If You Don\'t Eat Your Meat, You Can\'t Have Any Pudding

Lindsay Beyerstein of Majikthise succinctly summarizes Will Wilkinson's primary criticism of Rawls on desert:

  • Common sense has it that people who work harder and contribute more deserve greater rewards.
  • Rawls claims that his theory elucidates our common sense understanding of justice. Rawls denies that his theory is an argument for some new and philosophically controversial position on the nature of justice.

Lindsay then observes that these two postulates seem to conflict:

We ordinarily think that people deserve to be rewarded for hard work and achievement. If Rawls' theory says they aren't, we have to wonder whether Rawls is really being faithful to our ordinary sense of justice.

So does this lead us to the conclusion, as Will claims, that we must either accept desert absolutism or desert nihilism[1]?

No, Lindsay tells us, because both these views are incompatible with ordinary moral psychology.

Let's imagine a meritocratic society with no social safety net. Those who can't compete either starve or subsist on charity. Someone might say, "Too bad. They don't deserve anything because they haven't earned anything." Our consciences rebel at such talk, even if we believe in desert. It seems unjust to simply write off these unfortunates, and their children, and their children's children. It seems we ought to do something to give these people a chance to realize their potential. In order to help these people, we have to redistribute wealth. After all, these unfortunate individuals can't pay for their own schools, hospitals, and water treatment facilities.

Here, I think, Lindsay goes astray. If it is true, as she claims -- and I am willing to grant it's truth for the purposes of this argument -- that common sense dictates against a "let them eat cake" dismissive attitude, then why the need for institutionalized redistribution? If everyone with a healthy conscience shares this concern, what is preventing them from helping the less fortunate voluntarily?

Remember, Rawls is not only concerned with questions of ethics in general; he is also concerned with the proper role and justification for the state. If his only concern was ethics divorced from politics, and his method of discourse was based on our shared moral intuitions along with a requirement to fit these intuitions and the general ethical principles encompassing them together in a consistent manner, then I might grant his conclusion that all people have an ethical responsibility to help the less fortunate[2].

But in order to justify state-enforced redistribution, one needs to show why this is a true public goods problem that cannot be solved through civil institutions alone. Is charity a public good?

It certainly shares some features in common with classic public goods. Giving to charity entails positive externalities which are in some respects both nonexcludable and nonrivalrous in consumption. Suppose I give $100 to a poor person. That is $100 less that you have to give to that same poor person. You no longer feel guilty every time you walk by and see this person begging for money, because you know he is taken care of. Everyone who knows this unfortunate person and shares the same Rawlsian intuition regarding charity also benefits.

This can lead to a free-rider problem. Each person may strategize that if he waits for someone else to give to charity, he can enjoy the benefits without having to pay for any of the costs. If everyone thinks this way, no one will give, and we will all be worse off than we otherwise would have been if we had been forced to give.

But this is not the end of the story. Like most alleged public goods, charity also contains many elements that are private. The feeling you get from helping the less fortunate is greater than the feeling you get from knowing that no one needs your help. You know that you have done something you believe is right, that because of your act, someone is able to live a decent, happy life. Ideology and psychic profit can solve what at first appear to be public good problems by internalizing the externalities.

Second, human societies have developed many social practices which make public goods both excludable and rivalrous. Only Bill and Melinda Gates get the honor of having the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation named after them. Only Ted Turner gets the honor (or is it shame?) of donating $1 billion to the United Nations. Plaques on the wall, names listed in magazines, dinners of honor, university buildings named after large donors: all of these are ways of internalizing the externalities.

Third, public goods can be bundled with private goods. People may be more willing to give to charity through the purchase of a concert ticket, a box of Girl Scout cookies, a fundraising auction, and many other kinds of private goods tied together with public goods.

Fourth, contracts can serve a number of different functions with regard to charity. To solve the free-rider problem, organizations often get conditional commitments on the part of donors: "If $X is raised from other donors, I will agree to commit $Y in addition. If $X cannot be raised, I have no obligation to give anything." These conditional contracts can solve the free-rider problem by assuring everyone that they will not be taken advantage of by conniving misers.

Another way in which contracts can help with charity is social insurance. State redistribution schemes are often justified as "social safety nets." But is there a good reason why this must function must be performed by the state? Auto insurance provides a social safety net for people whose cars are damaged; homeowner's insurance provides a social safety net for people whose homes are damaged; health insurance provides a social safety net for people whose bodies are damaged. The same kinds of insurance systems could be used for job losses, physically or mentally disabled babies (before they are born), retirement, and so on. And those who -- for whatever reason -- object to the profit motive could form non-profit co-ops where members pool their resources together to use in case of emergencies.

These are but a few of the countless ways charity can and is provided absent government coercion.

And let's not forget that government is the largest public good problem of them all. On a similar note, Tyler Cowen writes, in the same article on public goods linked to above:

The imperfections of market solutions to public goods problems must be weighed against the imperfections of government solutions. Governments rely on bureaucracy and have weak incentives to serve consumers. Therefore, they produce inefficiently. Furthermore, politicians may supply public "goods" in a manner to serve their own interests, rather than the interests of the public; examples of wasteful government spending and pork-barrel projects are legion. Government often creates a problem of "forced riders" by compelling persons to support projects they do not desire. Private solutions to public goods problems, when possible, are usually more efficient than governmental solutions.

One last objection, which cuts to the heart of this debate, is whether or not our moral intuition is a reliable tool for ethical analysis. Surely, it is wise to favor a view which fits better with our moral intuition than one that does not, all else being equal. But often, the entire point of moral debate is to give reasons why we should not trust our preconceived notions of what is just and proper.

