Posted on August 28, 2021
Hi Ethics Nutters,
There are two main concerns of mine today. The first is unregulated Genetic Engineering by foreign states. The second, is the values that AI will have and whose values they are that are instilled. A great article I’ve just found is by Ibo van de Poel titled, “Embedding Values in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Systems”.
This is not something that should be taken lightly and it speaks volumes to our understanding of ethics in how it will be applied to AI systems.
Even claims made in the article are frought with difficulty, such as claims that someone can value something that has no value. Whereas, many might say and myself included, that a claim such as something valued can actually have no value, is itself an imposition of a normative claim. It is the person who values an item or thing that gives it its value. An item or thing does not objectively hold value, which those claiming it either has or does not have somehow know its true nature better than others.
If one person or group does not value and item but one person does, that item has value. The individual has given it its value and to say it really has no value is simply an imposition of a majority, or worse educated minority. If we think value and ethics are objective, although I believe less and less do today, then we can create and instill a moral algorithm for AI that can be used by everyone. However, because there is a growing realization that value and ethics are actually a very subjective element of humanity, this is a radical hurdle in the implementation of AI across cultures, sub-cultures, and perhaps even within a homogenous culture that allows for differences of values and ethics within it, such as a liberalized system.
There is no way that an AI system widely used and not programmed by the individual to some extent, can escap a authoritarian application of morality. What is meant by programmed by the individual would merely be the selection options prior to a purchased systems start-up. This would allow for large normative legal decision to be implemented although allowing for the very necessary individualized nuanced details of what the person as the space to think is right and wrong.
The idea that we can program morality into AI for all, rests on the fallacy that morality is objective. It is not.
Posted on August 14, 2021
An interesting point of discussion I want to merely raise is whether we define Good from our default behaviour as humans, or is it something that we discover, something other than how we are naturally? Do we look around and govern using ethics as law on what is agreeable behaviour, or is ethics something which is discovered that is beyond our current way of being and exterior to human nature. The way in which these questions are answered rests largely with how morality is seen and whether it is intrinsically subjective or somehow objective and independent of ourselves. How it is answered bares greatly on how we are governed.
In the past, has it been true that we look around and determine what is best for human flourishing will be what is right and ethical and just? Was it through some guise of religious dogma used to govern for centuries that we came to understand morality as that which we find agreeable in what will make society prosper as social animals. Or is there legitimacy in divine natural law as being objective to our nature and that which raises us above the other animals.
Today, many atheists and agnostics would side with the use of morality as a way to govern and natural law simply being hocus pocus justifications. This seems to have increasingly wider acceptance as the reflective truth on what happened in the past. For the sake of intellectual discussion though, it is important to examine natural law theory and the notion that ethics and morality are objectively found through reasoning, and are external to our natural behaviours as social animals. This discovery through reasoning guides us to a better future existence than our current state of being.
If we assume that we discover what is Good through reasoning, the next question of course is whose reasoning? Can we arrogantly say that the reasoning of one individual is superior to that of another? Is there any objective determination that someone has become capable of reasoning to the degree that it is truth in some external way to our nature? Can there ever be anything external to our nature or is that a concept left behind in humankinds history? Those that are educated would arguably be positioned to reason in a way that is different than those who are not, however how that difference in logical reasoning merits greater understanding of a normative claim is unclear. There is a tendency to think that the reasoning performed after it has been structured by education is superior to an unstructured reasoning. However, this discrepancy itself is based on value statements, biased opinions, and other subjective elements that are used in a hierarchy of thoughts and opinions. Increasingly today, it seems that there has become a schism of what constitutes a valid opinion with education no longer being a defining determinant.
If we cannot assign individuals to reason “better” for others, does it mean that we no longer have direction? Does it mean that societies direction has become diffuse with societies path no longer a collective path but a selection of individualized options as if in a restaurant making the selection of the main course. Do liberalized nations offer this selection effectively and that being the distinguishing characteristic of itself from foreign authoritarian governing apparat. Is this fostering of liberalized selection, true recognition of the subjective nature of morality and the individuals right to autonomy and liberty? It seems so.
