Kennedy’s Categorical Imperative

In the recent discussion, John T. Kennedy raises the spectre of the Prudent Predator - the individual who finds it profitable to violate rights without detection, or who finds it worthwhile to conspicuously violate rights at little cost to himself. In defending his view that the Prudent Predator can only be defeated by objective morality, JTK makes two fallacies. I point them out here because many people who espouse objective morality based on ethical egoism commonly make them.

First, he makes the assertion that rights violations are psychologically costly to the Prudent Predator.

Kamala explains why this is not his best course of action, even if he thinks it is. He may in fact decide he prefers to force or defraud Kamala but that will be a mistake and he will not in fact profit from that choice, even if he thinks he did. And he is equipped to learn all of this.

There is simply no proof that the predator suffers from predation. I hope Stalin did suffer psychologically for his crimes; it would help ease my own disgust at his actions. Yet, it is more likely that he died comfortably after living a well-to-do life at the expense of millions of slaves. I suspect most tyrants similarly enjoyed their rule. It is apparent to me that most everyday criminals also enjoy the fruits of their crimes, whether they be illegal criminals like murderers and thieves or legal criminals like politicians. We may hope that rights violators do suffer as a result of their actions, but hope and wishful thinking is not a substitute for evidence. Making unprovable assertions about the supposed psychological costs of rights violators is not a solution to the Prudent Predator.

Second, JTK also justifies objective morality on the grounds that without it, each individual has an incentive to become a predator, resulting in an unstable situation.

In the absence of objective morality the inidvidul should prefer others to believe in objective morality, while not acting in accordance with it himself. This is an unstable situation because the other indiviudals are always capable of discovering the truth. It's a race to the bottom.

In other words, JTK puts forth the assertion that all others should act the way he acts. The leap of logic taken from the statement, "It is in my self-interest if everyone respects rights rather than if everyone does not respect rights" to the statement "I ought to respect rights" requires Kant's categorical imperative.

Again, this is an error of argumentation. While it may be logical for a deontological Kantian to make this sort of statement, it is irrational for an ethical egoist to make it. Whether or not I am a Prudent Predator does not effect whether or not JTK is a Prudent Predator. So JTK's fear that I am a Prudent Predator is the same whether is he is a Prudent Predator or not. He can only control his own actions.

I know JTK knows this as he has made this precise argument many times on his own blog with respect to the irrationality of voting. An individual can only control his own vote in the booth, and an individual can only determine whether he alone will act as a Prudent Predator. Collective restraint from predation based on egoist objective morality is as mystical as collective voting. The categorical imperative is no solution to the Prudent Predator.


Update: As JTK points out in the comments, I misinterpreted his statement that lack of an objective morality will result in bad consequences as a argument for the existence of objective morality rather than merely a descriptive statement on his part. He was not invoking the categorical imperative. My apologies to JTK for the misunderstanding.

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I think that it's a bit

I think that it's a bit hasty to assert that there can be no proof that evil deeds can prove psychologically or spiritually costly. Is there a way to establish scientific evidence of these costs? No, but I think that's because science and logic are incapable of looking in the necessary direction. Read Crime & Punishment for a very compelling account of how Prudent Predation can turn out.

Also, I wouldn't call Stalin's life a well-to-do one. I think that there's a lot of evidence showing that his life was every bit the psychological and spiritual train wreck that Hitler's was.

I think that it’s a bit

I think that it’s a bit hasty to assert that there can be no proof that evil deeds can prove psychologically or spiritually costly.

Jonathan Wilde did not claim that there can be no proof; rather, he claimed that "There is simply no proof"; i.e. Kennedy has not provided us with such a proof (despite our repeated requests for one); we are not aware of any other such proof given by someone else; and we are skeptical that any such proof could be give (because it would seem to require some system of objective values). The burden of proof is on the person making a positive claim, which in this cases is Kennedy.

I've made it clear several

I've made it clear several times that I'm not asserting that the predator must suffer, only that he's worse off.

I also have not argued anything remotely like this: "“It is in my self-interest if everyone respects rights rather than if everyone does not respect rights” to the statement “I ought to respect rights” requires Kant’s categorical imperative."

