Evolutionary or Objective Ethics?

(Analysis of some texts from "Principia Cybernetica")

Evolutionary Ethics

Our evolutionary philosophy can be used for developing an ethics or system of values. The basic purpose here would be the continuation of the process of evolution, avoiding evolutionary "dead ends". Natural selection entails survival and development (growth, reproduction, adaptation...), summarized in the concept of fitness, as the essential value. However, the idea of an evolutionary ethics has not been very popular until now, and we will therefore go into a little more detail about this aspect of our philosophical system. Evolutionary ethics got a bad reputation because of its association with the "naturalistic fallacy": the mistaken belief that human goals and values are determined by, or can be deduced from, natural evolution. Values cannot be derived from facts about nature: ultimately we are free in choosing our own goals.

If we are free, why do authors impose on us "fitness as the essential value" or the need to continue "the process of evolution"? It seems like they are still guilty of the naturalistic fallacy!

However, we must take into account the principle of natural selection, which implies that if our goals are incompatible with the conditions necessary for survival, then we will be eliminated from the natural scene. [...] If we wish to evade this alternative, this means that we will have to do everything for maximising survival.

This is correct. However, it is still not clear why our goals have to be "compatible with the conditions necessary for survival" - what if our demise is necessary for higher good? Therefore, this is just another example of the fallacy. Objective ethics (OE) clears the things out. It explains that the "naturalistic fallacy" is just another paradox of freedom. It is obvious that all our values come from external reality, they just have nothing else to come from. So, why we have to pursue them? Because such is the nature of freedom. Freedom is the objective property of reality and, at the same time, freedom is "superimposed" on us. Being free, we have to follow freedom, we cannot "choose" to follow determinism. Consequently, following freedom, we ought to pursue every value that it entails, specifically, good, truth, beauty, etc. The correct definition of the "naturalistic fallacy" would be: it is fallacious to deduce values from anything other than freedom. For example, it is incorrect to state that "life", "survival" or "well-being" are higher values without explaining first how they can be derived from freedom. Of course, the explanation "I want to pursue any value I like because I am free" does not count as valid.

So, how can "survival" be derived from freedom? It can't. Only "survival for the purpose to increase freedom" can, and that means we need not to "maximise survival" but to "survive to maximise freedom".

A second fallacy to avoid is the naive extrapolation of past evolution into the present or future. [...] Our present society becomes more and more like a K-environment, and therefore evolutionary theory would admonish us to increasingly focus on the values associated with K selection, i.e. long life and extended development, while suppressing the inherited tendency to produce a lot of offspring.


As a more radical example of a needed change in evolutionary strategies, biological evolution, based on the survival of the genes, has favoured selfishness and nepotism: maximizing one's own profit, with a disregard for others (unless those others carry one's own genes: close family). In a human society, on the other hand, we need moral principles that promote cooperation, curbing too strong selfishness. Once the social interactions have sufficiently developed the appearance of such moral principles (e.g. "thou shalt not steal") becomes advantageous, and hence will be reinforced by natural selection, even though it runs counter to previous "selfish" selection mechanisms.

Development and cooperation are, indeed, good values but not because they are advantageous for survival. They are good because they allow extending our freedom.

The Striving for Immortality


Individual death does not benefit cultural evolution, though. In socio-cultural evolution, the role of genes is played by cognitive systems ("memes"), embodied in individual brains or social organizations, or stored in books, computers and other knowledge media. However, most of the knowledge acquired by an individual still disappears at biological death. Only a tiny part of that knowledge is stored outside the brain or transmitted to other individuals. Further evolution would be much more efficient if all knowledge acquired through experience could be maintained, in order to make place only for more adequate knowledge.

1) Socio-cultural evolution of "memes" is a fiction. True, society has been accumulating knowledge and ideas, but the purpose of it is unclear from the point of view of "evolution". 2) We cannot say that "individual death does not benefit" (any) evolution, because death of the old and a birth of the new is its basic mechanism. We just want to live forever. Why? 3) Why preserving all knowledge is preferable to preserving the best part of it? Is it really just a lame excuse to justify the wish of personal immortality?

