Friday, 21 April 2017

An Arrowvian Social Welfare Function is ab ovo Dictatorial.

Suppose there are only two feasible social states for the world identical in every way except that in one an Arrowvian Social Welfare function (ASWF) has been implemented.

Suppose there is only one agent. We don't know in advance which state of the world she would pick. It would appear that she has two choices because there are only 2 possible states of the world. However, there is a third possibility. She may want a world in which the ASWF is implemented by her choice.

If she wants this third possibility, and we don't rule it out before hand by an arbitrary or dictatorial action, she also may want to know this has been done. But, this means there is a new State of the World- viz. one in which the agent knows that the ASWF has been implemented.

Why stop here? Why not an infinite number of possible States of the World such that she has x per cent likelihood of discovering that an ASWF has been implemented with x being a real number between 0 and 100?

Clearly this means there is an uncountably infinite number of feasible social states if the existence or implementation of the A.S.W.F can itself be a subject of agents' preferences. Moreover, there is no way to verify if the A.S.W.F is doing its job. What if the agent stipulated that her likelihood of discovering that an ASWF has been implemented take an uncomputable value?

It is possible that the agent actually only wants or does not want an ASWF to be implemented. However, a priori, we can't rule out the possibility that she might have the following preference 'If it is going to rain on my picnic on Sunday, then I want to have certain knowledge that the ASWF has been implemented on Saturday.' It may be that there is enough evidence in the State of the World on Saturday to compute, with certainty, whether or not it will rain on her picnic on Sunday.

Clearly, if an ASWF can do complex calculations beyond our reach, a rational agent in a single person economy should want it to be implemented- unless it uses up scarce resources in its operations thus itself altering the State of the World.

I suppose we could bar an ASWF from giving agents this sort of information, or, indeed, from possessing it. We can restrict admissible preference profiles- and this is what Arrow does. However, this is a dictatorial act.  Moreover, if the functioning of an ASWF uses up scarce resources, it would be irrational to prefer its existence unless it itself generates Welfare. But if it is possible for it to generate Welfare simply by existing, then it is a proper input for agents' Preference profiles. To exclude it is arbitrary and dictatorial.

Returning to our one agent economy, what do we find? The agent, if rational, would not want a ASWF to be implemented because it is silly. The fact that a particular agent may be irrational or derive Utility from the knowledge that an ASWF has been implemented does not change the fact that it is possible for the agent to have preferred otherwise. Unlike a Bergsonian SWF, possible preferences matter to an ASWF. Thus, in a single agent economy, no ASWF would be implemented unless it were either dictatorial (in the matter of admissibility of preference profiles) or else non-deterministic and thus not an ASWF at all.

Suppose there are n agents in an economy. They think implementing an ASWF stupid and so it isn't implemented because that would be Dictatorial. Add one more agent. The ASWF still won't be implemented unless the new guy is a Dictator.

Thus an ASWF is dictatorial ab ovo.
It is a silly idea.

Is there some technical sense it which it isn't silly?
Notice in the following the crucial importance of the notion of 'weak ordering'.


The problem here is that the domain of f can be extended by adding 'prefer to have an ASWF implemented iff it makes no difference whatsoever' for every agent. Assuming people don't get negative or positive utility from an ASWF being implemented, then the conditions of U and SO are met by this newly extended domain since agents are indifferent to the new alternative. Whatever was a weak ordering of X is also a weak ordering of X extended to include the implementation of a completely neutral ASWF. 

By the conditions of 'Weak Pareto' and 'Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives'- this must be the case. Thus, an ASWF can itself feature in its own domain thus validating itself Democratically at the price of impredicativity. However, it will never be validated because even if people are irrational, it is possible that they might be rational and an ASWF can't dismiss that possibility in advance without being dictatorial.

To quote, once again, from the Stanford Encylopedia's article on Arrow's theorem, re. 'Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives'- 


Restricting Preference Profiles to (implement ASWF/ don't implement ASWF) the condition stated above requires that a third possibility viz.'conditionally implement ASWF'  is irrelevant. But this violates
because every rational person would prefer 'conditionally implement ASWF' to 'implement ASWF'. There may be an irrational person who chooses otherwise and Unrestricted Domain means we can't rule out this possibility. However, the ASWF must be dictatorial if it implements itself on the basis of such a person's possible existence.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Euthyprho's dilemma & the Bhagvad Gita

Socrates was charged with asebia (impiety). Eusebia was the word used in Ashokan India to translate Dharma into Greek. Thus Socrates was charged with violating Dharma.

On his way to the Court, Socrates meets Euthyprho who intends to prosecute his own father for manslaughter. Apparently, a slave belonging to the family had killed another slave on their estate. Once this became known, the slave was bound and gagged and left in a ditch where he died while Euthyprho's dad waited to hear from the legal authorities on how he should proceed.

Euthyprho thinks his decision to prosecute his Dad is highly pious that is Dharmic. Socrates engages him in dialogue, hoping- so he says- to find out what piety is so as to be use this knowledge to defend himself in his own trial. Clearly, this is stupid. The Court hears arguments and then decides what is pious. Socrates should shut the fuck up and follow Euthyprho to the Court, listen to the arguments, and then get a copy of the judgement. There may be something in it which helps his own case.

Interestingly, Euthyprho would have a duty to approach some particular type of Court even in Hindu India or Confucian China or ancient Israel. This is because the charge of manslaughter cancels ritual purity and thus it is a ceremonial requirement that the matter receive judicial treatment. In other words, a son only concerned to obey and cherish his father nevertheless has to take some step similar to Euthyprho for a ritualistic reason. Obviously, the son will be careful to 'jurisdiction shop' till he finds a way of getting a judgement on his father's ritual status which imposes little cost on the family.

Euthyprho's dilemma is stated thus- "Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?'
This sounds like Socrates' 'absurd question' in the Symposium- 'is Love such as to be the love of something/someone or nothing/no-one? I am asking not if it is of a [or a particular] mother or father—for absurd would be the question if Love is love of a mother or father—but as if I were asking about the term father, “Is a father the father of someone or not?” You would have told me, I suppose, if you wanted to answer properly, that it is of a son or a daughter that a father is the father, wouldn’t you?'

Euthyprho could answer, 'that which is pious is something decided by the Court. That the Gods love the pious is an established judgement of the Court. Kindly examine relevant obiter dicta to see if an answer to your question has been provided. If it hasn't, perhaps this is an impious line of inquiry. In any case, it is absurd for you to question me as though I myself had the power to decide what is or is not pious. The Court alone has that power. It welcomes people who believe something is pious or impious to bring the matter before it. However, no argument that can be made before the court has any validity till it is upheld and becomes the basis of a judgement.'

In the same vein, Socrates' absurd question about Love could be answered 'Love is such that it can be of nothing or no one. I may see a picture of a beautiful woman and learn that she lives in the next town and has a great liking for fat balding men. I fall in love with her without having seen her in the flesh. As I walk towards her town, I am counselled that she might not be quite as pretty as she has been painted. Also, she does not like grossly fat and balding men. Further she has a bad temper and frequently hurls her frying pan at stupid people who are as ignorant as they are fat and balding.

'Hearing this, I am more in love than ever. To be truthful, the woman as painted was a little out of my league. Hearing she isn't that pretty in real life kindles a sort of warm compassion in my heart. Furthermore, I share her hatred of fat balding men who are ignorant and stupid. It shows she has good taste. More importantly, it appears she is no stranger to the frying pan- a good omen of our future connubial bliss.
'Anyway, once I reach her town and knock on the door of my beloved, I find she never existed. The picture I saw was of some actress who died long ago. All the circumstantial details my comrades invented were simply by way of a practical joke.
'Though the girl never existed, my Love for her still does. It may that I will meet someone else- not pretty at all- to whom I will transfer this Love. I will feel that this is the real object of my affection which previously had attached itself to a delusive image.'

