Guns, Germs and Steel:
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Written on August 30, Abandoned Religion Photo courtesy of Brandon Brubaker The spicy lifestyle morality states that one should maximize expected subjective life quality, subject to no additional constraints.
Initially this seems like crazy advice. Almost every well-known moral philosophy has some explicit provision to prevent people from engaging in crime and violence.
Even Objectivism, which is based on rational self-interest, universally discourages the initiation of force. Should a proper moral philosophy ban the initiation of force?
First of all we need to be clear on the distinction between a moral philosophy and a legal system. A legal system needs to be designed so as to operate based on rules that can be deterministically enforced based on publicly available information.
This is why sometimes people have to go to jail for manslaughter even though they had no intention of killing anyone.
These practical considerations have the effect that legal systems do not entirely overlap with philosophical systems.
Now pretend that you are about to starve. Would you steal food from the grocery store? I would, it is basically self defense, even though nobody is initiating force on you you could say that nature is. I think it would be crazy to commit suicide for the sake of a principle that probably has no real justification.
So already we have found a case where the initiation of force is justified. There are other examples which are a bit more surprising. Now this would pretty much never happen to a normal rational person because the incentives are heavily in favor of earning your money honestly.
But suppose this man has a genetic mutation which makes him enjoy nothing but theft. It is conceivable that such a mutation could sway his values to the point where becoming a bank robber is the best way for him to maximize his expected subjective life quality, even after taking into consideration all the numerous disadvantages such as prison, retaliation, and guilt.
The question is, should we strive to indoctrinate this man with a philosophy that explicitly bans him from becoming a bank robber? If we did, we would be telling him to not maximize his expected subjective life quality, which means, by definition, that he would be making his life worse than it has to be, according to his analysis.
How are you going to convince someone to do that? What could convince him to sacrifice his life quality?
It would take something more important to him than life quality. If he was religious, then perhaps the promise of a better afterlife would fit the bill.
Otherwise, perhaps a principle? Principles are not intrinsically valuable, their value derives from the fact that they help you improve your life quality.
A principle that prevents you from improving your life quality clearly has no justification. So in either case, the only way we could philosophically convince this man to not be a bank robber is to try to infect him with dogmatic beliefs, i.
Now we get to an interesting question.PhD Studies in Political Economics See Also Political Economy Insights and faculty research on the interplay between economics, law, and politics, including business-government relations and more.
Quarterly Journal of Economics (): Dekel, E., and F. Gul. "Rationality and Knowledge in Game Theory." Chapter 6 in Advances in Economics and Econometrics: Theory and Applications.
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Tram is a PhD student in Economics, and has two years of experience as a Teaching Assistant for Introductory Economics at Stanford.