Answers to all these questions could be found in OE. We want to live forever because we want freedom, and death is the ultimate manifestation of determinism. We accumulate knowledge and ideas because we want to be able to do it.

This requires an effective immortality of the cognitive systems defining individual and collective minds: what would survive is not the material substrate (body or brain), but its cybernetic organization. This may be called "cybernetic immortality"


Cybernetic immortality can be conceived as an ultimate goal or value, capable to motivate long-term human action.[...]

Finding a way to preserve our healthy biological bodies seems to be a much better idea. However, the value of it must be based on freedom. So, why do we want immortality? Why do we need to defeat death? We want freedom in order to create more freedom, ie the more time we have in our disposition, the more time we have to make the world free. Our goal is not immortality as such but freedom.

Human Development

Another basic value that can be derived from the concept of survival is "self-actualization": the desire to actualize the human potential, that is to say to maximally develop the knowledge, intelligence and wisdom which may help us to secure survival for all future contingencies. Self-actualization may be defined as an optimal, conscious use of the variety of actions we are capable to execute. Self-actualization is strongly correlated with happiness, or general satisfaction with life. By empirically determining which social and economic conditions contribute most to happiness for the world population, we can derive a more concrete list of basic values, such as health, wealth, safety, equality and freedom.

Happiness, or general satisfaction with life, is definitely a great value but it is such not because it "helps us to secure survival for all future contingencies", but because we find our self-actualization in the process of improving the world.


(Original text: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/ETHICS.html)

What is the meaning of life?

The meaning of life is to increase fitness.


fitness: intuitively, a system, configuration or "state-of-affairs" is fit if it is likely that that configuration will still be around in the future. The more likely we are to encounter that system, the more fit it is. Though there are many ways to be fit, depending on the exact situation, we may say that fit systems tend to be intrinsically stable, adapted and adapting to their surroundings, capable of further growth and development, and/or capable of being (re)produced in great quantities.


We may conclude by paraphrasing the answer in the following way: the purpose of (living) organization is to continuously increase future probabilities of encountering this same type of organization.

Basically, the goal of our life is just to live, endlessly. This circularity is the direct consequence of the "evolutionary" ethics.

"Higher" values

The above definition has been criticized as being overly reductionist, trying to reduce higher, "spiritual" meanings to mere biology. Although the concept of fitness originated in biology, its meaning here is much wider. It can be argued that our higher mental faculties and values are direct extensions of the general concept of fitness.

"Self-actualization", Maslow's term for maximally developing all our potentialities, and thus reaching the highest level of psychological health and awareness, is merely the implementation of fitness increase in the mental domain. Similarly, it can be argued that happiness is a direct sign that we have managed to improve our fitness. Thus, if people say that the meaning of life is to "learn and develop", "actualize our potentialities", "improve the balance of pleasure and pain", "enjoy ourselves" or "simply be happy", they are expressing a more limited version of the answer above (limited in the sense that it is more difficult to apply to non-human life, and does not take into account other aspects of life).

This is incorrect because of the circularity of "fitness": the purpose to increase fitness is to further increase fitness. On the other hand, the mentioned alternatives are not circular, although some of them are egoistic.

So, if the goal of biological evolution is survival, what goals will be available to us when our biological death is defeated? Can the purpose of immortality be "well-being"? Not. The goal "well-being" makes eternal life meaningless:

1) Well-being is a state. In that case, after it is achieved we will need something else to live for.
2) Well-being is a process. In that case, it is even more meaningless: to live well in order to live well?!
3) Well-being is the state of being in a process of eternal betterment. While striving to be better definitely looks as something meaningful, here we need a criterion of “betterment” and we do not (cannot) have it because our personal “betterment’ is defined by our biological constitution (which we have killed by immortality).