The subjective nature of morality is increasingly taken as a concedence of thought for moralities foundation. This is arguably the driving factor behind the rise of individual rights and freedoms with recognition of true equality among people respecting their values and opinions. Morality is not an objective fact to discover. It has always been a view by those wielding power on what is best for society to adhere to in daily life. A look back at history will show anyone that the application of moral law was not evenly applied and was done in part to benefit interests of those in power. How much that has changed is debatable with many likely saying not enough. In Western liberalized society today, the environment is rightly protected and nurtured for equality of rights and freedoms which in time will shift power increasingly from a few, perhaps a many few, to the individual.
Posted on July 24, 2021
Hi Ethic Nutters,
Here is an interest article by Anne Zimmerman. It is interesting for a number of reasons, but what I think is important to note is the mention of moral beliefs as something which we take as factual rather than just opinions. I agree this is often how they are expressed and held, and that has interesting ramifications for resolving controversies and disputes.
Bioethics: Analyzing Reasoning in Moral Controversy by Anne Zimmerman – Link to article:
Posted on June 26, 2021
Throughout this terrible pandemic, I have stood patiently by outside my apartment building watching the world pass by as I stay within the guidelines of what is restricted and what is allowed. With all non-essential activities prohibited, that has meant I have only gone for groceries, to work, and for walks throughout the past now year and four months. The remainder of the time has been spent in my unit and just outside the front of the building. It is not a terrible thing to stay in I have found and it has become just my normal. However, while sitting outside my building staring at the coffee shop across from me I cannot help notice that throughout the pandemic essential somehow meant to many people you could still go for a Cappuccino run. This despite it clearly being anything but essential.
It’s very common to rationalize disobedience. From a young age those with siblings will say “Well Glen did it” thinking, therefore I can as well, if an action of disobedience is permitted. The wrongfulness is not understood if it is permitted by your brother or sister. In society, we must often restrict ourselves seeing people behave in ways that we know are wrong, however, are not reprimanded or disciplined in any meaningful way. Some of the time, we ourselves do not want to do that action, other times we would like to but have internal constraints that guide us not too. At times, we find those governing us sharing reasons why one person is permitted but not everyone.
With the COVID pandemic, early on it was known that to get through it we would all need to act in unison. Meaning half the population cannot go about living as though nothing was happening, while the other half isolate and take precautions. The reason for this was because it would spread from those thinking little of the risks to those who thought greatly of them. The Toronto experience during the second and especially third wave showed that there was a gradual sliding of obedience to public health mandates as more and more people saw others flaunting the restrictions such as making unnecessary trips. This of course was to great detriment with surely more than a few lives lost from those who did not heed the words of advice from the health officials. The disobedience that led to illness and increased spread, was rationalized in part by merely people seeing other people taking unnecessary risks such as nonessential trips to the coffee shop. It was then thought in a quasi-herd mentality that the risk is okay, despite advice to the contrary.
The rationalization to disobey public health guidelines came additionally from the simple fact that the disobedience to public health measures regarding what constituted essential was not in any manner enforced. There was no possibility of it. Therefore, as the pandemic continued and people saw increasingly not what was being asked of them but what was unrestricted in real terms the wrongfulness, the consequences, were not understood by the public. It is not the law or guidelines which are strict or harsh, but always the enforcement of it which is either strict or lacks. Where paper meets the outside world is where difference is made.
Many would say in response to the above, despite knowing and seeing people take unnecessary trips to coffee shops or unessential trips, that they continued steadfast with following the instructions. We restrict ourselves when others are permitted or perhaps better put left to go unfettered. Others might argue they took all precautions they could and had to balance isolation with mental health. This rationalization to break from internal constraints, is deeply personal to the individual as they experienced the pandemic. Although early on as mentioned it was known there would have to be a vast public agreement to take precautions as asked, many realized after the first wave that as some have stated in the media, not everyone is on the same boat but rather simply experiencing the same storm.
