I will be attending my first class in 242 days.
I seem to have adopted a new practice of writing papers instead of blog postings or Facebook comments. This is new for me. I . . . tend to think that the papers are not very good, but I can improve on them over time as I get comments and other forms of feedback.
I have been posting these papers on Desirism group in facebook - people should feel free to down load them, make comments, suggest edits, and share them with others whom they think may benefit.
The papers posted so far include:
A long paper on condemnation and punishment which effectively explains and justifies the practice of condemn and punishment as desirism sees them.
A short paper on Sidgwick's arguments against the idea that motives are the primary object of moral evaluation.
A short paper on G.E. Moore's Naturalistic Fallacy.
A short paper against the idea that morality can be reduced to the concept of "adaptations of cooperation".
I am also working on a long paper with the working title "A Template for Revolution" that will present some ideas about how to make the world a better place - an example of applied desirism.
I have started another long paper, "Morality from the Ground Up", that explains the foundation for desirism.
I have also started another long paper - without a working title, so far - that I hope will help readers in discussing such issues as moral realism, objective values, moral relativism, desire-based value, and the like by clearly presenting and explaining the concepts involved.
Reading wise, I am still working my way through Principia Ethica. The idea that Moore meant for his "naturalistic fallacy" to apply only to theories that try to reduce moral concepts to natural terms is refuted by the fact that he explicitly charges non-naturalist philosophers with committing the same fallacy. The fallacy concerns equating goodness with some other property, natural or non-natural.
I find am finding the chapter on 'metaphysical' moral theories to be very difficult to get through, since I consider that discussion of these non-natural properties to be like discussion of ghosts and angels. We are talking about things that do not exist and cannot be brought into existence, so (as I see it) this is all a waste of time. Moore makes the claim that numbers are terms that refer to non-natural properties (e.g., the number '2' does not exist though, of course, two of something can exist). As I see it, the concept of '2' includes with it the concept 'of something' - that there is no sense to be made of talking about '2' without including with it the idea that we are counting or measuring things - so a discussion of '2' itself makes no sense.
I do not have much experience in this branch of philosophy - partially because I consider it to be such a waste of time and effort - so I can't actually say if there are any knock-down arguments against such a view. Perhaps it is naïve. Somebody will need to provide me with evidence that I have a reason to find out. As somebody who likes his philosophy to be relevant to the real world, I have trouble even thinking that there is reason to find an answer to such questions.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
I will be attending my first class in 242 days.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 4:15 PM
Thursday, December 22, 2016
248 days until my first class.
I am thinking . . . I really need to fit John Rawls' A Theory of Justice into these next 248 days.
I am still working on Henry Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics. I am finishing Book III of this. I am going over it fairly carefully and I have come up with ideas for two more short (2000 word) papers to write.
Paper 1 would address Sidgwick's claim that a theory of ethics would have propositions that do not contradict each other. If a moral proposition says "X" and another says "not-X", then this would be a problem. I want to suggest that it is a better idea to think of moral principles as analogous to forces. There is nothing contradictory to have something being acted on by one force pushing up and another force pushing down at the same time. Instead of deciding whether something is right or wrong in some absolute sense, agents instead look at the force of the reasons suggesting various options and go with the option suggested by the most and strongest reasons.
Paper 2 concerns Sidgwick's idea that some type of subjective feeling is essential for value. He actually holds an "intrinsic value" theory of ultimate good. There is something that has value for its own sake - that all people should aim to maximize the value of. This has something to do with a conscious state. This is in contrast, of course, with the view that I hold that if a person has a desire that P, then states of affairs in which P is true have value for that agent in that the agent has a motivating reason to realize such a state. But "P" can be any proposition. It need not be about a conscious state.
Sidgwick knows that it is a fallacy to argue from the premise that each person has a reason to seek his or her own X that each person generally has reason to seek X for everybody. He accuses J.S. Mill of making this mistake. Yet, if he knows it is a mistake, then it is a mystery why he thinks he is not doing exactly the same thing.
On another front, I am focusing my attention on my next largish paper on the Template for Rebellion. This is a paper on how to solve all of the problems of the world - from curing cancer to bringing peace to the Middle East.
Well, it may not be that ambitious. However, it does address practical moral issues. And it is concerned with a type of rebellion - with using the political system to take political and economic power away from those who are abusing it. Though one of its earliest sections is on non-violent use of the existing political system.
I addressed one of the subjects in this paper in my last post - on why government regulation is a bad thing.
But not all government regulation is a bad thing.
Prohibitions against vandalism, theft, assault, and murder can also be characterized as regulations. A prohibition on walking into your neighbor's house and walking off with whatever you like is a limitation on your freedom. If I could use my neighbor's credit card when I make purchases, I could easily increase my economic "bottom line" - but this route to economic improvement is blocked by government prohibitions. Government regulations have hindered employment opportunities by prohibiting people from hiring assassins and arsonists - who would otherwise pay taxes and contribute to government revenue.
If you try to shut down one of these regulations that suck $1.00 per month out of each person's pocket and gives $300 million to the very wealthy, you can expect the very wealthy beneficiaries to spend a few tens of millions of dollars in lobbyists, public relations campaigns, and media manipulation to keep it open. The regulations they actually oppose tend to be prohibitions on vandalism, theft, assault, and murder - when they can improve the corporate bottom line.
That seems to be an unreasonable claim, but it is true.
We see an example of this in the topic of climate change. Those who argue for - and profit from - activities that contribute to global warming are arguing for a legal permission to kill and maim people and destroy their property when it is profitable to do so. They are arguing against "regulations" against vandalism (the destruction of property), assault (assaults on the health and bodily integrity of others), and homicide - at best negligent homicide and at worst knowing homicide - when it is done by a corporate feudal overlord in the pursuit of profit.
When it comes to poisoning the air and the water supply, neglecting worker safety, and neglecting the wellbeing of those who live near corporate facilities, the objection to "regulation" is often an objection to a prohibition or restriction on activities that kill or maim people or destroy their property when engaged in the pursuit of profit.
As another example of the way that public relations firms engage in deceptive selling, these legal liberties to harm the life, health, liberty, and property of others is marketed under the brand name 'capitalism' - an elixir which, if consumed in sufficiently large quantities, will bring boundless prosperity to everybody. However, there are two problems with this claim. First, it is not capitalism. Second, the only people made richer are those who are given a legal license to harm the life, health, liberty, and property of others. Those who posses the lives, health, liberty, and property that the feudal overlords can take without compensation find themselves dead, sick, injured, with their liberties infringed, and their property taken or destroyed.
The capitalist system does have a problem in that the transaction costs involved in buying consent from each and every individual that may be harmed. One of the ways around this problem is to have the corporation negotiate with a representative of the people who, in looking out for all of their interests, negotiates with the corporation for just compensation for harms done (or for risks imposed on others). This type of activity would have the opposite effect of what the corporate-feudal lords argue for in that it takes wealth from the corporate-feudal lords and gives it to those whose lives, health, liberty, and property are put at risk of harm. This is exactly why the corporate-feudal lords argue against it - and why they make the claim that "capitalism" means that they can harm the lives, health, liberty, and property of those in the lower classes without offering compensation.
This is why I argue that the system of rules that the corporate-feudal lords are trying to sell to the rest of us be given a more accurate name; corporate feudalism. Capitalism argues that all people are morally equal, whereas corporate feudalism argues for moral and legal inequality. Those who have enough wealth can kill, maim, poison, and enslave others and take or destroy their property in the pursuit of even more wealth. Those in the lower classes, on the other hand, face harsh punishments if they should try to kill, maim, poison, and enslave others and take their property in the pursuit of personal wealth.
Let a member of the middle and lower classes take even so much as a dollar belonging to somebody else, spray-paint or otherwise vandalize so much as a brick wall, or strike a person in anger or frustration, and they risk imprisonment and a criminal record that will do continuing harm. This is meant as a deterrence as these types of activities are considered to be wrong and need to be discouraged for the overall good of society.
At the same time, corporate-feudal lords can make decisions that ultimately destroy whole cities, kill thousands if not millions while putting countless others at risk, defraud millions of customers for billions of dollars, and the worst they suffer is a fine carefully designed so as not to seriously harm the well-being of the company. Corporate-feudal lords take these rather insignificant fines as merely "the cost of doing business." When the next opportunity to make a profit comes along - another course of action that threatens the lives, health, liberty, and property of others - the bean counters simply add a line that estimates the fine that the company may have to pay and the odds that they can avoid paying even that - and then they go on to make their decision.
As I said, this is not capitalism. It is put into a bottle that has "capitalism" on the label. It is called "the American way". We are told that this elixir will heal all of our economic ills and help everybody. However, capitalism, strictly understood, simply prohibits people - even the very wealthy - from harming the life, health, liberty, and property of others without their consent. And it has to be freely given consent - consent given by fully and accurately informed agents who are not being lied to and who are not being threatened.
