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Whether from God, from a benign moral genius, or from a super AI focused on morality, if one has sufficient evidence that an entity has vastly superior moral reasoning to oneself, is one morally obliged to follow its advice?

Imagine a readily accessible device, like a smartphone, that automatically points out whenever we are about to act immorally by our own core values. Would we be obliged to heed its warning?

Update:

An important distinction must be made here regarding intelligence (ability to make inference and solve problems) versus will (held values and their application). For the sake of the argument, assume either (a) the will of the source matches that of the recipient or (b) the source is avolitional, acting as a layer of pure external intelligence.

One of the comparisons made in the comments was to a parent-child relation. Though interesting, this dynamic involves a clear difference of will since each side is a moral agent of its own desires, values, and genes.

While not mentioned, I will preemptively say that an authoritarian system or figure often has will at odds with its subjects, even if differences are kept silent.

The primary question here is whether a person has a moral duty to follow the advice of higher moral intelligence aligned with one's core values, even if that advice stems from inference beyond one's mental capacity.

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    No. The core of morality is not reasoning but values, moral reasoning is just a sideshow. There is little use to someone's ability to superbly reason how values should be applied if the values themselves do not match. They are not claims subject to reasoning, and what "superior" means as applied to values is obscure. More importantly, one has to take responsibility for following their values, it does not happen with ready made prescriptions taken on someone else's authority. This said, if such authority is proven one has to give it much weight, in their own deliberations.
    – Conifold
    Jan 12, 2022 at 6:58
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    I doubt a higher moral intelligence would like to see obedient reactive behavior without truly understanding from the target agent... Jan 12, 2022 at 7:02
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    If you are drunk and someone sober tells you not to drive, better listen.
    – tkruse
    Jan 12, 2022 at 13:57
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    This is not a rule external to morals (applicable to all moral schools). It is internal. That is, it depends on each school. Most religious forms consider mandatory to obey their leaders. Other schools don't care and just focus on the goals. For example, if the moral rule has the goal of survival of the group, and you might save a life doing something immoral (e.g. impersonating someone), then perhaps you should.
    – RodolfoAP
    Jan 13, 2022 at 6:20
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    @Conifold, what if you have the same values as some superintelligent being? Through faulty reasoning, people can take actions that they think fit their values, but after further thought it's clear that the actions taken don't fit their values. A superintelligent being would ensure actions fit with the values. If you know the being was infallible in its reasoning and held the same values as you, I think you'd be obliged to follow it. If you didn't, that means you don't really hold those values. Jan 13, 2022 at 22:31

5 Answers 5

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Yes.

We may suppose that the higher moral intelligence knows what is right and says so. (Otherwise, the premise that it is a higher moral intelligence is not met.) Do you have a moral duty to do what is right? If so, then you have a moral duty to do what the higher intelligence says is right, because that is the same as what is right.

Let us not ignore the premise by supposing that the higher moral intelligence is not really higher, or can't be trusted to align with your values. Sure, if you can't be sure it's truly higher, then don't obey it. But that wasn't the question.

More generally, what the higher-intelligence-that-is-aligned-with-your-values tells you is only what you yourself would conclude if you were well-enough informed. It's irrational to go against what you know you would conclude if you were fully informed.

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    "the higher moral intelligence knows what is right" More precisely, it has a higher probability of knowing what is right than we do. It's higher, not perfect. But your answer is still correct (given the additional assumption that we know it's a higher moral intelligence that shares our values).
    – Ray
    Jan 14, 2022 at 18:03
  • @Ray You're right, but it depends on what we mean by a "higher" moral intelligence. If the intelligence is wrong in some moral area where you are right, then it's not strictly higher than you in every way. You are superior in some ways and it is superior in other ways. Ultimately the decision of whether to trust the intelligence's judgment rests with the individual; the individual must evaluate in each specific moral case whether his own reasoning or the "higher" intelligence's reasoning is more likely to be correct.
    – causative
    Jan 15, 2022 at 6:06
  • I think you should include your last comment ("the individual must evaluate in each specific moral case whether his own reasoning or the "higher" intelligence's reasoning is more likely to be correct.") in your post because it is really important and preempts any potential criticism of your post.
    – user21820
    Oct 4, 2022 at 12:09
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The essence of moral agency is the capacity to make choices. If we allow someone else to make decisions for us — no matter how wise or intelligent they/it may be — then we sacrifice all moral agency and become (effectively) animals under someone else's control.

As human beings, we have a moral obligation to make wise choices. It's one of those cases where it's better to try and fail, because failure is a teachable moment where we might learn better. Some higher power might provide useful insights, sure, but abnegating the responsibility to make moral choices ourselves denies us the possibility of becoming properly moral in our own right.

