Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Insignificance of 'Morality'

Today, I want to give some emphasis to something that I added to yesterday’s post, and which played a role in a response that I gave to Atheist Observer to days ago.

Typically, somebody who writes about morality is anxious to assert that their theory can be the only true account of morality, and that no other use of the term ‘morality’ is legitimate. In contrast, I hold that language is an invention, what is true of things in the world does not depend on what we call them, so I do not care if somebody decides to use the term ‘morality’ in some way other than the way that I use it.

Let’s look at the propositions that provide the foundation for desire utilitarianism.

(1) Desires exist.

(2) Desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

(3) Desires are propositional attitudes.

(4) People seek to realize states of affairs in which the propositions that are the objects of their desires are true.

(5) People act to realize states of affairs in which the propositions that are the object of their desires are true, given their beliefs – meaning that false or incomplete beliefs may thwart their desires.

(6) Some desires are malleable.

(7) Desires can, to different degrees, tend to fulfill or thwart other desires. That is, they can contribute to realizing the propositions that are the objects of other desires true, or contribute to preventing the realization of those propositions.

(8) To the degree that a malleable desire tends to fulfill other desires, to that degree people generally have reason to promote or encourage the formation and strength of that desire. To the degree that a malleable desire tends to thwart other desires, to that degree people generally have reason to inhibit or discourage the formation and strength of that desire.

(9) The tools for promoting or inhibiting desires include praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment.

I have given these propositions without once using the term ‘morality’ or even the term ‘value’. Ultimately, it does not matter whether people actually do take this set of propositions, wrap them up in a package, and call them ‘morality’ or give them some other name. None of that affects the question of whether these propositions are true or false. It simply does not matter, ultimately, how a person wants to use the term ‘morality’ because it does not affect whether the things that I say above are true or false, or the implications of what follows from these propositions if they are true.

I would further assert that value-laden terms including moral terms carry with them assumptions about reasons for action. To say that a state of affairs is ‘good’ means that there exists some reason for action to realize such a state, and to call it ‘bad’ is to say that there are reasons for action for avoiding such a state.

People assert the existence of reasons for action other than desires – such as ‘God’s will’ or ‘intrinsic merit’. However, these ‘reasons for action’ do not exist. Because they do not exist, all statements that assert a reason for action grounded on God’s will or intrinsic value or some other form of desire-independent reason for action are false. They are not a matter of opinion.

Claims about desire-independent reasons for action are not ‘subjectively true’. Either these desire-independent reasons for action exist, or they do not. If they exist, then a theory that makes use of them should be able to do a better job of explaining and predicting intentional action. If a theory that makes use of them fails to do a better job of explaining and predicting intentional action, then by virtue of Occam’s Razor, we can eliminate them from our ontology.

It is true that a person can claim that some action X serves God’s will, and then act to realize X. However, we can adequately explain this type of behavior by asserting that the agent has a desire to serve God, and a belief that doing X serves God. However, in this case, the agent can never fulfill his desire, because he can never realize a state in which the proposition, “I am serving God” is true. He can only realize a state that he falsely believes is a state in which “I am serving God” is true. This means that such an agent cannot actually fulfill a desire – cannot actually realize something that has value. He can only falsely believe that he has realized a state that has value.

This account is still fully consistent with the claim that desires are the only reasons for action that actually exist. What motivates the agent’s action, in this case, is a desire to serve God and a false belief that doing X will serve God. The desire to serve God is a genuine reason for action that exists. However, it does not recommend any real-world action because no real-world action can actually realize a state where ‘I am serving God” is true.

If somebody wishes to assert that ‘morality’ attaches to something else, I will respond by asking, “In calling that moral, are you saying that there are reasons for action for realizing that which you call ‘moral’ or preventing the realization of that which ou call ‘immoral’? If you are, then I am going to ask you to demonstrate that the reasons for action that you are talking about actually do exist. If they do not exist, then your claim that there are reasons for action for realizing what you call ‘moral’ or for avoiding the realization of what you call ‘immoral’ is, quite simply, false. If they do exist . . . well, I would like to see an argument for the existence of reasons for action other than desires.

If you are claiming that in calling something ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’ you are not saying anything about what we should realize or prevent from being realized, then I am going to accuse you, at best, of inventing a new language and, at worse, of uttering nonsense. I could take you at your word – and say that because no ‘reasons for action exist’ for bringing about what you call ‘moral’ then the fact that something is ‘moral’ is unimportant. You cannot coherently insist that I bring about that where there exists no reason for me to bring about.

If, on the other hand, in calling something ‘moral’ you are saying that there are reasons for action for bringing it about, and in calling something ‘immoral’ you are saying that there are reasons for action to prevent its realization, I am going to ask you to demonstrate that those reasons for action are, themselves, real.

If you can’t meet this challenge and show that your reasons for action are real, then I am going to assert that your claim that there are reasons for action for bringing about that which you call ‘moral’ are false. If you can demonstrate that there are reasons for action that are real . . . well, I’m going to assert that you must be referring to desires, since desires are the only reasons for action that exist. If you are talking about malleable desires, then I get to ask questions about whether there are reasons for action for promoting or inhibiting those desires.

Desires that tend to fulfill other desires matter because reasons for action exist for promoting the occurrence and strength of desires that tend to fulfill other desires. Desires that tend to thwart other desires matter because reasons for action exist for inhibiting the occurrence and strength of desires that tend to thwart other desires. These ‘reasons for action’ are the desires fulfilled or thwarted. So, I do not face a problem at least in theory, when it comes to answering the challenge, “Do reasons for action exist for promoting that which you call ‘moral’ or inhibiting that which you call ‘immoral’?” I don’t need to use the word ‘moral’ for any of this.

Where those reasons for action exist, they exist whether we use the term ‘moral’ or not. Whether to attach the term ‘moral’ is not relevant to the whether the proposition is true or false. What matters is whether ‘reasons for action exist’ for realizing that which the speaker says should be realized, or for avoiding the realization of that which we are being told to avoid realizing. What doesn’t matter is what terms are used to refer to these facts.

28 comments:

eenauk said...

morality should not "attach to something else": that's a nice way of putting it. However, i'm not so sure about the unimportance of the _term_ "morality". I'll grant u that people make words mean what they want, but that takes a long time and we usually all have to agree lest we stop understanding one another. Hence, i wouldn't want to let anyone use the word "morality" however they want. It would be better to simply not "attach something else" to it.

