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Practical Morality

bad starting question: what is good?

good starting question: how should i live?

initial answer: in a way that creates a lot of knowledge

some might object that this is vague, abstract, and useless, and won't help them with practical problems.

that, of course, is due to their lack of knowledge :)

anyhow, i'll connect it to 4 practical issues.

1) how do i save money for a car?

by getting a job and spending less money.

but i don't know how to do that!

well then you need more knowledge. you need to learn about those things.

how do i do that?

think about them, read books, make guesses at the answer, and then subject the guesses to criticism, use trial and error, etc (read Karl Popper's books for more details, or it's in my blog archives somewhere)

2) i don't like criticism. is it ok if i don't listen to it?

suppose you're wrong about 10 things. everyone makes mistakes sometimes, so that's nothing special. if you never listen to criticism (including self-criticism) then you'll never find out about the areas where you're mistaken. if you do listen to criticism, it might sometimes help you identify one of those areas. the policy of ignoring all criticism prevents *correcting errors*.

what does that have to do with creating knowledge?

if you have 3 good ideas and 3 bad ideas, and then you correct an error and now you have 4 good ideas, and 2 bad ideas, then you have more knowledge. knowledge is the good parts of your ideas but not the bad parts.

3) my kid keeps asking for stuff and i say "shut up; i'll make the decisions in my house" and ignore him. is that ok?

if one of his requests is a good idea you'll never learn that by ignoring all his requests. your policy prevents creating knowledge of which of his requests are good. it also prevents you helping him create knowledge about his requests. if he learned more, then he'd make less bad requests because he'd know how to evaluate them himself. so, no it is not ok.

4) should i get married?

marriage means promising to be together forever. to reasonably make that promise you have to have a plan for how you will avoid drifting apart. if, after 10 years, you find that you have completely different interests than your spouse, and no interest in doing anything with them, then you will spend all your time apart and your marriage will be pointless and you've broken your promise. so you gotta have a way to prevent drifting apart. what causes or risks drifting? new interests. when you learn new things you change, if you change you might end up different than your spouse. the growth of knowledge is unpredictable, so you can't guarantee your spouse will change in the same ways. preventing drift means keeping change and learning under control. so marriage is the opposite of open-ending knowledge creation. so you should not marry.

Elliot Temple on October 28, 2008


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