Whither Moral Progress

  • If your only measure of progress is to compare the past to the present, then it’s easy to imagine you’re making progress when in reality you’re on a random walk
  • One counterargument to the random-walk argument against morality is to say that the future will be more moral than the present, just as the present was more moral than the past
    • But then aren’t we just extrapolating?
    • Can you actually imagine a being that is more moral than yourself – one that believes that something you consider right and just is actually morally wrong?
  • It’s easy to come up with examples of moral progress, but it’s much more difficult to show directionality and explain how directionality is implemented

The Gift We Give To Tomorrow

  • People are the product of evolution
  • So why are people so nice?
  • People do all sorts of things that would seem to be evolutionary disadvantageous
  • How do we explain this without postulating some kind of shadowing figure dictating evolution?
  • Our aesthetic and moral senses are a result of evolution, the same as our capacity for cruelty and destruction
  • It is not a physical miracle that humans turned out to be as moral as they are, but a moral miracle
  • It is entirely possible to recognize the kindness of humanity while recognizing the evolutionary origins of that kindness
  • Just like life, at one point, arose from non-living matter, so too did creatures with a sense of morality arise from creatures that did not have a sense of morality

Could Anything Be Right?

  • Eliezer, in 1999, thought that building a generic superintelligence would be sufficient to “solve” morality
  • Unfortunately, there is no reason to think that a superintelligence would necessarily have to think about morality
  • You can’t compute morality without having some kind of starting point of what is and is not moral
  • You can’t completely discard all products of evolution when thinking about morality, because that would involve discarding your own brain
  • We should be willing to realize that we know at least a little bit about morality, and that little bit can form a starting point from which we improve
  • We have to drop the notion that morality is something that “ghost of perfect emptiness” would agree with – to such an entity, even the question of what is and is not moral is meaningless

Existential Angst Factory

  • Most existential angst isn’t existential
  • It’s easy to think that life is inherently unhappy when you’ve given up on solving the problems that are making you unhappy
  • The opposite of happiness isn’t sadness, it’s boredom
  • Most feelings of existential angst can be blamed on people having at least one problem in their lives that they’ve given up on solving

Can Counterfactuals Be True

  • It’s an interesting question to wonder whether counterfactuals can be true
  • We never actually experience counterfactuals
  • Nor can we go back in time and replay events with different starting conditions
  • So, given that, can we say anything in a counterfactual? Even things that are beyond physical causation?
  • If we have a “lawful” computational procedure, the outcome of the counterfactual will be the result of that procedure on different starting conditions
  • In order to compute counterfactuals, take some of the variables in your causal model, set them to different values, and then compute the final probability distribution
  • Any philosophical work that takes counterfactual distributions as given without telling you how to compute those counterfactuals is largely useless