As it could not be asked of someone working on location to take the same precautions as someone working entirely remotely, rationalizing disobedience for those forced to take greater risk in their daily lives was likely easy. For those who worked on location, it was not that they were seeing other people taking risk and therefore the wrongfulness not understood that led to their flaunting of rules. It may have been that the group of people taking daily risks were both desensitized to the risk and felt as part of a different group entirely from those working remotely. A group entitled to things others are not. Even those who enforce the law such as a police officer, or those who defend the law such as lawyers, along with all sorts of people who claim strict adherence to rules, will rationalize at times to themselves that they have earned leeway when the action being forbidden is wanted.
In terms of this pandemic, the treat people gave themselves was a quick trip to their favourite coffee shop, the only thing open. Perhaps with this thinking, it is a part of human nature to treat ourselves with some forms of disobedience. Strangely it seems that some forms of disobedience may at times be earned through strict adherence to rules forbidding it.
Posted on May 2, 2021
To look at the political supporters today as an objective outside observer, the immediate description would be a deepening polarization from those opposing, fueled by a new ability in the form of computer algorithms to deliver only content that fits and supports an existing view. Furthermore, it is seen that this polarization has turned violent from both sides and general discourse along with points of agreement has all but disappeared. If this state of affairs was seen in a developing country, it would rightly be said that the path to civil strife and internal conflict has begun with there being only signs of it continuing and escalating.
Both the right and the left are culpable in this polarization. While the right has ignited historical prejudices as a means to garner support and only fanned that anger to enact their sweeping reforms and policies, the left has by-and-large for many years ignored the right and belittled or pushed outside politics, the views that differ from their own. Examples of both include President Trump’s hate filled rhetoric during rallies, and late-night televisions decision to satirize and ridicule the rights views rather than try to engage in qualified discourse. It is easy to say in support of the left that to engage in discussions with clearly bigoted views provides those views with credence. That response however is not productive and furthers the division. To those who support the right, some proponents would argue that these are indeed elitists who care nothing of the common person and only their set agenda. Those on the left might say these views are compassionate and inclusive of everyone and therefore there is an element of universality to it. The problem is not that someone aligns themselves with the right or left, it is that no longer are the other party’s values and beliefs considered valid and even more worrisome, safe to hold.
What has happened in just the past five to six years is that the polarization has become not a matter of values and beliefs that may differ, but many of those turning violent in protest are in the mindset that it is fundamentally dangerous for the country for the other party to lead. This is an extreme but real view of many from both sides and perhaps the most frightening aspect of the political supporters today. Boiling down to the rights of the individual, both sides have strong beliefs, and perhaps not unfounded, that the other side will at the first opportunity take away strongly held and desired rights of the individual. No longer therefore is politics simply a passive matter that many once believed held no affect on their daily lives. It is quite the opposite now, with far more taking part in voting having been told by talking heads from either party that the very future of one’s existence depends on it. With more at stake and less dialogue the elements are ripe for significant conflict.
Neither the right nor the left are innocent from taking matters into quasi-vigilante actions both large and small through which political inclinations are expressed and a sense of belonging and having served a greater purpose are felt. We see this in the activities of far-right groups, along with the far-left groups both of which frequently display action that support a political side although do so in a legally questionable approach. These actions which are far from what could be said to be political rallies rather than outlawed protests, are now becoming the norm in terms of how to show support for political views. The time where political ideas were debated in clubs and amongst friends is disappearing. The views which were once not radically different have slowly become so by means of algorithms only showing supporting media from the last few clicked on, which is increasingly more radicalized media that is cheap to produce. The idea now that someone could talk to the opposing party and come to see eye to eye, is worryingly becoming improbable. More radicalized and emboldened elements in both parties with strong passions to seek large and quick changes in policy are influencing and drowning out moderate positions pushing the two ideological needles further in opposite directions.
