Isn\'t That a Consequential Argument?

John T. Kennedy explains why the highest values cannot be stolen, using Siddhartha as an example:

“No, Samana, I am not afraid of this. Did any Samana or Brahman ever fear, someone might come and grab him and steal his learning, and his religious devotion, and his depth of thought? No, for they are his very own, and he would only give away from those whatever he is willing to give and to whomever he is willing to give. Like this it is, precisely like this it is also with Kamala and with the pleasures of love. Beautiful and red is Kamala’s mouth, but just try to kiss it against Kamala’s will, and you will not obtain a single drop of sweetness from it, which knows how to give so many sweet things! You are learning easily, Siddhartha, thus you should also learn this: love can be obtained by begging, buying, receiving it as a gift, finding it in the street, but it cannot be stolen. In this, you have come up with the wrong path. No, it would be a pity, if a pretty young man like you would want to tackle it in such a wrong manner.”

We see that Siddhartha has two choices, force himself on Kamala or find a way to persuade Kamala to give willingly. The consequences of the first choice are that he "will not obtain a single drop of sweetness". The consequences of the second choice are for Kamala "to give so many sweet things".

Thus, Kennedy argues that one ought to respect rights because of the consequences.

Update: This is supposed to be a question, if that wasn't obvious from the title.

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Brilliant: By redefining all

Brilliant: By redefining all morally relevant factors as "consequences", you've proven that deontologists are consequentialists by definition. Way to screw over the language dude.

I could very well be

I could very well be screwing up a term of art. If so a simple correction might be more helpful.

But anyway, from American Heritage:
1. Something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition.
2. The relation of a result to its cause.

So the everyday usage is correct, and I didn't redefine anything.

From wikipedia: Deontology

From wikipedia:
Deontology is often thought to be opposed to consequentialism, an ethical theory in which the ends can justify the means because decisions are judged primarily in terms of their consequences.

No, it is not

No, it is not consequentialist at all. Your characterization is incorrect. Siddhartha is not faced with choices and consequences - maybe in real life he is, but not in that argument. The speaker is not saying "be nice to Kamala and she will love you". He is saying that whether she loves him or not is a matter of her will entirely, that it cannot be taken against her will, and that her will cannot be forced. Or to put it in terms of choice, The speaker is saying that it is Kamala's choice whether she loves Siddhartha or not, and it is not Siddhartha's choice. Kamala's choice is not being treated as a mere effect of one of Siddhartha's choice. In fact it is entirely compatible with the argument that Kamala give Siddhartha her love even if Siddhartha rapes her or whatever. It is her choice, it is a matter of her will. When the speaker says, "but just try to kiss it against Kamala’s will, and you will not obtain a single drop of sweetness from it," the key phrase here is "against Kamala's will". Siddhartha does not determine Kamala's will, either one way or the other, only Kamala dermines her will. Thus what Siddhartha is being told is not, "if you do X, you will not obtain sweetness", but rather, "if *she* does not willingly kiss you, you will not obtain sweetness". The speaker is saying it is not up to Siddhartha one way or the other, ultimately, but rather, it is up to Kamala. So it really isn't Siddhartha's choices and consequences that the speaker is talking about, but rather the opposite: Siddhartha's *inability* to choose certain consequences. The choice is in fact Kamala's.

Constant, Doesn't matter.

Constant,

Doesn't matter. The argument boils down to "I don't try to steal X because it's impossible for me to steal X." That sounds like it makes perfect consequentialist sense to me, though I don't think it's a good example.

Stefan,

Actually I've become pretty convinced that everyone is a consequentialist, so that's hardly surprising. People who call themselves "deontologists" just have extreme preferences for a given value, but even this crumbles in the face of steep tradeoffs.

Doesn’t matter. The

Doesn’t matter. The argument boils down to “I don’t try to steal X because it’s impossible for me to steal X.” That sounds like it makes perfect consequentialist sense to me, though I don’t think it’s a good example.

It doesn't make a lick of sense to me.

"It is impossible to steal X," is not a consequence
of trying to steal X. As stated, it is a premise, and a
fact, not an effect, thus independent and unrelated to
your cause, hence it makes no "consequentialist sense."

Actually I’ve become pretty convinced that everyone is a consequentialist,

Curious. Would you elaborate on how you've convinced
yourself of this?

It is a consequential

It is a consequential argument. I've never argued that morality was divorced from consequences. I've been using the word consequentialist because Micha and Patri use it to describe themselves.

What I've argued for is a grounded morality, an objective morality, a morality independent of individual opinion, independent of individual preference. I've held that what's good and bad for you is good and bad for you as a consequence of your nature, that you will be better off when you act morally and worse off when you act immorally.

If that's consequentialism so be it.

