Comment by seanwelsh77 on Privileging the Question · 2013-06-15T00:13:46.930Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Seriously, how much effort goes into voting? Perhaps an hour at the most?

Compared to how much tax gets taken off you every day it seems that having some minor influence in guiding the assembly that sets the budget for the spending of said tax is worth your while. If only to sack a representative assembly that displeases you.

What virtues are displayed by not voting? Sloth? Indifference?

If no one voted how would democratic government work?

Does voting increase utility? In a single case not by much but in the aggregate the people can remove a government that displeases them. This is surely better than the alternative (shoot them out as in Syria today).

The fact that Super PACs pay money to persuade people to vote speaks to the value of your vote not its worthlessness.

I think there are reasonable grounds for making the modest effort required to vote.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-14T23:05:11.863Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Rule consequentialism is what a call a multi-threaded moral theory - a blend of deontology and consequentialism if you will. I advocate multi-threaded theories. The idea that there is a correct single-threaded theory of morality seems implausible. Moral rules to me are a subset of modal rules for survival-focused agents.

To work out if something is right run a bunch of 'algorithms' (in parallel threads if you like) not just one. (No commitment made to Turing computability of said 'algorithms' though...)


#assume virtue ethics

If I do X what virtues does this display/exhibit?

#assume categorical imperative

If everyone does X how would I value the world then?

#assume principle of utility

Will X increase the greatest happiness for the greatest number?

#assume golden rule

If X were done to me instead of my doing X would I accept this?


If I do X will this trigger any emotional reaction (disgust, guilt, shame, embarrassment, joy, ecstasy, triumph etc)


Is there is law or sanction if I do X?


Have I done X before, how did that go?


If I do X what impact will that have on relationships I have?

#motives goal

Do I want to do X?

#interest welfare prudence

Is X in my interest? Safe? Dangerous etc


Does X have value? To me, to others etc

Sometimes one or two reasons will provide a slam dunk decision. It's illegal and I don't want to do it anyway. Othertimes, the call is harder.

Personally, I find a range of considerations more persuasive than one. I am personally inclined to sentimentalism at the meta-ethical tier and particularism at the normative and applied ethical tiers.

Of course, strictly speaking particularism implies that normative ethical theories are false over-generalizations and that a theory of reasons rests on a theory of values. Values are fundamentally emotive. No amount of post hoc moral rationalization will change that.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Many Weak Arguments vs. One Relatively Strong Argument · 2013-06-14T04:46:25.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't buy the assumption that seems to be implied that many arguments have to be weak and a single argument has to be strong.

Why not have many strong reasons instead of one weak reason?

Certainly for complex questions I find multi-threaded answers more convincing than single-threaded ones.

Fox over hedgehog for me.

In terms of picking a major, do something you enjoy that you can conceivably use to get a job. You can actually get a job with a philosophy degree. I did... after I quit accounting because it was too darn boring...

Comment by seanwelsh77 on The Useful Idea of Truth · 2013-06-14T04:20:09.400Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Restrict propositions to observable references? (Or have a rule about falsifiablility?)

The problem with the observable reference rule is that sense can be divorced from reference and things can be true (in principle) even if un-sensed or un-sensable. However, when we learn language we start by associating sense with concrete reference. Abstractions are trickier.

It is the case that my sensorimotor apparatus will determine my beliefs and my ability to cross-reference my beliefs with other similar agents with similar sensorimotor apparatus will forge consensus on propositions that are meaningful and true.

Falsifiability is better. I can ask another human is Orwell post-Utopian? They can say 'hell no he is dystopian'... But if some say yes and some say no, it seems I have an issue with vagueness which I would have to clarify with some definition of criteria for post-Utopian and dystopian.

Then once we had clarity of definition we could seek evidence in his texts. A lot of humanities texts however just leave observable reference at the door and run amok with new combinations of sense. Thus you get unicorns and other forms of fantasy...

