X-Message-Number: 16871
Date: Wed, 04 Jul 2001 10:49:59 -0700
From: Lee Corbin <>
Subject: Re: Why beings of the future WILL reanimate us.

Dave Pizer wrote


>The new way of valuing the worth of a thing is to consider its interests.
>This is not the same as considering its utility or rights as was used in
>the past.  When we consider the interests of persons of another race, sex,
>religion, or sexual preference, we consider what *kind* of interests these
>persons have.  To consider a person's (or an animal's) interests, we don't
>ask if it can help us, or if it can reason.  The aspect that determines if
>a thing has interests is if it can be benefitted or harmed.

I think that Dave Pizer is taking a good, logical next step in the
evolution of our morality.  Here, he says "To consider a person's
or an animal's interests, we do not ask if it can help us."  This
is in accord with recent anthropological findings (see below).  And
then he says, (paraphrasing) "What's important is whether a thing
can be benefitted."

But Peter McCluskey writes

>I wish I could believe people were switching to such an ethical system,
>but the evidence for this hypothesis appears rather weak. It looks to me
>like people are broadening their notion of whose interests matter only
>as interactions with those beings makes it in people's self-interest to
>be seen as caring about those beings. Logical arguments by themselves
>show no signs that they are about to convince people to respect the
>interests of ants.

It will be a very slow process, but I do believe that logical
arguments can *eventually* change the course of people's beliefs,
and it might even be a gradual unconscious process.  Here is why:

First, I do disagree with those who would suggest that the mere touting
of an advanced ethical precept (such as Dave's) will itself accomplish
anything.  The actual mechanism of progress, I suggest, is that of a 
person recognizing inconsistencies in his or her own point of view.
Naturally, this is accelerated by other PEOPLE actively pointing out
such inconsistencies and making a big deal about them.

>I'm currently in the middle of reading an impressive book, The Biology
>of Moral Systems, which seems to do a good job of explaining ethical
>systems by showing how it has been in people's self-interest to adopt
>increasingly sophisticated ethics (and to claim that those ethics are
>based on something better than self-interest).

I'm sure that you are describing the predominant mechanism.  But
I think that it has been established that people can and do act

in ways that are not self-interested.  (E.g., Matt Ridley, "The Origins
of Virtue", Sober and Elliott "Unto Others".)  Evidently, most people
do have some actual compassion & altruistic circuitry.  This provides
the wedge in the door, the opening that is needed!

By focusing on people's genuine concern for others, someone like
Dave Pizer can announce some advanced moral axiom and then say,
"You will find that if you are to be utterly consistent as a
materialist acting across all forms of matter in the universe,
then you will see that my axiom is the true descriptor of your

Obviously, this will be a slow and painful process for people to
think about what they really like and really do not like, and to
think about huge numbers of situations that have come up and are
coming up in the future real soon.

But that's how progress actually will be made.  After all, the
Golden Rule started the same way:  I'm sure that many people
didn't like the sound of it at first, but came to acknowledge
that it described a lot of their behavior pretty well.  And then
the way was then clear for their intelligence to seek its wider

Dave's rule, approximately, is "The interests of every entity
should be considered", and it may end up having the same history.

Lee Corbin

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