Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Marine killings at Haditha

Yet again some soldiers in Iraq have committed another atrocity

US military officials said last week that murder charges could eventually be brought against Marines for the killings at Haditha....

He said there was "no question" that the US military tried to cover up the killings.

Apparently the US can't trust its own military not to undermine its objectives.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

No rescue for David Sharp

David Sharp from the UK has died on Everest. I the climberswalked past him while he was still alive and did not help including disabled climber from NZ Mark Inglis.

New Zealand’s most trusted individual Sir Edmund Hilary:
"It was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say 'good morning' and pass on by," he said.
"I think it was the responsibility of every human being. Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.
He said the British climbing expedition he was part of when he became the first man in the world to step on to the summit of Mt Everest in 1953, would have stopped to help.
"Every single member of my expedition who got into any sort of trouble . . . the whole effort of the expedition would have been turned to getting him to safety and that is the way it should be."

Dingle cuts to the chase
Mountaineer Graham Dingle firmly believed that climbers should at least try and help a fellow mountaineer in trouble, providing the circumstances were right.
Dingle told Newstalk ZB mountaineers needed to know what kind of condition the climber was in.
If he was close to death and close to the summit there was probably very little that could be done.
He agreed with other climbers that the tradition of always helping a fellow mountaineer in trouble was being overtaken by ambition and the large sums of money tied up in any climb up Everest.

I think that as soon as someone else’s life is at risk "reaching the summit" becomes a very low moral priority (rather like not helping a person who is shot because you have to get to work).

Inglis says David was so incredibly frostbitten . He was completely rigid ... just a small flicker of the eyes ... which has been indicated by a high-altitude doctor that it's more reactive. He was effectively dead.
and as far as this is a fair representation (ie him being effecively dead), maybe inglis did the right thing (in as far as he didn't try to drag the body down to the botom of the mountain) - but In general I would say the moral burden of proof falls upon the climbers. It is too easy just to say "oh he was probably going to die anyway", after all if you don’t help him he is dead AND there is something to be said for providing some comfort to a dying man anyway.

Logix and others raises some great questions

[while] it is quite unfair to pin all the blame on the least capable of the 40 climbers on Everest that day. Yet many will reflect that others took risks to rescue him off Aorangi when he had been trapped for 2 weeks many years ago. And Hillary is is morally repugnant to abandon your companions in peril while there is the least chance to help them. it begs the question, if humanity has to be set aside in order to conqueor Everest, what then is the glory in it?

Clearly survival is possible and climbers saw David in various states , from standing and walking, to trying to work on his oxygen system, to at one point down on the ground. David was clearly descending the mountain apparently from the Summit...

By the time Inglis saw him probably it was too late but life seems cheep up the top of everest.

Also I find it a bit revolting when some people say "only a mountaineer can judge this". I think that is a "cop out" or an attempt to deflect critique when you have no other defense. You might as well run around saying only a drunk driver can judge drunk driving. I dont suggest one would want to punish Mark for what he did - but (depending on the facts of the situation, I accept there may well have been no point) to point out that he might have done better is what ethics is all about.

Mia defends infantacide

Maia argues

But if a woman feels like she has no other choice but to wrap her baby up in a rubbish bag, I'm still on her side and will not judge her. I think the mother is more important than a new-born baby.

On David Farrar's site most people are disgusted but some suggest they could understand it in primitive societies, or others hint they can understand it in some desperate women as if that serves as an excuse.

Something being understandable doesn't mean it is justified - I can "understand" someone not wanting to take care of an infant and putting it in a rubbish bin (or for that matter raping a woman) - but I can't tolerate it.

Also Infanticide is not just bad in the harm it does to the baby (although that is bad enough), it also (like animal abuse) devalues the person who does it and declares them to be likely to be a risk in the future.

Elitist University advertising

Auckland University has some new ads on the radio


Some graduate phones in to a business provider
Graduate: do you have an adaptor for a degree that is not applicable in the real world?
Provider: is your degree from Auckland University?
Graduate: no
Provider: well you will have difficulty plugging into the real world

This is comical because Auckland uni (as compared to somewhere like AUT) is exactly the place that produces degrees that don’t plug into the real world!!!
What they do have right is that the prestige of Auckland Uni acts as an "adaptor" to a small degree but then again so do the programs at many other institutions that help people go from university straight into jobs.