What I've been arguing aagainst is a vulgar, groundless application of consequentialism where there is no reason not to let one's means redefine one's ends. What I've been arguing against is moral nihilism, the reduction of morality to personal preference.

this [deontology] crumbles

this [deontology] crumbles in the face of steep tradeoffs

Well consequentialism crumbles in the face of "sacrificing one man to save a hundred"-type examples, so that doesn't worry my too much.

But ... isn't how you feel

But ... isn't how you feel at the end of the day a consequence?

Well, here's a theory of

Well, here's a theory of natural law (and therefore of right and wrong) and maybe we'll see whether it is consequentialist. A crime is an action that will make you a target of violent retaliation sanctioned and recommended by Strategy X. Strategy X is the eventual optimal strategy (in the long term, given sufficiently many iterations of encounters) which we will imperfectly follow (given our limited intelligence understanding etc) over when to use violent retaliation against someone - when to maim someone, kill them, imprison them, and so forth. A rudimentary approximation of Strategy X is the self-defense rule: do not attack anyone unless they attack you first. We will notice immediately that if a group of people are all following this rudimentary rule, then conflict will never arise in the group, because no one will initiate violence. This same rudimentary rule has a clear deterrent effect on people who are contemplating breaking it. Thus we can begin to see how, in the competition for mind-space between possible strategies, a strategy largely like the self-defense rule is likely to come to predominate because of its superiority to other possible strategies (such as the strategy to attack anyone and everyone one meets). Strategy X is the theorized optimal strategy, which it is theorized will tend to predominate (making allowances for people's imperfections). We will name Strategy X "justice", and we will call people who follow this strategy "peaceful people". Thus a crime is an action which makes you a just target of violent retaliation, an action which makes it just to attack you. Notice that this does not mean you will necessarily be attacked. You may be undiscovered, for example. You nevertheless remain a just target of violent retaliation, because the optimal strategy is to attack people who did what you did, not merely to attack people who happen to have been discovered to have done what you did. People will imperfectly endeavor to follow the optimal strategy, by for example endeavoring to make it unlikely that an evildoer will remain undiscovered. Their failure to perfectly live up to the ideal goal of their efforts should not be taken as license to commit wrongs so long as you remain undiscovered, since the optimal strategy is still to attack you, it is simply a strategy that people have trouble following because of their lack of omniscience. Similarly, chess players always fall short of perfect strategy in chess, because of their mental limitations. Optimal chess strategy nevertheless remains what it is, regardless of people's ability or inability to follow it.

Now let us consider whether this is a consequentialist theory of right and wrong. A consequentialist theory of right and wrong is, roughly, that something is wrong if it has bad consequences and right if it has good consequences. So, let us look at the idea of criminality outlined above to see whether it is consequentialist. The idea is that something is a crime if it makes one a just target of violent retaliation - meaning, a target of retaliation as sanctioned by optimal strategy X, a.k.a. justice. But is how is that the same thing as having good consequences? It is not the same. An action might have good consequences and yet still be a just target of retaliation as defined by the optimal strategy of violence. Why shouldn't that be so? I see no reason why it should not be so. Similarly, an action might have bad consequences and yet not be an action against which the optimal strategy of violence recommends violent retaliation. These are simply different things. Certainly, one can easily imagine many situation in which they would coincide, in which criminal acts have bad consequences, but similarly one may imagine situations in which criminal acts have good consequences.

Let us put is simply: let us suppose simplemindedly that something is a good strategy if it has good consequences. Then one may imagine a situation as follows: someone performs an act which has good consequences, but at the same time, further good consequences follow from attacking the person who performed that act. Let's make this concrete: someone steals a loaf of bread in order to feed himself, and suppose the baker really wasn't going to sell that loaf anyway. So the action has a good consequence. But it may be even better if this person is caught and brought to justice, because his punishment may serve as an example to other people contemplating theft, and even though his particular theft had a good consequence, theft in general has a bad consequence, and his punishment has a chilling effect on theft in general.

Thus, we see that his act is a crime even though it has good consequences. This seeming paradox is resolved once we realize that the consequences relevant to whether his act is a crime are not the consequences of his act, but the consequences of his punishment. However, bear in mind that this was a simplified account and that the optimal strategy for violence isn't necessarily entirely a matter of the consequences of that violence. I can explain this as well, with a different simplification. My threat to retaliate under suchandsuch circumstances may itself have good consequences, the consequences being deterrence. But should someone actually ignore my threat and attack me, then it may actually be better for me not to retaliate, because, say, retaliation would likely kill me. Nevertheless taking the larger view the threat to retaliate needs to be real, and so I need to somehow program myself to retaliate (suicidally, perhaps) should someone ignore the threat. I need to do that because if I don't then there will be no threat and no deterrence at all. Thus, the larger optimal strategy may be to program myself to behave conditionally in a way that, in certain cases, is suicidal. This is not entirely different from a general sending a small number of his troops to their certain doom in order to save the larger number of his troops. Similarly, we may send a small-probability possible self to his certain doom in order to improve the average expected outcome overall.

