Sunday, January 22, 2017

A brief summary of my current philosophical worldview

I've been putting this post off for many months, but I think it's time that I finally wrote it.  The idea behind this entry, and hopefully future entries, is to capture a snapshot of my current philosophical thoughts about the world so that in the future I may periodically reflect upon how my beliefs have changed.  This post will probably be shorter than a baseline exposition ought to be, but I'm too lazy to put in the time and mental energy required for a comprehensive treatment.

On the topic that I would loosely describe as metaphysics, I can make a couple of clear statements about my beliefs.  I fall firmly in the naturalist camp, in that I believe that the natural world is the only one that exists - i.e., there are no supernatural or spiritual entities.  It obviously follows, then, that I am an atheist.  If pressed, I might make agnostic noises about how I don't think we can truly know if anything exists outside the natural universe, but in casual conversation the operative position is the lack of a belief in supernatural entities.

One consequence of my naturalist view is that I am a determinist - i.e., I believe that the future is determined by the past.  However, when it comes to free will, I don't know whether to describe my position as a hard determinist (who would basically say that free will does not exist because events are deterministic) or a compatibilist (who would say that a belief in free will is compatible with determinism).  I feel like both positions are plausible, and that in some ways hard determinists and compatibilists are talking past each other.  I think it is useful to talk of free will in a common sense in reference to choices that are not externally forced (i.e., freedom of action), but I don't think choices can in a deep sense be otherwise than has been determined by prior events.

In the field of ethics, I would consider myself some flavor of utilitarian, despite probably being a moral non-realist.  My moral non-realist position is that moral properties are mind-dependent - there are no moral facts that exist independent of minds (e.g., in the way that facts of physics or chemistry exist independent of minds).  That being said, I find the basic principles of utilitarianism (the best actions maximize the well-being of sentient entities) most convincing in relation to the minds that do exist.  I have a hard time pinning myself down to a subcategory of utilitarianism, but I think it's sufficient to say that my views lie somewhere in there.  This viewpoint has manifested itself in my vegetarian diet and my support of the effective altruism movement.

I have far less figured out when it comes to political philosophy.  I generally subscribe to John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle (the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals), but I have a hard time definitively saying much more than that.
Another area that I find interesting but don't have much to say about is the philosophy of mind.  Since I believe that our minds emerge from a purely physical system that is the brain, I think that artificial general intelligence is in principle possible.  However, at this point I will not make any claims about how likely we are to achieve such a thing.

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