Everyone who has seen the immediate actions of the past two incoming President’s of the United States should be concerned. Whereas President Trump set the example with sweeping unilateral Executive Orders, President Biden has followed suit and to a greater extent. The mechanism of Executive Orders is being used in a manner for which it was not intended and the discontinuation of this approach to its use should be a top priority for both parties’. If in four years Donald Trump returns, will he again sign countless Executive Orders undoing Bidens work and creating the beginnings of a disastrous cycle?
Perhaps most problematic in this arena is that those with moderate voices living everyday lives are having to safely navigate between the radicalized elements on both sides and are unwillingly being pulled into the conflict between the more radicalized elements. These individuals want a return to sanity in politics today and general society who feel they cannot be outspoken about how matters have gone too far and politicians are catering too much to the loudest supporting voices not the most rational supporting. The average worker today does not want to be told they are damaging and hurtful of another person merely for not being “woke”, or from the other side do not want to be seen as not onboard the team by not standing up for some hate filed agenda that pits populations against one another. A balance between the two must made be possible. Achieving this requires a dialogue that does not involve accusatory language as a start.
In the past when politics was an activity for just a few and wide engagement from the population was scarce, passions about political parties was not at the level we see today as for example only ten years ago. It was not seen to the same extent that a political party newly taking power could shape in significant ways parts of your everyday life. However, with the advent of social media news reaching people on an hourly basis if not more so, political stories and views easily find themselves becoming dominant news stories followed as if it were entertainment. Coupling political alignment with strong emotions is a tactic used to keep power as it creates strong allegiance. It does today, however, also cause a side effect whereby all to often the individual takes on responsibility for continual advocacy of the views and beliefs of the party. Facebook posts, Tweets, replies, have become a daily chore of radicalized and fervent supporters taking it upon themselves to do in order to respond to opposing views. While several years ago effort was made to teach people that online is the same as offline, offline has now become reflective of the dialogue that was online. It is divisive and at times very derogatory.
When supporting your politician used to mean taking her or his side in the off discussion you would have once a week, there was little worry someone would get “wrapped up in it”. Today though discussion and dialogue via social media is continuous. We receive notifications that we respond to frequently. This level of engagement has not yet before been seen and is causing strengthened alignments and emboldened supports who border on the obsessed. This continuous discussion and dialogue though is not comprised for the most part of inputs from both sides. Someone who is on the left no longer gets media from the right, and the opposite is equally true. There is now a continuous indoctrination of sorts into either political camp. This indoctrination is not regulated in anyway, contributors can be any random person with a few dollars, time, and an internet connection, and is rarely if ever done by a moderate voice from either side. To avoid further division between supporters of the right and the left today, increased dialogue that begins without accusatory language should be initiated and regulation of independent media should be greatly expanded to include online sources.
Looking at political supporters today a polarization that is only deepening is seen. With emotions involved far more than in the past, and the continuous social media indoctrination of those into ridged political camps, a real fear is that a cycle of swinging policies will become a normal practice until this division, polarization, ends.
Posted on April 8, 2021
Hello Ethic Nutters,
I hope everyone is doing well as we get through the tail end of this pandemic. Thanks for all the visits from around the world. It’s nice to see so many people enjoying my writings. I apologize for not allowing comments but I don’t want to spend time moderating.
A common comment that would come up during my undergrad and a little still today when talking about it, is that Ethicists, and Bioethicists just sit around and say this is good and that’s bad. Clearly this is the opinion of someone who is ill informed about decision making processes and just how complex achieving the right outcome from a decision is in many fields. Some examples of this thinking i.e. radical simplicity, would be to say a financial advisor tells people to buy low and sell high. A family physician to tell the patient to go see a specialist or take Tylenol then call again. Or, a sales person simply telling the person you should buy this product.
