Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Book Review Notes: The Feeling of Value, pass 1

See also the main review for The Feeling of Value.

Here are the notes on my first pass reading The Feeling of Value. I have added comments in blockquotes. Quotes of Rawlette in my notes are set off by --'s.

Feeling of Value notes, pp. 1 - 145

These were written in two files.

Chapter 1

pp. 15 - 16

The high school boy (Hare's example) is told that you can still care about things that have no intrinsic meaning/"mattering". Basically, you can say with your body, subconscious, self, you can trust as though, things matter. But verbally, they don't. Is reality something that is found in words, or do words describe reality, point to it? If the latter, then what Hare and the high school boy do by "having concern for what doesn't matter" is actually relating to things that do matter, and they're only speaking as though they don't. And the things that do matter raise the question "why do these things matter? What is mattering?" which they may or may not recognize, either verbally or really. If they spoke in accordance with what they lived, then it might open up the lived experience of wonder, fear, curiosity, obligation, toward finding out why things matter, whether they matter independent of each observer, and if so, how that would work.

16 - 18

If the validity of values is judged from the perspective of your own values, and nothing else, then is it ever meaningful to say that you should change them? If not, then is it ever valid to try to change other people's values? Maybe there's some range in which people's values can be changed more in line with themselves (I desire to be a better chef, which requires me to value being careful, which I didn't before). So the whole valueset can be furthered. But it seems like people want to change other people's values -- are we sure that such people always change other people's values in ways that are actually in line with those other people's deepest values?

Changing people's values can be depicted, in an extreme way, by the Ministry of Love in 1984, which beats people to the point that they love what they used to hate (and which the reader will tend to feel was evil). Milder "ministries of love" might involve shaming, isolating, and humiliation rather than physical abuse. These measures are needed, perhaps, because people are not being changed in line with their existing values. And they are justified, if they are, because the values being inculcated are better than the ones they have. But who's to say that one person's values are better than another's? If they're not really better than another's, then isn't value changing just a power-play, and isn't morality contingent on who has the power to force other people to change their minds?

Perhaps this does not concern people as much as it could because they spend most of their time around people like them, who reinforce their values. So they feel like they're safe, nobody will come after them to force them to change their values arbitrarily. Or, it does not concern most people as much as it could because most people are part of the mainstream, and being in the value-majority, they take their security for granted. And they take their own values for granted.

A test: how do you behave when you're in power? When your views are popular?

pp. 19 - 22

The previous section (ministries of love, justification for changing other's values) connects to Rawlette's perspectival bias discussion. Perspectival bias can be seen as something which ought to change about people's values.

-- Sidebar: "Disvalue found in inability to will or act, painful or not. Likewise in confusion, painful or not." --

p. 24

Rawlette argues that if I see my own pleasure as having value, I will believe that since other people's pleasure is like my own, it also has value. It's possible to seek your own pleasure and enjoy it without valuing it. Buber (in Good and Evil) somewhat neatly redefines and boils down evil to "indecision" and good to "deciding with your whole soul". So with a similar style, one could say "evil is to hunger for what you do not value" or to "not value what you hunger for". Now we wonder "are hungers automatically to be regarded as indicating value?" We could ask "which world is real, the one of hungers, or the one of Forms, or of God (or something else in that vein)?" "Reality" in this case meaning "the one in which real value can be found, the one whose apparent features can be trusted enough such that a hunger there calls for the valuing of the thing hungered for.


p. 25

Rawlette contrasts the situation of the "dogmatic" realist and that of the realist who reflects on reasons for whether their motivations reflect judgment-independent value. The dogmatic person, who accepts the strength of their motivations, or the authority of a third party, may be even more perspectivally biased due to their realism.

It's costly to think reflectively about your biases -- a cost which may or may not be affordable. Also, it's possible that intuition grants us true knowledge, in addition to reason. This might appear in our motivations.

It's possible that the process of evaluating evidence for our own compliance with judgment-independent value is flawed (maybe we have bad information, like perhaps we think that this world is real when it's not), and we are better off relying on some kind of third party, or our own motivations.


pp. 25 - 26

If we attend to our own feelings, and are forced to see them as having value, and are then forced to see all people's feelings as having value, we lose freedom. On some level we still have discretion, but on a deeper, simpler/broader level, we don't. Freedom on that deeper, simpler/broader level is a good in itself. The danger of some kind of "totality"?

I got the word "totality" from Levinas, but I use it "in ignorance of him". I think the word I use has some connection to his use in Totality and Infinity. It may also connect to Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man. (I finished but did not read Totality and Infinity very successfully, and only began One-Dimensional Man, but I have a sense that these are two fruitful connections to explore.) I would say for me, "totality" can mean "everyone conforms to the same unbroken thought pattern and culture, and everyone is made to conform" -- very dangerous if this is not sufficiently good, and dangerous to the individual who lives for a different, perhaps more correct, good. Ethics (the call of the Other?) can turn into totality. Whether Levinas falls into that trap, I can't say, but if he doesn't, he may provide some needed nuance to supplement Rawlette.

Rawlette mentions that "all of us at least have reason to want others to treat our interests as equal to theirs". But some people don't, are willing to subordinate their interests to others. Is Rawlette saying they "ought" to demand equality? If so, then what grounds this "ought"?

----- Sidebar: Addicted to rationality --> a slave to rationality --> addicted/slave to morality. Rationality and morality are psychological tendencies that have "gravity", like lust or hate (or a kind of love). They are impersonal. But God is a person, who is related to through "grace". You can love God and God can be your father, rather than your slave-master.

