Voting corrupts. And so does moral philosophy.

Our moral intuitions are acquired and reinforced in actual face to face encounters with other humans. Our moral intuitions become corrupt when we are given the power to make morally significant decisions while remaining shielded from the consequences of our own individual decisions - either actual decisions, as when we participate in mob violence, or imaginary decisions, as when we practice moral philosophy (or, for that matter, vote, since the impact of an individual vote is nil even if the collective impact is significant).

Arthur and "immigrant" attempt in recent comments to restore the reader's sense of right and wrong to its non-corrupt state. They do this by asking the reader to imaginatively place himself in a situation in which he is in an actual face to face encounter with another human.

Arthur:

If you have any self respect, grab a gun and shoot immigrant children crossing the border. If you wouldn't be willing to enforce a "right", how can you seriously claim it exists?

Immigrant:

Will you look at me with a straight face, right in the eyes and tell me I should be forced on a plane out of the U.S.? Would you be willing to participate in my arrest? How Would you do it? Would you knock me out and wait for the police to arrive?

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Let's be careful

Using the same method, couldn't we imagine another situation involving real life people which would lead us, using our uncorrupt moral intuition, to draw nonlibertarian conclusions? E.g., imagine a hopelessly poor child sneaks into your house and steals your last loaf of bread. Do you really think that you have the right to keep him from getting the bread? Where would you shoot him? The leg? The chest? The head? He is starving to death, after all, so I suppose that killing him wouldn't make him much worse off than if he hadn't attempted to steal the bread.

My point is that you might be assuming the rights you are attempting to establish. I'm not very optimistic about the existence of an "uncorrpted moral intuition" which is universal; however, assuming one does exist, I think it is more likely that the nonlibertarian conclusion would be drawn in the above case. Maybe my example is flawed in some way. Care to critique it?

I wouldn't shoot him, I

I wouldn't shoot him, I would give him the bread, it's my house. My accepting starving children to take occasionally some bread in my house does not mean I think people who don't should be punished by force.

The real question is : what would you do to a guy who shot a children who tried to steal the bread despite several clear warnings. Most people would not mind enforcing an unjust law on that person.

The technique is not sure-fire, but if people are unwilling to enforce the law themselves, it generally means it's unjust - the converse isn't true.

Let me clear something up.

Let me clear something up. I wasn't trying to ask about what you're personal preference was. That's probably my mistake. What I am attempting to get at is better captured by this:

The real question is : what would you do to a guy who shot a children who tried to steal the bread despite several clear warnings. Most people would not mind enforcing an unjust law on that person.

Almost my point. I don't think most people would call a law which enforced altruism in this specific case unjust. A typical libertarian response might be that refusing to give the bread is definitely immoral, but so is forcing the refuser to give the bread. Many people find this intuitively appealing, I'm sure. But I'm not convinced that no one would find the socialist intuition appealing.

More moral philosophy

I don't think most people would call a law which enforced altruism in this specific case unjust.

Maybe people would call such a law just. But that very way of putting it depicts those people as moral philosophers giving their opinion in response to a question.

But what do people actually do? The actual shooting of an intruder is not a daily occurrence, but respect for the private property of others is a daily occurrence. This respect is active. It is not merely a matter of what people say, what people call something. It is a matter of what people do. We can see from what people do that they respect private property.

We can also see what people actually do, as individuals, when it comes to charitable giving. They give to charity. They don't force their neighbors to give to charity. This is thoroughly familiar and mundane. The giving is mundane, and the failure to force others to give is mundane.

"I don't think most people

"I don't think most people would call a law which enforced altruism in this specific case unjust."

Look, I'm for good samaritan law and I think a law in this specific case is unjust. Why? Because the conditions required to justify good samaritan laws are missing in this case. I am referring to the comment:

"E.g., imagine a hopelessly poor child sneaks into your house and steals your last loaf of bread. Do you really think that you have the right to keep him from getting the bread?"

It's your last loaf of bread which implies that you are already in danger of starving. There is a reasonable belief on your part that the child will not be able to repay you since you'll have potentially starved to death before he corrects his situation. Additionally, by sneaking in and stealing the bread the child has shown an intent not to repay.

