kbog comments on Hi, I'm Luke Muehlhauser. AMA about Open Philanthropy's new report on consciousness and moral patienthood - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 14 July 2017 11:12:13PM *  0 points [-]

We can't solve moral philosophy. All we can do is take pragmatic steps of acceptable cost to reduce our uncertainty as we aim to (as I say in the report) "execute our mission to 'accomplish as much good as possible with our giving' without waiting to first resolve all major debates in moral philosophy."

Yeah, but what you're doing is antithetical to that. You're basically assuming that you have solved a major debate in philosophy and not paying attention to uncertainty. At the very least, we should know more clearly if Open Phil is going to be an Ideal Advisor Theory grantmaking organization from now on. Meta-ethics is what you use to figure out how to decide what your mission should be in the first place. Introducing it as this stage and in this manner is kind of weird.

Another question you seem to be asking is why Open Phil chose to produce a report with this framing first, as opposed to "a general overview of what many [meta-ethical] views would say." I think this is because ideal advisor theory is especially popular among the people at Open Phil who engage most deeply with the details of our philosophical framework for giving. As far I know, all these people (myself included) have substantial uncertainty over meta-ethical views and normative moral theories (see footnote 12 on normative uncertainty), but (as far I know) we put unusually high "weight" on ideal advisor theories — either as a final "theory" of normative morality, or as a very important input to our moral thinking.

To be quite honest it is hard to believe that a significant portion of the assorted staff at Open Phil independently reviewed philosophical arguments and independently arrived at the same relatively niche meta-ethical view. It sounds a lot more like an information cascade.

One more comment on ideal advisor theory: What I mean by ideal advisor theory might be less narrow than what you're thinking of. For example, on my meaning, ideal advisor theory could (for all I know) result in reflective equilibria as diverse as contractarianism, deontological ethics, hedonic utilitarianism, egoism, or a thorough-going nihilism, among other views.

But that just makes the whole methodology even more confusing since you are talking about meta-ethics and empirical issues at the same time, while not talking about the normative issues in the middle, and then coming to normative conclusions. If you really use ideal advisor theory as a meta-ethical approach then you should use it to determine a model of normative ethics, and then match that with science on consciousness. Two people with the same meta-ethical views could have very different normative views but you're not explicating this possibility. At the same time, you might have the same normative views as someone else but there is no way to tell since you're only talking about meta-ethics.

A final clarification: another reason I discuss my meta-ethical views so much (albeit mostly in the appendices) is that I suspect one's ethical views unavoidably infect one's way of discussing the relevant empirical data, and so I chose to explain my ethical views in part so that people can interpret my presentation of the empirical data while having some sense of what biases I may bring to that discussion as a result of my ethical views.

Ethical views might, but it's not clear how meta-ethical views would.