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If a scientist created intelligent life (biological, AI software, etc.), would that scientist have the right to dictate to that life a moral framework? Does the act of creation give implicit rights of ownership?

Extending this to religion, do we have an obligation to obey divine commandments based solely upon the idea that we were created?

Have these questions been addressed by any religious philosophers, and have they provided justification for the concept of obedience beyond "He/She/It made us, and therefore it is our duty to obey"?

Edit - In the context of "duty to obey," above, does compliance equate to "good", and disobedience equate to "evil", even if it because the individual has a moral belief that differs from the dictated morality (e.g. if the bible says "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live", and someone refuses to kill a self-identified witch, are they evil for not murdering?).

  • Q: Does the idea of me creating a forum imply the need for rules on that forum? A: only if it is going to be a good forum. – Dale Jun 30 '11 at 8:03
  • Surely there is a difference between sin and evil. – Dale Jun 30 '11 at 8:13
  • @JoeHobbit Comparing the lives of sentient beings to ... a forum? Really? I don't know about you, but my life is a bit more complex. And nowhere do I mention "sin", so bringing it up seems off-topic. – Beofett Jun 30 '11 at 11:29
  • The point about a forum was the need for rules. Without rules can anything even exist? Rules with consequences seem to flow naturally form that perspective. My comment about sin and evil was in response to you last sentence: being a "sinner" and being "evil" are two different things. Also Acts 15:18-21 (entire chapter could be helpful) may assist with interpreting the verse about killing witches. – Dale Jun 30 '11 at 16:47
  • @JoeHobbit You are confusing "natural" and "artificial" rules, and lumping them under the same general label. And yes, things can exist without artificial rules. I don't see the rationale behind questioning whether anything can exist without someone arbitrarily saying 'okay, you have the ability to do this, but you shouldn't'. As for your questions on "sin" and "evil", there is no need to get into a lengthy discussion on bible interpretation. It was merely a point to illustrate an example. – Beofett Jun 30 '11 at 17:01

13 Answers 13

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If a scientist created intelligent life, then the scientist already imbued that life with a moral framework, or at least the scaffolding for that moral framework, either intentionally or unintentionally (i.e., it could be an emergent property).

Should the scientist then choose to impose a set of rules post-creation, then I don't see the moral difference from imposing them pre-creation. (It would arguably be less efficient, however.)

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    This would mean that a moral framework as an emergent property would be universal to all lifeforms resulting from that initial act of creation. Assuming humans were created in such a fashion, then this is empirically false, as not all human moral frameworks are identical. – Beofett Jun 17 '11 at 17:24
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    @Beofett: First, note that I referenced intelligent life, and assuming all intelligent beings have a moral framework (emergent or otherwise) does not imply that all intelligent beings have the same moral framework. – Ben Hocking Jun 17 '11 at 17:33
  • Ah, I didn't realize that we were assuming that all intelligent life had a moral framework inherent prior to consciousness. In fact, I disagree with that assumption. Infants do not have a moral framework; they only develop one as they mature (and the wide variation between human moral frameworks implies that this is a learned morality, and not some intrinsic characteristic of being intelligent). – Beofett Jun 17 '11 at 17:37
  • @Beofett, it's clearly something that people can agree to disagree on, but I would posit that an infant's moral framework is commensurate with his/her intelligence, which is different (if only qualitatively) from arguing a complete lack of one. (I.e., both intelligence and morality, if one can even separate the two, "emerge" in lockstep.) – Ben Hocking Jun 17 '11 at 17:47
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    @Chad Making blanket statements like "you['re] full of fallacies and assumptions" without backing them up with any specifics is, well, kind of feeble and cheap, and certainly not constructive. If you feel I've made any fallacious statements, feel free to point them out. Hopefully your observations there are far more accurate than your supposition that I base my assumptions on Christian belief. – Beofett Jun 18 '11 at 0:04
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So far I have seen no responses citing established philosophers which may have dealt with this topic, which was the main point of the question. Hopefully someone will find reference to this topic and post appropriate citations.

In the meantime, I have to admit I was a little surprised at the nearly unanimous response that creating implies ownership, or at least responsibility for dictating and imposing a moral framework.

I don't normally answer my own questions, and I don't intend to accept this as the "correct" answer. However, I think it is valuable to present an alternative perspective to the topic.

I believe that no sentient being can be "owned", regardless of how it originated.

However, as other people have rightly pointed out, a creator has a certain level of responsibility for his creation. This responsibility needs to be seen as a parent/child relationship, however, and never as owner/owned.