Thus the optimal overall strategy for violence may recommend that under certain circumstances we are violent in a way that has bad consequences. Thus justice may have worse consequence than injustice. Justice is the *playing out* of a larger strategy.

Well consequentialism

Well consequentialism crumbles in the face of “sacrificing one man to save a hundred"-type examples, so that doesn’t worry my too much.

No, that is not the weakness of consequentialism. Every one of those examples I see are either unrealistic in its priors, or gives the "right" result when full consideration of economics, psychology, and/or other sciences takes place. I'm not sure how to prove (deduce) that all such examples are necessarily this way, but the evidence thus far supports this view.

The weakness of consequentialism is in what ends are desirable. How do you prove this? If you take "utility" or "happiness" as your desired ends, then how do you make the interpersonal comparisons that are necessary? There are various attempts to answer these questions, I'm not sure that any are perfect, though some are useful.

At any rate, there are legitimate concerns and problems with consequentialism, sacrificing the one for the many isn't one of them.

I think Kennedy gave the

I think Kennedy gave the simple example of you being able to switch your lottery ticket for your friend's winning lottery ticket while he's in the other room. Surely there are other situations - someone drops their wallet, and the prudent predator should pick it up without returning it, etc. It seems like stealing and killing in these examples always has the 'right' consequences, although perhaps you might deny those examples are possible as well.

I think Kennedy gave the

I think Kennedy gave the simple example of you being able to switch your lottery ticket for your friend’s winning lottery ticket while he’s in the other room. Surely there are other situations - someone drops their wallet, and the prudent predator should pick it up without returning it, etc. It seems like stealing and killing in these examples always has the ‘right’ consequences, although perhaps you might deny those examples are possible as well.

These are quite possible. One way a consequentlist/utilitarian might resolve these is to invoke Schelling points. Certain agreed on behaviors (not switching lottery tickets, returning others' wallets) produce greater overall utility. Another way is to invoke psychology, the would be predator may not be able to deal with his predation or may not be able to remain prudent. The thing to remember is these proposed actions do not occur in a vacuum.

In the early days of computer usage for accounting and banking, some people decided to steal the fractions of cents that some transactions (payroll for example) produced. They were for a short time perfectly prudent predators. But they eventually got caught, they became certain that they were perfectly prudent and became sloppy.

I’ve never argued that

I’ve never argued that morality was divorced from consequences. I’ve been using the word consequentialist because Micha and Patri use it to describe themselves.

I think they describe themselves accurately, but I don't think that is where the problem lies.

What I’ve been arguing aagainst is a vulgar, groundless application of consequentialism where there is no reason not to let one’s means redefine one’s ends. What I’ve been arguing against is moral nihilism, the reduction of morality to personal preference.

Then I take it you are arguing against a specific form of ethical subjectivism? If so, then why the snarky response of "a utilitarian" to the (rhetorical) question "... who would say the storeowner cannot go out of business?" Especially in a post where I am showing that a utilitarian (economic) analysis of a situation agrees with a grounded, objective, libertarian morality.

Oh, and answering your question from another thread - why forcing the store owner to keep his store open is not efficient - I think your answer is sufficient, and pretty darn good too.

So in other words taking the

So in other words taking the wallet is not bad per se, but will result in less overall utility because (gasp!) people tend to prefer they keep their own wallets?

According to a strict utilitarian approach - taking a wallet *is bad* because the consequences are less than optimal. Depending on the particulars of the utilitarian approach taken, peoples preferences may or may not need to enter into it.

in an isolated case

How many times do I have to repeat myself? There is no such thing as an isolated case in the real world. You cannot wish away the uncertainties and risks of the future, you cannot prevent the spread of information, you must consider all the possible state changes.

That shouldn’t be too difficult for a real predator; look at Bill Clinton’s ability to lie, for example.

All politicians lie, the problem here is the nature of our political institutions. The consequential analysis of this is far more involved here than I'm willing to get into. As a hint, Public Choice theory will illuminate this situation quite well. Also note that Bill Clinton wasn't very prudent, everyone knows he lied and his lies nearly brought him down, the only thing saving his butt was that many people chose a different set of ends than what either of us would chose. This gets into where the weaknesses of consequentialism are - which ends?

Certain agreed on behaviors

Certain agreed on behaviors (not switching lottery tickets, returning others’ wallets) produce greater overall utility.

So in other words taking the wallet is not bad per se, but will result in less overall utility because (gasp!) people tend to prefer they keep their own wallets?

It still seems like you want to deny the hypothetical; in an isolated case where there is almost zero likelihood of being caught, would you agree that stealing, killing, whatever is OK? I can't see how you're able to answer otherwise.

Another way is to invoke psychology, the would be predator may not be able to deal with his predation or may not be able to remain prudent.

That shouldn't be too difficult for a real predator; look at Bill Clinton's ability to lie, for example.

