Moral Rot, part 3: the landscape

The theory of moral rot is:


1. Moral Luck introduces a probabilistic structure to ethical assessment


2. Entropy is a method to model probabilistic structures


3. Bayes' theorem is a versatile tool to measure probabilistic structures


THEREFORE, we will use Bayes' theorem to model the entropy associated with moral luck.


The entropy associated with moral luck is Moral Rot.


The work that remains is to develop an interpretation of moral rot. What does it look like in the world? How does moral rot progress? Can we do anything to mitigate the effects?


Before we get there, we need to sure up some of these premises. Let's start with #1: is it true that moral luck introduces a probabilistic structure to ethical assessment!?


The idea of Moral Luck derives from a rejection of what's referred to as the 'control principle', which suggests that we should only be ethically assessed for actions that are under our control. However, there are cases where we hold different ethical assessments even though the person acted the same way. For example, imagine a situation where Person A shoots a gun at Person B with the intent to kill. In one scenario, A kills B, but in another possible situation a gust of winds picks up and blows the bullet off-course just enough that he only wounds B. In the first instance, we condemn A as a murderer; in the second instance, he committed attempted murder, which has lesser ethical implications.


Taken at face value, the ethical assessment imposed on you includes a dimension beyond your control, much like when you roll a dice the result is beyond your control. You know that you will roll a 1-6, but that's it. When you pull the trigger, you know there was intention to kill, but the clearance of the barrel, the windspeed, the reaction of the person being shot at are external and have a certain impact on the ethical assessment of your behaviour since only 1 of the infinite possibilities occurs.


Now, say we extend this thesis to someone's personal decision making with the recognition that a decision is conditional on far more than rational, moral agency. The sense that the deeper we go, the more we are willing to allow. The likelihood that I implement waterboarding rather than continue negotiating with a prisoner may depend on whether I had breakfast that morning!


Moral rot is a description of the likelihood that I will make otherwise rationally unethical decisions conditional on my state of mind and the result of those actions.


The goal here is to develop a way to measure that. So for the next post, we will explore various conceptions of moral rot in order to determine an object to measure. Later, calculate the likelihood of a good/bad ethical assessment. And finally track changes in likelihoods over time.



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While moral rot has roots in the Bible and the origins of documented western philosophy, allusions, references and fear mongering inducing the concept are alive and well in mainstream channels today.

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