Ought from Is

The principle (valid) objection to the idea of a natural law is how does one get from what is to what one ought to do. Perhaps this is the wrong way to look at the whole concept. Let us, instead, look to see if there is an 'is' that defines oughts. More specifically, is there some ultimate ought that is defined by what what we are. I think biology may have an answer for us.

The ultimate end of any genetic material seems to be a continuing line of replication with small modifications. Being that we are this genetic material, our ultimate end is likewise a continuing line of our genetic material. The obvious objection to this is that not every individual feels a need to procreate. Like other social animals, it is entirely possible that ensuring the survival of our familial genetic material is sufficient, for example the worker bee's specific genes may not be passed on but it is sufficient that the queen's is. Nor is it necessarily desirable that every human procreate, it is entirely possible that certain genes should not be mixed, and some genes just shouldn't continue existing. (No, I am not going to advocate eugenics, I'll show why eugenics is counterproductive later.) The ultimate goal of humans is more humans, the ultimate ought is to do whatever it takes to ensure the next generation of humans.

If we are to ensure the next generation of our genetic material we must choose certain means towards that goal. There are two obvious strategies - have as many offspring as possible or improve the environmental conditions such that every offspring will survive and procreate. The first strategy alone is inefficient over the long term, it requires more resources and does not achieve the survival rates of the second strategy. The second strategy may be insufficient in the near term for a small population. The two strategies can be combined up to a point, that point being where overpopulation sets in. It may also be that the first strategy becomes unnecessary, and the evidence of modern western nations is that the first strategy is discarded once the second strategy has achieved sufficient survival rates. The strategy of creating a better environment is a strategy of increasing wealth. It is within the wealthiest of societies that have the best mortality rates, and hence the best chance of having the next generation.

There is an additional bit that is necessary to consider in terms of species survival strategy: diversity. I don't believe I need to show this here, there is plenty of supporting evidence in various sciences (including information theory, computer science, and biology). It is for the reason of diversity (as well as a knowledge problem and economic inefficiency) that any human attempt at restricting another's procreation is counter to the health and well being of future generations.

There can now be shown that there is a set of behaviors that achieve the ends of a wealthy, diverse society that thus secure the healthy existence of future generations. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another time.

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What you haven't done,

What you haven't done, however, is explain why anyone OUGHT to value the continuation of the species. Perhaps I'd prefer to play tiddly-winks.

Trying to make morals out of genetics is foolish. I have many drives; by your view, those that we might call 'moral' are all instincts. If the drive I have to help a child drowning in the middle of an icy river is only an instinct, then why should I choose to obey it, rather than my instinct for self-preservation?

Sorry, but the fact is that I have a duty to care for my fellow man, as well as other duties. I didn't give myself those duties, nor did the government, society, or my ancestors. The only rational way to account for the fact that I know with a deep and absolute certainty that I have such duties is to acknowledge that there is a Higher Authority. That Authority must be personal, and moral, in nature. The Authority must be able to know if I don't behave dutifully, and able to mete out punishment to those who don't so behave.

J Klein, M.D.

Dr. Klein- It seems obvious

Dr. Klein-

It seems obvious that regardless of any other concerns, a population that propagated itself will eventually outnumber and replace a population that does not propagate itself. Thus over time, by necessity, only memes, processes, drives, etc. that promote propagation/survival are going to be 'successful' and have a future.

So it is irrelevant, from a future-looking-back perspective, whether or not you at this moment think propagation isn't to be valued. If you actually believe that, your view is eliminated from the future; a self-defeating proposition. It's irrelevant from any perspective that includes future consideration beyond the lifespan of any individual. Being that social theory that has any historical component necessarily includes such a consideration, all sustainable (IMO relevant) social theory must value propagation or else it will be cleared away in time for those that do. Nature self-corrects for the error of non-valuation of propagation.

So there's one ironclad natural 'law', at least- you have to replace yourself if you want to have some form of existence beyond your lifespan, which is infinitely scalable. I don't see how it requires a 3rd party observer to keep track of moral desert and infamy and then call for accounting at the end.

Dr Klein, You are right, I

Dr Klein,

You are right, I have not demonstrated why any *one* ought to do anything. I even specified that one might not wish to reproduce for whatever reason. I have only dealt so far with humans as a biological species, as such, the only purpose is future generations. Thus I have only established that there is an ought for humans as a species.

