - i.e. it has normative force behind it. This includes all choices. So, yes, it is a broader concept than traditional 'goodness,' but thats fine.

I usually reserve "desired and undesired" to refer to the psychological impulses that we sometimes fight and sometimes go along with. I may desire that second piece of chocolate cake, but if I really think it through, I don't really want to eat it - I shouldn't eat it. The economist's utility function probably refers to desires since the goal is to model actual behavior, but the ethicist's utility function is built with a completely different goal in mind.