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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Extremely High Time Preference Is... Holy!

Hans Hermann-Hoppe and his followers try to equate morality with low time preference. Consider, for instance, this quote from here:

"As such, decadence is antithetic to moral values, which are rooted in orientation towards long-term prosperity and happiness. Such values are the conceptual embodiment of low time preference, which is manifested in characteristics of thrift, diligence and long-term self improvement, all of which involve forgoing immediate satisfaction in anticipation of gains in the future."

Now, obviously, this is a pretty juvenile and debased sort of "moral philosophy," if one even wants to call it that: it's evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now because if you hold off you'll be able to really, really enjoy yourself later! But it still amused me to learn, while listening to a lecture series on the High Middle Ages, that what Hoppe and his horde consider the essence of morality would, in the Middle Ages, have been considered positively wicked: worrying about the future showed a lack of faith in God. The followers of St. Francis of Assissi (I know, Hoppe-heads, he doesn't compare to St. Hans of Las Vegas, but he was OK!) went so far as to refuse to consider where they would head for the day when they got up in the morning. Instead, they would spin around until they fell over dizzy, and then head in whatever direction their head was pointing.

UPDATE: Oh, and the guy who wrote the piece I link to above obviously got his Rousseau from someone else's really bad summary; for instance, he repeats the old canard associating Rousseau with the idea of the "Noble Savage"! I guess his time preference was a little too high to read Rousseau for himself!

UPDATE II: Out of curiosity, I checked, and, in fact, as I suspected, Rothbard has the exact same "bad Cliff Notes" understanding of Rousseau as the author quoted above: 'Of the fourth, containing Burke’s views on Rousseau, Rothbard said that his opponent’s use of it only revealed "Professor Weston’s confusion on the nature of the libertarian tradition." Hostility to Rousseau proved little because an "individualist anarchist" would oppose him: "for the Vindication was not opposed to ‘civilized society’.... On the contrary, as I pointed out, Burke, in the libertarian tradition, champions ‘natural society’ as against the depredations of the State."' (Source.)

Of course, Rousseau was not at all opposed to civilized society, either, and you'd pretty much have to have not read him at all to think he was.

UPDATE III: Bob thinks this fellow I quote is just saying something like "Thrift is a virtue." No, Bob, there really are no virtues, except in that they help you have a whole lot of sensual indulgence later on:

"Moral virtues are the means for humans to attain luxury, prosperity and happiness. If these virtues dwindle in the presence of luxury, then this is cause for concern, not because these virtues are inherently valuable, but because they are the means of sustaining a good life in the future."

39 comments:

  1. Now, obviously, this is a pretty juvenile and debased sort of "moral philosophy," if one even wants to call it that: it's evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now because if you hold off you'll be able to really, really enjoy yourself later!

    Gene, if you're going to go out of your way to p*ss off at least 35% of the people who read your post, can't you at least put some care into it? If someone had said, "One of the traditional virtues is thrift," would you have jumped all over the stupidity of such a statement?

    I keep waiting for you to say, "Surprise, everyone! For the last year I have been willfully uncharitable in my interpretations of Rothbard et al., just to show these clowns what it feels like. Now leave my buddies and me alone, and we'll do Austrian economics in peace."

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  2. Stella1:17 AM

    Does Hoppe explicitly equate time preferences with morals, or just behaviour?

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  3. Aet. seven, I was an Assissian: I wanted to build a small machine which would look rather like a compass, but which would emit a randomized direction, and thence would I go that day. The project foundered upon my inability to build the magic compass, which would necessarily have been made of paper, cardboard, and Scotch tape, my sole materials of machine construction at the time. (Don't sneer--I built a working lock.)

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  4. Murray Tyson5:54 PM

    Gene,

    i wish you would hurry up and get to your point on these blog posts. I don't have time to read these long versions. I have coke to snort.

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  5. Gene,

    I'm not being a wiseguy here--in a future post can you elaborate on the Rousseau stuff? You're saying it is backwards to say, "Rousseau believed that people were basically good, but that socialization and education corrupted them"?

    That's what I thought, but I admit my time preference was too high to read Rousseau myself.

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  6. "i wish you would hurry up and get to your point on these blog posts. I don't have time to read these long versions. I have coke to snort."

    Don't let me hold you up Murray -- first things first.

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  7. 'If someone had said, "One of the traditional virtues is thrift," would you have jumped all over the stupidity of such a statement?'

    In case you think what this guy is saying is anything like that, please read UPDATE III.

