Poll: What are your initial reactions?
Poll Options
View poll results: What are your initial reactions?
Woah, that seems about right.
2 7%
It seems right, but I'm not certain of it.
4 13%
I'm not sure.
5 17%
Seems wrong, but not entirely sure why.
4 13%
Seems wrong and I have a good idea of why it's wrong.
12 40%
Other
3 10%
Voters: 30.
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#1
There has been a philosopher (Derek Parfit) in recent years who has come up with a new, ethical theory which has made quite a splash in recent years.

His theory pretty much this:

'Everyone ought to follow the [the principles that make things go best], because these are the only principles that everyone could [rationally and impartially] [want to be] [rules that everyone should accept and/or follow in their lives].'

Now there are some pretty complicated reasons why this has made an impact which I won't mention (at least yet) but I wanted to engage people's initial reactions to this.

Give reasons!
Last edited by Craigo at Jun 9, 2013,
#2
I don't see how this thread could possibly go bad.
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#5
Quote by So-Cal
What others see as best may not be in my interests?

The theory in part is about the principles everyone ought to accept if they were asked to rationally choose principles. Here there is a very specific idea of 'rational'. It's about taking an impartial view (in part by thinking: could I rationally will that all people across all history accept and/or follow, or not follow, this principle?).
Last edited by Craigo at Jun 9, 2013,
#8
How does he define the ''things'' that should go best?
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#9
Quote by kalnoky7
Isn't this pretty much Kant's moral categorical imperative?

Nevermind this, I get what you're saying

Do you think this particular theory makes room for historical evolution of ethics? I understand that logic and rationality are not evolutionary but "things which makes things go best" sure can be... Isn't this kind of a catch-22?
#10
Ethics isn't really my thing but I can't imagine that this is really a new idea surely?

I can't imagine how you'd disagree with it either.
#11
Quote by kalnoky7
Isn't this pretty much Kant's moral categorical imperative?

Nope, but is inspired by it. It's actually a fusion of Kantian ethics, moral contractualism, and rule utilitarianism. (Hence why it's made an impact - it's fused deontology and consequentialism and contractualism without contradiction.) Have a look again at the theory.

The final parenthesis? Kant's universal law.
Principles everyone could accept? Moral contractualism.
Principles which make things go best? Rule utilitarianism.

Suddenly becomes more exciting, eh?
#13
Quote by willT08
Ethics isn't really my thing but I can't imagine that this is really a new idea surely?

I can't imagine how you'd disagree with it either.

It is a major idea. There are about three or four major schools of thought in normative ethics - the field of study which deals with what we ought to do - in Western philosophy. This theory combines three of them.

To give you an example of how nuanced normative ethics may be, here's some varieties of utilitarianism (which can cross over):

1) Moral utilitarianism - we ought to maximise happiness and minimise pain for the most amount of people.
2) Positive utilitarianism - we ought to maximise happiness, and minimise suffering as a secondary objective, for the highest number of people.
3) Negative utilitarianism - we ought to minimise suffering, and maximise happiness as a secondary objective, for the highest number of people.
4) Act utilitarianism - we ought to apply moral utilitarianism to the actions we make.
5) Rule utilitarianism - we ought to apply utilitarianism to the rules we live by.
#14
Quote by Craigo
The theory in part is about the principles everyone ought to accept if they were asked to rationally choose principles. Here there is a very specific idea of 'rational'. It's about taking an impartial view (in part by thinking: could I rationally will that all people across all history accept and/or follow, or not follow, this principle?).

Sure if we look at it from an outside perspective it makes sense that people should do what is in their best interest. But from our perspective it makes sense that the ethics that everyone abides by be formed from a mutual agreement of all living people.

I hope I'm not being too thick here, because this is all way above my intellectual comfort zone.
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#17
The idea is that everyone should accept moral principles based on whether or not they are rational, and if they are rational then they should accept them regardless of any underlying personal bias?

This is just complete tautology. Of course people should accept rational ethical viewpoints, that's the plain meaning of the word rational. The issue comes from two related areas, though, when it comes to translating this onto a real society. Firstly, humans aren't solely rational beings. And secondly, the fact that something is rational does not mean that it will 'make things go best', and likewise, that which 'makes things go best' is not necessarily rational.

Not to mention the tenuous nature of what is considered rational.
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#18
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why?




#19
Craigo ive missed your threads. That being said, thats I all have to contribute
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#20
I disagree because "best" is different for different people and if someone supports an outcome that doesn't benefit them as much as another outcome does it automatically mean that they are behaving unethically? Who do you want "things to go best" for?