In nature's own little humorous way, this "species ought" requires that individuals have their own individual subjective ends, and that some of those subjective ends may be self-defeating, but I have yet to demonstrate that.

Sir, please go on with your

Sir, please go on with your interesting argument. However, I request that you address whose perspective informs the moral reasoning at issue. The "genetic material" reference seems to imply that it is the gene itself which is the moral actor; therefore, the human individual is merely its vessel. On the other hand, the reference to "we", assuming you do not mean the royal we, suggests that it is the species or collective that is the moral actor and that the individual serves the collective.

I wish you luck in plausibly deriving normative propositions from factual ones.

I meant to add that what

I meant to add that what seemed to me a good argument for libertarian principles is that the inability to formulate universally and objectively valid normative propositions dictates that humankind's best course is to make sure that humans are as free as possible to experiment with as many value systems as possible. Those value systems that prevent freedom of conscience would be curtailed, and humankind would be most likely to survive and prosper in diverse ways.

The “genetic material”

The “genetic material” reference seems to imply that it is the gene itself which is the moral actor; therefore, the human individual is merely its vessel.

No moral actor about it. It is a fact of nature that genes "want" to reproduce. It is also a fact of nature that humans as a species "want" to reproduce. Again, the species is not a moral actor. I use the scare quotes around "want" here, because the things in question don't have desires, but do have natural functions. There is an ought implicit in the natural function of our species to reproduce.

Actually, I am hoping that this is the closest I get to a normative statement in the series. I'll let the positive statements show that certain behaviors and restraints on behaviors are conducive to species survival.

I meant to add that what seemed to me a good argument for libertarian principles is that the inability to formulate universally and objectively valid normative propositions dictates that humankind's best course is to make sure that humans are as free as possible to experiment with as many value systems as possible.

The ought of species survival, from which we get the diversity requirement, leads to pretty much what you are saying.

P1 The principle (valid)

P1 The principle (valid) objection to the idea of a natural law is how does one get from what is to what one ought to do.
P2 The ultimate end of any genetic material seems to be a continuing line of replication with small modifications.
P3 The ultimate goal of humans is more humans, the ultimate ought is to do whatever it takes to ensure the next generation of humans.

This post seems well-intentioned but full of errors. If I tried to build a rocketship in my back yard this afternoon, it would probably be error prone and not fly. A few examples, minor and major:
Principle, or principal? Not same thing.
Natural law, or natural rights? Not same thing.
'Ultimate' I do not think that words means what you think it means.
Here's something you do well:
The 'ought' question is a hard one. The hard part about it is, ought in order to what exactly? Given an end goal, 'ought' becomes just an engineering problem of the steps to reach the goal. So you've avoided the argument by building in a goal, biological continuity at the species level.
But even this attempt is problematic. Why humans? You could draw the circle more narrowly 'Davids' or more broadly 'mammals.'
Which goal is more ultimate: 'fill the galaxy with intellegent self-awareness', or, 'make more humans'?
There is a major error in a program that only calls for one iteration,
where what is needed is a loop.
'As many offspring as possible' is a recipe for disaster if the population is already at its carrying capacity.
'All next generation offspring should survive" is a recipe for disaster, decreasing the average fitness of the gene pool.
Ought questions have much more to do with cultural evolution than biological evolution. Would it be better to have 100 billion humans, kept as pets by their robot overlords? (Maybe so, there are arguments on both sides) Or would it be better for humans to evolve into transhumans, even if no residual stock of humans were left?
In short, I don't think you've solved the is/ought problem, proved or disproved natural law, or accomplished much else, except that you are asking the right kinds of questions and thinking about it in the right sort of way, so keep working on it, as long as doing so doesn't interfere with spaceship building.

No moral actor about it. It

No moral actor about it. It is a fact of nature that genes “want” to reproduce. It is also a fact of nature that humans as a species “want” to reproduce. Again, the species is not a moral actor. I use the scare quotes around “want” here, because the things in question don’t have desires, but do have natural functions.

That much is right, genes do have natural functions, but one of them isn't to reproduce, per se; the immediate function of most genes is simply to make proteins.

