I have varying amounts of confidence in different aspects of my belief
system. From most sure to least sure, this how I think about moral
questions. Rough confidence is included, as a percentage.
Evaluate actions (99%++)
The role of a moral system is to help you make choices. It is not enough
to know that a stituation is very
good or bad. What matters are the actions you can take.
Compare outcomes (99%++)
When comparing actions, what matters is how the
world will be
after each action (or inaction) you might take. If
waving a greeting at your neighbor will probably have better
consequences than pushing them over, prefer waving. But if pushing
them over has better consquences, perhaps because a homicidal
radioactive trolley car has gone off its rails and you're pushing them
out of its way, then what matters is not "don't push your neighbors"
but "if I push this guy over, they won't get run over".
Estimation is the best we have (99%++)
While we want to take the actions that will
lead to the best
outcomes we don't actually know what those are. This means we always
some, and we should try to do a better job deciding
about actions with larger potential effects.
Other people matter (99%+)
If I take your cake and eat it, I get to enjoy the cake and you will
be sad. I may still think my happiness outweighs your sadness, but I
need to consider them both in order to determine whether the world
would be better if I took your cake.
All people matter about equally (98%)
I'm not special, you're not special. People in my country aren't more important
than people in other
countries. People in the future are just as important as people now.
Value is proportional to number of people (98%)
Kicking ten random strangers is about ten times as bad as kicking one.
Giving 100,000 random children chocolate bars is about 100 times as
good (or bad) as giving them to 1,000. A given consequence for N
people is N times more important (good or bad) as it happening to only
1 person. Duplicating the universe would be twice as good/bad as
anihilating it. There is an "all else being equal" here: suddenly
taking the number of people on earth from 7B to 7T would be terrible
because huge numbers would die unpleasantly (not to mention that this
would probably have a dramatic negative effect on the number of future
Some kind of utilitarianism (95%)
Every person at every moment has some number that represents their
utility. Total utility is the sum of all people's utilities over all
time. Actions that lead to higher total utility are better. Utility
could be net happiness, net preference satisfaction, or something more
complicated. There are things I dislike
about all suggested definitions of utility I've seen, but it still
seems like roughly the right idea.
Living humans are what count (90%)
The border between humans and animals isn't sharp, but somewhere
between babies and apes (inclusive) I think they stop mattering for
their own sake (their utility is zero) and only remain relevant for
the sake of other people. Similarly, once people die they only matter
in as much as remaining people care
about them. Raw joy/suffering isn't what matters, and building a happy neuron farm
wouldn't be valuable, but an
would still count. (I'm
using 'people' here and above as shorthand for "the moral entities
that matter". If I changed my mind here and started including trees
as entities that mattered for their own sake, then everything above
would also apply to trees.)