Consquentialism, Deontology

Consquentialism, Deontology or is it Dianetics? I am getting dizzy.Isn’t that something Tom Cruise believes in? If deontology is based on natural law it must be derived either from a theistic source or ultimate consequentiality. Since theism is verboten on this site, this leaves deontologists obeying universal principles which yield the best consequences. Consequences for whom? Since, again, personal preference and self advantage are verboten, we must act to maximize beneficence for all. But who cares about this unless you are theistic? At least Randians admit that it is sometimes OK to look after number one. Non- theistic, non Randians seem to be caught in a double bind.
Even theists have a more intellectually cogent mentality. They believe in natural law, but they also know that they have sinned and that they will sin again. Ultra- altruistic atheists of the deontolological school, know right from wrong and I am sure they always do what’s right.

For example, everyone knows that you should not take the last piece of toilet paper, without replacing the roll. What if this happened and the building caught on fire while you were on the john. The consequencialist would say hell, the place will burn down anyway, I’m getting out of here. The deontologist would burn to death, rather than leave without replacing the roll. The theist would do as the consequentialist, but go to confession afterwards. Right? Oh, I forgot the Randian who have run but wouldn’t have replaced the roll anyway.

Well consequentialism

Well consequentialism crumbles in the face of “sacrificing one man to save a hundred"-type examples, so that doesn’t worry my too much.

Actually, I think that's where it makes the most sense. What sense does it make to sacrifice 100 to save one?

What sense does it make to

What sense does it make to sacrifice 100 to save one?

It makes a great deal of sense to me in the doctor/donor example. I'd hate to think hospital revenue was the only thing keeping doctors from cutting me up for spare parts.

Quick Stefan: if you could,

Quick Stefan: if you could, with certainty, save 1000 lives by killing one innocent person, should you? If no, add zeroes to the number of lives and repeat until the answer is "yes."

David Masten, I think you're

David Masten,

I think you're right that consequentialism's only weak spot is the search for a unit to maximize. I'm not too hot on "utils" myself, so instead I generally hang my hat on preference satisfaction or "degrees of freedom" in the broad sense of "agent A is free from constraint C to do X" (which embraces both positive and negative freedom). (I've been courting another candidate, but it takes too much effort to explain so I'm leaving it off the table for now.)

"Quick Stefan: if you could,

"Quick Stefan: if you could, with certainty, save 1000 lives by killing one innocent person, should you? If no, add zeroes to the number of lives and repeat until the answer is “yes.”"

No. No amount of zeros makes the answer yes. I might nevertheless murder the innocent person. What I might do is not the same thing as what it would be no wrong to do. People often choose to commit wrongs, knowing that they are committing a wrong. I dispute the idea that deciding to do something is the same thing as accepting that it is the right thing to do.

if you could, with

if you could, with certainty, save 1000 lives by killing one innocent person, should you?

No.

If no, add zeroes to the number of lives and repeat until the answer is “yes.”

After adding 10 zeroes it becomes greater than the population of the world right now, hence an unrealistic scenario (or if you like more people than could physically occupy the surface of the earth).

Consquentialism, Deontology

Consquentialism, Deontology or is it Dianetics? I am getting dizzy.Isn’t that something Tom Cruise believes in? If deontology is based on natural law it must be derived either from a theistic source or ultimate consequentiality. Since theism is verboten on this site, this leaves deontologists obeying universal principles which yield the best consequences.

No, not necessarily. There are other possible criteria for identifying one set of principles as the true set, from among the possibilities. If we are all Darwinists, then we might argue that the true set of principles is in fact the ESS, the evolutionarily stable strategy. The ESS is not defined in terms of the best consequences. It is defined as the winner of a competition for survival among possible strategies. Of course, locally, a person will tend, on average, to experience better consequences, defined in terms of survival and reproduction, if he follows the ESS - which is why the ESS wins - but that is not the same thing as the ESS having the best consequences overall, or ultimate best consequences.

Consequences for whom? Since, again, personal preference and self advantage are verboten, we must act to maximize beneficence for all.

That conclusion follows from a too hasty narrowing of the possible criteria for identifying the true principles.

For example, everyone knows that you should not take the last piece of toilet paper, without replacing the roll.

No, everyone knows that one can infer from general principles that in normal circumstances the person who does not replace the roll is rude. Here is a possible deduction: it is rude to neglect to make a small effort which will significantly convenience other members of the household. Therefore, given that normally a toilet will be used after one uses it, it follows that it is rude to neglect to replace the roll. This is not consequentialist, it is a moral inferene: a general category of action is rude, and normally, a certain specific action falls into the general category.

What if this happened and the building caught on fire while you were on the john. The consequencialist would say hell, the place will burn down anyway, I’m getting out of here. The deontologist would burn to death, rather than leave without replacing the roll.

