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Old 13th February 2019, 04:33 PM   #161
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
It is not down to the is-ought pseudoproblem, it is a matter of moral realism versus moral non-realism.

If there are not objectively true moral facts (and we have no reason to believe there are) then what is the determination about the child in the pond based on other than emotion?

If that determination is based on emotion then you can't draw any conclusions from one situation to another where you have different emotions.
I am not convinced that this is a binary choice. You seem to come to the conclusion that if there are no objectively true moral facts, it is impossible to speak of ethics. It's an old tired debate that I seem to recall having or at least observing some time back in the dream time, but I do not think it follows that relative values are no values at all.
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Old 13th February 2019, 05:04 PM   #162
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Originally Posted by bruto View Post
You seem to come to the conclusion that if there are no objectively true moral facts, it is impossible to speak of ethics.
I certainly didn't say that. For example I am not a moral realist and here I am speaking of ethics.


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Old 13th February 2019, 05:30 PM   #163
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
It is not down to the is-ought pseudoproblem, it is a matter of moral realism versus moral non-realism.

If there are not objectively true moral facts (and we have no reason to believe there are) then what is the determination about the child in the pond based on other than emotion?

If that determination is based on emotion then you can't draw any conclusions from one situation to another where you have different emotions.
Perhaps it comes down to simple arithmetic. If you agree that human lives are worth saving, and you can save a few lives by cutting back on a lavish lifestyle then why not do it?

I think the question of whether you have to be a moral realist or can be a non-realist is a pretty esoteric objection. If you look at the problem as an economic one then arguably you only have to be a resource realist.

Essentially you are just asking us if there is any cosmic value to human life. Maybe there is not. In fact maybe there is no intrinsic value to anything. So what?
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 13th February 2019, 06:12 PM   #164
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Perhaps it comes down to simple arithmetic. If you agree that human lives are worth saving, and you can save a few lives by cutting back on a lavish lifestyle then why not do it?

I think the question of whether you have to be a moral realist or can be a non-realist is a pretty esoteric objection. If you look at the problem as an economic one then arguably you only have to be a resource realist.

Essentially you are just asking us if there is any cosmic value to human life. Maybe there is not. In fact maybe there is no intrinsic value to anything. So what?
My impression is that this type of thought experiment is intended to more than just expose a high level theory about human life valuation. Some thread contributors seem to be correctly addressing the analogy differentiator that comes into play here: the drowning child is right here; whereas, the donation of cash to save an anonymous child somewhere else is quite remote.

The mystery of why people who are generally utilitarians get tripped up when asked to equate lives they know personally with lives they do not know is an old one. [Carol Gilligan] attempted to universalize this with her [Care Ethics] model (a subset of Feminine Ethics). Basically, she proposed that your child is more valuable to you than some unknown child out there, so it's healthy and normal to be biased in favour of loved ones even at the expense of strangers.

I'm not saying I agree with her, but the point is that this is not a new topic. Connections with others seem to create a sense of obligation we don't experience with strangers.

The model has a range of experiments. An in vivo example is Thomas Moriarty's 1972 'beachblanket experiment' where an actor randomly either greets a neighbouring sunbather at the beach or alternatively ignores them. A second actor steals his radio when he has 'gone to the bathroom'. The result was that the neighbours who had been engaged in just a simple 'hello' were orders of magnitude more likely to chase down the thief/report the theft than the ones who had been ignored. A 2009 experiment with an iPod replicated the results closely, with a 20% vs 95% ratio.



There is one powerful disanalogy in this exercise, though... the definition of 'saving a life'. With a drowning kid, the probability of the shoe sacrifice (let's say $1,000) converting into a saved life is practically 100%. In contrast, donating to Save The Children is not just about an abstract kid... it's got some baked in uncertainty about how much of that $1,000 is actually going to help anybody other than Save The Children Call Center budget, Save The Children Executive remuneration, Save The Children Operational Expenses, Save The Children Dallas HQ Renovation Fund, and so on. This is a trust issue that unfortunately is so obvious that even decreeing that "...yes, yes, but for the experiment assume it will save a child," just can't deep down believe it and the cynicism and devaluation of benefit (given overhead, this $1,000 will save 0.05 children) is authentic and taken into account.
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Old 13th February 2019, 06:29 PM   #165
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Originally Posted by blutoski View Post
My impression is that this type of thought experiment is intended to more than just expose a high level theory about human life valuation. Some thread contributors seem to be correctly addressing the analogy differentiator that comes into play here: the drowning child is right here; whereas, the donation of cash to save an anonymous child somewhere else is quite remote.

The mystery of why people who are generally utilitarians get tripped up when asked to equate lives they know personally with lives they do not know is an old one. [Carol Gilligan] attempted to universalize this with her [Care Ethics] model (a subset of Feminine Ethics). Basically, she proposed that your child is more valuable to you than some unknown child out there, so it's healthy and normal to be biased in favour of loved ones even at the expense of strangers.

I'm not saying I agree with her, but the point is that this is not a new topic. Connections with others seem to create a sense of obligation we don't experience with strangers.

The model has a range of experiments. An in vivo example is Thomas Moriarty's 1972 'beachblanket experiment' where an actor randomly either greets a neighbouring sunbather at the beach or alternatively ignores them. A second actor steals his radio when he has 'gone to the bathroom'. The result was that the neighbours who had been engaged in just a simple 'hello' were orders of magnitude more likely to chase down the thief/report the theft than the ones who had been ignored. A 2009 experiment with an iPod replicated the results closely, with a 20% vs 95% ratio.



There is one powerful disanalogy in this exercise, though... the definition of 'saving a life'. With a drowning kid, the probability of the shoe sacrifice (let's say $1,000) converting into a saved life is practically 100%. In contrast, donating to Save The Children is not just about an abstract kid... it's got some baked in uncertainty about how much of that $1,000 is actually going to help anybody other than Save The Children Call Center budget, Save The Children Executive remuneration, Save The Children Operational Expenses, Save The Children Dallas HQ Renovation Fund, and so on. This is a trust issue that unfortunately is so obvious that even decreeing that "...yes, yes, but for the experiment assume it will save a child," just can't deep down believe it and the cynicism and devaluation of benefit (given overhead, this $1,000 will save 0.05 children) is authentic and taken into account.
Sure, but the issue of whether or not we subjectively value people in our proximity, as well as family members, is not in dispute. What’s in disputed is whether people far away objectively matter less than those nearby.