Remaining faithful to our ordinary sense of justice is a recipe for enforcing the status quo, because the status quo more often than not expresses the ordinary sense of justice shared by a majority of the electorate. People's sense of justice, in turn, is flexible and fluid, determined not only by biological hardwiring, but by social factors: education, upbringing, and all other forms of social construction. A standard of justice too heavily influenced by intuition can get us stuck in the feedback loop of status quo/intuition, with each aspect constantly reinforcing the other.

This is one reason why I find Brad Delong's "vulgur consequentialism" (Will's description ) so appealing:

We want a society in which those with natural abilities are provided with powerful incentives to use them productively. We want a society in which the successful cultivation of abilities is greatly rewarded. We want those capable of discipline and effort to receive as rewards the fruits of that discipline and effort. We want all these things because a society that provides people with a framework of such incentives is a richer, a happier, a more productive and prosperous society--a better society.

Although the standard of value consequentialism uses is still ultimately based upon our intuition, it does not suffer as badly from the status quo feedback loop. Once we realize that, no, society will not fall apart if women are allowed in the workplace, if gays are allowed to marry, and if drug users are allowed to do their thing in peace, we can take minority interests into account and perhaps achieve pareto efficiency in the process. An extremely broad intuitive moral principle like improving societal consequences allows for these possibilities; a narrow intuitive moral principle based primarily on status quo social construction does not.

fn1. Desert nihilism is the view that, since neither entitlements to property nor political power can be justified, notions of desert cannot fit consistently within our reflective equilibrium, and thus, we must remain skeptical of any and all moral claims involving desert, political authority, etc. Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism; at least it's an ethos.

fn2. Even then, though, I have some reservations. As I have argued in the past, the notion that all of us have an ethical responsibility to help the less fortunate is only consistent as a universal principle if we are willing to apply this to all humans - not just those who were lucky enough to be born with the right citizenship. Are welfare-state liberals willing to follow this ethical principle to its logical conclusion? I have my doubts. Not to mention that welfare-statism is pragmatically incompatible with open-borders and universal positive rights on a world scale. And as for fitting this ethical obligation in with Rawlsian intuition - forget it.

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Hey Micha- sounds like your

Hey Micha-
sounds like your opinion has changed a bit about justice since our emails. I like what I see...

I get the impression thast Wilkenson hasn't read Rawls or something, because he's (Rawls is) pretty clear (in section 5 I believe) that he thinks natural talent is what's at issue. A system which rewards people for hard work is actually what the socialist anarchists over at ParEcon are trying to create (economist Robin Hahnel and activist Michael Albert.) I don't know if Lindsey made this clear is his/her response.

Rawls seemed to just reject the hard work question mainly because he saw alot of value to capitalism (remember, he was totally obsessed with free market economics). Rawls theorized that in order to take advantage of the the production potential of what we'll call "capitalism," we'd actually need to order things based on natural talent (hard work would seem to figure a bit in to determining what natural talent is of course, but that's niether here nor there.) Natural Talent is morally arbitrary, so the talented should recieve greater rewards only as incentive to produce more/better -- never as a reward for the fact itself. Hence Rawls second principle: "redistribution should occur only if it benefits everyone." (sometimes reexpressed with "everyone" being "the worst off group.")

I disagree, and think you will too if you think about it, that our moral intuitions should only serve as a tiebreaker of sorts, "all else being equal." The simple question is, where else does our morality come from if not our intuitions? I mean this in the complex way, as I agree with you (and mainstream science) that social factors affect the way our biological hardwiring is expressed. I assume that's what you mean anyway, like the same way that social factors like iodine availability affect the biological characteristic of what we call human intelligence. In sum, our intuitions are really all there is ethically speaking, and critiques of Kant's Imperitive (or any other ethical "theory") almost always take the form of "look at the ridiculous conclusions that could be derived from such a theory." In other words, "look how flagrantly this standard can violate our intuitions."

I doubt that social conditions really influence our ethics substantially in the general population, i.e. barring certain mental conditions. In fact, I think you find a marked consistency regarding ethics, not in practice but in belief. Horrible offensive wars are always justified under the ethically legitimate (at least in my intuitions) conditions of "self Defense." I mean really, always. Whether that standard is met often (or at all) on a multinational scale is up for debate and is absolutely subject to all the sorts of social conditions of which you speak.

Nice Lebowski reference though Micha- "at least it's an ethos" is totally my favorite line in a movie full of great lines. At least it's my favorite that I can think of. My favorite thing about being in Calif. now is being able to eat at In and Out burger, and I can't help but think this joy is influenced by Donnie's interest in it. "Donnie, you're out of your element" is a pretty good line, too.

-Matt

Thanks for the ping and the

Thanks for the ping and the thoughtful reply.

Here, I think, Lindsay goes astray. If it is true, as she claims - and I am willing to grant it's truth for the purposes of this argument - that common sense dictates against a "let them eat cake" dismissive attitude, then why the need for institutionalized redistribution?

I'm not arguing that common sense dictates a "let them eat cake" mentality. People often cite desert as an excuse not to pay taxes. They assume that we already live in a meritocratic society where the rich tend to deserve their wealth and the poor tend to deserve their poverty. Therefore, they argue, it's not fair to transfer any of their deserved wealth to the undeserving.

Proponents of redistribution point out that even the most self-sufficient people capitalize unearned natural advantages. We can agree that successful people deserve something, but not necessarily a blanket entitlement. More radical skeptics might go on to argue that nobody deserves anything and that we might as well redistribute everything equally. That's not an acceptable solution for most of us because we do have some respect for the idea that hard work begets desert. Moderate desert skepticism reconciles a healthy respect for desert tempered by an acknowledgment of the role of good and bad luck in determining outcomes and the importance of intervening to maintain as much equality of opportunity as possible.

