Investigation of the abstract features of the world, including morals, ethics, and systems of value

Quick takes

Just a prompt to say that if you've been kicking around an idea of possible relevance to the essay competition on the automation of wisdom and philosophy, now might be the moment to consider writing it up -- entries are due in three weeks.
This is a cold take that’s probably been said before, but I thought it bears repeating occasionally, if only for the reminder: The longtermist viewpoint has gotten a lot of criticism for prioritizing “vast hypothetical future populations” over the needs of "real people," alive today. The mistake, so the critique goes, is the result of replacing ethics with math, or utilitarianism, or something cold and rigid like that. And so it’s flawed because it lacks the love or duty or "ethics of care" or concern for justice that lead people to alternatives like mutual aid and political activism. My go-to reaction to this critique has become something like “well you don’t need to prioritize vast abstract future generations to care about pandemics or nuclear war, those are very real things that could, with non-trivial probability, face us in our lifetimes.” I think this response has taken hold in general among people who talk about X-risk. This probably makes sense for pragmatic reasons. It’s a very good rebuttal to the “cold and heartless utilitarianism/pascal's mugging” critique. But I think it unfortunately neglects the critical point that longtermism, when taken really seriously — at least the sort of longtermism that MacAskill writes about in WWOTF, or Joe Carlsmith writes about in his essays — is full of care and love and duty. Reading the thought experiment that opens the book about living every human life in sequential order reminded me of this. I wish there were more people responding to the “longtermism is cold and heartless” critique by making the case that no, longtermism at face value is worth preserving because it's the polar opposite of heartless. Caring about the world we leave for the real people, with emotions and needs and experiences as real as our own, who very well may inherit our world but who we’ll never meet, is an extraordinary act of empathy and compassion — one that’s way harder to access than the empathy and warmth we might feel for our neighbors
Having a baby and becoming a parent has had an incredible impact on me. Now more than ever, I feel more connected and concerned about the wellbeing of others. I feel as though my heart has literally grown. I wanted to share this as I expect there are many others who are questioning whether to have children -- perhaps due to concerns about it limiting their positive impact, among many others. But I'm just here to say it's been beautiful, and amazing, and I look forward to the day I get to talk with my son about giving back in a meaningful way.  
American Philosophical Association (APA) announces two $10,000 AI2050 Prizes for philosophical work related to AI, with June 23, 2024 deadline:
On the automation of wisdom -  Norman Douglas: “There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.”
Okay, so one thing I don't get about "common sense ethics" discourse in EA is, which common sense ethical norms prevail? Different people even in the same society have different attitudes about what's common sense. For example, pretty much everyone agrees that theft and fraud in the service of a good cause - as in the FTX case - is immoral. But what about cases where the governing norms are ambiguous or changing? For example, in the United States, it's considered customary to tip at restaurants and for deliveries, but there isn't much consensus on when and how much to tip, especially with digital point-of-sale systems encouraging people to tip in more situations. (Just as an example of how conceptions of "common sense ethics" can differ: I just learned that apparently, you're supposed to tip the courier before you get a delivery now, otherwise they might refuse to take your order at all. I've grown up believing that you're supposed to tip after you get service, but many drivers expect you to tip beforehand.) You're never required to tip as a condition of service, so what if you just never tipped and always donated the equivalent amount to highly effective charities instead? That sounds unethical to me but technically it's legal and not a breach of contract. Going further, what if you started a company, like a food delivery app, that hired contractors to do the important work and paid them subminimum wages[1], forcing them to rely on users' generosity (i.e. tips) to make a living? And then made a 40% profit margin and donated the profits to GiveWell? That also sounds unethical - you're taking with one hand and giving with the other. But in a capitalist society like the U.S., it's just business as usual. 1. ^ Under federal law and in most U.S. states, employers can pay tipped workers less than the minimum wage as long as their wages and tips add up to at least the minimum wage. However, many employers get away with not ensuring that tipped workers earn th
In his recent interview on the 80000 Hours Podcast, Toby Ord discussed how nonstandard analysis and its notion of hyperreals may help resolve some apparent issues arising from infinite ethics (link to transcript). For those interested in learning more about nonstandard analysis, there are various books and online resources. Many involve fairly high-level math as they are aimed at putting what was originally an intuitive but imprecise idea onto rigorous footing. Instead of those, you might want to check out a book like that of H. Jerome Keisler's Elementary Calculus: An Infinitesimal Approach, which is freely available online. This book aims to be an introductory calculus textbook for college students, which uses hyperreals instead of limits and delta-epsilon proofs to teach the essential ideas of calculus such as derivatives and integrals. I haven't actually read this book but believe it is the best known book of this sort. Here's another similar-seeming book by Dan Sloughter.
Julia Nefsky is giving a research seminar in the Institute for Futures Studies titled "Expected utility, the pond analogy and imperfect duties", which sounds interesting for the community. It will be on September 27 at 10:00-11:45 (CEST) and can be attended for free in person or online (via zoom). You can find the abstract here and register here. I don't know Julia or her work and I'm not philosopher, so I cannot directly assess the expected quality of the seminar, but I've seen several seminars from the Institute for Futures Studies that where very good (eg. from Olle Häggström --and in Sep 20 Anders Sandberg gives one as well). I hope this is useful information.
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