I largely agree with what an earlier poster said: it's foolish to go straight from genetics to morals. Though I disagree with his alternative as well.

There is an ought implicit in the natural function of our species to reproduce.

Surely. But the unit of reproduction is the same as the unit of selection, i.e. the phenotype, not the genotype. Dawkins popularized this error, which is unfortunate.

This is a good post, and

This is a good post, and modest in its goals. However, a few criticisms.

The third to last paragraph is problematic. Improving environmental conditions such that every offspring will survive and procreate, while perhaps desirable for some reasons, is undesirable for others. Most importantly, it seems to eliminate a major mechanism of evolution; namely "survival of the fittest" or natural selection. If every set of genes successfully reproduces, there will be no selection. Now maybe you think that is a good thing, but it is pretty clear that we would not be here right now as conscious, intelligent humans if this natural weeding out process did not exist. (You seem to recognize this in the second paragraph.)

It is within the wealthiest of societies that have the best mortality rates, and hence the best chance of having the next generation.

I'm not so sure this is best described as a continuum, rather than a critical mass. Once a society reaches a certain level of wealth, it will tend to survive to the next generation, and additional marginal units of wealth simply aren't all that important. A case could be made that the wealthier a society is, the better, in case it gets involved in a conflict with another society and must go to war, where the wealthiest country has the best chance of wiping out the other. Even if this is the case though, I don't think you want to go in that direction, and I'm still not sure how well it applies to modern advanced economies.

It is for the reason of diversity (as well as a knowledge problem and economic inefficiency) that any human attempt at restricting another’s procreation is counter to the health and well being of future generations.

I see lots of problems here. First of all, if true, it would apply to animals, plants, and other organisms. Second, it seems to violate my first objection in ignoring the importance of natural selection. Third, it conflates individual self-interest and group or species self-interest. This last objection may apply as well to your entire project, if your goal is to create some kind of objective morality that individual humans should live by.

Finally, building on that last point, I think you are using the word "ought" too loosely. It is okay to use "want" in quotation marks as you did in the comment thread to refer to a mechanistic process that clearly has no conscious intent, so long as you are clear that you do not actually mean "want" in the literal sense. Yet you move from this step to "ought" without the scare quotes, implying that genes or species should act a certain way, and they are morally wrong if they fail to do so. You need to be extra careful when anthropomorphizing non-human processes, even when using useful metaphors to describe the way these mechanisms work, for these metaphors can only be taken so far and cannot be used in the literal sense as I fear you may be trying to do.

This is definitely more sensible than Rand's attempt at bridging the is-ought gap, but be careful that you do not commit her same errors.

Surely. But the unit of

Surely. But the unit of reproduction is the same as the unit of selection, i.e. the phenotype, not the genotype. Dawkins popularized this error, which is unfortunate.

Can you clarify?

It's genes that live potentially forever via selection, not individuals.

Aardvark, Would it be better

Aardvark,

Would it be better to have 100 billion humans, kept as pets by their robot overlords? (Maybe so, there are arguments on both sides) Or would it be better for humans to evolve into transhumans, even if no residual stock of humans were left?

This paradox has frightened and delighted me ever since I discovered it (can't remember where exactly, maybe Jan Narveson's Moral Matters intro to ethics text). Any references to online academic writing on the subject would be greatly appreciated. (I'm assuming Derek Parfit has something to say about it in Reasons and Persons since that would fit in with his subject matter and overall project, but although I own the book, I haven't had a chance to read it yet.)

In short, I don’t think you’ve solved the is/ought problem, proved or disproved natural law, or accomplished much else, except that you are asking the right kinds of questions and thinking about it in the right sort of way, so keep working on it, as long as doing so doesn’t interfere with spaceship building.

Agreed. Masten is asking the right questions, although I have a hunch the project is futile. But who knows? Maybe I'm wrong, and even if not, something good could out of indirectly, like Velcro.

RKN wrote, I largely agree

RKN wrote,

I largely agree with what an earlier poster said: it’s foolish to go straight from genetics to morals. Though I disagree with his alternative as well.

I don't think its foolish as much as futile. But if you are going to try to ground ethics on something other than intuition and preferences, this is the best way to go about doing it.

