Human Knowledge: Foundations and Limits

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Human Knowledge: Foundations and Limits

Post  Skwirlinator on Sun Sep 19, 2010 10:32 pm

By Brian Holtz. This text, freely redistributable as html, PDF, eBook, or ascii, is
memeware: if you find your copy useful, please propagate it.

# Why is there something rather than nothing? Is the world an illusion? What exists beyond the human senses? What happens after death? Does divine or supernatural agency exist? Is the future already decided?
# What is the meaning of life? What is right and wrong? What beings should have what rights? What should one do?
# What is truth? consciousness? intelligence? What are the limits of intelligence? Of logic? Could a machine think? Does free will exist?
# How did the universe begin? How will it end? What laws govern it? Why are those laws as they are?
# How old is the universe? How big is it? What happened before the Big Bang? Does the universe have a center? An edge? What is the universe expanding into?
# What is life? How did life arise? What explains its complexity?
# How did mind and language arise? How does the brain work?
# Is there life and intelligence beyond earth?
# How do politics and economics work? What system is best?
# How and why do men and women behave differently?
# How and why have human civilizations developed differently?
# Will humanity suffer cultural decline? economic crash? tyranny? resource depletion? overpopulation? runaway pollution? pandemic? interplanetary impact? nuclear catastrophe? nanotech plague?
# Will humanity experience divine salvation? loss of faith? paranormal abilities? alien contact? time travel? warp travel? machine or human superintelligence? immortality?
# What will happen in the next: hundred years? thousand years? million years? billion years? trillion years?

1.3.1. Philosophy / Axiology / Ethics
Ethics: the study of how individual persons should affect other persons and other beings.

Nature of Ethics

Ethics consists in identifying the rights that each kind of entity has. A right is an entitlement of a being that persons will or will not affect it in a specified way.

Extropian Ethics

A being is any entity possessing life, sentience, or intelligent volition, and are the only entities that have rights. There are two classes of beings: persons and organisms. A person is any intelligent being with significant volitional control over how it affects other beings.

* All persons have the right to life and liberty.
* All beings have the right not to suffer torture or extinction.

Thus persons are obligated to minimize the incidence of

* deaths of persons;
* extinctions of species;
* aggression; and
* torture.

Subjects of Ethics

Groups. Groups of individual beings do not have volition or sentience, and cannot be subject to coercion or torture except insofar as their individual members are so subject. Thus groups per se have no separate right against coercion or torture. There is a sense in which some groups -- species -- are alive, and so species have the right not to suffer extinction.

Sub-Persons? A dependent person is a person who has less than the normal amount of intelligence, volition, or physiological independence. A guardian is a person who is responsible for the well-being of a dependent person and to that end may coerce that dependent person. Minor children are dependent persons, and their parents are usually their guardians. The other major group of dependent persons are the mentally disabled. Cetaceans and apes are not intelligent enough to be considered even dependent persons.

Super-Persons? No amount of mental or physical power makes any entity deserve more rights than persons. Bioengineered and artificial beings are fully persons if they meet the tests of intelligence and volition.

Pre-Persons. A being is also a person if it is of a kind that ordinarily are or become persons and has either significant cognition or both sentience and physiological independence. Viable human fetuses thus are dependent persons, in the same sense that minor children are. Genotypes of persons are not themselves persons, and have no right not to be modified.

Post-Persons. A person ceases to be a person when it permanently loses its life, intelligence, or volition. A person must be considered a dependent person if he does not want personal responsibility for any intermittent loss of intelligence or volition.

Personal Identity. A person is identified through time with its closest close-enough continuous-enough continuer. A person P1 constituted from the description and even materials of a person P0 is not identified with P0 if the constitution process is discontinuous. It is logically possible to duplicate a person, even though the duplicate would not share in the identity of the person and would have the ethical status of a child of the original's age. It is also logically possible to split a person such that all continuers are equally close and all are close and continuous enough to preserve identity. In this case the continuers would share equally the predecessor's identity, and would have to assign among themselves all of the predecessor's unsharable personal and property relations. Similar reasoning applies to joined persons.

Organisms. Impersonal organisms may be owned by persons, and may be coerced or killed by their owning person or (if unowned and unaccessed) by any person. Genotypes of organisms are not themselves alive, and thus have no independent right against extinction. Bioengineered and artificial beings have the full rights of organisms if they meet the test of being alive.

Objects of Ethics

Property is anything that an agency has the exclusive right to possess, use, and assign.

* Property can be anything that is not a person and that can be created or controlled by a person.
* A person has a right to access any unowned resource to which they have been exercising continuing access.
* A person owns any unowned unaccessed thing over which he exerts original control.
* A person owns anything he creates from his property and resources rights.
* A person owns any property, property right, or resource right consensually assigned by its rightful owner.
* Each property, property right, and resource right of a person, upon his death, either goes to a chosen assignee or reverts to being unowned.