None of the above examples are true and it is equally as true that simplistic deconstruction of the field of study of ethics is simply a matter of finding out what is good and bad. That’s not even scratching surface, its a rude and derogatory/dismissive comment and people should understand it is as such.
That’s all I wanted to say in this rare personal post. I believe many who read my articles will understand this post very well.
Posted on April 4, 2021
The action of making free decisions through free will on matters that affect one’s well-being is a core component of liberal democratic societies and what makes them so compelling and desirable for those without these freedoms. Whether it is the freedom to decide who to marry, what to do as a profession, all the way to choosing to have pint of beer or cigarette, the freedom of choice is a fundamental right. However, our rights to decide have outside pressures that shape those decisions as they are made, shape what choices are available, and shape consequences of those decisions. This short post explores our free will and right to decide within democratic societies, shares thoughts on outside pressures and influences that affect our choices, and asks what obligation there is to provide options to choose from and what might create those options.
When looking at our right to freely decide matters that bare importance to our lives, it is the hallmark of this right that we decide who governs over us. Many people migrating to Canada and the United States or Europe, are fleeing countries that do not have this structure to governance over the citizens and are therefore dictatorships of one kind or another. In the absence of the right to choose who governs over you, failed states happen time and again with the population usually left to their own devices when it comes to daily life which becomes daily survival for some. From this core element of the right to determine and decide who governs, we see the importance of free will and free choice in Western civilizations unlike that of countries in other parts of the world. It is the right to decide that permeates through governance where it starts, down to daily life.
The effort given to establish a democratic society is increasingly seen as intrinsically good in nature and has become now an unquestionably focused priority for the global community. Perhaps a good sign and indication of group validity is the number of people taking up the cause within fledgling democracies and externally from foreign supporters, even though the journey is not entirely guided with precision and an at times blurry vision of the goal exists. Some semblance of a democracy will result, but with what influences and reflecting which democracy in practice is unknown. People involved realize that this shift from dictatorships to democracies has growing pains in the form of rebellion, as old intrenched structures are uprooted and replaced by new liberalized and free ones. Pushing the envelop in change is the hope, or knowledge, that there is more good in the end than the harm caused during the shift. Those harms are well known to be clamp downs on protestors, silencing of journalists, and as we see with Russia, attempts to execute political rivals. It is not an easy transition and there is fear that it is only becoming harder with the multi-polarized global power structure in place today.
When looking to democratic societies and the freedom’s of choice within them, it is entirely true that they provide an equality through freedom of decision unlike undemocratic societies. The main factors at play in this equality, is the free capitalist market in tandem with a strong support of positive and negative liberties. Combined, those two elements both provide choice, and more importantly allow for the freedom of choice. These freedoms of choice and to decide that the average citizen takes so casually and pays no attention to, are the dreams of many in other parts of the world. It is also true though that pressures and influences can limit the equality of choices in society. Should we strive to make all options available to everyone and is that even attainable? Presuming the quest for equality is valid and ought to be done, are there limitations on our abilities to fulfill leveling the playing field of equal access, wealth, and riches, or would in doing that lead to a greater evil. That greater evil, a dictatorship of its own as history has taught.
We are free to decide what we want to do in our daily lives but of course there are limitations as with everything. If a product is not available, choice is limited. If a person cannot afford a product, again choice is limited. If two people in a diner party want appetizers or to pick the restaurant, the third person will have no choice at all. We can further these examples to any number of items that are purchased or accessed. The point made is simply that even if you have freedom of choice not everything is accessible to everyone. Causing these limitations are pressures and influences that impact the choices we can make. Immediately it appears as though limitations are a bad thing. However, is that true? It seems to depend on the source of that limitation.