So any new students - somewhere like AUT is perfectly adequate for fitting in with the real world - just don’t try to get your degree from a tiny no name travel and tourism institute.



Concequentialism : there are two types
Under Act Utilitarianism, the rightness of actions is evaluated on a case by case basis, and things such as rules and laws are only present if they have practical usefulness. Under Rule Utilitarianism , the utility of rules rather than actions is evaluated, and all actions should conform to the rules with the highest utility.

The decision between these two seems to be a pragmatic one - fundamentally affected by assumptions regarding how reliable the process is. (So in a sense we are talking about setting the world up temporarily in an ideal state and seeing if it remains so)

Questions for the rule utilitarians
"What are your rules?
Why are they so good?
What if breaking the rule results in an unambiguous improvement to the world?

Questions for the act utilitarian
how fallible is the decision making process?
Who is the decision maker?
And what information do they use to make that decision?

Poor usage of rule utilitarianism results in people just defending rules because they are the status quo in their thinking and they don’t dare to try to recalculate benefits.
Poor usage of act utilitarianism results in people ignoring certain types of information such as indications that they don’t know all the facts, or aren’t the best people to make the decision, and the associated costs of being wrong.

there are two main types - preference utilitarianism and hedonistic utilitarianism .
These are effected by when one sums the utility (at the end of their life (a life worth living) or all across their life (classic hedonism) also if one includes higher level goals in themselves for example "humanity's" desire to go into space.

Do you maximize total utility (which creates the ballooning population and diminishing average resource allocation problem) or maximize average utility (which results in trying to minimize population, presumably resulting in a small set of extremely happy people.)

Neither if which are quiet as scary as they sound. The first option reduces individual utility to a minimal level (in relation to resources) - but that level is not nearly as low as you might think - after all the least fortunate of these individuals must still have lives worth living.

In the average population problem you actually have many thousands of years of people who HAVE lived on average utility levels - this means that you actually do need quite a few happy people to average it out so no need to fear we will wipe out humanity.

Direct Utilitarians believe people should try to maximize utility
Indirect utilitarian believe people should follow laws and rules of thumb which are effective in practice.*

This seems to involve two concepts the first is the time of the decision making
Indirect utilitarianism is associated with making choices long before the event and direct utilitarianism is associated with making decisions in the heat of the moment. Obviously the best answer is to leave your brain switched on at both times evaluating if you have additional information or if you are too caught up to make an optimal decision. Both sides presumably claim this middle ground just justifying it slightly differently.

The other concept is the nature of complex relationships. Extreme indirect utilitarianism assumes relationships tend to be so complex, and current rules of thumb so efficient, that trying to achieve something will generally prevent you from achieving it.
Direct utilitarianism tends to assume that relationships are simple enough that you can understand them and trying to achieve something generally helps you to achieve that thing and if it doesn’t then you will learn from it.

* Actually this is a false dichotomy. The problem is that maximizing utility DOES involve following rules of thumb - in fact it is inconceivable that human would operate without rules of thumb. Meanwhile an indirect utilitarian will engage in calculation and use these to determine some actions (although maybe not always according to utilitarianism) if he is anything more than a very simple robot.

Before you rush out and read utilitarian books keep in mind that the theory we have developed so far is fundamentally “do what is right” (in a utilitarian sense). You can’t write much of a book on that so writers tend to make a few additional assumptions on what needs to be done to achieve this. So a philosopher will take a set of things to be beyond utilitarian analysis and taking these for granted build a theory on top. For example someone like Hare might assume “universalizability” (I.e. that a moral statement should apply to any combination of agents).

Under pure utilitarianism this is an assertation “universalizability” results in greater overall utility” which you could dispute if you wanted. Similarly for all the other main utilitarians.

Peter Singer

Right reason discusses Singer in eating our friends With my principles in mind ***** I will have a look at Singer's arguments, nitpicker and bullet biter that I am.

Peter Singer is considered the leading contemporary advocate of extreme preference utilitarianism (sonthing that will come up in my analysis). He is also an animal rights supporter and is active in debating the vegetarianism. One of the main points that come up in vegetarian debates is the "animals eat animals" conundrum.

A person, having accepted the basic assumptions of Peter Singer regarding animal rights (at least for the sake of argument) will ask "if animals eat animals in nature then we should be able to too"

Peter Singer insists this is hypocrisy

it is odd that humans, who normally think of the behavior of animals as 'beastly' should, when it suits them, use an argument that implies we ought to look to animals for moral guidance.