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  • Would not the hypothesis of self-progress imply the existence of at least somewhat reliable feedback in determining whether an action was moral? Unlike practical matters, where material progress indicates having taken a fruitful path, moral matters can be quite elusive to the uninitiated. One can partake immorally for decades without reflection. Having a higher intelligence there to create cognitive dissonance could in theory help one's development. Even if one follows the advice, one's mind is likely to contemplate other paths, which creates dissonance.
    – Michael
    Jan 15, 2022 at 11:00
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    @Michael: Sure, I don't have any issue with feedback from some (purportedly) higher moral intelligence. But one has to constantly reflect and make the choices to listen (or not), over and over. Teaching implies that the student can and will equal or surpass the teacher; the uninitiated become the initiated become the masters. But it's easy for someone teaching 'The Word' to fall into the 'shepherd' model, believing their 'flocks' will never be wiser than dumb sheep, in eternally need guidance and control. That mindset destroys moral agency. Jan 15, 2022 at 14:46
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    @Michael: Put another way (that's clearer, but far more challenging): If a God exists who is intrinsically Good, it would not want to be treated as a God. It would want people to aspire to be its equal. No parent wants to be a parent for all of eternity. Jan 15, 2022 at 14:49
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The classic experiment illustrating such situations is the Milgram Experiment where subjects were told by someone with apparent scientific "authority" to punish other people with electric shocks.

Nevertheless i would argue that in those situations where it matters, the answer is not as easy as saying that we are fully responsible for our own decisions.

I suggest changing the situation of the Milgram experiment. Imagine you are in the seat for receiving electric shocks, the participants are people with reduced moral judgement (e.g. drunk on alcohol), they are promised money if they run the experiment as prescribed, but there is a sober person (with better moral judgement, but no position of authority) telling them it's wrong to follow the instructions.

Would you hope the participants make up their own mind knowing their judgement is impaired, or listen to the person with better moral judgement?

So i suggest that the response depends on how well we are capable on our own to understand the situation, and how much we can reasonably trust the suggestion of an alleged higher moral intelligence.

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  • This example is curious. Analogy could easily be made between this drunken follower to various struggles and dilemmas in society. Many if not most of us could be said to be asleep at the wheel as we harm others while drunk on our own ignorance.
    – Michael
    Jan 13, 2022 at 1:51
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Argument from authority has a different status in different traditions. Usually frowned upon (maybe not in 'miracles', reliable testimony etc.), but I believe it's said to be sound in Buddhism.

A different sort of challenge to the claim that the Buddha valued philosophical rationality for its own sake comes from the role played by authority in Buddhist soteriology. For instance, in the Buddhist tradition one sometimes encounters the claim that only enlightened persons such as the Buddha can know all the details of karmic causation. And to the extent that the moral rules are thought to be determined by the details of karmic causation, this might be taken to mean that our knowledge of the moral rules is dependent on the authority of the Buddha. Again, the subsequent development of Buddhist philosophy seems to have been constrained by the need to make theory compatible with certain key claims of the Buddha.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/buddha/

Even as the Buddha rejected the authority of the vedas.

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Moral values are not to be kept in the brain, but to be put into practice. Therefore, when they are implemented, there is a great possibility of deviating from its true path if they stem from inference beyond one's mental capacity. This definitely becomes disappointing. This is what is happening in the case of religions with strict rules and regulations. Many people (Some countries) who don't follow such strict rules and regulations are also living happily.

Freedom of choice is seen in some Holy books. See: "yathechchhasi tathā kuru"

Here is a commentary on it:

https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/18/verse/63

So the answer to your question is, 'No'. There is no MORAL duty in this regard.

I didn't mean that there is a possibility of a better one than that of the higher moral intelligence. You may go through your own path; understanding and realizing each step. That is why I am saying that it is not a MORAL duty.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jnana_yoga

You may read this one also: "swa-dharme nidhanaṁ śhreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ"

A commentary is given in this link:

https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/3/verse/35

If one follows the advice which stems from inference beyond one's mental capacity, without any freedom he will be bound to those ideas till death. I believe that 'different ways according to one's mental capacity' will solve this problem.

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  • From the first commentary: Even the all-powerful God cannot force the soul to love and surrender to him; this decision has to be made by the soul itself. From the third one: If they conflict with our nature, they will create disharmony in our senses, mind, and intellect. I think these parts might help you to focus. Jan 14, 2022 at 14:12
  • If I understand the main argument here, blindly following the advice of higher moral intelligence would make one intellectually dependent on that advice, which would interfere with progress in jnana yoga. With that said, could following such advice be an example of dharmic action in karma yoga?
    – Michael
    Jan 15, 2022 at 10:28
  • Also, a higher moral intelligence should in theory know to select a path of action that fits the recipient's personality, so as to minimise conflict of nature. Furthermore, has not the higher intelligence a nature and duty of its own, in that of offering wise advice to others? Should the highest good be to free the recipient of ignorance, the higher intelligence should know this too.
    – Michael
    Jan 15, 2022 at 13:00
  • I am sure you know that the ultimate truth is beyond dharma and adharma For the first comment: Since a karma yogi surrenders his actions he will not be bound to them. In his case no problems arise. 'Shanti' (or peace) is important to each individual. 'has not the higher intelligence a nature and duty of its own?' ~ Why can't you think that giving advice is its duty? And if it is higher than that we think, does it think that it has DUTY? – Jan 15, 2022 at 15:07
  • 'Should the highest good be to free the recipient of ignorance, the higher intelligence should know this too.' ~ Ignorance is only because of the unawareness of one's own true nature. And the yogas you mentioned are for attaining this goal. Jan 15, 2022 at 15:08

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