No he would not. He would only do that if the roll replacement rule was itself axiomatic, but more likely, it is deducible in normal circumstances from more general axioms, and in the particular circumstance it is not deducible and therefore is not binding.

Moreover, a deontologist might choose to be rude. To see that something is rude, is not the same thing as to choose not to do it. We can knowingly be bad.

The theist would do as the consequentialist, but go to confession afterwards.

The deontologist might do something similar.

Right? Oh, I forgot the Randian who have run but wouldn’t have replaced the roll anyway.

Constant, Nobody made that

Constant,

Nobody made that contention. But now it's incumbent upon you to explain why you would do it, if you believe it is morally wrong.

Stefan,

Just employing a little sauce for the goose. You obviously put much weight on outlandish hypotheticals, so it's only fair.

I must admit though, I didn't expect anyone to answer "yes" with a straight face. What's that old chestnut about sacrificing sanity to consistency?

That should be answer "no",

That should be answer "no", not yes. Hurf.

In my defense I think the

In my defense I think the scenario you've given (involving more people than can fit on the earth) is a tad more unrealistic than mine (taking lottery money from your friend, stealing organs).

David: This gets into where

David:
This gets into where the weaknesses of consequentialism are - which ends?

How about: I aim for my ends, you aim for yours, and we cooperate as best we can?

I can't see any justification for belief in any sort of objectively correct ends. All I know is that my life will be better if I aim at maximizing my preferences, so it seems to me that that's what I ought to try to do. And the same applies to you and to everyone else. If we all go about it rationally, there's a lot of room for common ground, despite the fact that our preferences may conflict in some ways.

But now it’s incumbent

But now it’s incumbent upon you to explain why you would do it, if you believe it is morally wrong.

I didn't say I would do it. I might do it. For starters, if I thought I could get away with it, then there are a lot of bad things that I might do, like go into a bank vault and get a bunch of cash. If I really could get away with it. But if I didn't think I could get away with it, then I would be unlikely to murder someone even to save a planet. That is to say, I think I would be unlikely to put my own life on the line for a stranger or even a planet of strangers. I'm just not that public-spirited. I might *risk* my life to save a planet, but I would be somewhat less inclined to sacrifice my life. And if murdering one person carried a death penalty, then murdering one person would entail sacrificing my own life.

I think I would be rather likely to liberate items from their owners if I could do so without being caught. However I don't really know whether I would find it in myself to murder someone in order to save a planet. I think it is rather likely that I would not. It's a psychological issue.

I must admit though, I

I must admit though, I didn’t expect anyone to answer “[no]” with a straight face. What’s that old chestnut about sacrificing sanity to consistency?

How is the "no" answer insane?

Constant, No amount of zeros

Constant,

No amount of zeros makes the answer yes. I might nevertheless murder the innocent person. What I might do is not the same thing as what it would be no wrong to do. People often choose to commit wrongs, knowing that they are committing a wrong. I dispute the idea that deciding to do something is the same thing as accepting that it is the right thing to do.

Socrates would disagree with your claim that people often choose to knowingly commit evil, but let's put that aside for now.

You say that you might choose to commit murder, because you prefer murder to the alternative. Might we also conclude that if a person other than yourself were in this situation, you would hope they choose to murder as well?

As David Friedman put it in a slightly different example,

While not in any strict sense paradoxical, the result is, at least to me, an uncomfortable one. It puts me in the position of saying that I very much hope someone grabs the gun, but that I disapprove of whoever does so.

Stefan, After adding 10

Stefan,

After adding 10 zeroes it becomes greater than the population of the world right now, hence an unrealistic scenario (or if you like more people than could physically occupy the surface of the earth).

To make this satisfactorily realistic, consider a scenario in which all future life on earth is at risk. Surely that produces a large enough number, no?

Or, alternatively, to make Matt example even more difficult to a deontologist: if you could, with certainty, save 1000 lives by violating the property rights of one innocent person, should you? Remember, deontologists aren't allowed to weigh rights violations and say that one form of aggression is worse than another.

David Masten: How many times

David Masten:

How many times do I have to repeat myself? There is no such thing as an isolated case in the real world. You cannot wish away the uncertainties and risks of the future, you cannot prevent the spread of information, you must consider all the possible state changes.

Say it as much as you like it just isn't true. Jack the Ripper long ago proved that prudent predators, isolated incidents, and kept secrets are all real world things. Hell, I proved it myself when I was a teenager by shoplifting when I knew I wouldn't get caught. It may be rare but including these things doesn't break any hypothetical.

To make this satisfactorily

To make this satisfactorily realistic, consider a scenario in which all future life on earth is at risk. Surely that produces a large enough number, no?

This doesn't seem as strong an example because most of the future life on the earth doesn't exist yet...

Or, alternatively, to make Matt example even more difficult to a deontologist: if you could, with certainty, save 1000 lives by violating the property rights of one innocent person, should you? Remember, deontologists aren’t allowed to weigh rights violations and say that one form of aggression is worse than another.