"Gravity" and "grace" taken fairly faithfully from Simone Weil.

It's possible to relate to morality (be the friend of it, want what it wants and thus behave according to its pattern -- maybe relate to it "Spiritually"<as in "Spiritual Reality">). But if you don't already want what morality wants, why would you start, unless it was out of compulsion?

"Spiritual Reality" from this blog post.

What kind of compulsion is legitimate? We are compelled by physical hungers (sometimes with unfortunate results).

If you relate to morality, is it then possible to be called to it more deeply in a way that morality is not a slave-master?

A father's authority is different than a tyrant's or a law code's.


Chapter 2

pp. 28 - 33

Is it possible to completely escape intuitionism? In other words, Rawlette wants us to be able to use reason to sort through moral questions. Should we? Isn't that an intuition? Yudkowsky may be grounding his belief-set on "what doesn't get us physically killed". Those who don't die exist to judge things morally. But should they? Or is there an intuition in that case as well?

I would guess that characterizing Yudkowsky's epistemology as "believing what doesn't get us physically killed" is at least somewhat simplistic, but here's the passage (from his "The Simple Truth") that I was thinking of:

Inspector Darwin looks at the two arguers, both apparently unwilling to give up their positions. "Listen," Darwin says, more kindly now, "I have a simple notion for resolving your dispute. You say," says Darwin, pointing to Mark, "that people's beliefs alter their personal realities. And you fervently believe," his finger swivels to point at Autrey, "that Mark's beliefs can't alter reality. So let Mark believe really hard that he can fly, and then step off a cliff. Mark shall see himself fly away like a bird, and Autrey shall see him plummet down and go splat, and you shall both be happy."

We all pause, considering this.

"It sounds reasonable . . ." Mark says finally.

"There's a cliff right there," observes Inspector Darwin.

Autrey is wearing a look of intense concentration. Finally he shouts: "Wait! If that were true, we would all have long since departed into our own private universes, in which case the other people here are only figments of your imagination -- there's no point in trying to prove anything to us--"

A long dwindling scream comes from the nearby cliff, followed by a dull and lonely splat. Inspector Darwin flips his clipboard to the page that shows the current gene pool and pencils in a slightly lower frequency for Mark's alleles.


One thing to worry about: how can there be real morality if people disagree on what is moral?


p. 34

"no justificatory work" -- but maybe self-evidence could be doing partial justificatory work? An election depends on the weighing of multiple opinions, but each opinion is at least a little valid in itself.


A way to get rid of defeaters to my moral intuitions: kill everyone else -- no more opinions left standing. However, I might argue with myself.

Maybe killing all other people is highly unlikely. But withdrawing, on some level, from everyone else (living, on a deeper level, as though no one else exists), seems to be common.


p. 43

Mention is made that realism in math and non-moral philosophy is difficult to establish for analogous reasons to moral realism. Does this mean that there might be some analogous argument to Rawlette's "feeling of value" to apply to those domains?


p. 46

An explanation of why ethics might care about moral facts (why the existence of ethics would call for caring about moral facts) is that ethics says "X is valuable". In one ethical view, X = Y, in another, X = Z. If Y and Z conflict, then we might want to know which is more valuable, which means we have to judge between ethical views.


p. 54

----- Sidebar: A question to ask of ethicists (e.g. Rawlette): is there such a thing as judgment-independent facts about morality? Is it possible that there is not, though it would be desirable to us that there are? Would we think that there was such a thing as judgment-independent moral facts for any other reason than that they make our ethics work better? ------

pp. 54 - 55

--But if our ultimate desires are so highly contingent and malleable, what reason do we have for thinking that they are the basis for anything deserving the name of "objective value"? It doesn't seem that there needs to be anything good about the objects of our desires themselves in order for us to desire them as ultimate ends. It suffices for our brains to be wired in certain ways. It thus seems quite odd to call whatever one happens to have a foundational positive attitude or inclination toward "objectively valuable."--

To what extent is hedonism immune from a parallel problem?

Rawlette's hedonism may be immune (in itself) because normative qualia are what they are, no matter who feels them or for what reason they feel them. The effective altruists who are opposed to "tiling the universe with mouse orgasms" are perhaps tapping into some intuitions that there are other values besides simplistic "lots of pleasure, no pain".

Maybe Rawlette's brain is just wired to be more hedonism-leaning, and normative-qualia-theory-endorsing, than someone else's, who might disagree with her. How should our brains be wired, in terms of the values that inform our metaethics?

(After listening to the 2020 podcast with Rawlette and Gus Docker, I see that Rawlette favors qualia of goodness more essentially than qualia of pleasure. So then the question could come, let's say it's really cheap to produce mouse brains which constantly orgasm and dollar-for-dollar, this is the cheapest way (the only way, given resource constraints) to maximize normative qualia of any kind -- is there something lost?


pp. 64 - 66

----- Sidebar: does the moral realism of MSLN pass Rawlette's tests? -----

MSLN is my own natural theology and related theories. Rawlette's tests come up in the second pass notes, where I attempt to provide an answer to the question here.

Chapter 3

---- Sidebar: Why should human judgment track what it ["is"] human-judgment-independent? Why feelings? Why God's judgment? ------

I guess my answer would be "if we ask 'why should' judgment do something", the answer ultimately is "should / legitimacy itself impels judgment to do that". If we're looking for the glue that connects human judgment to Rawlette's normative qualia or to God's judgment, then there is some brute "should" (legitimacy) which does that, at the fundamental level.

p. 69 - 75

Feeling the quale of badness is bad, but should it be bad? From the MO perspective, God has to agree with us that bad is bad. But he doesn't have to agree that bad should be bad. We don't have to think that bad should be bad, either. (But Rawlette ought to have argued that we should somewhere in her book.)

