The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
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16-12-2014, 07:56 PM
The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
I was thinking about objective and subjective morality earlier today, and I was thinking about the nature of an absolute moral giver and it made me think about the prisoner's dilemma. So, there are two general solutions to the prisoner's dilemma, depending on how you look at it. Well, it's a bit more complicated, but these two work nicely with the idea of subjective morality.

Always defect: If you act selfishly, you will minimize your losses and maximize your gains. This solution is obvious. It's a dick move, but obvious. If you don't know the other guy (or at least not well), it certainly seems like the safe route.

Always cooperate: This one is a bit more tricky. If you consider the two prisoners to be part of a larger group, always cooperating nets the smallest amount of time between the two of them, combined. This option is the clear winner if both sides trust each other sufficiently (hinting that they know each other or trust the other to act rationally in this regard).


So, when talking to someone prescribing to objective morality, one of their biggest complaints of moral relativism is that even in a group that is currently cooperating, there's nothing stopping someone from suddenly acting selfishly, ruining the whole thing. Now, this is technically true, but it's an over simplification. This behavior happens among those believing in absolute morality, as well, so it's not like their system is stopping this behavior, or anything.

Still, it made me think of a third option to the above two. It's the one that many theists allude to when complaining about moral relativism:

Mafia Don: There's a criminal with far-reaching connections who hates squealers. Any prisoner who defects gets whacked before he sees the light of day, so everyone plays nice.

Now, that's a compelling system (if you believe the Don exists and has any power over you), but it's not really a system of morality. It's just replacing the one selfish option with a different selfish option. And what's more funny: even in light of this option, you can still opt to cooperate without worrying about God the Don. You can still opt to be moral on your own without threat of force.


Reason number [I've lost count] why arrogant moral absolutists annoy me.
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16-12-2014, 09:54 PM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
Tangential video but oh so cool




“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”~Mark Twain
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17-12-2014, 12:27 AM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
For maximum fun direct them to the "Strategy for the iterated prisoners' dilemma" in the link that you posted and ask them how four lines of computer code that never read the Bible managed to develop morality.

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17-12-2014, 12:46 AM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
I love that Goldenballs clip. A very clever man, the man on the right. Probably an excellent manager at his day job.

Anyway, every discussion I've seen on morals, from the absolutists and the relativists, trots out a laundry list to pin the discussion on: X is moral, Y isn't, etc. The absolutists claim X and Y are engraved in the very molecules of the universe, immutable, eternal, inscribed by the almighty; the relativists say that X and Y are what's current today, they weren't so yesterday, and probably won't be so tomorrow, and are established by common consent of community.

But X and Y are just items on a list. By what algorithm does the list accrue? No one talks about that. X gets on the list but Z never does: Z is never raised in a moral context. So what differentiates X from Z?

What, without ticking off X, Y, A, B, C and D, constitutes the essence of morality?

To me, the essence of morality is prosaic, non-mysterious, and decidedly non-supernatural: it is merely the cooperative aspect of human community, every dimension of which has been and is being thoroughly examined by science. It is no more or less a facet of society than language, which not even the devout try to claim as something objective or beyond science to plumb. And like the laundry list of "moral" items, shifts and morphs in the unceasing tides of cultural currents. There is no "absolute" language; likewise there is no "absolute" list of morals.

But their essence is constant. Morality is the grease that smooths the rough edges of getting along; language banishes the solitude of existence and makes life a shared experience. As absolutes go, those seem not too bad.
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17-12-2014, 03:36 AM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
(16-12-2014 07:56 PM)RobbyPants Wrote:  I was thinking about objective and subjective morality earlier today, and I was thinking about the nature of an absolute moral giver and it made me think about the prisoner's dilemma. So, there are two general solutions to the prisoner's dilemma, depending on how you look at it. Well, it's a bit more complicated, but these two work nicely with the idea of subjective morality.

Always defect: If you act selfishly, you will minimize your losses and maximize your gains. This solution is obvious. It's a dick move, but obvious. If you don't know the other guy (or at least not well), it certainly seems like the safe route.

