Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Ancient vs modern ethics: a comparison

September 17, 2015

Ethics As The Enlightenment Of The Dark Side

Morality is about the behaviors (“mores”; from “mos” genitive, “moris”; one’s disposition, manners, customs) which have long been viewed as best to the group. Thus morality is the software which (is viewed as) enabling group survival best. The word “morality” was coined by Cicero, and duplicated the etymology of the term used by the Greeks for the same purpose: “ethics”.

Ethics is the most important field for our times, as the power (kratos) of Sapiens is reaching some sort of singularity, from creating transgender people to wrecking the climate, let alone soon making quantum computers (and thus Artificial Consciousness).

All humans come equipped with an intrinsic, default ethics: human ethology, selected by millions, tenths of millions of years, of biological evolution. It’s the divinity inside. Still, culture enables it.

Our lives are influenced by, and, to a large extent made of, how we act. However, “life” is more general than just “acts”. It’s also all what was, and is experienced, felt, all what is imagined, dreamed for, and desired. Thus, our actions are often predicted by our inclinations. Indeed, one should go back to the Ancient Greek notion that philosophy and ethics are all about how we live. More than simply how we act.

Socrates is widely viewed as the father of, all too much of philosophy. All too much, indeed, because Socrates made a huge mistake. Socrates believed that lack of goodness was just about ignorance. Well, true, ignorance can cause a lot of evil. But was Stalin just ignorant? Ignorance is not what defined Stalin. Malevolence is more like it. Malevolent enough to crush Hitler, among other feats.

Hence malevolence does not need ignorance. It often does better without it. Had he been smarter, Hitler could have killed much more people: ignorance curtailed his achievements.

Evil is its own divinity, its own fundamental cause. Socrates, who valued knowledge so much, completely ignored the Dark Side. And that ignorance was, indeed, evil.

Ignoring the Dark Side is a mistake that neither Christianism nor Islamism committed… Perhaps to excess (as they both seem to laud it: both the Bible and the Qur’an have “verses of the Sword”, which, in both religions, required to kill “unbelievers”; see Luke 19; 27, and Sura 5 verse 9).

In any case, the Dark Side is real, and not very surprising in a species which reach supremacy by eating other animals. Ethics always ignored it at its own risk. As Socrates found out when he had to die, for his naivety in ignoring the Dark Side. Of his own students!

There are more comments to be made about the essay below:

  1.  Kant’s silly metaphysics of the “moral imperative“, up in the air, yet brought to ground as obscene submission to authority, helped to bring Nazism… In view of not just the blatant evidence, but according to what the Nazis themselves pretended (Nietzsche seemed to have guessed Kantian “morality” would lead to this unfathomable disasters, hence his wild attacks against what he condemned as German herd mentality).
  2. Not only did Nazism sink nearly all pretense to ethical authority that most of German inspired philosophy could have, but it revealed ethical problems similar to the famous Melian Dialogue, but writ much larger, and even more ominous.
  3. The discovery of ethology, and in particular human ethology, (ought to have) changed the entire field of ethics. No serious philosopher can pretend otherwise. And this brings us right back to the contemplation of the Dark Side, one of the two pillars human supremacy rests on, as if Atlas on two legs.

Patrice Ayme’

How to Be a Stoic

ethicsEthics — as a branch of philosophy — means a very different thing today than it did once. And that, perhaps, is a mistake. There is an excellent article over at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by John-Stewart Gordon, discussing the topic, that is very much worth checking out. Here are the highlights.

The first, and arguably most important, thing to understand about how the Greco-Romans conceived of ethics is that they regarded it as the study of how to live a happy life, not (as in the modern sense) the study of which actions are right or wrong. Gordon mentions the example of “justice,” which the ancients saw as a character trait (a virtue), not as the idea of people having rights.

