The Tango of Ethics

The Tango of Ethics is my new book, published on 3 January 2023 by Imprint Academic. It's available in paperback and e-book from Amazon (e.g. UK, US, Germany) and other retailers, and also directly from the publisher’s website (paperback only). The description from the publisher's website:

"Despite existing for thousands of years, the field of ethics remains strongly influenced by several largely unquestioned assumptions and cognitive biases that can dramatically affect our priorities. The Tango of Ethics: Intuition, Rationality and the Prevention of Suffering proposes a deep, rigorous reassessment of how we think about ethics. Eschewing the traditional language of morality, it places a central emphasis on phenomenological experience and the unique urgency of suffering wherever it occurs, challenges our existence bias and examines the consequences of a metaphysically accurate understanding of personal identity.

A key paradigm in The Tango of Ethics is the conflict and interplay between two fundamentally different ways of seeing and being in the world — that of the intuitive human being who wants to lead a meaningful life and thrive, and that of the detached, rational agent who wants to prevent unbearable suffering from occurring. Leighton aims to reconcile these two stances or motivations within a more holistic framework he labels 'xNU+' that places them at distinct ethical levels. This approach avoids some of the flaws of classical utilitarianism, including the notion that extreme suffering can be formally balanced out by enough bliss, while maintaining a focus on impact. He also identifies some of the limits of rationality and our dependence on intuitions to make ethical decisions.

The book explores the implications of this way of thinking for real-world ethical dilemmas and how we might incorporate it into governance. With societal collapse, increasing totalitarianism and artificial general intelligence all very real threats in the coming years, Leighton argues that it is as important as ever to promote these ethics and their implementation while there is still an opportunity for some convergence around what matters."


Blurbs and reviews:

"Nearly all of us, philosophers or not, should attach much greater weight to the prevention of severe suffering. This engaging, accessible, and wide-ranging book provides many highly suggestive arguments in support of this claim."
-Roger Crisp, Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford

"Leighton’s The Tango of Ethics is a well-researched book addressing the most important topic in our universe – the suffering of sentient beings and its implications for ethics, philosophy and technology."
-Roman V. Yampolskiy, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Louisville, author of Artificial Superintelligence: A Futuristic Approach, editor of Artificial Intelligence Safety and Security

"Once in a while you read a book you wish everyone would read. A book in which you underline passages on every page and put tons of exclamation marks in the margin, because you know you'll need to revisit it often. Jonathan Leighton's The Tango of Ethics is such a book." (full post here)
-Tobias Leenaert, co-founder of ProVeg International, author of How to Create a Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach

"In The Tango of Ethics, Jonathan Leighton explores the most important question we can ask ourselves: what matters? Questioning old assumptions, he charts a radical yet pragmatic path forward that is consistent both with the constraints of rationality and with our deepest needs and intuitions."
-Magnus Vinding, co-founder of the Center for Reducing Suffering, author of Suffering-Focused Ethics and Reasoned Politics

"this important and rigorous reassessment of ethics... places emphasis on phenomenological experience and the unique urgency of suffering... Highly informative and topical."
-David Lorimer, editor of Paradigm Explorer (the journal of the Scientific and Medical Network)

"The Tango of Ethics...  transcends the limitations of most philosophy books... takes an interesting and important approach to help us recognize and address the most pressing issue we face."
-Matt Ball, co-founder and President of One Step For Animals, author of The Animal Activist’s Handbook, The Accidental Activist and Losing My Religions


Chapter and section titles:

1. Ethics as an Authentic Dance

The path of truth and compassion
Post-Battle assessment
Can ethics help us improve the world?
Rethinking ethics
The tango of ethics
Can one be too transparent about ethics?
Adjusting priorities

2. Intuition and Rationality

Intuition and its roots
The role of rationality
Managing expectations: the limits of rationality

3. Ethics: What is the Question?

Understanding oughtism
Consequentialism: impact matters
Utilitarianism: impact on wellbeing matters
Deontology: follow the rules
Virtue ethics: be good
Can any one theory be correct?

4. Ethics and Subjective Experience

Hedonic states and wellbeing
Preference satisfaction
The notion of urgency
The significance of extreme and unbearable suffering
Buddhism and craving
Voluntary suffering
Happiness and wellbeing
Capturing the dynamics of hedonic states
Absence of suffering: from hedonic zero to bliss

5. Evaluating Value

The confusion about value and the compulsion to create it
The fundamental ethical asymmetry between suffering and happiness
Negative utilitarianism

6. The Map and the Territory

The mathematics of suffering
Measuring suffering
The hedonic delusion
Lost in aggregation

7. Determining Priorities

Intensity vs. instances: the essence of uncertainty
Comparing physical pain and psychological suffering
Unbearable suffering as an ethical tipping point
Expected value and cause prioritisation

8. Suffering and the Illusion of Separateness

The true nature of personal identity
The Golden Rule
Rawls’s veil of ignorance
Awakening awareness

9. Our Complex Relationship with Suffering

The fleetingness of momentary decisions
Voluntary personal sacrifices don’t justify imposing suffering on others
Tolerating the intolerable
The need for systems that are more rational and compassionate than we are
The intuition towards fairness and against the concentration of suffering

10. Existence

A life worth living
Escaping the Repugnant Conclusion
Why non-existence isn’t a bad thing
Reducing existential risk: an intuition with conditions
Preserving consciousness

11. A Holistic Ethical Framework

Key principles
How xNU+ compares to prioritarianism
How xNU+ responds to common objections to negative utilitarianism
Consistency: being truthful and rational
How everything is connected by utilitarianism
How obsessive utilitarianism can be self-defeating

12. Current and Potential Causes of Intense Suffering

Human suffering
Abuse and torture of non-human animals
Nature and wild animal suffering
Insect and other invertebrate suffering
Far future suffering
Artificial/machine suffering

13. A Tangible Tango: Resolving Ethical Conflicts

Helping those closest vs. helping strangers
Animal experimentation
The grey zone of animal exploitation
Veganism vs. reducing suffering: is eating animal products ever justifiable?
Eating oysters and other brainless invertebrates
Painlessly killing happy animals
Euthanasia of suffering animals
Euthanasia and assisted suicide in humans
Saving lives vs. preventing suffering
The meat-eater problem
Preserving the environment vs. reducing wild animal suffering

14. From Ethics to Action

Reflections on the ethical tango
Creating a new suffering metric for health economics
Impacting the far future
Designing compassionate blueprints for governance based on xNU+ ethics
The last tango: embedding xNU+ ethics into AGI
Balancing personal initiative and collective action
Activism and the desire to see impact
How much empathy do we need?
The fractal-like nature of ethical action
Spreading love, empathy, rationality and compassion


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