Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Big Bag of Ethical Endorsements

Tabarrok endorses GiveWell's endorsement of the Against Malaria Foundation as a good charity to give money to. This sparked a debate in the comments about whether you should really give money to just one charity or to many and why we give in the first place. One argument (Landsburg's) says that if your contribution is small relative to the size of their total budget and if you are primarily seeking to do the most good with your money, you should only invest in one charity. Your small donation won't run into diminishing marginal returns, so there's no reason to diversify. On  the other hand, if you are concerned about other things, you may want to do something else:
  • if I receive increasing marginal utility to the number of organizations I give to (up to a point), then I'd rather give a small amount to several organizations than a larger amount to only one; [translation: I feel like I'm a better human being because I give to 10 organizations than if I only donated to one]
  • if I am uncertain which problem is the worst, it makes sense to donate to several organizations working on different problems (say, measles, climate change, and gender discrimination); [Note: if this is your difficulty, you might want to check out the Copenhagen Consensus, whose Nobel Laureate panel agreed child hunger was global problem #1)
Boudreaux meanwhile endorses Caplan on the perceived moral difference between nepotism and nationalism:
Despite its mighty evolutionary basis, almost everyone recognizes moral strictures against familial favoritism.  Almost everyone knows that “It would help my son” is not a good reason to commit murder, break someone’s arm, or steal. ...
Nationalism, in contrast, is widely seen as an acceptable excuse for horrific crimes against outgroups.  Do you plan to murder hundreds of thousands of innocent foreign civilians?  Just say, “It will save American [German/Japanese/Russian/whatever] lives” – and other members of your tribe will nod their heads.  Do you want to deprive millions of foreigners of the basic human rights to sell their labor to willing buyers, rent apartments from willing landlords, and buy groceries from willing merchants?  Just say, “It’s necessary to protect American jobs” in a self-righteous tone, then bask in the admiration of your fellow citizens.
Yglesias endorses cash donations, even as a way to teach children about the value of giving well:
Food drives do teach a lot of valuable lessons to kids. Until, that is, you learn that giving $10 will buy twenty times as much food for poor people aswould donating $10 worth of canned goods. Once you actually know the facts, then all it seems like you're doing is teaching kids to be too lazy to scrutinize the world. ... We shouldn't be teaching kids that it's okay to be indifferent between helping one family and helping twenty families. It's a huge difference!
Cook endorses de Tocqueville:
The greatest advantage of religion is to inspire … principles. There is no religion which does not place the object of man’s desires above and beyond the treasure of earth, and which does not naturally raise his soul to regions far above those of the senses.
Because in part that is my tradition as well, I wondered at Wronging Rights  perceiving religion solely as being in conflict with human rights. I pointed out in my comments that this in part stems from a confusion about what is meant by "religion". I wrote in part:

2 - It's easy to dump any "cultural thingy" into the "religion" camp. Most Christians used to believe things that we today would consider barbaric [it is okay to use that term when referring to fellow Westerners, right?]. Changing cultural practice [abolish slavery] did not however change the fundamental parts of the religion [belief in Jesus as Savior and Son of God] despite the fact that many Christian theologians provided arguments in support of slavery at one time. There needs to be more of an understanding that religion and culture are separate but easily confused and conflated. The more you can get to the heart of the religion and show that what you want is NOT in conflict with the core beliefs, the less competition you will generally find and the more ways to overlap.
3 - I have read far more defences that say "You don't have to have God to believe in natural rights" than that point out that the Declaration of Independence specifically says we have human rights that come from God. You'd get a lot more conservative Christians on board approaching it from that perspective. In the back of my mind, I have this worry that if it is the UN or any government deciding what is and isn't a right, the UN can also take it away, specifically because of the Continental Congress' debate whether the King gave us those rights or they came from God. If the King gave them, he can take them and the rebellion was unethical.
4 - I wrote a book chapter on ethics (Food Policy for Developing Countries, Ch 11). From that work, I think that a large part of the question that isn't confusing religion with culture is likely to boil down to differences between deontology vs. HR, or virtue ethics vs. HR, rather than "religion" per se.
5 - So do you mean "religion" as culture, as an ethics system, as an organizational hierarchy, as a convenient excuse people can wield when change is inconvenient, as a core set of beliefs or practices dealing with the nature of God and our relationship to the divine, as a means that people use to identify Us vs Them, as mortar for the social mosaic, or as something else completely
In the last semester (and I'm sure in the next) I spent a good deal of time talking to my students about integrity. This is a good article talking about integrity and its importance. My goal is not to merely change behaviors in my classroom, but to change people, to help them adopt a greater "courage to do right regardless of the consequence, and regardless of the inconvenience." To me, integrity is one of the first virtues because without it, all other virtues will inevitably fall as well: you can only be as honest, as chaste, as diligent, as charitable as your integrity.

Lastly, is encouraging someone to go to med school an ethical endorsement, given the risk of depression and suicidal tendencies?

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