Accordingly, it is interesting to note that the words “ethics” and “morality” have revealing roots: the first one comes from the Greek êthos, a word related to our idea of character…

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August 26, 2015

Forget Sisyphus’ Dreary Myth, Embrace The Happiness Strategy:

Far from being a sin, could happiness be not just fun, but a duty? I will propose that happiness is, indeed, a duty. Happiness is both a cerebral and social necessity. Let’s start with its social link.

When an animal suffers, or at least, when an animal is not happy, it is likely that it is either under aggression, and, or, needs to get into some significant action (taking some risk to go somewhere unusual, even if that animal is only an herbivore).

In either case, action, and, a fortiori, suffering put the animal, human or not, into an aggressive neurohormonal state, or cocktail of aggressive states (notice in passing that it is not always a bad thing: action, or even suffering, are often needed for everybody’s good!). Thus, someone’s unhappiness often ends up as somebody’s else suffering. Unhappiness is not just immoral, and asocial, unhappiness starts a chain reaction of unhappiness.

No Laugh, No Love, Nor Mind In Full

No Laugh, No Love, Nor Mind In Full

In human life, suffering is ubiquitous, unavoidable: born in pain, die in pain, with quite a bit of pain, Sturm und Angst, aging and degeneracy in between. So suffering always stands at the ready. Ready to help us not to settle too hopelessly into routine. Suffering, or the threat thereof, is always ready to enrich our minds, be it only with appendicitis, or a broken ankle, we don’t need to encourage it too much.

Happiness, though, precisely because of the ubiquitousness of suffering, is more tricky: it requires more of our enthusiastic cooperation, and encouragement. Happiness calls onto creativity to exist, and overwhelm the pain out there. Not by eschewing the world, as monks and Buddhists propose, but by engaging it enough, to bring up the neurohormones of happiness (Endo cannabinoids, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Endorphin, GABA, Serotonin, Adrenaline, Nitrogen Oxide, “laughing gas“, etc.).

Happiness cannot tolerate too much moderation (consider the Adrenaline above, a chemical known to make a dead heart jump into action, or Dopamine, which cocaine, methamphetamines, boost, to create effect).

Moderation is debilitating, especially in large quantities. Happiness instead embraces immoderately the best aspects that life has to offer, and run away with them. (Creation, in particular necessitates to run away; as our society tries to run away from the encroachment of robots and plutocrats, creation will be needed ever more. Socially good creation is entangled with happiness, while unhappiness is entangled with war hormones and neural patterns and organs.)

But what of the other cerebral consequences of happiness? Happiness is a facilitator of survival. Epidemiological statistics show this.

Wisdom is, first of all, about being as smart in one’s behavior, as one can be, given the circumstances. An example is the six passengers in the Thalys train who just fought the heavily armed terrorist. They acted wisely, and, in this case, it meant that they acted decisively, fiercely, and with maximum violence: first two Frenchmen engaged the fanatic in combat, as it came out of the toilet. A Franco-American professor in his fifties, grabbed the AK 47 automatic machine gun, and ran away with it, and got shot through his entire left side for his trouble. Then the two U.S. servicemen, helped by another American, and a Brit followed, while the terrorist’s two guns jammed. The latter four heroes already got the Legion of Honor. As the 62 year old Brit pointed out, jumping on the terrorist, and hitting his head and choking him until he got unconscious, was the wise thing to do. Sometimes, extreme physical violence is the right activity to bring survival. This is a truism. Yet, in that case, happy meant punchy.

But what does the will to survival in the individual or the society have to do with? Happiness. Who wants to defend a sad life?

Salvador Dali noticed that the Nazis’ will to start a world war had to do with the desire to lose it. I agree. It was not just hatred, cupidity, and the stampeding of the herd, which characterized Nazism. Germans had long been unhappy, and had long built a cultural anthropology of unhappiness (thanks to the fascist and racist political system which ruled them, much of it straight from Eighteenth Century hyper-militaristic dictatorial Prussia and its ingrained hatred against Jews and Poles). German unhappiness brought forth the cultivation of a war-like society (a poisonous, but delicious fruit of which is higher efficiency).