Also, the issue of charities is true. This is exactly why those involved with Effectice Altruism try to give assessments of charities and what the money donated buys. Hence their websites Give Well etc...
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 13th February 2019, 06:51 PM   #166
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
If you are “mixing it with the trolley problem” then you are just advocating an argument which isn’t being made. Why shouldn’t you go around advocating a society based on murder and assassination? Probably because the society would not last long.
So, what you're saying that I was actually doing an ad absurdum, when I said I was doing one? Because starting from some premises and arriving at an absurd conclusion is exactly what's called an "ad absurdum." In fact, it's WHY it's called an ad absurdum. The clue is in the name

And I probably don't have to tell you that the reason you arrive at the conclusion that such a society wouldn't last, is entirely outside the scope of the premises and stated equivalences of the two problems mashed up there. Congrats, you too can find that you have to bring in more factors to have it make any sense in the REAL world.

Yeah, it seems to me like you finally arrived at what I was trying to say: there are more factors at work there, than in the oversimplified model of such philosophical problems. Otherwise, there would indeed be no reason why such a society wouldn't last long. In fact, longer.

Basically there is a huge difference between solving some imminent and immediate threat -- be it a drowning child, or an actual trolley running towards a group of people -- and how you would solve long-term society problems. The decisions you might take in an emergency are NOT, in fact, the same you would use to solve a long term problem, and the effects on society are not the same.

Not the least, because in the long term you have better options to sort out society than the choices in an emergency.

E.g., you might be better off having regular inspections of the trolleys' brakes and track, than regularly throwing the switch to run over someone else. You might even want to bring in the government and set some safety standards. If your society is based on regularly running over people -- albeit fewer people than you save -- then, yes, it is not the optimal way to run things.

Similarly for the "send the cost of a pair of shoes == save a kid from drowning" thing, relying in the long run on how many people do that and how many pairs of shoes are they willing to sacrifice, is in fact the most ineffective solution. It's not even a new idea that *I* am proposing. You can go back at least as far as Adam Smith to find it written black on white that it's better to have the government organize taxes and whatnot to solve such problems, than rely on random charity.
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Old 13th February 2019, 08:14 PM   #167
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Perhaps it comes down to simple arithmetic. If you agree that human lives are worth saving, and you can save a few lives by cutting back on a lavish lifestyle then why not do it?



I think the question of whether you have to be a moral realist or can be a non-realist is a pretty esoteric objection. If you look at the problem as an economic one then arguably you only have to be a resource realist.



Essentially you are just asking us if there is any cosmic value to human life. Maybe there is not. In fact maybe there is no intrinsic value to anything. So what?
I'm not asking if life has cosmic value. People keep reading things into what I say.

All I am saying is that it doesn't follow that if someone thinks they ought to sacrifice a certain amount of money to save a drowning child in front of them, then they ought to sacrifice a similar amount to save a child in a different country.

Incidentally, resource realism serves just as well as a basis for selfishness as it does for selflessness.

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Old 13th February 2019, 08:40 PM   #168
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Singer and the Effective Altruists are not demanding the asset stripping of society and the impoverishment of everyone so you have no business advocating it on their behalf.
Actually, to address this, and this I think ties in to Robin's observation above: actually, no, this is EXACTLY what the "drowning child" argument advocates, if you take it literally.

Because exactly how much you can afford to replace the shoes is not even a factor at all. It seems to be based on the stonking stupid -- idiotic, even -- assumption that if you have anything expensive, like expensive shoes, it's only because you enjoy a "lavish lifestyle" that you could easily cut down on. As I was saying before that's not even remotely true for a lot of people. You may have those shoes because a certain attire is NEEDED for your job, for example, and you may be fired if you don't dress as required.

You may well not really afford to replace them, without cutting down on more essential stuff or even going into debt.

Yet you may decide to go into debt anyway, to deal with something as imminent and immediate as a child drowning. After all, you're already risking your life if you try to save someone from drowning, as any lifeguard can tell you, because they'll be panicked and trying to climb all over you, and you will PROBABLY both drown. That's why lifeguards throw a buoy at you instead. So if you decided to risk THAT to save someone, yes, you may also be willing to sacrifice money that aren't for wasteful luxuries too.

The moment you say that if you could do the rescue, then you SHOULD send the same money when there's no immediate emergency, because it's apparently equivalent, with no conditions stated, no exemptions given, then yes, you have included the case when the guy is going to go into debt by doing that. I don't see it being excluded in any form or shape. But apparently he still should.


And that is the real problem. It's not that someone wants "to take an axe to the very idea of morality", it's that the model proposed for that morality is oversimplified and based on silly over-generalized assumptions. Sure, it works when you apply it to the cases when you get the conclusion you want, but when you include the edge cases, which the problem doesn't exclude, then you start getting wrong results.
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Old 13th February 2019, 09:34 PM   #169
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
So, what you're saying that I was actually doing an ad absurdum, when I said I was doing one? Because starting from some premises and arriving at an absurd conclusion is exactly what's called an "ad absurdum." In fact, it's WHY it's called an ad absurdum. The clue is in the name
It is not an ad absurdum. It is a strawman. This is like, instead of attacking an actual man, made of flesh and bones and muscles, you attack an easier to defeat opponent with some smiley face drawn on it that you say is Peter Singer, only the man is made of straw. The clue is in the name. And the reason I say that is because the premises strictly rule out shooting people in the head.

Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Similarly for the "send the cost of a pair of shoes == save a kid from drowning" thing, relying in the long run on how many people do that and how many pairs of shoes are they willing to sacrifice, is in fact the most ineffective solution. It's not even a new idea that *I* am proposing. You can go back at least as far as Adam Smith to find it written black on white that it's better to have the government organize taxes and whatnot to solve such problems, than rely on random charity.
Yeah, and Adam Smith also said it is not a contradiction to prefer the deaths of everyone in China to losing his little finger. His point being that when we just reduce it to our feels, we might not end up doing as much good as when we think it through rationally.

Besides that, if you are saying, "Leave it to the government!" then either you are saying that what is done now is sufficient, or that it needs to improve. I don't know which one you think it is, but if it is sufficient then how come charitable donations could still improve things anyway? If this is the case then it neither be one or the other. Government action does not need to exclude charitable giving - both could have an effect. If, on the other hand, you say that things need to improve then we are just back where we started only you are now proposing that instead of giving money to charity that people lobby for action.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 13th February 2019, 09:41 PM   #170
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
His point being that when we just reduce it to our feels, we might not end up doing as much good as when we think it through rationally.
It is all based on our feels in any case as Hume pointed out.
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Old 13th February 2019, 10:01 PM   #171
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
I'm not asking if life has cosmic value. People keep reading things into what I say.

All I am saying is that it doesn't follow that if someone thinks they ought to sacrifice a certain amount of money to save a drowning child in front of them, then they ought to sacrifice a similar amount to save a child in a different country.

Incidentally, resource realism serves just as well as a basis for selfishness as it does for selflessness.

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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Actually, to address this, and this I think ties in to Robin's observation above: actually, no, this is EXACTLY what the "drowning child" argument advocates, if you take it literally.

Because exactly how much you can afford to replace the shoes is not even a factor at all. It seems to be based on the stonking stupid -- idiotic, even -- assumption that if you have anything expensive, like expensive shoes, it's only because you enjoy a "lavish lifestyle" that you could easily cut down on. As I was saying before that's not even remotely true for a lot of people. You may have those shoes because a certain attire is NEEDED for your job, for example, and you may be fired if you don't dress as required.

You may well not really afford to replace them, without cutting down on more essential stuff or even going into debt.

Yet you may decide to go into debt anyway, to deal with something as imminent and immediate as a child drowning. After all, you're already risking your life if you try to save someone from drowning, as any lifeguard can tell you, because they'll be panicked and trying to climb all over you, and you will PROBABLY both drown. That's why lifeguards throw a buoy at you instead. So if you decided to risk THAT to save someone, yes, you may also be willing to sacrifice money that aren't for wasteful luxuries too.

The moment you say that if you could do the rescue, then you SHOULD send the same money when there's no immediate emergency, because it's apparently equivalent, with no conditions stated, no exemptions given, then yes, you have included the case when the guy is going to go into debt by doing that. I don't see it being excluded in any form or shape. But apparently he still should.


And that is the real problem. It's not that someone wants "to take an axe to the very idea of morality", it's that the model proposed for that morality is oversimplified and based on silly over-generalized assumptions. Sure, it works when you apply it to the cases when you get the conclusion you want, but when you include the edge cases, which the problem doesn't exclude, then you start getting wrong results.
Maybe a good way to sum up these ideas is "Sure, it works in practice. But does it work in theory?"

Originally Posted by Robin View Post
It is all based on our feels in any case as Hume pointed out.
Yes, to care is to have feelings. No doubt about that. But we need not rely entirely on feelings if we can exercise reason.

For example, on the one hand I can look at a poster for a dog with big puppy eyes and be told that only $100 could provide a new home for this cute big-eyed puppy's new home.

OR

It could pay for this bunch of unattractive farmers to have tools they can use to feed their families.

Let's say that assuming you had the money to give up and wanted to give it to charity, it would probably be better to spend the money on benefiting a larger number of people than one dog.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 13th February 2019, 10:06 PM   #172
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Actually, I probably slightly maligned psychopaths earlier. They actually tend to be better utilitarians than the rest of us providing we are asking them how best to provide money to charity or for good causes. They tend to be able to see end results in more objective terms without all that empathy clouding their vision.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 13th February 2019, 10:18 PM   #173
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Yes, to care is to have feelings. No doubt about that. But we need not rely entirely on feelings if we can exercise reason.

For example, on the one hand I can look at a poster for a dog with big puppy eyes and be told that only $100 could provide a new home for this cute big-eyed puppy's new home.

OR

It could pay for this bunch of unattractive farmers to have tools they can use to feed their families.

Let's say that assuming you had the money to give up and wanted to give it to charity, it would probably be better to spend the money on benefiting a larger number of people than one dog.
Or you could give your own kids a nice holiday or get together a fund for their education.

Even though you are simply improving the lives of a couple of kids that are not even in danger, or giving them a good time and know that it does not compare with saving the lives of many children who will die if you don't send that money.
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Old 13th February 2019, 11:34 PM   #174
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Besides that, if you are saying, "Leave it to the government!" then either you are saying that what is done now is sufficient, or that it needs to improve.
Actually, quite the contrary. The reason we don't have massive poverty in, say, Western Europe, or why we don't hear of children lacking water and medicine here, is because the government takes care of it. NOT because charity takes care of it all. If we left it to charity, it would cover only a fraction of it.

So, yes, if you want a problem solved right, you organize a long term solution like that. If you only want to feel better about yourself for bemoaning why people don't give more, then you leave it to charity.
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Old 13th February 2019, 11:36 PM   #175
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Maybe a good way to sum up these ideas is "Sure, it works in practice. But does it work in theory?"
That's like saying that before Newton, gravity worked in practice, just not in theory.

Well, if it doesn't work in theory, you don't HAVE a theory. And you don't get to use the quoted nonsense for why some professor is still right. No, if his theory doesn't work, then he isn't.
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Old 13th February 2019, 11:43 PM   #176
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Yes, to care is to have feelings. No doubt about that. But we need not rely entirely on feelings if we can exercise reason.

For example, on the one hand I can look at a poster for a dog with big puppy eyes and be told that only $100 could provide a new home for this cute big-eyed puppy's new home.