Humans aren't rational and I don't know if that means they are unethical but if you are trying to make assumptions about human behavior I don't think you can assume they are rational.

I picked the 4th option in the poll because I don't know if these are valid points. If they are not could someone explain to me why? Or elaborate if they are valid.
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#21
Clearly I need to read more about ethics because this is wooshing over my head at fantastic speed.
#22
I'm sure his actual theory is more fleshed out, but from the little snippet in the OP it doesn't outline anything meaningful. We should adhere to principles that make everything go best. Well no shit.

There was a time when owning black people made things go best for those who had any sort of power and those being enslaved probably had a different vision of what was best but no means to realize it.

Then we can argue that humans are not wholly rational and/or that we do not have enough insight into what principles will make things go best in a given scenario with any number of complex and interacting variables. Then we can argue whether someone's actions are ethical if he thinks he is acting in a manner which will make things go best but the outcome is not as he initially intended and whether or not his initial intentions or the objective product of his actions determine what is ethical. Then someone will bring up Hitler and how he thought he was doing the world a service.
Last edited by JackWhiteIsButts at Jun 9, 2013,
#23
No, because, as Dumbledore said, what is easy is not always what is right.

I would think this could have severe implications for political minorities, for a number of reasons. But I would have to read more to understand this dude.

This lover of knowledge you reference, I take it he's divorced away from some of the other big names—n.b. Zizeck. (Wonder what he would say about this...)

Quote by Craigo
Nope, but is inspired by it. It's actually a fusion of Kantian ethics, moral contractualism, and rule utilitarianism. (Hence why it's made an impact - it's fused deontology and consequentialism and contractualism without contradiction.) Have a look again at the theory.

The final parenthesis? Kant's universal law.
Principles everyone could accept? Moral contractualism.
Principles which make things go best? Rule utilitarianism.

Suddenly becomes more exciting, eh?


Yeah, definitely sensed some utilitarianism in this.
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Last edited by Weeping_Demon7 at Jun 9, 2013,
#24
Quote by kalnoky7
Isn't this pretty much Kant's moral categorical imperative?

Yeah I was just going to say this just sounds like this combined with Scanlon's contractualism.
In any case this doesn't really sound like anything new or interesting to me. This first part "'Everyone ought to follow the [the principles that make things go best]" is only an extension of the second part "because these are the only principles that everyone could [rationally and impartially] [want to be] [rules that everyone should accept and/or follow in their lives].' "

It's just "what would everyone rationally and impartially want everyone to do?" taken one very small and dull step further to "whatever would make things go best".
#25
Quote by Todd Hart
Firstly, humans aren't solely rational beings.


Quote by guitarxo
Humans aren't rational and I don't know if that means they are unethical but if you are trying to make assumptions about human behavior I don't think you can assume they are rational.


I don't see anything in the original post that assumes that human beings act solely based on reason.
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#26
Quote by Nietsche
I don't see anything in the original post that assumes that human beings act solely based on reason.


It doesn't imply that, but the point is that assuming that irrational creatures will experience the best life by following pure rationality isn't very convincing.

For example, the psychological dividends paid by being completely wrong about how attractive you are, how smart you are, how likable you are, how much your spouse loves you, etc, are huge, but none of these assumption is based on rationality.
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#27
Quote by Nietsche
I don't see anything in the original post that assumes that human beings act solely based on reason.

'Everyone ought to follow the [the principles that make things go best], because these are the only principles that everyone could [rationally and impartially] [want to be] [rules that everyone should accept and/or follow in their lives].'

It assumes that a moral system can and should be based on everyone rationally and impartially wanting all to accept rules that all would follow.
#28
My first thought was rule utilitarianism. John Stewart Mill has a great book on utilitarianism that's only 60 or so pages and I think everyone should read it!
#29
Quote by JackWhiteIsButts
I'm sure his actual theory is more fleshed out

No, that is, in effect, the theory. I just presented it without the arguments laid out for it.
but from the little snippet in the OP it doesn't outline anything meaningful. We should adhere to principles that make everything go best. Well no shit.

That's not his theory. If it was his theory, I would have stated: 'We ought to follow the principles that make everything go best' instead of what I actually wrote out.
There was a time when owning black people made things go best for those who had any sort of power and those being enslaved probably had a different vision of what was best but no means to realize it.

This is a really poor argument. Parfit could clearly turn around and say: 'White supremacists don't follow the principles which make things go best.' The principles which people think would make things go best is not the principles which make things go best.
Then we can argue that humans are not wholly rational and/or that we do not have enough insight into what principles will make things go best in a given scenario with any number of complex and interacting variables.

