Larks comments on Which five books would you recommend to an 18 year old? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Larks 07 September 2017 02:08:17AM 0 points [-]

Thinking of books that had a big impact on me, and that I think I would endorse:

  • Godel Escher Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
  • The Sequences, Eliezer Yudkowsky
  • Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
  • The Extended Phenotype, Richard Dawkins
  • Diaspora, Greg Egan

I also think the Culture novels, and the 80,000 Hours book, could be good.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2017 04:39:51PM 2 points [-]

Isn't Ayn Rand the antithesis of EA?

Comment author: Geuss 13 September 2017 10:00:22AM 0 points [-]

Libertarian capitalism dovetails with EA insofar as it respects side-constraints on property rights - one has a right to that which one receives through 'free' contract - and conceives of person-to-person help as voluntaristic. Of course, Rand didn't think much of helping others either.

That's also why, correctly in my view, socialists don't think much of EA.

Comment author: Halstead 14 September 2017 05:07:34PM 1 point [-]

One thing I find odd about this socialist criticism is that it is stated as though it is the most obvious thing in the world that we ought to abolish the institution of private property. Even if you think this is right, it isn't obvious. It is, after all, rejected by almost the entire community of experts on economics.

The differences between Rand and EAs are clearly greater than the similarities. Firstly, e.g. most EAs are in favour of strong resdistributive taxation, which would be rejected by right libertarians. Secondly, as you note, EAs are in favour of a strong ethic of impartial benevolence, which is obviously incompatible with one of the key tenets of the Randian worldview.

Comment author: Geuss 14 September 2017 07:10:26PM *  0 points [-]

I meant socialist in broad terms. One can be a socialist and not think much of a project for change based on the 'voluntaristic' exchange of money without demolishing capitalist social relations. It pushes back to your philosophy of society, and whether you think capitalism operates as a systemic whole to generate those things which you think need to be changed.

I'm not sure that you're not building a strawman, either. The defining problem of anti-capitalist thought since the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution to spread to Germany has been why it isn't obvious. And it's worth saying that no one wants to abolish private property altogether, just the historically specific property relations that emerged in the early modern period and made it such that peasants could not earn a living except by selling themselves to those who owned the means of production. Even more ambitious forms of social anarchism allow for usufruct.

Comment author: Halstead 15 September 2017 08:17:28AM 0 points [-]

Sorry I should've been clearer. I meant the socialist argument as used in criticisms of EAs by Leiter and Srinivasan etc. They talk as though EAs are missing something painfully obvious by not advocating for the destruction of extensive private property ownership. This shows a lack of epistemic awareness.

Comment author: Geuss 15 September 2017 09:21:49AM *  0 points [-]

Leiter is an ideologue and a bully, so that wouldn't surprise me. I think Srinivasan is a careful thinker, though. In fact she believes that because all of our beliefs are caused by antecedent factors outside of our control, that we cannot fully and sincerely commit to any belief. She has a view that is not unlike Rorty's ironism. So she's definitely 'epistemically aware'.

And the same is true, in my opinion, in the opposite direction: the EA community is extremely homogeneous. Its members generally share the same utilitarian, rationalist, technocratic, neoclassical worldview.

Comment author: Larks 06 October 2017 12:37:03AM *  -1 points [-]

I don't think so. My guess is you think so because she discussed selfishness as a virtue and altruism as a vice, but she is using these words in a somewhat different sense than we do. My impression is she would not have been opposed to someone who realised that the best way to promote their values was to help others. See for example the quote below.

Where I think she is well aligned is in the sense that it is possible to understand the world through reason, and for individuals to act to realise their goals. This sort of heroic attitude is clearly part of EA.

Do you consider wealthy businessmen like the Fords and the Rockefellers immoral because they use their wealth to support charity? No. That is their privilege, if they want to. My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

source: a surprisingly good interview, given that it is in Playboy!