"MO" refers to the "metaphysical organism", a term from MSLN.

Where did the simantic word "bad" come from, and who defined it? Why is it legitimate that "bad" be bad?

"Simantic word" is a term from MSLN.


p. 82

One can choose to forego goodness (can have thoughts to avoid goodness even though goodness feels like goodness). Could this choice be valid?

---- Sidebar: Something to ask during second reading: Is Feeling of Value a good example of an account of "ought as feeling", even something to hold up as a potential paragon of the view? -----

p. 91

What is the quale that gets us to listen to judgments that we have made about how good things are? Or to recognize the truth? Maybe "quale" is the wrong word. Is there such a thing as a "meta-quale", something found in a set of qualia, which can have a certain tendency? That might be the word.

Are human beings response machines, to feelings of value? Or are we persons, who see things according to *ourselves*? "I see that X is good." vs. "I am compelled to say that X is good because of how it feels".

--More simply put, "in a situation of conflict of motivations, one can predict the future choice of the subject from the algebraic sum of affective ratings of pleasure and displeasure, given by the subject, to the conflicting motivations."--

In the experiments connected with that statement, was there a dimension of conviction? The actual pains/pleasures tested were "sweetness and sourness", "temperature and fatigue", "chest fatigue and leg fatigue". What if they had tested sexual pleasure, something that is more loaded? Or something to do with religious devotion? (Hunger for someone fasting, perhaps.)


pp. 95 - 96

Rawlette does not see normative qualia as being intentional -- i.e., essentially badness is not badness of an object, but rather badness in itself.

Isn't it our direct experience, though, that objects are bad (or good, etc.)? Isn't this as direct as our experience of goodness and badness themselves? (Or is it?)

If it is as direct, then we have a piece of evidence in favor of the universality of something normative outside each human (qualia of goodness and badness) and one against (we find goodness and badness in things in many different ways).

----- Sidebar: What is good is God's will, and God's will just is God, and just is all reality, in a sense even including what is bad, though the horror is bad. (A horror: Two goods that conflict?) -----

This is more or less a restatement of ideas found in MSLN, in Legitimacy

Chapter 4

pp. 106 - 108

What is the definition of "good"? Not, "what instantiates goodness", but "what is this 'goodness' thing itself?"

What immediately comes to my mind: "what ought to be desirable / desired".


pp. 108 - 109 (footnote)

Rawlette contrasts a "good" criminal from a "good" taste by saying that a criminal would be good if you needed a criminal, but a taste is just good in itself. I don't think taste is necessarily good in itself. Maybe tasting something helps you be a certain kind of person. Then you might prefer more bitter, more plain, and less sweet food.

She might respond "isn't being a different kind of person ultimately more goodness-quale-having and less badness-quale-having?" Is it possible that being a good person is the point, and the goodness quale ought to only follow from the objective state of being a good person? We might be reassured that in a universe ruled by a God who has our salvation as an absolute interest of his, he will make sure that the things that appeal to us and persuade us (goodness qualia) actually do connect us with real goodness, reality, good states of being as instantiated, or things that we will be led to instantiate by the promise given by goodness qualia.

Rawlette might reply "So what about people's disagreements over value?" The MSLN reply might be "Existence is provisional -- we will come to conform to God more, and the world will come to conform to God, so that in the end, all our valuings will be within the range allowed by God, and all promise of good will be fulfilled."


p. 110 - 111

Can goodness be predicated of real objects as opposed to phenomenal objects?

In the simantist view, everything that exists (in at least one meaning of "exist") is a phenomenal object. I think it's a Berkeleian thing to say that the potted plant I see just is the set of phenomena I experience. It would be simantist to say that the potted plant isn't just a bundle of sensations, but is a potted plant. So that goes a little further than a purely phenomenal object. It's a fusion of phenomena and concept. I see the plant as being beautiful, or, perhaps "that-particular-potted-plant-y" as well. "That-particular-potted-plant-y" has something to do with me, how I see that unique plant. I see goodness in that plant.

"Simantism" is a part of MSLN. I have not read Berkeley (only have read about him).

Is it really good? Well, someone else may see an analogous plant, in their own experience-body. Is it really the same plant? It's arguable that it is, and that it isn't. It can be useful to say that it's the same, and sometimes it feels intuitively like it's the same, but sometimes it doesn't.

"Experience body is a term from MSLN.

In simantism, we trust God to speak reality to us in an ultimately trustworthy way. If it seems that the plant is the same in someone else's world, then it is. Maybe from God's perspective, there is one simantic word for the plant that is seen by many different people, the word that gives rise to many different words.

So do goodness qualia go any further than to say "in my experience-body, this seems good to me right now"? I think Rawlette would want to be able to say "in everybody's experience-bodies, the simantic word 'goodness' is inherently a good thing", and thus if we know that everyone finds something good, it is good. Do we really know that other people exist, unless we know that God speaks them to us in a trustworthy way? Maybe we say "other people probably exist". Do we really know enough to say what everyone finds good in a thing? If we reject materialism, then we are left with solipsisms (experience-bodies) that need a reason to not be solipsist. We are quasi-solipsists who can affect other people in ways we don't understand. We might want to know what is universally good, so that we can practically pursue it, but practically speaking, we can't know it.