Piety and Love can exist independently of any action or object . It is illegitimate, by any process of examination of an action or object, to supersede the right of whichever body or person is entitled to pronounce judgement on whether the act is pious or whether the object corresponds to what is loved.
I may advance very good arguments based on the evidence that OJ is guilty. However, I can't legitimately convict him of murder because I lack the authority. Under the Law, as it stands, he is innocent. Similarly, I can produce very good arguments why you should not love a particular person. I can go further and claim that you do not actually love that person.  It is impossible for you to do so. However, only you can validly affirm anything in this connection because only you can own your own beliefs- i.e. doxastic self-ownership is assumed.

It may be argued that I have not defined Piety or Love. Thus my argument fails. However, it is equally impossible for you to define 'definition' in an intensional manner. The best anybody can do in such matters is offer an extensional, that is descriptive, account or else employ 'recursive definitions' which are saved from circularity by 'base cases'. Since everything depends on following a rule from the base case, such sequences are protocol bound just like the decision procedure of a Court. It is a different matter that you can influence my beliefs. What you can't do is own them.

Euthyphro's dilemma can be recast in a manner fatal to 'teleological' Ethics- or indeed the notion that alethic 'normative reasons' exist.
A votary of 'effective altruism' might say 'My proselytising for effective altruism is a good thing because 'effective altruism' is a good thing.'
A sceptic might reply 'Proselytising is not doing good. It is proselytising- nothing more'.
The votary has a ready answer- 'I have statistical evidence that my proselytising has increased 'effective altruism'. Thus I have done good'.
The sceptic is not swayed- 'You have only shown that other people did more good, not that you did any.'
'Of course, I did good!' the votary replies angrily. 'Effective altruism teaches us to do good in a better way. Moreover, it affirms that teaching it is part of that better good.'
'A very convenient circular definition!' scoffs the sceptic, 'You are doing good because you define good as what you are doing'.
The votary does have a comeback, which cashes out as something like this- 'There is a causal link which is teleological in nature. Man was created to a particular end. It is to that same end that I proselytise. Thus, in the final analysis, or by means of 'backward induction', it will be seen that my proselytising for doing good was part and parcel of Doing Good's unfolding in the history of our species as its final end and highest good.'

Here circularity is avoided by invoking a base case- the teleological terminus- which is also the starting point of backward induction. It is certainly possible to found a Scientific Research Project on this intuition. This generates a theory of Human Nature. It is not, however, an ethical theory nor does it produce normative reasons because it is subject to the following dilemma-'If talking shite can produce a normative reason for talking shite then it is a shite normative reason.'

This dilemma could be defeated if it were possible to produce a normative reason without talking shite. However, only worthless shitheads produce normative reasons, so even if the thing could be done, it won't be. This does not mean normative reasons can't exist in a non shite form so long as a problem is open. But they still wouldn't be categorical. What if an open problem is closed in a manner favourable to that normative reason? In that case, the information set has also changed. The normative reason has been swamped by something that is purely economic. It is no longer 'action guiding' because something else- something positive, not normative- has become action schemata determining such that there is a saltation to a wholly new choice menu. It may be that a normative reason still operates so certain choices are ruled out, but, because the menu is different, they aren't actually the same choices at all (because they have different income effects or involve different hedges). Thus, whatever the appearance of continuity, what has happened is that the closing of an open problem in maths destroys a normative reason, though a new one may be created by another problem which opens up.

What has Euthprho's dilemma have to do with the Gita? Surely, it represents a polar opposite because God himself is present to testify. Eusebia consists of simply going through preordained motions in a detached manner. Piety consists in doing what God wants you to do and what will happen any way.

Looked at more closely, we notice that the Gita features only the dharma of Agents, not Principals. Both Arjuna and Krishna have willingly assumed a subordinate position and wish to fulfil the corresponding duty. Yet, Arjuna's loyalty is to his eldest brother who at the end of the Mahabharata denounced Dharma- God's plan for the world- as unjust and impious. Interestingly, Draupadi, their common wife, had previously denounced Dharma as the product of an amoral and unjust Mayin (Controller or Demi-urge). This is not far short of the Gnostic doctrine of the essential evil of this world and the God who controls it.

Since Arjuna has a particular boon which began to operate once he suffered 'Vishada' and since this boon permitted him to see everything he would want to in the manner he would want to, it follows that his vision is not such as would cause him to break with either his wife or eldest brother on the grounds that their condemnation of Dharma is itself impious. Indeed, Krishna's theophany scares Arjuna shitless. Cosmic Justice is a Horror Story. Still he and Krishna are good buddies and you don't give a bro a hard time just coz he's gotta shitty job. Yuddhishtira's Daddy however is Dharma incarnate. It is fine to give Dad a hard time when you find out his job is fucking up the world big time more especially when he is swanning around making out that he himself if the Incarnation of Justice and Piety and so on. Krishna aint doing that. His name means 'Blackie'. If it turns out that the hero's African-American best friend is actually running the Universe- sure, the honky gonna do a double take. It's perfectly natural for him to feel a bit sore about always getting stuck with the bar tab. But there's not a lot of mileage here. What's important is things go back to the way they were- the hero shooting off arrows, while his best friend steers the battle car and the body count goes through the roof.

Yuddhishtira had an 'inward light' which enabled him to tell right from wrong, though he also spent a lot of time listening to a discourse on Ethics, which confirmed him in the view that even if what is Right is univocal and Cosmic in character it might still be wrong not to reject it because the Cosmos itself is but a bagatelle in the larger scheme of things. As T.S Eliot says-

'Not fare well,
'But fare forward, voyagers.'

However, this stricture only applies to people talking about other's Welfare, not those who accomplish it because, truth be told, of the universal car-crash that is the working of morality the only moral thing that can be said is-
'Move along folks!
'Nothing to see here.'

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The truth about Champaran

Two different things happened over the course of 1916-17 which defined India's subsequent trajectory. Firstly, Mohammad Ali Jinnah helped the Muslim League come to an agreement with the Indian National Congress. Secondly, well organised Hindu mobs targeted Muslims over a wide area of Bihar on the issue of cow-slaughter. Taken together, these two events determined the subsequent course of Indian history by making it clear that, firstly, Hindus and Muslims would co-operate to take more and more power from the British and finally throw them out all together and, secondly, that Majoritarian policies would de facto obtain, no matter what agreements were made. Minorities would have to accept second class status or migrate.

This was not inevitable and certainly not desirable. For historical reasons, many of the most public spirited people in Hindu majority areas were Muslim. Whichever genuine socio-political problem we look at, we find there were extremely able and far sighted Muslims involved at a grass-roots level. No doubt, there was an elite element with a comprador attitude which turned the existence of minorities into a raison d'etre for the Raj. Yet, organised communalism which instrumentalized mob violence on supposedly religious grounds was equally an elite affair. Both types of elite politics back-fired spectacularly. Sadly, Socialism was not able to fill the vacuum they left because of its own instrumentalization of caste. What remained was the remorseless corruption and criminalization of politics with little thought being given to governance or the Rule of Law.

In 1917, Mahatma Gandhi, still a novice on the Indian political stage, had little or nothing to do with either malign development. However, he did get involved in an unimportant side-show- viz. the anti indigo-planter agitation in Champaran. This did wonders for his reputation though, when we look into matters a little more closely, we find that Gandhi's experiences in Champaran, where he was living amongst people whose language and mode of livelihood he did not understand, shaped his thinking in a highly unfortunate manner.

The inequities associated with Indigo cultivation had long been known. Otto Trevelyan's best-selling 'the Competition wallah' dwells upon it length in a book published before Gandhi was born. The play 'Neel Darpan'- the mirror of indigo- was equally famous among the Bengali and Bihari speaking people. A Scottish missionary was sentenced to jail for translating it into English. 

