11 Comments

I do wish you were an economist.

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Mar 20, 2023Liked by Bentham's Bulldog

I think I agree with basically the entire outline of the post, just that everytime you mention one of your beliefs I substitute it with my own belief. This issue of fundamental seemingly justified disagreement seems like one of the most important issues when it comes to communication between people with different philosophical views. I think something of interest would be how this relates to the different beliefs within the general population as opposed to disagreement among philosophy types. I enjoy talking to people with different intuitions to mine eg. religious types, supernatural types etc., not even try to convince them they are wrong or anything just trying to poke their brain to see how they percieve the world.

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023Liked by Bentham's Bulldog

Something that greatly strengthens my confidence in my (albeit markedly non-hedonist, pluralist) consequentialism, is how readily people arguing deontologically will flip to consequentialism in the face of strong counterexamples, while not admitting that's what they're doing, and also often getting angry. Some common examples:

(1) Deontologist vegans typically respond to the crop deaths argument from carnists by pointing out that farmed animals require many more crops per calorie than would be needed to feed humans plants directly. A nakedly utilitarian argument (and a very good one!) which will reliably get you downvoted when you point that fact out in vegan fora.

(2) The idea that "consent" perfectly delineates which (non-instrumental, e.g. pulling someone out of the path of a bus) physical contact is and isn't morally acceptable, sure is a pretty popular view. It's also absurd. Most people have the intuition that it's fine for someone to approach their s.o. from behind at a party and hug them around the waist. Similarly, most people have the intuition that it's fine to kiss your sleeping partner on the forehead. I think it ought to go without saying that you can't give consent to something you're completely surprised by, or that happens when you're unconscious. A deontologist may tie themselves in knots with unsupportable concepts like "implied consent", before admitting that it was all about what examples of contact are likely to cause suffering, in the first place. "Consent" is a *heuristic* (a deontic fiction) that stands in for "finding out how much pleasure or suffering another person would have from some act, in a context where it was -- or ought to have been -- highly uncertain to you". But when you point out this perfectly sensible view, which covers all of our moral intuitions, you're likely to get an angry response ("Look at this asshole over here who doesn't think consent is an absolute requirement!"), even after they've just gotten done agreeing with your counterexamples.

In practice, a deontologist often seems like someone who likes to get passionately angry at consequentialism halfway through an analysis of an issue, and then resort to consequentialism further along in the analysis, and then get angry again at having to do so. :-/ Seeing this sort of dynamic play out repeatedly buttresses my own consequentialist priors.

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Mar 21, 2023·edited Mar 21, 2023

I wouldn't call your bread-buying example "implied consent", but rather plain old consent via clear nonverbal communication. Similar cases exist with preverbal children (you can usually easily tell if they want a hug or not), nonhuman animals (ditto for dogs and belly rubs) and humans with whom you don't share a language. These examples seem very different from my examples of a surprise hug from behind or forehead kiss while asleep, where there is no prior communication.

I'm also clearly talking about ethics rather than law. There are obviously negative rights enshrined in most (all?) actual codes of law. This has no bearing on whether such things are moral fundamentals. A deontic fiction can be a legal fundamental principle.

I should have been a little clearer. My moral intuitions -- which I'm pretty sure are representative of most "normal, good" people's intuitions -- seem to produce basically these principles:

(a) The cases in which express verbal consent is clearly moral obligatory correspond to cases in which substantial physical and/or psychological harm is very likely if interests are mismatched;

(b) the degree to which the prior communication ought to be verbal (or otherwise very explicit) correlates strongly with the probability and likely severity of physical and/or psychological harm;

(c) the degree of moral wrongness arising from lack of consent similarly correlates strongly with the probability and likely severity of physical and/or psychological harm;

(d) clearly non-consensual but morally acceptable (even morally good!) cases like S.O. Surprise Hug and S.O. Sleeping Forehead Kiss, are characterized by extremely low probability of harm and extremely low severity of any possible harm.

Still don't need deontology.

I'm curious to know how you'd characterize S.O. Surprise Hug as a proponent of negative rights. There seem to be four possibilities:

(1) The surprise hug is somehow consensual, despite the second party not knowing it was going to happen beforehand.

