Thursday, January 20, 2011

Big Bag of Ethical Thinking

C. S. Lewis on miracles via The .Plan
If [miracles] were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? If there ever were men who did not know the laws of nature at all, they would have no idea of a miracle and feel no particular interest in one if it were performed before them. ...

When a thing professes from the very outset to be a unique invasion of Nature by something from outside, increasing knowledge of Nature can never make it either more or less credible than it was at the beginning. In this sense it is mere confusion of thought to suppose that advancing science has made it harder for us to accept miracles.
Gallup polls recently showed that about 40% of Americans believe that God created the Earth without evolution, about 40% believe that God created life through evolution, and a bit less than 20% that it's only evolution playing a role. Here is Yglesias on Young Earth Creationism:
There’s absolutely nothing in the scientific record that can disprove the possibility that the world is 4,000 years old. The scientific method makes certain claims about the state of the universe 4,000 years ago. Now assume that God created the universe—fossils and all—to look exactly like that 4,000 years ago. That’s obviously a religious hypothesis rather than a scientific one, but it’s consistent with the evidence and doesn’t [ask] anyone to believe in a scientists’ conspiracy or anything. Of course this would ... be an odd thing for a just and moral God to do.

Sumner enjoys being counter-intuitive. "People behave as if they care about utility, not happiness." He then goes on to quote some heartrending stories of Mexicans working in US agriculture. When asked if they would still come again knowing what they now know, they say no ... and then yes. Yet research suggests Mexico is the second happiest country in the world. John Rawls apparently does not agree (Milanovic on John Rawls via Thought du Jour):
Rawls is a liberal thinker but he comes out against aid. He says aid can only be given up to the point that a society is ‘decent’ and consultative (everyone has some stake or a vote), because after that point there is no reason to give aid. Rawls also comes out strongly against migration. He views each people as being a custodian of the land that it occupies and having the right to exclude others who would like to move there. The only justified migration is the one which has to do with political or religious persecution. But economically motivated migration is not acceptable.
Gordon with a thought experiment on absolute vs. relative inequality via Newmark:

“Suppose,” I said, “there were an economic magic bullet — that if Congress would pass the necessary legislation and the president were to sign it, the effect would be to double everyone’s real take-home income. If you were living on $50,000 this year, you’d have $100,000 to spend next year.”. . . .
“But there’s a catch,” I answered. “The effect of the magic bullet would not double the take-home income of those earning over $1 million — it would quintuple it. In other words, the rich would make out far, far better than the average Joe. But there’s no way out, it’s all or nothing. Would you vote for the magic bullet if you were a member of Congress?”

This relates to another question of how many people are hungry or at threat of going hungry in the US. Telephone surveys that ask people if at any point in the last x months they went hungry or worried about going hungry suggest about 49 million Americans are food insecure. Boudreaux points to other poll results, however, which say that 9/10 Americans think they are middle-class. Even if all the remaining think they are poor and no one thinks of themselves as rich, that still means there have to be millions of people who think they are simultaneously middle-class and food insecure. Boudreaux's conclusion is that therefore no one is hungry. I instead point to the difficulties of the methodologies (how many homeless people can be contacted via telephone?), psychology (Both poor and rich like to think of themselves as middle class), and the difficulty of defining hunger and middle-class.

Finally, the art of lying well:
If you want to be an expert deceiver, master the art of self-deception. People will believe you when they see that you yourself are deeply convinced. It sounds difficult to do, but in fact it's easy -- we are already experts at lying to ourselves. We believe just what we want to believe.

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