Would I shoot the kid? Yes, if there was no other way to keep my bread from him. Doesn't matter if he's an immigrant or not either. Likely though that a slap to the face and a better lock would be sufficient.

A good example of armchair moral philosophy

Using the same method, couldn't we imagine another situation

Just to be clear, I'm not proposing a (new) method (beyond what we all already do). Arthur and "immigrant" are doing their best to recreate the impression of an actual face-to-face encounter, given the limitations. But what I said was this:

Our moral intuitions are acquired and reinforced in actual face to face encounters with other humans.

I am talking about actual face to face encounters with other humans. Arthur and Immigrant are trying to get as close as possible within the limitation that we're discussing this online, but they're not actually achieving it.

imagine a hopelessly poor child sneaks into your house and steals your last loaf of bread

This imaginary scenario has two problems:

1) It is an extreme situation, unlike typical situations.

2) It is a situation that we rarely or never encounter.

Our moral intuitions are grounded in frequent, even daily, actual experiences and cover non-extreme situations. They need to be frequent because it takes a lot of iteration to reliably settle on the right solution - there can be a lot of trial and error involved. The vast majority of actually encountered cases are not difficult at all (because they so closely resemble numberless previously encountered cases), and people just do the right thing. The scenario you depict is unlike anything most people experience - at least, most people in your target audience (the US), and our experiences (I would argue) don't prepare us to have a reliable intuition in this case.

My point is that you might be assuming the rights you are attempting to establish.

No, I am not assuming any rights - not here. Here I am making a claim about where moral intuitions come from. Moral intuitions well-grounded in daily encounters could in principle contradict the rights that I believe exist. I have attempted to prevent that from happening by basing my views of rights on those selfsame moral intuitions. I've given you a tool by which you could, in principle, contradict my views. However, you haven't used the tool very well here, because you've imagined an extreme scenario unlike anything that I (and I think most Americans) have encountered.

I think it is more likely that the nonlibertarian conclusion would be drawn in the above case.

As I pointed out, the "above case" is not a good case. What I was getting at was this: people who are, as voters, helping to decide what policies the state will put into place, are doubly shielded from the consequences of their decisions.

1) Their vote literally doesn't matter. So even if they vote for something evil, and the evil policy is implemented, and then disaster results, in fact the evil policy would have been implemented even if they stayed home, so their individual decision didn't actually cause the evil result. The evil result is a consequence of all the votes taken as a whole.

2) If they vote to do something evil to somebody, they don't have to personally do the evil act. This is what Arthur and Immigrant are trying to imaginatively remedy.

This double shielding renders their moral opinions suspect, and therefore renders democratic outcomes morally suspect.

Interesting. Now I'm

Interesting. Now I'm curious, why do you think this sort of moral intuition is normatively binding?

I'm attacking voting (and moral philosophy)

It's an attack rather than a defense. The basis (implied in the title) is Acton's familiar claim that power corrupts, a claim which I believe to be correct and which I believe strikes most who hear it as at least highly probable. I attempt to explain why power corrupts: "we are given the power to make morally significant decisions while remaining shielded from the consequences of our own individual decisions." In contrast to someone in power, an ordinary person dealing face to face with another ordinary person (a friend or a neighbor) is not in such a position. As I point out however, power is not the only thing that shields a person from the consequences. If a person votes, he is shielded. If he is part of a mob he is shielded. If he is practicing moral philosophy then he is shielded by the fact that it is all in his head. The philosopher is, within the confines of his own imagination, given the power of a god, so however warped we might expect absolute dictators to become, we might expect philosophers to become even more warped.

These are reasons to distrust the results of voting, the actions of mobs, and the output of philosophers, along with the decrees of absolute dictators.

If you want to attack our mundane moral decisions please feel free. If you want to know why I feel that mundane moral intuitions are correct, then I suppose the primary reason is that I share mundane moral intuitions. It should not be surprising that an intuition implicitly includes the intuition that the intuition is correct. It's a bit silly to express, but really it's no more odd a fact than that someone who believes that it is snowing, also by implication believes that his belief that it is snowing is correct.