On another note, i think your point (6) is more important than you make it out to be and that that is where the morality (as commonly understood) kicks in: everything that you say is indeed a question of fact, including the sixth point that desires are malleable. Where things get difficult is when we try to decide which desires are desirable. Of course, you will probably introduce a "coherence theory of desires" to solve the problem; but you can only justify it by referring to a desire to be coherent. It might seem obvious that we _should_ desire that our desires be coherent, but that is nonetheless an obvious _moral_ truth and no longer a matter of fact. Let me know if i'm wrong.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

eenauk

My claim about the unimportance of 'morality' actually has to do with the nature of value itself.

Of course, the term has a huge 'propaganda' significance. Nobody who wants to get their policies accepted by the general public will be able to do so by arguing that they are 'immoral'. Convincing others that they stand for 'justice' and 'virtue' are essential to getting public buy-in.

And, you are correct, a common language is essential to efficient communication. Ultimately, it does not matter what terms we use in that language. What matters is the degree to which different people call up the same concept when a term is used - so that we are all 'on the same page' as it were.

Concerning your second matter, the only way to answer the question, "Which desires are desirable" is to ask the question, "Which desires tend to fulfill other desires."

In other words, if desires are the only reasons-for-action that exist, then desires are the only reasons-for-action for deciding which desires to promote and which to inhibit. Anybody who tries to evaluate desires on any other critieron is making up 'reasons for action' that do not exist.

You are correct that this leads to a form of 'coherence of desires'.

I tend to use the phrase 'harmony of desires' because it is often the case that we can obtain the best fulfillment of desires when different people desire different things.

One example that I use is my preference for dark meat and my wife's preference for white meat - a harmonious set of desires when we have chicken for supper.

Another example that I use is that of an entity with a desire to gather stones, and another with a desire to scatter stones.

Note here that I am talking about desires for an activity, not desires for an end result. There is a difference between a desire to gather stones and a desire that stones be gathered. Two creatures with desires for two different end states - one to have all stones gathered, and the other to have all stones scattered - would NOT be in harmony.

But, yes, I cannot defend this claim by saying that harmony has some sort of mysterious 'intrinsic' worth.

Fortunately, I don't have to.

I will cover that argument in a couple of days.

Atheist Observer said...

Alonzo,

While I have no issue with the discussion of morality in this post, I will adopt the courtroom rule that if you bring something up in your presentation, then it is fair game for discussion. In this case I’d like to raise objections to two of the foundational propositions you list.
The first a technical issue with the statement that, “desires can…tend to fulfill or thwart other desires.” Since desires are propositions and reasons for action this means you are saying, “these reasons for action tend to thwart those reasons for action.” While you have written at some length on the differences between desires, desire fulfillment, and acts, in this case it is virtually always true that it is acts taken to fulfill desires that tend to fulfill or thwart the ability to commit acts to fulfill other desires. No matter what desires I have, if I never take any action based on those desires, they will never thwart or fulfill any other desires.
The second issue is empirical rather than technical, and deals with the issue of tools for promoting and inhibiting desires. The question of what tools are effective in increasing, decreasing, or changing desires is not a philosophical one, it is a factual one. If we find that desires have changed after the use of a tool or technique, then it is a valid tool in that instance for that desire.
If we want to develop tools for changing desires, then the logical way to go about it is to ask how we acquired our desires in the first place. Naturally the things that played a role in creating desires are likely to be important in modifying them as well. I propose three causal mechanisms for this process.
The first is an internal pleasure-pain system more or less hard-wired by evolution into our nervous system that is triggered by conditions in our environment or our bodies. These feeling are independent of rational thought and while they are probably more accurately described as feelings than desires, I assert that just as there are no reasons for actions other than desires, there are no reasons for desires other than these feelings. If anyone has a plausible alternative mechanism for the creation of desires I have yet to hear it.
(Mothers saying they want to protect their children rather than just feeling they protect them does not disprove this thesis unless you can provide a mechanism for acquiring such a desire that does not involve these feelings.)
Second, an adaptive learning mechanism by which these basic pleasure-pain experiences are unconsciously associated with other aspects of the environment. Much of this takes place during early childhood, but it also continues throughout life. There is no question that praise and condemnation can be effective tools in causing children to develop certain desires. A child can develop a desire to do something because it has been praised even when the one giving the praise is not present. However even in small children one cannot assume a simple cause and effect. One must also consider the situation in which a condemned child actually repeats the action as a response to the condemnation.
The third causal mechanism in generating desires is conceptual learning and experience. One’s beliefs play a fundamental role in the development in most desires. If desires are propositions about states of affairs, it makes little sense to claim that one’s beliefs about those states of affairs have nothing to do with the desires to bring them about. A desire to vacation in Hawaii would never come about if one never had any beliefs about Hawaii. It also logically follows that if a desire depends on certain beliefs, changes in those beliefs will result in changes in desires.
Where does all this lead as far as tools for promoting and inhibiting beliefs?
If our basic drives are genetic, we can look to genetic engineering for change, but that’s hardly a viable short term tool. Fortunately since these drives evolved to benefit our genes, they are generally, though not always, beneficial to our overall species survival as well.
If we look to second order desires, those acquired unconsciously, there are at least three powerful forces at work. The first is example and imitation. From language to mannerisms to emotional responses, we learn the most about human behavior by observing others. Next, we experience how others react to our actions. We’re naturally attuned to the many subtle clues that reveal what feelings our actions elicit in them. Finally, and arguably the least important, is overt verbal feedback in the form of praise and condemnation. Given this, our available tools to modify desires are, in order of effectiveness: setting good examples, interacting in society in ways that implicit convey approval of good desires, and giving direct praise and condemnation.
Finally, if the majority of our desires have a significant component of beliefs, then to the degree we can provide new information and compelling reasons why these beliefs may be wrong, then we can modify the desires that depend on them.
Neither of these objections undermine the core of desire utilitarianism, but I believe addressing them would make it a more comprehensive and defensible theory.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Atheist Observer

I agree, more or less, with much of what you have written. Mostly, your statement that The question of what tools are effective in increasing, decreasing, or changing desires is not a philosophical one, it is a factual one, is very true and very important.

I have some disagreement with you over what those facts are, but it remains a fact that we are talking about cause and effect - something that requires empirical verification or falsification.

The one point where I disagree with with your third claim about the relationship of beliefs to desires.

