Mar 29, 2021Liked by Aaron Bergman

I feel like you're not really following your premises to your conclusions here. What I mean by that is, you admit x - "massive inefficiency, very few, if at all, useful skills, etc" but then don't want to admit 80% is for signaling (and maybe 20% in human capital growth, but that's more for science - we are all capable of reading books and writing on our own - less so operating a laboratory (the days of Lavoisiers have passed))

Also, reason that I forgot to mention - part of it is because this the best party experience students can *convince their parents to pay for* - that may fall under signaling a bit, as it's signaling to the parents whatever the parent wants out of it.

Lastly, as regards ethics, I personally believe the reason why it is bad is two fold - firstly, you'll feel guilty about it, and secondly, it'll invite retribution. To be honest, because, in my view, the goodness or badness of an act is dependent upon whether you want it. You don't want to be killed, so you consider killing to be bad - unless it is against someone or some group whom you want to be killed, in which case it is good. You killing another is bad simply because other individuals will punish you, and no further. I'd also argue that objectivity is categorically impossible with two exceptions - this rule, and I think therefore I am (and I think free will is disprovable in and of itself, but that's a whole different rabbit hole) If all human perception is non provable, then literally everything we perceive must be subjective.

Anyway, good blog!!

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Thanks for the comment! I don't think I so much disagree that ~80% of the value of college is signalling, but just that I've inappropriately rounded the other 20% down to 0% in the past. I mostly disagree that ethics is about satisfying preferences; our preferences are shaped by evolution to maximize reproductive fitness, so I don't know why they should be so privileged. As an extreme example, we can imagine someone who really, truly wants to be tortured, but who will suffer terribly while that is happening. I don't think it would be ethical to satisfy this person's preferences.

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Aug 11, 2021Liked by Aaron Bergman

I enjoyed the post, but as a former philosophy major focusing on ethics, I'd like to chime in on your "intro to ethics" class in particular. I had a similar class as you, and came out with similar conclusions. Our reading for "deontology" was Kant's "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals", and nothing else. (Interested to hear what your curriculum was.) At the end of it, I was left at a loss for how "deontology" is supposed to answer the questions we want an ethics to answer, or really how a theory of it could be consistent.

It was only after later classes - one focusing on "deontology" in particular - that I realized how unfair the intro class had been. Kant's title has the word "Metaphysics" in it for a reason; it isn't trying to sketch out an ethical theory, it's trying to sketch a *metaethical* theory - not saying "what deontological principles and constraints are there", but "how can deontological constraints exist in the world and where would they come from."

Imagine if I presented you two methods of working with fractions. One is the familiar way using Arabic numerals. The other defines ZFC set theory, defines integers by induction, defines fractions as ordered pairs of integers satisfying certain properties... You might say, "I don't see why anyone would use method 2", and you'd be right; that concept of fractions isn't meant to work as a practical theory, it's metatheory allowing certain kinds of proofs to be done about them and rational numbers in general. The analogy, of course, is that my intro to ethics class presented me with the axiomatic, metaethical version of "deontology", rather than a more practical version; and of course this came off as more confusing and less appealing than comparatively simple (if you don't delve into it) theories of consequentialism.

A better, fairer class would have had us reading Rawls, Ross, Judith Thomson, and/or Nozick. Rights-based theories in particular are often not reducible to consequentialism, but make specific prescriptions which are intuitively plausible. Rawls in particular takes himself to be applying and expanding Kantian ideas to generate a specific theory (constructivism). You might still end up liking consequentialism more, but at the very least you'd have something specific to measure it against, and be able to understand why some people like "deontology" even if an ethics based on Kant alone ends up feeling weird and implausible.

Also, while I understand the use of drawing lines in the sand, I dislike the "consequentialism or deontology" dichotomy - it's very misleading. If anything, "deontology" is a category invented to be a catch-all foil to consequentialism; it's... "everything else." But there's lots of variety and disagreement among the people I named above; grouping them honestly doesn't make much sense.