If you want some additional argument that our mundane moral intuitions are the real deal, and are not illusory, one argument is that they are the primary teaching examples of the very idea of right and wrong. We don't learn what "wrong" means and then learn that specific things are wrong. We learn, from the beginning, that specific things are wrong. It would be odd indeed if it turned out that none of those things were in fact wrong. It would be like learning, after having been taught what dogs are by people pointing out specific dogs to you, that in fact none of those things were ever dogs. A (barely) conceivable outcome, but not a possibility that I would place a large wager on.

Whether we do believe them

Whether we do believe them isn't the issue so long as we are capable of believing otherwise. The question is what we should believe. A great many people believe a great many things based on intuition. These come with the implicit belief that the intuition is true, as you said. On its own, that is not grounds that they should believe those things.

If we simply can't help but believe these moral intuitions, then great. They have the same status of numerous other beliefs - like that I exist or that there is no such thing as a square circle. The reason for our incapability of disbelief is largely irrelevant.

However, I'm not sure this is the case with our moral intuitions. We are capable of believing one thing in close and another while doing philosophy. You suggest that we should trust our in close intuitions over our detached intuitions because power corrupts. I agree that power corrupts, but we don't literally get the ability to do anything extra when taking a detached view. I would suspect that actual power does the corrupting, not imagined power. How many politicians see themselves succumbing political pressures rather than making a principled stand before they get into politics?

Perhaps I should restate the question. Why should I believe that our mundane moral intuitions are correct?

Absolute power

On its own, that is not grounds that they should believe those things.

You are asking for ground - for foundations. Rather than answer, I'll refer you to Quee Nelson on the search for foundations here, and to Brian Macker here.

If we simply can't help but believe these moral intuitions, then great.

Neither do I believe that nor does my argument rest on that as a presupposition.

I agree that power corrupts, but we don't literally get the ability to do anything extra when taking a detached view. I would suspect that actual power does the corrupting, not imagined power. How many politicians see themselves succumbing political pressures rather than making a principled stand before they get into politics?

You've just presented an argument for the claim that my extension of Acton's claim fails. Your argument is that the reason power corrupts is that people succumb to political pressures, which prevents them from making a principled stand.

As an interpretation of Acton's statement, your argument is provably wrong. The fuller familiar statement is:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

Someone with absolute power doesn't have to compromise. And yet, according to Acton, he's not only still corrupted, but he's corrupted absolutely. Acton furthermore points to precisely what he believes causes the corruption: it is the want of legal responsibility. These men are above the law, placed there by their power. This is the danger, this is the source of the corruption - being beyond the reach of law, beyond the reach of the usual consequences. The same is true of a voter: voters who vote for evil things are not arrested. To arrest such voters would, of course, be anti-democratic. But the point is, the same thing is going on, the decider is protected from consequences - beyond the reach of the law. And similarly, the moral philosopher is not arrested for making foolish and evil moral claims. This is as it should be - to arrest the philosopher for this would be to attack the freedom of speech. But while the philosopher should not be arrested, neither should he be particularly trusted, precisely because he is protected from the consequences of the moral imbecilities in his works.

You are asking for ground -

You are asking for ground - for foundations. Rather than answer, I'll refer you to Quee Nelson on the search for foundations here, and to Brian Macker here.

I'm not looking for an absolute foundation, just a reason to believe. I think the Cartesian search for an absolute foundation of knowledge is just as misguided and doomed to failure as you do.

Neither do I believe that nor does my argument rest on that as a presupposition.

I didn't think your argument assumed this, but I find it odd that you would question it. If you are forced to believe that rape is wrong, for example, questioning it seems irrelevant. Similarly, if you are forced to believe you exist, questioning that "fact" seems irrelevant. Sure, it may be false in some sense of the word, but that doesn't really matter from your point of view, so you can go ahead and assume what you must assume anyway and move on.

Someone with absolute power doesn't have to compromise...

