I enjoyed and agreed with the first part of this article: I think the analogy of the random walk is an interesting way to think about progress in ethics. The section addressing moral relativism does raise a few questions, though.
Ethics is fundamentally subjective, but not relative.
Could you clarify what you meant by this? What is the difference between the terms, in context?
The Snowmass example has a few problems. To begin, religion =/= ethics. None of the Points of Agreement involve ethics in a meaningful way and they’re all vague, involving meaningless terms like “ultimate reality.” They’re essentially religious Barnum statements.
Finally, how can contemplation in the wilderness be an experiment in observing anything but individual human psychology? I would be more convinced by an experimental attempt at optimizing religion/ethics if it involved, for example, looking at how prevalence of certain ethical/religious beliefs in communities correlates with objective, measurable values such as happiness or wealth. Empiricism involves analyzing experimental results against a current model, not just other experiments.
Also, in the case you gave, safety isn’t being destroyed by the truth, it’s being destroyed by the general public’s reaction to the truth. It is pointless to give threats to anybody for a past action, so this is just another case of an irrational emotional response by the collective.
But this is an interesting case of how the pure practice of rationality can be dangerous in an irrational world: is it truly moral to pursue (and in this case, expose) the truth when you can’t expect everyone else to handle or react to it properly? One possible solution could be that, by practicing rationality and truth-seeking personally, even against the common grain of society, you could be subtly influencing society in a more rational direction. Once enough people do this, it “makes the world safe for rationality” by creating a rational society where irrational emotional reactions to truth are highly discouraged. Since a rational society is more optimized, this maximizes utility in the (very) long run.