Always cooperate: This one is a bit more tricky. If you consider the two prisoners to be part of a larger group, always cooperating nets the smallest amount of time between the two of them, combined. This option is the clear winner if both sides trust each other sufficiently (hinting that they know each other or trust the other to act rationally in this regard).


So, when talking to someone prescribing to objective morality, one of their biggest complaints of moral relativism is that even in a group that is currently cooperating, there's nothing stopping someone from suddenly acting selfishly, ruining the whole thing. Now, this is technically true, but it's an over simplification. This behavior happens among those believing in absolute morality, as well, so it's not like their system is stopping this behavior, or anything.

Still, it made me think of a third option to the above two. It's the one that many theists allude to when complaining about moral relativism:

Mafia Don: There's a criminal with far-reaching connections who hates squealers. Any prisoner who defects gets whacked before he sees the light of day, so everyone plays nice.

Now, that's a compelling system (if you believe the Don exists and has any power over you), but it's not really a system of morality. It's just replacing the one selfish option with a different selfish option. And what's more funny: even in light of this option, you can still opt to cooperate without worrying about God the Don. You can still opt to be moral on your own without threat of force.


Reason number [I've lost count] why arrogant moral absolutists annoy me.

Well, if you make any of the changes that you describe -- the mafia don, or the ability to prearrange or signal strategies to the other player, or ascribing value to the communally lower sentence -- then the description of the game changes, and what you have isn't really the Prisoner's Dillema any more. I just wanted to reiterate the point from the earlier thread that the really smart shepherds prisoners are the ones who change the game.

(16-12-2014 09:54 PM)Full Circle Wrote:  Tangential video but oh so cool




That was actually an EXCELLENT use of signalling, which is another concept from game theory. The contestant on the right was definitely the star of the show. But it was not, strictly speaking, the prisoner's dilemma. Partly, because signalling was allowed, and partly, because if your opponent defects, it is of no (fiduciary) benefit to you not to cooperate. The only way he could have improved upon it is to spell out, "I'm going to select Steal for sure, and your choice is either pick steal as well or get nothing, or select split and trust that I'll be good on my word to split it. You literally have nothing to lose by trusting me. In fact, here. To show you how committed I am to this strategy, I'm going to take this ball that says Split, and I'm going to throw it away." And then pick up the ball... either ball, really... and toss it off the stage.

A related game in game theory is Chicken, named after the, um, sport in which two people drive their cars at each other risking a head-on collision. If one of them swerves aside they lose the bet, which we'll say here is the car. If they both swerve, it's a draw. If neither swerves, it's a draw, but both cars are totaled and the drivers are quite possibly injured or killed. The payoff matrix looks like this:

We Both Swerve: Neutral Outcome.
I Swerve, He* Doesn't: Bad outcome for me, good for him. Net 0.
He* swerves, I don't: Bad outcome for him, good for me. Net 0.
Neither of us swerve: Really bad outcome for both of us. Net very negative.

This game is used to model all kinds of brinkmanship (for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis), and it's interesting in a lot of ways.

First, it's not a zero sum game. It's a negative-sum game. Negative-sum games are nasty, nasty, nasty. It's like betting against a casino. Keep it up long enough and you're certain to lose everything. Literally, mathematically certain.

Second, it doesn't have a single stable equilibrium, like the Prisoner's Dilemma. Instead, it has two. All the certitude is gone in this one. Unlike in the Prisoner's dilemma, there is no single optimal strategy for either player. You therefore have no idea what they will choose, and so have no basis for making your own choice. It turns out that your BEST option is actually, in effect, to pick at random. (What is called a mixed strategy.)

Third, it's been observed that there actually is a sure-fire way to win a game of Chicken. As you're revving your engines getting ready for the flag to fall, rip the steering wheel off of the column, hold it up for your opponent to see, and throw it away. Your opponent now has a choice between swerving, which is bad for him, or committing to a guaranteed head-on collision, which is worse for him. This brings us to the third and weirdest part of the game Chicken: Having more options is WORSE for you. By eliminating your own ability to swerve, by making it so that you have no choice at all, you turn this game into a guaranteed win against any rational opponent. Again, the smart shepherds prisoners chickens are the ones who change the game.

