Remember your cruxes

Dec 2016

Let X denote an arbitrary low-level ethically-charged proposition.

An instantiation of X might be:

We ought to keep Pokemon in their pokeballs.

On ethical grounds, Fred holds deep convictions that !X (We ought to not keep Pokemon in their pokeballs). To this, Fred is disposed to act in such a way that the consequences of his invidiual actions best directly fulfill the goal demanded by belief in the low-level!X’s value at all costs. (almost with the dogma of Kant’s perfect duties)

Molly also believes that !X is desirable from an ethical perspective. However, after dereferencing her pointer, Molly realises that there exists a higher-level crux with which this belief is predicated. This map-updating, more formally, might take the form of something similar to the following:

  1. !X = We ought to not keep Pokemon in their pokeballs.

  2. !X′ (!X’s crux) = Needless suffering is undesirable, given nothing else.

  3. !X′′ (Revised objection to X) = The consequence of acting on X is needless suffering or infliction of pain by containing the Pokemon in their pokeballs against their will or something other than their own volition.

Only once Molly had taken the time to think about the higher-level cruxes which predicate her belief in the truth of !X, can she start to think about how she ought to act more effectively and derive her subgoals in a way that better achieves her more general goal of reducing needless suffering.

Fred’s dogma in his insistence to always fulfil !X’s-given goals alone, may at times, result in his unknown cruxes being achieved suboptimally. For example, the dogma he employs might be sufficiently off-putting that a proponent of X is not willing to have a potentially pivotal discussion with Fred that might result in this person changing their belief in the truth of X, and furthermore changing their actions to best optimise !X-given goals - Meaning Fred is worse-achieving the !X-given goals by blindly thinking about ethics from a non-impersonal perspective, and simply thinking about what he must do individually.

Formality aside, the point here being to remember your cruxes and work on identifying them whenever possible to avoid being caught in the trap of potentially acting suboptimally on your ethical beliefs. A useful exercise in doing this is to think with regards to impersonal ethics, void of personal biases or opinions.