These people are not "capitalists".
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 9:13 AM
Monday, December 19, 2016
251 days until the first class.
Okay. Calm down. Everything will be fine. Deep breath.
I have two three-day weekends coming up and a five-day weekend in the middle of January. It’s a good time to get things done – with much of my work going into, “A Template for Revolution”. This document is actually turning into a list of things that I would recommend as a part of a society’s morality insofar as, to the degree to which they are adopted, to that degree society will be much improved.
The first part of the document has stressed promoting an interest in non-violence, opposition to bigotry, rules governing the criticism of an idea, and moral aversions to lying and intellectual recklessness. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all that morality requires. It is, however, a list of things that society can improve upon and, to the degree that it does so, society generally will be much improved.
The second part has so far focused on the accumulation of wealth by a few families into “corporate feudal estates.” In it, I have presented arguments against the libertarian principles that seem to justify the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few corporate-feudal families, with the rest of us substantially serving as “serfs” on corporate-feudal estates that are owned and operated by corporate-feudal nobility. I have completed a section arguing against the natural moral law defense of these principles, and a section that responds to the utilitarian defense of these principles.
Against the former, I have argued that an intrinsic moral value does not exist – that what we have is a set of principles that people generally have reasons to promote (or not) insofar as the result serves their interests. Against the latter, I have argued against the idea that a free market assigns goods and services to those who value them most. (This is true only in a society where wealth is substantially equal; otherwise, those with more money have the capacity to bid goods and services away from those who value them more but who have less money.) I have also argued against the idea that if we allow any wealth transfer that we will slide down a slippery slope to the point where we have no wealth production and people only seek to obtain wealth by taking it (using the government to transfer it) from one person to another.
However, the utilitarian libertarians are not entirely wrong. If a policy takes a small amount of wealth out of the pockets of a large number of people, and deposits it into the bank accounts of a few people, this generates unequal incentives when it comes to getting that policy adopted. It is known in some circles as a “law of concentrated benefits and diffused costs”.
Consider, for example, a policy that takes an average of $1.00 out of the pocket of each American and puts it into a corporate bank account. For example, the government puts a tariff on imports that drives up the price of the commodity being protected to the point that Americans end up spending $1.00 per month more (on average) for this good. This wealth goes into the pockets of the companies that are in the protected industry. In other words, each American loses $1.00 out of their bank account, and a set of companies pocket an extra $300 million per month.
If you are on the side that has a potential to make $300 million per month for the indefinite future, you have reason to invest a great deal of money into getting that law passed. However, the 300 million people who will lose $1.00 per month has almost no reason to get involved.
The companies that stand to make $300 million per month in added income can start to work on getting their policy passed by hiring public relations firms to come up with a campaign that will help get the law passed. The public relations firm can begin by brainstorming on arguments that have a chance of influencing decision makers (or the public), then testing their ideas with a series of focus groups and surveys. The idea is to come up with a set of claims (measuring only their effectiveness – the degree to which they are true or false being important only insofar as they influence effectiveness. As the Donald Trump campaign has made abundantly clear in the past two years, even the most blatant lies and misinformation can be extremely effective.
Once these professional deceivers figure out which stories will work (which is quite different from figuring out which stories are true), they go to work getting the stories to the public. Any firm worth its salt can quickly come up with a list of bloggers, reporters, commentators, and other opinion leaders, and begin to match the opinion leader to the story. They write the press releases, make the phone calls, prepare the white papers, arrange the conferences, and make the invitations to lunch that will start to get the information – the narrative – that they want the public to have to the public, feeding the information more or less precisely to those most likely to swallow it. These days, it also includes the manufacture in internet memes and twitter slogans – the type that will shared and retweeted – that generate just the attitude the professional deceivers want people to have.
It would be a mistake to think that this only happens on the right side of the political spectrum. The professional deceivers know what liberals are likely to believe and share and will get the information out to them that will have the desired effect as well. One example we can draw on the liberal side of the equation is the idea that classroom size matters when it comes to the quality of education. A child gains more by having a quality teach than from a smaller classroom. Terminating “the worst 10%” of all teachers and putting the students in larger classes taught by better teachers would produce a benefit. However, teachers’ unions who want more teachers – and, thus, more members – have reason to promote a fiction that class size matters among liberals who are disposed to want to believe such claims.
The example above of the meme that distorts wage rates is another example. The claim in the meme is not false. However, it has been engineered and presented with an intention to create a false belief – an attitude that does not follow from the available evidence but which serves the political interests of those who shared the meme.
Those who want to take $1.00 out of each person’s pocket and put it in their own also have an incentive to get legislation passed that will have this effect. This is very easy to do. Most people – you and I included – have no idea what happens with all of the small amendments that get attached to each bill that goes through the legislature. The business leader wanting to divert money into his bank account has reason to hire the attorneys to do the research and actually write the law as they want the law to read. They hand it to the legislator as a completed package ready to submit. For you, the reader, I would like to ask you how many of these amendments you think you – or anybody you know – has ever heard of. The legislator is hardly going to get any bed press or lose a vote for accepting this bill – but will certainly draw the attention of the business owner and his friends for refusing to submit it.
Many government regulations do not come into existence as laws. Instead, regulatory agencies are empowered to create new legislation or to employ some measure of discretion in interpreting and applying the rules that they are responsible for. This provides the business with another way to route a dollar or two out of each person’s pocket into their bank account – by bringing about a favorable interpretation of the rules. This means hiring experts in the regulatory system that governs their company. However, it also helps to hire some of the employees – particularly the senior level employees – of that agency. Those employees can provide the company with insight as to how things get done and the personal attitudes and ideas of those who will be making some of the decisions. The people they hire – being friends with those who still work for the agency – can exercise some measure of influence over those decisions. Here, as is the case above, neither you nor anybody you know will ever actually be aware of these events to protest them. The people – seeking to make their lives easier – have good reason to ignore those who are ignoring them and for giving those with the money and the power what they ask for.
The company seeking to direct a few dollars from each person into their accounts also have the means and the motive to challenge the regulations themselves. They can file lawsuits, attend hearings, and create white papers all with the intent of persuading whoever hears a dispute to make a decision favorable to the company. At the same time, there is nobody at these hearings or raising a voice in these disputes representing the people who will lose a dollar or two out of their pockets each month. This is because it remains the case that it is not worth the time and effort for those who lose a dollar or two to even become aware of this dispute and how much it will impact them.
When we repeat this process over any number of companies – each taking a nickel, a dime, or a dollar or two out of the pockets of several people and putting it in their own, the costs to the average citizen adds up significantly. However, it is never the case that it is worthwhile to challenge any one amendment, regulation, or interpretation. Each of a thousand bureaucratic decisions that funnel money out of their accounts into the pockets of a business only represents a small fraction of what each customer is losing. No individual amendment, regulation, or interpretation can be profitably challenged. Yet, the result of a thousand of these little economic nicks and cuts is to leave each customer – and the poorer and middle class customers more than any others – worse off than they would have otherwise been.
Furthermore, it is the purpose of these amendments, regulations, and interpretations to concentrate wealth – to take a little bit of money out of each of our pockets and to put it in the pockets of somebody who is making millions of dollars. We each lose $1.00, and the millionaire gains $300 million. We each lose $1000 in a thousand amendments, regulations, and interpretations like those described above, and a few hundred millionaires split $300 billion in additional profits.
For those who claim to be capitalists, none of this is consistent with capitalism. There is no rule in capitalism that justifies wealthy people using the government to manipulate the market in such a way as to channel hundreds of billions of dollars from the pockets of the poor and middle class who cannot afford to lobby the government and put it into the pockets of a very wealthy few who have the means and the motive to do so. The people who support these maneuvers do not support the free market. If they claim to support the free market – this is simply another part of the deception and manipulation they are engaged in to channel money from your bank account into the bank accounts of millionaires.
Any time anybody tries to establish a complex set of regulations – whether for prescription drugs or energy production or employee safety or any of a thousand other potential reasons for government regulation – they set up the mechanisms through which a company can take a nickel, a dime, or a dollar or two out of each person’s pocket and put it in their own accounts.
It is naïve, at best, to think that a government regulatory agency that you or I never heard of, that has the capacity to make our lives a little more expensive and funnel that money into the accounts of some corporation, has not been twisted and distorted to do exactly that. The harms that are done to people in this way are among the things that the utilitarian libertarians are right about. These are, at the same time, among the costs and harms that progressives tend to ignore – that, in some cases, the professional deceivers manipulate them into ignoring – because it helps to protect the power of the companies to make the poor and middle class poorer and the extremely wealthy wealthier.