On the other hand, people who express the belief that the meaning of life is to "love and be loved", or "promote cooperation and togetherness" are expressing the importance of our social needs, which are another component of fitness. Indeed, fitness for individuals requires fitness for the group to which these individuals belong, and this implies cooperation and "love" rather than selfishness and hostility.

Incorrect, again. Fitness for the group makes sense only in the context of group enmity, a group struggle for survival. In the context of humanity as a whole it is circular. On the other hand, the mentioned alternatives, again, are not circular, although one of them is, again, egoistic.

Even those people who state that "life has no meaning" do not contradict the present definition. Indeed, if "meaning" is seen in the restricted sense of a fixed, external purpose, then life has no meaning. "Increasing fitness" is not a goal explicitly imposed by some God, but rather the "implicit goal" governing all of evolution. There are an infinite number of ways in which fitness can be increased, so we cannot say that life necessarily has to move to one end state rather than another. Most changes are initially blind. It is just that some directions (those that decrease fitness) are likely to be eliminated sooner or later by selection.

"Increasing fitness" is, indeed, has no meaning, however, increasing freedom has. Coincidentally, increasing freedom, ie overcoming determinism, is an indeterministic task and some changes are likely to be reassessed later by other people.


(Original text: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/MEANLIFE.html)

Will for immortality

[A] fundamental concept of Metasystem Transition Theory is that of immortality. We understand immortality as the limit of stability, infinite survival, duration, persistence, and lack of change or variety. It is often observed that the phrase "survival of the fittest" is a tautology. We understand it more as a definition of fitness in terms of survival, and hence of stability. Since it must be that evolution produces stability, then we can say that evolution moves towards immortality.

Can we say that evolution moves towards freedom? Yes, because the ability to withstand external forces (stability) is one of the facets of freedom. An analysis shows that the movement toward greater freedom is the essence of Universal Evolution: every new level of complexity in the organization of matter has greater freedom as compared with the previous.


The supreme goals, or values, of human life are [...] set by an individual in an act of free choice. This produces the historic plurality of ethical and religious teachings. There is, however a common denominator to these teachings: the will to immortality. The animal is not aware of its imminent death; the human person is. The human will to immortality is a natural extension of the animal will for life.

Since the newest mechanism of evolution is inside individual people, the will to immortality is now not only desirable, but also evolutionarily demanded. Since ultimate goals cannot be derived, only chosen, it is not possible to justify the will to immortality as the ultimate goal for people, or to assert it as dogma, as traditional religions do. Rather it must be the free, creative act of each individual.

There is nothing natural in presenting a "free" choice of immortality as forced on us by evolution. The only available choice cannot be creative, too. Freedom, on the other hand, is creative, not saying about its paradoxicality. Everyone has to find its own way to make a creative contribution to common good, and immortality is only one tool of many to this end.

We can certainly say that there are more urgent problems (and a will to fix them) than immortality. Indeed, why would people want to live forever if their life is terrible? Why should humanity develop the respective technology if it will be available for TPTB only or if it will be dangerous? And, finally, why do people want to live forever if every kind of pleasure will sooner or later become tasteless (and people for now do not have other goals than pleasure)?

OE gives answers to all these questions. It morally justify (the cybernetic or other) integration of mankind and also points out the morally correct ways to do it - namely, to reject all kinds of violence / to overcome all forms of determinism and, specifically, death. OE gives the correct ethical foundation to immortality (and transhumanism in general) be it biological, cybernetical or otherworldly. It is all about freedom, not personal fitness, well-being, survival or salvation.


(Original text: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/IMMORT.html)

The Cybernetic Manifesto


3.Freedom, will, control. Cybernetic metaphysics asserts that freedom is a fundamental property of things.


Why would not just say that freedom is the objective value? The idea of the evolutionary ethics would have a better chance then.

(Original text: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/manifesto.html)


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