And although I hate to admit it as a secular humanist, I regrettably came to conclusion a year or so ago that Jeremy Klein is right: without a belief in God, there can be no justifiable belief in grounded, objective morality. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, and as I've argued before, no good reason to be worried.

The Authority must be able to know if I don’t behave dutifully, and able to mete out punishment to those who don’t so behave.

This, of course, raises the problem of evil, which I think is pretty persuasive against the conventional American conception of God as a moral, powerful, benevolent, interventionist being,

Lord save us from The

Lord save us from The Selfish Gene. :roll:

Genes make proteins. Period.

Physicists understand the range&limit of the various forces of nature, why is it that Biochemists/Geneticists fall so easily for a vulgar anthropomorphization of DNA as the explanatory hook for evolution?

Selection is on phentotypes expressed in individuals. The idea that organisms are simply transient collections of genes happening to cohabit has led to some excruciatingly bad hypotheses and theories for too long...

Principle, or principal? Not

Principle, or principal? Not same thing.

Check, that's what I get for writing late at night and relying too heavily on a spell checker. "Principal" is what I intended.

Natural law, or natural rights? Not same thing.
Right, but natural rights are a subset of natural law. Where I am headed is to show that there is a set of natural laws from which rights can be derived.

Ultimate...
1. being last in a series, process, or progression
2. Fundemental or elemental

I think I'm using "ultimate" correctly. I'll agree that I should change some words, other adjectives might be better used in place of "ultimate" in some places. I am horrified at some of my grammar here.

Why humans? You could draw the circle more narrowly ‘Davids’ or more broadly ‘mammals.’

I have a whole post planned describing why not just my tribe, or why not every animal.

Which goal is more ultimate: ‘fill the galaxy with intellegent self-awareness’, or, ‘make more humans’?

Yes. I'll have to leave this unanswered for now. While scientists, engineers, and sci-fi authors think that filling the galaxy with self-awareness can be done without making more humans, we still can't fill a small room with self-awareness without bringing in humans.

In short, I don’t think you’ve solved the is/ought problem, proved or disproved natural law, or accomplished much else, except that you are asking the right kinds of questions and thinking about it in the right sort of way, so keep working on it, as long as doing so doesn’t interfere with spaceship building.

Never fear - philosophy (and politics, and a few other things) is what I do when I need to stop thinking about building rockets for a little bit.

A zygote is a gamete's way of producing more gametes. This may be the purpose of the universe. -- from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, Robert A Heinlein.

One more thought: couldn't

One more thought: couldn't we think of situations where almost every reasonable person would choose to end the human species? Suppose some uncontrollable and extremely contagious biological weapon was released into the environment, killing off the vast majority of us and leaving the rest in excruciating pain for the duration of their short lives. We could continue to repoduce if we wanted to, but either because this disease is inheritable or cannot be removed from the environment, we know with certainty that our children and our children's children will live their lives, if they live at all, in excruciating pain. Suppose that there is no cure or other technological solution within the forseable future.

Should we continue to perpetuate the human species on the off chance that a cure may be discovered at some point in the distant future? Or would we be right in ending our miserable existence right then and there?

Now how's that for a dystopian scenario? :end:

Lord save us from The

Lord save us from The Selfish Gene. :roll:

Genes make proteins. Period.

Physicists understand the range&limit of the various forces of nature, why is it that Biochemists/Geneticists fall so easily for a vulgar anthropomorphization of DNA as the explanatory hook for evolution?

Selection is on phentotypes expressed in individuals. The idea that organisms are simply transient collections of genes happening to cohabit has led to some excruciatingly bad hypotheses and theories for too long…

I'm not sure if this is intended as a response to me or not, but if so, I don't see what it has to do with my comment. I was specifically asking for a clarification of the statement "the unit of reproduction is the same as the unit of selection".

In everything I've read by Dawkins, he has made it clear that he is using the 'selfish gene' idea simply as a framework, and he constantly goes out of his way to explain that he is not anthropomorphizing genes; that evolution is a passive process of differential survival.

The third to last paragraph

The third to last paragraph is problematic.Improving environmental conditions...

