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jackmalde's Shortform

Might be outdated, and the selection of papers is probably skewed in favor of welfare reforms, but here's a bibliography on this question.

Critical summary of Meacham’s "Person-Affecting Views and Saturating Counterpart Relations"

There are some moral intuitions, such as the ‘procreation asymmetry’ (illustrated in the ‘central illustration’ below) that only a person-affecting view can capture.

I don't think this is exactly true. The procreation asymmetry is also consistent with any form of negative consequentialism. I wouldn't classify such views as "person-affecting," since the reason they don't consider it obligatory to create happy people is that they reject the premise that happiness is intrinsically morally valuable, rather than that they assign special importance to badness-for-someone. These views do still have some of the implications you consider problematic in this post, but they're not vulnerable to, for example, Parfit's critiques based on reductionism about personal identity.

Longtermism which doesn't care about Extinction - Implications of Benatar's asymmetry between pain and pleasure

This disanalogy between the x-risk and s-risk definitions is a source of ongoing frustration to me, as s-risk discourse thus often conflates hellish futures (which are existential risks, and especially bad ones), or possibilities of suffering on a scale significant relative to the potential for suffering (or what we might expect), with bad events many orders of magnitude smaller or futures that are utopian by common sense standards and compared to our world or the downside potential.

This is a fair enough critique. But I think that from the perspective of suffering-focused and many other non-total-symmetric-utilitarian value systems, the definition of x-risk is just as frustrating in its breadth. To such value systems, there is a massive moral difference between the badness of human extinction and a locked-in dystopian future, so they are not necessarily in "the same ballpark of importance." The former is only critical to the upside potential of the future if one has a non-obvious symmetric utilitarian conception of (moral) upside potential, or certain deontological premises that are also non-obvious.

Introduction to the Philosophy of Well-Being

A fourth alternative that may be appealing to those who don't find any of these three theories completely satisfying: tranquilism.

Tranquilism states that an individual experiential moment is as good as it can be for her if and only if she has no craving for change.

(You could argue this is a subset of hedonism, in that it is fundamentally concerned with experiences, but there are important differences.)

some concerns with classical utilitarianism

Accepting VRC would be required by CU, in this hypothetical. So, assuming CU, rejecting VRC would need justification.

Yep, this is what I was getting at, sorry that I wasn't clear. I meant "defense of CU against this case."

On the other hand, as Vinding also writes (ibid, 5.6; 8.10), the qualitative difference between extreme suffering and suffering that could be extreme if we push a bit further may be still be huge.

Yeah, I don't object to the possibility of this in principle, just noting that it's not without its counterintuitive consequences. Neither is pure NU, or any sensible moral theory in my opinion.

some concerns with classical utilitarianism

Good point. I would say I meant intensity of the experience, which is distinct both from intensity of the stimulus and moral (dis)value. And I also dislike seeing conflation of intensity with moral value when it comes to evaluating happiness relative to suffering.

some concerns with classical utilitarianism

I agree with the critiques in the sections including and after "Implicit Commensurability of (Extreme) Suffering," and would encourage defenders of CU to apply as much scrutiny to its counterintuitive conclusions as they do to NU, among other alternatives. I'd also add the Very Repugnant Conclusion as a case for which I haven't heard a satisfying CU defense. Edit: The utility monster as well seems asymmetric in how repugnant it is when you formulate it in terms of happiness versus suffering. It does seem abhorrent to accept the increased suffering of many for the supererogatory happiness of the one, but if the disutility monster would suffer far more from not getting a given resource than many others would put together, helping the disutility monster seems perfectly reasonable to me.

But I think objecting to aggregation of experience per se, as in the first few sections, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Even if you just consider suffering as the morally relevant object, it's quite hard to reject the idea that between (a) 1 million people experiencing a form of pain just slightly weaker than the threshold of "extreme" suffering, and (b) 1 person experiencing pain just slightly stronger than that threshold, (b) is the lesser evil.

