Landsburg's Outrageous Post

Yes, it was outrageous. I objected to it in the comments as soon as I saw it. (Something like, "Steve, position 3 is actually a reductio on your positions 1 and 2.")

Landsburg has neatly demonstrated the repulsiveness of morality as utility calculations. But notice how many of the commenters here, while correctly repulsed by Landsburg's scenario, cannot formulate a coherent reason why it is repulsive: they, too, lack any foundation for morality other than preferences and utility calculations, and so they formulate nonsense objections: "How would Landsburg feel if he were gang-raped by bikers while passed out?"

Huh? How would he "feel" about this if he never knew it happened?! (Which, after all, is one of the conditions of his scenario 3: ""[W]ould you be willing to legalize the rape of the unconscious in cases where the perpetrators take precautions to ensure the victim never learns about it?") Well, if he never knew it happened, he would feel no way about it at all.

You have to reject Landsburg's premises to coherently say why his scenario is repulsive. Failing to do so, the typical secular, left-liberal commenter (with an fairly sound intuitive moral sense) is going to wind up saying, "Eww, yucky libertarian ought to be fired," which was about the level of commentary at DeLong's blog.

And let us use this opportunity to note in passing, once more, the nature of the ugly, snarling beast who writes "Grasping Reality": DeLong makes a point of claiming, in his title, that Landsburg's university has a problem. DeLong wants Landsburg fired. For framing a thought experiment. While, meanwhile, he is silent about the vast number of Marxists on university faculties who actually advocate implementing a system that, whenever it is tried, gets some multiple of a million human beings slaughtered. But hey, it is those nasty libertarians who are the real problem!

16 comments:

  1. Interesting thoughts. I may have to write more on it, but as a starter: Do you think maybe the problem lies with the fact that what Gene Callahan considers "coherent" is tied up in foundationalism in the first place?

    If you think that, you think that. Just know there are a lot of people out there who find foundationalism incoherent and thus morality based on foundationalism a well-intended but failed exercise.

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    1. Let me probe a little with this:

      1. Is there a non-foundationalist morality you consider coherent?

      2. Just in a vague sort of way, what are your standards for coherence?

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    2. "Do you think maybe the problem lies with the fact that what Gene Callahan considers "coherent" is tied up in foundationalism in the first place?"

      Would you like to defend the commenters at DeLong's blog, or do you recognize their comments are largely incoherent, and find yourself with no alternative than distracting attention from them by saying "Ah! Foundationalism!"

      "Just know there are a lot of people out there who find foundationalism incoherent..."

      Jeez, Daniel, I forgot to check a public opinion poll before I thought about this matter. Now that I know lots of people are against this "foundationalism" thing, I will certainly reconsider!

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    3. I haven't read their comments but knowing you and knowing how the thread goes sometimes I am entirely willing to trust your judgement of most of them :)

      But perhaps not all of them... which is why I'm curious.

      re: "Jeez, Daniel, I forgot to check a public opinion poll before I thought about this matter."

      No worries Gene. I wouldn't advise doing that anyway.

      But it is something to keep in mind when anticipating the course of discussions on things like this.

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    4. "But it is something to keep in mind when anticipating the course of discussions on things like this."

      But... do you think I don't *know* my views are not very popular, and that I'm bucking trends here?!

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    5. Well I always value your thoughts and I was worried it might go to your head and lead you to assume everyone will :)

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    6. Gene, how would you feel if we let a biker gang define epistemology?

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    7. "But it is something to keep in mind when anticipating the course of discussions on things like this."

      One can't "discuss" astronomy with someone who thinks stars don't really exist. Nor can one discuss morality with someone who thinks that it has no objective reality. So this doesn't really strike as something I need to "keep in mind" at all, no.

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    8. I would feel raped, Bob.

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    9. That reminds me of two books: Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, and Hell's Angels. I cannot help but think that your comment had some relation. Sorry to sidetrack a bit, it was just something that came to mind.

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  2. Well he didn't just frame a thought experiment (although he did that too) - he also asserted he could come up with a reason for differentiating between photons penetrating someone and a violent assault.

    I can certainly understand why someone might think that such a person ought not to be around students...

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  3. The utility principle can be dismissed as arbitrary as readily as any other first principle of ethics. Utilitarianism is rooted in moral intuition, every bit as much as its competitors.

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  4. Daniel: do you imagine that Landsburg's/Delong's/Your Typical NeoclassicalEconomist's Name Here Knee-Jerk Utilitarianism is NOT foundationalist?

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  5. Gene, I apologize, but being new here I'm not sure as to whether or not you are sarcastic in some of your responses. I'm learning more about Idealism, but I do not yet have an answer to the question 'are Idealists epistemologically Foundationalists'. It seems as though Oakshott is defined mostly as a skeptic. This troubles me.

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    1. I don't know what foundationalism means. But characterizing Oakeshott is a skeptic is incorrect.

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