I think perhaps you have something like Friedman's asteroid example in mind here; is it moral to steal the equipment one needs to save the planet from an old man who doesn't want to give it up? I'm not really sure of a good answer. However, a couple of responses do come to mind, although I'm not sure they are "deontologist" or "consequentialist" or what.

1) I could steal the equipment and then compensate the man after I was done using it for this specific task; perhaps I am required to becomes his slave until the debt is repaid. Roderick Long gave a response similar to this one when I asked him.

2) There is a higher ethical end that property rights are an imperfect way of promoting, say the flourishing of human life, and that in some rare cases the property rights have to be ditched to achieve the "real" goal. You could also rule out voluntary slavery using this reasoning, which Walter Block has argued is implied by libertarian property rights. The only difficulty I can imagine for this answer is justifying why government is not acceptable.

3) Perhaps it really is wrong to steal the equipment, and I must come up with some other way of saving the earth from the asteroid; one might see this by raising the stakes of the theft. For example, perhaps I am required to murder 100 innocent children and use their ground up bones to save the world from the asteroid or something. In that scenario my intuition says one should look for another solution, even if it seemed unlikely. An objectivist once phrased this response to me as "YOUR ignorance does not constitute a moral claim on MY life".

4) The old man is acting "irrationally" in some sense, so it's ok to take the equipment and return or restore it later (this response is similar to #3, since one has to justify why the man is irrational, presumably because of some important goal).

5) The non-aggression principle needs to be restated to allow use of the equipment in this emergency. One possible way I've seen is the one advocated at anarchism.net. The way I understand it is that nobody ever acquires absolute title to a given material resource, but only a relative title to use the resource for a specific task. For example, by picking the apple off the tree to eat it, I can legitimately exclude you from taking it because that would interfere with my eating of the apple. However, if I farmed a plot of land then I couldn't legitimately exclude people from walking over the land so long as they didn't damage the plants in the ground, etc. Then I might be able to legitimately take the equipment for my use since otherwise it won't even be available for future use by the old man.

Of course I'm not sure if any of these responses work, or into what ethical category they fall into.

Socrates would disagree with

Socrates would disagree with your claim that people often choose to knowingly commit evil, but let’s put that aside for now.

I read Socrates when I was a kid and I found him to be frequently full of shit.

You say that you might choose to commit murder, because you prefer murder to the alternative. Might we also conclude that if a person other than yourself were in this situation, you would hope they choose to murder as well?

If someone had a choice between themselves personally going and slaughtering 1000 people, or letting me die, then I would hope that the are ready to get their hands dirty with the blood of those 1000.

As I already explained several times, what I want to happen, and what I recognize to be moral and immoral, are different things. Let me put it to you in a way with which you may be familiar: power corrupts. I know full well that it would corrupt me too. The essence of power is freedom from punishment. I know full well that if I were not constrained by the fear of being punished, I would do a lot of bad things. Now, why would I do those bad things? Because I would want them to happen. And if someone else was doing them, the proper word would be hope: I would hope they would happen.

A word for it is "temptation".

Or, alternatively, to make

Or, alternatively, to make Matt example even more difficult to a deontologist: if you could, with certainty, save 1000 lives by violating the property rights of one innocent person, should you? Remember, deontologists aren’t allowed to weigh rights violations and say that one form of aggression is worse than another.

But letting those 1000 people die is not a form of aggression, so there aren't two forms of aggression here to weigh. Here, let me put this simply right now I might be able to save 1000 people by signing up with some organization like the Red Cross. But I don't. Now, does that make me a murderer? No. Evil ideologies say that it would make me a murderer, because evil ideologies give me responsibility for taking care of my fellow man. But libertarianism, I think, at least recognizes what I myself recognize, and that is that I do not have any responsibility for the lives of those 1000 if I do not actually kill them myself but merely let them die.

Now, is stealing someone's property evil? Yes.

So the options here are (A) let 1000 people die or (B) steal someone's property. A is not evil. B is evil. At least, that's what I think. So the choice is between doing something evil, and doing something that is not evil.

If you have a choice between doing something that is evil, and doing something that is not evil, what will you choose? Well, my answer is, it depends. Will I get in trouble?

Whereas your answer is to declare that somehow the evil thing becomes not evil and the not evil thing becomes evil (I remind you that above you implied that letting 1000 people die is a form of aggression). You are thoroughly messing up your moral system because you don't want to admit to temptation.

Brandon, How about: I aim

Brandon,
How about: I aim for my ends, you aim for yours, and we cooperate as best we can?

What if my ends involve killing lots of people? Our moral intuitions (or at least mine!) tells us that even if there is some subjectivity in ranking ends, there are some ends that are objectively wrong.