Something striking about the four Anglo-Saxon heroes of the train above, is that they all seem happy in life. This is reflected by the inner strength they exhibited after the harrowing circumstances they had been through.

Without that inner happiness, the four heroes would have valued their lives less, thus valued life in general less, hence would have been less keen to defend theirs, and other people’s, lives (remember the connection of happiness with Adrenaline).

Happiness is not just a luxury, a reward, it’s a safety, even a security. not just for the individual, but for the community at large.

Socrates said the unexamined life was not worth living. Indeed, it never was, and never will. For a human being, to live is to examine. But with what is life examined? Intelligence. And the better examination is rendered possible only by greater intelligence. And what brings maximum intelligence? Experiencing the world in full.

The Romans knew this well. Even in their baths, they had a frigidarium, an ice-cold bath. And a caldarium, a very hot bath. Life, even at the baths, was not just all about the tepidarium, the tepid bath.

Sadness, unhappiness, or the tepidarium, a tepid life, only brings the input of just part of the world. Thus they make minds which are only partial (for example, only war-like). Such half minds are legions. Hitler was typical: more or less a quasi orphan, failed artist, bum, and then a shell-shocked, gazed soldier, his experience from the world, lots of unhappiness, and war, was all what his mind was made from (Stalin, or Lenin had somewhat similar war-like, dejected, unhappy backgrounds).

Sadness brings up the war-like instincts, hence the fascist reflex (to make one out of the many). Here is the answer Estienne de La Boétie was looking for, when he wondered why people accepted to live in servitude to an oligarchy. In Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-Dictator), La Boétie asserted that tyrants had power because people granted it to them. I have proposed a mechanism to explain why it is so. And lack of happiness is central to it.

Happiness brings other aspects to the interaction with the world, which sadness can never reveal. Happy aspects, unhappiness alone never brings. Happiness allows to learn more form the world, it makes the mind in full.

The happy mind is a mind in full.

In a nuclear chain reaction, each nuclear fission, which is caused by a neutron’s impact, in turn creates, in the average, more than one neutron, which strike other nuclei, etc. Nobel Laureate Irene Curie discovered the chain reaction in the particular case of Uranium 235 in 1937 (although many sexist males preferred to attribute the discovery to Otto Hahn, who got the Nobel for it, it’s clearly Irene who taught Otto, through years of heated epistolary exchanges).

Unhappiness has a much more devastating amplification potential than its equivalent with radionuclides. Indeed an unhappy human being can make many other human beings suffer. Not just a couple. This is all the more true in a representative democracy, that is, an oligarchy. After he was elected Chancellor in January 1933, the pathologically unhappy Adolf Hitler was in good position to make hundreds of millions suffer, and not just his niece (who escaped through suicide, with her uncle’s gun).

If happiness is so important socially and for the blossoming of the individual mind, should not it be viewed as more than a right, but even as a moral duty?

The preceding was inspired by the neurohormonal theory of the mind, according to which neurohormonal states do not just characterize the mind, but are determined, with immense inertia, by exterior and inner circumstances. Given the neurohormonal theory of mind, it’s rather self-obvious that happiness is a duty. Without it, it is not that obvious. It’s probably why the notion, that happiness is a moral duty, not just for kicks, seems to have been ignored by the main philosophical ideologies.

Happiness is right in all ways. It even enables to learn. How? The road to truth is paved with errors, painfully learned. Only happiness makes us willing to embrace errors with an open mind. And wish for more, more errors, as we wish to learn more, learning to happily bounce from pains and disappointments to some new, unexpected, more exciting, freshly instructive errors.