And furthermore rejects the argument to the superiority of nature

that there is a natural law according to which the stronger prey upon the weaker, a kind of Darwinian 'survival of the fittest' in which by eating animals we are merely playing our part.
... An error of reasoning in the assumption that because this process is natural it is right. It is, no doubt, 'natural' for women to produce an infant every year or two from puberty to menopause, but this does not mean that it is wrong to interfere with this process. We need to know the natural laws which affect us in order to estimate the consequences of what we do; but we do not have to assume that the natural way of doing something is incapable of improvement.

This is a good refutation (given the assumptions we are working with) but it is easy to forget the counter is not a defence but a counter attack (ie reductio ad absurdum), this knife cuts both ways. In his defence Singer says

a start, most animals that kill for food would not be able to survive if they did not, whereas we have no need to eat animal flesh.

Now if he is a true utilitarian this is not a sufficient argument. This argument is one people learn when talking to humans - you don’t propose a solution you know they can’t accept - but in this case the animals are not decision making agents. So if you think of a dog lets say as a murdering inducing animal (via dog food or whatever) and that eating dog meet is equivalent to killing a horse (or whatever) then meat eating animals are like some sort of mass murderers or "cannibals" and other animals would have a “right” (in the way rights exist under utilitarianism) to be protected from them.***

Furthermore humans may live longer with some meat in their diet (debatable fact) does he consider that relevant?

He could argue he is being prudent by not making rules here because the cost is potentially starvation BUT
A) The same is applicable to all his arguments - why not be so prudent you never took a position?
B) We are generally talking about ideal worlds here - i.e. in an ideal world no humans would eat meat*, well in the same ideal world no animals would either. How such a world is created is left for another debate and that might revolve around very slow and careful change or radical change with consideration to the facts.***

The decisive point, however, is that nonhuman animals are not capable of considering the alternatives open to them or of reflecting on the ethics of their diet.

This is also not a utilitarian argument - it is a moral fetishist’s argument.
Peter Singer in a sense excuses a cannibal who eats other people as long as he doesn't think about what he is doing. Or in a sense - the non utilitarian as long as they don’t believe animals have rights. Worse yet I dispute his factual assumption (and probably the factual assumption of almost every reader, that animals don’t have "ethics". **

A pure utilitarian stops the cannibal because he wants to prevent the ham to the victim regardless of what he is thinking.

there would still be an error of reasoning in the assumption that because this process is natural it is right. It is, no doubt, 'natural' for women to produce an infant every year or two from puberty to menopause, but this does not mean that it is wrong to interfere with this process. We need to know the natural laws which affect us in order to estimate the consequences of what we do; but we do not have to assume that the natural way of doing something is incapable of improvement.

The bottom line is that utilitarianism where we see animals and humans as more or less equal leads to the conclusion that you should - protect the herbivores from the carnivores (I'm sure you can imagine how that would work). ******

If Singer asks us to bite the bullet and support the animal protection proposal (with consideration to point 4 I will raise below) OR he needs to confront the fact that his fundamental assumptions are rights based (just a very non conservative type).

Now with that addressed what is the solution if we want an excuse not to protect these herbivores?

1) Well one option is the "very steep gradient" hypothesis.
In this one we propose that each higher life form is orders of magnitude more important than the one beneath it. This means that, in general, eating a lower life form can be compensated for (although you would be exceptions) by the benefit to the higher animal. A human might be considerably higher than a cow but a problem arises when a dog kills a cat since it is unclear which is higher, or if a wild cat kills a deer.

2) Another is the you are only responsible for positive actions (i.e. you are responsible for murder but not for watching a man drown when you could, with minimal effort, have saved him)
This, I think, is profoundly anti utilitarian but it could be held.

3) Another is the humans are responsible for humans actions
this seems profoundly speciest (to use singer's term) it is a bit like proposing starving in Africa is "Africa’s problem".