The presence of European planters meant that the Champaran agitation- spearheaded by moneylenders, businessmen, lawyers and well off tenants- could take on an anti-Imperialist colouring. However, the Government was already aware that the campaign was meaningless. This is because an agricultural institute had been established in Pusa, near Champaran, with money given by an American friend of Lord Curzon. British agricultural scientists had come to the conclusion that indigo was unprofitable though, curiously, it's byproduct was a good fertiliser. The future lay with tobacco. By 1916, ITC was active in encouraging planters to switch to tobacco- new strains of which were being developed in a Scientific manner. Many ex-indigo planters ended up working for or alongside ITC.

The war, which had caused competition from the German artificial dye to be temporarily suspended, had created an anomalous situation where tenants who had refused to pay a bounty to be released from the obligation to grow some indigo, believing the crop to be unprofitable, now found themselves required to do so. This threatened the prosperity of a new indigenous middle class which was upwardly mobile and keenly interested in the vernacular press. Such people saw that the Indian National Congress could become their vehicle for class power if it abandoned its elitist Anglophone ways and embraced the vernacular language and political culture.  The genius of Raj Kumar Shukla- a clever agriculturist who had developed in to a wheeler-dealer earning a good income from money-lending- lay in persuading Gandhi to come to Champaran.  This was because Gandhi was known to be impeccably pro-British. Furthermore, if he was externed from the District, C.F. Andrews would take over. The charge that 'slavery' was continuing in a disguised form was a very serious one. The Govt. rightly considered Gandhi less dangerous than Andrews, so the latter went off to Fiji to look into the plight of the Indian plantation workers there.

Gandhi, a trained lawyer, did a good job in Champaran. He refused to admit obviously fraudulent affidavits. Furthermore, he was able to attract good quality volunteers as well as generous funding for the setting up of Schools etc. However, these initiatives collapsed quite quickly. Meanwhile, the Agricultural Research Institute, together with private sector initiatives, was changing the prospects of the better off agriculturists. The landless labourers and Scheduled Castes however gained nothing or, indeed, lost some entitlements. By the 1930's, there was a clear schism along class and caste lines in the countryside. The British no longer had salience as they themselves saw that only the rational application of Technology and Agricultural Science- not legal trickery or strong arm tactics- could enable them to recoup their investments.

The brilliant, mainly Kayastha, lawyer-politicians, like Brajkishore Prasad (later the father in law of 
JP Narayan) and Rajendra Prasad, became devoted Gandhians because he appeared to cross class and caste lines in a manner that did not undermine the socio-economic order. JP's subsequent highly quixotic trajectory shows both the positive and negative fall out of Gandhi's Champaran campaign. Like Gandhi, JP appeared to be tackling fundamental problems at the grass-roots level. In reality, he was undermining the rule of law and preparing the ground for the apotheosis of the caste based gangster politician.

On the one hand, Gandhi's 'mass contact' initially had an alethic basis. Gandhi was actually taking down some truthful affidavits. On the other, he completely neglected the broader Economic and Scientific picture. Why? Gandhi espoused a worldview stuck hopelessly in the past. He was against factories. His clients had brought him in because they knew he would see the indigo factory as something inherently evil. The need for tobacco or sugar or flour factories- to which farmers wanted to sell their produce- is what is missing from his report. Thus, it suggested no new way forward for the people of the region.

The most glaring lacuna in Gandhi's report on Champaran is the manner on which it capitalises on the genuine suffering of the poorest but does so in a disingenuous manner by conflating it with the economic harm sustained by the better off. A wealthy man owning 200 hundred acres, who has an elephant in his stable, suffers some property damage inflicted by goons employed by the factory. His pain and suffering gets recorded and is used as an argument against Imperialism. Meanwhile the 'untouchable' deprived of customary rights by that same man is completely ignored.

Gandhi in his autobiography constantly harps on the indigence and simplicity of Raj Kumar Shukla. Yet the man was earning more, according to his own testimony to the Inquiry Commission, than an ICS officer.  He had been previously dismissed from a post as an Estate Manager for peculation. He may have been born into relative poverty, but he was a cunning man who had done very well for himself.

Around the same time that Gandhi was earning his spurs in Champaran,  a 26 year old Muslim's talent and good character was taken official note of by his elevation to the style and title of Nawab of Chattari. He had been educated up to the Tenth standard at a good school but then been forced to take over the management of his small family estate. He turned out to be a very good farmer. By his thrift and energy he was able to buy up surrounding estates and also to establish schools and see to the proper running of the local administration. Later he would lament his failure to set up factories on his Estates so that agricultural improvement went hand in hand with the creation of better quality livelihoods. However, his education had been purely literary. Still, people like him were starting to understand the importance of technical education- in particular in engineering.

 The Nawab of Chattari's ability made him a natural representative of the 'Landlord's party' and so he was appointed a Minister of Industries in the Provincial Cabinet in the Twenties. Gaining access to technocrats, the Nawab fostered agro-industries. He had a distinguished public career and was trusted by all. Curiously, he was Pakistan's second High Commissioner to India yet, by prior agreement, he kept his Indian citizenship and died many years later full of honours in his ancestral home.

Gandhi's politics did have appeal to brilliant lawyers, like Rajendra Prasad, as well as enterprising landlords like the Nawab. Why? Well, Gandhi was appealing to Universal Morality. He wasn't peddling a paranoid sectarian message- e.g. 'Islam is in danger!' or 'Protect the Cow!. 

Unfortunately, Gandhi was ignoring something more important than Universal Morality- viz Practical Reason- doing sensible things rather than talking worthless shite. The result was that he and his followers became habitual liars and self-aggrandising fantasists. Gandhi wasted over a million dollars on his Khadi campaign. Yet Khadi, like indigo, was bound to disappear. The obstinate European planters, who ostracised the British agricultural expert for telling them this truth, were forced to change their minds. Indigo was abandoned, Tobacco flourished. Similarly, those handloom weavers who rejected Gandhi's advise and bought Mill Yarn for their looms and mill-cloth for themselves, were able to make a good living by concentrating on the top end of the market. Others, who relied on Gandhian institutions- which were later on taken over by the Government- slowly starved.

The truth about Gandhi's sojourn in Champaran is that it was the opposite of  Ceasar's-  'veni, vidi, vici'. He came to Champaran but he didn't see what was really happening there because he hadn't been brought there to see anything except what his client wanted him to see. Still, as Rajendra Prasad says, he did weed out some of the more obviously fraudulent affidavits. But he didn't see the bigger fraud being practised upon him. He conquered nothing. He was conquered by a particular upwardly mobile Hindu class and used thereafter as a sort of mascot by them. Thus, at the same time as Gandhi was taking affidavits in Champaran, the Shahabad riots were being planned. Prasad himself remained a high level Hindu Mahasabha member for some years subsequently. Majoritarianism, in Bihar, proceeded apace under a Gandhian mask. With hindsight, everybody lost, not gained, by this fraud because able people- like the Nawab of Chattari- were being shut out of policy making because they belonged to the wrong religion or caste. Politics, as a profession, became tarnished- it was seen as part of the problem, not the solution.

The Indian countryside would like quite different now if money raised for Khilafat or Khaddar or other such worthless kaka had been invested in Agricultural Research Institutes and Colleges.  Similarly, had the worthless boodhan movement concentrated on updating Land Registers and educating villagers to ensure that title in land was accurately and incorruptibly kept, then Socio-economic development would have been much more rapid and benign.


Monday, 10 April 2017

B.K Matilal & the impossibility of an 'action guide' dilemma

B.K Matilal wrote-

So, Matilal thinks an 'action guide' dilemma arises if there is what in Economics is called a 'choice situation', such that an action has an 'opportunity cost' in terms of the next best alternative that has to be foregone. Scarcity means that actions have an opportunity cost. Our time is scarce. If I devote this minute to typing this, I can't also use this minute to go and get myself a biscuit. Even thinking about something involves an opportunity cost. If I spend this minute thinking about that biscuit which is piteously calling to me from the cupboard, I can't spend this same minute thinking about how best to murli Manohar Joshi.