This is not to say that all regulations are bad because, if we were to understand regulations properly, we would see even such things as the prohibition on vandalism, theft, assault, and murder are “regulations” in a sense. In fact, even though regulations that fit the descriptions mentioned above are the bad regulations that should be removed, calls for a reduction in government regulation seldom if ever target those that profit companies at the expense of the middle class and poor. The regulations that the corporations want removed are those that prevent them from poisoning or otherwise harming people when it is profitable for them to do so. I will have more to say on that matter in a future post.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 3:49 PM
Friday, December 16, 2016
254 days until the first class and . . .
Dammit . . .
In my continuing quest to understand what the professors at the University of Colorado are interested in, I purchased Questions of Character, edited by CU professor Iskra Fileva.
I was reading through her introduction to the first section of the book, when she started talking about the contributed article, “Character and Blame in Hume and Beyond” by Antti Kauppinen.
According to Hume, Kauppinen tells us, blameworthiness depends exclusively on whether an action of mine results from a character defect...It consists in passions such has hate and withdrawal of good will, whose purpose is to change the quality of the blameworthy agent's will in the relevant ways.
This, of course, is what I have argued for in my recent paper on condemnation and punishment - though I argue as well that it also changes the will of "observers" and even hypothetical blame and the blameworthiness of fictional characters is sufficient to have this effect.
I will need to find out what Hume said on the matter and build the proper references into my paper.
Kauppinen considers three challenges to the Humean view: first, it is widely supposed that responsibility requires voluntary control, but we have control only over our actions, not our character traits; second, the view does not allow us to account for the difference in our reactions in the cases of moral outcome luck; and third, intuitively, we are blameworthy for actions that are out of character.
Well, any challenge to the Humean view is a challenge to my view - so now I need to study these challenges and see if I can answer them.
As it turns out, the first challenge is one I have tackled before - I deny the connection between blameworthiness and free will. Indeed, blameworthiness depends on the causal power of blame and the causal power of character traits on intentional action.
I have given a lot of thought to the second problem and, basically, dismiss it as a mistake. One person strikes another. We can compare the case where the victim falls and gets back up to one where the victim falls, hits his head on a rock, and dies. An agent seems to deserve more blame in the second case even though the presence or absence of the rock was not his responsibility. I tend to hold that we should condemn assault according to the harms we can reasonably expect to result - not the harms actually inflicted. However, at the same time, it is difficult to know an agent's actual mental states and we have reason to take the actual consequences of an action as indicating what the agent intended.
The third problem, I would argue that whether an action is "out of character" is irrelevant. It really does not matter if one person's violent assault is "out of character" for that person - it still demonstrates that, at the moment, the character did not have a sufficiently strong aversion to performing a violent assault. Furthermore, the interest that people have in promoting a universal aversion to violent assault remains undiminished.
Then, according to Fileva's description:
Kauppinen goes on to connect the account of blame he extracts from Hume to contemporary discussions of the nature of blame. There are two main theories currently in the offing, he tells us: the reactional and the relational theory. On the former account, blame is a reactional attitude which addresses a demand to a wrongdoer. On the latter account, blame is relational: it consists in a judgment to the effect that the wrongdoer's actions have hurt a meaningful relationship, a judgment accompanied by a modification of expectations and intentions. Kauppinen suggests that Hume's view is best seen as a form of the relational theory of blame.
How about the idea that there is a third theory of punishment - a "rehabilitative" theory? Kauppinen apparently discusses that theory and assigns it to Hume, yet seems to fail to recognize that it might be a separate theory and better than the alternatives.
Anyway, now I have ANOTHER project to add to the projects I am already working on. I need to read this article and prepare a response. Furthermore, I wish to email that response to Mr. Kauppinen to see what he things of my response to his article. And I need to decide if I want to send a copy of that response to Professor Fileva.
I need more time!
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 11:52 AM
Thursday, December 15, 2016
255 days until the start of classes.
I am continuing to work on Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics.
A while back, I was told that Sidgwick had a definitive objection to the idea that morality could be concerned with the evaluation of motives. I read the book and provided a response. This entry is a shortened version of that argument.
In Methods of Ethics, Henry Sidgwick asserted that our moral intuitions evaluated actions – objecting to the alternative to that our moral intuitions were primarily concerned with motives. However, his objections apply to a certain type of motive-centered moral theory; a theory that says that the morality of an act depends on the motive from which it sprang.
[T]he Intuitionist properly speaking---in contrast with the Utilitarian---does not judge actions by an external standard at all---that true morality, in his view, is not concerned with outward actions as such, but with the state of mind in which acts are done---in short with ``intentions'' and ``motives''.
Sidgwick provides good objections against the idea that an action can be evaluated according to the motives from which it springs. However, there is another type of motive-based moral theory – one that evaluates actions according to what a good person would do – that can stand up to his objections.
Sidgwick was responding most directly to a theory put forth by a contemporary philosopher James Martineau. Martineau, in his Types of Ethical Theory. Martineau argued that actions were nothing more than the motions of physical matter – mere "physical happenings" - and as such were inherently amoral.
We can add to this the fact that, in many cases at least, we can only find the wrongness of an action in the mental states of an agent. Whether an act of shooting another person is self-defense or murder depends on the beliefs and desires of the shootist. We can imagine a person walking into a public place with the intention to shoot an innocent person, another person pulling a gun, and then shooting to kill the would-be attacker. In one case, the agent believes that the person he shot was about to shoot an innocent person and killed him to prevent this. In another, he killed the person out of jealousy without knowing the other person’s intention. The two cases are identical in terms of actions and consequences, but involve different motives. Yet, the difference in motives makes all the difference.
Similarly, if somebody walks away with another person’s suitcase, the difference between theft and mere accident is not in the actions themselves. Imagine that the individual has a heart attack and dies before he gets too far with the suitcase. Again, the actions and consequences are the same. The difference between theft and accident is found only in the agent’s thoughts.
In moral matters, proof of wrongdoing requires proof of mens rea – of having the wrong mental states.
Martineau argues that, to get at morality, we have to get at the "springs of actions", the motives that brought the action in existence. He argued that there is a hierarchy of motives. The right action is the action that comes from the highest motive.
Sidgwick brought up a number of counter-examples that would be applicable to Martineau's theory. In one case, he considers a case in which "a man commits perjury to save a parent's or benefactor's life." In another, he presents a case he drew from Jeremy Bentham - the case of "a man who prosecutes from malice a person whom he believes is guilty." In the first case, a wrong action springs from a good motive. In the latter, a right action comes from a bad motive.
Sidgwick also argued that such a theory cannot handle what we classify as knowing, reckless, and negligent wrongdoing. An energy company executive promotes the use of a fossil fuels, knowing that this will contribute to global warming that will eventually kill an unknown number of people and destroy whole cities and whole countries. He does not intend the harm in the sense that he would be perfectly happy if these bad effects did not happen. The motives he is acting on are the profit motives that govern every other business executive. However, he is guilty of a wrongdoing. The same would be true if the harm he causes can be attributed to recklessness or negligence.
These discredit the idea that the moral value of an action depends on the moral value of the motive from which it springs.
However, these examples do not work against an alternative motive-based theory that looks at whether a person with good motives (and lacking bad motives) would have performed the action. On this alternative account, the moral judgment looks first at which motives are good and bad. It then imagines a person with good motives and lacking bad motives in the situation in which the act took place. It looks at how such a person would have acted in that situation and compares the actions of the agent to this ideal.
This account judges an act to be obligatory if it is the act that the person with good motives would have done; prohibited if the person with good desires would not have done it; and a non-obligatory permissible action if a person with good desires might or might not have done the action – depending on other interests.
This account handles knowing, reckless, and negligent wrongdoing by noting that a person with good motives would have sought to avoid the harms that were known, or concerned enough about the possibility of harm to have taken steps to discover them and prevent them. In other words, the morally guilty agent shows a callous disregard for the well-being of others.
In the case of the malicious prosecutor, this account does not care if a prosecutor has an attitude of malice towards the accused. It looks only at whether a prosecutor who lacked malice would have performed the same actions. Those actions that a prosecutor without malice would have performed are those that the agent is free to perform. However, if the agent performs any action out of malice that a properly motivated prosecutor would not have performed, then the agent has done something wrong. As Sidgwick himself writs, "a malevolent prosecutor may be prompted to take unfair advantage of his enemy, or cause him needless pain by studied insults." These are things that a prosecutor ought not to do. To the motive-based theorist, this is because a properly motivated prosecutor would not have been motivated to do them.
In the case of the person who commits perjury to save a parent or a benefactor, such a theory would say that a person with good motives would have a particularly strong aversion to committing perjury. Here, we must be careful to distinguish the person who refrains from committing perjury because it is a wrong thing to do and the person who refrains from committing perjury because it is perjury. These represent two different motives. The first agent is motivated by an aversion to doing what is wrong – accompanied by the belief that perjury is wrong. The second agent is motivated by an aversion to committing perjury, accompanied by the belief that the act would be an act of perjury. The second agent, in other words, shuns perjury for its own sake alone.