OR

It could pay for this bunch of unattractive farmers to have tools they can use to feed their families.

Let's say that assuming you had the money to give up and wanted to give it to charity, it would probably be better to spend the money on benefiting a larger number of people than one dog.
OR

You can pay to destroy the local economy and put those farmers out of work, which is what a lot of charity work actually does to third world countries. Hell, you can even actually send the shoes too, not just their price, and put the local shoe industry out of work too. FSM knows people do exactly that with clothes.

Of course, then you can still feel better about yourself, while you bemoan how other people don't do the same.

OR

You can pay that the local warlord can afford a new necklace of human bones and some more AK-47s to oppress those farmers with, which is again what occasionally happened when people just sent money to a country and didn't look at what was happening there.

This is even better for those just wanting to hear themselves polish their own statue, because it even keeps the problem going. You can moan about it tomorrow too, or for that matter next year too


Anyway: the point is that a working theory needs to include and distinguish those cases, and hopefully provide a solution that isn't nearly as vulnerable to those. If you just leave it at just "send over the price of a pair of shoes == save a child", then you don't even distinguish the case when he's only "saved" in that the local warlord can afford an AK-47 to draft him too in his child army.
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Old 14th February 2019, 12:48 AM   #177
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Maybe a good way to sum up these ideas is "Sure, it works in practice. But does it work in theory?"
If the theory is "Hey, let's all be nice and help out the poor of the world as much as possible and make our contributions as effective as possible" then it can work out in theory and practice.

But that is hardly an original thought from Singer.

If the theory is "if you are prepared to sacrifice X dollars to save a child in front of you then you ought to be prepared to sacrifice X dollars to save a child overseas:", then, as I said, it just doesn't follow.
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Old 14th February 2019, 05:30 AM   #178
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Actually, quite the contrary. The reason we don't have massive poverty in, say, Western Europe, or why we don't hear of children lacking water and medicine here, is because the government takes care of it. NOT because charity takes care of it all. If we left it to charity, it would cover only a fraction of it.
The only reason why governments take care of it in Western Europe is because the countries are rich and they can tax their population to afford welfare, education, healthcare, infrastructure etc... This is hardly the case in Bangladesh. That was Singer's point in the article when he was talking about nine million refugees in famine, and the cost of looking after them exceeding the amount that neighbouring country, India can afford. He argued that yes indeed Western countries could increase their contribution - hence he was not talking exclusively about charitable donations, but pointing out that charitable donations could indeed save at least a few lives.

Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
So, yes, if you want a problem solved right, you organize a long term solution like that. If you only want to feel better about yourself for bemoaning why people don't give more, then you leave it to charity.
That's great. And in an emergency? Besides, it is not about "bemoaning". No one is "bemoaning"!
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Old 14th February 2019, 05:37 AM   #179
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
That's like saying that before Newton, gravity worked in practice, just not in theory.

Well, if it doesn't work in theory, you don't HAVE a theory. And you don't get to use the quoted nonsense for why some professor is still right. No, if his theory doesn't work, then he isn't.
No, the point is that you keep thinking of bizarre versions of the thought experiment, even ones that are explicitly ruled out.

As an example:

Quote:
Because exactly how much you can afford to replace the shoes is not even a factor at all. It seems to be based on the stonking stupid -- idiotic, even -- assumption that if you have anything expensive, like expensive shoes, it's only because you enjoy a "lavish lifestyle" that you could easily cut down on. As I was saying before that's not even remotely true for a lot of people. You may have those shoes because a certain attire is NEEDED for your job, for example, and you may be fired if you don't dress as required.

You may well not really afford to replace them, without cutting down on more essential stuff or even going into debt.

Yet you may decide to go into debt anyway, to deal with something as imminent and immediate as a child drowning. After all, you're already risking your life if you try to save someone from drowning, as any lifeguard can tell you, because they'll be panicked and trying to climb all over you, and you will PROBABLY both drown. That's why lifeguards throw a buoy at you instead. So if you decided to risk THAT to save someone, yes, you may also be willing to sacrifice money that aren't for wasteful luxuries too.

The moment you say that if you could do the rescue, then you SHOULD send the same money when there's no immediate emergency, because it's apparently equivalent, with no conditions stated, no exemptions given, then yes, you have included the case when the guy is going to go into debt by doing that. I don't see it being excluded in any form or shape. But apparently he still should.
You forgot to add that there could be crocodiles in the pond and yet someone still went into the pond to rescue the boy. And you forgot about the person who went to drop off a financial donation by car and fell asleep at the wheel and ploughed into a school bus and killed 35.

After all, if those things can happen, the theory fails, right?

Except no!!!

The thought experiment is always deliberately framed to say that there is no risk to the person involved, and won't involve serious financial problems for the rescuer let alone the DUTY to shoot people in the head.

You are giving warped versions of the theory and saying, "Wow! This is one warped theory!"

That's the strawman!
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Old 14th February 2019, 05:48 AM   #180
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
OR

You can pay to destroy the local economy and put those farmers out of work, which is what a lot of charity work actually does to third world countries. Hell, you can even actually send the shoes too, not just their price, and put the local shoe industry out of work too. FSM knows people do exactly that with clothes.

Of course, then you can still feel better about yourself, while you bemoan how other people don't do the same.

OR

You can pay that the local warlord can afford a new necklace of human bones and some more AK-47s to oppress those farmers with, which is again what occasionally happened when people just sent money to a country and didn't look at what was happening there.

This is even better for those just wanting to hear themselves polish their own statue, because it even keeps the problem going. You can moan about it tomorrow too, or for that matter next year too


Anyway: the point is that a working theory needs to include and distinguish those cases, and hopefully provide a solution that isn't nearly as vulnerable to those. If you just leave it at just "send over the price of a pair of shoes == save a child", then you don't even distinguish the case when he's only "saved" in that the local warlord can afford an AK-47 to draft him too in his child army.