No pain, no gain, yet, no happy, no bouncy. If one wants further gains, one has to accept further pain, and that’s possible only with a sunny, happy disposition. To learn ever more, means to be able to suffer pains gladly, ready to bring some more. Happiness is not just about preferring fun to dread, or about blocking reprisals of hatred against doom and gloom. Happiness is an epistemological need.

Patrice Ayme’


Killer Robots Inevitable, Resistance Futile

July 29, 2015

Over one thousands experts, professors, renowned intellectuals, Stephen Hawking, even Elon Musk, the unavoidable Noam Chomsky, and, ironically enough, plenty of the actors of the computer industry, have signed a naive, hypocritical, and ineffective letter to ban “autonomous killing systems” (the letter is to be presented soon). Their agenda? Mass distraction, to divert us from the real problem, while making us believe that they really care. If they really cared, they would promote the solution I advocate, the one and only.

They pontificate: “The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI [Artificial Intelligence] arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable.” Is that the key question? What about the CO2 crisis, with its melting poles and increasingly acid oceans.

Autonomous Killing Systems Already Exist, But Direct Democracy Does Not

Autonomous Killing Systems Already Exist, But Direct Democracy Does Not

As if there was not a continual Artificial Intelligence arms race? There has been one, since 1940, or so. And there better be, if democracies want to stay on top, and world war avoided. Automated killing machines are moving swiftly from science fiction to reality…

The deployment of such systems is – practically if not legally – feasible within years, not decades,

Excuse me?  The PHALANX anti-aircraft, and anti-missile system is an automated fire-control system enabling it to automatically search for, detect, track, engage, and kill. Entirely autonomously, yes. It’s nickname is “R2-D2”, from the half smart robot by the same name in Star Wars. All major capital ships of the USA, and those of 16 allies, are equipped with it. Each American aircraft carrier carries several, covering all approaches.

So what are the worthies talking about?

Nothing. They are just posing as good people. They want us to believe they deserve our trust. They are smart enough to know no state which can equip itself with autonomous killing systems will hesitate to do so. So their approach is both immoral, thoroughly hypocritical, and deeply ineffective.

Forbidding democracies to use autonomous killing systems will make those a monopoly of dictatorships. It’s a no-go approach, as far as any half-smart military is concerned.

So what is the correct approach, oh great know-it all?

Granted that democracies will be anxious to equip themselves with autonomous killing systems, be it only to save soldiers’ lives, how can we make sure such systems will not veer into the situation depicted in the Terminator or Matrix movies, where machines take over?

Very simple: Direct Democracy. Direct Democracy is the solution to rule over robots, not just plutocrats. If every citizen is involved in the utilization, and the decisions to use such autonomous systems, then we will be as safe as safe can be.

The worthies and their petition want to distract from the one and only obvious solution. Instead, they propose a pious, ill-informed vow. Which will make the deep state, the intelligence agencies, the military and its contractors laugh derisively, in the leading democracies.

Right now, very few individuals are in the know about how technology is used to subjugate human beings. A handful of Senators in the USA, a handful at the White House. The rest of those who know are in the military. As long as this goes on, the temptation to use technology to serve a few, and their robotic servants will be irresistible. The remedy is that we all be involved, and in control. We need wikicontrol.

Patrice Ayme’


January 19, 2014

Someone in a philosophical forum, asked: ”Is ethics necessary?”

It goes without saying that ethics is necessary in any society to lay under law and order. But it does not stop there. Ethological studies have shown unambiguously that intelligent animals have a sense of ethics. (How does that sense of ethics arise is not clear to official science; philosophically, it is, though.)

Ethics is, to a great extent, within standard deviation, something we tend to do. It’s necessary, because we are born, and raised, most of the time, out of love.

A “moderator” of the forum I took part in, “Spiral Out” spiraled my idea out, by declaring that many non-human primates kill young not related to them, just because they are not their own. He asked whether killing the young was my idea of ethical behavior.