A resource is any physical or logical supply or space which exists without intelligent sustenance and is easy to use in part but hard to control as a whole, such as air, land, water, pollution sinks, sunlight, wind, views, fish, game, minerals, meteorites, space, orbits, bandwidth, public namespaces, etc. Polluting or monopolizing a resource is aggression against the persons who have been exercising continuing access to it. A possessable resource is one, such as land or sunlight, of which a part may be controlled such that any outsider's use of it is easily detectable by the controller. Even privatized property interests in unpossessable resources are subject to the tragedy of the commons, because the owner cannot readily identify who is violating his interest.

Property can consist only of possessable resources, artifacts, and intellectual property. Anartifact is any material thing created by an intelligence. Intellectual property is property consisting of an original creation of information, including expressions (but not facts), inventions (but not discoveries), and reputations. Copyright is the right to reproduce an original expression such as text, images, audio, video, sculpture, or dance. Apatent is the property right over an original invention. A reputation is the public or commercial esteem or identity of a person or a person's property. Defamation is damage to a reputation through deceptive expression.

Original expressions are the intellectual property of their creator or his assignee, but should not be granted full copyright. When media reproduction and distribution was expensive and its ownership concentrated, copyright had the primary effect of ensuring commercial exclusivity rather than preventing non-competing or "fair" use. Digital technologies have made media reproduction and distribution asymptotically free, and so archaic copyright doctrine finds itself opposed to uses which cannot be prevented. (Although not protected by copyright, there seems to be no shortage of expressions such as fashions, jokes, and bumper stickers.)

Ownership of expression should give only the right to prevent its reproduction in cases of a) competition that diverts commercial benefit from the owner to the competitor, b) attributed use with unattributed defamatory modification, and c) unattributed use of any kind. Intellectual property in reputations should be recognized for as long as the commercial utility of those reputations. Anti-competition rights in expressions should be recognized for only as long as it might have taken before someone else created the same original expression. (For most expressions, this duration would be indefinite.) Intellectual property in an invention should be recognized for only as long as it might have taken before someone else invented it, or for as long as the ordinary product lifecycle in the relevant industry, whichever is longer.

Ethical Relations

Persons have no right to inflict negative externalities impacting property and resource rights, and no right to demand compensation for positive externalities.

Cooperation is the interaction among persons for mutual benefit. Cooperation is usually positive-sum even for direct and reversible exchanges, because the exchanging persons have differing needs or values. The right of association is the right of persons, except in cases of anti-competitive monopoly, to cooperate or decline to cooperate with whom they choose. Cooperation can take many forms. A contract is an explicit understanding among consenting agents to exchange with or affect each other in a specified way. Marriage is a form of contract that unites many of the property rights and liabilities of the marrying persons.

Aggression is the violation by a person of another person's rights, and consists only of: personal injury, damage to property, infringement of resource rights, coercion, fraud, anti-competitive monopoly, or inducement or deceptive incitement of third parties to any of these. Coercion is compulsion of one person by another through force or threat of aggression. Fraud is any attempt to profit by deceiving a person into making a choice intended to cause him economic harm relative to what would have been his undeceived choice. Deception is the statement of demonstrable falsehoods or the omission of relevant truths that has the intentional effect of encouraging a false belief in another person. Theft is the unjust and non-consensual taking of property from its rightful owner. Anti-competitive monopoly is the intentional control or denial of a person's participation in an industry by the coordinated action of the person(s) controlling that industry. Torture is the infliction of pain on any being as a result of the sadistic intention or callous negligence of a person.

Competition is the contrary efforts of persons to win the consent of some other person(s) to associate in some way. The infliction of opportunity costs through non-monopolistic competition does not by itself constitute aggression. Expression is only aggression if it involves deception that intentionally or negligently causes actual harm or serious risk thereof, for example by yelling "fire!" in a crowded (but not burning) theater. Non-deceptive incitement to aggression is not itself aggression.

Justice is the minimization, reversal and punishment of aggression. Injustice is unminimized, unreversed, or unpunished aggression. The minimization of coercion can itself justify a minimal amount of coercion. Coercion should be reversed by payment of damages or, if possible, reparation of the original property or access rights to the coerced persons. Serious coercion should be punished by loss of freedom, personal interaction, and even life.

Liberty is volition in the absence of aggression. Thus justice can also be defined as the most liberty for the most persons. Freedom is significant volition: the power of making significant decisions about an agent's own actions. The freedoms of two persons can be in complete conflict, but their liberties by definition cannot.

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