What Is Ethical Persuasion? | Summary and Q&A

November 8, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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What Is Ethical Persuasion?

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In this video, the speaker discusses the concept of human manipulation and the ethical considerations surrounding it. They explore how our evolutionary code and natural instincts can be influenced and manipulated, leading to certain behaviors and choices. The speaker also raises questions about the ethical implications of such manipulation and the values driving it.

Questions & Answers

Q: How are our predilections for sugar, salt, and fat connected to our evolutionary code?

Our predilections for sugar, salt, and fat are rooted in our evolutionary code, which was tuned millions of years ago. At that time, these resources were scarce, so our bodies developed a strong attraction and preference towards them. However, in today's abundant environment, this predisposition can lead to unhealthy consumption patterns.

Q: Can the mind/body system be changed easily?

The mind/body system is not easily changeable. We are essentially living inside a pre-programmed "meatsuit" that has been fine-tuned over millions of years. While we may have limited control over certain aspects, the fundamental nature of our mind and body remains largely fixed.

Q: How can we manipulate a human body or mind?

If we could create a comprehensive map of every possible way to manipulate a human being, we could understand how to target their sense of belonging, create feelings of missing out, influence their behaviors and thoughts, and prompt specific choices. By understanding these manipulations, we can gain insight into the mechanisms that drive human behavior.

Q: What is the ethical dimension of persuasion?

The ethical dimension of persuasion lies in understanding what constitutes an ethically acceptable way to influence and shape human behavior. It involves considering the boundaries within which we can ethically push and navigate the human animal in the world. Defining ethical persuasion requires a careful examination of the impacts and consequences of our actions.

Q: What role do values play in manipulation?

Values form the foundation for our actions and decisions. When it comes to manipulation, we must question what values we are pushing and promoting. Understanding our values, and the values we want to promote and persuade others to embrace, is crucial in ensuring that manipulation occurs in an ethical and responsible manner.

Q: Why did the speaker study this topic?

The speaker embarked on the study of manipulation out of fascination and a recognition of its significance and importance. They were driven by questions pertaining to the repercussions of manipulation, such as whether companies like Google and Facebook unknowingly influence masses of people in different directions.

Q: What is the current status of the speaker's research?

As of November 1st, 2017, the speaker finds themselves at the center of ongoing discussions surrounding the issue of manipulation. The US Congress is currently questioning Facebook, Google, and Twitter about the very topics the speaker has been interested in for the past three years. This places them in a pivotal position regarding one of the most important and invisible problems in history.

Q: How does our constant device usage affect our thoughts?

Our constant immersion in devices, even when we are not actively looking at them, influences and shapes our thoughts. The thoughts present in our minds are partially influenced by the time we spend interacting with digital devices. This 24/7 exposure creates an environment where our thoughts are consistently influenced by external stimuli.

Q: What harm has been caused by the system?

The system, which manipulates and influences individuals, has been given a set of goals that are causing significant harm. Although not explicitly mentioned in the video, these goals could potentially include addiction to social media, fostering feelings of inadequacy, promoting unhealthy behaviors, and perpetuating harmful ideologies.

Q: What do you think is the significance of this problem?

The speaker believes that this problem of manipulation, combined with harmful goal-setting, is one of the most important and invisible problems in history. The far-reaching impact of mass manipulation, often facilitated by powerful tech companies, raises significant ethical concerns and societal implications.


Human manipulation, driven by our evolutionary code and designed to exploit our natural instincts, has become a pressing concern in today's digital age. As our society increasingly immerses itself in a technology-centric environment, questions about ethical persuasion and the values behind manipulation are crucial. It is important to recognize the potential harm caused by manipulation and to explore how we can navigate this issue responsibly. The ongoing discussions and inquiries by institutions like the US Congress indicate the growing recognition of the significance and impact of manipulation in our lives.

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