Bruno Marchal writes:

> Le 13-déc.-06, à 02:01, Stathis Papaioannou a écrit :
> > OK, but the point is that the basic definition of "bad" is arbitrary.
> Perhaps, but honestly I am not sure. In acomp, we can define a (very 
> platonist) notion of "bad". The simpler and stronger one is just the 
> falsity "f". Then Bf, BBf, BBBf, BBBBf, BBBBBf, etc. gives a sequence 
> of less and less badness, which translated in the Z (material) 
> hypostases gives the Df, DDf, DDDf, DDDDf, DDDDDf ... which are better 
> candidates for that notion of badness.
> (recall that G does not prove Bf -> f, and that G* proves DBf (the 
> astonishing godelian consistency of being inconsistent).
> (note also that G* *does* prove Bf -> f).
> > It might seem
> > that there would be some consensus, for example that torturing 
> > innocent people
> > is an example of "bad", but it is possible to assert without fear of 
> > logical or
> > empirical contradiction that torturing innocent people is good.
> I disagree. Mainly for the reason alluded above. Please note I 
> understand that there is no purely logical contradiction (f) in 
> asserting that "torture" is good, but the purely logical operates at 
> the third person level, in which there is no "pain" at all. Once you 
> take incompleteness into account this should be much less evident, and 
> much more fuzzy. There is nothing illogical with an altimeter (in a 
> plane) giving a wrong information (like the plane is at altitude = 
> 1000, instead of the correct 500), but you can understand this can lead 
> to a catastrophe. Any BB...Bf can be seen as a promise for a 
> catastrophe.

But there is no true/false in saying that torture is bad, unless there is 
hidden assumption such as "causing gratuitous suffering is bad", in which case 
the question becomes, why is causing gratuitous suffering bad? Ultimately you 
get to "it just is, so there!" It is the same in aesthetics: ultimately, you 
have to 
assert that you think this looks better than that because that's just what you 

> > There are people
> > in the world who do in fact think there is nothing wrong with torture 
> > and although
> > they are not very nice peopel, they are not as a result of having such 
> > a belief deluded.
> Honestly I doubt it. Of course some people can believe that torture can 
> be good for their own life, in case torture can prevent the enemy to 
> drop some bomb. Of course some people are cynical and can, like Sade, 
> defend torture with the (wrong imo) idea that nature "defends" the 
> right of those who have the powers and thus that they have the right to 
> follow their sexual perverse compulsion, but this could mean that they 
> are inconsistent (they have some BBB...Bf as implicit belief). Then 
> from the divine (starred G*) pov, they are (globally) inconsistent 
> (although cannot know it).

What would you say to the Romans who attended events at the Colliseum, 
and thought there was nothing wrong at all with feeding people to wild animals? 
What would you say to an alien species which had reached a high level of 
technological development by routinely killing the less intelligent portion of 
population in order to control their numbers and improve the gene pool? What 
would you say to a citizen of Nazi Germany 70 years down the track if Hitler 
succeeded in conquering Europe and every schoolchild had grown up learning 
what a great man he was? You could try to persuade them that your values were 
better and nobler, but you couldn't persuade them that your values are more 
rational or more consistent with the facts, because they aren't. 

> >> Recall that even the (although very familiar) notion of natural 
> >> numbers
> >> or integers cannot be defined unambiguously in science. Science asks 
> >> us
> >> only to be clear on primitive principles so that we can share some
> >> reasoning on those undefinable entities.
> >
> > But there is a big difference between Pythagoras saying 17 is prime 
> > and Pythagoras
> > saying that eating beans is bad. You can't say that "prime" and "bad" 
> > are equivalent
> > in that they both need to be axiomatically defined.
> Hmmm... "prime" and "bad" cannot be equivalent in that sense. But 
> "being a natural number" and "bad" can. The nuance is that I grant the 
> notion of natural number before defining "prime". But my belief in 
> natural numbers (my belief in the standard model of Peano Arithmetic, 
> Arithmetical truth) is as hard, even impossible, to define than is the 
> notion of truth, good, etc.
> Defining "Prime" is easy: (~(x = 1) & Ay(y divides x) -> (y = 1 v y = 
> x)) where (a divides b) is a macro for Ez(az = b).
> Defining "number" is just not possible actually. Even with a richer 
> theory or second order logic you will have to rely implicitly on the 
> standard model of the higher theory, which is less palatable than the 
> "standard model" of PA.

There are several differences between the axioms of ethics and aesthetics on 
the one hand and those of logic, mathematics and science on the other. One is 
that you can bet that any sentient species would arrive at exactly the same 
of arithmetic and chemistry, but might have completely bizarre, or at least 
different, notions of ethics and aesthetics. Another is that matters of ethics 
aesthetics are not really third person communicable: an alien species may have 
notions about these that can only be understood by someone with their 
This is because ethics and aesthetics at a fundamental level involve emotion, 
science and logic do not. An unconscious machine might systematically churn out 
mathematical theorems, but it won't ever provide an honest opinion as to 
eating beans is good or bad. Finally, although in scientific discourse people 
eventually concede that they are dealing with axioms, in ethics especially this 
often taken as offensive, and part of the purpose of religion is to give an 
status to which at some level everyone knows is not absolute.

> > The problem is that some people think "good" and "bad" are on a par 
> > with
> > descriptive terms that every sentient species, regardless of their 
> > psychology,
> > could agree on. They are not.
> Not in any normative sense. But once we bet on a theory (like comp), 
> then we get mathematical tools which can provide general explanation of 
> what is bad, and also explain why such definition cannot be normative, 
> making the bad/good distinctions an ideal goal for complex sufficiently 
> self-sustaining machines societies.

What if they're Nazi machines?

> > Every sentient species would agree that a
> > nuclear bomb going off in your face will kill you,
> Bad example for this list!  (CF quantum immortality or comp 
> immortality!). But ok, this is besides the point.
> > but some would say this was
> > good and others would say it was bad.
> Yes, but unless people are insane, most will give or try to give a 
> ratio. In such case it is a question of utility with respect of some 
> notion of good and bad. It is not related with the hardness to define 
> completely what is good and what is bad. Like killing. Killing can be 
> considered as bad but can be accepted in self-defense.

I am touched by your confidence that the rational will lead to the good, 
and I wish it were so, but it isn't and it never has been. I would only be 
a little less frightened of a rational murderous regime than of an irrational 

Stathis Papaioannou
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