*Okay, yes, gender-assuming pronoun here, but let's face it. The people doing this are probably male.
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17-12-2014, 07:43 AM (This post was last modified: 17-12-2014 07:54 AM by Tomasia.)
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
(16-12-2014 07:56 PM)RobbyPants Wrote:  Still, it made me think of a third option to the above two. It's the one that many theists allude to when complaining about moral relativism:

Mafia Don: There's a criminal with far-reaching connections who hates squealers. Any prisoner who defects gets whacked before he sees the light of day, so everyone plays nice.

Now, that's a compelling system (if you believe the Don exists and has any power over you), but it's not really a system of morality. It's just replacing the one selfish option with a different selfish option. And what's more funny: even in light of this option, you can still opt to cooperate without worrying about God the Don. You can still opt to be moral on your own without threat of force.

It's not a system of morality. You're more or less describing something like the judicial system.

It would be the same for men who don't steal, lie, or cheat, solely because they don't want to risk getting caught, and going to jail. It's could be the same for those who don't steal solely because they would lose friends, or social approval.

It's interesting though, that in this view you suggest what is moral is not really consequences, but something to do with the actor's intent, the fundamental basis for why he acts, why he avoids stealing and immoral actions.

And it seems that maybe you and I would likely agree, that in orders for his actions, to truly be moral actions, that they have to be based on empathy, compassion for his fellow man.
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17-12-2014, 11:41 AM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
This makes me want to watch The Dark Night again.

What can we learn about game theory and the prisoner's dilemma after watching The Dark Knight?

Gods derive their power from post-hoc rationalizations. -The Inquisition

Using the supernatural to explain events in your life is a failure of the intellect to comprehend the world around you. -The Inquisition
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17-12-2014, 01:58 PM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
(17-12-2014 07:43 AM)Tomasia Wrote:  It's not a system of morality. You're more or less describing something like the judicial system.

Well, I agree, but it doesn't stop a lot of proponents from describing it as morality.


(17-12-2014 07:43 AM)Tomasia Wrote:  It would be the same for men who don't steal, lie, or cheat, solely because they don't want to risk getting caught, and going to jail. It's could be the same for those who don't steal solely because they would lose friends, or social approval.

There are definitely some strong similarities, but consider the difference between a police force that sometimes catches you to one that always catches you. If you know you will always be caught, and you're explicitly told about a punishment and reward system that will always be applied, it doesn't leave as much room for selfless actions. The only way one could behave selflessly in a system like this would be to forget about it for the time being.


(17-12-2014 07:43 AM)Tomasia Wrote:  It's interesting though, that in this view you suggest what is moral is not really consequences, but something to do with the actor's intent, the fundamental basis for why he acts, why he avoids stealing and immoral actions.

And it seems that maybe you and I would likely agree, that in orders for his actions, to truly be moral actions, that they have to be based on empathy, compassion for his fellow man.

Well, I think both matter, at least for establishing context. It's just, if I'm being paid to do "good", then I don't think I could consider those good actions taken to be fully selfless.
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17-12-2014, 03:37 PM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
(16-12-2014 07:56 PM)RobbyPants Wrote:  I was thinking about objective and subjective morality earlier today, and I was thinking about the nature of an absolute moral giver and it made me think about the prisoner's dilemma. So, there are two general solutions to the prisoner's dilemma, depending on how you look at it. Well, it's a bit more complicated, but these two work nicely with the idea of subjective morality.

Always defect: If you act selfishly, you will minimize your losses and maximize your gains. This solution is obvious. It's a dick move, but obvious. If you don't know the other guy (or at least not well), it certainly seems like the safe route.

Always cooperate: This one is a bit more tricky. If you consider the two prisoners to be part of a larger group, always cooperating nets the smallest amount of time between the two of them, combined. This option is the clear winner if both sides trust each other sufficiently (hinting that they know each other or trust the other to act rationally in this regard).


So, when talking to someone prescribing to objective morality, one of their biggest complaints of moral relativism is that even in a group that is currently cooperating, there's nothing stopping someone from suddenly acting selfishly, ruining the whole thing. Now, this is technically true, but it's an over simplification. This behavior happens among those believing in absolute morality, as well, so it's not like their system is stopping this behavior, or anything.