Desert instrumentalism (DI) is a subspecies of moderate desert skepticism. DI sidesteps the question of who Ultimately Deserves what and asks instead how we ought to set up the happiest most prosperous society. Most people agree that a quasi-meritocracy creates incentives for hard work and positive character development. But most people feel that desert runs deeper than an expeditious social arrangement. We sense that there is something more to it. A desert instrumentalist will argue that this feeling arises from our commitment to keeping our promises. The members of a wise society should promise each other to reward hard work and enterprise. When we break that promise we act unjustly.

(An aside, I'm not a Rawslian, though I sometimes play one in the blogosphere. Rawls' respect for pretheoretical intuitions makes sense for his project--constructing a theory of justice. Our pretheoretical intuitions don't deserve nearly so much respect if our goal is to construct or discover something better than our gut-level grasp of justice.)

I think that "X deserves Y"

I think that "X deserves Y" is semantically identical to "I would wish that X be rewarded with Y" -- an expression of personal preference. I don't think there's such a thing as "desert" in any larger moral context. Property is property because of being "excludable and rivalrous", not because it's deserved. Charity is good because it's a kindness, not because it's deserved. There's no more an ethical obligation to give charity than there is to put out bird-tables in winter.

Lindsay, I'm not arguing

Lindsay,

I'm not arguing that common sense dictates a "let them eat cake" mentality.

I don't know if this wasa typo, but I was agreeing with your position that common sense dictates against a "let them eat cake" attitude.

I agreed with your analysis, except with your claim that it leads to a conclusion of institutionalized redistribution. My point is that there are non-coercive alternatives that can meet your Rawlsian requirements.

I subscribe to desert instrumentalism, so I may not be the best person to argue with, as I am willing to concede most of your points. Other libertarians -- arguably the vast majority of other libertarians -- would probably not.

Thought you guys might like

Thought you guys might like to know that this has so far generated 11 pingbacks to http://catallarchy.net/blog/archives/2003/12/16/rebutting-the-public-goods-argument/

Micha, Much appreciate the

Micha,

Much appreciate the links to terminology such as you did with 'reflective equilibrium.' I didn't have to scramble to open another browser to get to a dictionary!

Diana

Michah, that was a "read-o"

Michah, that was a "read-o" on my part. Sorry.

Here's what I should have

Here's what I should have said about common sense and desert. It's understandable to feel some resentment if you lose money to redistribution, especially if you think we live in a meritocratic society. If wealth is distributed according to desert, it follows that those with the least wealth are the least deserving. Hence the pre-theoretical intuition that it isn't fair to take from the deserving to give to the undeserving.

The redistributivist can either show why this intuition is unworthy of further consideration, or she can attempt to reconcile this impulse with our other common sense beliefs about justice. I prefer the first option, but Wilkinson's TCS article was addressed to Rawlsians and Rawls sympathizers who place a premium on the conservation of common sense. One compromise is to agree that desert is instrumentally valuable, i.e., that it makes sense to create incentives to work hard and excel. But Wilkinson seems to think that there's a deeper commonsense moral intuition that needs explaining. If you agree, then you can look to a contractarian theory of desert.

Andy, thanks, our system is

Andy, thanks, our system is kinda weird right now.

Sean, surprisingly enough, philosophical desert, as in deserving merit or punishment, is indeed spelled with a single "s". But dessert, the stuff you eat after dinner, can be just as enjoyable.

"Just dessert is my just desert."

Aren't we talking about

Aren't we talking about dessert, the stuff you eat after dinner, not desert, a place with very little water? Or am I missing something here?

"Letâ??s imagine a

"Letâ??s imagine a meritocratic society with no social safety net. Those who canâ??t compete either starve or subsist on charity. Someone might say, â??Too bad. They donâ??t deserve anything because they havenâ??t earned anything.â?? Our consciences rebel at such talk, even if we believe in desert."

My conscience does not rebel at such talk.

"It seems unjust to simply write off these unfortunates, and their children, and their childrenâ??s children."

You don't have to write them off, you can offer them your charity.

Micha, "But in order to

Micha,

"But in order to justify state-enforced redistribution, one needs to show why this is a true public goods problem that cannot be solved through civil institutions alone."

What do you think could justify state enforced redistribution of wealth?

Matt, Glad to see you again.

Matt,

Glad to see you again. We missed you. (Well, some of us did.)

Yes, my position has changed since we last talked. I was already toying with these ideas then, but I hadn't really accepted them until later. I am now a pretty hardcore subjectivist consequentialist.

I get the impression thast Wilkenson hasnâ??t read Rawls or something, because heâ??s (Rawls is) pretty clear (in section 5 I believe) that he thinks natural talent is whatâ??s at issue.

Wilkinson is a a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the University of Maryland. Trust me, he knows his Rawls, better than you or I. His position is a bit more clear with his characterization of Rawl's position on desert than either I or Lindsay may have made clear. Yes, natural talent and not hard work is at issue, but to a certain extent, hard work depends upon natiral talent. One must be the kind of person who is capable of motivating himself, willing to forgo short-term interests for long-term interests, willing to bear hardship and take risks, etc.

Natural Talent is morally arbitrary, so the talented should recieve greater rewards only as incentive to produce more/better â?? never as a reward for the fact itself.

I still don't really accept this as a valid argument (even though I do accept instrumentalism). We might say that whoever wins the lottery is morally arbitrary--the winner did nothing to "deserve" his loot--but that is no reason to take it from him. Same as the Wilt Chamberlain argument.

And similarly, just because a mentally or physically disabled person did nothing to deserve their disability, that is nobodies fault but nature. His or her disability does not create a moral claim on anyone else, because it was no one else's fault, either.

