Former username Ikaxas
Cf this: Kurzgesagt, A New History for Humanity – The Human Era
And thank you for writing this post!
Pretty sure I would also benefit from reading the appendix
So I am a philosophy grad student with a shallow familiarity with this literature. The way I understand the people who object to the evo-debunking, they argue that the evolution stuff is a red herring—basically any causal story about the origins of our moral intuitions would do the same work in the argument, the empirical details don’t matter. The real work is going on in the philosophical side of the argument, and that, they think, doesn’t hold up. Might post again later with some paper recs.
I don’t think only PhD students can apply. On the website it says either philosophy PhD students, or graduates of a philosophy program, can apply. So I assume e.g. early-career professors would also be welcome to apply.
So the terminology here gets used differently by different people, but the view that moral statements can be true or false is usually called “cognitivism”, not “realism” (though there definitely are people who use “realism” for that view). My own personal preference is to define realism as cognitivism plus the metaphysical claim that moral properties are mind-independent (i.e. not grounded in facts about anyone’s moral beliefs or attitudes).
Can you say more about what you mean by “classical ethics”? The only thing I can think for you to mean by it is classical Greek ethics, is that right?
I agree it may be difficult for a utilitarian to fully deceive themselves into giving up their utilitarianism. But here’s an option that might be more feasible: be uncertain about your utilitarianism (you probably already are, or if you aren’t you should be), and act according to a theory that both 1. Utilitarianism recommends you act according to, and 2. You find independently at least somewhat plausible. This could be a traditional moral theory, or it might even be the result of the moral uncertainty calculation itself.
Adding onto this, it’s also generally accepted that you should only do serious translation work into a language that you speak natively. For instance, an English-German bilingual with German as their native language should not translate German content into English, only English content into German. So what you need are not just people who are fluent in English and some other language, but people who have some other language as their native language.
Idk, I’ve not read tons of Plato or anything, it’s certainly possible that early translations would have used “pray tell”. Probably just an artifact of the particular translations I’ve read that it sounded out of place to me.
Oh! I see, you were trying to imply that just because Socrates had done lots of philosophy didn’t improve his moral views about women and slaves. I still kind of like the interpretation where, in this alternate timeline, Socrates gets his (for the time) progressive views about the education of women and slaves from a conversation with a time-traveller, even if it’s not what you initially intended. (Although again, that means the dinner conversation Caplan went to can’t be the conversation depicted in the Republic, not sure if you were intending it to be. The details that made me think you were implying that are: 1. The fact that Socrates says that at dinner he talked about his views on the tripartite soul, which come up in the Republic—I think they’re introduced there, though it’s possible they’re first mentioned in an earlier dialogue I haven’t read; and 2. The fact that Thrasymachus says everyone is familiar with his views on justice, which again come up in the Republic—though I suppose his views would probably be known before the conversation in the Republic.)
I loved this! A nitpick and a question. First, “pray” and “pray tell” sound a bit out of place to me, they sound more like Shakespeare or something than Plato.
Socrates: Huh, I had not previously considered women and slaves...
Socrates: Huh, I had not previously considered women and slaves...
This isn’t true, at least of the version of Socrates depicted by Plato. Are you trying to imply that this conversation is the origin of Socrates’ egalitarian views on women and slaves in the Republic and the Meno? There are a couple of places where I thought you were implying that the dinner conversation Caplan attends is the conversation depicted in the Republic. Is it just meant to be another similar conversation, with earlier incarnations of Socrates’ views on the tripartite soul and Thrasymachus’ views on justice?
Oops, one correction: “public justification” doesn’t mean “justification to the people a policy will affect”, it means “justification to all reasonable people”; “reasonable people” is roughly everyone except Nazis and others with similarly extreme views.
I know this doesn’t solve the actual problem you’re getting at, but here’s a translation of that sentence from philosophese to English. “Pro tanto” essentially means “all else equal”: a “pro tanto” consideration is a consideration, but not necessarily an overriding one. “Public justification” just means justifying policy choices with reasons that would/could be persuasive to the public/to the people they will affect. So the sentence as a whole means something like “While moral uncertainty doesn’t mean that governments (and other institutions) should always justify their decisions to the people, it does mean they should do so when they can.”
This is something I’m dealing with right now, so reading this was helpful. Thanks
If you happen to not be aware of this video already, you really should be.
I’d be interested in this. Even though “generalist researcher” is well-known, I think it’s easy from the outside to get a distorted picture of the “content” of the job. Aside from this recent post, I don’t know of write ups about it off the top of my head (though there could be ones I don’t know about), and of course multiple writeups are useful since different people’s situations and experiences will be different.
I had this reaction as well. Can’t speak for OP, but one issue with this is that audio is harder to look back at than writing; harder to skim when you’re just looking for that one thing you think was said but you want to be sure. One solution here would be transcription, which could probably be automated because it wouldn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to be able to skim to the part of the audio you’re looking for.
You might check out this SEP article: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-biology/. Haven’t read it myself, but looking at the table of contents it seems like it might be helpful for you (SEP is generally pretty high-quality). People have made a lot of different arguments that start from the observation that human morality has likely been shaped by evolutionary pressures, and it’s pretty complicated to try to figure out what conclusions to draw from this observation. It’s not at all obvious that it implies we should try to “escape the shackles of evolution” as you put it. It may imply that, but it also may not. (In particular, “selective evolutionary debunking arguments” seem to have implications along these lines, but “general evolutionary debunking arguments” seem to lead to almost the opposite conclusion.)
You might also check out this post by Eliezer.
So I am a philosopher and thus fundamentally unqualified to answer this question. So take these thoughts with a grain of salt. However:
From my outsider’s perspective, it seems as though AI safety uses a lot of concepts from economics (especially expected utility theory). And if you’re at the grad level in economics, then you probably have a decent math background. So at least many of your skills seem like they would transfer over.
I don’t know how much impact you can expect to have as an AI researcher compared to an economist. But that seems like the kind of question an economist would be well-equipped to work on answering! If you happen to not already be familiar with cause prioritization research, you might consider staying in economics and focusing on it, rather than switching to AI, as cause prioritization is pretty important in its own right.
Similarly, you might focus on global priorities research: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/dia3NcGCqLXhWmsaX/an-introduction-to-global-priorities-research-for-economists. Last I knew the Global Priorities Institute was looking to hire more economists; don’t know if that will still be true when you finish your grad program, but at the very least I expect they’ll still be looking to collaborate with economists at that time.
In other words, it seems like you might have a shot at transitioning (though I am very, very unqualified to assess this), but also there seem to be good, longtermist-relevant research opportunities even within economics proper.
Let me say this: I am extremely confused, either about what your goals are with this post, or about how you think your chosen strategy for communication is likely to achieve those goals.