Comment author: Geuss 15 September 2017 10:11:44AM *  -3 points [-]

"This does not mean that capitalism is bad because capitalism is not conceptually tied to selfishness. The question of which system of economic ownership we ought to have is entirely separate to the question of which ethos we ought to follow."

This is almost solipsistic - it sounds like you're denying that a complex social world exists out there with powerful and entrenched system of causation. Only for the most remote, cerebral idealist are these two things possibly separate. What's the point of this kind of philosophy?

Comment author: Geuss 15 September 2017 10:04:41AM *  1 point [-]

I don't way to be too harsh, but this is the apotheosis of obtuse Oxford-style analytic philosophy. You can make whatever conceptual distinctions you like, but you should really be starting from the historical and sociological reality of capitalism. The case for why capitalism generates selfish motivations is not obscure.

Capitalism is a set of property relations that emerged in early modern England because its weak feudal aristocracy had no centralised apparatus by which to extract value from peasants, and so turned to renting out land to the unusually large number of tenants in the country - generating (a) competitive market pressures to maximise productivity; (b) landless peasants that were suddenly deprived of the means of subsistence farming. The peasants were forced to sell their labour - the labour they had heretofore been performing for themselves, on their own terms - to the emerging class of agrarian capitalists, who extracted a portion of their product to re-invest in their holdings.

The capitalists have to maximise productivity through technological innovation, wage repression, and so forth, or they are run into the ground and bankrupted by market competition. There is, as such, a set of self-interested motivations which one acquires if one wants to be a successful and lasting capitalist. It is a condition of the role within the structure of the market. The worker has to, on the other hand, sell themselves to those with a monopoly of the means of subsistence or face starvation. To do so they have to acquire the skills, comport and obedience to be attractive to the capitalist class. Again, one has to acquire certain self-interested motivations as a condition of the role within the market. Finally, capitalism requires a sufficiently self-interested culture such that it can sustain compounding capital accumulation through the sale of ever-greater commodities.

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: Halstead 14 September 2017 05:07:34PM 0 points [-]

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: concerned_ 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: John_Maxwell_IV 27 August 2016 02:44:37AM *  1 point [-]

Maybe loss aversion/endowment effect is a bias that's operating here? Donating hard-earned money is more psychologically painful than forgoing additional income?

Comment author: Geuss 04 September 2016 05:37:57AM *  1 point [-]

I think you're reflexively looking for a heuristic explanation for something which is in fact fairly obvious. Most people consider stereotypical earning-to-give careers - management consultancy, IB and so on - as both stultifyingly dull and ethically nebulous on their own terms. The one redeeming fact of the situation is supposed to be that you are giving away an appreciable portion of your earnings. A life of this order requires you to meet a fairly high threshold of asceticism.

The idea that people might avoid earning-to-give because of the psychological toll of loss aversion fails to take into account that a lot of the people who are attracted to EA rate personal income as a low priority (or even something to be avoided).

Comment author: Lila 27 December 2015 07:22:27PM 0 points [-]

"You generally can't determine any facts about morality by studying its psychology, genealogy and history in society, as those refer to how people act and moral philosophy refers to how they ought to act."

Moral anti-realists think that questions about how people ought to act are fundamentally confused. For an anti-realist, the only legitimate questions about morality are empirical. What do societies believe about morality? Why do we believe these things (from a social and evolutionary perspective)? We can't derive normative truth from these questions, but they can still be useful.

"An anti-realist can still have reasons to affirm a consistent view of morality"

Consistent is not the same as principled. Of course I believe in internal consistency. But principled morality is no more rational than unprincipled morality.

"I'm not aware of this being common. The LessWrong link doesn't seem to be relevant to legitimate moral philosophy. Can you give some examples?"

Some EAs argue that killing animals for meat is the moral equivalent of murder. There are other examples outside EA: abortion is murder, taxation is theft. Ask tumblr what currently counts as rape... Just because some of these views aren't taken seriously by moral philosophers doesn't mean they aren't influential and shouldn't be engaged with.

"You can add more and more values to patch the holes and build a really complicated multivariate utility function which might end up producing normal outputs, but at this point I would question why you're optimizing at all, when it looks like what you really want to do is use an intuitionist approach."

Correct, I don't think utility function approaches are any better than avoiding utility functions. However, people have many moral values, and under normal circumstances these may approximate utility functions.

"Yes, although most people, moral realists included, would affirm a fundamental difference between phenomenal consciousness and movements of simple systems."