I should be more clear that a zero mortality rate is impossible. There is no one "optimal" genetic human. A less desirable gene in one situation may be more desirable in another. Thus, keeping less desirable genes around is in the long term interest of species survival. Natural selection will continue, where I'm heading with this is that humans don't need to help it along.

I’m not so sure this is best described as a continuum, rather than a critical mass. Once a society reaches a certain level of wealth, it will tend to survive to the next generation, and additional marginal units of wealth simply aren’t all that important.

I'd like to know what that level is. We (western society) aren't there yet.

I see lots of problems here. First of all, if true, it would apply to animals, plants, and other organisms.

Actually it doesn't. I will agree that there is the proverbial minefield here.

Second, it seems to violate my first objection in ignoring the importance of natural selection.

I think you overstate its importance. I do need to spend more time developing that line of thought.

Third, it conflates individual self-interest and group or species self-interest.

I haven't even come close to dealing with individual self-interest. This is specifically group/species interest. I have some more groundwork to lay before I can get into individual interests.

Natural selection will

Natural selection will continue, where I’m heading with this is that humans don’t need to help it along.

I agree (at least with the second clause). But doesn't that lead to the opposite conclusion you're tryint to reach? One of apathy, relativism, subjectivity, or nihilism, whatever the case may be?

I’d like to know what that level is. We (western society) aren’t there yet.

You don't think we are going to survive to the next generation?

Anyway, I look forward to reading the rest of your argument. Don't keep us in suspense!

You don’t think we are

You don’t think we are going to survive to the next generation?

It's not assured. There are still possibilities of going the way of the dinosaurs. We cannot escape the sun's old age growth, or really large rocks falling from the sky. We probably have a really long time to solve those, but it isn't guaranteed.

Ah, I see what you're

Ah, I see what you're saying.

Oy vey. *I* am not my

Oy vey.

*I* am not my genes. Transmitting my genes won't preserve *me*. So why ought *I* consider the preservation of future generations anything like an ultimate ought?

So why ought I consider the

So why ought I consider the preservation of future generations anything like an ultimate ought?

I haven't gotten to the part where an *individual* must or must not do anything. I am currently writing the next post, where I admit to screwing up the genes bit and backpedaling to the simpler statement that a species has a natural drive to continuation. From that I leave the normative up to the reader - do you wish to advocate the continuation of the species or do you wish the alternative?

At what cost to me? There

At what cost to me? There are things I would not give up to preserve this species.

"I haven’t gotten to the

"I haven’t gotten to the part where an individual must or must not do anything."

Oughts only pertain to individuals. There is nothing genes ought to do.

At what cost to me? There

At what cost to me? There are things I would not give up to preserve this species.

Haven't reached that point yet. But looking at my roadmap - the only cost to you, if you wish to be a part of the continuation of the species, is whatever it takes you to be a part of it. At minimum enough for you to provide yourself food, water, and shelter for as long as you live, though there may arise other costs (defense, health care, support of others, luxuries, etc.) but that is entirely up to you.

Oughts only pertain to individuals.

Patience.

Suppose I decide that I want

Suppose I decide that I want to see a big robot army exist, cuz hey, that would be cool. So I spend millenia crafting robots to do my will, making them stronger and faster and smarter, better and better at obtaining raw materials to make more robots, better at building the new robots, able to sustain larger and larger colonies of robots. I keep coming up with new designs, so I make them have short lives. And they quickly get smart enough to respond to the carrot and the stick, so I use both techniques liberally to get them to follow my goals. A key part of my design is that I give them great pleasure from producing the next generation of designs, so they are eager to do so.

Life as a member of my breeding robot army is certainly better than being a bunch of molecules of metal and silicon, but it could be a lot better. Why should the goals and "oughts" of the robot be congruent with the goals of me, the creator?

Evolutionary biology tells us for what purpose we were designed - and that's very useful knowledge. Because genetic goals are a large part of our carrots and sticks, often our happiness is found by fulfilling them. But you're going to have an awful hard time making the leap to saying we should strive for those goals.

For a change, I'll toss out

For a change, I'll toss out the short rebuttal too:

My genes want me to die once I can no longer reproduce or help my children survive and reproduce. I want to live forever. Big difference.

