Choose a topic

.. Epistemology
Language and thought

.. Art
Fake art

.. Cognition
General Artificial Intelligence
Observing My Experience

.. Epistemology
Consciousness defined
Dialectics and Evolution
Intentional Stance
Training vs learning
What is a Vegetable?

.. Epistmology
Dire Warnings

.. Evolution
Life is Amazing
What is a Species?
Why are Tropical Birds So Colorful

.. HUM
A Mind

.. Society
Adversarial Legislatures
Cut Energy Use
Emotional Plague
Improving Democracy
Jesus and the Money Changers
Merry Christmas
Misinformation and disinformation
Moral Hazard
Red flags
Red Rover Red Rover
Reusable Bags
Sleeping in a tent
Social Media

Culture is Ordinary

AI and Art
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Excellence is a Plateau
Is this picture real?
NonFungible Tokens
Public Art
Tearing Down Statues
What is Art?
Working With Reality

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.
Bird Brains
Bounded Rationality
Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
Developmental Processes
Emergence and Cognition
Gender dysphoria
I Lost My Knife
Incomplete Information and Stories
Intelligence and Motivation
Is free will an illusion?
Natural Law
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On Affordances
Pencil and Paper
Post Phenomenology
Reflective Equilibrium
Return of the Law of Forms
Shifting Meanings
Structures of Understanding
Taking Things on Faith
The Hard Problem
The I Love You Gesture
The Imagined Order
The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.
Thinking about medical procedures
Thinking About Risk
Underdetermination and Redundancy
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?
What is going on?

A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
Everyday Communism
Invisible Hand
Job Creators
Job Destroyers
Money and Value
Money is Different
National Accounts
Necessary Production
Paper Wealth
Post Capitalist Society
Profit Motive Fails
Rentier Capitalism
Social Wealth vs Surplus Value
Spending Money Into Existence
The Metaphysics of Money
The Ontology of Debt
Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
Semiotics and Body Language
The Curious Ineffectiveness of Facts
The Past and the Future.
Uncertainty and Unpredictability
Whatever happened to The Truth?

Body Plans
Competition and Cooperation
Dr Malthus would be pleased
Error Correction
Evolution Defended
Evolution is not Religion
Evolution of Cars
Forces of Nature
Is Natural Selection Obsolete?
Politics and Evolution
The Evolution of Purpose.
The Problem with Natural Selection.
The Source of Bad Behavior
Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
Freedom and Badness
Freedom and Morality
Freedom From and Freedom To
Freedom in the Age of Convoys
Libertarian Coercion

10 Views of Landscape
Affect and Effect
I pay rent.
Listening to Corn
The Reform vs Revolution Paradox
What is Public Schooling For?

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
Moral Realism.
What do we owe animals?


Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
Philosophy Buds
Sincerely Held Beliefs
Sorites Paradox
Stereoscopic Vision and The Hard Problem
The Gorilla in the Room of Science
The Purpose of Science
What is Going On?

If It Walks Like a Duck
Right Wing Freedom
The Sovereign Citizen
Tyranny of the Majority


Constructed Life
Correlation Wins
Quack Doctors
The Great Shattering
The Material Space
Thinking about Interconnection
Too Small to See
Watching Pigeons
Weirdness in Physics

A Job
A society needs a government.
Babies and Bathwater
Belly of the Beast
Cultural Appropriation
Drag Story Tellers
Family Values
Governance and Power
Griefers and Misinformation and Disinformation
I Distrust the News
Inclusion and Christmas
Its a Free Country
Life Extension
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Open Society and Falsification
Parents, Children, and Community
Rethinking Rights
Rules in a Knife Fight?
Sex and Gender
Should We Go to Mars?
Social vs Individual Responsibility.
Society and The State
Society evolved
Spheres of Influence
The Care and Feeding of Free Speech
The Collingridge Dilemma
The Common Good
The Dual Meaning of Power
The Homeless
The Problem with Hedonism
The Rule of Law.
Thoughts on Justice
To the Moon
Trial by jury
Virtue Signalling
We Live in the Present
What is to be said?
What made freedom a bad word?
Why is there a shortage of nurses?
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
Problems with Universal Basic Income
Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

Beyond Rules Based Morality

No absolutes

At my friend Rhiannon's wonderful weekly course on our philosophic precursors we've been working up to last week's lecture about the categorical imperative. This is the idea that we should only do things that would be good if everybody did them.