4) sophisticated utilitarianism (probably combined with the steep gradient hypothesis)
In this theory one proposes that although animals may be worthy of consideration but whether they get rights or not is still a debatable issue.
This sounds like self justification and from many people would be – but it is just a statement of principle saying that the question can be debated and that one could win or loose the debate depending on the facts****. The possibility is left open that a world where animals have very many rights is dysfunctional and thus should be avoided.
This is what people end up trying to argue in a round about way without realizing that they are doing it. I.e. “but it just wont work!” What this relies on is a VERY difficult call regarding very long term effects of massive changes to society… and so we throw it back to the politicians and philosophers again…

So what does this prove? Maybe you will say that philosophy is useless? Well maybe you could say that – or you could take one of a couple of consistent positions, but deciding that can be left for another post.

* I'm simplifying here for the sake of argument
** I separated this out because it would disrupt the flow (much as we might wish thy were) My suggestion is that ethics are NOT high evolutionary traits
Now by ethics I means beliefs about what is right and wrong.
Let's say you teach a dog not to steal food from your table by hitting him every time he does it. does the dog think
(1) "if I do this you will hit me"
(2) "I shouldn't do this" [because it is bad/evil]
Which is the more complex thought?
I would say by far (1) is. As soon as it was possible to have connective thought processes the first would have been this sort of unanchored connections involved with the learning of behavior (which doesn’t waste brain space remembering WHY). The addition of "because it is bad/evil" adds nothing of substance to that sentence so they are equivalent.
*** Now we could say that right is reduced by the fact you need to starve a tiger to save a deer – but it’s a few hundred deer and only one tiger…
**** Thinking that (4) allows you to reject the animal protection argument out of hand is self justification
***** I like to explore concepts regardless of where the logic leads me. Evidence should create the conclusion not be formed by it. This is one of the extremely rare times Singer has been critiqued by someone willing to bite even more bullets than he is.
****** If your worried about the loss of carnivorous species or genome note that unless you are using point (4) this is "specisist".


A classic utilitarian thought experiment is as follows
let’s pretend, he said, and that some mad scientist has figured out a way to bring peace, prosperity, and general happiness to the whole world.

There was just one catch: this brave new world required the yearly sacrifice of one innocent person, chosen at random. Supposing this scheme were perfected: would it be moral to close with the offer and subscribe universal happiness at the cost of one innocent life per annum?

Note the addition of the "chosen at random" to older thought experiments. To many people this helps, but as the post on right reason indicates - most people reject it anyway. I wonder if this indicates that people are reading things into this.

Any ideas how else we can get to the very root of the objection to the model?
One of the main issues here is that I know most people are not radical deontologists (or radical utilitarian for that matter) so I expect to find all sorts of interesting reasons why people reject it on an intuitive level reasons that are worthy of being investigated.

Let us do a chose your own adventure here. At the end of each point offer you two choices

1) Now imagine that (as is surely the case) one of the benefits is preventing the murder of at least one person (aside from other benefits). What this does is demonstrates that there is at least one murderer in the first world. Still oppose it? Go to (2) support it? Go to (4)

2) Now imagine that you would not have to actually do the killing - you just accept the deal. Still oppose it? Go to (3) support it? Go to (4)

3) What if the state doesn’t do any killing either - it just provides the information to the general public that the death of
"Person X" will have all sorts of benefits (and where he lives and whatever else is required to ensure the end result) and waits for someone to kill him. Still oppose it? Go to (4) support it? Go to (5)

4) What if "whatever it takes to ensure he gets killed" is "failing to give him medical treatment" or failing to give him access to use the local public goods. Still oppose it? Go to (6) support it? Go to (5)

5) Your a bit of a utilitarian just this is being confused by some aspect of the question.
a) Your intuitions result in you not entirely believing the person proposing the hypothesis OR
b) You have a strong desire to protect yourself from being culpable - for example culpable in the face of a god as a result you favor inaction over action.

6) What if you can guarantee it won’t be you? Still oppose it? Go to (8) support it? Go to (7)

7) You belief in a right to life - it just happens to be your own!

8) What if the person is not random it is a person you can choose (although you can’t have been about to kill them anyway)?
Still oppose it? Go to (9) support it? Go to (10)

9) Maybe you do fundamentally reject utilitarianism and support a right to life!

10) You seem to be concerned about the death of a sub group of most deserving people - potentially people you could protect - a sort of moral elite.

Friday, May 26, 2006

My web of beliefs

-- Work in progress --

I believe in doing what it takes to solve problems like global warming and that ideology has destroyed most other peoples ability to see.
And I strongly oppose bullying

I believe in utilitarianism what I would term true utilitarianism. As a result I like the idea of a universal basic income on efficiency not socialist grounds.