It is not moral or religious to waste time thinking obviously stupid thoughts. To imagine anyone, strictly motivated by Religion or Morality, can have an 'action guide' dilemma is to have wasted time thinking an obviously stupid thought. That's why non-stupid Religious and Philosophical authorities say 'action guide' dilemmas don't exist within their systems of ethics. What may exist is mental derangement of some sort which causes a person to feel that they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. The Sanskrit word 'Vishada' denotes this type of derangement. Arjuna suffers from Vishada which is why he says things which indicate he has an 'action guide' dilemma. Krishna cures him of this Vishada. That's what happens in the Gita. A sick man is cured. It turns out there was no 'action guide' dilemma at all.

Why is it obviously stupid to think a Religious or Moral 'action guide' dilemma can exist? The answer is that, if such a dilemma arises, then either
1) the agent has already done something which puts him beyond the pale of that Religion or Morality- viz. whatever actions led to him being put in the dilemma. Take Hamlet's quandary. It only arose because he had commerce with an unclean spirit. Neither Religion nor Morality says you have to listen to ghosts- more especially when they tell you to kill your Uncle. No one thinks of Hamlet as featuring an 'action guide' dilemma of a particularly Christian or Moral sort. It is a tragedy. A mind keen enough to grasp Agrippa's trilemma has been caught in a self spun snare. This is hamartia- a tragic flaw in a Prince of great intellect and noble character.
or
2) that Religion or Morality is not truly action guiding at all and hence of no use to its votary for whom some such crutch seems necessary. Drop the crutch. Economics is the discipline whose subject is opportunity cost. Any given Religion or Morality, if it satisfies a plausible condition I will describe in my next paragraph, can be shown to have a 'complete deontic code' such that there is always a prescribed action under every state of the world and thus no choice has to be made and hence no opportunity cost is incurred. It is a different matter that a hermeneutic or epistemological or 'signal extraction' problem might arise in decoding what that prescribed action is. But, qua that action, Consequences are irrelevant. A mass murderer may be let free on a point of law even if the consequences will be very bad. That doesn't matter. What matters is that the law is correctly interpreted according to its own system of 'artificial reason'.

Let us call a Religion or Moral Scheme's deontic code complete if it prescribes an action at every moment in time for its votary.  This means that the votary never incurs an opportunity cost- there was literally nothing else he could conscionably do- and hence experiences 'zero regret' with respect to his actions if he is a true believer.

If the moral code is not known to be complete but a 'zero-regret' trajectory is feasible for a particular votary, then, by the Szpilrayn extension theorem, we know the moral code is complete for that agent.

Can this moral code be complete for any arbitrary agent? Yes, if there is a choice sequence through Stalnaker-Lewis closest possible worlds such that the ideal agent's world deforms continuously into that of the arbitrary agent so that the feasible zero regret trajectory of the former maps onto the decision space of the latter

Alternatively, we could define a coordination game whose correlated equilibrium expresses the same thing. This enables us to use information contained in the 'zero regret' stipulation regarding the ideal agent's trajectory.
Imagine two players in a coordination game who are both privately informed by an omniscient being about how to act. One is told to behave like the ideal agent and given signals so as to make decisions she won't regret. The other is told to behave like the arbitrary agent and given signals to make decisions which the other player would not regret were she in the shoes of the arbitrary agent.
The omniscient being can now construct a pay-off mechanism such that no signals need be given. Hart & Mas-Collel have shown that knowledge of this pay-off matrix is sufficient for the correlated equilibrium to be achieved. Thus, we don't have to have an omniscient being at all. We have shown there must be some game where the Hannan consistent strategy gets us to the result we need.

Thus we know a complete deontic code for everybody must exist if there is a feasible 'zero-regret' trajectory for even just one votary of it.

Let us look at this another way. Suppose I believe Mother Theresa could have lived a life in obedience to a deontic code which I myself believe in and that if she had done so she would have had no regrets nor faced any dilemmas. Is this sufficient information for everybody to, in good-faith, agree that there must be a complete moral code for me as well- even though I am a man, not a woman, and live in a different world with different opportunities and different threats?
The answer is yes.
Suppose every rational, non antagonomic, person who ever had or will have a view on this topic were endowed with infinitely long lives and infinite information and computing power and that they were all put in a room together and asked to decide on this question.  Then, sooner or later there would be something like 'Aumann agreement' between them as to what Mother Theresa would do in my shoes. Of course, this consensus might only be achieved very very long after the Universe has been destroyed. Still, this suffices as an 'existence proof' that so long as Mother Theresa had a feasible zero regret trajectory and I believe I should do what she would do in my shoes, then there is a complete moral code for me which is 'objective' but which might be beyond my ken.

What if we, quite sensibly, don't want to have anything to do with mathematical theorems or thought experiments involving infinite computing power?

Then, it is still the case that if we think there is at least one person who, on his deathbed, can truthfully say 'if I'd followed such and such deontic code, I'd never have had anything to regret' then we know of a moral code that is complete. Either there is some 'work on oneself' we need to do so as to be fit to implement that moral code, or else we're just shit out of 'moral luck' and damned by that deontic code for a reason which Religion or Morality can treat as a mystery it would be impious to inquire further into.

One way out of this gloomy conclusion is to reflect that any regret minimising strategy could represent a moral code over its duration.  By backward induction, choosing that moral code renders it zero-regret. Stitching together durations to make a life history, composed of 'stations of life' regulated by different deontic codes, is then sufficient to redeem our lives. The Hindu 'Varnashrama dharma' is sometimes viewed in this light. This is fine if the lens we are looking through is something like  'Hanann consistent adaptive learning'. However, as a justification for a 'casteist' status quo it is worthless shite because it cashes out as nothing but moral dilemma piled on dilemma without any action guiding actually occurring.

To conclude, we know there is a complete moral code, such that 'normative reasons' exist at every moment of our lives, and, what's more, it's what we'd have chosen anyway given our preferences, endowments and Bayesian priors. However, the code may not be effectively computable or else may have exponential Kolgorov complexity. That's a good thing because Newcombe problems exist and also because an easily hackable code renders us vulnerable to parasites and predators.

A moral code that insists that it be effable at every point- i.e. justify its actions in rational terms- must be different from the globally regret minimising moral code if computation, that is cognition, uses up scarce resources or else if strategic problems arise. The effable code may be superior for an agent who devotes himself to a 'second order' good- e.g. proselytising for deontics. However, in that case the associated complete moral code considers those who do first order good to be 'damned'.

Does this give rise to a dilemma? Nope. People who think they are doing 'second order good' are too deluded to understand that they need to stop talking shite and do some 'first order good'. Suppose you get paid more, or gain more prestige by doing 'second order good'- it remains the case that you are crowding out the first order good you can do. It may appear that the second order good creates much more of the first order good than you could possibly produce yourself. This is a delusive appearance. It is just bad Economics not some fancy-shmancy moral dilemma you can vapour over. Get over yourself. Admit the truth. Moral dilemmas are the chrematistics of a worthless class.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Roopen Majithia on the Gita

The Gītā opens with its protagonist, Arjuna, the preeminent warrior of his time, facing a classic moral dilemma: should he or should he not go into battle against his Kāurava cousins and extended family, his former friends and teachers?6 Arjuna stands between the battle lines with his friend and charioteer Krishna, sees his family, friends and teachers arrayed against him, and finds himself faced with the full force of a moral dilemma. Going into battle will allow him to fulfill his personal duty (svadharma) as a warrior (kshatriyā), or what is also referred to as his class duty (varṇadharma). But he sees very clearly now that this civil war will also involve the death of many members of his extended family, and the possible destruction of society as he knows it (BG 2.39-43). This has often been conceived as a violation of the universal duties that all human beings have qua human, or what is called sādhāraṇa dharma. If he were not to fight, then he would not have the blood of his family and loved ones on his hands, though he would not be living up to his obligations as a warrior and a brother. He can either fight or not fight, but he cannot do both. Yet any choice he makes violates his obligations in some way, which is precisely what is meant by a moral dilemma. It is no wonder then that he sets his bow down in despair and seeks the advice of his friend and charioteer Krishna, who also happens to be the Divine incarnate

This is from Prof. Roopen Majithia's cogent, well researched, paper here which summarises how contemporary philosophers view the ethics of the Gita.