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  8. 'I'm not being a wiseguy here--in a future post can you elaborate on the Rousseau stuff? You're saying it is backwards to say, "Rousseau believed that people were basically good, but that socialization and education corrupted them"?'

    It is certainly wrong to say Rousseau was "anti-civilization." Just reading his Wikipedia page will clear up that misunderstanding.

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  9. GilesS10:18 AM

    I wonder of Dr Hans Hoppe was exercising his low time preference and fondness of politeness when he called Gary Becker an intellectual criminal, Lavoie a crackhead and every economist and philosopher who disagrees with him a morally bankrupt liar.

    I wonder if Hoppe was demonstrating his low time preference when he published various sloppy pieces of work in JLS and QJAE instead of trying to get into some real journals.

    I wonder if Hoppe was being farsighted when he made comments about homosexuals that were obviously going to stir up members of the class.

    And to think, I would have called myself a Hoppean a few months ago.

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  10. GilesS10:20 AM

    Actually, this said, it's probably Mr Callahan I have to thank for showing the kooky and confused nature of Hans Hoppe and the other Rockwellian nutjobs.

    I'm not sure what Hoppe did to deserve a festschrift, but it's funny that his good friend the Prince of Liechtenstein didn't find him worthy enough to make a contribution!

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  11. GilesS,

    Let me get this straight: In the course of a few months you went from calling yourself a Hoppean, to now thinking that not just him, but the entire journals of QJAE and JLS, aren't even "real"?

    What happened? Did the ghost of Lavoie say, "Giles, Giles, why do you persecute me?"

    This isn't an instance of you finding out, say, that your preacher has secretly been having an affair with the 13-year-old boy down the street. You thought Hoppe was awesome a few months ago, and now you think he was really rude and sloppy? How is that possible?

    Should we just wait another few months for you to change your mind again?

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  12. Incidentally, for newcomers please keep in mind that this [.pdf] exists. Granted, Gene and I should have published it in a real journal, but that was back when we were sloppy.

    GilesS, for what it's worth, the reason I've been so forceful with Gene lately, is that his behavior is exactly what he's complaining about Rothbard et al. for. I.e. he finds the tiniest little theoretical disagreement, and exaggerates it into this humongous thing so that the guy who said that must be a freaking moron--and intellectually dishonest to boot!

    GilesS, you do see the irony don't you, in that 3 months ago you presumably that the hermeuniticians et al. were a bunch of liberty-hurting shoddy thinkers, and now you're convinced that it's the Auburn crowd who are the sloppy thinkers who are hurting the cause?

    If Hoppe is a jerk for attacking people personally etc., then maybe the way you get out of the fever swamp is to not take people personally etc.

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  13. *...get out of the fever swamp is to not ATTACK people personally etc.

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  14. GilesS12:45 PM

    Dr Murphy,

    The reason for my "conversion" wasn't actually related to the ghost of Lavoie. It's far more mundane than that, Charles Koch personally sent me a large sum of money on the condition that I began criticizing the LvMI.

    In all seriousness though, I'm an undergraduate economics student who was introduced to economics, through the LvMI, about a year ago. So when I saw some of what went on in an actually university setting I sort of began to realize that perhaps the caricatures made by some Austrians of the mainstream weren't so accurate. I also began reading some of the work of the folk over at GMU, so it's not all that odd that upon seeing another approach to Austrian economics my views have changed somewhat quickly.

    For the record, I've always thought Hoppe was rude and sloppy. But that didn't really bother me before because I sort of went with the "well, he's not a particularly good economic, but I KNOW in my heart that he's correct" approach.

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  15. GilesS,

    OK your opening line made me laugh out loud so I can't maintain my hostility.

    For what it's worth, I was mad at Rothbard et al. when I first went to NYU and learned utility theory. I.e. the rants against "cardinal utility" needed more nuance.

    But then I realized after a few years in grad school that most mainstream economists do really believe in cardinal utility, despite what Mas-Colell says in Chapter One.

    So I'll wait and see if you have the same experience as I did.

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  16. GilesS12:53 PM

    As far as the paper you linked goes, that's sort of besides the point. Although, I don't think either of you were pontificating about the wonders of low time preference at that point. The point is, as I see it, that if Hoppe really wanted to "get the message out" or whatever, he would have taken more time and really tried his best to get his work into a mainstream journal. If you look at Hoppe's publications, there are certainly a lot of them, but I don't see that any of them are particularly profound. I can't say I see that as a indicator of low time preference.