I disagree, and think you will too if you think about it, that our moral intuitions should only serve as a tiebreaker of sorts, â??all else being equal.â?? The simple question is, where else does our morality come from if not our intuitions?

From our preferences. And contra Rawl's reflective equilibrium, I think most people's intuitions and preferences conflict with themselves and each other. That is why I think it is important to analyze our most basic preferences and intutions before we move to more complex ones, in order to search for as much commonality as possible. At a certain level, when values conflict, no rational argument can resolve the disagreement. We should try to avoid this situation as much as possible.

I doubt that social conditions really influence our ethics substantially in the general population, i.e. barring certain mental conditions. In fact, I think you find a marked consistency regarding ethics, not in practice but in belief.

No. Check the sociological and anthropological literature. The concept of an "expanding moral circle", the idea that as societies advance and become better able to meet their members' basic needs and improve their overall material welfare, then and only then do they focus on entities outside their sect, race, nation, dominant gender, non-productive ages (very young and very old), and ultimately, Peter Singer argues, species. This helps explain why so many people were unable to see anything wrong with enslaving other persons, or infanticide, or (what's the opposite of infanticide, for old people?).

My favorite thing about being in Calif. now is being able to eat at In and Out burger, and I canâ??t help but think this joy is influenced by Donnieâ??s interest in it.

Some burgers, some beers, a few laughs. Our fucking troubles are over, Dude.

And if you liked that one, make sure to check out my post on Abu Ghraib and also the on one sensitivity and offensive language.

Kennedy, If you walked by a

Kennedy,

If you walked by a severely disabled orphan who was dying from starvation and no one else noticed or was willing to help, would you not feel a tang of guilt if you walked by?

What do you think could justify state enforced redistribution of wealth?

If private charity sufficiently failed, and yet somehow, everyone seemed to want a society in which the public benefits of charity were possible. In other words, if the public goods argument were strong enough, and none of the solutions I mentioned (or any others) worked. Even then, though, we must consider that the choice is not just between no state and a state that does nothing but forcibly tax to provide charity. Rather, the choice is between no state and a state in which no no mechanisms exist or can exist that can sufficiently restrain the growth of government over time. Thus, we need to consider everything else that comes along with having a state, even if charity does present a public goods argument, which I don't think it does.

"If you walked by a severely

"If you walked by a severely disabled orphan who was dying from starvation and no one else noticed or was willing to help, would you not feel a tang of guilt if you walked by?"

No. If I walk by it means there are other uses of my time and resources that are more important to me. What's wrong with that?

"If private charity sufficiently failed, and yet somehow, everyone seemed to want a society in which the public benefits of charity were possible. In other words, if the public goods argument were strong enough, and none of the solutions I mentioned (or any others) worked."

If you have unanimous consent for something you have a private contract, not state enforced redistribution.

Suppose you had a dissenter, like me. What could justify the state enforced redistribution of my wealth?

Nothing is "wrong" with it;

Nothing is "wrong" with it; I just think most people, including yourself, assuming you are not a sociopath, would probably feel pangs of guilt.

I didn't mean to imply unanimous consent. Further, even with unanimous consent, that doesn't mean you can easily solve the public goods problem. A significantly large enough minority might realize whats going on and choose to free ride, even though they themselves would prefer the creation of the public good over its nonexistence.

"Nothing is â??wrongâ??

"Nothing is â??wrongâ?? with it; I just think most people, including yourself, assuming you are not a sociopath, would probably feel pangs of guilt."

Why should I? Guilt is an evaluation that you've done something wrong. (I can't imagine what use you'd have for it, since right and wrong are arbitrary to you.) Why should I evaluate what I've done as wrong when there's nothing wrong with it?

And what has that to do with sociopathy?

"I didnâ??t mean to imply unanimous consent. Further, even with unanimous consent, that doesnâ??t mean you can easily solve the public goods problem. A significantly large enough minority might realize whats going on and choose to free ride, even though they themselves would prefer the creation of the public good over its nonexistence."

Are you saying this would justify redistributing their wealth by state force? Because that's the question.

Again, assuming I do not consent, what could justify state enforced redistribution of my wealth?

Guilt is an evaluation that

Guilt is an evaluation that youâ??ve done something wrong.

Not necessarily. I feel guilty when I eat too much ice cream, or forget to do my homework. That doesn't mean I feel like I did something morally wrong.

I can't imagine what use youâ??d have for it, since right and wrong are arbitrary to you.

Just because something has no objective basis outside of personal preferences does not mean it is completely arbitrary. My preference for ice cream over horse shit is subjective, but I can't just make myself eat and enjoy horse shit. I didn't say that moral intuitions are especially useful in all cases; just that most people seem to share similiar ones.

Why should I evaluate what Iâ??ve done as wrong when thereâ??s nothing wrong with it?

It has nothing to do with evaluation. I am talking about pre-rational, gut feelings when you first encounter a situation but before you have time to think much about it.

And what has that to do with sociopathy?

Sociopaths, by definition, lack empathy for their fellow human beings. They cannot put themselves in another person's shoes, so to speak, and imagine what it might feel like to be the sufferer rather than the inflicter (or passive witness) of suffering.

Are you saying this would justify redistributing their wealth by state force? Because thatâ??s the question.

Yes. If it was true that government was necessary for civil society, then government would be justified (or at least a necessary evil, as minarchist like to say). But I don't think that is the case.

"Not necessarily. I feel

"Not necessarily. I feel guilty when I eat too much ice cream, or forget to do my homework. That doesnâ??t mean I feel like I did something morally wrong."

It does if you're using the word "guilty" properly. And you may indeed have done something morally wrong; vices are not offenses against others but they are immoral.