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-14T02:24:49.675Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A difficulty of utilitarianism is the question of felicific exchange rates. If you cast morality as a utility function then you are obliged to come up with answers to bizarre hypothetical questions like how many ice-creams is the life of your first born worth because you have defined the right in terms of maximized utility.

If you cast morality as a dispute avoidance mechanism between social agents possessed with power and desire then you are less likely to end up in this kind of dead-end but the price of this casting is the recognition that different agents will have different values and that objectivity of morals is not always possible.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-14T02:14:44.177Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Quite so. The OP I think is more concerned about factory farming than the more traditional grazing approaches to cattle. But I think if you push a morality too far up against the hill of human desire it will collapse. Many activists overestimate the "care factor". My ability to care is pretty limited. I can't and won't care about 7 billion other humans on this planet except in the thinnest and most meaningless senses (i.e. stated preferences in surveys which are near worthless) let along the x billion animals. In terms of revealed preferences (where I put my dollars and power) I favour the near and the dear over the stranger and the genetically unrelated.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Robust Cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma · 2013-06-14T02:00:00.340Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fascinating paper. Will there be a release of the code used? I would like to be able to play these games and tinker with the code myself.

Hacking is believing...

I think you should put out a game called Modal Combat!

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-14T01:06:20.632Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have no argument with your desire to establish the most cost-effective way to get the most bang for your bucks. I simply do not accept the premise that it is wrong to eat meat.

Consider the life of a steer in Cape York. It is born the property of a grazier. It is given health care of a sort (dips, jabs, anti-tick treatment). It lives a free life grazing for a few hundred days in fenced enclosures protected by the grazier's guns from predators. Towards the end, it is mustered by jackaroos and jillaroos, shipped in a truck to the lush volcanic grasslands of the Atherton Tableland to be fattened up. On its last day, it is trucked to an abattoir to be stunned and killed.

If the grazier did not exist the steer would not exist. Now I could make some argument about 'utility' but I won't. And indeed there is a distinction between the factory farming you object to (grain-fed beef) versus older ways (grass-fed beef).

I would not like to be given this treatment myself but I am not a domesticated animal. I am not a beast or a dumb animal. I am a top predator. We have evolved to prefer meat and vegetables in our diet. We have arranged the ecosystem to satisfy our desire for meat. I value steers dead, butchered and then grilled or roasted. I have no interest, rational, emotional or otherwise, in funding a life for free steers in the wild.

A fundamental political problem for vegan advocacy is that people enjoy meat and that it is 'natural' to eat it. Now being natural is not a right maker but going against nature and being dependent on vitamin supplements to avoid anemia is not a right maker either. Stick people in the bush with no food and a bow and arrow and they will figure out how to shoot cute kangaroos and koalas quick smart rather than starve. Submit homo sapiens to enough stress and those predator instincts and drives that are suppressed in the civilized ecosystem come to the fore.

Desire drives us all. Argument that goes against basic human desire goes uphill. Vegetarian advocacy has been around for a long time (since Buddha, Mahavira) as have the moral arguments. Alas, human moral functionality is limited. Your research dollars would be better spent on finding an ethical alternative to meat that tastes way better than soy burgers. When vegans can provide a product that rivals that of the butchers in taste and appeal, then they will succeed.

Until then, they are a tiny minority that get recruits and suffers defections at more or less similarly measurable rates. In the meantime, I prefer organic and free-range products.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013) · 2013-05-09T10:42:39.464Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More research...

Gerd Gigerenzer's views on heuristics in moral decision making are very interesting though.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Privileging the Question · 2013-05-01T09:41:24.073Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The will of the few people funding the super PACs which are telling the sheeple what to bleat, in the few states whose result matter.

The sheeple? That is a contemptuous remark. You should withdraw it.

There are no super PACs in my country. We have sensible electoral laws Down Under... Sensible gun laws too. Oh and Medicare for all without any squibbing, mandatory 401ks for all workers. And freedom... Lot of good stuff...