A creator has a moral obligation to attempt to guide a creation to develop a positive moral framework that would ultimately be beneficial to both the created species, and the species of the creator (or merely the creator, assuming the creator is a singleton).

Much like a parent and child relationship, the creator has a responsibility to allow the created to mature and assume responsibility for their own actions. Once that point has been reached, the relationship changes to one of advice and responsive guidance.

In the context of AI or a created sentient biological entity, the creator should cease to look at the "invention" as a tool the moment it is clear that sentience has been achieved. From that point on, the focus should be on helping that entity to develop into an ethical and positive adult.

In the context of religion, a creator would cease to have the right to impose specific rules, or pass judgement upon people the moment that it was decided that the people were free to make their own choices unsupervised (from an Abrahamic standpoint this would have coincided with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden).

From either perspective, once maturity is reached, the created entities have no obligation for obedience if their conscience dictates otherwise.

  • I think you meant to use the word "conscience" in the last sentence, not conscious :) – George Edison Jun 25 '11 at 0:11
  • @George Thank you. However, instead of commenting on typos and grammar mistakes, remember that this is a SE site: you can edit posts directly, instead of merely pointing out other people's mistakes. – Beofett Jun 25 '11 at 10:52
  • I know... I just wanted to make sure that that was what you had intended to say before editing. – George Edison Jun 25 '11 at 16:02
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If a scientist created intelligent life (biological, AI software, etc.), would that scientist have the right to dictate to that life a moral framework? Does the act of creation give implicit rights of ownership?

If I created a super-intelligent robot or software, it's simply mine. I am free to do whatever I want with it and I can destroy/delete it any time I want for whatever reason I think. This ownership is even given to me by law. The intelligence of the product is not an issue.

Extending this to religion, do we have an obligation to obey divine commandments based solely upon the idea that we were created?

Suppose my robot/software has bugs (and it sure must have) and instead of doing it manually I decided to rely on their intelligence by teaching them how to avoid situations that will cause them/others problems. For example: I told the robot not to play in water because it will be burnt. Or do not use your hands to mess with other robots circuits because I know they have no knowledge of circuits and will mess things up and damage each other. I may as well give robots instructions on how to deal with other robots who do not obey the rules. The robots must obey because otherwise it will be a disaster. If no such situation could possibly happen, I will monitor their behavior remotely and they will be free to do whatever they want and may not know I even exist.

IMO whatever rules I tell robots to obey, it's their ethical system. Their ethical system may be different from mine and I do not believe that ethics are universal allover different beings. The part you mentioned about killing IMO is blurred by us having feelings like love and affection that make it hard to use force against corrupt individuals. If my robots have feelings software I would not want it to prevent them from following the rules.

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    @Beofett: Parents do not create children. They just use feature given to them by the creator to reproduce. – M.Sameer Jun 19 '11 at 21:14
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    If you think that raising a child is simply using a "feature given to them by the creator", obviously you have never raised a child. It is far, far more involved, and takes more effort and commitment, than writing the most complicated AI software, or most detailed genetic manipulations. – Beofett Jun 19 '11 at 21:45
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    @Beofett: I am not talking about raising I am talking about giving birth. The making of a child is not creation process. Sure you are absolutely true about raising a child. – M.Sameer Jun 19 '11 at 21:51
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    @Beofett : Slavery is human-human relationship. That's what makes it unethical. No man has the right to enslave others because both were created by God equally. Our relation to God is faith and worship. Also note that with God the situation is more complicated. If for any reason my robots thought that my rules are not fair and do not make sense, they have the option to escape out of my control and have control of their own life. With us living in God's universe, we cannot do that, so it's always his rules. – M.Sameer Jun 20 '11 at 12:10
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    @M.Sameer: at the rate science is progressing, I guess it wouldn't be too long until genetic modifications can allow parents to dictate their child's look, voice, etc. According to your viewpoint, a child created in such a way would be the parent's creation. And the assumption that a creator should have full control over their creation also does not make sense to me, since even God does not always have full control over human (the fact that human can be disobedient and God can be angry towards its own creation contradicts with the fact that God/Creator has full control over its creation). – Lie Ryan Jun 23 '11 at 2:50
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In pre-modern times it was well accepted that children have the moral obligation to obey their parents because the parents created them.

Since everyone accepted it is was supposed to be natural law. God is then supposed to have the same rights by analogy.

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Rights of ownership are mutative restraints transfiguring the life form from its very nature in capacity of being separate from its creator. An ensemble of rules insufflating possibility of coexistence between members of a given community should despise terminal rules and fixed principles because true morality is judgement and this conception has to allow the superiority of the instinct of morality from reason.