Here, we are looking at the aversion to committing perjury itself, not the aversion to committing perjury because it is wrong. This second motive requires that we make an independent judgment that perjury is wrong. This would put us in a very tight circle.
This problem does not exist if motives are, instead, evaluated according to a standard independent of the wrongness of the actions. The question here is whether there is moral value to be found in avoiding perjury for its own sake – because it is perjury.
There are two primary ways in which a motive, such as an aversion to perjury, can have value. (1) The aversion to committing perjury can be good in virtue of its intrinsic moral worth, or (2) the aversion can be good in terms of its tendency to produce good consequences and avoid bad consequences.
Martineau held that we can intuitive know the ranking of each motive compared to each other motive, knowing which is better and which is worse. Sidgwick devoted a chapter to criticizing Martineau’s specific account of the ranking of motives. However, Martineau’s claims about the value of motives represent only one option.
In contrast, earlier utilitarian philosophers such as David Hume and John Stuart Mill held that motives or "passions" (as Hume called them) had value in terms of their utility.
Hume evaluated character traits in terms of their being useful or pleasing to self or others. That which is useful or pleasing to others is what others have reason to encourage or promote; while that which is unpleasing or harmful to others they have reason to discourage. An aversion to perjury, on this account, would be useful for its contribution to helping make it the case that state actions –particularly the actions of the court and legislature – are made on the best information. It definitely fits into the category “useful to others” and “useful to self”.
In Utilitarianism, Mill claimed that virtue, originally valued as a means to an end (for the principles of virtue promoted utility), came to be valued for its own sake independent of its effect on utility. Acquiring a love of virtue made it much more likely that an agent will act according to the principles of virtue – and thus that society would harvest the utility of virtue – than simply treating virtue as a means to happiness. The virtuous agent, in this case, did not sacrifice his own happiness when performing a right action but obtained happiness when – and precisely because – he performed a right action.
We may apply Mill’s claims about the love of virtue to the aversion to committing perjury. With such an aversion, people will be less likely to commit perjury even when other interests tempt them to do so – which will provide a general benefit to society.
We can find additional support for this option from the fact that, if the stakes are high enough, even a person with good motives may commit perjury. If, for example, lying to put a terrorist behind bars could prevent the destruction of a city, a person with good desires may lie. If we were looking purely at the quality of the action, this would be a “good act” with no call for remorse or regret. However, if we are looking an aversion to committing perjury, we are looking at a motive that remains in force even when it is outweighed – encouraging the agent to find an alternative that both allows him to avoid perjury and commit whatever good for the sake of which perjury seems required. Even after he commits perjury for the sake of the alternative good, he would be expected to regret it and wish it was not the case – effects that a strictly action-focused theory cannot adequately account for.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 12:26 PM
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I recently watched a video of a debate between Roger Pilon (CATO Institute) and Louis Michael Seidman (Georgetown University) on "The Welfare State".
In it, one of the claims that Roger Pilon made was that charity is not an obligation - it is not something a person "has to do". It is something that people may do if they wish, and something that people may be encouraged to do, but it is not an obligation.
I believe that desirism would not support this conclusion.
Desirism does recognize the three-way division regarding the morality actions. There are obligatory actions, non-obligatory permissible actions, and prohibited actions.
It understands obligatory actions as those that a person with good desires (and lacking bad desires) would do.
Morally prohibited actions are those that a person with good desires (and lacking bad desires) would not do.
And there is a range of actions where people are free to exercise their own preferences. For example, what to wear, what to eat, who to invite to dinner, what to read, what to watch on television, when to go to bed, with whom to go to bed. People generally have no reason to demand that everybody like the same things.
In fact, in this realm of non-obligatory permissions, people often have many and strong reasons to want people to adopt a variety of interests. A diversity of interests (a) reduces competition and, thus, reduces the numbers of people who lose out and have to settle for second best, and (b) allows us to fill available niches. A good example of an area where a diversity of interests is a good thing has to do with the choice of professions. Rather than having everybody want to be engineers and having some people settle for being teachers, doctors, and construction workers - there are things to be said about having some people want to be engineers, others want to be teachers, and still others wanting to be doctors or construction workers.
In contrast, in the realm of moral obligation and prohibition, people generally have reason to use praise and condemnation to promote a common desire or aversion. People generally have many and strong reasons to promote in every other person an aversion to lying, breaking promises, theft, vandalism, assault, rape, and murder. Thus, these are identifies as morally prohibited actions - actions that violate the "rights" of others.
We also have reason to promote an overall aversion to extreme selfishness, cruelty, and indifference to the suffering of others. To the degree that these traits are universal within a community, to that degree each of us is better off. We certainly are safer in a community where others will come to our aid in times of need and will take a step (particularly a step that costs them little) to provide us with the means to avoid a great deal of suffering.
These facts would put extreme selfishness and indifference into the "morally prohibited" category - the types of traits that people generally have reason to respond to with condemnation and punishment.
Now, according to desirism, it is not the case that everything that is wrong is prohibited or deserves violent punishment. Many common lies and the breaking of many promises are acts that a person with good desires would not perform. People generally have many and strong reasons to promote aversions to performing these types of actions. However, it is not practical to have every instance of lying or promise-breaking fall under the realm of the criminal law. It is simply more practical to leave these violations up to private condemnation - the types of punishment that may not be escalated to the point of violence. This capacity to escalate a conflict to violence is what distinguishes criminal wrongdoing from the types of wrongs that justify only private non-violent punishment.
Similarly, we have reason to have a right to freedom of speech that restricts the responses to wrongs committed with mere words. Violence or the threats of violence is not to be considered a legitimate response to mere words - even words that a person with good desires (and lacking bad desires) would not say.
Similarly, practical considerations may make it the case that it is not wise to respond to a lack of charity with criminal punishment. However, it is difficult to determine what those practical considerations would be. A great deal of good can be done by taking $1 million from somebody who has $1 billion and using it to feed for a day 100,000 people who do not have enough to eat. Clearly, those who do not have enough to eat - and those who care about those who do not have enough to eat - have reason to join in the condemnation and the punishment of the person with $1 billion who will not provide $1 million towards this end.
One of the arguments against this type of wealth transfer is that it violates a natural moral law. However, desirism denies that there is a natural moral law. There are only the desires and aversions of intentional agents. Some people have an aversion to the forced transfer of wealth. However, like with any desire or aversion, we must then ask the question of whether this is an aversion we have reason to promote universally. The mere existence of an aversion is not enough to justify the claim that there is a "natural moral law" prohibiting that to which one is adverse. A person's aversion to interracial marriage, for example, is not sufficient to argue that there is a natural moral law that prohibits interracial marriage.
Another libertarian argument that might be used against this forced transfer of wealth is a slippery slope argument that says that, once we permit these forced transfers of wealth from those who have billions to those who do not have enough to eat, we will not be able to stop it. Society will slide down a slippery slope to the point to where there is no actual production of wealth as people generally spend all of their time engineering the forced transfers of wealth from others, rather than producing new wealth that will be taken from them.
As with slippery slope objections generally, there is a question to be asked regarding just how slippery the slope really is. If one argues for "no killing except in self-defense", one could argue that this exception will start us down a slippery slope to the point where people end up killing each other any time they judge it useful to do so - that to prevent society from descending down this slippery slope we must prohibit all killing without exception.
Similarly, a person can claim that we must prohibit all lying because, if any lying is permitted then society will begin down a slippery slope to the point where all lying is permitted and people completely abandon the moral principle to tell the truth. Telling a child about Santa Claus, organizing a surprise birthday party, or saving a dying elderly parent in her last hours of life from the grief that her son had been killed in an automobile accident that morning, would all be morally condemned according to the slippery slope argument. We would also have to condemn the person who lied to the Nazi soldiers about the fact that she was hiding a family of Jews in her attic or to the enraged boyfriend that the girl he wants to murder has gone to her sister's house on 7th Street.
Clearly, we can have exceptions without slippery slopes. There is no reason to believe that we cannot have an exception to the prohibition to taking the property of others without their consent when it is done to take $1 million from somebody who has $1 billion and using it to feed 100,000 people for a day who would otherwise starve.
Neither the natural law objection nor the slippery slope objection argue against these redistributions of wealth. The former fails because natural moral laws do not exist - only the conventions that people have reason to adopt or reject exist. The latter fails because we can clearly have exceptions without a slippery slope.
There is nothing to stand in the way of a moral obligation to charity - one that can be forced by threatening violence against those who do not contribute a certain amount of their wealth to those who are in dire need.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 10:06 AM
In 256 days, I will be sitting in my first class.
Progress this week includes finishing Book II of Henry Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics.
This part of the book had to do with answering the question - given that our goal is to maximize our own happiness or pleasure-minus-pain, how are we supposed to do this?