And Parfit could respond: 'Yes, we do not know all of these principles; we have yet to work them all out'. Problem avoided.
Then we can argue whether someone's actions are ethical if he thinks he is acting in a manner which will make things go best

Parfit doesn't say: 'Act in a manner which will make things go best'. He says: 'Act according to the principles which will make things go best.'

And to state again, Parfit can say: 'Yes, we do not know all of these principles; we have yet to work them all out'.
#30
Quote by Todd Hart
It doesn't imply that, but the point is that assuming that irrational creatures will experience the best life by following pure rationality isn't very convincing.


Humans aren't completely irrational creatures though, otherwise you wouldn't even be troubled by the fact that a statement doesn't convince you. We can act rationally if we choose to. We can act irrationally if we choose to. That's the great thing about not being bugs or robots.

Quote by MadClownDisease
It assumes that a moral system can and should be based on everyone rationally and impartially wanting all to accept rules that all would follow.


That doesn't mean that we do act rationally all the time, it means that we should in order to be ethical. You seem uniquely incapable of separating normative statements from statements of fact.
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#31
Quote by Nietsche
Humans aren't completely irrational creatures though, otherwise you wouldn't even be troubled by the fact that a statement doesn't convince you. We can act rationally if we choose to. We can act irrationally if we choose to. That's the great thing about not being bugs or robots.


I agree, but a lot of our enjoyment of life comes from irrational assumptions and behaviour. Of course we can change these by thinking about them rationally, but being scrupulously rational doesn't particularly correlate with living a better life. Utilitarianism was an attempt at matching rationality with ethics and it was (and is) a complete flop, because it cannot take into account the negative effects on a person and society that necessarily lead from a utilitarian mindset.

Philosophies like this always over-ingratiate humans in some odd throwback to religious solipsism.
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Last edited by Todd Hart at Jun 9, 2013,
#32
Quote by Craigo
No, that is, in effect, the theory. I just presented it without the arguments laid out for it.

That's not his theory. If it was his theory, I would have stated: 'We ought to follow the principles that make everything go best' instead of what I actually wrote out.
True.

This is a really poor argument. Parfit could clearly turn around and say: 'White supremacists don't follow the principles which make things go best.' The principles which people think would make things go best is not the principles which make things go best.
If the principles that people think would make things go best are not the principles that do make things go best how can we ever discover ethical principles? In theory it is unassailable but there's no real world implications because we cannot experience every potential outcome to a given ethical scenario and impartially identify which one makes things go best.
#33
Could you elaborate on what he means by 'go best'?

Actually, I think I've remembered who he is, nvm.
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Last edited by Oddsbodkins at Jun 9, 2013,
#34
Btw, whilst I am defending Parfit, I do not believe this theory.
Quote by guitarxo
I disagree because "best" is different for different people

The ideal aim is to get as close as possible to the ideal world. (So, in this sense, it's not id'to make things best' is for people to act with virtue (be good people) and so all people have their deserved happiness.
Humans aren't rational

It doesn't matter if humans are rational. Can they reason? If so, problem avoided.
#35
I think Ayn Rand pretty much had it right.
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#37
Quote by JackWhiteIsButts
If the principles that people think would make things go best are not the principles that do make things go best how can we ever discover ethical principles? In theory it is unassailable but there's no real world implications because we cannot experience every potential outcome to a given ethical scenario and impartially identify which one makes things go best.

Well you might have a good point there. You might have to handle the following counter argument in order to sustain it though:
The point is not to create the ideal world, but to get as close to the ideal world as possible.

And potentially as well:
We do not need to know what the principles definitely are. Even if we did not know with 100% certainty what all the principles are (because none of us our perfect anyway) the theory would still be true.
Last edited by Craigo at Jun 9, 2013,
#38
Quote by Craigo
Well you might have a good point there. You might have to handle the following counter argument in order to sustain it though:

There is no collective and impartially agreed upon "ideal world" that we can strive towards though.

Edit: I swear I had this same exact conversation with vornik like 4 years ago in the R&P thread.
#39
Quote by Craigo
Well you might have a good point there. You might have to handle the following counter argument in order to sustain it though:


Seems like a 'get out of jail free' clause that ensures that so long as you end up on the peak of a foothill on the moral landscape you can claim that the philosophy was correct.
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#40
Quote by JackWhiteIsButts
There is no collective and impartially agreed upon "ideal world" that we can strive towards though.

I don't think that argument would work. I think its distant cousin though
There is no set of principles which will 'make things go best'

does work.
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