I don't think this is Rawlette's project, but what would follow her project is to practically live according to the knowledge that "value comes from feeling". Her project might not be useful of ["if"] the project that might ought to follow hers doesn't work.

"[...]if the project[...]". I'm not sure why Rawlette should be deterred by that thought. Maybe it's simple enough to say that we know when we experience good, and can choose it more and more. Unless the problem is that we don't know the effects our choice of goodness have on other people. Or that opinions differ on the goodness-quale is goodness idea. Maybe we are in a state where we are unsure that other people's phenomenal worlds are too similar to our own (perhaps a belief arising from some kind of immaterialism). In a "public reality" world, such as materialism, it might still be difficult to really know what was going on in other people's world, unless perhaps we have a kind of "benevolent panopticon AI".


p. 113

--For example, we may not be able to think of the pleasure of a torturer without also feeling some empathy for his victim, and this may lead us to think that the badness of the torturer's pleasure is intrinsic rather than merely instrumental.--

So empathy makes us think it's bad. Is that trustworthy? In other words, the feeling of value makes us think things are good. Should that feeling be trusted? Or is it just "I happen to have felt a feeling, so I responded in a certain way" -- stimulus-response, rather than people responding to what is real.


p. 114

--What matters in determining the intrinsic value of pleasure is not what feelings we have when thinking about pleasure, but the feeling we have that is pleasure. We can have this latter feeling without contemplating it and without even consciously labeling it "pleasure." And if we manage to direct our attention to this particular feeling -- all by itself, allowing no other associations to interfere -- I believe we will not be able to help but recognize that this feeling is intrinsically good.--

The simantic word "good" is good because God speaks it and the phenomena of it is unified with the concept (the set of all objectively/human-independently good states of affairs). The coiner of "good" (God), connects it to reality. And it's hard to see how the simantic word "good" could fail to itself connect people to goodness, not be the criterion for goodness -- by definition. But otherwise, we might wonder if the feeling of good is only good in itself, but not an exhaustive definition of what good really is. Good, conceptually, can lie outside of the feeling of good.


----- Sidebar: A difference between that which is unbearable and that which is bad. If we have reason to believe that humans ought to exist, ought to bear experiences, then experiences which are unbearable are bad, or something like bad. Given the God of MSLN, that which is unbearable will go away in the end, whether it be good or bad.

It's possible to find something unbearable, but not feel that it's bad. I can say that's been my experience with most of the (more or less) unbearable suffering I've had. It certainly sounds like a bad thing to cause unbearable pain to someone else, and I feel like that's bad, I judge that that's bad, even if my own experience of unbearable pain often enough has lacked that judgment. So it's not in unbearable pain itself that there is badness, but in the idea of unbearable pain, or of causing unbearable pain. At least, I'm one data point against a claim that we all always find unbearable pain to be bad when, in that, we experience it.

Rawlette might say it's not my judgment that something is bad that is the real badness which necessarily follows from the experience of pain, but rather something else, true badness, the feeling of badness, pre-rational / no-B.S. badness, maybe one of those things.

But then, perhaps that begs the question away from the possibility that value is an opinion rather than a feeling.

I'm not sure that it would literally beg the question, but it could do something in the neighborhood of begging the question.

What I felt wasn't badness, but unbearability. Does Rawlette want to say that I didn't understand the words I was using, and that if I had been more reflective, I would have said "unbearability is really that, plus badness"? Badness is something that I see, or I don't see. Maybe I would know if I didn't see badness in something. Did I feel badness, and that makes all the difference? I don't see that very claim. I act based on what I see, not on what I feel. I think the idea of Rawlette's project is to convince us to see feeling itself, and thus see according to its deliverance. But if I see badness, or don't see it, in ways that weaken Rawlette's argument, then should I see feeling as fundamental, or does my (non)seeing of badness cancel out her claim that I ought to have seen myself as having felt badness, and that that seeing is binding on my actions.["?"]

(But I think I really just didn't even feel badness, but rather just unbearability.)

Is it okay for seeing to be as direct as feeling? I think so, because seeing is fundamental to seeing that feeling is the foundation of values -- or of seeing that it is not. Some feeling has to be something like "properly basic". --------


Chapter 5

pp. 126 - 127

Rawlette mentions problems with utilitarian calculus, additive, bites the bullet with "there's no other way to be realist, no other judgment-independent fact to ground moral realism".

Because we are concerned with how to live out morality, as well as knowing exactly where it comes from, might we accept the MO argument as a source of practical guidance, a probabilistic non-human ground for moral realism?


pp. 127 - 128

Rawlette wants to say that the qualia of others matters as much as that of oneself. We might want to agree but be uncertain due to an innate pre-rational valuing of what we see directly over what we don't. And this can be justified rationally by thoughts of solipsism. (So we might need to argue against solipsism to justify stringent moral concern.)


p. 128

--I have argued that when we experience normative qualia, our experience is characterized by intrinsic goodness or badness; that is, it is characterized by the feeling that the very experience we are having is such that it either ought to be happening or ought not to be happening (though the feeling itself is just a feeling, not an awareness of or assent to any particular propositional characterization of it). We might wonder, though, whether the experience is really best described as being one of agent-neutral value, as being a blanket "ought-to-be-ness" or "ought-not-to-be-ness."--

Maybe what we really want to maximize is "ought-to-be-ness", rather than pleasure. Or, to read all of Rawlette's "pleasure"s as "ought-to-be-ness"es. In that case, what she's talking about is perception of ought, maybe a pre-rational perception of ought. Why should the perception of ought have anything to do with the real thing? It might, as much as perceiving anything does, that is, we are justified in thinking something we see exists until there is a defeater. So in terms of action, the perception of ought forms a soft realism -- we should probably act to minimize the feeling of ought-not-to-be-ness and maximize the feeling of ought-to-be-ness. This sounds sort of like preference utilitarianism. How does "ought-to-be-ness" differ from "preference"? Perhaps Rawlette is saying that what you ought to prefer is what you feel like preferring, and that what you feel like preferring is pleasure, what you feel like not preferring is pain.