"It has nothing to do with evaluation. I am talking about pre-rational, gut feelings when you first encounter a situation but before you have time to think much about it."

Empathy isn't guilt. You must tink about it, however imperfectly, to judge you are at fault.

"Sociopaths, by definition, lack empathy for their fellow human beings. They cannot put themselves in another personâ??s shoes, so to speak, and imagine what it might feel like to be the sufferer rather than the inflicter (or passive witness) of suffering."

What has that empathy to do with guilt? I can imagine what it would be like to be the suffering individual; what does that have to do with feeling guilty about it?

"Yes. If it was true that government was necessary for civil society, then government would be justified (or at least a necessary evil, as minarchist like to say)."

Necessary to whom? The dissenters?

By justified do you simply mean instrumental to what you prefer? Becuase that's not what the word means.

t does if youâ??re using

t does if youâ??re using the word â??guiltyâ?? properly. And you may indeed have done something morally wrong; vices are not offenses against others but they are immoral.

Why are vices immoral? According to what standard?

Empathy isnâ??t guilt. You must tink about it, however imperfectly, to judge you are at fault.

Ignoring your own empathetic feelings can lead to a sense of guilt. Note that I didn't say anyone is at "fault"; I just claimed that most people, excluding sociopaths, have feelings of empathy when they see another person (or animal) suffering.

By justified do you simply mean instrumental to what you prefer? Becuase thatâ??s not what the word means.

I mean that civil society is a necessary prerequisite for everone, except perhaps vikings or their equivalent. Unless your purpose in life is violence for the sake of violence, in order to pursue your goals, you need to have civil society.

"Why are vices immoral?

"Why are vices immoral? According to what standard?"

By the standard of your own life. Vices harm you. Why do you feel guilty about them?

"Ignoring your own empathetic feelings can lead to a sense of guilt.

Who said anything about ignoring empathetic feelings?

"Note that I didnâ??t say anyone is at â??fault";..."

...except that guilt implies just that, it is a judgment that one is at fault.

...I just claimed that most people, excluding sociopaths, have feelings of empathy when they see another person (or animal) suffering."

No, that wasn't your original claim at all. Your claim was that non-sociopaths would feel *guilt*, not empathy, in the situation you described.

Isn't it clear that guilt and empathy are not one and the same? Isn't it clear that one can feel empathy without guilt? One can feel empathy for victims of the Holocaust, but do you feel guilty for it? Feeling guilty for the holocaust when it was not your fault would entail a misevaluation.

Surely you wouldn't take the fact that a person not responsible for the Holocaust did not feel any guilt over it as evidence of a sociopathic lack of empathy?

"Why are vices immoral?

"Why are vices immoral? According to what standard?"

By the standard of your own life. Vices harm you. Why do you feel guilty about them?

So if I sacrifice some of my long-term interests for short-term interests, that makes me a bad person? It is wrong to act on a high time preference if I regret this decision later? (Later I am in the long-term and no longer in the short-term, relative to my present condition.) I think that's a piss-poor basis for calling something immoral.

"Ignoring your own empathetic feelings can lead to a sense of guilt."

Who said anything about ignoring empathetic feelings?

Do you feel empathy when you encounter a poor or disabled person who, through no fault of their own, has difficulty making ends meet? If you refuse to help this person, for whatever reason (and all of us do so all the time), do you not feel guilty for not acting upon these empathetic feelings?

â??Note that I didn't say anyone is at "fault"â?¦"

...except that guilt implies just that, it is a judgment that one is at fault.

Not according to my terminology. I do not think a person has to believe he is morally at fault in order to feel guilty about something. If you want to say fault is something less than morality, I'm okay with that.

No, that wasn't your original claim at all. Your claim was that non-sociopaths would feel guilt, not empathy, in the situation you described.

They would feel guilty for not acting upon their feelings of empathy.

Isn't it clear that guilt and empathy are not one and the same? Isnâ??t it clear that one can feel empathy without guilt? One can feel empathy for victims of the Holocaust, but do you feel guilty for it? Feeling guilty for the holocaust when it was not your fault would entail a misevaluation.

What if you were a German civilian at the time? Would you feel guilty for not doing more to help save more victims? Perhaps you didn't want to put yourself or your family at risk to save a strangers life. Completely understandable, and not immoral. But not acting upon this feeling of empathy can lead to a sense of guilt.

"So if I sacrifice some of

"So if I sacrifice some of my long-term interests for short-term interests, that makes me a bad person? It is wrong to act on a high time preference if I regret this decision later? (Later I am in the long-term and no longer in the short-term, relative to my present condition.) I think thatâ??s a piss-poor basis for calling something immoral."

The isn't it a piss-poor reason to feel guilty?

I didn't say it was immoral, I said it was immoral if it harmed you. If it doesn't harm you then it's not a vice and guilt over it would entail a misevaluation.

"Do you feel empathy when you encounter a poor or disabled person who, through no fault of their own, has difficulty making ends meet?"

Sure. I feel empathy even if it is their fault.

"If you refuse to help this person, for whatever reason (and all of us do so all the time), do you not feel guilty for not acting upon these empathetic feelings?"

No, why would I? I choose to do what is most valuable to me. How is guilt appropriate if I'm not responsible for their plight?

" I do not think a person has to believe he is morally at fault in order to feel guilty about something."

What does it mean to feel guilty then?

If a man born in 1960 felt guilty about the Holocaust wouldn't that entail a misevaluation?

What's the difference between empathy and guilt? An evaluation.

"They would feel guilty for not acting upon their feelings of empathy."

What do their actions have to do with it prior to evaluation?

"What if you were a German civilian at the time? Would you feel guilty for not doing more to help save more victims? Perhaps you didnâ??t want to put yourself or your family at risk to save a strangers life. Completely understandable, and not immoral. But not acting upon this feeling of empathy can lead to a sense of guilt."