Absolutely true! The charity sector is riven with incompetence, bureaucratic bloating, and warlords profiting. That's why I acknowledged that earlier:

Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post

The argument is that there is a temporal immediacy - an urgency - for donations that could save lives. It is certainly one of the most common objections that we have no idea if that money is just going to end up as processing costs, the director's breakfast, ads for more charity donations, into some corrupt warlord middle-man's wallet. That's actually why people have set up the Effective Altruism website to evaluate charities in terms of how much good they do. A lot of charities are not worth giving to. In fact, on a recent Very Bad Wizards podcast, one of the hosts was saying, "Many people will argue that the reason for not sending money to charity is how difficult it is to assess the good that donations do, now that Effective Altruism has been launched, people will have to think up other excuses to answer Peter Singer." LOL!
That's why the Effective Altruists try to evaluate different charities. It doesn't mean you cannot make a distinction between, say, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Hamas.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 14th February 2019, 06:48 AM   #181
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
That's like saying that before Newton, gravity worked in practice, just not in theory.

Well, if it doesn't work in theory, you don't HAVE a theory. And you don't get to use the quoted nonsense for why some professor is still right. No, if his theory doesn't work, then he isn't.
And the saddest part if we discussed anything the we it is demanded we discuss morality it would be patently absurd to everyone involved.

If you're designing a bridge to cross a 500 foot wide river that has to handle a load of 3,000 cars an hour, survive an impact of a medium sized cargo barge traveling at 30 knots (the largest and fastest objects used on the river), with a budget of 50 million dollars nobody demands you first design a hypothetical perfect bridge that would span the entire Pacific Ocean, carry 90,000 billion cars a second, can survive an extinction level asteroid strike, and cost 30 cents and work your way back from that to the bridge you actually need.

But in morality that's exactly what most people want to do, create a usable real world morality by crafting some perfect hypothetical "pure morality" and working backwards, adding real word factors in as after thoughts.

Morality should be about taking the world we actually have, the people who are actually in it, and the scenarios that actually happen and working to make them better, not crafting hypothetically perfect (as in "easier to deal with in a thought experiment") version of them, crafting a morality around them, and trying to crowbar that into the real world.
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Old 14th February 2019, 06:56 AM   #182
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I think it could be either.

True. You are free to choose "Thou must prevent lives being lost" as an absolute moral imperative, wholly axiomatically as it were. But then I suppose you may stretch this even further and think of your premise as "Thou must necessarily save drowning children that you happen to come across" -- and surely that sort of thing, while perfectly valid, would be like taking that proverbial hatchet of yours to discussions on morality?

I think this is wholly subjective. Perhaps we can come to some intersubjective agreement about our starting point; but I think we can do that only if we take this back further, way further, to beyond "Thou must necessarily save lives if thou possibly canst".


Quote:
Of course it may run close to being a question-begging argument.

I'm afraid I don't see that. Can you spell out where you see a circularity in my position?


Quote:
No, but no doubt there are people who argue for moral nihilism, and who will simply state that moral obligations cannot possibly exist in any form.

Can't say I've given this any thought before jumping into this discussion here, but, thinking about this, I have to say that I'm probably one of those nihilists, then. No, I don't see how any absolute moral obligations might exist, outside of legal or religious sanctions (in which case those would come under the head of "legal" or "religious", not "moral", not really).

This would still be a distinction without a difference in nine cases out of ten, or perhaps 999 out of 1,000. Still, I can' see my way to accepting "Thou must prevent lives being lost if thou possibly canst" as some kind of premise, as some kind of base position from which to operate in life. (Although, like I said, I would probably end up reaching that particular conclusion, as conclusion, in most cases.)

So what would be an acceptable base position, the starting point of our morality? I don't know -- or at least, I can hazard guesses, speaking for myself, but probably deciding that would take some thought and some discussion, and might be kind of off-topic here.


Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
It might even be a Western cultural norm that we ought to save the kid from drowning. In some countries the kid would simply drown. Tough to be that kid.t to take an axe to the very notion of morality then there’s not much to discuss.

This is from an earlier post of yours addressed to me. I think I'd missed this part, when responding to this last time. I find it curious that you should think this.

Is this like "I don't know, perhaps there might, for all I know, be cultures where people merrily go their way while children drown", something like that? I can agree with that sense, in the sense that there could well be specific cultures that you (or I) are not aware of, where this sort of norm might operate.

Or are you actually aware of cultures where drowning children, right in front of one's eyes, draw no reaction at all from passers-by?
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:33 AM   #183
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
Morality should be about taking the world we actually have, the people who are actually in it, and the scenarios that actually happen and working to make them better, not crafting hypothetically perfect (as in "easier to deal with in a thought experiment") version of them, crafting a morality around them, and trying to crowbar that into the real world.
This is hilarious! Peter Singer writes an article arguing that aid is urgently needed for nine million refugees in Bangladesh because of famine, and Joe objects, "But what about the real world problems!?"

You can certainly, rightly argue that a lot of academic philosophers do nothing but pontificate in ivory towers if you like, but Singer is most definitely not one of them. He's almost exclusively concerned himself with real world problems and put his money where his mouth is, and lived to a large extent according to his convictions.

JoeMorgue, don't you ever think your tedious, drive-by-sneering routine is getting stale?
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:38 AM   #184
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
This is hilarious! Peter Singer writes an article arguing that aid is urgently needed for nine million refugees in Bangladesh because of famine, and Joe objects, "But what about the real world problems!?"
I'm sorry I must I missed the point at which this was declared the "Peter Singer's Interpretation of the Drowning Child Problem and Nothing Else" thread.

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JoeMorgue, don't you ever think your tedious, drive-by-sneering routine is getting stale?
Don't like it, put me on ignore.
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:39 AM   #185
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Originally Posted by Chanakya View Post
True. You are free to choose "Thou must prevent lives being lost" as an absolute moral imperative, wholly axiomatically as it were. But then I suppose you may stretch this even further and think of your premise as "Thou must necessarily save drowning children that you happen to come across" -- and surely that sort of thing, while perfectly valid, would be like taking that proverbial hatchet of yours to discussions on morality?