Rawlette might say "it's not that Object X is necessarily good because it occasions qualia of ought-to-be-ness, but that qualia of ought-to-be-ness ought to be." But why should my perception of the ought-to-be-ness of ought-to-be-ness indicate true value? I think Rawlette probably does address this in some way, but I have forgotten how.

I don't tend to find my own pain provoking "ought-not-to-be-ness" -- even if it's unbearable. Is it that I'm diseased, and can't adequately reconcile myself to my feelings? Or is it that my feelings stand apart from me and the truth -- have some connection, but no hard, necessary connection to either me or the truth?


p. 130

Rawlette says that "ought-not-to-be-ness/ought-to-be-ness"/"pain/pleasure" are more fundamental than the concept of action and arise earlier in a person's mental development.

This raises the question: when an infant feels pain, do we have any reason to say that they feel "ought-not-to-be", as opposed to feeling "unbearability"?


------ Sidebar: Feeling of love vs. opinion of love. When you fall in love, do you have a choice whether you love the other person? If you don't have a choice, was it really *you* who fell in love? Usually this is a moot point in longer-term relationships because there are times when people are hard to love and if you believe you really love them, you have to prove it by deliberately choosing to love.

But it's possible that on rare occasions, there's never a clear test of love, whether it's *you* who loves, or whether you're just filled with a spirit of love, outside of who you are.

We might be able to induce the spirit of love artificially, but if it means anything for a person, themselves, to love or value someone, then that couldn't be induced artificially. The opinion of love is something that has to flow from you, while the feeling of love does not ultimately have to.

It's possible to have the feeling of love, but have an opposite opinion. Likewise having the opinion of love, but having opposite feelings.

Maybe if you have the feeling of love, without it ever having been put to the test, you could ask yourself if your opinion appeared to be in line with that feeling. You might have prima facie reason to believe that you had the opinion of love, such as would survive the loss of the spirit or feeling of love.

The opinion of love is connected to respect. Seeing people a certain way is part of respect.

The spirit of love causes the feeling of love, which inclines you to have the opinion of love. ------


p. 144 - 145

What if there are particular different ought-to-be-nesses, and we need to "collect them all"? It's possible that things that ought to be, when instantiated, conflict with each other. Perhaps we ought to be content -- there's a special "ought to be" to contentment -- and maybe that makes sense, if we think of contentment as the ultimate, global sense of "ought to be" -- "all's well". Contentment is at odds with maximization, unless maximization hits some kind of hard limit.

Feeling of Value notes, 145 -


If you think the world should be a better place, then you are connected with some kind of bad -- which gives you a quale of "ought-not-to-be-ness". Is it better to find the world good, or to make the world good?

You can get tired of a specific bad, including the bad of "ought-to-keep-improving". Maybe we will get tired of all "ought-not-to-be"s and eliminate them all, settling for a certain level of "ought-to-be". This requires contentment.

Maybe "ought-to-be" and "ought-not-to-be" are binary, without degrees. That which ought to be, ought to be. That which ought not to be, ought not to be. There is no neutral zone. Everything that we might think is neutral, ought to be. So then there is no way to pile up infinite ought-to-be. Once we have eliminated ought-not-to-be, there is no point in striving, because plain experience is as good as exciting experience.

This reminds me of MSLN's population ethics, the "rest view".


pp. 140 - 149

Is Rawlette going to support the Repugnant Conclusion? How would this make sense?

How do people make sense of lives that are barely worth living? Hope? Endurance? You never know, if you hang in there, things could get better. Another factor might be self-love. People love themselves more than they love the quality of their lives.


p. 152

--First, even on this view, it would never actually be the case that we ought to produce many billions of people living only barely happy lives, rather than a smaller number of people living happier lives. The resources necessary to produce the huge population would actually produce more total happiness if they were concentrated on fewer individuals, just because it takes so many resources to produce and maintain each additional life, before we can start increasing its happiness.--

This is an interesting empirical claim.


Intro to Part III

p. 164

Rawlette is relatively content to concern us with situations we are likely to find ourselves in. Does hedonistic utilitarianism work the same ways as our intuitions in those? Where the "tails don't come apart".

"Tails don't come apart" is a reference to this Slate Star Codex post.

But EAs (longtermists, especially) contemplate plausible futures where things get weird / where the tails would come apart.


Ch. 6

p. 169

In deontological moral systems, we say "X is wrong". In consequentialism, we say "Pain/disutility is wrong. X is instrumentally bad in avoiding disutility." Having X be immediately wrong strengthens our aversion to it. So, utilitarianism could weaken our motivation to not do bad, or to do good. Rawlette wants to strengthen our motivation -- that's the (or a?) point of moral realism.

A utilitarian could say "When I'm doing my moral philosophy, I'm a utilitarian, but in my unreflective daily life, I'm a deontologist."

The trolley problem: thinking it through could weaken your desire to not harm people in the >99% of cases that are not isomorphic to trolley problems. Not thinking it through could weaken your ability to act in the <1% of cases that are.