Guilt means you have judged that you've done wrong. You might be right or wrong in that judgment. Isn't it clear that you would be incorrect in judging yourself guilty of something you could not have prevented?

Glad to see you again. We

Glad to see you again. We missed you. (Well, some of us did.)
and same to you of course

I am now a pretty hardcore subjectivist consequentialist.
whereas I am still a hardcore intuitionist. getting closer though. I think intuitionism and subjectivism aren't all that different. Then again, I guess natural law isnt all that different either, but they suck.

Wilkinson is a a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the University of Maryland. Trust me, he knows his Rawls, better than you or I. His position is a bit more clear with his characterization of Rawlâ??s position on desert than either I or Lindsay may have made clear.
I was intitially tempted to put the little emoticon of the guy pointing to his diploma here, but you're probably right. Though I have read all of a theory of justice and two hard-to-find interviews with Rawls.

Yes, natural talent and not hard work is at issue, but to a certain extent, hard work depends upon natiral talent.
not really. you can work twice as hard at a math problem yet do half as well as someone 4 times as smart. Not that I grant that things are that cut and dried, but... Natural Talent is no good without SOME sort of work ethic (though it needn't be "hard work" whatsoever to be productive) but there's not condition regarding hard work. The fact that hard work is not as good without natural talent is the exact problem we're talking about. It isn't as good production-wise, yet it does seem as good (maybe even better, because the untalented recieve less satisfaction) morally. Therein lies the problem.

One must be the kind of person who is capable of motivating himself, willing to forgo short-term interests for long-term interests, willing to bear hardship and take risks, etc.
which is all very interesting being we're really talking about differences between what's valued in our mode of production vs. our morality. Risk-taking isn't neccesarily morally valued, is it? I guess it depends on the circumstances, but at the expense of small children and so forth risk taking seems a bit repugnant. It's easy to imagine such situations and they doubtless occur every day.

I still donâ??t really accept this as a valid argument (even though I do accept instrumentalism). We might say that whoever wins the lottery is morally arbitraryâ??the winner did nothing to â??deserveâ?? his lootâ??but that is no reason to take it from him.
This one of those rare times metaphysics steps in to help us. Lottery winnings only occur at the expense of others who have chosen to play the "game", and the situation occurs with the participants knowledge. Hold on...

Same as the Wilt Chamberlain argument.
here's the thing: these are basically partial compliance issues of justice. Rawls isn't discussing the legitimacy of taking Wilt's money away from him. He's actually discussing the legitimacy of a social structure that creates these circumstances. The reason these analogies about smiley faced lottery winners losing their money are so intuitive is because they claim to be about justice in the Rawls sense (which is full-compliance; a structure from the ground up) yet actually operate intuitively on a sort of "good faith" feeling we have about deals. The problem with stripping people of their money is that the deal has already been made (otherwise they're thieves) and we think deals should be honored. The problem is when you make a certain deal which doesn't seem to square with our morality and it has consequences for everyone in the given country. Rawls proposition is a "new deal" if you will :)

And similarly, just because a mentally or physically disabled person did nothing to deserve their disability, that is nobodies fault but nature. His or her disability does not create a moral claim on anyone else, because it was no one elseâ??s fault, either.
yes but we'd certainly be remiss if we had power of the contract which made them disabled, and didn't change it for future generations. See what I'm getting at? These questions aren't bad ones, they're actually very good, but have no bearing on this sort of justice. How to move from a partially just situation to to a fully just one is hard. Accepting Rawls idea of the just is not as hard. Though I don't- he's a bit more wowed by capitalism than I am. I kind of like the hard work idea myself.

From our preferences. And contra Rawlâ??s reflective equilibrium, I think most peopleâ??s intuitions and preferences conflict with themselves and each other.
hmmm... Ethical intuitions and preferences are also strangely tied together in ways Socrates/Plato seemed to elucidate rather well.

That is why I think it is important to analyze our most basic preferences and intutions before we move to more complex ones, in order to search for as much commonality as possible. At a certain level, when values conflict, no rational argument can resolve the disagreement. We should try to avoid this situation as much as possible.
I don't see the moral weight of preferences. Those truly seem to be important only "all else being equal." Please explain.

Check the sociological and anthropological literature. The concept of an â??expanding moral circle", the idea that as societies advance and become better able to meet their membersâ?? basic needs and improve their overall material welfare, then and only then do they focus on entities outside their sect, race, nation, dominant gender, non-productive ages (very young and very old),
sure. What we understand is extremely limited, but these seem fairly accurate. I don't see why we assume that these too aren't tied to our genetics. All these things you mention would correlate to different physical characteristics as well, yet you wouldn't assume that being raised in an African culture "causes" people to be taller, except in the narrow sense of nutrition.

and ultimately, Peter Singer argues, species. This helps explain why so many people were unable to see anything wrong with enslaving other persons, or infanticide, or (whatâ??s the opposite of infanticide, for old people?).
you mean youth-in-Asia? "Unable to see anything wrong" seems pretty inaccurate. It's case by case, but there tend to be intellectual justifictions for tyhese things that allow people to try and mask things. Also, many people often saw things wrong.

And if you liked that one, make sure to check out my post on Abu Ghraib and also the on one sensitivity and offensive language.
nice, I forgot about the chinaman line.

-matt

Kennedy- funny response...

Kennedy-
funny response... that was more illuminating than you probably intended. Micha asked you if you feel guilty and you responded to the question "do you think you should feel guilty." Not that this is the same thing, but if you asked a slaveowner whether he/she felt guilty about owning slaves you well might've gotten the same response. The answer was probably "yes" (at least once I'm sure you felt something uncomfortably akin to guilt as you see a homeless person), but then immediately followed by a "why should I?" Which is why it's always easier to talk about what you should feel rather than what you actually do/did.