I think this is wholly subjective. Perhaps we can come to some intersubjective agreement about our starting point; but I think we can do that only if we take this back further, way further, to beyond "Thou must necessarily save lives if thou possibly canst".





I'm afraid I don't see that. Can you spell out where you see a circularity in my position?





Can't say I've given this any thought before jumping into this discussion here, but, thinking about this, I have to say that I'm probably one of those nihilists, then. No, I don't see how any absolute moral obligations might exist, outside of legal or religious sanctions (in which case those would come under the head of "legal" or "religious", not "moral", not really).

This would still be a distinction without a difference in nine cases out of ten, or perhaps 999 out of 1,000. Still, I can' see my way to accepting "Thou must prevent lives being lost if thou possibly canst" as some kind of premise, as some kind of base position from which to operate in life. (Although, like I said, I would probably end up reaching that particular conclusion, as conclusion, in most cases.)

So what would be an acceptable base position, the starting point of our morality? I don't know -- or at least, I can hazard guesses, speaking for myself, but probably deciding that would take some thought and some discussion, and might be kind of off-topic here.





This is from an earlier post of yours addressed to me. I think I'd missed this part, when responding to this last time. I find it curious that you should think this.

Is this like "I don't know, perhaps there might, for all I know, be cultures where people merrily go their way while children drown", something like that? I can agree with that sense, in the sense that there could well be specific cultures that you (or I) are not aware of, where this sort of norm might operate.

Or are you actually aware of cultures where drowning children, right in front of one's eyes, draw no reaction at all from passers-by?
Chanakya, there's a lot I would like to address here, but I don't really have time right now. Just suffice to say I wasn't accusing you of circularity, the point about question-begging is simply that if the conclusion is to save as many lives as possible then similar premises end up risking circularity.

As for "watching kids drown" comment, it refers to videos that appeared in places like China where a kid gets run over, the driver drives on, passersby ignore the kid, the kid gets run over again, remains ignored and then finally dies. In some of these cases it is difficult to even attribute a bystander effect.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:40 AM   #186
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
I'm sorry I must I missed the point at which this was declared the "Peter Singer's Interpretation of the Drowning Child Problem and Nothing Else" thread.



Don't like it, put me on ignore.
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"Evolution and Ethics" T.H. Huxley (1893)
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:42 AM   #187
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
No, the point is that you keep thinking of bizarre versions of the thought experiment, even ones that are explicitly ruled out.

As an example:



You forgot to add that there could be crocodiles in the pond and yet someone still went into the pond to rescue the boy. And you forgot about the person who went to drop off a financial donation by car and fell asleep at the wheel and ploughed into a school bus and killed 35.

After all, if those things can happen, the theory fails, right?

Except no!!!

The thought experiment is always deliberately framed to say that there is no risk to the person involved, and won't involve serious financial problems for the rescuer let alone the DUTY to shoot people in the head.

You are giving warped versions of the theory and saying, "Wow! This is one warped theory!"

That's the strawman!
No. I'm saying what that theory would look like in reality. Because if any attempt to put it in a real situation results in "OMG, that's a strawman, our theory had none of those RL elements" objections, then your whole theory is just worthless mental masturbation.

It's like making a theory about how I would stop crime if I could fly like Superman, were bulletproof like him, could punch through reinforced concrete, saw through walls like him (so I can see if, say, someone is holding a gun to a hostage's head right now, and can time my rushing in when he doesn't), etc. Or to frame it in your terms, my theory is deliberately framed to avoid such RL considerations as risk to self, limited information, or even gravity.

But in that case I don't actually have a theory about how to solve RL crime. If my model is stripped of everything even vaguely related to any actual RL situation ever, then all I have then is a cutesy comic-book scenario, that is 100% worthless in the real world.

Same for your/Singer's cutesy mental exercises. If any attempt to see how it would fit RL at all is apparently a strawman for you, and nothing short of being 100% detached from RL will fit that theory at all, then you don't even have a theory. Not in the scientific meaning of the term anyway. All you have is a fairy tale that doesn't tell you anything about solving suffering or any other problem in the REAL WORLD.
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:47 AM   #188
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
And the saddest part if we discussed anything the we it is demanded we discuss morality it would be patently absurd to everyone involved.

If you're designing a bridge to cross a 500 foot wide river that has to handle a load of 3,000 cars an hour, survive an impact of a medium sized cargo barge traveling at 30 knots (the largest and fastest objects used on the river), with a budget of 50 million dollars nobody demands you first design a hypothetical perfect bridge that would span the entire Pacific Ocean, carry 90,000 billion cars a second, can survive an extinction level asteroid strike, and cost 30 cents and work your way back from that to the bridge you actually need.

But in morality that's exactly what most people want to do, create a usable real world morality by crafting some perfect hypothetical "pure morality" and working backwards, adding real word factors in as after thoughts.

Morality should be about taking the world we actually have, the people who are actually in it, and the scenarios that actually happen and working to make them better, not crafting hypothetically perfect (as in "easier to deal with in a thought experiment") version of them, crafting a morality around them, and trying to crowbar that into the real world.
It's not even that, sadly enough. I mean, being that would be sad enough, but it's even sadder in practice.

What it is, is building some pointless "how would you get a car across, if none of the RL considerations like expense, logistics, economics of that bridge, winds, safety, or even gravity were involved" mental exercise -- and in fact, they're so fundamentally not involved and not supposed to be considered at all, that even mentioning any RL factor gets you accused of strawmanning it -- and then pretending that you can take the results and urge people to apply them to a real scenario. Because you just showed them how easy it is, with that silly mental exercise. Now all that's left is for them to go solve the actual building.

You know it's sad, when that kind of "you know it's right, just someone else has to do the maths or fit it to RL constraints" is even an entry on the famous Crackpot List.
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:54 AM   #189
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
Chanakya, there's a lot I would like to address here, but I don't really have time right now.

No issues, whenever you're comfortable doing that.