What is utilitarianism good for? Why have a simplistic moral framework? It can be extended into weird cases, like administering a government or designing an AI. Are government people professionally utilitarians and privately deontologists? Is there any spillover between one's professional and personal lives?



Sidebar: Humans don't necessarily know what is best in the end. God does. God's will is in itself not to be violated. "What is best in the end" is in conformity with God's will. God's will ordains both the rules and the final outcome. It is possible that by obeying the rules, we always are furthering the best final outcome. The basic motivator of consequentialism ("things need to turn out well in the end") and deontology ("to kill, lie, steal, etc. are immediately wrong") can both be satisfied by a theistic metaethics.

This is a strong claim that I would need to do more work to endorse.

Having said that, the Bible (at least) specifically contains relaxations of its own rules. Therefore, humans may not always know for sure that a rule that we think we ought to obey is really one of the fundamental rules that God really cares about necessarily. Apart from the Bible, or other holy books, it might prove difficult to come up with sets of rules, and definitions of those rules, which are culture-invariant. Therefore we might find it hard to be completely sure that we really know what the rules should be.

However, the existence of God allows us to think that it is possible that things could be wrong in themselves, even if we're wrong in our thinking about which things are wrong in themselves.

I suppose we have to argue that "being wrong in itself" is necessarily just "being a violation of God's will in itself". Wrongness would have to be defined as "what ought not to be" and then "ought" is simply "what is in the ultimate opinion".

Contemplating the above makes me feel at least a little more motivated to be deontological (in a Christian way) than consequentialist. -----

p. 185

Mention of perspectival bias. Preference for the interests of oneself. I think it's possible to act as though you think your interests are better than others, out of compulsion or instinct, but not really believe that you are any more deserving than anyone else.

How you behave when not under compulsion or in a state of instinct-satisfaction might reflect your real views about the values of yourself and others.

How hard should you work against instincts and psychological compulsion?


p. 189

--This sort of decision procedure -- one that prohibits certain actions unless utility is overwhelmingly on the side of performing them (and perhaps allows certain other actions unless utility is overwhelmingly on the side of not performing them) -- looks an awful lot like the decision procedure our moral intuitions prompt us to follow.--

The function of moral reasoning is to fulfill moral intuitions? Someone like a NT Pharisee imposing rules that are neither fulfillments of human moral intuitions nor God's will. Keeping people from healing on the Sabbath. If you go away from common moral intuitions, what's your justification?


----- Sidebar: Say that I am worth something apart from my life: I am worth preserving even if my life isn't worth living. Where does the feeling of value exist? In me, or in my life? Doesn't my life contain all my qualia? Or is it the case that there's part of my experience which is not me, and part which is me? If the experience which is me is bad, then I am not worth living? But do I experience that experience? What is the "I" in the preceding sentence?


----- Sidebar: The truth: if you go hard enough against society, you will tend to have unbearable experiences as it beats you down, and these will teach you to value feeling okay, and thus you don't go against what society values. (1984's Ministry of Love.) -----

Ch. 7

p. 206 -- Pain is a present feeling that dissuades us from doing things that will lead to death or future pain. Do humans need to be the ones who take care of themselves, or could AI do that for them? If the latter, then they don't need to feel pain anymore. And people will probably choose that, once they trust the AI, unless they have some kind of reason not to be hedonists (psychological or philosophical reason, psychological or philosophical hedonists).

If concern for ultimate good feeling for as long as possible is what hedonism really is or ought to be, in a more steel-man version of hedonism, then what if we consider the possible existence of God (MO)? Or a stronger proof of the existence of God? In a sense, hell is a hedonistic argument for allegiance to God. So Rawlette's hedonism might lead naturally into at least an attempt to connect with or believe in God.


p. 208

Rawlette says that she takes care of the objection that some things ought to cause more pleasure than others by founding that ought in future pleasures. What if people take great pleasure in building pyramids (in San Diego), whereas in parts of Los Angeles, people derive great pleasure from building ziggurats? This leading to tensions between the Angelenos, those who are into pyramids, and those who are into ziggurats, spilling over into conflict between San Diego and Los Angeles at the governmental level. Some people in San Diego try to build both pyramids and ziggurats, and they are at odds with everyon else. You have to build one kind of monument or the other, or even if you choose both, that's a political statement. Is there a rational way to sort this out? It's unclear which option will lead to the greatest pleasure or pain. Currently, the ziggurat-Angelenos derive a great deal of pleasure from ziggurats, and will continue to derive pleasure from future ziggurats, so they want to keep going with that. The pyramidists, likewise, except with pyramids instead of ziggurats. Which of the two should give more pleasure? Or if we choose both, then should we find both to give pleasure? By choosing both, we're probably only going to be able to devote the same amount of resources to both as we could have just to one. So "both" competes with "ziggurat" and "pyramid". It's a cultural thing.

What we could do, is sand down culture until nobody cares about anything but the basics of life. This is a process that modern culture has already done to a large extent. But should it have? One casualty is meaning. Fewer things mean as much to us, because we're so fixated on our own present and future pleasure and pain. It's all about human beings, and humans can't see outside their own concept of well-being. Our concept of well-being controls our concept of what ought to give us pleasure and pain.