Anyway, the holocaust example is off, because I don't think Micha's denying that your ability to amend the situation is neccesarily tied to the guilt. Yeah, feeling guilty about a situation you
a. weren't responsible for AND
b. had no way of positively affecting
is maybe a little silly.

but that B is a big one too. I'm completely comfortable with the statement "a person has a responsibility to assist a baby being attacked by a wild dog." Would you reject that because you aren't the wild dog in question? Would you feel no guilt for standing idly by while this happened?

Matt, "funny responseâ?¦

Matt,

"funny responseâ?¦ that was more illuminating than you probably intended."

I dunno man, I intend to be pretty illuminating.

"Micha asked you if you feel guilty and you responded to the question â??do you think you should feel guilty.â?? Not that this is the same thing, but if you asked a slaveowner whether he/she felt guilty about owning slaves you well mightâ??ve gotten the same response. The answer was probably â??yesâ?? (at least once Iâ??m sure you felt something uncomfortably akin to guilt as you see a homeless person), but then immediately followed by a â??why should I?â?? Which is why itâ??s always easier to talk about what you should feel rather than what you actually do/did."

Actually I immediately responded "No", as anyone reading the thread can see. That's hardly evasive.

I feel empathy when I see suffering, which is not at all uncomfortably akin to guilt.

"Anyway, the holocaust example is off, because I donâ??t think Michaâ??s denying that your ability to amend the situation is neccesarily tied to the guilt. Yeah, feeling guilty about a situation you
a. werenâ??t responsible for AND
b. had no way of positively affecting
is maybe a little silly."

And you can positively affect a great many situations but your choice of one generally precludes some others. You actually have no way of positively affecting *all* of the situations that you may positively affect individually. Your time and resources are limited and you must choose how to invest them. To feel guilty about these facts would entail a misevaluation.

"but that B is a big one too. Iâ??m completely comfortable with the statement â??a person has a responsibility to assist a baby being attacked by a wild dog.â?? Would you reject that because you arenâ??t the wild dog in question? Would you feel no guilt for standing idly by while this happened?"

I completely reject the responsibility you describe. One has no unchosen positive obligations to other individuals. Assisting the child has some value to me, but if I chose to do something other than assist the child it would be because the alternative was more valuable to me, and I'd feel no guilt for choosing what I valued more. I can't do everything that has any value to me; I must choose. That's nothing to feel guilty about.

Actually I immediately

Actually I immediately responded â??No", as anyone reading the thread can see. Thatâ??s hardly evasive.
This is an argument I can't really win because you can always deny, and who'm I to say what you think? Regardless, I think you didn't just write "no" because it seems pretty weird to just write "no"- rather, you felt the need to defend the feeling itself which is pretty weird in itself if you think about it. As if one has some nice rational control over their gut emotions and reactions and your lack of feeling is fully backed in full faith and credit by the honorable libertarian philosophy, thank you very much. Have you honestly never felt a pang of guilt upon confrontation with a homeless person? Could be, I guess. I doubt it, but there's no way to deal with questions like this really. I mean, what if I say I feel no remorse when I steal/beat my wife/etc.? Ultimately, you're kind of just left with saying "either you're sociopathic or you're lying."

I feel empathy when I see suffering, which is not at all uncomfortably akin to guilt.
okay, I'd feel a little funny talking about your feelings whilst not being paid. But you feel "good vibes" when confronting a bitter, downtrodden dirty homeless person? Again, this is not something I can really dispute. I'd just have to say I'm a bit surprised.

And you can positively affect a great many situations but your choice of one generally precludes some others. You actually have no way of positively affecting all of the situations that you may positively affect individually. Your time and resources are limited and you must choose how to invest them. To feel guilty about these facts would entail a misevaluation.
I obviously wasn't saying that guilt was the norm in every situation you can positively affect, only that such situations are sufficient to sometimes produce those feelings. "I mean what I say" is not equal to "I say what I mean."

I completely reject the responsibility you describe. One has no unchosen positive obligations to other individuals. Assisting the child has some value to me, but if I chose to do something other than assist the child it would be because the alternative was more valuable to me, and Iâ??d feel no guilt for choosing what I valued more. I canâ??t do everything that has any value to me; I must choose. Thatâ??s nothing to feel guilty about.
no offense, but this is kind of crazy. You'd tell a mother that you just let her child die because you "valued" a bite of cheesecake moreso than the value ascribed to helping the child? As I've written above, ethical intuitions are tied to preferences in a way, but seem to exist in a different realm. That's why the above statement seems obscene (oh but it probably doesn't to you, at least so you'll say.) The statement
"One has no unchosen positive obligations to other individuals" is difficult to refute, except that like countless other assertions like "animals should be treated as machines", "Jews are worthy of no moral consideration", and so forth they seem very wrong, and they feel very wrong. When french noblemen went around torturing cats because they had Descartes' philosophy to back it up (true), would you guess they felt guilt and repulsion at first? I would. And what would you guess they'd say if you asked them if they felt guilty?
"Why should I?"

"This is an argument I

"This is an argument I canâ??t really win because..."

...anyone can read the threas.

... you can always deny, and whoâ??m I to say what you think? Regardless, I think you didnâ??t just write â??noâ?? because it seems pretty weird to just write â??no"- rather, you felt the need to defend the feeling itself which is pretty weird in itself if you think about it. As if one has some nice rational control over their gut emotions and reactions"

I have rational control over my evaluations. Why would you not feel guilty about Holocaust? Is it because you have rational control over your emotions and reactions?