In liberal society, decisions that are counter to a stable society are not supported, limited, and actively disrupted before they are made or during the actions that result. The Capitol Hill insurrection is an example of free will on decisions such as joining a Far-Right group, and to engage with anti-establishment ideologies and conspiracies by large portions of the population that went unfettered. It is a difficult question to answer in terms of whether these groups should be allowed to make the types of decisions that precipitated the insurrection. After the insurrection the answer was made clearer in a unified no. Pressures and influences inform observers of what action is deemed appropriate and right, versus inappropriate and wrong. These allowances can be eye opening in what they reveal about the directions and values of the groups and political parties with the most power in a society.
While it is often thought democracies are bastions of freedoms when compared to foreign governments, they are not without complaint from those living within them. Shifting from the Capitol Hill example to those protesting for action on the environment or equality under the law, recognition of protestors as those essentially fighting for their rights to have input on decision making should never be dismissed lightly. Dismissal can entail stronger actions from those who are most radicalized and whose vision of what needs to be done is an absolute. Taking a subjectivist approach, it seems clear that the pressures and limitations through regulation is neither good nor bad objectively but merely what the majority want to have happen. This restricts freedoms of the minorities in a way that leads to protests and causes civil strife and is closer to a true analysis of its moral validity than other theories. Other ethical theories would hold that the regulatory rules that we currently have are what is objectively good. However, anyone who has had a decision made for them that they disagree with, their decision forbidden, or limited, knows that it is not good. It is a struggle to think the individual is somehow less moral and it is impossible while seeing them as equal and without holding a dominating position over the individual.
From an importance on the ability to make choices/decisions, and governments being formed through the decisions of the people, it is logical to extend the importance of choice to providing citizens with options in terms of where to go to school, what products to buy, where to work, and so on. People do not want to be left alone with no options and will actively advocate government, civil organizations, and corporations for change if that situation persists over the years. While Government intervention plays a role in both limiting options and providing them in terms of schooling, and many other elements of daily life, what gives rise to choice in terms of products is of course not some government intervention but rather the lack of it in market regulation. Perhaps the most difficult challenge is to know what to intervene in and what to leave unrestricted and free. Presuming the Government has been in place over the course of ones life and not recently established, a limitation of choices outside the market is indeed attributed in part to Government actions and dialogue.
While Conservative parties would seek to reduce Government intervention in all areas in favour of the market, those leaning Liberal and further left, realize that unchecked disparities arise if the invisible hand is left alone. Potential actions can include further advanced dialogue to determine a course of action that makes available options, can include incentives to guide decisions, and reassurances of unhindered freedoms to make those life choices so many do. Partnering with the private sector can strengthen in the long run cooperation and avail citizens of options in so far as it leads to win-win scenarios that ensure continued cooperation and dialogue.
The freedoms of choice and the rights to make those decisions it seems are taken for granted today by many living in the Western developed world. Those who have travelled other parts of the world realize that these freedoms to choose everything from who governs to which pint of beer to have, is not something everyone else enjoys or is free to do. Even though we are all free in democratic societies to make these decisions Government continues to play a role in both creating pressures and influence on what decisions are permitted and easier to make than those that are not and are made illegal. There are no radically free choice environments where we can decide to do anything and nor should there be or a state of nature would form. Even with regulations Governments and the private sector play an important role in providing as many options as possible. Our freedom to decide is as important as any other freedom in so far as it includes freedom to decide what laws govern you and who governs you.
Posted on March 27, 2021
During the COVID pandemic I found out about Thomas Sowell and his ideas on economics and politics. As someone who has studied social and political ethics, I find his views very insightful and generally agree with much of what he says.
“Nothing is easier than to take for granted what we are used to and to image that it is more or less natural so that it requires no explanation. Instead, many Americans demand explanations of why things are not even better and express indignation that they are not.”
Posted on March 20, 2021
Hello Ethic Nutters,
In search for a simple and easy to remember way to distinguish between Law, Morality, and Ethics, I found this interesting video from The Ethics Centre. I’m not sure who the presenter is but the clear definitions of Law, Morality, and Ethics are easy to follow, understand, and share. Enjoy!