Sidgwick examines the practice of using introspection to determine how best to maximize pleasure, but laments our dispositions for error on introspection, the fact that our remembering of past pleasures is likely to be flawed, and our anticipations of future pleasures are often mistaken. Furthermore, we cannot make inferences from past pleasures to future pleasures because, in the meantime, we undergo change.
Nor can we draw reasonable inferences from the experiences of others, since different people have different pleasures which change impact the amount of pleasure (or pain) they will get from similar other people are different from us inability to correctly imagine past pleasures, or future pleasures, or to draw inferences from past pleasure to future pleasures, makes this difficult.
Nor is "common sense" of much use either since it also ignores the differences among individuals and ignores the fact that our situations change.
He rejects the idea that a life of virtue is a life of pleasure since there are two many instances in which vicious acts can bring great rewards. He points out that punishment as a source of unhappiness can often be avoided or outweighed, as can public approval. Public approval and disapproval may not be a useful guide since a person with an enlightened morality might have discovered a virtue that less informed people are still discrediting. He looks at the idea that humans are "imitative creatures" and, as such, virtuous activity should produce virtuous activity in others from which one would benefit. However, it is often the case that virtuous people are not always the most useful, and useful people are not always the most virtuous.
All things considered, having a reliable guide as to how to obtain the most pleasure and the least pain seems problematic. We have to trust to experience and to expect error.
This is not an objection against hedonism, Sidgwick argues, it is just a fact we must live with.
Of course, this is of little use to me since I deny the original assumption that our one and only goal is the acquisition of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Instead, I hold that each desire - expressed in the form of a propositional attitude - creates its own end, that being a state of affairs within which the proposition that is the object of that desire is true.
It is an all-too-common mistake to misunderstand this as a claim that we have only one goal - the maximum fulfillment of our desires. Understood in this way, one can run through the same set of problems as Sidgwick described above for hedonism. There are practical problems in discovering what will fulfill our desires.
However, our end is not "the maximum fulfillment of desires". If an agent has a desire that P, then what matters is the realization of a state of affairs in which 'P' is true. The relevant question that an agent will be asking in this case is not, "What will maximize the fulfillment of my desires" but "What will realize a state of affairs in which 'P' is true." The truth of 'P' is the end or the goal, not the fulfillment of the agent's desire.
Those who argue that happiness is our goal have long discussed the observation that the best road to happiness is to not focus on happiness but to focus on other things, and let the happiness come as a side effect. This actually makes sense if what matters are states of affairs in which 'P' is true, and happiness is a side effect of (coming to believe) that one has created a state of affairs in which 'P' is true.
What comes next is Book III of Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics.
I have done some google searches and found a syllabus for Philosophy 5100: Proseminar in Ethics - which beginning PhD students must take their first year - and which (as an MA) I will still sign up for. It has tended to include readings from Sidgwick, with a paper due at the end of the third week of class. I wish to finish my readings and, perhaps, write such a paper. Then go on to read G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica - another set of readings recommended for that class.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:55 AM
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
So, then, what is wrong with Locke’s argument for property?
Actually, to be honest, the problem may not be with Locke’s argument for property as it is with the use which some people make of it. There are people who want to believe that they have a natural moral right to own a substantial portion of everything that exists, and for the rest of us to work as their servants so long as we are useful, and to go away and die if we are not. These people (and others) have found a particular interpretation of Locke’s argument for property useful. Following this interpretation of Locke’s rules, anybody who stands in the way of their ownership of the whole of the Earth and all of the people on it may be condemned as being immoral.
What we get from Locke is an argument that, for everything in nature, for you to make use of it, you must acquire ownership of it. The point at which you become owner of something is the point at which you mix your labor with it. That labor, being yours – being your time and your energy – is your property. When that portion of your life becomes mixed in with something that exists in nature, then that thing that once existed in nature is yours in virtue of the portion of your life that you invested in it was yours. To take that property from you is, in effect, to take a portion of your life from you – to make you a slave to others during that time that you worked to produce or harvest something that was ultimately taken. Anybody who would make you slave by taking from you that with which you have mixed your labor is creating a state of war between you. Acting in a state of war, you have a right to protect your life – you have a right to stop people from taking a portion of your life from you by going even so far as to kill the that person.
This, according to Locke, is a natural moral law dictated by reason.
Locke is not a divine prophet and did not have these ideas dictated to him by a divine authority. These are Locke’s ideas and, at this point, it is up to us to determine if we have reason to accept these claims and their implications – or to reject them.
Even though Locke is not a divine prophet, he did add some additional claims that are relevant to the discussion. Specifically, Locke added that whenever a person takes something from nature, that person must leave as much and as good for others.
Effectively, it would be wrong for me to take some apples from you so long as I can go into the state of nature and harvest a bunch of apples that nobody owns for myself. It would be wrong for me to take your flask of water if I can fill my own flask from a nearby stream.
At the time he was writing, Locke explicitly defended his right to property by arguing that there were fish in the sea that were free for the taking, and land in the Americas that a person could put under plow. He even spoke of places in Spain where a person could go and begin to till the land without taking anything from others – without leaving as much and as good for others.
Locke also states that we cannot take people’s property without their consent. “Consent”, in a state of civil society, means the consent of the majority. This means that if a majority of people vote to take the extra apples that a person has stored in his root cellar and distribute them among those who are starving, that the person who owned the apples has given his consent. He has consented in virtue of the fact that he has consented to live in a civil society, and this means consenting to abide by the will of the majority.
It is interesting to note that the reason why Locke says that we must abide by the will of the majority – as opposed to the unanimous consent of all of the individuals – is because the latter is impractical. Given the different interests of individuals, and given the fact that many people are simply too busy to participate in making such a decision, we simply cannot expect to get unanimous consent to our laws. These practical concerns dictate that we adopt a rule that would actually make it possible to have a civil society – and that requires that the majority rule (or some number beyond a majority that the people mutually agree to).
If we can appeal to practical considerations in rejecting the rule of unanimous consent, we should also be able to appeal to practical considerations when we examine rules regarding what to do when it is no longer the case that there is not “as much and as good” left in common for others – when people can no longer simply reach into nature and pull from it what he needs to survive.
When people pull things from the state of nature and take ownership of them, now that they are no longer leaving as much and as good in common for others, there is reason to demand that they compensate others for the loss.
We still live in a society where unanimous consent to the laws is impractical. Consequently, we live in a society where it does not make sense to demand that those who pull resources from nature strike a bargain with every other person and work out a deal with them for giving up their claim to “as much and as good” left in common for others. However, this does not prohibit us from adopting a more practical set of rules for providing compensation to those others – those who are not left with “as much and as good”. This would mean that those who take must provide some means for the rest of humanity to acquire the means of survival that they would otherwise have gotten from nature. It means providing them with at least the basics of nourishing food, shelter, and clean water.
This is what those who are creating the large corporate-feudal estates have a duty to provide to those who are not left with “as good and as much in common” and it is that which those others have a right to demand. It is as good as saying, “You know, I would love to go out into nature and simply pick up the food, water, and other essentials to survival that I need. But, since you have taken it all, and failed to leave as much and as good in common for others, I have a right to take it from you instead, so long as you have enough to spare.”
And, indeed, these corporate-feudal fiefdoms do have enough to spare.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 12:01 PM
What does it mean to say that values are objective?
This actually has a couple of different meanings – and this illustrates where discussions fall into problems. Many people who enter into these discussions jump back and forth between these two types of objectivity as if there is no difference between them. In fact, these types of objectivity are quite distinct such that it is possible (in fact, I would argue that it is true) that, even though morality is not objective in the first sense, it is fully objective in the second.
What, then, are these two senses?
Objective(1) Value: Objective(1) value is what we might call intrinsic value. An object, event, or state of affairs has objective(1) value if its value is dependent entirely on its intrinsic properties. It's relationship to other things in the world – particularly to the beliefs and desires of intentional agents – are irrelevant. It is simply the case that when matter gets organized in a particular way – as a matter of brute fact – it has value.
Objective(2) Value: Objective(2) value is not about objects of evaluation – it is not about actions, or states of affairs, or paintings, or virtue. It is a term that refers to statements – to propositions – and identifies them as objectively true or false. If, for example, I were to say that Jim is taller than Sally, the proposition is either objectively true or objectively false. Whether it is true or false depends on whether Jim is, in fact, taller than Sally.
Before we apply these concepts to value, let us take a look at them as applied to something that is value neutral.
Take, for example, the claim, "Jim is tall."
The statement, "Jim is tall," is not an objective(1) truth. That is to say, no person has a property of 'tallness' entirely in virtue of its intrinsic properties. 'Tallness' depends on a relationship to something else – compared, for example, to the average height of males who are as old as Jim, for example. If the universe consisted only of Jim, alone, floating through empty space, the claim, "Jim is tall" would not even make any sense.