In philosophy I like to resolve paradoxes (my position is that they have a resolution) the surprise paradox is god eternal the boundaries of the mind , free will , consciousness ""> types of people , selfishness and infinite numbers

I like to point out contradictions particularly in socialism Fisk and opposing those who assume their moral superiority .

and the related constraints the rules of debate
rules of life, Pascal's wager

I also predict elections NZ elections US elections, the Australian elections the UK elections, the UK local body elections (even though I didn’t know they were coming up) the Auckland city mayoral race, and a few more besides! Also sports e.g. the tri-nations and war

Rudy Carrera

"GeniusNZ: A Great Philo-Blog"

Cheers Rudy

Rudy has a blog covering religion, music, politics, culture, philosophy.
Many quite short interesting posts on art and politics.

A person I met via heaventree who attracts all the best commentaters!

Nation states

I got myself a nation!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

debating badly

Some people take things so personally
Richard (P et cetera) and Sandefur (Positive Liberty) have gotten themselves into a fight.
Sandifur is defending a pretty extreme position and Richard is critiquing it - pretty straight forward...

Richard kicks it off by saying Sandefur has transparently foolish opinions (compared to Richards beliefs). Sandefur responds by saying Richard is worthy of distain (considering his beliefs in relation to what he thinks are Richard’s principles), Richard them responds with a bitter complaint about excessively vicious attacks and intellectual dishonesty and uses his interpretation a single example to prove "beyond all doubt" that Sandefur is an intellectually dishonest person and tries to get everyone he knows to censure Sandefur, writes some emails and creates a post called "shame on sandefur" and threatens to and then deletes links to his site.

Interesting that Richard - a veritable policeman when it comes to debating civilly, then goes to post a post in defense of not debating civilly.

All I can say is "How's that working for you, mate?"

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Health food

Before buying health food based on advertising I suggest you show at least a little cynicism.
I find it irritating to hear on the radio every day advertisements for all sorts of health foods that I have good reason to believe are not effective at what they are supposed to do. But when they actually have side effects it becomes even more serious.

So I suggest you do a simple Google search. Search for the product and "side effects".
or "[product] may cause"
lets start with Colloidal silver
Note both provide some interesting potential effects.

or selenium

meanwhile something like deer velvet is pretty harmless (besides the potential for allergic reaction) although I wouldn't bother paying much money to eat it....

although a bit more research will show the limited risks you are exposed to including
toxins that get into the velvet when they catch the deer and chop off the horns

(Dalefield RR, Oehme FW. Deer velvet antler: some unanswered questions on toxicology. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1999;41:39–41.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Leading definitions

These annoy me... the conversation goes something like this (substitute in any topic you like)
example -
1)"attacking soccer teams" are better than those that are good defenders.
how can you say that?
- because attacking teams are also good defenders
some are not...
- That’s a third category "stupid teams".
- Therefore attack is better than defense

One of the problems is that it isn’t just average people who use these tools – academics and politicians use them constantly in a sort of battle to define the language in such a way as to "prove" their point...

Strange person that I am

It seems to me when I debate with people there is almost always a significant difference between how I approach it and how they approach it.

1) The first way is used when I am primarily interested in exploring an interesting idea.
I suspend judgment and search for weaknesses in the other side’s argument - I may therefore argue for both sides in a single post much to the confusion of those who are dogmatic. This is extremely uncommon it seems with almost everyone else determining a clear position before they talk and arguing for it particularly in politics but also in philosophy and science.

2) Even when I do have a point for which I am arguing I tend to debate like water a flood washing out to the sea. I argue along multiple different lines at the same time searching for the one that will find resonance within the person with whom I am debating. When I hit the right sort of resistance or find a point of weakness I can focus on that.

Other people seem to debate in a straight line building towards a point often independent of their audience. I think the latter makes for good essays that are worthy of A's and articles which are good for publishing (and I can obviously do that too) but I prefer the former as a better way to ensure that you really engage the other person's argument.

3) The third difference is that I tend to assume a very high level of ability to interpret at first and break it down as time goes on. Ideally I look to met a person who can debate as wide a range of things as me as deeply as I can.

4) I also have a VERY broad range of things I like to talk about and I include evidence from all sorts of fields in my arguments unlike many people particularly philosophers. Most people try to draw debates to their own topics but to me it can float all over the place.