This follows on earlier lectures about morality that involves the concept that we are free because we have a Will which enables us to decide what to do.

Moral actions are what people with good Wills do. (I'm paraphrasing of course) So the lecture on the categorical imperative sort of terminated a long argument with the idea that you can tell which people have good Wills and therefore are moral by checking whether there moral actions satisfy the categorical imperative.

That seems easy enough a nice objective check but there's a fly in the ointment it's pretty hard to apply because it's an absolute principle. Wouldn't it be great if nobody ever lied and we were used to that and lived it as our normal way of living? Every time I've participated in a discussion about trying to live without anyone telling a lie nobody thinks it works.

For instance sometimes a lie has a harmless result and prevents a harm.
For instance, if your sweetie asks if you think she looks good, the proper answer is "Yes".
Believe me it doesn't work to get into an open discussion about what "looking good" means I've tried :-(
Is it more moral to not tell the white lie?

Why? It's not obvious to me.

I don't want to debate that now that debate is still going strong after hundreds of years (maybe for thousands depending on how you interpret people) and we only have an hour. These kinds of problems arose for Kant and he was working in a very old intellectual tradition of trying to ground morality in some sort of absolute necessity. Morality was seen as being so ungenuine if it wasn't absolute it wasn't worthy of being called morality.

Kant was trying to base morality in logical necessity that morality MUST logically have certain characteristics.

The ancient Greeks thought about morality from a different context. They based morality on the dictates of gods and concepts about the meaning of perfection and what it means to be human.

I'm sure they ran into the same sorts of problems our contemporary world runs into when it comes to the dictates of gods; different gods dictate different things. But they also dealt with more philosophic problems.
For instance; is a moral dictate good because it comes from a god, or did the god dictate it because it was good?
The problem is circularity. Why does a god think anything is good?
Is it just playing on a whim?
And if not is the god really the source of morality?

I don't know all of the ways people have tried to solve the problems raised by the concept that morality is a matter of absolute rules. I am of the impression though that thousands of years of effort had lead to no solution to the problem. Finding no solution to very tricky problems for a long time is no reason to give up on them. But an interesting thing has happened among thinkers who think about morality there has been a paradigm shift an implication of that shift is that the ancient problems about morality become just irrelevant in the new paradigm they aren't even wrong.

We can now conceptualize morality within an evolutionary context instead of a rules based one. It's not about a different thing than morality the kinds of concerns that are considered to be moral are the same in both paradigms.

But the account of how it is possible for those concerns to be moral concerns is very different.
Instead of moral concerns being grounded in logic and necessity moral, concerns are seen to be grounded in the attitudes and capacities we have to have to live as we do as social animals.

Our moral capacity is not seen as separate from our other cognitive capacities. One of the cognitive operations that we do all the time in many different contexts is interpret. Data comes into a system and is interpreted and goes out as meaning. That meaning can easily become data for other interpreters in a cascade of many layers. Neuroscience shows us that the neocortex is just that sort of cascade of interpreters on a physical level.

Sometimes we interpret things in terms of reality we see objects and smell smells and hear sounds and respond to those interpretations of data. Sometimes we interpret things in terms of language the sounds and things we see get interpreted and become meaningful in a linguistic wayand there has to be ambiguity in that because sometimes the same sound can come from different sources.

If I hear a sound that might mean "I keel you!" I have to understand something about what made the sound. If it comes from the TV set it means one thing. If it comes from the person before me it means another thing. And if comes from the wind blowing up a canyon it means something else altogether.

There is no absolute meaning to sounds that we interpret in a linguistic way. It seems that morality works the same way. We get information and interpret and that interpretation varies a lot according to circumstances and is prone to illusion and misinterpretation.

The difference between an evolution grounding for morality and a rules base is that the former is not based on absolutes and so doesn't run into paradoxes. Conflicting interpretations are a natural outcome of a system that works like that and aren't a problem for it.

We know perfectly well what it's like to live in a world where people have all sorts of conflicting interpretations and why the interpretations differ. We gave up on the idea that somehow words have intrinsic meaning long ago. Isn't it time we lost the idea that morality is about things that have intrinsic meaning?

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.