Spring 2018 Welcome

Welcome to the IFSC 2200 website! Everthing is here (except grades, which you will find on Blackboard). Do you see the tabs near the top of the screen?

  • “Home” is simply a blog, where posts like this appear.
  • “Course Information” gives information about the various guidelines and rules about how the course works.
  • “Questions to ask during discussions” gives some starting points toward developing discussion questions.
  • Syllabus” gives the course schedule, content, and assignments. It will be your most frequently viewed page!

Have a great semester!


Military robot ethics

Office of Naval Research poured significant $ into the question

It is thought that the tech is progressing faster than the ethical understanding!

As of 2014, US DoD


What about military rescue operations?

Are there ethical considerations in automated rescue?

Is this the same as civilian rescue operations?


Bot ethics can be categorized as

Operational ethics

Functional ethics

Full ethical agency

Are some of these harder/easier than others?


One expert claims military robots can be more ethical than humans

Can you think of an argument for that?

Or a counterargument?


Leading figures have signed petitions to slow down on fully autonomous weapons development



Livejournal blogs might be suspended by mistake

If your livejournal blog gets suspended, see http://www.livejournal.com/support/faq/106.html.

Please request it to be unsuspended. No one in this class yet has had them refuse to unsuspend their blog. If that does happen this year, though, we may have to rethink using livejournal.

Let me know how it goes!

Some introductory notes

Revised  1/19/2017

Ethics and Morals

From:  more/mores (L.), custom

(Note: update by making a list of terms with moral as a root, and a list with ethic as a root, and making a mapping between them. Then lecture in part from that chart. Instructor felt current bullet points did not work ideally for him.
Here’s the list:
Mores (/ˈmɔːrz/ sometimes /ˈmɔːrz/;[1] from Latin mōrēs[ˈmoːreːs], plural form of singular mōs, meaning “manner”, “custom”, “usage”, “habit”)
moral code
code of morals
Greek ethos “habitual character and disposition; moral character; habit, custom; an accustomed place,”
ethikos moral, or showing moral character (according to Aristotle)
ethics (1 – field of study; 2 – morals)
ethical code
code of ethics

*** Morals or Moral Code or Code of Morals (noun)

Refers to a code of conduct

Similarly, a code of ethics


Two kinds of morals / moral codes / ethical code / codes of morals / codes of ethics

(Did you expect simplicity??!)

1. Code of conduct adopted by an


(e.g. society,

religious or other group, or


2. Code of conduct that

any rational person

would agree with

Which, 1. or 2., best fits

Traffic laws?


The golden rule?

Two versions of it

What is one?


Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.


Is there a difference?

The 10 commandments?

Tax codes?

Laws about violent crime?

Dress codes?

Optional footnote: the related terms morality, moral

Moral (adjective)

Conforms to a set of morals (i.e. a moral code)


What is Morality?

See e.g. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,


Morality (noun)

An amount

…how moral?


Moral (noun)

Singular noun means something different

“The moral of the story is . . .”

What is Ethics?

“Ethic” (singular):

a “code of morals” or “code of ethics”

Example: a work ethic

Example: The Protestant work ethic

      (that you learned about in H.S.?)

“ethic” and “moral”

Ethics (plural):

“study of

standards of conduct


moral judgment”

Could rephrase it as “meta-morality”


Welcome Fall 2017 Students!

Please see the Syllabus tab for the schedule throughout the semester.

See the Course Information tab for guidelines and policies.

5-min. presentations this week

In-class students: the last week will focus on in-class presentations.


Long term cycles of decreasing & increasing ethics and social discord


  1. (a) Immanuel Kant and his “Categorical Imperative”; (b) Robert Kane, Through the Moral Maze: Searching for Absolute Values in a Pluralistic World, Paragon House, 1994, ISBN 1-55778-601-1; (c) The Golden and Silver Rules
  2. (a) Peter Turchin, Ages of Discord; (b) Price’s equation (GR Price, (i) Selection and covariance, Nature, vol. 227, pp. 520-521, 1970, (ii) Extension of covariance selection mathematics, Annals of Human Genetics, vol. 35, pp. 485-490, 1972); (c) SIR epidemiological models (RM May and RM Anderson, Infectious Diseases of Humans: Dynamics and Control, Oxford University Press)




Treating People With Respect

  • Immanuel Kant‘s theory of morality, the categorical imperative, states that it is immoral to use another person merely as a means to an end, and that people must, under all circumstances, be treated as ends in themselves. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Means_to_an_end
  • “Treat every person in every situation as an end and never as a means (to your or someone else’s ends).” – Robert Kane, Through the Moral Maze, 1994, p. 21

If these are the specs, what is the implementation?

