Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence



So @slatestarscratchpad linked to this in his latest post. Which, I’ve read it, and now I think I understand much of why disagree with him so much (beyond simple object-level stuff). It is this: he is very concerned about the conflict between stages 3 and 4, whereas I’m mostly looking at what happens between 4 and 5 – not that everyone I support is at that level.

Which okay, basically this post is me saying “I’m at a higher level,” which is pretentious as fuck. So if someone wants to say, “Geeze veronica, you’re being pretentious as fuck,” I can only shrug and plead guilty.

Anyway, moving on.

I see things as a social dialectic between groups struggling within whatever system they find themselves. Furthermore, I don’t see any principled way to decide between these groups. Any codified set of rules, in my view, is another set of constraints that someone will push against.

And round and round it goes.

So we get a social dialectic, where people struggle for the right to define meaning.

Like, what is gender? What should it be? How should all of this work? What is race? Should we be colorblind, but what does that actually entail?

You can answer those, and thus build a system that will be terribly wrong from the point of view of someone else, and then they will fight you.

And round and round it goes.

“But there need to be rules,” someone cries out (but does not go on to say “and they need to be mine, cuz {concepts}”).

But people are going to fight you over your rules. Likewise, they’ll fight you over your basic conceptualization. And you can’t “meta rule” your way out of this, because there is no meta. We’re all in the system all the way down.

So yeah.

You may be right, based on my reaction to that Kegan piece being “stage 5 makes no sense”.

Like, suppose you’re able to switch fluidly between moral systems. You must switch based on some specific criteria, ie “I will use moral system A here, but moral system B there”. Then it seems that criteria is your real moral system.

A concrete example: suppose you’re utilitarian on the trolley problem, because utilitarianism returns your intuitively preferred answer of “flip the switch”. But you’re deontological on the fat man problem, because deontology returns your intuitively preferred answer of “don’t push the man”.

In that case, your real morality is neither utilitarianism nor deontology. It’s “follow my intuitions and prejudices, then cite whatever moral system agrees with me as an excuse”. This is supposed to be the highest possible stage of morality?

So if you’re always switching between systems, it either means you have some underlying moral system beneath the switches (stage 4) or that you’re a total opportunist. I expect I’m missing something, but can’t figure out what, which probably means I’m not at stage 5 yet.

Also, lately Leah’s been pushing the following quote: “Above all, if we wish to protect the poor we shall be in favour of fixed rules and clear dogmas. The rules of a club are occasionally in favour of the poor member. The drift of a club is always in favour of the rich one.”

It seems about right to me.

Additionally, I find that talking about “stages” is entirely too abstract.

If somebody tells me that their ethical system demands that some children be tossed into the volcano to placate the Volcano God, I’m not going to shrug and mutter about how all worldviews are truly fluid and amorphous constructs and I need to respect this person’s meta-systematic explorations. I should hope that, whatever “stage” I’m at, I will know that sacrificing children to the Volcano God is just plainly and simply wrong. I have conviction in the “child murder = bad” perspective. I want to have that conviction. I want to want to have that conviction.

It’s possible that I’m missing the point. Stage 5 just smells like garden variety moral relativism. I wonder if Stage 6 is endorsing the view (that I got from Eliezer but probably has antecedents) that, yeah, there probably isn’t any objective moral truth, but that understanding won’t really help guide my actions, and I still need to behave in a way that lets me look at myself in the mirror, and it seems like I should find some kind of internally consistent ethics that aesthetically appeals to me and just act like that one is true.