(2) The surprise hug is nonconsensual, but does not violate a negative right. (Distinguished from other cases in some way that doesn't just cash out in consequentialist terms.)

(3) The surprise hug does violate a negative right, but is nevertheless morally acceptable. (DFOCISWTDJCOICT)

(4) The surprise hug is morally wrong.

None of these seem reasonable to me, but I lack the intricacies of the deontologist mind. :-)

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Although I don't believe in rights as a moral fundamental (only as an often good heuristic or "deontic fiction"), I certainly agree on this point:

"There's also the point that something can be a negative rights violation, but not worth punishing. Just because you have a casus belli doesn't mean you are obligated to go to war. Propotionality matters."

Although I'd phrase it in consequentialist terms as: "The legitimate purpose of a state -- insofar as there is one at all -- is not to criminalize every case of large net harm, but rather to ensure societal stability in those cases where an official, centralized punishment can effectively deter cycles of vigilantism and blood feud. Most cases of net harm should be addressed with reason, nonviolent social pressure and economic action."

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 21, 2023Liked by Bentham's Bulldog

A brief note on the point about belief revision and philosophy of religion: De Cruz notes that 12.2% of her sample went from theism to non-theism, while 9.4% went from non-theism to theism. This initially gives the impression that exposure to philosophy of religion moves people towards atheism. However, this leaves out a crucial factor, i.e. the initial proportion of theists-to-atheists in the sample. When we take this into account, we get a different result. As Rasmussen notes, "[De Cruz] found that 17 out of 85 theists surveyed moved to non-theism. So 20% of the theists who went into the field of philosophy became atheist or agnostic. By contrast, 13 out of 33 non-theists (atheists and agnostics) surveyed moved to theism. That's 39% -- almost double. In other words, according to the study, philosophers of religion are nearly twice as likely to move toward theism than away from theism." So it isn't really accurate to say that studying philosophy of religion makes people more likely to be atheists.

Also, when we compare the 2009 and 2020 PhilPapers surveys, looking only at philosophers who responded to both surveys, we see that percentage of philosophers of religion who are theists has gone up by about 3.5%. So over the last decade, the philosophers of religion who responded to the 2009 PhilPapers survey have become more theistic, not less. This indicates that their exposure to a decade of phil. religion has not made them more likely to be atheists.

Note: when looking at the PhilPapers survey, be sure to click "same people" to see the stats I'm referring to.

Sources: https://joshualrasmussen.com/does-studying-philosophy-make-you-an-atheist.html

https://survey2020.philpeople.org/survey/results/longitudinal

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My experience is that most people are quite able to hold at least 2 very different ethical rulebooks in their heads, switching effortlessly from one rulebook to the other depending on the situation. Politicians are particularly good at this. Economists, who are trained to be diehard utilitarians, however, can get very frustrated that people agree with them on one policy being very “good” but then the same people say that another policy with exactly the same consequences is irreparably “bad.” In a way, they get trolled by the Trolley problem.

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A question concerning the nature of your conviction in the truth of utilitarianism. Have you always seen this conviction as including commitment to intentions and motives being immaterial to the morality of actions?

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author

Yes,

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Just some comments:

1) Most philosophers are atheists.

> I think this is false through history if you include Plato, Augustin, Thomas d'Aquin, Pascal, Descartes, Spinoza etc...

2) All of the smartest and most consistently correct philosophers I know—with the exception of Dustin Crummett—are atheists.

> Has the truth to be decided through a vote system ?

3) Studying philosophy of religion makes people less religious.

> This is wrong in the middle age

4) When I consider the arguments for god, with the exception of the argument from psychophysical harmony, they’re mostly unmoving.

> What about a witness, Jesus ?

When you compare the best of the theists (Swinburne, for example) to the best of the atheists (Mackie and Sobel), it’s not even close—the atheists’ arguments are just better.

> To be discussed with the arguments provided by people in 1) above

There’s a powerful debunking account of theism. Most theists had it drilled into them from a young age.

> Young age ? Several philosophers became christian late like Paul, Augustin, Pascal

We know that most religious beliefs throughout history have been false, and yet have still been believed.

> Most physical beliefs throughout history have been false since the physics of Aristotle, whereas it is unclear at least that Jesus is God and there is a life after death

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These arguments are generally bad, or miss the point

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