The tenor of his own views may be discerned from his comment on the following verse-

3.25 While those who are unwise act From attachment to action, O Arjuna,
 So the wise should act without attachment
 Intending to maintain the welfare of the world (lokasaṁgraham).

 This is an important verse not simply because it presents the consequentialist principle of world-welfare, but because it does so in the context of the deontological sounding language of detachment. 

Krishna can advise those who are wise and in pursuit of perfection this way because detachment has to do with how duty is undertaken which is always agent-relative to her state and station in life. 

Whereas the principle of world-welfare is the basis of how duty is justified, which is agent-neutral because it holds for all agents regardless of their stage and station in life. 

So now we can see how the Gītā marries deontology with consequentialism. The deontological sounding aspects of the text, we saw, conceives right action in terms of rule following without concern for personal consequences, whereas consequentialism understands right action in terms of whether or not a good state of affairs are promoted by such action. The Gītā asks us to follow dharma regardless of a certain kind of consequence and at the same time recognizes that dharma is grounded in a different kind of consequence that promotes world welfare. So it is not unreasonable to say that the text’s seeming deontology is ultimately grounded in consequentialism, even though detachment’s exclusion of a certain kind of consequence might lead us to think otherwise.

Majithia is Indian and, unlike most Western philosophers, knows the Mahabharata well. Yet he thinks Arjuna's dilemma can't arise from a conflict between kuladharma (duty to obey his eldest brother- Karna) and svadharma (his own self-chosen duty to kill Karna, in obedience to Karna's wish, while in a state of manyu (dark anger) and contrary to the rules of war).

Majithia could argue that Arjuna does not know that Karna is his eldest brother. However the Mahabharata deliberately includes an episode where Arjuna is given the boon of chaksushi vidya which enables him to see anything he wishes in the manner which is best for him. If Arjuna did not use this boon to gain strategic information then his 'Vishada' (depression) is a result of his own hubris or hamartia (character flaw). In that case, the Gita is not a philosophical epoche but a Tragic, though magnificent, coda of a type conventional to Iron Age bardic traditions.

The Hindus had a well elaborated deontics. Conflict between kuladharma and svadharma or sadharana dharma have been well discussed. However, no definite conclusion was reached because the Hindus have always accepted that the 'Common Law' of the region- or 'best practice of the best people'- or 'what is necessary to survive' (apadh dharma)- is what is normative. 'Nyaya'- the Law- is not 'artificial reason' as in the English tradition though parts of India had a Navya-nyaya tradition which hoped to make it so.
Still, it remains the case that the Law has no separate existence but is a 'samskar' simply. Thus no Dharmic dilemmas can arise by reason of the lack of an equitable remedy because the Law- as distinct from the Vow- was never general or a priori but rather pragmatic and empirical. It might result in individual injustice but 'samskar' could always cancel 'samskar'. Eventualities were defeasible even if procedures weren't.

Dharma- which was translated perfectly by Indians as Eusebia- which in turn became the Latin 'pietas' and the English 'piety'- does feature dilemmas but these dilemmas have no legal or economic dimension. Instead they point to the ever ongoing inward collapse of the boundaries of the secular and, in that crepuscular atmosphere, the increasing luminescence of that liminal space where Gods and Men die each others lives and live each others deaths. Even here, however, there was no real dilemma. There was a way out of this liminal bardo, barzakh or antarabhava. The paradox here was that the viyogini proved superior to the Yogi. Yearning for Union with what is beyond Eros turned out to be a higher Yoga than ascesis. The mad poet uttered sooth while learned pundits prattled nonsense.

That, however, was considered a later development. Still, in the Mahabharata itself it is made clear that a Warrior can leave his kuladharma and become an ascetic without incurring odium by reason of substitution- as for example if a son discharges his function. However, there is nothing to stop a Warrior- like Balram, Krishna's elder brother- saying the Sanskrit equivalent of 'sod this for a game of soldiers' and departing the scene of battle with a large pot of wine tucked under one arm while the other shoulders a wooden plough.

It seems, Majithia thinks Krishna is a 'Casteist'. A man's duty is determined at birth. However, if that man performs his hereditary duty with detachment, then he gains some benefit of an esoteric kind. The problem here is that Karna is not the son of King Pandu, nor the head of the Pandavas, if he doesn't want to be. This is because he was born before his mother's marriage. However, he remains the eldest brother of the three older Pandavas by reason of common descent. Karna keeps changing caste- now a Suta, now a Brahmin, now a Kshatriya. Yet the Mahabharata upholds his status as the one who determines the Pandava's kuladharma. It is he who wishes the Kurukshetra battle to go ahead as a ritual vishodhana or purgation by blood. Notice, neither he nor Arjuna act with detachment in their climacteric duel. Both are in the grip of Manyu, dark anger.

In other words, all this talk of detachment and caste duties is just hogwash. The Gita is an occassionalist text of a highly Theistic sort. It is foolish to look for consequentialism or deontology in it because God is the efficient cause of everything and, anyway, maybe the World isn't real at all.

This does not mean, however, that there is no philosophy in the Gita.
It references an open problem in Mathematics and therefore must have Philosophical content.

Krishna resolves Arjuna's dilemma which is of a backward induction type. To do his duty with detachment he has to kill the one who imposed that duty, that too while in a state of 'dark anger'.
There is only one possible path from the required outcome back to the depressive 'decision situation' featured in the 'Vishada Yoga' chapter of the Gita. I have argued elsewhere that this 'golden path' features a 'zero knowledge proof' of an exceptionally powerful kind and this is instructive when we consider ethical dilemmas we are currently faced with concerning encryption and block-chain technologies. Briefly, I believe that we can have a 'normative reason' based on something we suspect to be true- e.g. P is not equal to NP- which offers a Muth rational solution to a coordination problem of a particular kind. I think what Krishna is doing in the Gita is a concrete model for this but we can't prove this till we have the proof we currently lack. At that point, however, the 'normative reason' disappears. I think that's interesting. Smarter people may find yet more interesting things but only if they look for things which are open problems in Maths- and therefore Philosophy.

I suppose, if I were an academic, it would be convenient for me to say 'The Gita is a short book which tells you everything you need to know about Hindu ethics'. Certainly, this is a solution for an ongoing coordination problem. However, it is based on a stupid lie and so all the academic work currently being done on the Gita is utterly, hilariously, worthless.

Hinduism has deontology- lots of Niti Sutras and Vyavahara Sutras and so on- but its deontology is defeasible, empirical, and at the level of 'samskar'- i.e. is phenomenological merely.  No dilemmas arise because any stain arising from omission or commission is easily purged by 'right intention' (chetana) cultivated in community with like-hearted strivers (Yogis). Krishna himself is able to bring about the 'regret minimizing' outcome of the Gita because Arjuna appeals to him as the Lord of the Yogis.

Hinduism has Positive Economics- Artha Shastra- and the Just King, Yuddhishtra, has to learn Statistical Game Theory to overcome his own 'Vishada'. He also learns, in the Vyadha Gita, that the common people should ignore Kings and Priests and pursue their own economic interests in a rational manner. This, as if by the Myserson Satterthwaite General Feasibility theorem, yields prosperity on the basis of consensual, uncoerced interactions in a repeated Game. There is no need for 'Prophets' when the 'Revelation Principle' obtains because agents in repeated Games soon figure out appropriate Vickrey-Clarke mechanisms. Just Kings should compete by setting up Tiebout models and ensure free Entry & Exit. Hirschman 'Voice' and 'Loyalty' will spontaneously appear or else the model crashes.

No sensible person mixes Positive Economics with Deontology- unless 'rule based consequentalism' counts as such- because that is the job of senile Professors obeying Rothbard's Law- i.e. specialising in saying the stupidest thing possible given their antecedents.