I had said: “tend to”. From the killing ape’s point of view, his behavior is ethical. Why? It’s clear that killing the young will make the female more amenable, by terminating what the enraged male perceives as her unhealthy obsession with the baby.

Ethics, comes from the Greek “ethos”, just like moral, which comes from the Latin “mores”. Both “ethos” and “mores” mean the same thing:  what is customary. Females, by the way, intuit all of this, and try to alleviate the problem with loving tactics to dangerous males, or by making alliances with other males: it’s very complicated, but they cope.

Yet, paradoxically, I also do believe that cruelty is a fundamental tendency in human (“natural”) ethics (see “Natural Born Killers”, a movie… That natural cruelty was also one of the main points of De Sade’s philosophy, let alone Greek or Roman philosophies). By coincidence, I just wrote an essay about that. There is no contradiction, ever since all is fair in love and war. Cruelty is one dimension, goodness another. So is empathy. I made no mystery that the Good Side dominates, although, sometimes, the Dark Side is necessary.

Spiral Out then pirouetted, approving what I said, and proclaiming that is was precisely because of that he was a “moral relativist”. Well, I am absolutely not a moral relativist, and the following is why.

Morality is not Special Relativity, with moving frames, here and there, and all uniform motions are relative.

Indeed, humans have always lived in groups. All advanced animals (no exception) cannot survive without a society. That society can be reduced to mommy (say with leopards).

The local social group, and even the species, or the environment constitute absolute reference frames for what is customary. Why? Simply because social, or species specific, or environmental survival forbids some behaviors. For example if apes killed all youngsters who feel unrelated, the species would die off. It is indeed observed that most advanced primates’ females have many sex partners, and thus an ethical modus vivendi was found.

In light of these absolutes, the social group, the species, the environment, ethics cannot be all over the place. Morality is actually, within standard deviation, and within standard circumstances, absolute.

How can morality be both absolute and relative? Before I call Quantum Theory to the rescue (it provides with a model), let me emphasize that morality is not a law. Morality is not a measurement.

Morality is, intrinsically, an average. Morality is the average of happenstance with moral significance, namely those that can enter said average.

The correct mechanical analogy is with Quantum Mechanics. In Quantum Mechanics, trajectories, and presence, are all over the place: they fill up all the accessible universe with complex waves. Those Quantum waves cannot be measured. However the probability of an occurrence is strictly determined. The latter is called a measurement.

Similarly, morality is strictly determined, as an outcome, although events of a moral character fill up the entire space that behavior can access.

SS assassinating civilians in extermination camps thought they were acting with superlative morality. However, they were wrong. Why? On a species scale, they were completely immoral, because, had other men in a situation of power behaved the same, exterminating whoever they could exterminate, humanity would have been exterminated.

As it turned out, they were even immoral relative to their chosen reference group: the Second World War, thus Nazism, exterminated more than ten million Germans.

The Quantum shows that not all that computes can be measured. The complex probability Quantum waves cannot be measured, only be computed with (after making the hypothesis of their existence). Only the end probability can be forecast, and measured. This has caused enormous confusion in Physics, so the point is not obvious. A similar confusion is at the root of the perception of moral relativism.

Is there a relationship between morality and the Quantum, beyond this analogy? Yes. Local morality, in the instant, as the expression of Free Will, is obviously a Quantum phenomenon. Thus the illusion of moral relativism is born out of the Quantum. And, like the Quantum, ends up with a classical world.

Hence Greco-Roman etymology correctly abstracted the wisdom of eons… and common sense. That morality, and a sense of justice is absolute is increasingly confirmed by ethological studies. Capuchin Monkeys, for example, have a very developed sense of equity. They get very angry when one of their fellows is treated better, for no good reason. They have been known to throw at the experimenter’s face whatever came handy when a lousy radish was offered as reward while the fellow next door got a delicious grape for the same task.

Thus, when the pitchforks come after the plutocrats, we will finally honor what we were born with.

Patrice Ayme’