Having thought the matter through I feel empathy for the human suffering involved in the Holocaust never any guilt about it.

Do you feel guilty about the Holocaust? If not, are you demonstrating "nice rational control" over your gut emotions and reactions?

My point all alon is that guilt is not a gut emotion or reaction, it's an evaluation.

"and your lack of feeling is fully backed in full faith and credit by the honorable libertarian philosophy, thank you very much. Have you honestly never felt a pang of guilt upon confrontation with a homeless person?"

Possibly, before I thought things through. In that case I made an error, just as it would be an error to feel guilty about things that happened in WWII, having thought the matter through.

"Could be, I guess. I doubt it, but thereâ??s no way to deal with questions like this really. I mean, what if I say I feel no remorse when I steal/beat my wife/etc.? Ultimately, youâ??re kind of just left with saying â??either youâ??re sociopathic or youâ??re lying.â??

"okay, Iâ??d feel a little funny talking about your feelings whilst not being paid. But you feel â??good vibesâ?? when confronting a bitter, downtrodden dirty homeless person? Again, this is not something I can really dispute. Iâ??d just have to say Iâ??m a bit surprised."

One reason you can't disput it is that I didn't say anything like it. Good vibes? I didn't say a thing about feeling good vibes about it. What are you talking about?

"I obviously wasnâ??t saying that guilt was the norm in every situation you can positively affect, ..."

Why not, if you have no control over it? Why feel guilty about some misfortunes and not others if you have no control?

"no offense, but this is kind of crazy. Youâ??d tell a mother that you just let her child die because you â??valuedâ?? a bite of cheesecake moreso than the value ascribed to helping the child?"

I wouldn't because I don't value value cheesecake that much. There certainly are things I value more than assisting her child though, and I wouldn't feel guilty about choosing them.

"Youâ??d tell a mother that you just let her child die because you â??valuedâ?? a bite of cheesecake moreso than the value ascribed to helping the child? As Iâ??ve written above, ethical intuitions are tied to preferences in a way, but seem to exist in a different realm. Thatâ??s why the above statement seems obscene (oh but it probably doesnâ??t to you, at least so youâ??ll say.)"

Actually the assertion that one does have positive obligations to other individuals is obscene, and logically leads to all sorts of collectivist horror.

I have rational control over

I have rational control over my evaluations. Why would you not feel guilty about Holocaust? Is it because you have rational control over your emotions and reactions?
feeling guilt and assessing guilt are two different things. Do you rationally assess the empathy you feel, too? Or do you just feel it?

Do you feel guilty about the Holocaust? If not, are you demonstrating â??nice rational controlâ?? over your gut emotions and reactions?
if I felt guilty I would feel guilty. End of story. No I don't, but I don't argue that my gut reactions and emotions are tied to some sort of analytic process.

My point all alon is that guilt is not a gut emotion or reaction, itâ??s an evaluation.
well then you're trying to bait and switch. You yourself decided on empathy as a substitute for the "feeling" of guilt. Guilt, or the "bite of conscience" or whatever you prefer, is a feeling in a one sense of the word and I think it was clear that that was the issue. I doubt Micha was ever considering that you actually thought you were guilty for the conditions of homeless people. And while I think there's a good argumen to be made there anyway, it's irrelevant.

Possibly, before I thought things through. In that case I made an error, just as it would be an error to feel guilty about things that happened in WWII, having thought the matter through.
in what sense are feelings ever errors? That sounds strange. Suppose you asked Stalin if he ever felt guilt for the millions he killed. I bet he did, but then realized those feelings were "error"s because the party was all and he was logically right; the strange logic of closed systems of thought, too often asking us to ignore our natural human morals.

One reason you canâ??t disput it is that I didnâ??t say anything like it. Good vibes? I didnâ??t say a thing about feeling good vibes about it. What are you talking about?
"good vibes" is a synonym for empathy.

Why not, if you have no control over it? Why feel guilty about some misfortunes and not others if you have no control?
well for one, why do you laugh at certain jokes? It's really just stimulus-response. But we weren't talking about misfortunes, rather "situations we can positively affect".

I wouldnâ??t because I donâ??t value value cheesecake that much. There certainly are things I value more than assisting her child though, and I wouldnâ??t feel guilty about choosing them.
hmmmm... well I'll say it again: "either you're a sociopath or you're lying." Barring a few extreme circumstances (which can override other responsibilities as well) that sounds pretty crazy. In fact, the only case in which I think it'd be acceptable is if there were other higher-order moral requirements which prevented you from it. Name a preference you'd have (nonmoral of course) that'd supersede it. Just curious.

Actually the assertion that one does have positive obligations to other individuals is obscene, and logically leads to all sorts of collectivist horror
did you basically just write "I know you are but what am I" here? It looks like you did.

-Matt

"No I donâ??t, but I

"No I donâ??t, but I donâ??t argue that my gut reactions and emotions are tied to some sort of analytic process."

Why do you feel guilty about some things and not others? Wouldn't you say you have a tendency not to feel guilty about things you clearly had no control of, like the Holocaust?

I don't know- that's a

I don't know- that's a metter for some thought, but I don't see its bearing on this debate. It seems fruitless to try and "get behind" impulses that are part of our genetic makeup, as if some rational libertarian god put them there to be decoded. I don't think there's anything deep to say about this matter. Aside from "god is dead, but when shall we escape His shadow?"

I don't know- that's a

I don't know- that's a metter for some thought, but I don't see its bearing on this debate. It seems fruitless to try and "get behind" impulses that are part of our genetic makeup, as if some rational libertarian god put them there to be decoded. I don't think there's anything deep to say about this matter. Aside from "god is dead, but when shall we escape His shadow?"