5) I have a great cynicism for my own position and my own interests. This sounds a bit strange but I think it is required to balance self interest.

6) Finally I am almost infinitely patient this allows me to perform the above and under an ideal situation come to a conclusion. I have almost never had a debate where the last post has been the other person making a point - since my attention span exceeds almost anyone's and I will follow their logic down almost any pathway and I don’t take much personally. People from ranting anarchists to Nazis to anti war activists have all left the thread to me after I have presented them with pages of references and arguments.

Friday, May 19, 2006

problem with philosophers

The problem with philosophers
(in response to this

1) The insincere open mind. Often they declare they have an open mind on an issue but in reality don't. There are a number of ways one can achieve this (maybe the other points will reflect this). One is to create a line of argument you know you will reject (potentially for an arbitrary reason and encourage them to debate it as opposed to any other.
2) Focusing on a specific argument that has no real life impact, as if it DOES have a real life impact. For example a debate about semantics or one about some thought experiment that fundamentally cannot exist. This reflects in either a misuse of their well argued conclusion or leaving others confused constantly wondering if there is some secret practical application (as opposed to breaching some social convention by wasting their time).
3) From wider evidence they believe they know something and can’t understand why you would ignore wider evidence in order to have a specific debate.
4) Hypocrisy - they argue a moral position and then don’t live up to it. Since their positions are more idealistic generally they are also more hypocritical.
5) Not treating the other side as an equal in the debate and seeing their debating style as a sign of inferiority
6) failure to integrate other fields of knowledge as suggested above
7) being too deep in one's field to properly engage with someone outside of it. Ie making arguments that have no validity or meaning to the other party and which thus serve no purpose.

mere addition paradox ii

Insiteful stuff on how the mere addition paradox often used against utilitarianism also applies to almost all theories

"The problem, for both utilitarians and deontologists, results from an intransitivity driven by the distinction between actual and potential persons. For both groups, it seems strange to regard non-existent people as having morally relevant interests (for the utilitarians) or inherent moral rights (for the deontologists). Yet once such people do exist, their interests and/or rights suddenly matter. For utilitarians, that means weighing their interests against those of other real people. For deontologists, it means respecting and protecting their rights. That might seem to require no sacrifice of the rights of others – until we recognize that rights protection is costly, and therefore we can’t avoid trade-offs in rights protection. Within a given regime, the trade-off is felt in the allocation of law enforcement resources. Across regimes, the trade-off is felt in the choice of which regime to favor."

Indirect? Utilitarianism

Richard looks at indirect utilitarianism
Usually indirect utilitarianism sounds like rule utilitarianism - richard explains how it is beter to follow rules than to try direct utility calculations repeatedly BUT apparently

"I don't think I.U. is the same as Rule Util...
If it's true that there are situations where, faced with subjective evidence E, we are transparently in a position to reliably employ direct utility calculations, then this will be included in the globally optimal strategy! The best rules will include one to the effect that "If you find yourself in situation E, then ignore the other rules and directly maximize utility!""

Sounds amazingly like act utilitarianism to me. It seems od that utilitarians owuld be so eager to surrender the term “utilitarianism” to an incorrect/intellectually deficient belief of how it might be applied.

Anyway first are my objections to rule/indirect utilitarianism

1) I am very concerned that indirect utilitarianism or rule utilitarianism might be used as a "cop out" (which, actually, I propose is usually the case). For example the person might want to excuse the fact they don’t act in a utilitarian manner so they might find a set of reasonable rules they live by and declare them the indirect rules.
this is reflected in me hearing utilitarians saying "I dont apply utilitarianism in my life - but maybe that is a good thing because I'm a rule/indirect utilitarian". Of particualr interest is their assumption that their unguided behaviour with little consideration for utility is almost ideal!

I think it obscures some of the most important topics there are. And I think these questions are valid from all moral perspectives.

Related to this is that much of the debate on morals is treated by people already as a debate over what general rules people can live by - taking it a level higher potentially leaves even the philosophers to give the details lip service.