What is your constructive alternative to voting and political activism?

What are you offering? Some cafe society "I am vastly superior to the bleating sheeple masses" pose?

Or I will take a long shot and get rich and buy the country option?

FYI, People did die for the right to own slaves. They LOST. There is a subtle but important difference.

You have to fight to win. You got nothing but rationalizing your chicken out cynicism option.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Privileging the Question · 2013-05-01T09:21:15.731Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your alternative would be to think an aristocratic or meritocratic principle is true. (It's either equal or unequal, right?)

I think we can assume aristocracy is a dead duck along with the Divine Right of Kings and other theological relics.

Meritocracy in some form I believe has been advocated by some utilitarians. People with Oxford degrees get 10 votes. Cambridge 9. Down to the LSE with 2 votes and the common ignorant unlettered herd 1 vote...

This is kind of an epistemocratic voting regime which some think might lead to better outcomes. Alas, no one has been game to try get such laws up. There is little evidence that an electorate of PhDs is any less daft/ignorant/clueless/idle/indifferent on matters outside their specialty than the general public.

From a legal rights perspective, egalitarianism is surely correct. Equal treatment before the law seems a lot easier to defend than unequal treatment.

But put something up that assumes a dis-egalitarian principle and see how it flies. I'd be interested to see if you can come up with something plausible that is dis-egalitarian and up to epistemic scratch...

Hint: plutocracy...

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Privileging the Question · 2013-05-01T09:03:34.222Z · score: -7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Dear Quiochu_Yuan,

I would respectfully urge you to vote. People have died for that right. Wars have been fought for that right. I would put it to you that not voting is an act of great disrespect.

OK. You may differ. But to me, watching the votes get counted and seeing the will of the people get tallied up on election night is a wonderful thing.

(I am politically active. I scrutineer.)

Good people need to get into politics. If they don't, what Aristotle termed a noble profession is left to the dogs and the cynics. Also pols look much different in the flesh than they do on camera. The difference is worth observing closely and personally - not through the lens of what 'the media' think is 'important.'

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Privileging the Question · 2013-05-01T08:52:46.054Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Probably the most important question that can be asked in politics is "how can we produce a perfect society in every which way according to the following list of criteria...."

The kind of questions pols actually think about. (I used to work for one...)

  1. How do I get re-elected?
  2. Which event/announcement relating to the party platform (the list of 'improve society' criteria that the party has approved) will get airtime and make me look good and my opponent in the next race look bad?
  3. Within the current budget what money can I win for my electorate through the normal processes?
  4. Who can I help within the limits of my power and influence and the laws and budget as they are?
  5. What changes to the current party platform (the list of criteria) do we need to make to achieve 1.

Different pols are more or less diligent about these points.

So long as the people can SACK pols. I.e. vote them out. Democratic politics seems to work tolerably well...

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Privileging the Question · 2013-05-01T08:41:49.147Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why has the media privileged these questions? I'd guess that the media is incentivized to ask whatever questions will get them the most views. That's a very different goal from asking the most important questions, and is one reason to stop paying attention to the media.

Journalists are not paid to print the truth. They are paid to sell newspapers. (This correlates to your "most views" idea.)

However, people buy newspapers (and consume other forms of media). People choose to read celebrity gossip and trivia rather than constructive solutions for world peace (and other things you might think 'important'). I think its intellectually lazy to blame the media. They produce for their audience.

Also, there are diverse media with diverse views of what is 'important'. And a lot of people don't want answers to questions. They don't want solutions to problems. They want to be entertained. They want to be amused.

Is this so terrible?

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Morality is Awesome · 2013-05-01T05:08:41.656Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All the more reason to read Candide I would say...

Personally I read Candide as a parody and a satire not anything that pretends for one millisecond to be rational argument.