    "GilesS, you do see the irony don't you, in that 3 months ago you presumably that the hermeuniticians et al. were a bunch of liberty-hurting shoddy thinkers, and now you're convinced that it's the Auburn crowd who are the sloppy thinkers who are hurting the cause?

    If Hoppe is a jerk for attacking people personally etc., then maybe the way you get out of the fever swamp is to not take people personally etc."

    I wouldn't write off all thinkers associated with the LvMI and I never really thought that the GMU crowd were "shoddy" thinkers, because I'd never actually read any of their work. I really enjoy the work of Salerno, Garrison, Thornton, Klein and some Robert guy (I'm probably missing a few). It's just, I'm not really too fond of Hoppe and some other LvMI thinkers anymore because sometimes they're just really kooky and other times they're just wrong.

    But what do I know, I'm just an impressionable young undergrad.

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  17. "Granted, Gene and I should have published it in a real journal, but that was back when we were sloppy."

    Bob, no real journals were or are interested in Hoppe's argumentation ethics -- as you recall, the place it came out wasn't even a peer-reviewed journal.

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  18. Murray Tyson9:23 PM

    Peer-reviewed journals?

    Hoppe has no peers!

    Who actually peer reviewed Puck! before that reverse-Gonzo bible ended up being printed in all of one language?

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  19. Uh, Murray, fiction is rarely peer-reviewed.

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  20. GilesS12:14 PM

    Dr Murphy,

    I've you speak about that before in one of your lectures, or in response to Caplan or something. But I mean, are you really going to claim that utility theory is the only subject that self described "Rothbardians" make false claims about?

    The fact is that some associated with the LvMI make absurd claims about many different areas. From reading the Hoppe one would get the impression that Mises detested Hayek. But that just isn't true, as Hayek's UCLA interview and other sources (Kirzner) will tell you.

    In his critique of FRB Hoppe states that people would prefer to hold base money (without any source at all) in a free market, foregoing the interest rate. He then goes on to say that Selgin et al believe the interest rate coordinates demand for and supply of money like Keynesians do (or something along those lines) when they never have.

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  21. Well not to spoil all the fun here by straying from the Hoppe wars, but Francis of Assisi really was a spiritually deluded character. And no, no acolytes of St. Hans paid me to say that.

    "During my prayer two great lights appeared before me (deux grandes lumibres m'ont ete montrees)—one in which I recognized the Creator, and another in which I recognized myself."

    —Francis' own words about his prayer

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  22. GilesS,

    Of course I have heard more than one exaggerated critique coming from someone associated with the LvMI. So what? I wasn't objecting to criticism--that's my point in linking to Gene and my piece. I have been one of the harshest critics of people associated with LvMI.

    But I don't refer to them as "Rockwellian nutjobs" as some have been known to do.

    So yeah, if you want me to paint with a broad brush, I get why people say the things they do about "those people in Auburn." Just like I get why other people say the things they do about "those people at GMU." The particular insults are unfair--most insults are--but you understand why they occur.

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  23. But Bob, your suggestion at 10:01 doesn't make any sense. If you can piss off 35% with less effort, why not stick to the low-hanging fruit? Additional effort would arguably have relatively meager marginal returns, in terms of number of additional people pissed off.

    Anyway, in all seriousness, there's no shortage of writers at Mises and LRC who all but explicitly equate time preference to "acting like middle class white people."

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  24. Murray Tyson7:53 PM

    Uh, Murray, fiction is rarely peer-reviewed.

    Huh.

    Gene,

    Your reverse-gonzo mind missed everything I said and didn't say.

    And BTW the only reason I do coke AFTER I read Crash Landing instead of BEFORE is because when stoned this blog starts to make biblical sense to me.

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  25. Kevin, you left out "straight."

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  26. scineram10:31 PM

    A cursory look at DeCoster's blog posts shows all innovative business practices are credot flood induced decadence.

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  27. Michael, a man's life can, usually, be summed up and then dismissed by quoting a single sentence he wrote, can't it?

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  28. GilesS10:45 AM

    Dr Murphy,

    I understand that you're probably one economist associated with the LvMI who writes with some nuance. I mentioned this earlier when I wrote that it's not really true that I dismiss all of the work the LvMI.

    I understand that perhaps painting with a "broad brush" might not be the best way to do things. On the other hand, this we're having a discussion on the comments section of a blog. But when people such as Hoppe call scholars such as Becker and Lavoie "intellectual criminals" and crackheads respectively in the "intellectual arena" it doesn't reflect very well on the LvMI and Austrian economist generally. Some of the stuff that comes out of LRC and the MI comes across as plain kooky at best and horribly dogmatic at worst. Of course, this is all made worse when Kinsella boldly announces Hoppe to be "the dean of the Austrian school" (I'm curious about who appointed him).