Now, the term 'desires' is ambiguous. It refers to 'desires-as-ends' (what we desire for its own sake), 'desires-as-means' (what we desire because we believe it will lead to something that we desire for its own sake), 'contributory value' (what we desire because it is a part of something larger that we desire for its own sake - like a section of a painting), and 'participatory value' (what we desire because we believe it participates in a set of things that we value for its own sake - like valuing a painting that the owner thinks was painted by Monet.

Beliefs play an important role in desires-as-means, contributory value, and participatory value, but not in desires-as-ends. Yet, none of the three types of value in which beliefs play a role has any value independent of desires-as-ends. Ultimately, it is desires-as-ends that is the root of all value, and it is belief-independent. The fact that the other three types of value are belief-dependent should not be taken to infer that desires-as-ends is also belief dependent.

Justin Martyr said...

(8) To the degree that a malleable desire tends to fulfill other desires, to that degree people generally have reason to promote or encourage the formation and strength of that desire. To the degree that a malleable desire tends to thwart other desires, to that degree people generally have reason to inhibit or discourage the formation and strength of that desire.

This proposition is true, but using the word'"generally' raises a loophole a mile wide. There are many specific cases in which people have a reason to promote desire-thwarting desires. Consider the case of the 900 racists. It is a small world with only 900 racists and 100 members of a minority ethnic group. Racist oppression is desire-thwarting but the racists have a reason to promote, rather than thwart, this desire.

Nor can you rely on praise, punishment, or condemnation of the racists, as you suggest in the case of Hateful Craig because the racists are the majority in society and they are the ones who have the power to use praise, punishment and condemnation.

Are there any cases where desire utilitarianism would lead to a different outcome that the tried and true (and failed) theory of Justice as Mutual Advantage based on Nash solutions to bargaining problems? The only difference I see is the language, and as you correctly point out, the truths of the underlying propositions are the same regardless of the language one uses.

Eneasz said...

Justin -

Perhaps the 1000 Sadists post could answer this?

Justin Martyr said...

Hiya Eneasz,

I wrote the 900 racists specifically to address some of the problems with relying on 1000 sadists. You can make a strong argument that the 1000 sadists have a rational reason to use the "turn the knobs" technique. They might be parents themselves and wouldn't want the other sadists turning on their own child. They might have friends and family with children. On this view, if the 1000 sadists wanted to satisfy the most and strongest of their desires (maximize their own personal utility), then they should use praise, punishment, and condemnation to thwart sadism.*

The 900 racists eliminates the rational reason to use the "turn the knobs" technique. They hate the members of the minority ethnic group and love members of their own group. The "turn the knobs" technique says the racists should change their desires and stop being racist. But racist oppression is what fulfills the most and strongest of their desires (maximizes each of their own personal utility). In short, rationality and "turn the knobs" collide.


A more robust description is available here

* Note: if you don't think the 1000 sadists have a rational reason to thwart sadism then the cases are identical. But then they both suffer the same problem: why take "turn the knobs" as normative? Now all you've got is another wishy-washy atheistic theory of ethics with moral duties to invisible ethical principles that have not been discovered by science. Why not believe in Santa Clause and the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Eneasz said...

Ah, I think you misunderstand the analogy. The 1000 Sadists posts is not about reciprocity. Where there is the desire to torture, either the sadists will have their desire to torture thwarted, or the child will have it's desire to not be in pain thwarted. No matter what, desires are being thwarted. If there is no desire to torture then no desires are being thwarted, of either party. So it's better for there not to be any sadism than for there to be some sadism.

Personally I've never found this answer emotionally satisfying, but it seems acceptable. I, however, would like to put forth my own reasoning on racism. To avoid re-typing I'm just pasting what I wrote in the comments here, simply replace "slavery" with "racism" and I believe it still applies.

--
It is undeniable that a society that keeps slaves MUST weaken other desires to accomodate slavery. This results in a weakening of the desire for compassion, or the desire for justice, or the desire for truth, or (usually) all three. As well as other desires we would rather have more of. And it tends to enforce many desires we have reason to eliminate entirely (brutality, bigotry, aristocracy, etc).

Therefore a society with slavery is forced by its acceptance of slavery to be a much worse place for everyone - including the free and the slave-owner - than it would be without slavery. And any society that begins to strongly promote desires such as a love for truth, justice, rights, and equality, will inevitably eventually have to discard slavery.

Justin Martyr said...

Hiya Eneasz,

It is undeniable that a society that keeps slaves MUST weaken other desires to accomodate slavery. This results in a weakening of the desire for compassion, or the desire for justice, or the desire for truth, or (usually) all three.


How does the racist desire to oppress members of a minority group weaken the desire for truth? That is a rhetorical flourish unless desirism can provide non-question begging evidence for the proposition 'racist oppression is wrong'. As for compassion and justice, racist oppression does not weaken these feelings towards other group members. In fact, quite the contrary. The lesson of group selection in evolution is that altruistic groups can spread their genes more often because they can conquer other groups with weaker teamwork. The harsh lesson is that conflict with other groups heightens within-group cooperation. It does not diminish it.

Therefore a society with slavery is forced by its acceptance of slavery to be a much worse place for everyone - including the free and the slave-owner - than it would be without slavery.

Your defense is that all acts of oppression leave the oppressor worse off? That is an implausible reading of history.

Eneasz said...

How does the racist desire to oppress members of a minority group weaken the desire for truth?

Because the racism is generally justified by claims that the minority is sub-human or intrinsically inferior in some way and deserving of the racist attitudes. These claims can't hold up to the inquiry of anyone who actually cares about the truth.

As for compassion and justice, racist oppression does not weaken these feelings towards other group members.

Strong desires for compassion and justice will bleed over into compassion and justice for members of the minority, especially among younger generations, especially when it is realized that the minorities are NOT inherently inferior. The only way to curtail that is to weaken those desires.

This may not seem intuitively obvious, but history bears this out. Pre-enlightenment humans had little regard for compassion OR justice. Peasants simply accepted that they lived at the whim of their lords, and the lords did pretty much as they pleased. Cat-burning and executions were popular forms of public entertainment.

The lesson of group selection in evolution is that altruistic groups can spread their genes more often because they can conquer other groups with weaker teamwork.

Evolution also teaches that when you become the head of a pride you should kill all the children of the previous leader and start shagging all his females. This spreads your genes more effectively. Obviously evolution is not a moral system, nor should be used as the basis of one.

Your defense is that all acts of oppression leave the oppressor worse off? That is an implausible reading of history.