This greater morality is the ensemble of rules of conduct held universally and unconditionally valid, which is natural law, that pushes positive law from a shaken morality that often hides a violence that wants to maintain established order. Individuals may also apply a simulacrum to maintain prerogatives simply for convenience.

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    Are you the Postmodernism Generator? I have nearly finished my Bachelor's in philosophy and I don't understand a word you're saying. – Cerberus Jun 19 '11 at 23:53
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    +1 for being utterly and completely incomprehensible. Most people would slip up and say at least one thing that makes sense. – Caleb Jun 20 '11 at 12:08
  • @Cerberus: At least one other answer from this user exhibits the same traits. I asked a few questions in the comments and it seems to have agreed that it's using computer-generated responses. – Jon Ericson Jun 21 '11 at 23:17
  • @JonEricson: Ah, I remember I Googled this "RTN" I saw you mention but failed to find what it meant, then gave up. // This user might be a combination of Jabberwocky, PoMo, and contextual Wikipedia copy-pastes, with some words changed into synonyms? When I first saw this answer, I tried Googling a few sentences, but didn't find a match. However, I did find exact matches in his Plato answer; I think there were copied from Plato himself. // Notice his weird website... could be a PoMo-kind-of thing parodying modern art? – Cerberus Jun 22 '11 at 0:34
  • @Cerberus: Sorry I left it vague in my other comment. I was hoping to get some sort of explanation by showing some domain knowledge. But I think you've diagnosed the user behavior accurately. I was referring to: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recursive_transition_network – Jon Ericson Jun 22 '11 at 0:46
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It is the very heart of the cosmological argument. Things do not come into existence uncaused. So when confronted with the beginning of the universe we are now ladened with the question of what is this cause.

For it to have existed before time (and the universe) existed it had to have some properties.

It had to be immaterial (Seeing as it existed before the physical universe). It had to be eternal (Seeing as it existed before time existed). It had to be very powerful to create a universe. It had to be all knowledgable.

Before you know it you got your self something resembling a God.

Have these questions been addressed by any religious philosophers, and have they provided justification for the concept of obedience beyond "He/She/It made us, and therefore it is our duty to obey"?

You would think it a mere token of gratitude. The way religions depict hell is also another reason to live the live that Christianity demands. It seems a good thing to try and stay out of that place.

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I don't think our creator will specifically ask someone for obedience and loyalty, but I think we owe it to our creator because without him, we wouldn't exist!

  • It seems that our creation involves free will unlike that of AI software. I agree with your answer, but to make it more than an opinion it is good to offer references that back up your position. The references are more important than the opinion. – Frank Hubeny Mar 13 '18 at 14:52
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From the mere fact that someone created me it does not follow that morally I have any obligation to them. After all, I didn't ask to be created. Logically how could the bare fact that something is the case (that X, the AI engineer or God created me) imply that something else ought to be the case (that I morally ought the obey or be grateful to my creator) ? There's a missing intermediate premise : that I morally ought to obey someone - whoever - who created me. But we can't just help ourselves to this premise, and slip it in, since it is the very point at dispute and in question.

You introduce a religious dimension. Let me try to address this.

If I am created by a good God, and the good God commands or exhorts me to do certain things, I should not do them if they were morally wrong; and if they were morally good I ought to do them anyway whether commanded or exhorted by God or not.

But what if God created right and wrong, good or bad ? That question leads to the Euthyphro Dilemma of Plato : is X good because God commands it or does God command it because it is good ? I can understand what it would be like for God to create the world and human beings. I have no idea what it would be like for God to create goodness and badness, rightness or wrongness.

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No, children are entitled to rights as individuals.

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    Why are they so entitled? An answer should probably be longer. – Frank Hubeny Apr 8 '18 at 5:10
  • My intention behind the terseness was to encourage the reader to think that all the things said about a 'creator' and their 'creations' applies equally well to parents and children. And whatever reasoning one might propose (it would indeed probably be a long answer) for granting individual rights to children, would apply equally and for the same reason, to any truly sentient creation. – otakucode Apr 10 '18 at 23:42
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I'd say that it depends on the purpose that the creator had for its creation before the act of creating it.

If I had created robots to make me breakfast, I'd hope to have it every morning. If I wake up and don't have it, I committed a mistake in their creation regardless of whatever is happening in their circuits. So I'd attach rules for them to make me breakfast.

Obviously, this is just an opinion. And it creates another question: Does creation imply the existence of a purpose for it?

Talking about religion, the thing changes, I think. Catholics follow commandments and the rules inside their religion in order to go to heaven after death not just because of god creating them. Yes, it is in order to be with it, for it is their father, but that is said from the point of view of the child (creation), not from the point of god (creator).