Micha writes: Once a society

Micha writes:

Once a society reaches a certain level of wealth, it will tend to survive to the next generation, and additional marginal units of wealth simply aren’t all that important.

Perhaps more importantly, when society reaches a certain level of wealth, it gets good birth control, good colleges, and good alternatives for its females besides going from pre-pubescence to marriage to motherhood. The result, consistently, is delayed childbearing and far lower birthrates. Not so good for the genes.

Evolutionary biology tells

Evolutionary biology tells us for what purpose we were designed - and that’s very useful knowledge. Because genetic goals are a large part of our carrots and sticks, often our happiness is found by fulfilling them. But you’re going to have an awful hard time making the leap to saying we should strive for those goals.

I am guessing that I have not been very clear as yet. I have *not* said a word about what goals the individual should have. In fact, Micha comes close in supposing that I might come upon "apathy, relativism, subjectivity, or nihilism". The only question, the only thing normative about this theory I am developing, is do you advocate the extinction of humanity?

The only question, the only

The only question, the only thing normative about this theory I am developing, is do you advocate the extinction of humanity?

I mentioned a dystopian scenario earlier in this thread. It seems that humans have two conflicting goals in that case: to perpetuate the species and to eliminate or reduce excruciating pain. I can think of scenarios where the extinction of humanity is the least-bad alternative.

My genes want me to die once

My genes want me to die once I can no longer reproduce or help my children survive and reproduce. I want to live forever. Big difference.

Check the second strategy for ensuring the continuation of the species and pull out your economist hat.

Let's drop the genes. My mistake. Genes are not necessary for this theory.

I can think of scenarios

I can think of scenarios where the extinction of humanity is the least-bad alternative.

since you are thinking up the scenarios, you can of course specify conditions such that perfect knowledge is obtained. In real life, how can you be sure? In your dystopia, how do you know that a cure will not be found in a shorter period? Or a minor genetic mutation won't "fix" the problem? Or that another person prefers to be dead? How do you get around the fact that individuals have imperfect knowledge?

Well, you don't get around

Well, you don't get around that problem, but you can still have some indication of whether it is likely that a cure will be available in the near future, and if not, whether it is worth waiting around in constant pain for one. For example, if I was suffering from a terminal illness, unless I had pretty good reason to believe that a cure was imminent, I would most likely kill myself. Expand that example to a larger group than just me, and then expand it to the species as a whole, and you have your answer. No perfect knowledge needed, just reasonable expectations.

Expand that example to a

Expand that example to a larger group than just me, and then expand it to the species as a whole, and you have your answer. No perfect knowledge needed, just reasonable expectations.

But as I will show, each individual must make that decision for himself. I'm not sure if this might end up in a logical loop. I don't think so, I don't see a connection line from your scenario back to the original premise. More importantly - would it be right under your scenario to advocate active genocide?

Actually, this may be a special case of natural selection. If we are not biologically capable of dealing with the situation, how is it any different from any other extinction level event? The only difference is that we would normally assume that an extinction event would pass fairly quickly, burning, starving, or otherwise depriving every one of some physical essentials. In your scenario, it is an extinction event, but we are not deprived of shelter, food, or body, but rather deprived of sanity through pain. Either you can continue biological function, and therefore desire to live and reproduce, or you can't and die.

I've convinced myself, it is just a case of an extinction event, no effect on the original thesis. (Unless you want to claim your mind is seperate from biological function, in which case I'll raise you a Creator and 5 books of Law.)

Either you can continue

Either you can continue biological function, and therefore desire to live and reproduce, or you can’t and die.

Should be:
Either a populace can continue biological function, and therefore desire to live and reproduce, or the populace can’t and dies.

More importantly - would it

More importantly - would it be right under your scenario to advocate active genocide?

It depends. If certain people are unable to state their preferences (perhaps they are in a coma and may never wake up) but are nevertheless in terrible pain, maybe. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are both practices I would advocate if certain conditions hold.

Actually, this may be a special case of natural selection. If we are not biologically capable of dealing with the situation, how is it any different from any other extinction level event? The only difference is that we would normally assume that an extinction event would pass fairly quickly, burning, starving, or otherwise depriving every one of some physical essentials. In your scenario, it is an extinction event, but we are not deprived of shelter, food, or body, but rather deprived of sanity through pain. Either a populace can continue biological function, and therefore desire to live and reproduce, or the populace can’t and dies.