That is my defense, and I don't consider it implausible at all. The fact that it's not intuitive and wasn't often tried doesn't make it false. Two populations pooling their resources and talent to cooperate will, in the long run, always out-perform one population oppressing the other.

Aside from the simple observation that we're better off now without oppression than we were back when oppression was rampant, let me give a more specific example.

Due to the oppression of Jews in Germany in the 30's and 40's, many Jews fled that country and came to America. Those that remained certainly didn't contribute to Germany's scientific knowledge. Due in large part to the contribution of Jewish scientists (Einstein was a Jew that fled Germany, after all), the USA was the first to create an atomic bomb. Had the Germans embraced their Jewish minority they may have made it first, and it probably would have changed the course of the war. Arguable, no amount of in-group cohesion is a match for atomic weapons. Japan had one of the most cohesive societies in existence at the time, and they surrendered after two bombings.

I'm not defending the use of nuclear weapons in WWII as justified. But I am asking - who ended up worse off? Seems to me that it was the oppressors.

Justin Martyr said...

Hiya Eneasz,

First let me say that I've been debating a desirism on a few blogs and I think your responses are quite good.

Strong desires for compassion and justice will bleed over into compassion and justice for members of the minority, especially among younger generations, especially when it is realized that the minorities are NOT inherently inferior. The only way to curtail that is to weaken those desires.

Not always. For example, the caste system in India has been stable for thousands of years. Slavery was a stable and universal human institution until powerful Western nations decided to abolish it. But here is the key point: the people involved subscribed to normative ethical principles which demanded personal self-sacrifice for the sake of others. On desirism they were irrational.

That leads to your argument. The 900 racists should stop being racist because oppression isn't really the best way for the racists to fulfill their desires.


Evolution also teaches that when you become the head of a pride you should kill all the children of the previous leader and start shagging all his females. This spreads your genes more effectively.

I referred to evolution to provide empirical support to refute your claim that hostility between groups leads to hostility within groups. In fact, the converse is generally true - unless people hold a normative principle. And on desirism, they would be irrational for doing so.

Aside from the simple observation that we're better off now without oppression than we were back when oppression was rampant, let me give a more specific example.

You have three problems here. The first is that you have collective action problems. The good of the group favors cooperation but the good of each person favors free riding. A rational actor who did not subscribe to normative ethical principles would choose to free ride.

The second problem is that people may not be motivated to lead a comfortable life (a non-zero sum game), but to maximize their reproductive fitness (a zero-sum game). On that view costly acts of oppression and warfare become even more rational. Even if the oppressors end out "worse off" in the material sense they will be better off in the reproductive sense.

Here is an example from evolution which you introduced to make my point. A male lion kills a rival alpha male, kills the rival's offspring, and then claims the females as members of his harem. He breeds with them for a while before he is deposed by another lion. If the "oppressive" lion's goal was material well-being then his act of oppression was irrational. He got his well-deserved comeuppance. But if his motivation was reproductive success then his act was extremely rational.

I've already discussed the third problem - we are better off today because people have adopted normative principles that demand self-sacrifice. On desirism that is irrational.

Eneasz said...

First let me say that I've been debating a desirism on a few blogs and I think your responses are quite good.

Why thank you! :) I'm quite happy to have you here, DU could use more thought-provoking criticism, especially if it is to get more widely noticed.

And on desirism, they would be irrational for doing so.

Either I don't understand your use of the term "irrational", or you've misunderstood some aspect of desirism, because the phrase "On desirism that is irrational" makes no sense to me.

It is, foremost, a descriptive theory. It states that people will act to fulfill their desires. To say that people are irrational for doing so doesn't matter, this is just a description of reality, not a classification of whether reality is rational or not.

Desirism doesn't say "people should act in a way contrary to their desires", because that is impossible and really would be irrational (is that what you meant?) Rather it states that "people should have certain desires, and shouldn't have certain other desires" in the sense where "should" means "other people have many strong reasons to make this be the case". That is again a descriptive statement, but can also be taken as a normative one.

I'll continue with the examples you provided in hopes that this can lead us to where we've disconnected?

For example, the caste system in India has been stable for thousands of years.

Yes, while it was believed that those born into those castes are inherently morally inferior/superior and deserve to be where they are by divine/mystical judgement. And while justice was not highly valued. As India has modernized and both of these things have begun to change the caste system is beginning to crumble. It's already unfashionable to overtly mention it, and is officially (if not yet in practice) against govt policy.

Slavery was a stable and universal human institution until powerful Western nations decided to abolish it.

Slavery wasn't simply abolished because some power decided to try that out. It was due to many decades of gradual change in attitudes and desires. And what brought this change? It certainly wasn't the ethics of any normative moral system that had existed anytime before the 1600s. It was due to the rising power of the middle-class who now could influence the desires of the ruling elites (and later the gradual destruction of ancient myths about the innate superiority of one group over others). As the poor tradesman managed to accumulate wealth and some measure of power he wanted to ensure that he couldn't be stripped of this by the whim of some duke. So he helps to spread a desire among the populace that all people should be treated fairly, whether they are low-born or royalty. It was only intended to benefit him and other white, male, property-owners like himself, but desires aren't that specific and once it lodges in people's hearts all of a sudden it seems unfair to the unjaded teenage daughter of the merchant that women aren't allowed any justice! And to his yet-to-be-born grandson that the colored boy he grew up with is only considered 3/5ths of a man. And so on.

At all the steps in this process it is only the interplay of people and desires at work. And the actors have always acted to fulfill their own desires. At what point were they acting irrationally, in a way that is contrary to their desires?

The 900 racists should stop being racist because oppression isn't really the best way for the racists to fulfill their desires.

That's putting it a bit too simplistically. Oppression may be the best way for them to fulfill their desires. But it is still bad, because everyone (including themselves) would be better off if they didn't have those desires.

And even if they do realize this, desires can't be turned on and off at will. It takes a lot of work to change a desire even after you realize it's a bad desire. Overcoming racism is hard even when you know it's a bad thing.

Eneasz said...

(continued)

The good of the group favors cooperation but the good of each person favors free riding. A rational actor who did not subscribe to normative ethical principles would choose to free ride.

Amendment: A rational actor who's only desire is maximizing his own resources (and who couldn't be punished) would choose to free-ride. A rational actor who has other desires as well, such as a desire not to be a rat-bastard that's despised by everyone else, or a desire to be helpful and productive, would NOT choose to free-ride. And the whole point of morality is to instill those desires into everyone, so there won't be any free-riders.