Perhaps all the alternatives are even worse, and I have some sympathies for lexical threshold NU, including that the form of arguments against it like the one I just proposed could just as easily lead to conclusions of fanaticism, which many near-classical utilitarians reject. And intuitively it does seem there's some qualitative difference between the moral seriousness of torture versus a large number of dust specks. But in general I think aggregation in axiology is much more defensible than classical utilitarianism wholesale.

Please Take the 2020 EA Survey

unless I think that I'm at least as well informed than the average respondent about where this money should go

This applies if your ethics are very aligned with the average respondent, but if not, it is a decent incentive. I'd be surprised if almost all of EAs' disagreement on cause prioritization were strictly empirical.

antimonyanthony's Shortform

5. I do not expect that artificial superintelligence would converge on The Moral Truth by default. Even if it did, the convergence might be too slow to prevent catastrophes. But I also doubt humans will converge on this either. Both humans and AIs are limited by our access only to our "own" qualia, and indeed our own present qualia. The kind of "moral realism" I find plausible with respect to this convergence question is that convergence to moral truth could occur for a perfectly rational and fully informed agent, with unlimited computation and - most importantly - subjective access to the hypothetical future experiences of all sentient beings. These conditions are so idealized that I am probably as pessimistic about AI as any antirealist, but I'm not sure yet if they're so idealized that I functionally am an antirealist in this sense.

antimonyanthony's Shortform

Some vaguely clustered opinions on metaethics/metanormativity

I'm finding myself slightly more sympathetic to moral antirealism lately, but still afford most of my credence to a form of realism that would not be labeled "strong" or "robust." There are several complicated propositions I find plausible that are in tension:

1. I have a strong aversion to arbitrary or ad hoc elements in ethics. Practically this cashes out as things like: (1) rejecting any solutions to population ethics that violate transitivity, and (2) being fairly unpersuaded by solutions to fanaticism that round down small probabilities or cap the utility function.

2. Despite this, I do not intrinsically care about the simplicity of a moral theory, at least for some conceptions of "simplicity." It's quite common in EA and rationalist circles to dismiss simple or monistic moral theories as attempting to shoehorn the complexity of human values into one box. I grant that I might unintentionally be doing this when I respond to critiques of the moral theory that makes most sense to me, which is "simple." But from the inside I don't introspect that this is what's going on. I would be perfectly happy to add some complexity to my theory to avoid underfitting the moral data, provided this isn't so contrived as to constitute overfitting. The closest cases I can think of where I might need to do this are in population ethics and fanaticism. I simply don't see what could matter morally in the kinds of things whose intrinsic value I reject: rules, virtues, happiness, desert, ... When I think of these things, and the thought experiments meant to pump one's intuitions in their favor, I do feel their emotional force. It's simply that I am more inclined to think of them as just that: emotional, or game theoretically useful constructs that break down when you eliminate bad consequences on conscious experience. The fact that I may "care" about them doesn't mean I endorse them as relevant to making the world a better place.

3. Changing my mind on moral matters doesn't feel like "figuring out my values." I roughly know what I value. Many things I value, like a disproportionate degree of comfort for myself, are things I very much wish I didn't value, things I don't think I should value. A common response I've received is something like: "The values you don't think you 'should' have are simply ones that contradict stronger values you hold. You have meta-preferences/meta-values." Sure, but I don't think this has always been the case. Before I learned about EA, I don't think it would have been accurate to say I really did "value" impartial maximization of good across sentient beings. This was a value I had to adopt, to bring my motivations in line with my reasons. Encountering EA materials did not feel at all like "Oh, you know what, deep down this was always what I would've wanted to optimize for, I just didn't know I would've wanted it."

4. The question "what would you do if you discovered the moral truth was to do [obviously bad thing]?" doesn't make sense to me, for certain inputs of [obviously bad thing], e.g. torturing all sentient beings as much as possible. For extreme inputs of that sort, the question is similar to "what would you do if you discovered 2+2=5?" For less extreme inputs, such that it's plausible to me I simply have not thought through ethics enough that I could imagine that hypothetical but merely find it unlikely right now, the question does make sense, and I see nothing wrong with saying "yes." I suspect many antirealists do this all the time, radically changing their minds on moral questions due to considerations other than empirical discoveries, and they would not be content saying "screw the moral truth" by retaining their previous stance.

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