Quote:
Just suffice to say I wasn't accusing you of circularity

Okay, I understand.

But even if you were, that's perfectly fine with me. I'm sure there are plenty of unexamined errors in how I think. I think I'd both enjoy and benefit from having these explored, should any come to anyone's notice.


Quote:
the point about question-begging is simply that if the conclusion is to save as many lives as possible then similar premises end up risking circularity.

I can see why you might think that, generally speaking. But given that this thread is specifically about sussing out the why's and wherefore's of our moral position, and specifically this particular moral position involving the drowning child, I'd say that probably here at least, exploring this wouldn't really be begging the issue.


Quote:
As for "watching kids drown" comment, it refers to videos that appeared in places like China where a kid gets run over, the driver drives on, passersby ignore the kid, the kid gets run over again, remains ignored and then finally dies. In some of these cases it is difficult to even attribute a bystander effect.

You're right, I suppose that would be an equivalent situation.

Come to think of it, when people drive by -- perhaps to an important meeting, or perhaps to catch a flight, or perhaps simply to work or to dinner or wherever -- and there's an accident or something, how many immediately stop and get out and see if they can pull out people who might be in danger? (Some do, but I'd guess they would be a minority, at least in a large-city setting.)

Of course, the video you refer to, that seems to be a whole different kind of indifference than this.
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Old 14th February 2019, 05:09 PM   #190
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Actually Peter Singer seems to realise that his theory doesn't work in the real world, because he sets the donation suggested by his calculator relatively low and nothing like the amount you would have to give in order to be sacrificing everything that is not of a similar moral importance to a person's life.

I can't see how you can work it out that someone is stopping bad things happening without sacrificing something of the same moral importance, unless they actually donate until they are below the poverty line.
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Old 14th February 2019, 05:36 PM   #191
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Suppose you lent someone $1,000 and later he came back and said "I am now fully able to repay you the entire amount, but I am only going to pay you $200 and thereby consider my obligation to you fulfilled", would you agree with him? Of course not.

Now here is Singer's principle: "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it."

So if that is moral obligation then it hasn't been discharged until a person can honestly say that they have no more power to prevent something bad happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance". Even if a person has given a substantial amount, unless they are able to say this then they haven't discharged that obligation.

In other words unless they are in the same danger of starving to death then they can give more.

So I am betting that the number of people who donate via Effective Altruism who can say this is rather close to zero. So, again, the theory does not work out in real life.

And it doesn't work out in theory for the reasons I said.

All the same, if this were to increase the amount of resources going to the people who need it most, the people who will die and suffer without it, then maybe none of that matters.
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Old 14th February 2019, 05:55 PM   #192
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Originally Posted by JoeMorgue View Post
And the saddest part if we discussed anything the we it is demanded we discuss morality it would be patently absurd to everyone involved.
Actually quite a lot of progress was made in physics by asking questions like "Suppose you drilled a hole through the centre of the Earth (or rather an even sphere of the same size and mass) and dropped a stone through it, what would happen?". Or "What would happen if there was a stone poised perfectly between two worlds, which would it fall to, or would it stay at an even distance between the two?" Or "Suppose you were a being on Mars and you looked around at the stars, it would seem to you that you were in the centre and that all the bodies, including Earth were all about you".

Thus in the late Middle Ages the cosmology of Aristotle/Ptolemy was chipped away.

Even in later times scientists talk about things like "Suppose you put a cat in a box with an isotope connected to a trigger to a gas pellet..." or "In principle you could burn a dictionary to ashes and then if you could capture all the information from the remnants you could retrieve all the information from the dictionary". Or "Suppose you could genetically engineer an animal that was half way between a chimpanzee and a human and then engineer an animal half way between that and...."

Not exactly real life problems, are they, but no-one seems to complain.
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Old 14th February 2019, 06:15 PM   #193
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"Now let us suppose that such a vessel is divided into two portions, A and B, by a division in which there is a small hole, and that a being, who can see the individual molecules, opens and closes this hole, so as to allow only the swifter molecules to pass from A to B, and only the slower molecules to pass from B to A. He will thus, without expenditure of work, raise the temperature of B and lower that of A, in contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics."

or

" An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."
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Old 14th February 2019, 07:24 PM   #194
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
Singer's principle: "if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it."
He is wrong on two counts:

First, he's essentially thrusting his own moral code on to others, by a sleight of hand religious proselytizers often times use; trying to pass off one's personal subjective faith/ belief/ moral code as something objective/ universally applicable.

Secondly and more importantly, unless Singer lives practically like a monk, and gets his family also (in as much as he provides for them) to lead an austere life without any frills at all, just the necessities, and unless he's donated all of his money and savings to charity, then the man's a hypocrite.

Of course, if he's truly done all this, made this personal sacrifice, then he's a saint, and I'd readily apologize for my suspicion of him and shake his hand. But if he hasn't, then he's a charlatan and a hypocrite.
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Old 14th February 2019, 10:31 PM   #195
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So my take on this is somewhere in between, I think. In sum,

1: Singer makes a simplistic parallel between two situations that have similarities but also differences.

2: The thought exercise he derives from the similarities is useful in sorting out one's values and priorities, and might be useful in a practical sense if it leads to more ethical actions. As a general idea on how we could live better lives, it's not bad. Most things that make us think twice about what we're doing with our lives are likely to be not bad.

3: The more it becomes prescriptive, the more it fails, because, in a world of fundamental moral principles, no matter how destitute one becomes, someone will always be more so, and the only way to counter the argument of hypocrisy is to introduce complexities and relativities that were glossed over at the start. It's easy to argue the imbalance between expensive cars and the needy poor, but why not any cars? If what I pay for shoes could save a life, I am in some sense a murderer if I don't go barefoot. Singer says we need not deprive ourselves of a certain degree of fun and luxury, but he doesn't convincingly say who draws the line or where. The boundary between the absolute and the relative is wide and murky.