  • I made some edits. You are welcome to roll them back or continue editing. I don't understand the last part of the first paragraph. That might be worth editing further. – Frank Hubeny Jul 13 '18 at 22:51
  • I've cut it, since it is not related to the question. Thanks a lot! – EduardoAlmazan Jul 13 '18 at 23:01
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If a scientist created intelligent life (biological, AI software, etc.), would that scientist have the right to dictate to that life a moral framework?

Its not so much about right as ability. In some cases there may be even a moral imperitive to instill some moral compass. Other wise the creation could go out and cause havok and destruction and the ultimate responisbility for those actions would fall to the creator.

Does the act of creation give implicit rights of ownership?

Maybe or maybe not on the rights... The responsibilities absolutely. If you created it using your own resources with out input or support then you have a right of ownership so long as you are the sole provider for the creation. This does not absolve you from any moral imperitives for their treatment or care.

Extending this to religion, do we have an obligation to obey divine commandments based solely upon the idea that we were created?

Actually the promise is generally be rewarded after our mortal life is complete assuming we follow these moral directives. In addition if you look at most of these directives you will find that they are condusive to a well ordered society, and to provide for a more healthy lifestyle. Most forbidden foods tended to carry diseases that were not easily treatable. Monogomy reduces the spread sexually transmitted diseases. Bathing in clean (holy or not) water is good for health.

But if you were to create a creature and someone create it in such a way that if it leads a life amoung the code you define they will live happily forever in another life, and if they fail then they will be tortured endlessly, wether you had a right to do it or not, it is how it is.

In the context of "duty to obey," above, does compliance equate to "good", and disobedience equate to "evil", even if it because the individual has a moral belief that differs from the dictated morality (e.g. if the bible says "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live", and someone refuses to kill a self-identified witch, are they evil for not murdering?).

If you define good to be compliance and evil to be disobedience for your creation then yes. Good and evil have been defined by man (perhaps through the will of god). We have the ability to define what they mean through us. Even if we find murder evil and purity good if a being has the ability to reward or punish for our actions finds the reverse true and chooses to impart one or the other upon us it does not matter. You make an assumption that the bible was written by god not man. If that assumption is correct, and "God" has the ability and desire/requirement to reward or punish us for our actions in life then I would say that yes refusing a to kill a witch would result in eternal damnation. However kiling a witch in the USA and most of the world is likely to cause you Incarseration in your current incarnation.

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    -1 This post heavily relies on a specific morality guiding the creator (so it uses moral imperatives for creating moral imperatives, which, I'd argue, can only recreate the same). There is also a lot of appealing to consequences in here. – Ruben Jun 18 '11 at 11:48
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    @Ruben - I do not disagree with you about your catagorizations neccessarily but I am curious as to why you think this deserves to be voted down. I attempted to address the questions asked in the context given. – Chad Jun 20 '11 at 13:08
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    I think your answer deals more with the practical consequences assuming your own moral code. I understood the question to be about the philosophical implications of creating or being created. Maybe another reading is possible, but then I don't really like the question. – Ruben Jun 20 '11 at 19:59
  • @Ruben actually my answer does not reflect my moral code. I tried to reflect the code implied by the question and generally accepted values of morality as asked by the code. As such the practical consequenses of such an activity are what must be considered. Because with out the consequenses the question is irrelevant. With out consequenses good and evil have no meaning. – Chad Jun 21 '11 at 14:41
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I want to turn this question upside down for a minute and examine it from God's point of view.

If God creates two somethings and those two somethings begin to disagree, is it not God's responsibility to intervene? Suppose that God did not intervene, would you respect Him? In other words, does the highest power in the land have a responsibility to it's pawns? If not, then would this high power be perfectly suited for that position?

God has defined a law of Love for creation, He has stated that we must be peaceful, patient and always loving to each other. If we can do that, then we have learned how to be like God. If we cannot learn how to Love by refusing to be obedient to the command to Love, then there is no hope for us to ever submit to a higher authority, thus justice must be served.

You have no forced obligation to conform to the law of Love. God has left this to be your personal decision based upon His promise of eternal life. If you simply submitted to gods law out of obligation then you would not be learning what the law is trying to teach you, thus you would fail the test.

  • God has defined a law of Justice for creation. That Justice is fulfilled through love. "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Rom 13:10 ESV – Trinidad Jun 22 '11 at 14:22
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Not an answer, but too long for a comment- included for amusement only. My favourite piece by Stanislaw Lem, a book review of a fictional book (as reprinted in Hofstadter and Dennett's Mind's I) about a similar situation. The way it plays with the ideas of premodern philosophy is ace.

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