support the show…


Consciousness25: Ethics 101


If you’re someone who wonders “What does it mean to be a good person?” then this is the discussion for you.  Personally, I don’t usually wonder that, but Greg is a hot young guy so I have to be nice to him and listen to what he says.

j/k (sort of)

If you want to find out more about what Greg is talking about in this episode, go read the little book online by Stef Molyneux – Universally Preferable Behavior - and let me know what you think of it.

Today’s music is supplied by a friend of Greg’s who is neither dead nor a robot, or at least so he claims.

Breathing in and out,


7 comments to Consciousness25: Ethics 101

  • It’s true! I’m neither dead, nor a robot. Why do so many people keep doubting it? No reasonable jury would still be out on this one. ;)

    Thanks for using my song. I loved the show and can’t wait to delve deeper into the archives.

  • This was a delightful conversation.

    For a great intro to UPB, check out this video:

    Also, you can read the book linked above! :)


  • George Berkeley

    There’s a fundamental problem with the premise that Greg begins with of a distinction between mind and an external ‘reality’ independent of mind. This assumption is entirely speculative and logically flawed. Please read my book — Principles of Human Knowledge.

  • amychilds

    I’m so excited that a dead person commented on my site!! I’ve reached a new level of celebrity. Woo!

    And James, thanks for listening and commenting – that’s exciting too, even though you aren’t as dead as George (may he rest in peace).

  • dave bockman

    ‘This assumption is entirely speculative and logically flawed. ‘ And yours is not flawed how?

    The principal of the argument contains the argument itself.

  • George Berkeley

    What better starting assumption can there be than what I experience directly (or used to), which can only be in mind? Then yes, the argument follows.

  • Thor Odhner

    Interesting food for thought.

    I must admit, I’m hesitant to “jump into the ring” on this topic, since the type of person most likely to respond to this discussion (myself included) probably loves argument for argument’s sake, and I’m fairly certain I don’t have that kind of time. That said, I’ll toss out some thoughts and try not to give the impression of an air-tight argument.

    DISCLAIMER: I’ve been a big fan of Molyneux for years after meeting him at several events at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (Austrian Economics).

    I’m one of those “Ethics is subjective” atheists mentioned in the podcast, and my basic reservation with UPB pretty much all Ethics is this: Either it’s claiming that certain behaviors are preferable with respect to specific goals, or it’s claiming that certain behaviors are preferable WITHOUT respect to specific goals. I can’t see any logical or empirical way of supporting the latter. If it’s the former, than you can really take the OUGHT out of it, except where accompanied by an IF. IF you want to avoid being killed/imprisoned/etc. then you probably OUGHT to not rape anyone. But, if you’re simply eccentric and want to rape someone more than you want to live, is that WRONG without respect to your goals? Or are your goals WRONG?

    I think there’s a LOT of value in defining the continuum of what preferences are more and less common/universal in our complex social landscape, and then talking about the relative successes and failures of varying behaviors in achieving specific goals given that environment. If that’s all you’re up to, then three cheers! But if you’re attempting to talk about “oughts” or “shoulds” without reference to any goals (even “the most commonly held goals in society”) then I don’t really think you’ve got a leg to stand on. Behaviors can’t have successes or failures to drive the empirical process of confirmation unless we can point to outcomes and call them ‘good’ or ‘bad’, aka goals.

    Now, because many goals and preferences are *near* universal, there’s a lot of pragmatic value in defining “NUPB” (nearly universal preferable behavior). The the “pervert” or “sociopath” or “psycho” who does not share these preferences with the other 99.9% cannot be objectively shown to be WRONG… merely eccentric (which then opens him/her up to all sorts of disadvantages due to pragmatic strategies of the other 99.9%).

    Even attempts at leveling the playing field and denying our own preferences, such as the Rawlsian “Veil of Ignorance” (leaving alone that imagining that you’re being impartial and being impartial are very different things) ignore the subjectivity of the weighting process for basic value judgments… Is it more important that:
    1. Everyone be equally happy
    2. The least happy member of society be as happy as possible?
    3. The average member of society be as happy as possible?
    4. The median member of society be as happy as possible?