The fact that I'd be better off is of course not sufficient reason for you to respect my rights.

I've argued that you ought to respect rights because it is directly in your own self interest, that you will be worse off if you don't.

In The Edge, Bob preferred the rich man's plane to improved judgement. This was a mistake, the latter was really better for him than the former. Micha is saying (and now you are too) that mistakes are impossible since sense is no better for you than nonsense, life no better for you than death.

Bob died because he refused to learn; he refused anchor his life in reality. It's clear to me that this refusal was not in his real self interest, but you and Micha are in the position of having to say it was, that his choices reveal his preferences and that's all there is to his self interest.

If people can't make errors in arranging their values, then it doesn't make much sense for you to argue that people ought behave differently. So why do you? What do you intend to appeal to in people? Why should they prefer what you prescribe they do to what they've already chosen to do if your prescription can't be any better for them than what they're already doing?

I posted an answer (twice)

I posted an answer (twice) but your comment system apparently ate it.

Briefly, I never argued that the predator must *suffer*, I explicitly stated this was not my argument. I argued that he'd be worse off.

Does Kamala ever suggest that Siddhartha will suffer if he forces her? No, that's not her point at all. How can you quote me, read the source, and imagine that was my point? Her point is that he'll be worse off because higher values than the one he has stolen will be unavailable to him. It will require some introspection on your part to verify that this is true.

I've argued that the reason you should respect my rights is that you will be worse off if you don't. It has nothing to do with the kind of categorical imperative you describe here.

I've also explicitly stated that the fact that others believing in objective morality would be good for one is not a valid argument for accepting objective morality or refraining from being a predator.

I did point out why the expectation of Wilkinson and Ghertner - that they could reasonably expect generally "good behavior" in the absence of recognition of objective morality - was unfounded.

Jonathan, I don't understand

Jonathan, I don't understand why you and Micha don't purge yoursleves of baseless prejudices and embrace the Prudent Predator's strategy as optimal. Why do you resist?

Briefly, I never argued that

Briefly, I never argued that the predator must suffer, I explicitly stated this was not my argument. I argued that he’d be worse off.

This is a semantic quibble, and not central to the argument. You are saying that he would be worse off compared to other potential opportunities; i.e. his actions are not optimal. One could just as easily say that he has suffered compared to what he could have gained through that potential optimal opportunity.

er point is that he’ll be worse off because higher values than the one he has stolen will be unavailable to him. It will require some introspection on your part to verify that this is true.

The problem with introspection is that it only tells us that we have a hierarchy of values, but not whether other people share our same value rankings. This is why I think your argument is fundamentally flawed; it depends upon a notion of objective value; i.e. values shared equally by all people at all times with the same intensity.

Jonathan, I don’t understand why you and Micha don’t purge yoursleves of baseless prejudices and embrace the Prudent Predator’s strategy as optimal. Why do you resist?

Kennedy, I don't understand why you don't purge yourself of baseless prejudices favoring ice cream and embrace eating feces. Why do you resists?

We have certain values that are difficult to change. Self-interest in financial and sexual matters are just two of many values. Just because prudent predation might increase financial or sexual returns doesn't mean that financial and sexual returns are all that matters. In a sense, all of our values are baseless prejudices, including our preferences for money and sex. One cannot say that the value one places on money or sex is more rational than the value one places on the welfare and happiness of others, the value one places on civil, stable society, or any other value for that matter.

Micha, it's hardly a

Micha, it's hardly a smeantic quibble when Johnathan is going on about how predators like Stalin don't appear to suffer. He's bringing in irrelevant evidence.

Micha, it’s hardly a

Micha, it’s hardly a smeantic quibble when Johnathan is going on about how predators like Stalin don’t appear to suffer. He’s bringing in irrelevant evidence.

That part of your argument rests on the fallacious idea that the values you call 'highest' are not available to predators like Stalin, or that they even desire those values. If "suffer" is the wrong word, fine. You are still making an assessment of another individual's lack of reaching some ideal place you think he should go, and thus, he is 'worse off' in your mind.

