Sunday, 25 July 2021

Kaushik Basu's spurious Samaritan's Curse

The World Bank, which leftist Indians revile, helped China rise up rapidly. Edwin Lim has told this story well. When he was transferred to India in the early Nineties, Lim thought he had died and gone to Heaven. Why? It was because the senior people he was interacting with- men like Manmohan & Montek- were excellent economists. Lim was preaching to the choir. Yet he failed. Why? He says it was because the Indian activist/ public intellectual gets a bigger reward by preventing Development for some 'woke' reason thanks to the various Good Samaritan International Foundations and NGOs which hand out money for 'second order' public goods (i.e. agitating for more first order public goods while saying 'boo to Fascism'). 

Kaushik Basu has just published a book describing his years as Chief Economic Advisor to Manmohan's second administration during which the 'activists' kept demanding more and more entitlements even though this meant more corruption and worse outcomes for everybody. This is what paved the path to Modi becoming Prime Minister and the BJP wholly displacing the INC as the default National Party.

Basu recounts his problems with the 'activists' from Sonia's National Advisory Council with respect to the Food Security Bill. 'My problem is my instinctive sympathy with these activists. Most of them are genuinely well-intentioned, and have little interest in money. I like that. I am aware that they often make mistakes. I have had lots of arguments with these activists wanting to enshrine everything as a ‘right.’ I keep reminding them that to enshrine something as a right, when you have no way to ensure that the right can be fulfilled is to diminish the value of a right.” What Basu should have said to each of them was- 'listen you fucking virtue signaling cunt, I will expose you as a media-whore and jholla-wallah cretin whose academic credentials are based on shit. I will use my sharp, satirical, pen- and my bully-pulpit in Amrika to make you a laughing stock. Fuck off, and let the country prosper or I'll put a fucking bulls-eye on your back. You won't get any more money from Soros or the Ford Foundation or get invited to nice Conferences and so forth.'

Basu did no such thing. None of his ilk did. That's why Bengali economists, more particularly those with a penchant for trespassing into moral philosophy, are reviled- in India- as a bunch of virtue signaling wankers who are incapable of saying anything true or useful.

Is this the fault of any single buddhijivi? No. Is it the fault of every buddhijivi? No. It is a combination of hysteresis effects (i.e. initial dynamics affecting subsequent trajectories) and the incentive landscape as well as a certain common cultural background and its cliques and citation cartels. But for any given Bengali economist, we can imagine a better trajectory if they had gone into some, private sector, applied field and attained ideographic knowledge and domain expertise. Indeed there are plenty of competent O.R or I.T or Fintech mavens who, only in their private life, are just as pig headed as the more exalted, Ivy League, sort. Essentially these guys always express ‘surprise’- which rapidly mounts into moral indignation- that people who were ethnically cleansed express fear and hostility towards the group which killed and expelled them- more especially if it shows signs of doing so again.

Kaushik Basu must be aware of the opprobrium in which budhijivis of his stamp are held by other Indians. He knows we don’t blame any individual buddhijivi nor do we think the group as whole is incapable of reform if the right incentive mix arises. Yet he writes-

Listening to the laity discuss group morality can be a disturbing experience.

Buddhijivis are very precious little snowflakes. They are easily disturbed.

Listening to scholars discuss group morality, with an attentive ear, can be equally disturbing. The former is conducted with a parsimony of reason and evidence.

Which does not matter, if the judgment is true or useful.

The latter is conducted with complex reasoning and evidence, but, on closer examination, leaves one puzzled.

We will soon see that only stupidity- strategically simulated or otherwise- could cause this puzzlement.

 One reason for this is that, when we see something good or bad happen, it is a natural human instinct—to the laity, the philosopher, and the economist, alike—to place the responsibility at the doorstep of some agent.

This is perfectly reasonable if there is in fact an agent who claims to be responsible and/or who is getting paid in return for assuming ‘command responsibility’. This is a justiciable matter.

However, we don’t do this when we castigate a group- e.g. Bengali economists- which is unstructured. Instead, we have ‘implicit knowledge’ that something went wrong with the group dynamics such that though the incentive landscape changed, hysteresis ‘baked in’ a certain characteristic type of dysfunction.

 It leaves us uncomfortable not to be able to attribute agency to anybody or any collectivity.

This is not the case. Kids soon learn that a particular bunch of kids can go to the bad without anyone of them being particularly bad. The solution may be to get the ‘ring-leader’ into a different  group- maybe one with older kids who will pass on sporting or other skills- while the others can be re-assimilated into healthier circles.

 This is not an easy problem because to err on either side is likely to have grave consequences.

No. We are satisfied with punishing a few scapegoats and doing a bit of mechanism design so that bad behavior no longer pays.

To wantonly hold individuals responsible for bad group behavior can be dangerous.

Buddhijivis kept holding Modi responsible for the wickedness of Hindus. This was dangerous only to their own reputation and, in some cases, their sanity. 

It can lead to the wrong person being punished, and promote facetious group labeling. On the other hand, to consistently hold no one responsible for bad group behavior is to risk encouraging bad behavior.

But even little kids know that beating a couple of bullies and breaking up their group is all that is required. The trouble with living the ‘life of the mind’- as buddhijivis claim to do- is you become stupider than a kid in primary school.

Changing the incentive system is important. It doesn’t matter if a buddhijivi keeps shouting ‘Modi is Hitler’ because, so long as Mamta rules West Bengal, they have an incentive to do so and thus we merely call them names. We don’t fear too much for their sanity- which, admittedly, may be negligent on our part.