4: Effective altruism is more effective if everyone does it, and the exercise becomes less problematic if you put a little backspin on Kant. If nobody had expensive cars or yachts or gold bathtaps, of course none of the rest of us would have to give up as much. There's an obvious, and perhaps trival, truth to the idea that if everyone did the right thing, there would be plenty to go around. When that's not the case, the apparent ineffectiveness of individual action is helped if you believe there's a god to pat us on the back and say we tried.

5: If by thinking hard about the thought exercise you do actually act with less greed and more altruism, something good comes of it no matter the details, and no matter whether some busybody thinks it's the right amount or the right object. We probably shouldn't need a Singer or a Robin or an Angrysoba to remind us that something is better than nothing, and thinking about these things is better than not doing so. Just because values are not absolute does not mean they are not values.
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Last edited by bruto; 14th February 2019 at 10:33 PM.
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Old 15th February 2019, 09:40 AM   #196
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A child starts drowning in a shallow pond on my route to work. I would sacrifice my expensive shoes* to save the child. But I don't, because I'm not there. I already passed the pond three hours earlier.

Oops, that wasn't the scenario. But it's a far more probable scenario, and the child's need is no different. Nor is my moral obligation to save the child (why should my work schedule have any bearing on that, after all, given that being on the other side of the world will be held irrelevant in the comparable case a few sentences later?). I realize that in order to reliably prevent a child from drowning in that pond, I can't rely on the danger happening at just the right moment while I'm passing by. (Whether anyone else will be passing by at the critical time is irrelevant, because the dialog goes on to emphasize my own moral responsibility regardless of the inactions of others.) So to meet my moral responsibility to prevent the child from drowning in that pond, I pay to employ, train, and equip a staff of lifeguards to monitor the pond round-the-clock.**

Contemplating the enormous cost of this, compared with the cost of a pair of shoes, as well as the number of additional hazardous ponds on the planet, I realize that the original scenario, in which I, the only reliable rescuer in the world, just happens to be on the scene at the right time, allowing a child's life to be saved for the price of a pair of shoes, represents an amazing bargain. Like finding a Picasso for ten dollars at a garage sale.

Charity fundraisers like to offer similar moral bargains in their pitches, such as how a small donation will save a life by providing a meal or a water filter. Their offers are almost certainly better deals than contributing toward round-the-clock lifeguards for a random pond lest a child drown there, but they are not nearly as good a bargain as saving a child from certain drowning for the cost of a pair of shoes. For one reason (there are several), a child rescued from drowning is unlikely to require ongoing drowning-prevention measures to preserve his life, because he doesn't live in the pond.

There's nothing wrong with acting on a good bargain when one is available. But one cannot make economic policy based on the assumption that Picassos cost ten dollars.


*Actually, the reason my shoes are expensive is I choose ones that won't be ruined if they get wet and muddy. But to stay with the scenario we'll pretend my work requires me to wear impractical fashion shoes instead.

**In the real world, instead of doing that, I pay taxes that fund an emergency response system that does its best to intervene in a wide variety of emergency situations including, but far from limited to, drownings in ponds. However, that system will be ineffective if no one sees the child, or if they can't get there before the child goes under. Given that the original dialog states that the presence of any number of well-equipped but ineffectual bystanders doesn't alter my own moral obligations at all, we must assume that my mandatory support of this system fails to meet my moral obligation to save the child in the specific instance.
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Old 18th February 2019, 08:44 AM   #197
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Depends, who's the child? For example: What if it's baby Hitler?

Aaaand just like that, I just merged two classic philosophical riddles
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Old 19th February 2019, 01:25 PM   #198
epeeist
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Originally Posted by Robin View Post
There is an argument in moral philosophy, that sets out a scenario that I am out walking in an expensive pair of shoes and I see a child drowning, but in order to save him I will ruin my expensive shoes. The argument goes that I would not hesitate to sacrifice those shoes in order to save the child, so I am being inconsistent if I would not forgo buying the shoes in the first place in order to send the money overseas to save the life of a child.
...
[portion only quoted]

In the situation you present, in the first instance, you're the only one who can save the child. Or at least, you're one of only a few people who can save the child. It is necessary for you to act immediately. In the second situation, there are at least hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people who could save the child. And your sending or not sending money is not necessarily linked to a child living or dying, in the sense that money or other resources may come from others, and that even providing the money is no guarantee. Especially given corruption in some parts of the world re aid supplies.
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Old 25th February 2019, 05:43 PM   #199
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Originally Posted by epeeist View Post
your sending or not sending money is not necessarily linked to a child living or dying, in the sense that money or other resources may come from others, and that even providing the money is no guarantee. Especially given corruption in some parts of the world re aid supplies.
Oh it's much worse than that.

Bangladesh famine of 1974
Quote:
As with most famines, the causes of the Bangladesh famine were multiple. These included flooding, rapid population growth, government mismanagement of foodgrain stocks, legislation restricting movement of foodgrains between districts, foodgrain smuggling to neighbouring countries and so called distributional failures.

The real reason that children overseas need to be 'saved' is that there are too many of them. Between 1974 and 2019 the World population has almost doubled (from 4 billion to 7.7 billion). This is already unsustainable, and if the trend continues it will only get worse. That means every child that survives today will be responsible for more that one death in the future.

Everyone agrees that killing people to limit population growth is wrong. But so is breeding more of them. The most moral thing to do is let that child drown and not send any aid overseas. Giving aid to Bangladeshis now just means that even more of them will die in the next flood.

OTOH there could be rational reasons for saving a drowning child. Being called a psychopath for not doing so is one of them. Another is the fame and fortune you could get from doing it. And finally there's the euphoric feeling from 'doing good' vs remorse for standing by and watching someone drown.

All-in-all, this situation is an opportunity to maximize your wealth, social standing and personal happiness which is worth far more than a pair of 'expensive' shoes (especially if you play up your willingness to sacrifice them). And if you do it right, nobody will question how the child got to be drowning in the first place...
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Old 1st March 2019, 05:38 PM   #200
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Did I miss the part about saving the child from drowning so it's remaining years are spent in the anguish of starvation, deprivation and disease?
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