Consequentialism would require building a definition of consciousness into the utility function. Many definitions of consciousness, such as "complexity" or "integration", would fall apart in extreme cases.

Comment author: Geuss 27 December 2015 09:38:42PM 0 points [-]

Moral anti-realists think that questions about how people ought to act are fundamentally confused. For an anti-realist, the only legitimate questions about morality are empirical. What do societies believe about morality? Why do we believe these things (from a social and evolutionary perspective)? We can't derive normative truth from these questions, but they can still be useful.

That is not true in the slightest. If I reject that social action can be placed within a scheme of values which has absolute standing, I suffer from no inconsistency from non-absolutist forms of valuation. Thucydides, Vico, Machiavelli, Marx, Nietzsche, Williams and Foucault were neither moral realists nor refrained from evaluative judgement. But then evaluative thought is an inescapable part of human life. How do you suppose that one would fail to perform it?

Comment author: Tom_Davidson 26 December 2015 04:41:42AM 0 points [-]

There is no a priori reason to think that the efficacy of charitable giving should have any relation whatsoever to utilitarianism. Yet it occupies a huge part of the movement.

I think the argument is that, a priori, utilitarians think we should give effectively. Further, given the facts as they far (namely that effective donations can do an astronomical amount of good), there are incredibly strong moral reasons for utilitarians to promote effective giving and thus to participate in the EA movement.

I think that [the obsession with utilitarianism] is regretful... because it stifles the kind of diversity which is necessary to create a genuinely ecumenical movement.

I do find discussions like this a little embarrassing but then again they are interesting to the members of the EA community and this is an inward-facing page. Nonetheless I do share your fears about it putting outsiders off.

Comment author: Geuss 27 December 2015 02:29:46PM 0 points [-]

I agree that given the amount of good which the most effective charities can do, there are potentially strong reasons for utilitarians to donate. Yet utilitarians are but a small sub-set of at least one plausible index of the potential scope of effective altruism: any person, organisation or government which currently donates to charity or supports foreign aid programmes. In order to get anywhere near that kind of critical mass the movement has to break away from being a specifically utilitarian one.

Comment author: casebash 27 December 2015 09:40:14AM 0 points [-]

I'll give you one example where it makes a difference. Take for example factory farming - if we care about average utility, then it is clearly bad as the conditions are massively pulling down the average. If we care about total utility, then it is possible that the animals may have a small, but positive utility, and that less animals would exist if not for factory farming, so it's existence might work out as a positive.

Re: other questions. I'll probably rewrite and repost a more refined version of my argument at some point, but that is work for another day.

Comment author: Geuss 27 December 2015 11:55:01AM *  0 points [-]

Perhaps I have not been clear enough. I am not disputing that average and total utilitarianism can lead to radically different practical conclusions. What I am saying is that the assumptions which underlie the two are far closer together than the gap between that common framework and much of the history of moral and political thought. From the point of view of the Spinozian, Wittgensteinian, Foucauldian, Weberian, Rawlsian, Williamsian, Augustinian, Hobbesian, the two are of the same kind and equally alien for being so. You are able to have this discussion exactly because you accept the project of 'utilitarianism'. Most people do not.

Comment author: casebash 24 December 2015 12:41:21PM *  0 points [-]

Average utilitarianism vs total utilitarianism isn't minutiae, there's actually a pretty massive difference in the entire way we think about morality between those two systems.

"Both average and total utilitarianism begin with an axiom that seem obviously true. For total utilitarianism this axiom is: "It is good for a SEP with positive utility to occur if it doesn't affect anything else..." is the part you want. I probably should have formalised this a bit more.

Also, if you follow the link to Less Wrong, I give a seperate and more formal argument in the second section. I removed that argument because I decided that, while convincing, the argument I gave had no philosophical advantages over (a more formulised version) if the argument that I did give on this page.

Comment author: Geuss 26 December 2015 02:41:21AM 0 points [-]

I realise the difference between average and total utilitarianism, but in the context of the the whole history of moral and political thought the gap between the two is infinitesimal as compared to the gap between the utilitarian framework in which the debate operates and alternative systems of thought. There is no a priori reason to think that the efficacy of charitable giving should have any relation whatsoever to utilitarianism. Yet it occupies a huge part of the movement. I think that is regretful not only because I think utilitarianism hopelessly misguided, but because it stifles the kind of diversity which is necessary to create a genuinely ecumenical movement.

I am still struggling to follow any line of reasoning in the second half of what you have written. Why is that quote the part I want? What is it supposed to be doing? Can you summarise what you are doing in one paragraph of clear language?

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