Still, it made me think of a third option to the above two. It's the one that many theists allude to when complaining about moral relativism:

Mafia Don: There's a criminal with far-reaching connections who hates squealers. Any prisoner who defects gets whacked before he sees the light of day, so everyone plays nice.

Now, that's a compelling system (if you believe the Don exists and has any power over you), but it's not really a system of morality. It's just replacing the one selfish option with a different selfish option. And what's more funny: even in light of this option, you can still opt to cooperate without worrying about God the Don. You can still opt to be moral on your own without threat of force.


Reason number [I've lost count] why arrogant moral absolutists annoy me.

Very interesting! I like the way you think. I admire it. However, I have some responses:

1. Telling BOTH prisoners the Don's rules merely gives them another layer of moral accountability to defect or cooperate. With or without the Don's rules, the prisoners have choices and consequences. Correct.

2. As we Christians believe and know, without that Don's add-on, atheists and theists face some consequences in this life for their actions. Disregarding the next world, I'm certain you'd agree. It remains obvious to us, therefore, that since atheists can see they have consequences for actions in this world (sometimes or "often enough" if you prefer) they have no excuse for the next world. You can tell God you appreciate Heaven or resent Hell or both when you see him, but you cannot see "Gee, I face consequences for what I do and don't do...? Really?"

3. Yes, Christians live in this world daily: Every person knows they will be punished for resisting God, blessed for receiving Him and selfish and altruistic desires affect the "gamer's" choices. The benefit for the individual is that no other being's choices, defect or cooperation can alter their destiny, not even God's, if one believes in free will. You have what atheists perceive as a curse or burden, the Don's rules, but you also can choose to go with the Don or not.

I'm told atheists on forums like TTA are bitter and angry. If you are not, your posts to me will be respectful, insightful and thoughtful. Prove me wrong by your adherence to decent behavior.
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17-12-2014, 03:46 PM
RE: The Prisoner's Dilemma and Objective/Subjective Morality
(16-12-2014 07:56 PM)RobbyPants Wrote:  I was thinking about objective and subjective morality earlier today, and I was thinking about the nature of an absolute moral giver and it made me think about the prisoner's dilemma. So, there are two general solutions to the prisoner's dilemma, depending on how you look at it. Well, it's a bit more complicated, but these two work nicely with the idea of subjective morality.

Always defect: If you act selfishly, you will minimize your losses and maximize your gains. This solution is obvious. It's a dick move, but obvious. If you don't know the other guy (or at least not well), it certainly seems like the safe route.

Always cooperate: This one is a bit more tricky. If you consider the two prisoners to be part of a larger group, always cooperating nets the smallest amount of time between the two of them, combined. This option is the clear winner if both sides trust each other sufficiently (hinting that they know each other or trust the other to act rationally in this regard).


So, when talking to someone prescribing to objective morality, one of their biggest complaints of moral relativism is that even in a group that is currently cooperating, there's nothing stopping someone from suddenly acting selfishly, ruining the whole thing. Now, this is technically true, but it's an over simplification. This behavior happens among those believing in absolute morality, as well, so it's not like their system is stopping this behavior, or anything.

Still, it made me think of a third option to the above two. It's the one that many theists allude to when complaining about moral relativism:

Mafia Don: There's a criminal with far-reaching connections who hates squealers. Any prisoner who defects gets whacked before he sees the light of day, so everyone plays nice.

Now, that's a compelling system (if you believe the Don exists and has any power over you), but it's not really a system of morality. It's just replacing the one selfish option with a different selfish option. And what's more funny: even in light of this option, you can still opt to cooperate without worrying about God the Don. You can still opt to be moral on your own without threat of force.


Reason number [I've lost count] why arrogant moral absolutists annoy me.

Imagine you are being tried consecutively for 5 days, one after the other, every day the other prisoner finds out what you did, now, under that system, we have to worry about potential punishment by the other prisoner for our actions, so now the rational choice is to stay quiet, because if you grass up on day 1, then you will invariably increase the chances of the other prisoner grassing from then on. Moral behaviour makes sense in egoistic game theory when you have to worry about the other person's opinion of you for later scenarios, the prisoners dilemma covers "passing encounters" only, not societal level operation.

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