The second problem is that people may not be motivated to lead a comfortable life (a non-zero sum game), but to maximize their reproductive fitness (a zero-sum game). On that view costly acts of oppression and warfare become even more rational.

Yes, this is true. However I don't know of any human that is actually motivated to maximize reproductive fitness. That is a motivation for genes, not for humans. Having been shaped by evolution, our genes have given us desires which tended to maximize our reproductive fitness. That's why the lion does what he does in the given example. He doesn't desire reproductive fitness, he can't even understand the concept, he simply desires to be the leader of the pride, and to kill the offspring of his former rival.

But given the technological & scientific progress humans have made, our desires no longer necessarily lead to maximized reproductive fitness. We have a desire for sex, not repro-fitness, so we use contraceptives and have anti-repro-fit sex. We have a desire for high-calorie food, which we can fulfill whenever we want nowadays, which results in this now being an anti-repro-fit desire. Etc.

And most importantly, we have the understanding to realize desires are what motivate humans, and we have the tools to reshape some (many?) desires.

So we use these new abilities to fulfill our desires (many of them shaped by others), and no one really cares about their comparative reproductive fitness, because evolution never found a way to make organisms care about that.

And given what we DO desire (health, long life, joy, security, etc), we shape other's desires to best promote their fulfillment. Thus: morality.

Justin Martyr said...

Part 1 of 2

Either I don't understand your use of the term "irrational", or you've misunderstood some aspect of desirism, because the phrase "On desirism that is irrational" makes no sense to me.

I take duties of rationality as normative. E.g. suppose you get 50 utility from watching American Idol and 100 utility from reading about desirism on the internet. Then you "should" read about desirism. Duties of rationality are a reasonable assumption unless you are debating a post-modernist. But mostly I do it because it makes it a lot easier to talk about desirism! Otherwise I'd have to use clunky phrases like 'given that the most and strongest desires of X is to opress then X is rational to fulfill his desire to oppress' It's a lot easier to simply say 'X should oppress.'


Yes, while it was believed that those born into those castes are inherently morally inferior/superior and deserve to be where they are by divine/mystical judgement. And while justice was not highly valued. As India has modernized and both of these things have begun to change the caste system is beginning to crumble. It's already unfashionable to overtly mention it, and is officially (if not yet in practice) against govt policy.

That is true, but (1) that is because of the influence of the west which, on desirism, irationally holds claims like "all men are created equall". (2) These beliefs have also served the rational members of higher castes quite well.


It certainly wasn't the ethics of any normative moral system that had existed anytime before the 1600s. It was due to the rising power of the middle-class who now could influence the desires of the ruling elites (and later the gradual destruction of ancient myths about the innate superiority of one group over others). As the poor tradesman managed to accumulate wealth and some measure of power he wanted to ensure that he couldn't be stripped of this by the whim of some duke.

It sounds like you take a Marxist view of history. I think you have to if you subscribe to desirism. But the Civil War was extraordinarily costly for the US, and Great Britain actually spend the equivalent GDP of a medium-sized nation blockading the slave trade out of Africa. More fundamentally, your argument is that over time the negotiating power of the lower classes will rise to the point where they can demand equality. In that sense we are working from the same premises. Desirism is simply justice as the outcome of bargaining problem. My point is very simple: when there is an imbalance in bargaining power it is rational to oppress.

Justin Martyr said...

Part 2 of 2

Amendment: A rational actor who's only desire is maximizing his own resources (and who couldn't be punished) would choose to free-ride. A rational actor who has other desires as well, such as a desire not to be a rat-bastard that's despised by everyone else, or a desire to be helpful and productive, would NOT choose to free-ride.


Sure, but there is a vast literature from economics which shows that there is no structural solution to the free rider problem. We do not live in a world of perfect information. That means there are Nash solutions in which people are (1) unproductive and even corrupt, and (2) do not face social scorn because others in their group have adopted the similar strategies. The best solution to the free rider problem is to encourage group-friendly social norms. But on desirism those norms are simply irrational - there is no evidential basis for subscribing to them.

Yes, this is true. However I don't know of any human that is actually motivated to maximize reproductive fitness. That is a motivation for genes, not for humans. Having been shaped by evolution, our genes have given us desires which tended to maximize our reproductive fitness.

The levels of selection is debate is over and we now know that their are functional replicators at many levels: genes, individuals, and groups. Moreover, I disagree with you here. A lot of parents choose to advance their offspring at the expense of others. They may not cite evolution but they will cite blood, kin, or family. There is also the "as if" defense. Many people who don't care about having offspring do make large investments into securing sexual access to females and acquiring status from other males. That is what motivates are infanticidal lions and it motivates humans as well.

Ultimately I think your strongest argument is the Marxist view of history - technology and education will inevitably increase and with it the bargaining power of the lower classes. But (1) I don't think that process is inevitable. Ronald Inglehart is a leading champion of modern modernization theories and even he concedes that the process is path-dependent and may sometimes work backwards. He points to Russia as an example in his essay in Culture Matters. Secondly, I think the process requires normative principles like 'sacrifice your self-interest for the sake of others who are less fortunate' and 'work hard and be honest even if you could get away with cheating'. Thirdly, I doubt that bargaining power will ever be completely equal, and until such a day arises oppression is rational.

Eneasz said...

(pt 1)
Hello again Justin.

I'm still perplexed by your use of the word 'irrational'.

1. Are you saying it is irrational for an agent to act in a way that is not motivated by his own desires? Desirism says that not only is this irrational, it is impossible, so I think we'd be in agreement.

2. Are you saying it's irrational for people to encourage in others desires that help fulfill their own desires? If so I'd argue you're simply factually wrong.

I'd have to use clunky phrases like 'given that the most and strongest desires of X is to opress then X is rational to fulfill his desire to oppress' It's a lot easier to simply say 'X should oppress.'

I think we may have identified one of the problems. The two statements you have given are NOT equivalent. The first one is just a matter of fact. If oppressing fulfills the greater of X's desires, X will oppress. How ever this doesn't in any way imply that X SHOULD oppress, in the moral sense. X should not have the desire to oppress at all. It is a desire that has been proven to lead to worse outcomes for everyone, and everyone has many reasons to eliminate such a desire.

the influence of the west which, on desirism, irationally holds claims like "all men are created equall".