Or here's another

Or here's another comparison, from the gentle world of argumentation. If someone is arguing my side in something and they are using a lot of invalid but highly persuasive rhetoric, you can bet that I am going to keep my mouth shut and hope that nobody on the other side notices that the arguments are a bunch of crap. But I'll still know in the back of my mind that their argument is vulnerable to response.

Say it as much as you like

Say it as much as you like it just isn’t true. Jack the Ripper long ago proved that prudent predators, isolated incidents, and kept secrets are all real world things.

OK, maybe I'm the one not communicating clearly.

I did not deny the existence of prudent predators. In fact I acknowledged the realism of swapped lottery tickets, not returning wallets, and I'll also acknowlege the realism of shoplifting and Jack the Ripper's predations. Consequential arguments all show these actions to be wrong - or at least ends minimizing.

But the key difference between these and the earlier example (tens of people all keeping a secret and no information getting out) are very different. Yes if only one person knows the truth of a matter, it can be kept secret. Note that Jack the Ripper and your shoplifting are well known, even if no one knows who did it, the information that it occurred is well known. What I reject is zero information transfer, or the occurence of things in a vacuum. Your shoplifting did not occur in a vacuum, the store knows it lost some of its stuff that day, other people are paying for that loss.

I did not deny the existence

I did not deny the existence of prudent predators. In fact I acknowledged the realism of swapped lottery tickets, not returning wallets, and I’ll also acknowlege the realism of shoplifting and Jack the Ripper’s predations. Consequential arguments all show these actions to be wrong - or at least ends minimizing.

I think that part of the problem here is that 'consequentialism' is a term that is very broad, encompassing at least two distinct moral theories: egoism and utilitarianism. The egoist determines right and wrong in terms of consequences, but claims that the only consequences that matter are consequences for me. (For all her blathering about deontology and Kant, the only way that Rand makes any sense at all is as a consequentialist-egoist.) Utilitarians also determine right and wrong via reference to consequences, but claim that consequences for each person count equally. (Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick hold positions like this.)

So certainly some consequentialists (namely egoists) would hold that prudent predators are not only possible, but, in some sense, desirable. Utilitarians, OTOH, do have to show why prudent predators would be a problem. Utilitarians typically do so by looking at the consequences that accrue to others. Egoists who nonetheless want to limit predation have a harder task in that they have to show that prudent predation will somehow make _me_ worse off.

Much of the debate about prudent predators on this thread seems to result from a conflation of the two types of consequentialism. There are two different arguments to be made depending on which set of consequences one actually cares about.

“To protect Earth from

“To protect Earth from being destroyed by an asteroid--- I could steal the equipment and then compensate the man after I was done using it for this specific task; perhaps I am required to become his slave until the debt is repaid.” –Stefan
Is that sort of like the black kid who stole the school bus from the New Orleans School Bus people and drove 70 People to safety while the other busses were inundated by flood water post Hurricane Katrina? Maybe he should work as a slave for a while to pay for the use of the bus.
“For example, perhaps I am required to murder 100 innocent children and use their ground up bones to save the world from the asteroid or something.”- Stefan
That would work. The heat from the ionized calcium from the bones would repel the asteroid. But you have to wrap the bones in toilet paper. And no one replaced the roll.
No, I think you have to be a bacteria living several thousand feet beneath the ocean floor. I saw it on the Discovery Channel.

Egoists who nonetheless want to limit predation have a harder task in that they have to show that prudent predation will somehow make me worse off.-Joe
This is really quite easy. I make no claim to be any type of – ist, but predation, prudent or otherwise raises costs for everyone. There has been a real and palpable cost in terms of loss of freedom, tranquility and monetary costs to publicized predation. People used to be able to walk around airports, railroad yards and construction sites just for fun to see what was going on. Kids used to say things like; I want to be a carpenter when I grow up because they could go over and watch them building a house. Adults such as priests, and teachers and used to be able to be alone with children. Children used to be allowed to run all over town after school without supervision, carrying BB guns. You used to be able to move around the country without being constantly photographed and searched. I could go on and on.

I did not deny the existence

I did not deny the existence of prudent predators.

Sorry. I thought the point about the theft of fractions of a cent in bank transactions was meant to imply that prudent predators weren't realistic.

Also, tens of people keeping a secret doesn't seem impossible to me. Information doesn't just fly around on its own, if you're careful very little information will get out. The little information that does get out will probably not be interpreted as an indication of all the things you want to hide. A missing person with no trail is unlikely to be assumed the result of an organ harvester. In fact, the only solid thing I found in your rejection of the hypothetical in the other thread was the medical stuff which alot of people don't think about.

Sorry. I thought the point

Sorry. I thought the point about the theft of fractions of a cent in bank transactions was meant to imply that prudent predators weren’t realistic.

No, no, I'm sorry, I could have been clearer. That was to suggest that for many predators, their psychology may eventually get the better of them, as each iteration of their predation in which they are not caught builds their confidence to levels where they will get caught. That would probably fit more into an egoist consequential philosophy.