The Gita isn't about 'Niti' or 'Artha'. It is an epoche of a dramatic type which we could restate as a backward induction based 'regret minimization problem' subject to an arbitrary informational constraint. It does tell us interesting things about open problems in decision theory in the same way that the Talmud, thanks to Robert Aumann, tells us interesting things. Unfortunately, India's karma is so bad, we got stuck with Amartya Sen and can only dream of one day getting an Aumann of our own.

Returning to Majitha's paper, let us see how he arrives at his view. My remarks are in bold.

Even a cursory reading of the Gītā makes it clear that the language of duty based on one’s stage and station in life (varṇāśramadharma) is pervasive. The Gita is a chapter- one concerned with a highly melodramatic situation-  in a much larger text. A cursory reading of it is bound to mislead because the context is lacking to grasp its multiple ironies. Why is 'Ranchodh' (the one who flees the battlefield, an epithet of Lord Krishna) preaching belligerence? Is it a joke- like when Bhima dresses up as a woman? Furthermore, we already know Karna is the true eldest brother. He only has to reveal his true birth for the Pandavas to submit. Will Krishna give away Karna's secret? He is one smart dude, but he is also related to Kunti. Will his natural affection get the better of him? Or will he find a cunning way out? I will argue that these deontological elements in the text are concerned with how right action must be undertaken, which is distinct from how right action is justified. Hinduism already had a sophisticated literature on how actions are to be undertaken and how they are to be justified. There are extended discourses on such subjects within the epic. The Gita references them as it does the Vedas and Upanishads and so on but it is not principally concerned with either field. We can be sure of this because we have the dual of the Bhagvad Gita to make a compare study. The Vyadha Gita says that there is no right way to do a thing nor is any justification necessary because nothing is intrinsically right or wrong.  The Vyadha is a butcher of animals just as Arjuna is a butcher of men. Both conduct their trade as they see fit and any fool who challenges them with talk of ethics is laughed at because both are very skillful butchers whereas the fool is just logic chopping empty air. Such justification comes in broadly consequentialist terms of world-welfare, as I have already hinted. Nonsense! The World may be wholly delusive and illusory- many of the greatest commentators on the Gita held that belief.  Nevertheless, auspiciousness can be discerned from inauspiciousness, piety from impiety.  World-welfare is linked to kairos- timeliness. This has nothing to do with consequentialism of the Western type which has no concept of kairos or even dialectic. But the point of this endeavour is not to reduce the Gītā’s ethical theory to a variant of a western theory, since the centrality of liberation or mokṣa in the Gītā’s position makes this impossible, as we will see. Rather, the Gītā’s is a transformative synthesis that shows what it will take to make an agent-neutral consequentialism work consistently. Utilitarianism doesn't have a problem with 'Moksha'- at least not since John Stuart Mill. There is a workaround even if we abandon cardinal utility.
 Agent-neutral consequentialism may or may not 'work consistently' but we know that if we permit the work to be done non-deterministically, then it has a consistent implementation- thought what that might be is not effectively computable and may feature unknowable partitions.
The Gita does not mention anyone having to learn discrete maths. That happened in the dual episode concerning the Just King's Vishada. There is no 'transformative synthesis' here answering to a type of economic philosophy associated with Nineteenth Century maths. Andre Weil spent a lot of time reading the Gita in Sanskrit. If the thing was there, he'd have found it.

Elsewhere, our author writes-

So it would seem that consequences of two kinds have a role in dhārmic duty undertaken with detachment: one kind that is explicit and helps determine the best fitting action that would instantiate that duty in a particular circumstance, and another that is concerned with world-welfare either implicitly or explicitly. 
Kings and Priests may claim that their actions are in line with their duty to promote world-welfare. If they are powerful and feared or their powers are effective, or believed to be effective, they may drop such claims or make them in a pro forma manner. 
The Veda itself shows that Priests who make a ritual mistake can escape the consequence if someone else writes a hymn which changes the law in this respect. What matters is skillfulness and timeliness. 'Detachment' lessens anxiety, permits delayed gratification, and improves attentiveness and dexterity. But this is true in all fields. The Vyadha became a very wealthy meat wholesaler living in a palace and worshipping his own parents as his gods because he had enough detachment to practice his craft in a rational fashion rather than let myopic greed lead him to commit fraud (Vyadha has the connotation of fraudsters because butchers were notorious cheats). He enjoyed the good life while gaining the highest knowledge described in the Chandogya Upanishad. Thus he is the equal to Krishna Devakiputra and can function as his peer in the dual to the Bhagvad Gita.
It is utterly foolish to think that a butcher who is good at his job and consequently thriving must also learn something called the 'duty of the butcher' which is further divided into ' most fitting actions for butchers' and 'role of butchers in promoting world-welfare'. I'm not saying the butcher's guild might not pay some Pundit to write some such screed and get it published. I'm saying everybody would recognise it to be mere puffery. Apprentice butchers might have to sleep through some such lectures but it would still be nonsense though, no doubt, it might serve a rationing or screening function.

Is our author doing something similar here?

Implicitly since consequences concerning world-welfare are built into dharma, and explicitly when it is unclear which duty will promote world-welfare. Right! That's what happens when a warrior is faced with a spear thrust by the enemy.  He makes a dharmic calculation as to whether to dodge the spear thrust or take it in the gut. This involves deciding which action best promotes world welfare.  Even in instances of the latter, it should be reiterated, it is still the case that action is undertaken without concern for personal consequences and in line with the spirit of scriptural injunction and therefore seems deontological to that extent. Not deontological but demented. Even Asimov's robots had a duty to preserve themselves though this duty was superseded by another such that a robot might sacrifice itself to save a human.

Presumably, Krishna thinks Arjuna’s fighting is required by the principle of world welfare because the world is worse off if Arjuna doesn’t fight, perhaps because victory cannot be secured without him, or, at the very least, because it would set a terrible dhārmic precedent. 
If this view is correct, the Gita is silly. Hindus are fools. Krishna could just teleport all the warriors to separate worlds where they slay simulacra of their enemies and die peacefully in their beds.
This understanding of detachment, with its built-in notion of world-welfare that is ultimately conducive to mokṣa, helps us see how obvious instances of detached criminal action at least are implausible; for such action would clearly be against the letter and spirit of dharma. I'm afraid this isn't Krishna's teaching as the author very well knows. Still, the author does go on to give a good account of the novel 'Samkhya-Yoga' aspect of the Gita which, when combined with Yuddhishtra's lesson in Game Theory, takes us to open problems in the Sciences and therefore actual  Philosophy, as opposed to arid Pedantry.