Again, that baffling claim of irrationality. The phrase "All men are created equal" is a poetic way of saying "Everyone should be given an equal opportunity, unbiased by prejudice." This is a statement that is supported by desirism. Everyone has many strong reasons to promote this desire in everyone else, and it results in provably better societies. How does observing a fact about how the world works turn into an "irrational claim"?

It sounds like you take a Marxist view of history.

Interesting! :) I've never had anyone claim that of me before, so I've never really pondered it. It sounds plausible tho, I will have to think on this further. Thank you!

the Civil War was extraordinarily costly for the US, and Great Britain actually spend the equivalent GDP of a medium-sized nation blockading the slave trade out of Africa.

This is only tangentially relevant. I am arguing for morality based on what desires everyone has reason to promote/eliminate. Economic efficiency may be a factor, but it's not the guiding light. I think you may have mistaken me for a liberterian?

Desirism is simply justice as the outcome of bargaining problem. My point is very simple: when there is an imbalance in bargaining power it is rational to oppress.

Again, desirism is primarily descriptive. When there is an imbalance in bargaining power then the powerful may find it convenient to oppress. However that doesn't mean that oppression is the best strategy for society. That is why people try to mold the desires of everyone, including the powerful, to detest oppression. We want them to reject oppression of their own free will because they are repulsed by it. That is the purpose of morality.

Eneasz said...

(pt 2)

The best solution to the free rider problem is to encourage group-friendly social norms.

Right. That's what morality is for. It shapes people's desires so they want to take group-friendly actions freely.

But on desirism those norms are simply irrational - there is no evidential basis for subscribing to them.

um...
What?
Didn't you just give, in the preceding paragraph, an evidential basis for subscribing to these norms? You yourself gave the evidence for promoting pro-social desires, and then a few lines later you say there is no evidence to promote pro-social desires?

A lot of parents choose to advance their offspring at the expense of others. They may not cite evolution but they will cite blood, kin, or family.

Right, that's what I was saying. They cite a desire to advance their kin. They do not cite a desire to maximize their comparative reproductive fitness. We're born with desires that tend to (or used to tend to) maximize repro-fitness, but no actual desire for repro-fitness in itself.

Many people who don't care about having offspring do make large investments into securing sexual access to females and acquiring status from other males.

Yes, again, exactly what I was saying. There is a desire for sex, and for status. In the ancestoral enviroment these desires led to reproductive fitness. Nowadays it is actually counter-productive to make large investments into securing sex, and then using a condom. You are destroying your reproductive fitness by wasting lots of resources on an act that cannot result in reproduction. This was my point. Humans are motivated by lots of desires, but not by an explicit desire to maximize their comparative reproductive fitness.

At any rate, I think we're going off on a tangent here and losing our main focus.

I'm not quoting your final paragraph to save space. I will simply say that I agree fully on both your first two points, and agree on your third point if we change the final word from "rational" to "inevitable".

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I have not yet had time since my return to read through these comments in detail. However, I would like to say something I hope might be useful.

It is NOT irrational for an evil person to do evil things. Desirism denies that there is a necessary connection between what is rational and what is moral.

For a good person, such a link exists. In fact, a "right act" is precisely that act that a person with good desires would (rationally) perform.

For an evil person, rationality often suggests wrong actions. In fact, for a fundamental charactristic of being evil is to be a person who rationally performs immoral actions - actions that people generally have many and strong reasons to condemn.

This is relevant to the point being made, when there is an imbalance in bargaining power it is rational to oppress.

Opression is an action.

It would likely be rational for an evil person to oppress. It would not be rational for a good person to do so - a person whose desires are thos that people generally have the most and strongest reason to promote.

The moral question is whether it would be rational for people generally to promote those desires that would make oppression rational for some.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

If I may rephrase my previous point:

The way to deal with wrong acts is not to convince the evil person that the wrong act is irrational. Often, it is not.

The way to deal with wrong acts is to make wrong acts irrational by one of two means.

(1) Making it irrational by threatening to realize states the agent has reason to avoid (fines, imprisonment, execution).

(2) Making it irrational by altering the desires of agents through social tools such as praise and condemnation.

Justin Martyr said...

Post 1 of 2: on rationality and desirism

Hiya Eneasz,

I'm still perplexed by your use of the word 'irrational'.

My background assumptions are (1) the definition of irrational comes from rational choice theory, the foundation of economics and political science. Rational people maximize expected utility. If you expect to get 50 utility from watching TV and 100 utility from reading a book then it is rational person to read a book. (2) My second background assumption is that I take duties of rationality as normative. This is where the confusion has arisin. Thus the proposition 'it is rational for you to read a book' leads to the conclusion 'you should read a book'.

The two statements you have given are NOT equivalent. The first one is just a matter of fact. If oppressing fulfills the greater of X's desires, X will oppress. How ever this doesn't in any way imply that X SHOULD oppress, in the moral sense.

Let's take my backgroudn assumptions to desirism. Suppose the racists expect to get 100 utility from oppression and 50 utility from promoting racial harmony. Then it is rational for the racists to oppress. Given the background assumption that duties of rationality are normative, that leads to the conclusion that the racists should oppress. Here it is in logical form.

1. If one believes act A maximizes expected utility then one should resolve to do act A
2. Act A maximizes expected utility
3. therefore, one should do act A

Premise 1 is the assumption of rationality.

But again, this is a long interlude because it is more convenient to make statements like, 'the 900 racists should oppress' rather than klunky descriptive phrases. I really don't want to get bogged down in this discussion. I can easily switch to klunky descriptive phrases and make exactly the same arguments.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Justin Martyr

We are concerned here with the usefulness of desires in fulfilling other desires.

Of what use is racism?

It generates conflict with the 100 members of the minority (who have reason to thwart the desires of the racists).

It sacrifices the possibility of cooperation in the fulfillment of other desires.

It takes requires resources to force others to do what one wants.

You always have to watch your back.

Racism has all of these costs - even for the racist. But, what do they gain from being racists?

Given that they are racists and (we may assume) have power over the minority, it may be fully rational to act on those desires. But this does not change the fact that they would be better off if they did not have the desires at all, and instead desires that were in harmony with those of the minority.

This does not say, "all acts of oppression leave the oppressor worse off." That would be false. Some acts leave the oppressor better off. However, desire utilitarianism is not concerned with the evaluation of acts. It is concerned with the evaluation of desires. The racist profits from injustice to the minority because he is a racist. What if he was the type of person who did not profit from oppression?