I hope you read this - I know this is very belated, I just discovered this blog! If you're inclined to reply, I'm interested to hear if you had a better class than me and focused on more than just Kant for "deontology".

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Thanks for the detailed comment and I grant that I've basically been neglecting Kant's broader intent. That said, I still think Kants metaethics of deontology are incorrect! However, I'm not well-read enough to give a good explanation of why, so I shouldn't act so sure.

Totally agree about the false dichotomy thing. I've written a bit about this in my "dumb dichotomies in ethics" posts, which aren't exactly my most popular posts haha.

Unfortunately, I never really took another ethics class and don't plan to. I'm so convinced by utilitarianism at this point that I'm most interested in figuring out which sub-version is correct/best. In particular, the question of whether suffering and pleasure are essentially symmetrical. This has direct implications for things like my career plans and charitable giving.

The best classes I took have been related to philosophy of mind, as I described here. Whatever the best "explanation" of consciousness is, it is almost certainly radically weird and counterintuitive. And glad you found my blog!

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Liking a lot of this post so far, but I feel the urge to chime in re footnote 3.

You say, "I have a strong intuition that suffering is intrinsically—even tautologically—bad. Therefore, how could the world with this suffering person not be objectively worse than the alternative? If so, it would strongly seem that pushing the button is an objectively “bad” thing to do."

Do you mean objectively worse/bad in the sense that under the premise you're given by intuition, you or anyone could objectively determine what is worse/bad? Or that your intuition is giving you noetic insight into a Truth of the universe or at least a truth of humanity, that human suffering is bad in a way that means something other than that you and many others feel and believe that it's bad?

I think we can still have much of morality/ethics if we eschew the pretense of objectivity universality and just proceed from the following basis: we all have beliefs, intuitions, and feelings about moral issues that were molded by biological and cultural evolution, and they are very salient to most of us, at least some of the time. On many things we overlap to significant degrees, on many things we differ. Almost all of us are bothered by suffering, but not all, and we vary quite lot in how much we care and how exactly- in what conditions, to what ends, etc. Some of us are bothered just as much by other things.

The project of living together, of morality, is like politics: (and, I would argue, like the process of living 'with' the different parts of one's own self) there are all these differing empirical beliefs and value preferences / beliefs, and we all have to work out amongst ourselves, through discourse and experimentation and conflict and manipulation, how to deal with them.

Now, you could acknowledge these beliefs are not objective in the empirical sense, but still hold that the intuitions are still connecting with an external truth- like a religious person's belief on the basis of the feelings and intuitions they have about god and spirit, or any person's basic belief in our own reality. As far as I can tell, this is near where argument ends. But not quite there.

One can still tell stories about how human suffering might be bad in an external sense, and make the case for them as being more or less plausible than other stories about how that's so, or about how it's not. All such explanations seem to end up bordering on the fringe of science and the spiritual, or dive entirely into those areas- not that that's a bad thing. I'm open to some such stories. In fact, I'd rather have the debate at that level, rather than vaguely arguing over whether something is real or objective in an abstract manner.

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Thanks for the detailed comment. I'd say a Truth about the universe, as crazy as that might seem. In the same way that a bachelor is "objectively" unmarried, 'badness' seems built in to the very meaning of the word "suffering."

I reject the idea that this belief is "spiritual" in any normal sense of the word. It's not like there's a metaphysical piece of paper out there somewhere with the words "suffering is bad" written in dragon's blood. Rather, suffering is objectively bad in the same way that Romeo and Juliet is objectively longer than this very comment - it is built in to the meaning of the word "longer."

You could reject that "badness" is a coherent quality in the way that "length" or "protein content" is, but then I think this implies a rejection of the existence of suffering. If that's what you think, fair enough. Maybe illusionism is true and suffering, like all qualia, doesn't exist.

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