The pyramid/ziggurat example is a little contrived, but maybe consider the war between people who value courage and those who value pragmatism. Which ought we to "take more pleasure in"? "Take more pleasure in" almost begs the question from the beginning in favor of pragmatism. Courage wants us to be willing to lay down our lives and disregard our personal comfort. Otherwise we live in fear, inside ourselves. Because courage is a negation of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, how can we value it without rejecting hedonism? How can hedonism figure out if courage ought to be pleasurable (or, in Rawlette's more plausible terminology, one which gives the quale of "ought-to-beness")? Can hedonism give that result without undermining itself? Or does hedonism as a framework automatically bias a thinker (or even force a thinker) to say "courage, the independence people have from survival and well-being, is invalid, by definition"? So then is there some meta-framework to determine whether to be pragmatic or courageous? This would tell us whether we ought to find ought-to-be-ness in courage or pragmatism, and thus provide the input to our hedonism. I don't think hedonism can answer the question of whether courage or pragmatism ought to be found trustworthy, because hedonism lends itself to pragmatism. Maybe hedonism is a species of pragmatism, or vice versa.

I guess this gets back to the question "is our sense of ought-to-be a reliable guide to what really ought to be?" If we say "Yes" or even say "Yes, by definition", then whatever we all agree ought to be, ought to be. And currently, something like hedonism could succeed in capturing that sociological reality. We will not be able to value things like pyramids or ziggurats. Or religious texts, or God, etc... this war against the impractical has been waged slowly for a long time. But again, if a hedonist is like Rawlette, they need to look into the somewhat unknown future, and also consider whether God exists, because his existence could have the greatest effect on maximizing hedonism of any fact.

(Maybe better than the ziggurat/pyramid example: American Indians find their land to be sacred. It gives them a feeling of "ought-to-be". But white Americans find the Indian land to be useful. This also gives them a feeling of "ought-to-be". The Indians have a choice, hold onto the sacred land, or sell it. As long as it's sacred, they have to hold onto it. If it remains sacred, they will get the most ought-to-beness in the future out of holding onto it. If they persuade themselves to no longer find it sacred, then they will get the most ought-to-beness in the future out of selling it. Perhaps Rawlette would say "Well, they just have to somehow know which one gives them more ought-to-be-ness and pick that one" (which goes against the very mindset of sacredness). But even then, the difference between the two (projected) ought-to-be-ness qualia might be so small as to be impossible to tell apart, and then we would still have the problem of figuring out what ought to give pleasure.)


----- Sidebar: Rawlette relies a lot on phenomenology. A phenomenological being (I could say) has to see the qualia of positivity and negativity as good and bad. There's nothing else. But in contrast to a phenomenlogical being, there could be a personal being. Do *you*, the human you are, by your lights, see such qualia as inherently good or bad? What Rawlette might be wanting to do is to reduce the personal, opinion-having person to the phenomenological person, as a way to avoid the problems of establishing what is the best opinion.

Can opinion overrule phenomenology? If not, why not? We're looking to know what our opinions should be. If in our opinions our opinions should not necessarily just be what the phenomenological self would choose, then how can we be wrong?

Rawlette might ought to have spent more time on phenomenology. -----

To be fair, phenomenology is well-known and by now basic, and perhaps I'm the one who should have gotten sufficiently familiar with it before reading The Feeling of Value.

----- Sidebar: Something that makes me queasy about hedonism: the focus on self-reward. This would make me queasy about preferentialism as well. About all utilitarianism? The love of wealth. Unless the ultimate wealth to be free of wealth-thinking. -----

Post-Reading Notes:

p. 218

Rawlette says that hedonists find it furthers hedonism to find things to be intrinsically valuable. If we remembered hedonism all the time, we couldn't do this. We would always be plugging things into a utility calculus.

Is it as though there are two people? The utility calculator and the one who finds things intrinsically valuable?

Parallels to MSLN: in MSLN, we might value another person because that's what God wants. Do we need to forget that God wants that in order to value the person, or can we keep both in mind? To think "God values you" doesn't take away from "I value you". So is it the same thing with hedonism? "Valuing you maximizes utility" and "I value you" -- "you serve a purpose" and "you are valuable in yourself" -- are different from "you are valuable in yourself according to the Ultimate Opinion" and "you are valuable in yourself according to my opinion".

A utilitarian could say "you are valuable in yourself according to the fact that you contribute to aggregated well-being". But there's still a difference between "I value you", plain and simple (I see you to be valuable in yourself), and "I value you you because of this abstract and holistic line of thinking I'm into". The utilitarianism may be valid, but it's less personal than "I value you".

Perhaps if we value other people because that's what God wants, and we feel compelled to claim that we have the same opinions as God, then that's not as clean a connection to intrinsic value. But if we identify our opinions with God's opinion, then there's a merger between "objective value values you" and "I value you". "I" become, in a sense, one with God, and so my opinion is the Ultimate Opinion.

By analogy, the difference between teleological theory of mind ("I can figure out A, B, and C about you, which enables me to project that you will do or feel D") and mentalization ("I have a comfortable, intuitively mirroring grasp of your mental process."). As we become comfortable and more fully trusting in our relationship with God, we develop an effortless kinship with him, which inclines our opinions to track his.

Is it possible to have an opinion about something if God does not exist (simantism and legitimism)?

See https://formulalessness.blogspot.com/2020/06/simantism.html and legitimism.


The following section was going to be the opening to the review, as presented to effective altruists.

What is the good of a moral philosophy? A way to program AI, or to program humans. AI don't have their own intuitions, unless we give them intuitions. But we have intuitions, either from birth or from education. In either case, inherited from our ancestors.

I could add that intuitions might come from spirits (beings or perhaps less-personal psychic forces), noetic relationships, or be something like ESP, as well. Noetic relationships would be the way that we just know that certain things are or are not good, or that there is such a thing as good in the first place. We have contact with what is real through our intuitions.