I think I need to chew on this for a bit before I declare my acceptance of it, but in the mean time I have another question. Are you sure that everyone's moral intuitions in face-to-face situations are the same? If there is widespread disagreement, arguing with other people about rights becomes futile. That is, even moreso than it is already. The question may not be that hard to answer - it's an empirical question which "experimental philosophers" or perhaps sociobiologists may have already looked at. I'm not well read in either subject, hence the question.

Ground

I'm not looking for an absolute foundation, just a reason to believe.

But I doubt you're asking that question for the usual reason. Suppose someone says, "they found out that chocolate is good for your heart." If I don't know anything about it, I might ask for a reference, a cite. This is because I don't actually have any belief going in that chocolate is good for my heart, just the other person's say-so.

But suppose someone tells you, "it's evil to throw a random stranger off the street in front of an oncoming bus so that he's run over." In this situation, do you really, going in to this statement, have no belief that such a thing is evil?

Normally we ask for grounds when we actually need grounds. If we already believe something and we still ask for grounds, we're asking for a completely different reason than the usual reason. And I presume you already believe that it's evil to throw random strangers to their deaths (which is an example of a perfectly ordinary, mundane moral intuition).

Something odd about asking for grounds when you already believe. It's like you're doing Descartes' thing - Descartes didn't actually doubt the reality of the world, but for the sake of his philosophy he adopted a position of doubt and attempted to reconstruct the world from certainty. I don't see what sort of thing you're doing if it's not that.

I'm not sure how to answer your question. Suppose you were to ask, "I want a reason to believe that what we intuit to be dogs are in fact dogs." I'm not sure how to answer that either. What exactly would be the nature of the doubt that I would need to relieve? If you have a particular reason for doubting that dogs are dogs, then I might be able to address that particular reason. For example, maybe you are asking for a reason to believe that a particular purported breed of dog is a dog. If that were your question, then I might do something like, get that purported breed to produce offspring with a breed which you accept is a dog breed. If they succeed, then that would prove that that breed was in fact a dog. But if you just are going to adopt a posture of blanket doubt, for some philosophical reason, then I'm not sure how to proceed. If you doubt that any dog is a dog, then obviously breeding them to produce offspring isn't going to resolve your doubt. I could tell you that scientists have classified these animals as 'dogs', but this would hardly resolve a common breed of philosophical doubt.

It seems to me that that what you're doing is adopting a posture of blanket doubt for some philosophical reason.

I didn't think your argument assumed this, but I find it odd that you would question it.

I don't know what you mean. Am I questioning something? I think it's possible not to believe something. That's not the same thing as questioning it. Similarly: I think it is possible for someone, if he is hit in the head, to believe that he is not [whoever he in fact is], but rather (say) Napoleon or Jesus. But that doesn't mean that I myself at this current moment question whether he is that person.

Are you sure that everyone's moral intuitions in face-to-face situations are the same?

The vast majority seem to agree on most of the big stuff - so much so that it just doesn't come up. For example, I doubt there is any city anywhere in the world where it is considered perfectly all right and unremarkable to throw random strangers to their deaths. If those strangers are some identifiable enemy group, maybe. But not ordinary people - whatever passes for ordinary. If you kill someone who was minding his own business and was not doing anything to threaten you, his family will get angry with you, friends will join the family, and you will not be safe. The people in the neighborhood will not take your side.

There does seem some variation from place to place, most notably within the family: the legal relationship between members of the same family. I happen to think that this is an important datum and I am inclined not to extend libertarian ideas to relationships within a single family.

But anyway, this is getting off the original topic. My original point is that we have particular reasons to doubt democratic outcomes and moral philosophy. These reasons are not shared with mundane moral intuitions. Acton's point about the corrupting effect of power, extends, I have argued, to the voter and to the moral philosopher. It does not extend to the mundane moral intuition. Mundane moral intuition wins this contest. Maybe you want to set up another contest in which mundane moral intuition has problems not shared by democratic outcomes. Then we can discuss whether that contest is a good one.