Also, tens of people keeping a secret doesn’t seem impossible to me. Information doesn’t just fly around on its own, if you’re careful very little information will get out.

If we assume that no one has any pre-existing moral qualms about butchering one to save five, then why would they keep the practice a secret? If we allow that some may have moral qualms about the practice then we can be sure that they won't keep it a secret. Then there are the patients and their families, friends, and acquaintances asking questions, so the health professionals make up stories to tell them - can they keep the stories straight? Most people are not good liars. Also, preventing information flows is in practice very difficult, as in impossible. Information doesn't just fly around, but if you are trying to keep information flow down, you'll think information does just fly around. There is a fairly good discussion about information flows in Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. While it is fictional it is obvious that Stephenson did a lot of research on information security.

Joe -

Yes, I suspect I should be using "utilitarian" in many of the places I use "consequentialist" since I'm essentially arguing for maximizing "lives", "utils", or "wealth".

To protect Earth from being

To protect Earth from being destroyed by an asteroid

Ironically there was an episode of Stargate on this morning where they had to save the earth from being hit by an asteroid, and not once did they contemplate sacrificing children, slaughtering innocent people, etc to achieve their goal. The writers obviously should consult these blogs for better writing ideas.

Dave: Egoists who

Dave:

Egoists who nonetheless want to limit predation have a harder task in that they have to show that prudent predation will somehow make me worse off.---Joe

This is really quite easy. I make no claim to be any type of – ist, but predation, prudent or otherwise raises costs for everyone.

This doesn't work, because the benefits of predation are concentrated while the costs are dispersed. (Would lobbyists be good examples of prudent predators?) You might be better off if no one's a predator than if everyone were a predator, but you only control your own behavior. Whatveer others choose to do, the concentrated benefits of predation always outweigh the predator's share of the dispersed costs.

To answer Joe's challenge (and David Masten's, earlier), I've come to the conclusion that the answer probably lies in psychology, specifically in our sense of guilt and honor. There is something in most people that makes them want to live "rightly." I suspect that this is an evolutionary mechanism to facilitate trust and cooperation, but the important thing is that it's there. I'm an egoist, but I don't become a predator because the psychological costs outweigh the material benefits.

This mechanism exists in different people in varying degrees, which is why we use the threat of punishment to help push incentive structures in the right direction. For some, even this fails, and we have to remove them from society for the protection of others. But for the most part it works pretty well.

There is something in most

There is something in most people that makes them want to live “rightly.” I suspect that this is an evolutionary mechanism to facilitate trust and cooperation, but the important thing is that it’s there.

It sounds like you might be giving up the game to the deontologists - if morality is "inside" of us in that way then it seems a short leap to positing universal natural rights, etc.

I’m an egoist, but I don’t become a predator because the psychological costs outweigh the material benefits.

But just because something is natural doesn't make it praiseworthy or good. In fact I think Kennedy would just respond that you're being irrational by your own criterion, and you need to train yourself so that stealing, killing, etc aren't as repugnant to you. That way you could get on with the business of efficiently preying on people.

Brandon I don’t dispute

Brandon
I don’t dispute your point. I agree that the predator has a net gain, if he is really prudent. I am just saying that it costs the rest of us dearly. We in the West have the great good luck to live where we do. This is because 95% of the people do the right thing 95% of the time.

Dave: I think what Joe meant

Dave:
I think what Joe meant is that egoists have to show why prudent predation hurts the predator, not how it hurts society at large. My response to you assumed that you interpreted it that way, but I see now that you probably interpreted it the other way.

Stefan, It sounds like you

Stefan,

It sounds like you might be giving up the game to the deontologists - if morality is “inside” of us in that way then it seems a short leap to positing universal natural rights, etc.

Not at all, for that would be to confuse an ought with an is. Just because predation makes most of us (or even all of us) feel "icky" inside does not mean that predation is objectively wrong. Just read you own words: "But just because something is natural doesn’t make it praiseworthy or good."

In fact I think Kennedy would just respond that you’re being irrational by your own criterion, and you need to train yourself so that stealing, killing, etc aren’t as repugnant to you. That way you could get on with the business of efficiently preying on people.

But why try to brainwash yourself into getting rid of an old set of preferences and acquiring a new one if you are perfectly content with the set you have now? What would be the point? Not to mention that since the appearence of not being a predator has its own social benefits, acting as a predator when appearence is not at risk requires an additional level of effort that most people either aren't capable of, aren't very good at, or don't believe is worth the effort.

Again, I'd recommend reading Friedman's take on this issue.

"Not at all, for that would

"Not at all, for that would be to confuse an ought with an is."

Observe the second word in the sentence, "that is evil".

If there is some better formulation of the same idea, go ahead and state it. However I think ultimately whatever you come up with is just going to beg the question.