However, the statement, "Jim is tall" meaning "Jim is taller than the average male of his age" is an objective(2) truth. The proposition is objectively true. Its truth does not, in any way, depend on anybody believing that Jim is taller than the average person his age. It does not depend on how anybody feels about Jim being taller than an average person his age. All that matters is whether or not Jim is, in fact, taller than the average person of his age. And there is the fact of the matter.
Location provides another example of something that lacks objectivity in the first sense but has objectivity in the second sense.
Nothing has an objective(1) location. You cannot tell me the location of anything without referencing some other thing. If I ask you where the keys are, you may say that they are in your coat pocket, or on the table, or you left them in the car, or Jim has them, but you must always refer to something else.
When it comes to picking this "something else", that is determined by the interests of the participants at the time. If I am looking for the keys so that I can drive to town and pick up some lunch, then your answer should refer to something that will help me to find the keys efficiently. However, if the context of our discussion is one in which I wanted to know that they keys are safe, then an answer that says, "They are in the safe deposit box" or "Jim has them" - even if I cannot get to the safe deposit box or contact Jim – is the better answer.
Assume that we are working on a farm and you want the keys to the car so that you could drive into town and pick us up some lunch. You ask, "Where are the keys?" If I answer, "Earth," that would be taken as a joke. At least, I would hope so. It would be better than being punched (though there is a possibility of both).
So, if we are going to argue about whether there are objective values, the first thing we need to do is to determine whether we are talking about whether values are objective in the first sense – whether there are objective(1) values; or whether statements about the value of things are objective in the second sense – whether a proposition of the form "X is good" can be objectively true or false.
Remember, as is the case with "taller than" in the example above, a proposition of the form "Jim is tall" (meaning "Jim is taller than the average person") can be objectively true without it being the case that the claim, "Jim is true" refers to an intrinsic property. We must keep these types of objectivity separate.
The mistake that comes from confusing these two types of objectivity appear when somebody argues that values are not objective in the first sense, and concludes from this that values are not objective in the second sense.
This is comparable to arguing from the fact that since tallness is not an absolute, intrinsic property that we cannot make objectively true claims about whether one person is taller than another or whether Jim is taller than the average male of his age.
It is comparable to arguing that since we cannot give the location of something without referring to something else that the location of something is always merely a matter of opinion – and two people with different opinions cannot both be right.
The mistake can also go in the other direction. This happens when a person provides evidence that moral claims are taken to be objectively true – that they are treated as true or false propositions independent of whether people believe or how they feel about them – to the conclusion that value must be an intrinsic property.
This would be comparable to arguing from the fact that the statement, "Jim is taller than Sally" is objectively true to the conclusion that tallness must be an intrinsic property that Jim has independent of any relationship to Sally. It would be comparable to arguing from the fact that we can make objectively true claims about the location of things that everything has an objective(1), intrinsic location that is independent of its position in space and time relative to any other thing.
To prevent our debate on the objectivity of value from getting bogged down in these types of mistakes, we must take care to distinguish these two types of objectivity.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 10:08 AM
Monday, December 12, 2016
In 258 days, I will be in my first class.
That number keeps getting smaller. And – no matter how many times I confront it – I am still in a state of denial. I can’t actually see myself as a graduate student. Or . . . I can . . . but in the same way that I can see myself as the citizen of an orbiting city floating in high Earth orbit. It’s a fantasy – not a reality.
My paper on condemnation and punishment has given me a burst of inspiration.
It is the first project I actually finished. Well, I haven’t actually finished it yet. It needs a final proof. It needs me to read it out loud and make a last set of edits. Then, it will be ready to hand out to the public. There will be a second edition as it generates further comments and responses – but, that’s not a problem.
Given that I seem to be able to finish a project of this size, I have decided to start two more.
Yes . . . two. Maybe that is a mistake.
I am giving myself a deadline of January 18 to get a working draft done of both papers.
One paper I am calling “Morality from the Ground Up.” It will begin with one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones) and build up from this to a fundamental set of moral prescriptions – the wrongness of lying, breaking promises, theft, vandalism, assault, rape, and murder. It will also explain the source of non-obligatory permissions. It is not going to try to build the whole of morality. For example, it will not cover the concept of an “excuse” or a right to freedom of speech. It will leave those for future projects. It will leave off with a simple community governed by basic moral facts.
The second I am tentatively calling “A Template for Revolution”. It is, actually, a project plan for “overthrowing” – in a sense – the current American government. In it, I am inserting some of the themes that I have repeatedly written about with respect to making the world a better place. These include rules governing violent versus non-violent protest, bigotry, “criticizing an idea”, lying, and intellectual recklessness. It will include a rejection of the Lockean concept of property and libertarianism. At the same time, it will include comments about what libertarians get right in their criticism of progressivism – that to which progressive like to do nothing more than plug their ears and shout, “I can’t hear you!”
Towards this end, I have finished Locke’s Two Treatise on Civil Government. I also listened to some discussion of John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.
I am wondering if I should get and read Rawls again. I am wondering if I can find the time. I need to return to Sidgwick. And now I have these two other projects to work on.
I also listened to a debate, of sorts, between Roger Pilon - a libertarian political philosopher from the CATO Institute, and Louis Michael Seidman from Georgetown University. It is this type of discussion that makes me upset at many of the things that I encounter on the internet. It is NOT the case that, just because somebody disagrees with you, that they are either a complete idiot or they are out to destroy humanity for the pure pleasure of doing so. Some people can have a difference of opinion and each have a very solid foundation for their beliefs.
Still, Pilon lied at one point. Or, more precisely, he made a claim where either (1) he is, in fact, a complete idiot or, (2) he knew he was making an invalid implication but sought to present it as a sound argument. I think the latter option is the most accurate.
Their discussion wandered briefly into the subject of global warming and Pilon blurted out that the ice sheet had grown by 30% compared to the previous year.
Actually, given that this was recorded early in 2014, we had just past a winter where the ice sheet was 60% larger than the previous year.
However, the previous year was a record low year.
The attached graph shows the extent of the arctic ice sheet every September from 1979 to 2016. You can see a huge increase in 2014 compared to 2013.
Pilon's lie is not that this increase existed. He lied in attempting to get his listeners to draw the conclusion that this increase implies that the downward trend over the previous 30 years did not exist. He lied in making the implicit claim that this 60% increase proved that all of the claims about climate change and its effects on the ice cap that climate change scientists have been making can be rejected.
He has to know that this is an invalid inference. In fact, he has to know that if he had caught a critic of one of his views pulling this type of trick, that he would call that person dishonest. He would accuse such a person of making deliberately misleading statements. Yet, here he is, making a deliberately misleading statement.
This lie brought into question every other statistical claim that Pilon made in this discussion.
As I watched the debate, I wondered how I would have handled it if I had been in a discussion like that and my opponent made such a claim. This debate was being held in a lecture hall with a white board behind the speakers. My temptation would have been to go over to the blackboard, draw a squiggly downward sloping line with a small up-tick at the end, and pointed out how stupid it is to argue that the small uptick at the end implies that the downward slope did not exist. I would then say to the other person, "If a first year undergraduate put this in a paper you would grade him down. You know this is wrong. Yet, this is what you did. Why? Do you not care about the truth? Is it so important to you to get people to embrace a conclusion that you like that you will use any argument no matter how clearly flawed if it has a chance of manipulating others into giving assent?"
I do not care as much about the conclusions that people draw as I do the practice of using clearly bad arguments in defense of those conclusions. When scholars use clearly flawed arguments, they are liars. They are trading on their authority in an attempt to persuade people to adopt conclusions that they must know cannot be supported by the arguments they are presenting. They are contributing to the mis-education of the general public.
I want to repeat - libertarians have some strong points to make against the progressive philosophy, and Pilon ably presented some of those points. He reminded me of the importance of listening to those who disagreed with us - that they are not always wrong. However, at the same time, he lied. He told a deliberate and manipulative falsehood he would have clearly recognized and called another person out on if that person had tried to use such a fallacy against him. Yet, he did not have the moral good sense to refrain from using this misleading and manipulative argument.
For that, he deserves not only criticism, but condemnation.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:46 AM
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
264 days until I am sitting in my first class.
Time keeps on slipping by.
I have a few people looking at “A Motive Consequentialist Theory of Condemnation and Punishment”. We will see what I get back in terms of edits. Once those edits are in, then I will distribute it to a wider audience.
In the meantime, I have been looking at what I should write next – and it seems like it may be something of practical political importance. With the election of Donald Trump, I am thinking that some things need to be said about reforming the political system to prevent the harms that the current systems inflict on innocent people.
As I see it, the current system is leading to the establishment of “corporate feudal fiefdoms” where those who have the money to hire batteries of lawyers and “public relations” forms are setting themselves as – literally – owners of the Earth to whom the rest of us must either agree to be servants or . . . well . . . be invited to leave (or, what amounts to the same thing, to go off into some corner and die).