It's an extended riff on the meme "the best of all possible worlds" and it's a lot of fun.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Morality is Awesome · 2013-05-01T04:21:25.654Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My recollection of Leibniz's view is dim but I recollect that the essence of it is that the perfection of the world is a consequence of the perfection of God. It would reflect poorly on the Omnipotence, Omniscience, Benevolence & Supreme Awesomeness &c of the Deity and Designer if he bashed out some second-rate less than perfectly good (or indeed merely averagely awesome) world. For the benefit of the general readership, the book to read on this is Candide by Voltaire. You will never see rationalists in quite the same way again... :-)

Link to Candide

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Morality is Awesome · 2013-05-01T00:41:26.702Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't either but I find "the best of all possible worlds" concept very interesting along with the related notion God could not possibly create a world that was anything other than "the most awesome of all possible worlds" - given the predicates traditionally ascribed to God.

You can take this is a reductio ad absurdam of the notion of God as many do. But presumably the task of friendly AI (at its most benevolent) must be to perform (or figure out) what actions should be taken to promote awesomeness?

More extravagantly, the task of friendly AI is to 'build God.'

(And get Her right this time :-)

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Morality is Awesome · 2013-05-01T00:11:47.917Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

According to Leibniz, this is the most awesome of all possible worlds.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013) · 2013-04-30T22:16:20.597Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience homo sapiens does not come 'out of a box.' Are you a MacBook Pro? :-)

But seriously, I have seen some interestingly flawed 'decision-making systems' in Psych Wards. And I think Reason (whatever it is taught to be) matters. Reason and Emotion are a tag team in decision making in ethical domains. They do their best work together. I don't think Reason alone (however you construe it) is up to the job of friendly AI.

Of course, bringing Emotion in to ethics has issues. Who is to say whose Emotions are 'valid' or 'correct?'

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013) · 2013-04-30T21:25:23.215Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure why you link rationality with "Academy" (academia?).

Pirsig calls the Academy "the Church of Reason" in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I think there is much evidence to suggest academia has been strongly biased to 'Reason' for most of its recorded history. It is only very recently that research is highlighting the role of Emotion in decision making.

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013) · 2013-04-30T21:21:01.255Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I'm parsing this correctly. Could you expand on it a bit?

You need the Sith parser :-)

I guess the point I am making is that Reason alone is not enough and a lot of what we call Reason is technology derived from the effect on brains on being able to write. There is some interesting research on how cognition and reasoning differs between literate and preliterate people. I think Emotion plays a critical role in decision making. I am not going out to bat for Faith except in the Taras Bulba sense: "I put my faith in my sword and my sword in the Pole!" (The Polish were the enemy of the Cossack Taras Bulba in the ancient Yul Brynner flick I am quoting from.)

Comment by seanwelsh77 on Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013) · 2013-04-25T04:06:05.423Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Less Wrong,

My name is Sean Welsh. I am a graduate student at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch NZ. I was most recently a Solution Architect working on software development projects for telcos. I have decided to take a year off to do a Master's. My topic is Ethical Algorithms: Modelling Moral Decisions in Software. I am particularly interested in questions of machine ethics & robot ethics (obviously).

I would say at the outset that I think 'the hard problem of ethics' remains unsolved. Until it is solved, the prospects for any benign or friendly AI seem remote.

I can't honestly say that I identify as a rationalist. I think the Academy puts for too much faith in their technological marvel of 'Reason.' However, I have a healthy and robustly expressed disregard for all forms of bullshit - be they theist or atheist.

As Confucius said: Shall I teach you the meaning of knowledge? If you know a thing, to know that you know it. And if you do not know, to know that you do not know. THAT is the meaning of knowledge.

Apart from working in software development, I have also been an English teacher, a taxi driver, a tourism industry operator, online travel agent and a media adviser to a Federal politician (i.e. a spin doctor).

I don't mind a bit of biff - but generally regard it as unproductive.