Universal Ethics: Organized Complexity as an Intrinsic Value

J. P. Delahaye, C. Vidal

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


How can we think about a universal ethics that could be adopted by any intelligent being, including the rising population of cyborgs, intelligent machines, intelligent algorithms or even potential extraterrestrial life? We generally give value to complex structures, to objects resulting from a long work, to systems with many elements and with many links finely adjusted. These include living beings, books, works of art or scientific theories. Intuitively, we want to keep, multiply, and share such structures, as well as prevent their destruction. Such objects have value not because more information (in bits) would simply mean more value. Instead, they have value because they require a long computational history, numerous interactions for their construction that we can assimilate to a computation, and they display what we call organized complexity. To propose the foundations of a universal ethics based on the intrinsic value of organized complexity, we first discuss conceptions of complexity, and argue that Charles Bennett’s logical depth is certainly a first approximation of what we are looking for. We then put forward three fundamental imperatives: to preserve, augment and recursively promote organized complexity. We show a broad range of applications with human, non-human and non-living examples. Finally, we discuss some specific issues of our framework such as the distribution of complexity, of managing copies and erasures, and how our universal ethics tackles classical ethical issues. In sum, we propose a clear, homogenous and consistent ethical foundation that can integrate many universal ethics desiderata.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEvolution, Development and Complexity: Multiscale Evolutionary Models of Complex Adaptive Systems
EditorsGeorgi Yordanov Georgiev, Claudio Flores Martinez, Michael E. Price, John M. Smart
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-00075-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-00074-5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Kolmogorov complexity
  • thermoethics
  • environmental ethics
  • infoethics
  • logical depth
  • organized complexity
  • Philosophy of information
  • transhumanism
  • universal ethics


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