Notice something I have not done: I have not said, give me a reason to believe in the output of moral philosophers. I'm not adopting a posture of initial doubt or disbelief requiring some foundation or ground. I am pointing out that there is a specific problem with moral philosophy which renders it suspect.

Intuitions

Shorter answer: when it comes down to it, intuition is either the final court of appeals, or is a part of, or can be introduced into, an infinite regression of justification. So when you doubt your intuitions and want some even firmer ground - I'm not sure where to go. If you try to give me a counterexample to this, I'm pretty sure I can say something like, "and how do you know that" - and we'll sooner or later wind up back at your intiutions.

This is not to say that intuition is the ground of truth, only to say that our own access to the truth is, necessarily, mediated by our intuitions. This is, I think, captured in the idea of an intuition. If we seem to know something, and just know it, without knowing how we know it, then we can call this an "intuition". So the very idea of an intuition is a bit of knowledge (or at least belief) that we don't know how we know - that has no further ground that we are aware of.

An intuition might of course be replaced later on by a grounded opinion. At first you may intuit that somebody is sick, because they just seem off somehow, but you can't put your finger on why. But then measurable symptoms might appear, allowing you to justify your judgment with measurements (high temperature, etc.).

And we can in principle study a person's intuition and we might discover how their intuition works, even though it operates (in them) completely unconsciously. So in this way we can become conscious of unconscious processes and find "ground" for intuitions.

But at any given point, whatever we know, is either (a) justified by infinite regress, or (b) has a chain of justification that ends somewhere. In the case (b), where it ends is, pretty much by definition an intuition, i.e., something we seem to know but which we don't know why we know.

Voting or What?

In practice your criticism of voting is addressed in a number of ways. Checks and Balances, the Bill of Rights and Federalism ameliorate popular passions. In the long run corrections are possible. There is no perfect solution but do you have a better one?

Say a legislator runs on a platform to make it illegal to raise hogs on private residential property in town.
You vote for him. The hog farmers put on a campaign to vote for his opponent. Your candidate wins. A bill is passed to ban hogs. Hog farmers have to move. If your candidate loses you have to endure stinking hog farm next door and can't sleep because of interminable oinking at night. But you can move to a town where it is against the law to raise hogs on residential property. There is no need to over dramatize the effect of voting anymore than the example where you shoot a starving child. Most cases are mundane.

Under anarchism there are no elections. How do your grievances get addressed? You can move. So next day another hog farmer moves in next door. In anarchy these things might end up being be settled by a private police force. You and other owners hire cops, declare hogs illegal and run hog farmers out of town. Hog farmer gets no due process or bill of rights. Things get done by way of informal spontaneous power struggles of varying degrees of intensity where various groups of people get their will. So forget hiring police; just get a vigilante group together. Either way why is this better than having already established laws and customs that have been worked out over centuries that limit the use of private property? And how better to create the new laws than by majority rule modified by legal restrictions on majority rule?

2) If they vote to do something evil to somebody, they don't have to personally do the evil act. This is what Arthur and Immigrant are trying to imaginatively remedy.

This double shielding renders their moral opinions suspect, and therefore renders democratic outcomes morally suspect.

I don't think this problem is due to democracy but is due to unintended consequences. Every act of an individual may result in something untoward. Even more of a problem is when actions are taken that the individual would not commit personally but wills his employees to do. The employee may do something evil and say he is just following orders. A situation like this occurred in the Irish Potato famine when corn and wheat were harvested from the farms of absentee landowners.It was shipped out of town on orders of the boss. Other examples due to private decisions made in the interests of business abound. I am still a Capitalist and I vote.

Dave

moral philosophy

That moral philosophizing corrupts explains western history since 1770.

That is a very illuminating insight, better than Rand's overly lengthy and one sided analysis of Kant and Hegel. Yes, they are wicked, not so much because of any specific key errors in their philosophy, but simply because the method is error prone at its core. Coding without running the code produces code that does not work. Moral philosophizing in a vacuum produces evil moral philosophies. Evil moral philosophies produce industrial scale mass murder, while evil individuals merely produce individual murders.