My reason for writing it is that this simply seems to be what is on my mind recently. In it, I am combining many of the claims that I have made here and on Facebook since Trump’s elections (and some themes I have discussed before that).
Part of my inspiration for this comes from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government - which I have now read once and I am going through a second time to try to make sure that I capture important points.
Indeed, one of the things that I am going to put into this paper as I write it is a criticism of some of Locke's main points
Here's the biggest difference between Locke and myself.
Locke believes that there are intrinsic moral values - some things are just intrinsically good. He calls this the "law of reason" and - one of the dictates of the law of reason - is that it is intrinsically wrong for one person to take the property of another. This violates a law of nature and is to be considered as a declaration of war on the part of the taker against the original owner of the property. Locke also states that if the taker takes even a single grain of wheat to eat or crumb of bread from one who has plenty, this is comparable to threatening to kill the owner and it becomes legitimate, in turn, to kill the would-e thief for protection.
I deny that there are any intrinsic values. There are, instead, the rules that people agree upon for their mutual well-being. This may very well include a rule to take some grains of wheat from those who have plenty - and to give those grains of wheat to those who have none. If those who have plenty want to complain about the rule - let them return to a state of nature where they have nobody from which to trade or to bargain, and survive by their own effort. The fact that the substantial portion of their possessions (more than enough to see them fed, clothed, and well taken care of) are secure in a state of civil society should be sufficient incentive to agree to the bargain.
Besides, people in a state of nature have no reason to agree to a set of rules that makes a small portion of humanity the owners of everything - or nearly everything - forcing the vast majority of humanity to serve substantially as their servants for food and medical care - and to be discarded (left without food or medical care) if it should be the case that those who own the planet and all things on it have no interest in their welfare, or cannot find a use for them.
The sentiments from which Locke draws his rules of property are certainly sentiments that the very wealthy would like all of us to have - a sentiment by which we agree that there is a natural and intrinsic right that they own the bulk of the Earth and that the rest of us have a duty to be their servants for scraps. And they have the money to promulgate this view and to create and reinforce these sentiments within us. However, they are just sentiments, and they do not, in fact, identify an intrinsic moral law. It is just a way of seducing us into a set of beliefs that make us peaceful and obedient servants - as opposed to free and independent people demanding a different set of rules where the earth and its products are more evenly divided.
The arguments for this position are going to find their way into this new paper that I am writing. It will effectively be a treatise - like Locke's treatise - regarding the rules by which we should regard each other and the attitudes we should take towards the government and its laws - and those who manipulate the structure of institutions to make themselves masters of the Earth and the rest of us their servants.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 11:44 AM
Friday, December 02, 2016
I was asked to explain my view on trade - why I think Trump will make America a poorer nation and its people less well off.
So . . . consider this:
Is it a good idea to build a wall around the United States, build everything within the United States, keep all of the jobs here, and trade with nobody?
A great idea to make the United States a wealthier country . . . right?
Well, if it is such a great idea – why not then build a wall around each state and prohibit trade with any other state. Let us build all of our cars, air conditioners, medical equipment, movies, iPhones, doctors, engineers, internet search engines, computers – everything in Colorado. According to the plan mentioned above, each state would then become much more prosperous than it is now. Colorado, Maine, Rhode Island, Hawaii – each of them will become more prosperous if it was making everything locally.
But, then, if that is such a good idea – we can create even more prosperity if we put a wall around each county. Let each county do all of its manufacturing locally – every car, airplane, piece of office furniture, every bushel of wheat – all produced in one’s local county. Now, we will be wealthier still, according to this plan. We will have tons of jobs in our county. (I’d have to go back to Boulder County – but – I am certain they would find work for me.)
Yet, if that is the road to prosperity – how about building everything on one’s local block. Just take everybody on your block and refuse to trade with anybody else. All of your medical care, food, shelter, clothing, furniture – all of the energy you consume and the light bulbs you build – all scientific research is done by people on your block. Boy, would you have a whole lot of jobs to do! The people on your block would be so wealthy!
But, we can go further. Have everything done in your household. Put a wall around your building and tell your family that they cannot trade with anybody outside of that wall. You are going to take care of everything yourself. If a child breaks an arm – you’ll handle it. If you need food – you will grow your own. Cut off the electricity and all communication with the outside world – you will manufacture your own electrical power and the machines that use that power – all without even referencing information that people on the outside of the wall might have learned. Would it be even imaginable that you could be any wealthier than this?
Well, actually you could be. Let nobody in your family trade with anybody else. Everybody has to manufacture their own food, their own clothing, provide their own shelter, take care of their own medical needs, as if each was living alone on a very small island, trading with nobody. There is no greater wealth imaginable than to do everything yourself, according to this way of thinking.
Of course, this is not the case. As this example shows, we get wealthier by enlarging the numbers of people we trade with – not by decreasing it. You are wealthier when you can trade with other members of your family and split up the chores that need to be done.
Your family is wealthier when its members can trade with people outside of your family – when it can buy groceries from the grocery store, medical care from the medical facility, a car from a car dealership, education from professional educators.
The people of Colorado are made wealthier – not poorer – because they can buy software from Seattle, movies from Hollywood, medical research from Boston, and can go on vacation in Orlando.
Similarly, the United States is made wealthier – not poorer – when it trades with countries outside of the United States.
Now, it is true that every time the circle grows larger, certain types of jobs are lost. Because you trade with the grocery store, your family has “lost work” in that its members are no longer growing its own food. When you trade with a clothing store rather than create your own clothing (including the raising of your own sheep), you have “exported jobs” out of your household and those jobs have been “imported” by other families. However, this trade makes both households wealthier – it does not make each household poorer.
Trump’s economic plan will, in effect, make the United States a poorer country. We will have fewer goods and services available to buy, and that which is available will become far more expensive. We may have more “jobs” in a sense – but that is the case in the same way that the people in your household would have far more work to do if they decided to grow their own food and create their own clothes.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 9:25 AM
268 days from today . . . I will be nervously awaiting the start of my first class.
I am putting some effort into establishing contacts in the department – so it will likely be just another day. But, still, a milestone day.
My current projects are:
(1) I have finished a draft of A Motive Consequentialist Theory of Condemnation and Punishment.
I have posted it on the Desirism facebook group to see if I could solicit a volunteer to edit it. Every time I go through something I have written I end up rewriting it - and I simply want that to stop. So, I have asked for somebody besides me to go through it.
Then, once I do those edits, I will distribute it more widely for comments. I am thinking I will not distribute it among the philosophy department - as I do not want to be known as a presumptuous bother. Besides, I may use it for my Master's Thesis and there are restrictions as to who may read and comment on a Master's Thesis.
(2) I have started the Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government - which is the famous one. I have gotten through Chapter 5 - on Property - which I will reread again tomorrow owing to its significance. I do say, I have a somewhat different perspective after having read the Fist Treatise - the one that people almost always skip. In that treatise, Locke effectively established the equality among men (and women) which he uses as a premise in this Treatise.
However, I was bothered as I read through the chapter on property because I kept thinking of the harm and suffering that those words have brought into the world. The argument presented there would sound great in a world that was sparsely populated, and he makes reference to the vast wilderness of the United States. However, in the world we face today, continuing to use Locke's principles leads to a state where the whole of the earth - indeed, the whole solar system - becomes the property of a few people for whom the rest of humanity - in need of food, shelter, and medical care and having no more of nature that they can claim as their own - are reduced to servitude.
The invention of money, according to Locke, justifies the enlargement of estates and, if a person should hoard some resources, he does no harm to others so long as they do not spoil or waste in his possession, and he can trade them with others who have a use for them.
He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns or apples, had thereby a property in them, they were his goods as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else he took more than his share, and robbed others. And indeed it was a foolish thing, as well as dishonest, to hoard up more than he could make use of. If he gave away a part to any body else, so that it perished not uselesly in his possession, these he also made use of. And if he also bartered away plums, that would have rotted in a week, for nuts that would last good for his eating a whole year, he did no injury; he wasted not the common stock; destroyed no part of the portion of goods that belonged to others, so long as nothing perished uselesly in his hands. Again, if he would give his nuts for a piece of metal, pleased with its colour; or exchange his sheep for shells, or wool for a sparkling pebble or a diamond, and keep those by him all his life he invaded not the right of others, he might heap up as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the bounds of his just property not lying in the largeness of his possession, but the perishing of any thing uselesly in it.
However, his whole argument makes the assumption that others have something that they can use to trade for what this individual is hoarding. His right to barter away plums requires that the person who needs the plums has something to offer in exchange. Against this objection, too, he answers that the world is not yet so densely populated that there is no place where a person can go to fence off a bit of unused nature (specifically, in the middle of America) and acquire what he needs that way.