    But perhaps, given your last paragraph, we're in agreement.

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  29. Anyway, in all seriousness, there's no shortage of writers at Mises and LRC who all but explicitly equate time preference to "acting like middle class white people."

    --

    I've always had the impression that the writers at Mises.org and LRC equate "middle class white people" with low time preference, not the other way around. That is to say, low time preference is not "good" because of the association with middle class white people, but middle class white people are "good" because of their low time preference. I find nothing offensive in that.

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  30. Hello Gene and others,

    I am “the guy” who wrote the article featured in this post.

    Unfortunately, I only saw these blog posts today, and by the looks of it, I am about a year late to the discussion.

    Anyway, I thought I should chime in to this little two-minute hate session to let Mr Callahan (and anyone else interested) know about some other things that I wrote in my article, and what my views on time preference and morality actually are.

    My view on time preference and decadence: I don’t think that Mr Callahan does a fair job in summarizing the views in my article. He quotes one particular paragraph relating time-preference and moral virtue (above) and characterises the meaning as follows: “It's evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now because if you hold off you'll be able to really, really enjoy yourself later!”

    Hmmm, straw man perhaps? Well, let’s see; in the paragraph just before the one he quotes, I wrote that:

    “...any human action involving the consumption of scarce resources entails the selection of immediate satisfaction at the expense of anticipated future satisfaction. The difference between the chronic alcoholic and the man who enjoys alcohol only occasionally or in moderation is one of degree. ... The mere pursuit of vices such as alcohol, recreational drugs or gambling, though certainly present-oriented and generally unproductive, is not necessarily degenerative or destructive to a person’s future. It is only sustained indulgence in short-range behaviour without regard for the long-term consequences (or the exaltation of such behaviour) that is genuinely destructive and therefore decadent.”

    So it is in that context that the paragraph quoted by Mr Callahan was written. It is excoriating instances of self-destructive behaviour, not enjoyment per se. I do not think it is capable of sustaining the straw man characterisation Mr Callahan makes of it. Indeed, I explicitly wrote in the above paragraph that there are instances in which present-oriented behaviour (e.g., drinking, gambling, drugs) are not degenerative or destructive to a person’s future (and therefore are morally okay).

    In his Update III, Mr Callahan gets closer to the mark on my views on moral philosophy, but still mischaracterises them. In moral philosophy, I agree with the views of Ayn Rand (not Hoppe) who regarded rational egoism as the correct moral philosophy. Under this view, moral virtues are those principles that that assist people to attain their own happiness. Because people generally live for quite a while, rational moral virtues must take account of this, and therefore must be capable of sustaining happiness into the future —i.e., they should not be present-oriented to the detriment of future happiness.

    Mr Callahan characterises my view as being directed “to help you have a whole lot of sensual indulgence later on”. Now, I am all for sensual indulgence in the right context, but I don’t think this is the only kind of happiness you can have. I would say that rational egoism (with which I agree) is directed towards happiness (of the sensual or non-sensual kind) over your whole life, including both now and later on. Moral virtues seek to lower time preference to the point that you preserve your future happiness against instances of immediate gratification that are destructive to your longer term happiness (e.g., the virtues of productivity, thrift, honesty, etc.)

    So there you go; what is asserted to be a “juvenile” and “debased” moral philosophy turns out to be a straw man creation of Mr Callahan’s own making.


    Cheers,
    Ben.

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  31. Sorry, Ben, your "clarification" in fact confirms my view of your moral philosophy, rather than dispelling it. The "strawman" I set up is confirmed, not debunked, by your further remarks.

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  32. Wow! Okay, sure, and up is down, day is night, etc.

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  33. Well, Ben, for instance, I never said you were "excoriating instances of self-destructive behaviour, not enjoyment per se." In fact, I knew that was what you were doing. And that is the very degraded view of morality I attribute to you: morality is about enjoyment, but just the maximum long-term enjoyment, not self-destructive short-term enjoyment. So, in fact, you have confirmed the view I attributed to you is not a strawman at all, but exactly the view you do hold.

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  34. "Hans Hermann-Hoppe and his followers try to equate morality with low time preference."
    Maybe his followers do, but can you give any evidence that Hoppe himself thinks that morality is nothing but low time-preference? (Note that "high time-preference tends to encourage vice and crime" does not entail "low time-preference is the essence of morality.")

