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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Pierre Corneille
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    says:

    Rules of deontology tend to be of a type that adjust themselves not through correction — my hypothesis was mistaken — but through re-deployment: my rule remains correct; my error was to think that it applied in this situation, in this manner, when really a consideration also stemming from the same coherent ruleset overrides here, owing to facts I hadn’t previously appreciated. It’s not, in other words, that I come to doubt an idea like “respect the autonomy of others.” It’s more like I will often learn how better to respect the autonomy of others, given considerations about them that I hadn’t appreciated before.

    I really like this answer. It’s the kind of thing I wish I could say as concisely as you said it.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    I think it’s interesting that so much of ethics requires confronting economics. That seems to be where the hard choices lie (for the most part).Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      Mises wanted to call economics praxaeology, which is a much better name. “Economics” actually derives from Greek meaning something like “household management”. “Praxaeology” means “science of action”, which is much more revealing.Report

  3. Avatar Fnord
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    says:

    “The trade in luxury goods employs many, many people; should the rich put them out of work? Would that be better?”
    Presumably, if you spent money on baby clothes for poor mothers or vaccines for African children instead, you’d employ more or less the same number of people in the clothes-making or healthcare industries.Report

  4. Avatar BobbyC
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    says:

    Jason – it was interesting to read your responses. You clearly get the joke that our minds are often spinning moral justifications for our actions – you cite to the psychological results here which confirm to me my dismissive view of both deontological and consequentialist approaches to moral philosophy. But you are unwilling to embrace the idea that our moralizing is at base a narrative integrated with our complex behavior.

    I outlined my critical views and my positive views on moral philosophy in my response to Roger in the OP: My view is that such theories take the natural phenomenon of human action and attempt to restate it as a sort of deductive process, which it just is not. I view human action and our moral sense as integral phenomena; morality is not a map from the space of possible situations into the options “right” and “wrong”. Instead morality is a complex web of emotions which exist both in response to past action and in anticipation of possible action, and which condition our behavior.

    Most people will be uncomfortable with the idea that morality is at base an emotion, an intuitive and not a rational-logical-deductive process. Given the role that morality plays in our interpersonal dealings and self-evaluations, it just bothers us to demote it to emotion-status. But that’s where it fits and the evidence will keep coming in.

    I found two parts of your response surprising – first, you got agitated when virtue ethics got near the public square. You wrote “the reign of virtue is Terror” and I thought I must be reading Bernard-Henri Levy! Perhaps you are expressing an allergy for the nanny-state being morally justified on consequentialist grounds, ie that it is necessary to impose on individuals in order to cultivate virtue. Personally, my moral philosophy recognizes no entity called the State … I just don’t ascribe any independent status to it, and moral responsibility lies with the individuals, which is all there ever is.

    Second, you responded to my tradeoff between premium scotch and buying baby clothes by defending the choice on economic grounds. That is surprising to me. Sure I can employ people making premium scotch for me, but as a moral question the fact that fulfilling my marginal desires uses up lots of capital and labor is PRECISELY the problem. The pattern of economic activity in our system reflects how the combination of production, property rights, and rules come together to meet our individual wants and desires. I understand that capitalism meets those wants in a particularly effective way, but that does not remove the moral aspect of our consumption. You also steered clear of my question about eating mammals. The point of the whole criticism is to justify my view that morality is a story we tell ourselves, albeit one that we take quite seriously and is useful to condition our behavior and make society work. It is not a set of rules well-applied or an evaluation of outcomes or even any function from our actions into labels of right/wrong. It’s just a thing we do.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to BobbyC
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      says:

      Most people will be uncomfortable with the idea that morality is at base an emotion, an intuitive and not a rational-logical-deductive process. Given the role that morality plays in our interpersonal dealings and self-evaluations, it just bothers us to demote it to emotion-status. But that’s where it fits and the evidence will keep coming in.

      Speaking only for myself, I’m not particularly uncomfortable with the claim that morality is at base an emotion or shares many of the attributes we ascribe to “emotions.” I don’t even see it as a “demotion.” I do think, however, that because morality is intuitive (or whatever…..I suppose there are other names you can assign to its source), it needs to be checked and grounded by reason and logic.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BobbyC
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      says:

      But you are unwilling to embrace the idea that our moralizing is at base a narrative integrated with our complex behavior.

      That’s right. All it takes for some version of virtue ethics to be correct is for that moralizing to be able to migrate to the level of the habitual. I think that’s still quite plausible.

      I found two parts of your response surprising – first, you got agitated when virtue ethics got near the public square. You wrote “the reign of virtue is Terror” and I thought I must be reading Bernard-Henri Levy!

      He and I may be reacting to a common stimulus, the French Revolution. I agree that the state can’t rightfully do anything that its agents could not rightfully do, either acting of their own designs or at the behest of someone else. I don’t want to be misunderstood on this point. But I think it’s undeniable that when governments try to make people virtuous, the results aren’t usually too good.

      As to the tradeoff between luxury and charity, I didn’t mean simply to defend luxury. I meant to suggest that it’s a more complicated question than usually assumed on both sides of the tradeoff.

      And as to eating mammals, I do. I have said in the past that I believe animals are not rights-holders, and I still agree with that now. I’ll see if I can dig up some of the things I wrote about the question a few years ago and ask myself whether they hold up.Report

      • Avatar BobbyC in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        I agree with you that our practice of moralizing absolutely influences our conduct. In this way, it is a USEFUL social and cultural practice. I’m very American in this way and I moralize extensively! But as a philosophical matter, I think it’s just something I do, and I reject traditional accounts of what morality is (eg some set of rules or function on outcomes). Maybe the naturalistic account that I believe is what virtue ethics says morality is. I’m not well-versed enough to say either way.

        For clarity, I’m equally suspicious as you are when govt programs talk about virtue (or anything leaning that way) – it’s generally a sign something awful is going to happen to some people at the behest of some other people holding political advantage.

        As for mammals, I eat ’em too – but they have just as much a claim to “rights” as I do. I really see no rational approach to life that treats mammals as rights-less and humans as rights-having. So, whether I enjoy admitting it or not, I eat mammals because the culture celebrates it, it’s natural to do, and I’ve grown accustomed to it. By the way, those are probably the same reasons that I have spent more money on premium scotch than buying baby clothes for cash-strapped single-moms who could really use some help.

        On these topics, I favor the David Hume quote “custom, not reason, is the great guide of human life.”Report

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