It seems like a staw man is being set up regarding act and even rule utilitarianism to seperate them.
First lets be clear that we are jsut talking about a subset of actiosn that this will apply to - fundimentally you can't apply a moral calculation (or a rule) to every action, some things you will just do instinctively or selfishly or from habit, so we must be talking about some sub set of actions that we will control.
1) Calculations and rules must be combined – it is nonsense to imagine you would reinvent yourself every time you had a thought (that just wouldn’t work) or that you would mindlessly obey rules without some sort of analysis – at a bare minimum which of some pre prepared rules were appropriate.
a) you could say that any algorithm is a rule but then you have merged the forms of utilitarianism.
2) If we do divide the algorithm into rules and calculations and admit that people are using a combination of both and are debating how that should be shared then there is a question as to how this works
a) does an individual apply calculations from day to day which then are used to form templates and rules?
b) Do they create rules and at some point declare them fixed in order to work on other rules?
How it should be done?
3) Clearly we can say it is easier to follow a reverse justified set of rules
but it may be (I can think of some reasons why it probably is) harder to get marginally better utility out of following theoretically justified rules as compared to utility calculations.
a) Applying calculations takes effort - but so does applying rules where those rules differ from normal actions. It is debatable which will be easier because some rules might make that easier but then again so might some utility calculation algorithms. (e.g. a rule may well conflict with normal behavior more often than a calculation)

finally, if we accept there isa difference then for a utilitarian the bottom line is - does trying to be an act utilitarian or an indirect utilitarianism improve this system?
and from a strategy point of view - is the debate about marginal improvement or is it about who’s dogmatic position is closer to the happy middle?

mere addition paradox

Agorophilia looks at parfit's mere addition paradox

" One objection to utilitarianism is its difficulty in dealing with questions of population change. For example, is it desirable to add more people to a population if the new additions have lives that are (a) worth living but (b) not quite as good as the lives of those already living? The larger population would have higher total utility but lower average utility. (Set aside concerns about negative externalities from population growth. Holding the happiness of the already-living sharpens the philosophical question.)

Derek Parfit’s “Mere Addition Paradox” (MAP) shows how both total and average utilitarianism can lead to bizarre and (seemingly) unpalatable conclusions."

1) We are to a large extent operating under a misconception of what "a life worth living" is.

To put it simply you could sit there watching the world get better with each new lovely baby entering the world the world getting better each time - eventually you stop because the next baby makes the world marginally worse but by that stage the world is HUGELY better than the world now.
(the paradox implies you can keep adding only positive numbers and end up with a negitive total! obviously nonsense).

Also the paradox doesn’t occur like that in practice because you have to consider the sustainability of the model. (Another thing we intuitively include in our analysis).
For example environmentalists tell us that the world may be overpopulated - if that is the case the utilitarian may well want us to REDUCE our population even from the current level just to ensure that the planet can maintain a reasonable number of people in the status of a life worth living into the future as far as the mind can see.
these and a couple of other factors (like the investment to make a human) prop up the standard of hte lowest peopel in the optimal utilitarian world.

Race to the bottom

On Richard's blog they raise the issue of the race to the bottom - but both sides dont seem to fully understand the concept.

The race to the bottom relates not so much to the situation within a single country ofindividuals undercutting eachother and more to government related effects.

For example - the lack of mobility of labor where in you can't just pop over to Luxembourg to make money and then pop back to china to spend it. This means that in a free market it will tend to be a better strategy to favor capital over labour.
So there is always an incentive to tax just a little less or provide a little more subsidy to capital.

If the world was a single country the government might easily tax capital MORE with the idea that they did not want to provide a disincentive for labour.

Anyway in theory money will accumulate in the hands of the rich based on this and a number of other factors (it being easier to make money with money and economies of scale, and smart people - genetics and so forth). But I guess this might not concern some- which I guess centers around whether the system falls over when all the money comes into the hands of a very small set.

They use the example of a tomato picker

"If the government (and not high tomato demand) forces employers to offer "more," then even tomato picking will cease to be a career option for these people."

The people must be eating something if it isn’t tomatoes it must be something else - they can pick that.
If you raise the demand for fair trade tomatoes you lower the demand for non fair trade tomatoes but you also displace production of some other fruit picking and generally inflate the prices of fruit pickers as a whole except for the non free trade tomato pickers. In theory (in the long run) you could make the unskilled job of tomato picking a relatively high paid job. Maybe some people want to do that - If you converted low demand skills into higher demand skills you could reduce income equality.
One could argue that it is a worthwhile goal to make certain rare skills less highly valued (e.g. being a talk show host) and certain common skills more highly valued (such as growing food or being a nurse).