You wrote: That leads to your argument. The 900 racists should stop being racist because oppression isn't really the best way for the racist to fulfill their desires.

Oppression may well be the best way to fulfill their desires given the fact that they are racist.

However, don't confuse the question of whether a racist has reason to oppress with the question of whether a person has reason to be racist.

Justin Martyr said...

Post 2 of 2: the core arguments

desirism is primarily descriptive. When there is an imbalance in bargaining power then the powerful may find it convenient to oppress. However that doesn't mean that oppression is the best strategy for society. That is why people try to mold the desires of everyone, including the powerful, to detest oppression. We want them to reject oppression of their own free will because they are repulsed by it. That is the purpose of morality.

I’m going to prune much of your post to home in on this key issue. If I skip anything important please bring it to my attention in your follow-up.

(1) The free rider problem. We need to be careful distinguishing what is best for the individual and what is best for society as a whole. Society as a whole is better off when everyone has strong internalized moral values of hard work and fair play towards others. But each individual is better off if they are corrupt and willing to profit themselves at the expense of others. That in a nutshell is what economists call the free rider problem.
The classic example is the tragedy of the commons. I'm sure you're familiar with the case so this is for lurkers. If no one grazes more then ten cattle (or whatever) then the common will remain healthy and everyone will be well off. But if people become free riders and graze twenty or thirty cattle then grass will become over-grazed. They will exceed the carrying capacity of the common and no one will be able to feed their cattle. The outcome is a tragedy in which all the cows die.

If all you know about game theory is "tit for tat" then you might hold the mistaken belief that rationality alone will lead to the solution to the free rider problem. But Axelrod's famous tournament had many unrealistic assumptions like complete contracting, costlessly enforced property rights, perfect information, no imbalance in bargaining power, iterated games, and a round robin format. Once you relax these assumptions rationality will not take you to a solution to the free rider problem.

The only way to solve the tragedy of the commons is by promoting healthy social norms. You may say "Aha! That's exactly the point Fyfe makes in his post about the 1000 sadists." That is incorrect. The implicit assumption in the 1000 sadists is that promoting these norms is in the rational self-interest of each person in society. Game theory teaches us that this is not true. Solving the free rider problem requires spreading beliefs like 'you should sacrifice for the rest of society." But remember your very interesting challenge towards me from upthread. You pointed out that oppression is often based on false beliefs like 'members of low social castes are inferior.' Well, the belief that 'you should sacrifice for the sake of others' has no empirical support whatsoever. It would be equally irrational for people to adopt this belief.

(2)Structural change through history ("Marxist history"). This is the view that education and technology will increase over time and with it the bargaining power of the lower classes. There are two problems with this theory. The first is that, as we've seen, it can only happend when people hold irrational beliefs like 'one should sacrifice for the sake of others'. Cultures which do the best job of fostering these beliefs will become cultural models for others and spread this belief. But fundamentally it remains irrational.

The second problem is that we have not yet arrived at that point (if we ever will). Some people have more bargaining power than others. It is rational for them to use it to fulfill more of their own desires. Desirism is a descriptive theory. Why do you care that, prior to this structural utopia, people are suffering from oppression? You and other desirists hold irrational beliefs with no evidential support. I would submit that oppression is wrong regardless of whether or not there is an imbalance in bargaining power.

Eneasz said...

Hello Justin.

I think I see the problem. You consider rationality to be "applying a certain formula you've come to be taught is 'rational' to a problem and accepting the result". I disagree. If the words of Eliezer - "Rational agents should WIN."

Basically it sounds like you would two-box on Newcomb's Problem (the linked article is long, but I HIGHLY recommend reading at least the first half).

And I think it's just plain silly to chose the losing move because someone has declared it to be the "rational" choice of the official "rational" process. I put it to you that your definition of rational is simply wrong.

Solving the free rider problem requires spreading beliefs like 'you should sacrifice for the rest of society." ... The belief that 'you should sacrifice for the sake of others' has no empirical support whatsoever.

Except for the empirical support that this belief solves the free rider problem. I'm not understanding how you aren't seeing this.

It would be equally irrational for people to adopt this belief.

Unless of course one thinks that solving the free rider problem is a rational thing to do. Which, as history has shown us, us a VERY rational thing to do, because it results in the best societies and the best life for everyone.

Or are you saying it's rational to prefer saving 100 million human lives over saving 200 million human lives?

Why do you care that, prior to this structural utopia, people are suffering from oppression?

I care because my parents, peers, and society in general have conditioned me to care. They have instilled in me the desire to see that no one suffers from oppression. In doing so they've created a better life for themselves, and for me. Any good person would care to some degree.

I would submit that oppression is wrong regardless of whether or not there is an imbalance in bargaining power.

And I would agree.

It seems we agree on every substantial point. The only thing we disagree on is that you think acting morally is irrational, and I do not.

Justin Martyr said...

1. Necomb's paradox. Newcomb's paradox, the Allias paradox, the Ellsburg paraodox - there many "gotchas!" in which classical rational choice leads to absurd conclusions. Behavioral economics also shows that there are also many cases in which real world humans systematically depart from the predictions of rational choice. I agree with the Nobel prize winning empirical economist Vernon Smith - the subjects are right and classical rational choice theory is wrong. That's why I am a firm believer in bounded rationality and evolutionary game theory over their classical counterparts. The "gotchas!" that trip up classical rational choice theory are irrelevant.

But in any case, invoking Newcomb's paradox has no salient connection to the case of the 900 racists. It is like claiming that I can't use classical physics to predict the motion of billiard balls because quantum mechanics has falsified classical physics. For the skeptical reader, I invite you to read about Newcomb's paradox and determine for yourself if there is a salient connection to the 900 racists (perhaps some diety told the racists that if they oppress they choose to oppress the minority group will disappear?)

2. The Freerider problem. I tried to draw out the lesson of the free rider problem but you are still missing it. It is rational each individual to free ride even though cooperation is good for the group. You try to bolster your argument that rational self-interest leads to cooperative outcomes by pointed to the post on Less Wrong about the iterated prisoner's dilemma [I will bracket the asymmetrical payoffs because that actually make defection more likely]. On classical game theory they would apply backwards induction and conclude that they should defect every time. Evolutionary game theory - and the empirical literature - shows that people will cooperate until they are a couple rounds from the end of the game, and then defect. That is an efficient outcome and essentially solves the free rider problem in iterated games of a specific length.

