The Demandingness Objection

"Well, I'm not giving up dairy, but I can probably give up meat, and milk is at the very bottom of Brian's table of suffering per kilogram demanded, so I'd be contributing to much less evil than I was before. That's good, right?

"For all the unimaginably terrible things our species do to each other and to other creatures, we're not—we're probably not any worse than the rest of nature. Gazelles suffer terribly as lions eat them alive, but we can't intervene because then the lions would starve, and the gazelles would have a population explosion and starve, too. We have this glorious idea that people need to consent before sex, but male ducks just rape the females, and there's no one to stop it—nothing else besides humans around capable of formulating the proposition, as a proposition, that the torment and horror in the world is wrong and should stop. Animals have been eating each other for hundreds of millions of years; we may be murderous, predatory apes, but we're murderous, predatory apes with Reason—well, sort of—and a care/harm moral foundation that lets some of us, with proper training, to at least wish to be something better.

"I don't actually know much history or biology, but I know enough to want it to not be real, to not have happened that way. But it couldn't have been otherwise. In the absence of an ontologically fundamental creator God, Darwinian evolution is the only way to get purpose from nowhere, design without a designer. My wish for things to have been otherwise ... probably isn't even coherent; any wish for the nature of reality to have been different, can only be made from within reality.

"And nature to be commanded must be obeyed—only by figuring out how things actually work now, do we have any hope of making them better. That's how intelligence works: while True, predict outcomes conditional on performing various actions, then return the best.

"I guess this is how you tell the difference between politics and actual altruism. Being angry about school or gender roles felt good, felt righteous. Dulce et decorum est. But after stripping away all the ideology and looking at what people actually are ... it just makes me sad. And annoyed that my altruism should be so sorely needed—it would be so much more fun to eat lots of tasty meat and enjoy my decadent lifestyle without having to be haunted that not everyone has it, that it hasn't always been here, that all the reasons we can't have nice things could easily carry the eon ...

"But as I keep saying, I need to quit philosophy; it's beyond my reach; we have theorems about decisionmaking under uncertainty that imply there has to be some exchange rate describing how many minutes of sunshine and happiness are worth how many minutes of being eaten alive by predators, but the part of me that doesn't want to be hurt and the part of me that knows math aren't well-integrated enough to name any particular figure. And luckily, it doesn't matter; my actions for the near-future are already determined; I'm going to establish an income, tithe ten percent of it to well-chosen causes, and bask in the warm glow of discharged moral responsibility. As I keep saying, there's plenty of shiny math and computer science to do that has nothing to do with the ugly real world; someone else, someone stronger can concern themselves with the moral law."

"You might underestimate the degree to which pure math and theoretical computer science are actually moral philosophy."

"But a lot of it isn't. Group theory, not game theory; big-O complexity, not Kolmogorov complexity."

One thought on “The Demandingness Objection

  1. Totally tangential, but

    >care/harm foundation

    Be careful with that. You say yourself that you're not qualified to think about morality. Therefore I advise not making or agreeing with confident statements that X is the only valuable thing, and W, Y, Z are fake. It seems much more prudent to me to say "I don't know what the correct moral theory is, but I'll err on the side of valuing everything that people seem to value."

    Of course I have little reason to believe that's what's in your mind, but I've seen it before like that, and I think it's a mistake to enshrine the blind spots of your religion as Moral Facts.



    >(general theme)

    I interpret the demandingness objection as an important clue that *you've forgotten something important* that you care about. I suspect (based on your comments and how these things tend to go) that you are overvaluing the signaling-inflated value of altruism, and undervaluing personal values like security, comfort, wealth, and freedom from responsibility.

    Maybe you think those values aren't real and the things people *say* are what matters, even if they only say them for personal status gain (modulo ev-cog boundary). But as you say, moral philosophy is Hard.

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