"being paid even a pittance is better than nothing"

One of the problems here is related to the point above - humans in general do not weight future events "correctly" they will in general forgo education or health care or otherwise morgage their future for present gains.

I also think strategically for a country (or many communities) it is a bad strategy to be very good at picking tomatoes. What happens is that you create systems and convert land and create tax structures and education systems that make you better and better inch by inch at picking tomatoes - eventually you are an awesome tomato picking country but your country by its nature is an inflexible farm.

Sucessful countries like Singapore recognised this and actually made and effort to BREAK from certain industries such as farming in order to be able to pursue manufacturing then It then Services and Biotech etc.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ex carnaval of the capitalists

Mover mike asks whether gold dealers should price according to cost of the gold origionally or the market price of gold.

I think, in as far as it defines your cost structure, you should charge according to the current price of gold. My assumption is that you are planning on operating an ongoing business. The reason for this is that each sale commits you to a purchase in order to keep the "pipeline" filled.

But what is even more important is "market price" - it is silly to have a margin of 100% if the store right next door charges 80% or if your prices have reached the point where there is a sudden drop in the number of people willing to pay them. In other words, if you have time to price in a complex manner, charge as much as you can consistently get away with.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Telecom leak

1) The man in question did not have final SIS security clearance (therefore he shouldn’t have handled these sorts of documents)
2) Apparently he resigned, i.e. he was NOT fired
3) We all want to find out if any trades were made by anyone involved in this scandal or if there was any unusual trading. Just because one man is guilty doesn't doesn’t mean everyone else is innocent.
4) Isn't it odd that messengers on (I heard about about 30k a year but maybea bit more?) take these documents for destruction? Isn't it a bit unwise to place a document worth 2 billion dollars in the hands of a such a person.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My co-blogger

Little Miss Genius

cute eh?

Friday, May 12, 2006

US elections

The odds of Hilary being the next democrat candidate have shortened to ridiculously low levels

there is close to no chance that she wont be the next candidate except if she gets hit by a bus... and even then...

She also has a VERY large mount of money ready to fight the election - potentially the largest war chest ever raising the question - can the republicans beat her?

I think based on my limited knowledge that the republicans can beat Hillary
But only if they put forward a moderate republican - their own "David
Cameron" (who will give the labour party in the UK a hiding it will take
Decades to forget).

They have John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and if they could change their
laws Arnold Schwarzenegger (oh I'll love to see that campaign!). They need to, generally speaking, sort out who it will be reasonably early like the democrats clearly have. Even the two guys mentioned will have a fight on their hands.

Mitt Romney would also stand a chance (a small one).

Candidates that would get the republicans destroyed in the next elections
Include Sam Brownback, George Allen and Bill Frist.

And leaders that would leave you wondering if the democrats have an
opposition party afterwards include Condoleeza Rice and even worse Jeb Bush.

Unfortunately for the republicans I predict they will select George Allen and they will loose badly. they will then become demonized over the next few years and probably loose the following election too by a considerable margin.

OK I am looking far into the future here - but I haven't been wrong in predicting a major election yet.....

Thursday, May 11, 2006


TV3 was telling us tonight about bullying in schools.
I think they make two mistakes. Both of which rely in a fallacy of "good things only have good effects".
1) They argue that teaching kids social skills results in them not being bullies

In my experience the socially inept people were NOT bullies. The bullies were the socially competent people.
There are of course the low intelligent screwed up children who lash out violently and are dysfunctional and that is one type of child who will be a problem but there is a second type that to me is even worse - those who may be abused but if so have channeled this lashing out into being the leader of a group (clearly a sign of social competence). They control the social dynamic and that dynamic is domination.

2) They suggest that sport helps - in my experience sporty children bully non sporty children - not the other way around. I haven’t seen any video game kids go out and beat up the rugby players. So how did they manage to leap to that conclusion?

I wonder if any of them are really seriously trying to address the problem as opposed to just reading out how they wish it worked.

PS obviously I don’t suggest we stop having sports or teaching people social skills - that has other benefits - but I suggest we don’t expect it to solve bullying.
Its not rocket science but one good strategy to deal with bullying is to NOT TO TOLERATE BULLYING.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

NZ without debt

NZ has no net debt!,2106,3657334a11,00.html
come on investers, throw your money at us !