There is little difference between your argument and a believer's statement that people should accept God-being X because the highest level of heaven is not available to those who do not, and that he is worse off as a result.

"Yet, it is more likely that

"Yet, it is more likely that he died comfortably after living a well-to-do life at the expense of millions of slaves."

You think so? Listen: I have several very good biographies of Stalin around here, and I know someone who could use one before he started writing ignorant nonsense.

Jonathan, Aren't you

Jonathan, Aren't you implying that people ought to prefer certain types of arguments to other types? If there's no reason they ought to, then what do you think you're doing?

Who came up with this dedication for the blog?

"A blog dedicated to the defense of liberal philosophy, countenance of individualist ethics, celebration of civil society, and study of human action."

You and Micha at least have abandoned the defense of liberal philosophy and are rejecting all ethics.

Subjectivism or

Subjectivism or objectivism?
Lots of posts on moral subjectivsm and related topics at Catallarchy. I want to point to this paper by Niclas Berggren, Does Belief in Ethical Subjectivism Pose a Challenge to Classical Liberalism?

You think so? Listen: I have

You think so? Listen: I have several very good biographies of Stalin around here, and I know someone who could use one before he started writing ignorant nonsense.

You think so? Listen: Were Stalin's last years plagued by aphasia, incontinence, and amnesia so profound that he recognized nobody, including those he had known for decades? Did he die in excruciating pain so severe that he begged others to kill him? Were his days filled with a feeling of slow drowning with every breath? I see people everyday who suffer far worse than Stalin ever did.

You and Micha at least have

You and Micha at least have abandoned the defense of liberal philosophy and are rejecting all ethics.

Why do you say that?

A defense of liberal

A defense of liberal philosophy would require the recognition that some things are actually better for you than others. Ethics requires moral content.

Meaning what? I dont see how

Meaning what? I dont see how a supposed subjective ought even qualifies as a hypothetical imperative. A hypothesis is a theory of reality, a subjective moral view is not.

Meaning what? I dont see how

Meaning what? I dont see how a supposed subjective ought even qualifies as a hypothetical imperative. A hypothesis is a theory of reality, a subjective moral view is not.

You see Micha and me defending property rights and opposing government actions all the time on this blog. Why do you think we do this?

Without objective morality

Without objective morality there are no property rights, so I don't know what you think you're defending. But it's not property rights.

Without objective morality

Without objective morality there are no property rights, so I don’t know what you think you’re defending. But it’s not property rights.

So Mises, who did not believe in objective morality, was not one of the greatest defenders of property rights during the last century? Is David Friedman not a defender of property rights? Jan Narveson? Randy Barnett?

I think they do believe in

I think they do believe in objective morality, Friedman did last I looked. (I'm less familiar with Narveson)

The fact would still remain that there are no rights without objective reality, rights ential oughts which you claim to be rejecting.

"I cannot go behind that and

"I cannot go behind that and explain "ought" as derived from "is"--or "is" from "ought." " - DF, from the link you provided

It sounds to me like he does not believe that one can ever prove nor falsify the existence of an objective morality. 99% of the time, he does not rely on arguments about morality to promote property rights.

The fact would still remain that there are no rights without objective reality, rights ential oughts which you claim to be rejecting.

None of those guys I mentioned above, myself, nor Micha deny objective reality. I am not rejecting oughts at all. I say nearly everyday on this blog that there ought to be property rights.

"It sounds to me like he

"It sounds to me like he does not believe that one can ever prove nor falsify the existence of an objective morality"

He doesn't say he believes that; he does say he believes some things really are wrong, which is to say they are objectively wrong.

"I am not rejecting oughts at all. I say nearly everyday on this blog that there ought to be property rights."

Why ought I recognize your supposed property rights?

We've come full circle. You asked essentially the same question and promised to reveal your own answer. I have not seen your answer.

So you don't consider

So you don't consider hypothetical imperatives a part of ethics?

A defense of liberal

A defense of liberal philosophy would require the recognition that some things are actually better for you than others. Ethics requires moral content.

Do you not consider hypothetical imperatives a part of ethics?

There cannot be moral

There cannot be moral judgment if there is nothing moral to be judged.