The text’s utilitarian principle of world-welfare provides the basis for assessing the nature of one’s duty in a changing world, even when faced with competing duties as in the case of moral dilemmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both the Gita and its dual arise in response to a mental abnormality (Vishada) in an agent. They are therapeutic. There is no need to follow the therapy once one is cured- as happens to both Yuddhishtra and Arjuna. The former, however, still has to learn 'Niti' to bischarge his duty because, after the death of Karna, he is a principal not an agent. Of course, it helps on the grounds of consistency that the duties themselves are ultimately derived not from a deontological principle but a utilitarian one. Therapeutic, not UtilitiarianYet this raises another issue, for one of the problems that many versions of utilitarianism often have is that these result in agents being alienated from their own projects, since agents are required to pursue the greater good for all (even if, as we saw in the case of Mill, such a move is not always easily justifiable). A guy being treated for an illness is not required to pursue the greater good for all. However, he benefits by considering the world as interconnected and itself being healed. The Gītā actually converts this into an advantage since it justifies this implication by suggesting that the empirical agent’s projects are not of ultimate concern, since not pursuing the dehā’s (lower self’s) personal goals is actually conducive to mokṣa for the dehi (Higher Self). This is only the case where the deha is subject to klesha. Once the klesha are removed, no such infirmity arises.  Obviously, if you are in hospital you shouldn't be pursuing your lower self's personal goals- like getting drunk and punching people in bars- but thinking good thoughts and cultivating your higher self. In so doing, the text also gives a metaphysical basis for selflessness and other-concern, by pointing to an extended and ultimately empty conception of the dehā that is intricately interconnected with all of nature. Very important, because fear of death can weaken you when you most need your strenth to fight off the diseaseFinally, the Gītā’s virtue theory shows how the sage is the culmination of a long process of training and what constitutes such training, in a way that completes its ethics. Nonsense! Some kids attain that moksha which eludes the graybeards. What's more, this can happen instantaneously even in Grace denying sects like JainismYet, we might wonder if we have an ethical theory here since ethical theories apply to agents, and in the final analysis, the sage can hardly be described as an ethical agent if in fact action is nothing but strands acting on strands. Why not? There could be a supervenience relationship and the action of the agent (pramana) is of an epistemological kind in recognising this to be the case. Perhaps recalling something else that Mill says might be useful here: that utilitarianism (and hence consequentialism) is essentially concerned with the assessment of actions and not of agency (Utilitarianism, 18). Mill's theory of responsibility has salience here.  Like Moh Tzu's it vitiates his project because it would justify 'noble lies' like indoctrinating people to fear imaginary punishments in an imaginary Hell But this can hardly be an ultimately satisfactory answer unless of course the agent is ultimately irrelevant, as is the case for the Gītā. The Gita is therapeutic. Only the agent matters. It is philosophic in that it is a concrete model for what we believe to be correct solution an open problem in Maths. Thus it can provide 'normative reasons'
The Gītā’s ethical syncretism captures something true about the ethical dimensions of our lives: that good action involves deontological, consequential and virtue-centric aspects. On the contrary, the Gita captures the truth that Pundits talking high falutin' nonsense are wasting their breath.  On the other hand, someone who takes the trouble to understand you when you are mentally ill and who does everything in his power to catalyse a salutary metanoia is well advised to use 'zero knowledge proofs' rather than indoctrinate you in whatever bogus theory he is using. The alternative is, like Winnicott treating Masud Khan, you turn your junkie into a pusher of your product. Moreover, implicit in the text is the view that these aspects may be combined in the moral or dhārmic life, in ways that I hope I have shown. In the main, though, the Gītā makes clear that the moral life needs to be contextualized in relation to mokṣa; where mokṣa, for the first time in the orthodox tradition at least, is consistently conceived as directly available to all. Nonsense! The carter may have attained Moksha- as in the Chandogya- or it may be a woman or a butcher.  Some have the capacity or willingness to pass on the gift. Others don't or won't because it is strictly worthless which is why Vaishnavs pray not to be Liberated but to be reborn endlessly to serve the Lord in the form of 'Daridra Narayan'- the God within us who is lonely and poor.

John Broome proving Normative Economics is either strategic or empty



Economist turned philosopher, John Broome, whom I've previously discussed,  inadvertently shows why Normative Economics must be either strategic or empty in an interview with 3 AM

Intentions and Beliefs are opaque to Rationality

3:AM: Starting with reasoning and normativity : if intentions aren’t automatically a reason to do anything then how can intentions engage our rationality like they do?

JB: How does a contract engage the law? Because the law requires you, if you’ve made a contract, to fulfil it; because the law requires you, if you fail to fulfil a contract, to pay compensation; and so on. These are facts about the law and particularly about how contracts figure in it.

How does an intention engage rationality? Because rationality requires you, if you intend an end, to intend whatever you believe is a necessary means to that end; because rationality requires you not to have contradictory intentions; and so on. These are facts about rationality and particularly about how intentions figure in it.

Contracts exist even where there is no Law. If a monopoly of legitimate coercion exists, it may be that the monopolist stipulates that all contracts made or which take effect within its demense come under the purview of a Court or Tribunal or other body. If there is no monopoly, there may still be an oligopoly of some sort and there may be jurisdictional conflict.

However, Contracts don't depend on the Law. They exist so as to clarify the nature of a uncoerced transaction and to widen its scope in a mutually beneficial way. Contracting parties may decide that it is beneficial to recognise a particular Court or other such body as regulating the contract such that a vinculum juris, a bond of law, is created and rights are linked to remedies under different states of the world. There are many reasons why contracting parties may wish to go down this road. In particular, contingencies relating to the death or incapacity of one or other party can be better provided for.

Intentions aren't like Contracts. They are things we refer to when seeking to explain or predict observed behaviour. They may also be things we suspect are our own unconscious motivations. We seek to clarify our intentions and put a check upon them- for example by making vows and submitting ourselves to a moral audit- because we wish to be trusted by others and to trust ourselves.

Intentions create, not Contracts, but Relationships. They increase trust but don't create a viculum juris. However, the operation of law can give rise to a tort- i.e. a civil wrong or negative externality- a defence against which might involve proving one had a laudable intention and sought to fulfil that intention with due diligence. Notice such torts exist whether or not contracts exist. They are created by the Law and wholly independent of Contracts.

It often happens that a conscionable contract is unenforceable in a particular jurisdiction which otherwise recognises its validity. Thus an Islamic marriage is a contract whose sanctity is recognised by many non-Islamic jurisdictions. However, some of the provisions of that contract remain unenforceable.

Thus, Broom is wrong. It is not a fact about the Law that it makes you fulfil a contract because you had the option of not consenting to the Law compelling you to do so at some later date. It is a fact about the Law that it can make you fulfil what it considers the Social Contract requires of you with respect to someone injured by your actions whether or not there was consent or a contract or indeed any sort of relationship between you and that other person.

Similarly it is not a fact about Rationality that it requires you to intend to believe anything at all. Either you intend something or you don't. Either you believe something or you don't. Being required to intend to believe something is silly because no one knows how to reverse engineer either intentions or beliefs.

Suppose I believed myself to be allergic to fatty food. My health would improve because I'd be less fat. I don't know how to engineer this belief. I tried going to a hypnotist. It didn't work. What am I supposed to do? Start doing brain surgery on myself?

If I intend to lose weight and believe that 'the belief that I am allergic to fatty food' is a means to that end, Rationality does not require me to intend to believe that I can gain this belief anymore than it requires me to believe in fairies.

Rationality precludes 'reasons for actions'


3:AM: Philosophers like Nagel and Raz argued that reasons are the keys to normative thinking but you’ve argued that reasons don’t exhaust normativity haven’t you? And should we want to be rational anyway?

JB: Do you mean to ask whether I think normative thinking is concerned with other things besides reasons? Indeed I do. For example, normative thinking is concerned with what we ought to do. In fact, I’d say that ‘What ought I to do?’, ‘What ought I to think?’, ‘What ought I to hope for? and ‘What ought I . . .?’ in general are the core normative questions. Thinking about reasons can help to answer them.

Then you ask whether we should want to be rational. That you ask this question here makes me think you assume that being rational amounts to doing what you have reason to do. I don’t think that. There is much less of a connection between reasons and rationality than many people assume.

Still, the question is important anyway. (Not whether we should want to be rational – I think wants are not philosophically important – but whether we should be rational.) I think it’s not necessarily the case that you should be rational. There are well-know examples, particularly from Derek Parfit, where very bad things would happen if you were rational on a particular occasion. On that occasion, it’s not the case that you should be rational. But I do think you necessarily have at least a reason to be rational, though it could be defeated by stronger reasons not to be rational. I cannot prove this, however.


Rationality is concerned with that which is in accordance with logic and thus has a mathematical expression. A 'reason' defeated by a 'stronger reason' is a mistake that has been discovered, a fallacy that has been exposed. It may still have utility in some applied field as an approximation. But it is no longer part of 'Reason'. Rationality can't require us to have 'reasons' which, if the history of mathematical logic over the last hundred years is any guide, we know will be defeated by stronger reasons. 