Well, we still have a choice about it. We must weigh the value of continuing to live (and the concomitant value of perpetuating the species) with the value of ending our pain. To say that my scenario simply is extinction is to say that a terminally ill cancer patient suffering from severe pain simply is already dead, so her choice is no choice at all. But that's precisely what is up for debate; whether it is moral to cause human species extinction in one case and suicide in the other.

Can you clarify? What part

Can you clarify?

What part it unclear? The hypothesis of natural selection holds that it operates on whole organisms (phenotype), not on one or more individual genes (genotype). Another hypothesis has natural selection operating on groups of organisms (species), an hypothesis which has its problems, but in any case it doesn't operate at the level of the gene either.

It’s genes that live potentially forever via selection, not individuals.

"Via selection?" I suppose you could describe it that way, but it's an error, imo, to conclude that the gene is therefore the "unit of selection." And it seemed to me that's what you were saying.

An organism's *genome* is a very complicated product of, in some cases, millions of genes whose expressions are highly interdependent, co-regulated, and environmentally sensitive. An improvement in fitness resulting from a few genes over here, might be vitiated by a gene or two over there which makes the organism less fit. Natural selection operates on the *overall* fitness of the organism (phenotype).

Similarly, when it comes to humans, it is the whole organism that under ordinary circumstances acts to reproduce, not individual genes.

To say that my scenario

To say that my scenario simply is extinction is to say that a terminally ill cancer patient suffering from severe pain simply is already dead, so her choice is no choice at all.

What I am saying is that you have only presented a fitness function. A truly horrible fitness function to be sure, but it is still a fitness function. If the terminally ill cancer patient still has the will to continue on, then he passes the fitness function until the cancer kills him, or he changes his mind. If the terminally ill patient does not wish to continue then he fails the fitness function. Note, I think this were you misapply the whole thing, the fitness function is being performed an infinite number of times over time. The terminally ill cancer patient isn't dead until the brain and body are no longer functioning.

This does not impact the original thesis, since we acknowledge the existence of fitness functions in that thesis.

Looking forward in my crystal ball I do not see this theory providing clear and definite answers for euthanasia, it looks like successive approximations will be required.

David, I have not said a

David,

I have not said a word about what goals the individual should have.

In your original post you wrote:

The ultimate goal of humans is more humans, the ultimate ought is to do whatever it takes to ensure the next generation of humans.

Again, oughts only pertain to individuals. Neither genes nor collective humanity ought to do anything. Neither is equipped for oughts, only individuals are.

Sounds like I should wait

Sounds like I should wait for the rest of the theory before commenting further.

An organism’s genome is a

An organism’s genome is a very complicated product of, in some cases, millions of genes whose expressions are highly interdependent, co-regulated, and environmentally sensitive. An improvement in fitness resulting from a few genes over here, might be vitiated by a gene or two over there which makes the organism less fit. Natural selection operates on the overall fitness of the organism (phenotype).

Similarly, when it comes to humans, it is the whole organism that under ordinary circumstances acts to reproduce, not individual genes.

I don't think Dawkins would disagree with any of this. Yes, individual organisms reproduce, and yes, genes work with other genes both in positive and negative ways to create the overall phenotype. There are lots of genes that don't do much of anything other than piggyback on other genes that aid their survival. There are some genes that harm the organism in certain ways (sickle cell) but at the same time also aid the organism (malaria resistance) and so get passed on. As you say, it's multifactorial.

But none of this argues against the fact that the phenotype is the combined product of many genes. The individual is the sum of the parts, and some parts result in a greater chance for survival of the the sum than other parts. Those genes that aid the survival of the individual will be passed on in greater numbers than those that don't. Some genes get passed on for millions of years. Some genes die out immediately after they are created.

Nature will never create another unique me, but there's a good chance that a few of my genes will be around a thousand or even million years from now.

(Of course, I don't think that any of this says much about morality.)

Again, oughts only pertain

Again, oughts only pertain to individuals. Neither genes nor collective humanity ought to do anything. Neither is equipped for oughts, only individuals are.

Ahhh... I see the problem. I'll need to do some re-writing.