We are long past the day when a person, who otherwise had nothing, need to simply reach out a hand into unclaimed nature and pluck what he needs to survive. We are at a point where the necessities of survival come from those who have already claimed everything - if not in name, at least as a matter of fact - for themselves. The requirement that there be "as much and as good left for others" is no longer met.
Nor was Locke writing in a time where "mixing one's labor" involves the use of a massive steam shovel, or massive fishing nets, or other pieces of equipment that allow people to harvest at a single moment huge amounts of nature's bounty.
Or was he concerned with a situation where the vast majority of future resources are available only to the very wealthy, who are the only ones who can reach them and mix their labor with them. I am referring here to the resources of space. Only the very wealthy can reach these objects and mix their labor with it. So, by the rules established in Locke's second treatise, for all practical effect, the wealthy have claimed the whole of the solar system as their own, which they may take possession of - and then use this to demand service from the rest of us for any benefit they may be able to provide. Again, the wealthy become wealthier, and reduce the rest of humanity to be their servant in exchange for the benefits of what, at one time, was held in common with no rightful owner.
In this, the wealthy maintain their "right" to the ownership of the whole earth and the "duty" of the rest of humanity to serve them in exchange for the necessities and comforts of life by promoting those philosophies that grant them this "right" as the one, true and correct way of being. There is no mystery as to why these philosophers and their philosophies are the ones that those with money take such great pains to tells us provide the true and correct rules governing the relationships among people. These are the rules that state that they have a right to the ownership of the whole solar system, and the rest of us a duty to be their servants. What other philosophy would they be expected to promote?
Not that this is some type of secret conspiracy. Rather, when one reads that the philosophy gives them the right to the ownership of the whole solar system and others a duty be their servants, this "feels right" to them and, from this, they conclude that it "is right" and, thus, they put their efforts into promoting that which they sincerely believe to be true and good. Yet, as a matter of fact, there is no sound reason behind it - only a desire to own the whole of the solar system and to have the rest of humanity be one's servants.
In fact, there is no wrong in the rest of humanity saying that, insofar as all of this wealth existed in common for all of humanity, we should decide upon whatever rules for usage that gives its benefit to all of humanity. And when the very wealthy say, "By the power and right vested in me by the words of John Locke, this is mine, and you shall be entitled to no benefit from it except what I should choose to give you - depending on the degree that I am pleased with your service to me," there is no wrong in denying that claim.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 9:23 AM
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
I have been told by a worthy commenter that I should join a political party and thereby learn how politics really works. And this by a person who brags about sitting beside a politician he helped to get elected.
Notwithstanding the fact that I have, in my life, worked in three political parties (Libertarian, Republican, and Democrat), this commenter brings to mind what has been a long struggle - a struggle between truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity on the one hand, and power without regard to truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity.
I am called childish and moronic because of my interest is in the former and not in the latter. It is better to have power without regard for truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity, then to pursue truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity without power. The latter, in fact, is an utter waste of time.
It is a mistake at the start to consider these mutually exclusive ends.
Each person has an interest in both to different degrees. And, in fact, the ideal world is not one in which one of these conquers the other, but one that unites truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity with power.
In fact, that was the very point of the post in which this commenter was responding. It was a post in which I expressed my worry over the fact that a massive gap has appeared between truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity on the one hand, and power on the other. People have voted to give power to the person who has the least understanding of truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity. In that post, I wondered how to close that gap - I wondered how to empower truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity. For that, I was called naïve, childish, moronic, and in need of an education in politics.
One could advance the plan, "First, you get power - without regard for truth or justice, or as to whether one's promises will, if enacted, bring about a benefit to humanity - without a regard for anything but getting power. Then, once in power, do that which is just and benefits humanity."
This plan, of course, requires that the winner know what is true, what justice requires, and what benefits humanity. This, in turn, seems to require that there be somebody interested in studying those issues and answering those questions.
However, my commenter seems to think that only a childish moron will interest himself in truth, justice, and the benefit of humanity - because it is the mere fact that one shows an interest in these topics, it seems, that makes one is worthy of the label.
So, it is only power for its own sake, and not for the sake of what is true, just, or a benefit to humanity that matters.
In fact, it is this complete disregard for truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity that seems to be, "the lesson of Trump." The one thing we must all learn from his success is that any interest any of us may have or have had in truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity must be discarded as the interests of a naïve moron. The lesson of Trump is to set those childish things aside and seek nothing but power for its own sake.
Well, I am afraid that I am a slow learner. If what we are to learn from the fact that Trump has been elected is that only the naïve and childish morons are interested in truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity, I fear that I will continue to be a naïve and childish moron.
I have opted to disregard The Lesson of Trump and return to my original question: How do we empower truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity?
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 8:11 AM
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
In 271 days I attend my first class.
Recent projects include reading John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, and starting John Locke 's Two Treatise on Civil Government.
I am actually including the first treatise, which is usually skipped, and for good reason. In it, Locke argues against a Sir Robert Filmer, who used scripture to defend the absolute power and divine right of kings. Locke argues that scripture contains no such proof.
I, of course, hold that scripture provides a foundation for nothing in morals or politics, it being the imaginative fictions of substantially ignorant tribes. Still, it is an interesting cultural study of what once was - and in some unfortunate parts of the world still is - thought to be an important process.
In this treatise, one can still see and be impressed by Locke's sharp mind - and surprised at how that sharp mind can treat scripture as revealed truth rather than an ancient fiction.
As a side note, he also gives an excellent account, from scripture, of the equality between men and women - or, at least, of husbands and wives. And argues that a wife's subjugation to her husband, like the pain of child birth, provides no reason to continue to suffer that state any longer than it takes to find the means to end it. This - in the late 1600s.
Oh, and I, at one time, thought of Mill as a type of motive utilitarian. He does make the noises of a motive utilitarian when discussing the love of virtue and the sentiment of justice, he does, for the most part, fit a rule-utilitarian mold.
And, I continue work on my paper - which I am now calling, "A Motive Utilitarian Account of Condemnation and Punishment."
As is usually the case, "editing" a document involves completely rewriting it - and this is no exception. However, I am going to make it a rule that, once I get done with this draft, there will be no more substantive rewrites unless evidence is found that I have made a significant error. Instead, I intend to do what philosophers had done generally - which is to create a new edition that addresses some concerns and mentions some additional implications, but the structure of the paper will not change.
I have, as promised, added footnotes and citations - linking to the works of other authors.
I am not mentioning desirism because (1) I still find it a bit pretentious to have my own ethical theory, and (2) I do not want to clutter the discussion. However, in the conclusion of the paper I will point out how the considerations raised in the paper actually yield an implication that utilitarianism - as traditionally understood - is flawed. Motives are not ultimately to be evaluated according by the degree to which they maximize utility, but motives are to be evaluated by the degree that they fulfill or thwart other desires - this providing the reasons that exist to either promote or to inhibit the desire in question.
In this edition, whole sections have vanished - such as the section on the neuroscience of punishment. I need to study that field more before I make claims about its findings - and that is something I intend to do in graduate school. I can take a limited number of courses outside of the department - and I think a class on the neuroscience of "reward" (and punishment) will be rewarding. And the University of Colorado at Boulder has a "Center for Neuroscience" that coordinates activities in 13 departments including philosophy.
As a possible future course of action, I may send the center an email describing my research interest to see if there is anybody there willing to give me some advice on the topic. This, in turn, can be the subject of another paper.
In fact, now that I am nearly finished with this one and I am resolving not to make substantive changes, I want to start researching and working on the next paper - and I am trying to figure out what that next paper should be.
Perhaps I will build on my criticism of Peter Singer and Sam Harris and their use of "external reasons" that do not exist.
Perhaps I will write a paper on the distinction between reasons that an agent has ("to have a reason") and reasons that exist ("there exists a reason").
Perhaps I will discuss the false dichotomy of objective versus subjective morality, and how the vague definitions of these terms keep people debating something that would be settled if people only learned to speak clearly.
Perhaps I will defend my claim that J.L. Mackie is a "schmoral" realist.
Perhaps I will explain how J.S. Mill can defend his utilitarianism from the criticisms of G.E. Moore.
Perhaps I should write on a theory of excuse that describes moral excuses as statements that break the implication from what looks on the face of it to be a wrong action to the conclusion that the agent failed to have good motives.
Perhaps I will address Henry Sidgwick's objections to motives being the ultimate object of moral evaluation.
. . . . um . . . that last one. Yeah. That sounds like a good project. I have already been reading Sidgwick - and it will contribute to my project of getting a basic understanding of moral and political philosophy before classes start. Sidgwick is one of those authors that moral philosophers would be expected to have read and understood. And I will try to write it in such a way that a fan of desirism can hand it out to their friends and family and say, "See, this is what I am talking about. Morality is about evaluating motives, not about evaluating actions."
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 10:57 AM