    Ben writes:
    "Moral virtues are the means for humans to attain luxury, prosperity and happiness."
    Gene takes this to mean that "there really are no virtues, except in that they help you have a whole lot of sensual indulgence later on." This interpretation presupposes that "happiness" is restricted to "sensual indulgence." But the term "happiness" can also refer to something like eudaimonia. Indeed, Ben explicitly confirms that he uses "happiness" in a broader sense:
    "Now, I am all for sensual indulgence in the right context, but I don’t think this is the only kind of happiness you can have."

    (I agree that it is wrong to see virtues only as instrumental means to the end of happiness. They are also constitutive means.)

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  35. The view you attributed to me in your original post is this: “It's evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now because if you hold off you'll be able to really, really enjoy yourself later!”

    Now, quite obviously, I never said this, and my position does not imply it.

    There are plenty of situations in which there is no conflict between immediate enjoyment and later enjoyment, and therefore, plenty of situations in which people should enjoy themselves as much as possible in the moment. So no, it is not “evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now”, a position that you impute to my article.

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  36. The view you attributed to me in your original post is this: “It's evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now because if you hold off you'll be able to really, really enjoy yourself later!”

    Now, quite obviously, I never said this, and my position does not imply it.

    There are plenty of situations in which there is no conflict between immediate enjoyment and later enjoyment, and therefore, plenty of situations in which people should enjoy themselves as much as possible in the moment. So no, it is not “evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now”, a position that you impute to my article.

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  37. OK, Ben, I ought to have written "Sometimes it's evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now because if you hold off you'll be able to really, really enjoy yourself later!” (I thought the "sometimes" was implicit.)

    Basically, I was rejecting your position as moral hedonism, and your response is "You're wrong! I'm even more hedonistic than you imply."

    Fair enough.

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  38. Okay, so let’s suppose you add the “sometimes” in there. Then surely that makes your summary statement (of my moral philosophy) a perfectly correct and sensible statement! Yet you deride this very statement as “juvenile” and “debased”.

    With the added “sometimes” in there, your original post would then say this:

    “Now, obviously, this is a pretty juvenile and debased sort of "moral philosophy," if one even wants to call it that: it's sometimes evil to enjoy yourself as much as possible now because if you hold off you'll be able to really, really enjoy yourself later!”

    But surely this latter statement is perfectly correct. It is sometimes immoral to enjoy yourself as much as possible now, at the expense of later happiness. That is the nature of decadence; it is the entire point of the article I was writing!

    ---------

    It seems to me that your objection is with the moral philosophy of egoism, rather than anything specific to my article on time-preference and decadence. Although you describe my position as moral hedonism, it is not that at all; it is rational egoism, plain and simple. (This should be clear from the fact that I explicitly excoriate decadent hedonistic behaviour in my article, and endorse low time-preference as an embodiment of virtues.)

    If you had characterised your critique as an objection to egoism to start with, then that would be fair enough. There are lots of people who don’t buy into egoism, and while I think you’re wrong to reject it, that is hardly uncommon. But honestly, your argument just seems all over the place to me. First you say “How dare this guy suggest that lower time preference is so great - what a Hoppe-head!” Then, when I point out that you have misstated what I said, you then say “Look at this moral hedonist!”

    I hate to break it to you, but those accusations are basically opposites, and I am neither a “Hoppe-head” nor a “moral hedonist”. I am a guy who wrote an article about time preference, and had the effrontery to quote Hoppe in it.

    ---------

    On a separate point: Yes, I have read Rousseau. I quoted his work correctly in my article (with citations and all) and my characterisation of his views (as expressed in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences) is perfectly defensible, including my assertion that his views are anti-civilisation (notwithstanding your appeal to Wikipedia). If you disagree with this characterisation then that might be fodder for an interesting discussion. But it is hardly a reason to refer to my view as an “old canard”.

    Unlike you, I am not going to accuse you of not having read my article, despite the fact that you make a terrible mess of critiquing it. All these “He obviously didn’t read what he was writing about” accusations that seem to flourish on blogs are incredibly childish and almost never true. They are typical of the mentality of people who believe it is impossible to legitimately disagree over the meaning and logical consequences of philosophical ideas.

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  39. Well, OK again -- I'm not sure what the difference between moral hedonism and rational egoism is -- you seem to want to maximize a lifetime's worth of pleasures, which seems like hedonism to me! -- but I regard egoism as another debased moral philosophy.

    So, fair enough again.

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