After the last three – rather damming – posts of mine, I thought a reconciliatory tone in an effort to being more constructive would be nice. In fact a great starting point for this will be to highlight what ‘we’ for the broadest definition of ‘we’ in fact do or even can want and have in common. Rational morality is an explicit effort to achieve good through reason and is based on two fundamental assumptions or axioms:

  1. existence is preferable over non-existence (or existence as necessary precondition for any want or desire)
  2. being rational is the best way to achieve one’s goals (including the goal of wanting to exist)

How about the SIAI et al? Not different at all it turns out:

In support of 1.)

In support of 2.)

  • The entire notion of wanting to create greater than human intelligence is in the realization of the truth of assumption 2 and represented in quotes such as this one by Nick Bostrom: “Superintelligence may be the last invention humans ever need to make.”
  • The matter being deemed of such great importance that the Singularity Institute and the Future of Humanity Institute have created and devoted it to “refining the art of human rationality – the art of thinking”

I happen to be convinced that the power of these two statements combined is enough to ignore the is/ought problem and get away with it. Ayn Rand for example did a great job by at least stating the two fundamental values of ‘life’ or ‘existence’ and ‘reason’ explicitly. But where did she end up taking a wrong turn? In Michael Shermer’s view it is misplaced absolutism:

“The cultic flaw in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is not in the use of reason, or in the emphasis on individuality, or in the belief that humans are self motivated, or in the conviction that capitalism is the ideal system. The fallacy in Objectivism is the belief that absolute knowledge and final Truths are attainable through reason, and therefore there can be absolute right and wrong knowledge, and absolute moral and immoral thought and action.”

In my view her absolutism was not her downfall, but her simply being wrong by ignoring the implications of evolutionary dynamics as a crucial condistion of our existence. Her many character flaws – potentially driven by the key error in glorifying selfishness – in no way invalidate the basic insight however. Personally, I would never impose rational morality as an absolute on anyone, but would be quick to point out that if you do not want to exist nor have a desire to be rational then rational morality has in fact little to offer you. Non existence and irrational behavior being so trivial goals to achive after all that it would hardly require – nor value and thus seek for that mater – well thought out advice.

4 comments on “What do (can) we want?

  1. Pingback: Rational Morality » Rational spirituality

  2. Pingback: Rational Morality » On freedom in the evolving universe

  3. Pingback: Rational Morality » The future of human evolution revisited

  4. Pingback: Rational Morality » The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

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