Re: Where does a pseudonymous blogger come down on important issues?

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Not being a moral philosopher, I can go with a gut feeling here--the reason I'm attracted to consequentialism, though it yields obviously wrong consequences, is that it gives me the willies to think of someone else making decisions that affect my life on non-consequentialist grounds. Suppose the Ruler of the World were to say, "Well, I could do this, which would make everyone much happier, which would violate someone's rights, so I won't do it--then everyone will be miserable, but at least I won't have violated anyone's rights"--that seems impossibly twee to me. Get over yourself, Ruler of the World! I want my utility, I don't care if your conscience is clean about violating people's rights.

This is supposed to be the pure form of the choice between consequentialism and other theories, in which we know that the rights-violating actions will have better consequences. In practice, of course, I really don't want the rulers going around violating people's rights, even if they think they're bringing about better consequences. George Bush, back off (not that I think he's seriously considering the consequences of his actions for everyone). But I think that it's fair to say that rights-violating actions usually can be expected to have terrible consequences, even when they aren't immediately apparent. Start off by waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, and soon you're beating innocent Afghan cabdrivers to death. cf this.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 8:05 AM
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My theory of ethics, which is mine, is that "ethics" names an ad-hoc composite and that no single expression is adequate. Attempts at rationalization and formalization thus do more harm than good. That's my theory of ethics, which is deontic, utilitarian, and much more.

I also believe that an ethical system only is viable within a political order, and that no political order is entirely ethical. Thus evil is required for there to be good -- not just to provide a contrast, but functionally. That's my further theory of ethics.

It follows that anyone who wants to challenge an ethical system or principle can do so merely by challenging the whole political order. However, serious challenges to the political order often end up killing millions of people, so in general it is wise to avoid them. I suppose you can call this consequentialist.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 8:07 AM
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The problem, in practice, with consequentialism, to my mind, is not so much that the violation of rights will necessarily have bad conequences; it's that we have no real way of knowing.

This is a profoundly conservative statement, and at its most extreme it goes against intervention at the policy level too, because there exists the possibility of harm to someone.


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 8:16 AM
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Offtopic but made me think of this crowd: In NYC next week -- a musical version of Strunk and White's Elements of Style.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 8:36 AM
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Becks, I wonder whether that's a useful teaching tool. There's a mouse cartoon version of Marx which, I am told, hits all the major points pretty well.


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 8:50 AM
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I think its goal is less "original earnest Schoolhouse Rock of the 70s" than "ironic revisitation of Schoolhouse Rock in the 90s".

I believe you're talking about Maus, which was very good and even won a Pulitzer.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:07 AM
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Language Hat and Language Log hate Strunk and White. Google will bring you many nice tirades. I tremble to think what they have to say about the musical.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:12 AM
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Becks, I didn't mean to suggest that it was intended as a teaching tool, but it might prove to be one nonetheless.


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:15 AM
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Could be. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for that stuff. My favorite is the Animaniacs song about the 50 state capitols.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:19 AM
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The main problem with (some) consequentialist theory is that diverts attention from the interesting part of moral theory. Maybe when we figure out what moral value is, it will turn out to follow a "more is better" rule; to accomplish this, you'd need ... a theory of value. That's where the moral action is.

Paradoxically, then, consequentialism tends to over-rely on moral intuitions. It assumes that things that people seem to value (the satisfaction of their desires, subjective well being) are in fact valuable.


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:19 AM
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Becks--Yes, I conflated two things. Maus was one, but there's also a cartoon series to the greats that's supposed to be pretty good. I heard it discussed once on Radio 4's Start teh Week.


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:22 AM
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the


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:23 AM
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baa is, of course, correct. Consequentialism is an accounting method, not a moral theory.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:23 AM
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Ooh, that's a good way of putting it, ogged.


Posted by: bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:25 AM
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Nah, that's not so powerful, can't I just say that informed-preference satisfaction consequentialism is a moral/value theory under the terms you and baa are respectively using (I don't in fact support informed-preference satisfaction consequentialism, and am using it purely as an example)?


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:31 AM
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Fwiw, I think the various types of Kantian constructivism -- like Scanlon's "What We Owe to Each other" -- are on the right track. I don't know enough about Scanlon's book, although I have skimmed through it, to have a hard and fast view on whether he's right in the details. But the broad approach, which isn't unique to him, seems right.

In fact, I think that sort of constructivist approach is the best type of answer to a range of normative questions.

[I've just developed a loosely Kantian line on the norms of health and disease in my doctoral thesis, for example]


Posted by: Matt McGrattan | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:32 AM
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Interesting, BG. Those types of things are great because they can be used to justify otherwise slackworthy behavior. I just finished both Persepolis graphic novels, which I would highly recommend as having a good insight/entertainment ratio. (I know I'm late to the game on this but, as I've said, I never buy comic books -- I just read them when provided.)


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:35 AM
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Persepolis 2 has come up before.


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 9:58 AM
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I missed that post and (not to rehash that whole thread) have to say I agree with Ogged -- that section of the book was really wrong. Sickeningly wrong. What-the-hell-is-wrong-with-this-person wrong, especially considering all of the stuff that happened in book 1.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 10:19 AM
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We agree!


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 10:21 AM
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As always.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 10:23 AM
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My diabolical plan to derail the budding romance fails again! Curses!


Posted by: Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 10:23 AM
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"Budding romance" really confuses the issue. Becks and I are buying a house together, because it just makes sense.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 10:25 AM
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Indeed.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-14-05 10:47 AM
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Your diabolical plan to confuse the issue by characterising it as a "budding romance" fails again!

Curses!


Posted by: Not Matt Weiner | Link to this comment | 10-15-05 6:02 PM
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