It is a separate matter that, for legal reasons, I might decide to quote a particular normative reason as guiding my action- for example in a statement of intentions ancilliary to a Deed of Trust. Here, the reason quoted is an admission of a certain type or process of defeasibility. It allows the Trustee more freedom of action. However, it is not the case that this normative reason needs to be shown to have been binding upon me when I made the Statement of Intentions. In other words, the normative reason isn't normative at all but actually strategic within a particular legal context.

The question of 'ought'- deontics- relates to how to make ourselves more trustworthy even only to ourselves. But this is an empirical matter. I may believe that I 'ought' to lose weight and that what will enable me to achieve this end is believing that a beautiful little fairy will die every time I bite into a custard pie and that the beautiful little fairy's goblin lover will turn up and shoot poisoned arrows into my eyes to avenge her death. However Rationality does not require me to believe in this beautiful little fairy. Why? Fairies don't exist. That is an empirical matter. Similarly, Rationality forbids any requirement felt by anybody to believe in either fairies or Broome's 'reasons'. The thing is silly.

Normative reasons are either strategic or path dependent
3:AM: Do you agree with Nagel when he says that he sees ethics as a branch of psychology? If it is how can armchair a priori reasoning about ethics get anywhere? Don’t we need Josh Knobe’s xphil crew to burn the armchair and work out the empirical experiments to generate useful data?

JB: No I don’t agree with Nagel about that. One of the advances in moral philosophy since Nagel’s The Possibility of Altruism is that we now routinely distinguish normative reasons from motivating reasons. Nagel explicitly declined to do that. Consequently, he did not distinguish the study of normativity from the study of motivation, which is a branch of psychology.

We now make this distinction. Ethics is a part of the study of normativity, and not a part of psychology. It could hardly be independent of psychology, though ,since it is intimately concerned with human minds.


Broome rightly points out that his subject wouldn't exist unless normative reasons are different from motivating reasons. Thus, there is a strategic reason to make that distinction. Hence, at least one normative reason could be the strategic expression of a motivating reason. However, if the reason for upholding the independent existence of normative reasons can be merely strategic, how are we to know if any normative reason we might have is not itself just the strategic expression of a, possibly repugnant, motivating reason? Rationality can't counsel a dubious means to worthy ends if that same Rationality impugns those ends by the same means.

There is a way to circumvent this objection by positing a sort of 'Chinese Wall' or bicameral neurological structure as obtaining in agency. However, this implies path-dependence. But, as Samuelson pointed out, without ergodicity, Economics is empty. Thus, normative economics is either strategic or empty.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Pragmatism vs pragmatics

Dave Maier has a well written post at 3Quarks in which he attempts to 'coordinate' Wittgenstein and Pragmatism.

He says-
In my view, a minority one to be sure, what properly characterizes Wittgenstein’s “hinge” propositions – those propositions “exempt from doubt” and thus making inquiry conceptually possible – is surprisingly simple. It is obscured by Peirce’s unfortunate formulation of our properly anti-skeptical attitude as “fallibilism,” in which no empirical beliefs, given their corrigibility in principle, are held with probability 1. Following Isaac Levi, my teacher at Columbia, I prefer “infallibilism,” which states simply that a proposition is believed only if it is held without doubt. As even some Peirce interpreters concede (e.g. Christopher Hookway), fallibililsm gives back to skepticism with one hand what it takes away with the other. If, as Moore famously pointed out, “I believe it but it isn’t true” makes no sense, neither does “I believe it but it might not be true.” Instead, I say: only if you believe it – that is, regard it as true, without doubt – do you believe it. With this in place, Wittgensteinian hinges are easily seen simply as: beliefs tout court.

Maier is saying there is a coordination game involving 2 different textual availability cascades. This game presents particular difficulties because-  Wittgenstein('s) ...thought is particularly difficult to coordinate with anything else, due to his abnormally strong (and peculiar) philosophical personality, as well as the obscurity and multiple reasonably valid interpretations of his various mostly incomplete writings. We certainly don’t simply want to say: oh look, Wittgenstein is a pragmatist; but on the other hand it is difficult to see how his thought can be used for pragmatist ends outside the explicitly Wittgensteinian context. Most pragmatists don’t want to bother, and most Wittgensteinians tend to resent the effort.



Maier adds that his solution is a minority one. What is it precisely? 

Wittgenstein had said- 'Moore’s paradox can be put like this: the expression “I believe that this is the case” is used like the assertion “This is the case”; and yet the hypothesis that I believe that this is the case is not used like the hypothesis that this is the case. (PI p. 190)


I think Maier is saying that to really believe something is to regard it as more than a hypothesis because you have no doubts on the matter.
The problem here is, on this interpretation, Moore's paradox returns with redoubled force. 'I believe x but know x isn't true' becomes true for every x, where x is an empirical statement, for anybody who believes they haven't yet gained omniscience or that further progress in the empirical sciences is still possible.

Maier is a student of Isaac Levi- probably best known to Economists from a paper of his on the Tony vs George decision problem re. the Iraq War.  In that case, his argument was vitiated by

1) assuming Tony and George could agree that their decision problem can be represented as a state functional form.
In reality, the weaker party would never agree that such a representation is possible. Why? The stronger party, by definition, has a bigger choice menu- including the option of compensating the weaker party or otherwise taking on a bigger share of the cost or the risk. Sadly, this also means being able to fuck up the weaker big time. A full 'state functional form' does not militate to consensus. It militates to gangsterism and punitive anal rape and... but let us allow Tony and George some little privacy.

2) assuming Tony and George can only achieve consensus if they both agree to shift to a state of full belief so that a particular sort of calculus can be applied. This is quite mad. Nobody in the history of the World has ever had full beliefs. If they did, consensus would be impossible, unless it were inevitable. In other words 'full belief' wouldn't matter even a tiny bit.

Why? Well if I have full beliefs about every possible state of the world, I already believe we will reach such and such consensus. You also have a belief that a particular consensus will be reached. If these beliefs match- by the Revelation Principle- the thing goes ahead. If they don't, consensus is impossible no matter what calculus is used. What's more, we know this in advance. That's why we aren't going to do something silly- viz first formulate a hypothesis about every state of the world and then decide, just for the sake of getting to a consensus, to say we have full belief, without a shadow of doubt, in each and every one of these hypotheses.

Suppose you and I are trying to reach a consensus on what type of Pizza to order. Do you really need to have total belief that Lord Krishna won't turn me into a pig in my next life if we order pepperoni? Do I really need to have total belief that your wife will throw you out of bed for farting, and thus precipitate the collapse of your marriage and your eventual descent into alcoholism, if we order the quattro formaggi?
Nope. Not at all. That would be silly, though I'm sure that's pretty much what would happen.

3) Assuming that Tony and George can form a group and that a 'principal' can aggregate information for this group in a transparent manner such that a good decision is made.
Unfortunately, Economic theory predicts that under transparency, the principal will do 'stupid shit' and there is some 'laboratory work' to confirm this notion, which everybody already instinctively grasps.

Levi's paper- featuring Tony & George fucking up globally- appeared in a volume called, hilariously, 'Arguments for a Better World'. It showed that math-savvy Ivy League Professors do have something to contribute to fucking up, not just countries- like Russia in the Nineties- but everybody, everywhere.

What was Levi's mistake? The answer is that 'consensus' is a Coordination problem, not a Decision problem. What people do is choose what appears Schelling focal- though it is not likely to be effectively computable- and hedge using discoordination games. That's what Tony did- and made a lot of money out of doing- and also why Gordon Brown stopped doing that particular type of stupid shit as soon as he took over.

Returning to the Wittgenstein's approach to Moore's problem, which Maier- Levi's student- so brusquely shouldered aside, we see that the former's remark rises above the inane if recast as a story about coordination games getting hedged through discoordination games. That's how Pragmatics works. Not Pragmatism- the stupid Academic Availability Cascade- but pragmatics as semantics' no goodnik twin brother wot got thrown outta shul for being a complete tsedreyt but, look at him now!, a big shot he is on Wall Street yet!
The odd thing is Chomsky & Semantics turned out to be the true Madoff.
Robert Aumann the true Rabbi.