The problem is that the case is hopeless rigged. It makes the assumptions of (1) perfect information, (2) complete contracting, (3) costlessly enforced property rights, and (4) equal bargaining power [still bracketing the asymmetrical payoffs since they increase the change of defecting], and (5)iterated games (there are many one-offs in life, such as fighting a war or negotiating peace).

It seems we agree on every substantial point. The only thing we disagree on is that you think acting morally is irrational, and I do not.

We come back to where we began: if your only knowledge of game theory is Axelrod's tournament and Tit-for-Tat then you might think that rational utility maximizers can solve the free rider problem. But in fact that belief is simply wrong and there is vast literature in the social sciences explaining why. I've provided a taste here.

This goes back to my point: desirism can only prevent genocide by promoting false beliefs. I used the example of 'you should sacrifice for the sake of others'. But the example I should have used was 'the cooperative strategy in is always in your rational self-interest, no matter the rules and payoffs of the game'!

Justin Martyr said...

Hiya Alonzo,

This does not say, "all acts of oppression leave the oppressor worse off." That would be false. Some acts leave the oppressor better off. However, desire utilitarianism is not concerned with the evaluation of acts. It is concerned with the evaluation of desires. The racist profits from injustice to the minority because he is a racist. What if he was the type of person who did not profit from oppression?


In that particular case it would be irrational to oppress. The overarching theme is the insignificance of morality. Evaluating desires in the general sense is every bit as silly as determining whether an act produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number. You can bundle up racist oppression with propositions (1) through (9).

Eneasz said...

I didn't link Newcomb's Problem (I dislike the term 'paradox') for a "gotcha" effect. Rather -

the subjects are right and classical rational choice theory is wrong.

This was what I was getting at. The rational choice theory is wrong. Thus when you say "it is irrational to be moral", even when morality is the winning move, you are using a system of rationality that is wrong. The answer is not to conclude that morality is irrational, the answer is to update your system of rationality so that it is no longer wrong.

You've asserted several times that morality results in a better society. And you've said on multiple occasions that morality is irrational. The only conclusion I can come to is that you are using a flawed definition of rationality.

But in any case, invoking Newcomb's paradox has no salient connection to the case of the 900 racists.

When I addressed the 900 racists you protested that even though morality creates better outcomes, morality is irrational. I'm pointing out that you're using a flawed model of rationality. It doesn't directly address the 900 racists case, but it is salient.

It is rational each individual to free ride even though cooperation is good for the group.

You realize you just said "It's rational for all individuals to be worse off, even though they could be better off", right? And you don't see the problem there?

If it's rational for each individual to free-ride, then each individual will free-ride, and each individual will be worse off because no one gets any of the benefits of cooperation. This is exactly why morality is there - to give people the desire to cooperate so that it will be rational for an individual to cooperate regardless of what everyone else is doing. Cooperating will fulfill their own desires.

You've stated it is rational for an agent to fulfill his own desires.

You haven't disputed that it is rational for people to encourage in other people desires that will help fulfill their own desires.

You've agreed that cooperation results in better outcomes than defection.

Therefore it is rational for everyone to instill in everyone else a desire to cooperate. Agreed?

And when an individual's desires are to cooperate, and it's irrational (and I would say impossible) for that individual to act in a way contrary to their desires, then it is not irrational for that individual to cooperate.

And yet despite all this you still say "cooperation is irrational".

I don't think that word means what you think it means.


The rest of the reply is basically restating the same thing. We seem to be repeating ourselves here. Unless there is something new to add I suggest bringing this to a close.

Justin Martyr said...

The rational choice theory is wrong. Thus when you say "it is irrational to be moral", even when morality is the winning move, you are using a system of rationality that is wrong. The answer is not to conclude that morality is irrational, the answer is to update your system of rationality so that it is no longer wrong.

I made two points in response to Newcomb's paradox and you have not addressed either one. You have merely reasserted your initial claim that Newcomb's paradox falsifies rational choice theory. You need to address my arguments. (1) Newcomb's paradox is only a problem for classical rational choice theory, not modern choice theory based on bounded rationality and evolutionary game theory. (2) Newcomb's paradox is no more relevant to the case of the 900 racists than quantum mechanics is to the movement of billiard balls.

I also missed a third point in my first response. (3) desire utilitarianism is also dependent on rational choice theory (presumably modern choice theory, not classical). How does one decide to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of tuna fish? In desire utilitarianism you often see the phrase “fulfill the most and strongest of one’s desires.” Well, that is the same as saying “maximize one’s expected utility.” That’s precisely what the 900 racists are doing when they oppress.

You've asserted several times that morality results in a better society. And you've said on multiple occasions that morality is irrational. The only conclusion I can come to is that you are using a flawed definition of rationality.

Your conclusion is incorrect. Let’s filter my claims through the prisoner’s dilemma. (1) My first claim is that morality results in a better society. That is true: if both prisoners cooperate then the utility for society (both of the prisoners taken together) is maximized. (2) My second claim is that morality is irrational for individuals. That is also true: the dominant strategy for each prisoner is to defect. The problem is not my definition of rationality but rather that you keep failing to grasp the essence of a prisoner’s dilemma.

[proposition 1] You haven't disputed that it is rational for people to encourage in other people desires that will help fulfill their own desires.



[proposition 2] Therefore it is rational for everyone to instill in everyone else a desire to cooperate. Agreed?

[proposition 3]And when an individual's desires are to cooperate, and it's irrational (and I would say impossible) for that individual to act in a way contrary to their desires, then it is not irrational for that individual to cooperate. [labels added]


This is a perceptive line of argument that shifts the debate slightly. On desire utilitarianism people use praise, punishment, and condemnation to alter the desires of others. That might solve a prisoner’s dilemma* (but not other cases of the free rider problem which do not involve perfect information, equal bargaining power, complete contracting, and costlessly enforced property rights). Prisoner A cooperates and B defects. Then Prisoner A either has a buddy kill Prisoner B, or perhaps he goes looking for revenge himself after he is paroled. Either way the technique could work. That is why I chose the case of the 900 racists. The power of praise, punishment, and condemnation lies on the side of the people who are immoral.

* you can’t really solve the prisoner’s dilemma. What you really do is change the payoffs so that the case is no longer a prisoner’s dilemma.

Eneasz said...

The most efficient reply would be for me to simply copy & paste my previous reply. We've reached a point where we've both made our cases and now we're just repeating ourselves. So I thank you for the debate, it has been fun and informative, and hopefully we'll both be able to take something from this. Thanks!