Possible applications of Mīmāṃsā deontics: on Chaudhuri and Vardi

There are fields in which the contribution of applied ethics and deontics are more than needed, such as that of the programming of artificial intelligence connected to robots which might interact with human beings. Chaudhuri and Vardi (their article can be downloaded here) quote the following case:

Once released on our streets, self-driving cars will almost certainly face circumstances where they just cannot avoid harming a human.
It is thus imperative that the new generations of intelligent machines be not just efficient or functional but also ethical.

A case which might appear even closer to readers of this blog is that of softwares needing to handle the allocation of resources. These need to receive several bits of information, but to neglect some of them (e.g., “membership in a political party”), while taking into account others (e.g. “academic ability”, which Chaudhuri and Vardi do not explain further).
Now, all these issues do not only need the help of ethicists who are willing to engage in the elaboration of appropriate programs, but also of deontic logicians. Consider the following example, again from the same article:

[W]hat if a drone in a battlefield is obligated to ensure p, but it is impossible to ensure p? Is the drone still required to fulfill its other obligations? The answer should presumably be yes. However, note that this is a departure from classical [deontic, EF] logic, where the impossibility to meet p would amount to an inconsistency, rendering moot every other consideration.

This entails the need to elaborate a deontic logic which is no longer bound to the limits of Standard Deontic Logic and, for instance, values differently different obligations, so that a failure to accomplish a minor obligation does not make the system collapse. This consideration would already be enough to make researchers curious about deontic systems developed outside the Lutheran tradition (it might be worth remembering that deontic logic started in the West in Scandinavia and has until now been primarily developed in Northern Europe and the US) and thus entailing, most probably, different biases, so that the combination of various systems could pave the way for the creation of a more comprehensive one, able to process different sorts of conflicts. It is in this connection perhaps not surprising that the authors of this article are both coming from outside the precincts of the majority of scholars working on deontic logic (respectively, from India and Israel).
On top of that, there are specific reasons to want to come closer to the Mīmāṃsā deontics, since it precisely entails a hierarchy of prescriptions/obligations (see the comments to this post).

Now, a different question: On which side does it depend that programmers and logicians interact so little with historians of philosophy?

For another post on Mīmāṃsā deontic read by contemporary logicians, see here.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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3 thoughts on “Possible applications of Mīmāṃsā deontics: on Chaudhuri and Vardi

  1. While not a programmer, linguist & philosopher Laurence Horn does treat the topic of Mīmāṃsa deontics in the first chapter of his “A Natural History of Negation.” He engages with J.F. Staal’s 1962 analysis of paryudāsa and niṣedha, and hints at some ways in which Von Wright’s deontic logic can be used to represent the nuances of these concepts. This is only one example, of course, and doesn’t answer your final question, but I think it’s at least worth noting where these interactions do happen.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Malcolm! A very short summary for readers unfamiliar with Horn: Horn (Horn 1989) used one of the few translations available, Edgerton 1929, and discussed the analysis of prohibitions in Mīmāṃsā. He aptly recognised that Mīmāṃsā authors identified different types of prohibitions in the sense that a prohibition to do X (e.g., to eat kalañja) is not the same as the prescription to do ~X. He used von Wright’s notation to express the two cases as
      O(-A) and O(~A) respectively and hinted at the fact that Mīmāṃsā authors recognised also paryudāsa types of prohibitions (e.g. “One ought to eat the 5-nailed animals” which are in fact to be interpreted as stating that no other animals should be eaten). In geneal, Horn is an interesting case of how one can approach Mīmāṃsā texts in a productive way and one can only be sorry for the fact that he did not engage in any wider project on the issue.