Of course, one can turn that argument around and move it closer to the Randian argument by saying that their core error was a theory of philosophy that detached mind from the world, and thus justified and demanded that moral philosophizing - and also mathematics and geometry - be conducted in the vacuum.

What we do versus what we say

I wrote:

respect for the private property of others is a daily occurrence. This respect is active. It is not merely a matter of what people say, what people call something. It is a matter of what people do. We can see from what people do that they respect private property.

This discussion goes a little more deeply into the contrast between what we say and what we do - and it illustrates the point that what people say is not a reliable guide to what really moves them.

Some key illustrative points:

The left hemisphere perceives a change in the body's state, but does not know why - and so it "fills in" the missing details, fabricating a logical reason for the emotional reaction. This happens at a subconscious level, so that the person genuinely believes the verbal explanation they provide. In the language of psychology, this filling-in process of unconscious invention is called confabulation. [...]

Despite such evidence of favoritism toward handsome politicians, follow-up research demonstrated that voters did not realize their bias. In fact, 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance [...]

The people at Chrysler had indeed asked hundreds of questions; they just hadn't asked the right ones. They kept listening to what people said. This is always a mistake. [...]

Using surveys and focus groups to design your product is a great way to produce boring and mediocre products that are the same as everything else. [...]

It is because people respond to these questions with their cortexes, the parts of their brains that control intelligence rather than emotion or instinct. They ponder a question, they process a question, and when they deliver an answer, it is the product of deliberation. They believe they are telling the truth. A lie detector would confirm this. In most cases, however, they aren't saying what they mean.

The reason for this is simple: most people don't know why they do the things they do.

Emphasis mine. The article identifies the superficial explanatory patter that people produce as "rational" and the truth about their motivations as "irrational", which way of talking suggests (improperly) that the former is in some way superior to the latter - a reader might come away wishing that humans were less irrational and more rational. I question this evaluation and reject it entirely in the case of moral intuition. Superficial patter is superficial. It is false. It is specious. The truth is the truth. What is "irrational" about the so-called "irrational" side is merely that the so-called "rational" side - the chattering, prattling, yapping side - misinterprets it. That failure of interpretation isn't a problem of the "irrational" side, but of the "rational" side.

It is a mistake to confuse the fact that the verbal side of our nature hasn't managed to make sense of the nonverbal side of our nature, with the idea that the nonverbal side doesn't make sense.

I am not saying that the nonverbal side can do no wrong. It can. For example in many cases it may be economically unwise to pay attractive people more than unattractive people. It may reduce profits. So I am not saying that we must bow down to our nonverbal side. I am saying that there is a disconnect, and this disconnect renders our patter suspect.

We are smarter than we can explain or justify

It is a mistake to confuse the fact that the verbal side of our nature hasn't managed to make sense of the nonverbal side of our nature, with the idea that the nonverbal side doesn't make sense.

People were able to throw rocks accurately when Aristotlean physics said that they were doing it wrong. The correct conclusion was that philosophers were stupid, not that the stone throwers were stupid. Understanding how we do things, understanding how we discover truth, is much harder than doing things and discovering truth. If you try to explain how you ride a bicycle, you will likely fall off. And when we were murdering millions, that was falling off caused by unsuccessful efforts to understand morality and how we know reality.

Constant and Constant ?

Our moral intuitions are acquired and reinforced in actual face to face encounters with other humans. Our moral intuitions become corrupt when we are given the power to make morally significant decisions while remaining shielded from the consequences of our own individual decisions - either actual decisions, as when we participate in mob violence, or imaginary decisions, as when we practice moral philosophy

OMG, I could almost swear I've read exactly the same stuff, put in the same words (or almost, 'cause it was in French) in Benjamin Constant's "Principes de Politique". It's 200 years old, and it's more accurate than ever.

Never heard of myself, um, him

That's cool - now I know who I'm the reincarnation of. Goes without saying I'll be putting myself on my reading list.

So, just meet his "magnum opus"...

His "Principes de Politique" (which amazingly were not translated until recently) is available online at OLL.

Bad news : he wasn't ancap. Good news : he was as libertarian as a philosopher could be around 1800. ;)