Humans can say "I know what's right" based on intuition, and thus choose to disregard a bad moral philosophy. A moral philosophy might be bad for being incomplete, or giving "counter-intuitive" results. AI don't have that counterweight. Humans can judge moral philosophies to be bad, as they have some kind of privileged information, not derived from the words and thought structures of moral philosophy, about what is right or wrong.

But humans can be persuaded by moral philosophy. If they accept it, having found it trustworthy in familiar things, they can extend it into unfamiliar areas. (Should they? Is that a valid way to proceed?) But they can always say "that seems too counter-intuitive, let's not be insane here" and back off a weird result from moral philosophy. It's possible for people to switch back and forth arbitrarily (or intuitively) between moral philosophy and moral intuition.

A longtermist might ought to care about this human programming. If people become more rational over time, they will lean harder on moral philosophy in forming their moral intuitions. So we could see things we currently consider insane becoming normal in the future, if people can bite the bullet and accept reason. But intuition might know better than reason in this area. After all, the whole point of moral philosophy was to represent intuition better. One might think that someone like Bentham wanted to extend personal values of happiness into the weirder world of government. His utilitarianism may have lined up with sane values, with moral intuition. But the idea of hedonistic utilitarianism itself, unmoored from intuition, might give us insane results, like wanting to "tile the universe with mouse brains having orgasms", or whatever other kind of simplistic bliss. Reason can have a corrosive effect on intuition as expressed by culture, and we can't necessarily take for granted that humans in the future will stay in touch with any recognizable intuitions of our own. How this might cash out could be something like "mouse brain orgasms" or "yes machines" (beings that say yes to everything, which prefer everything so as to make preferentialism trivial to satisfy). The intuition that reason ought to be applied consistently in moral areas, and thus that moral consideration ought to be applied to people (or other sentient beings) equally, the extension of the moral circle, might be rolled back to extreme regressiveness -- from just our point of view, or in some way independent of our reason and intuition nowadays? (How could that happen? Maybe it becomes too impractical to actually help all sentient beings -- maybe panpsychism is both too compelling and too practically difficult to respond to, or maybe something like wild animal suffering proves intractable, and people come up with some reason to say "well, morality is based on intuition, right? It's not based in any fact of the matter, right? So we can kind of rewrite it as is convenient for us". Similarly, once survival pressure is off of the decision-makers (presumably humans or a human elite, if we manage to keep control of AI), we may stop caring about reason, not being forced to by competition or the struggle to survive.) Everything any longtermist works for now could be made futile at some point in the future due to the change in moral intuitions caused by the evolution of culture according to moral philosophy. And how can we say that what longtermists care about now ought to apply to people in the future? Unless somehow there is a true note of moral reality which is buried for some reason in human biology or past culture, which the present can hear better than the future can.

"Longtermist" is a term from effective altruism, people who seek to benefit the far future.

Once changed by moral philosophy (or some irrational force), can it be said that moral intuition is wrong? We might think so, with respect to past moral intuition. But once changed, past moral intuition would now be wrong. If anything can take over the formation of moral intuition, could such a being rewrite what morality actually is? And thus justify whatever it wanted -- really justify, not just convince people that it was justified. Or is morality founded in something that does not change?

All this gives us reason to wonder if we can know a history-invariant morality. It would have to be independent of the judgments of human beings -- we know this because human judgments change over time. It would have to be some kind of moral realism.

This is one motivation for reading The Feeling of Value, a book which attempts to ground moral realism in phenomenal consciousness and not in human judgment -- perhaps a candidate for a history-invariant morality. It [this motivation] is not given [as a reason for seeking a moral realist theory] by the author, Sharon Hewitt Rawlette <check>. But she does point to a short-termist reason to be into moral realism, which is that it can overcome perspectival bias and thus motivate people to do whatever it is people already know to do from their moral intuitions but don't do because they don't have a motivating moral philosophy.

"Short-termism" is a term for altruism in the short term (within a few decades or so).

So her book is something that at least some EAs would or ought to be interested in reading. So what follows is a summary of the book, and then some of my thoughts on how successful I think her project is.



I happened across something related to this project in a novel I read.

Bearable vs. ought:

Rosamunde Pilcher, Another View, p. 84, 1989 ed.

"How could you bear to go and swim? You'll die of pneumonia."

(Emma went swimming on a cold day and came back. Robert is concerned for her and thinks she's done something foolish.)

[This is as much context as is needed for the purposes of the review.]

As though a voice tells you not to swim, but you endure it and swim anyway? Or your impending death is something that ought to scare you but you ignore it by bearing it?


A personal note.

My feelings/thoughts for/about [Person X] are ones that I endure -- they are lightweight -- they are pleasant -- but there is something inherently unbearable about them, which I endure.

Maybe more clear is to think about one specific thought/feeling complex, the intuitive life reality of [Person X]. I can intuit this as a simple thing. It is pleasant, lightweight, and something I have to bear.

"Life reality" definition.

What is the ought-to-be-ness of this one simple thing that I intuit? It seems somewhat orthogonal to me, like it is neither. The one feeling has both the ought-to-be-ness of pleasantness and the ought-not-to-be-ness of its burdensomeness.

Burdens can be borne and the weightier, the closer to being unbearable.

Pains can also be unbearable. Is it that the pains themselves are burdensome? Or that some pains and burdens often go together?

I think that for my purposes "burden" means "that which, if you have enough of it, it is unbearable".

What is the opposite of something needing to be borne? Something being attractive?

This may be a source of this post

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