The Golden Rule (& the Silver Rule)!

Do these considerations apply to professional life? Personal life? Public service?


The US contains 2 popular attitudes:

(1) “Broadly cooperative,” and

(2) broadly hostile

  • Which generally leads people to treat others per the above?
  • Which generally leads people to violate the above?
  • Love vs. hate:

It is ethical to promote love and discourage hate

(according to Kant, the golden rule, and me)

A weak point in the argument:

ethics is about actions, not thoughts

attitudes are just thoughts

Thoughtcrime is not supposed to be a crime

(Term coined by Orwell in 1949)


Image credits: collage of portions of emychaoschildren.deviantart.com/art/1984-cover-290761330 and tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/NineteenEightyFour


Thoughtcrime is not a crime,

but pervasive attitudes do cause

societies to act ethically or not


What controls whether love or hate predominates?

  • Turchin’s answer  (ref.: Ages of Discord)

The US, the Roman Empire, medieval France, etc. –

cycle through

“integrative” and “disintegrative” phases

  • Integrative

The country is working

  • Disintegrative

Things are falling apart

  • Disintegrative phases are driven by:

1) Hardship among the general populace

No big surprise here

2) National financial crises

No big surprise here either

3) Political division among the power elite

This is the *most* important factor!

  • According to Turchin:

Peasant or worker uprisings alone don’t work

A unified elite can suppress them

A fragmented elite is a different story:

One fragment can use discord (e.g. uprisings)…

…as a tool to fight another fragment

Fiscal crisis weakens government…

…which then cannot control the disintegration

  • Turchin has a computer model

It predicts:

The US is now in a disintegrative phase

The low point lies a number of years ahead

The last low point was the civil war

Model does not predict how low the next low point will be

Disintegrative phases contain 25-year alternations

 While (disintegration=true){
         One generation is sympathetic to violence
         The next generation prefers peace
         T = T+(50 years)
  • Turchin’s model is complex

Let’s see a key equation of the integrative/disintegrative cycle

…and then a key algorithm of the 25-year violence-peace subcycle


The equation

dP/dT=Vs*Bs – mean(Vi)*Bi

  • P is the level of prevalence of people with

“broadly cooperative” attitudes

  • High P leads to compromises in governance
  • Low P leads to partisan intransigence
  • We could call P the “love vs. hate” level

High P – “love conquers all”

Low P – “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”

  • dP/dT  –  calling all calculus students:

What does that mean??

Comment: Turchin mistakenly calls it ΔP

So he’s not a huge calc fan either!

  • V –  “variance,” or cultural distance
  • s  –  societies, or countries
  • Vs  is the cultural difference  between competing countries

E.g., the US and another country or transnational culture

  • B  –  amount of competition
  • Bs  –  amount of competition between countries (“polities”)
  • Vs*Bs  –  the tendency for P to go *up*


What if cultural differences are high? Low?

What if competition is high? Low?

  • i  –  intra-society (subgroups of society, such as in the US)
  • Vi  –  cultural difference between the subgroups
  • mean(Vi)  –  Turchin’s patch because there are multiple subgroups
  • Bi  –  amount of competition among subgroups

Why no mean(Bi)?

Another error in the equation,

or worse,

in the computer model?

  • mean(Vi)*Bi  –  discord level within the country
  • mean(Vi)*Bi   –   the tendency for P to go *down*
  • dP/dT=Vs*Bs – mean(Vi)*Bi

The rate at which love is gaining/losing against hate

During integrative phases “love” increases, “hate” decreases

During disintegrative phases “hate” increases, “love” decreases


The 50-year subcycle

  • Think of desire for violence as a disease
  • Then apply epidemiological modeling
  • SIR

S is the susceptible population

I is the infectious population

R is the recovered population

  • Just as diseases come in waves…

…properly set up, the model predicts…

…violence levels swing up or down every 25 years


Why is a birds-eye view good to have?

  • When people argue for force, hate, and violence

You can step back and see it in context

  • When people argue for peace, love, and brotherhood

You can step back and see it in context

  • In your future profession and career

Favor love over hate

Helps keep your job stable and career going in the right direction!

It leads to ethical behavior (golden rule instead of FUism)!

  • And if Turchin is right…

There may be a bumpy ride

Hold on to your b##t seat!