It can result in the ‘tragedy of the commons,’

No. You have to change the expected utility of the average agent. Just vilifying or even hanging Dick Turpin won’t get rid of highwaymen.

 which is, in turn, a manifestation of the ‘many hands problem,’ where a group of individuals drive society to a disastrous outcome, in a manner where no one person’s unilateral change of behavior can make any difference (Braham and Holler, 2009; Braham and van Hees, 2012).

But a change in the common knowledge information set can have exactly that outcome. True, there may be a ‘first mover’ penalty. No one wants to be the first guy to say ‘let’s kill Stalin’, but even little kids know how to instigate a ‘stalking horse’ to take that foolhardy step. The successor will be the guy who was pretending to be loyal.   

This is a philosophical challenge with enormous implications for real-life outcomes, ranging from preventing large corporations from hiding behind the excuse that no one in the corporation is responsible for the damage it inflicts on society, to drafting laws for preventing climate change disaster.

So, this is not a philosophical problem at all. It is a problem for ‘Law & Economics’.

This  paper  follows the strategy  of  bringing  concepts  and  arguments  from  game  theory  to investigate this problem.

But game theory has failed completely over the last fifty years in this respect. Yet much progress has been made by lawyers informed by the ‘Law & Econ’ school.

What is attempted here is however different from what happens in much of that literature. What this paper does  is  to  study  a counterfactual. Instead  of  asking  what  would  happen if  the individuals chose differently, I ask an antecedent question: What would happen if the individuals were different, becoming, for instance, moral creatures?

Basu is assuming that individuals chose according to their own preferences. Yet, in groups, people chose so as to maintain or enhance their position within the group while the group itself has a representative agent model whose welfare it notionally satisfices. The ‘opportunity cost’ of in-group action is determined by how easily a member could be replaced and what their transfer earnings are. But this consideration would already determine their function within the group. Thus, when Basu was Chief Economic Advisor to the Indian Govt. everybody knew he was a bird of passage. Still, he managed to get a towel allotted to him in the posh bathroom used by the top bureaucrats. That was an incredible achievement. But it didn’t change our opinion of buddhijivi economists.

In other words, I consider the fall out of a change in people’s motivation.

But you have failed to pick out what is most salient about group membership- at least for groups which exercise power or confer a benefit of some sort.

The problem is brought into sharp focus by creating a new game, the Samaritan’s Curse, which illustrates the  paradoxical  result where  all  individuals  becoming moral makes the group’s behavior more immoral.

This is silly. Everybody knows that people who think of themselves as saints, precisely for that reason, are more prepared to countenance devilish actions. The converse, too, is true. If you have a reputation for being devilish, you think twice before endorsing anything of that sort.

By constructing this example, the paper shows that not only is it difficult to allocate to individual members of a group moral responsibility for some bad action by the group as a whole, 

Though the Allies had no difficulty doing so at Nuremberg or in Japan after the War. True, this is an ideographic matter. A nomothetic approach can’t say very much- which is why smart people don’t bother with it.

 as already pointed out in a large literature, but that there are contexts where individual morality is in fact the source of the group’s immoral behavior.

Indians know all about this. Gandhi was very moral. Congress, under his leadership, fucked up the country something fierce for precisely that reason. It is obvious that a moral guy may prefer a collective martyrdom so as to be holier than the other holier-than-thou nutters he is competing with.


.The Samaritan’s Curse

Consider a game with two players, 1 and 2, with each player having three actions to choose from: A, B and C. In other words, person 1 can choose from the set of alternative possibilities {A, B, C}. And likewise for person 2. I should clarify that person 1’s A, B and C are not the same as 2’s A, B and C. Thus 1 may be choosing whether 1 should be a farmer, lawyer or philosopher and 2 may be choosing whether 2 should  bea  farmer,  lawyer  or  philosopher.  I could  have labelled 2’s alternatives as A’, B’, C’, but I prefer to economize on the primes. The set of actions to choose from represents the alternative possibilities from which each person can  freely  choose  and  those  are  the  only  actions  from  which  she  can  choose. The ‘outcomes’(meaning all possible eventualities) of the game are pairs of choices, one choice by each player. Hence, this game has nine possible outcomes: (A,A), (A, B), (A, C),(B, A), and so on, where an outcome such as(B, A) refers to the case where 1 chooses her B and 2 chooses his A. To describe a game fully we must specify what each player earns once an outcomeis reached. This is summarized in the ‘payoff matrix’, labelled The Basic Game in Table 1. Following standard convention, the rows represent player 1’s choice and columns represent player 2’s choice. Thus, if player 1 chooses B and 2 chooses C, the outcome is (B, C), and from the Basic Game matrix we can see 1 earns  80 and 2 earns 102. In each box, the first number is player 1’s payoff and the second number is 2’s payoff.  Without  loss  of  generality,  I  shall  refer  to  the  payoffs  as  dollar earnings of the individuals.

Thus, Utility is transferable. Good Samaritans would give money to charity. They wouldn't participate in a bogus game cooked up by a cretin.


… a ‘Nash equilibrium’ is defined as an outcome such that no individual can do better by unilaterally deviating to some other alternative. The Nash equilibrium is called ‘strict’, if every unilateral deviation actually leaves the deviator worse off. To see why the Nash equilibrium is the natural concept to use here, assume that the players are selfish, and playing the Basic game. It is reasonable to see that this society will get to (B, B). This is the only outcome from which no player has an interest in deviating unilaterally. For any other outcome pair, either player 1 or player 2 will prefer to deviate unilaterally. Hence, (B, B) is the only  Nash  equilibrium  and  it  is  the  only  place  where  this  society  would  settle  down. Since the Nash equilibrium is the only solution concept used here, I henceforth drop the adjective Nash. Thus the game I just described, shown in the left-hand panel of Table 1, has a unique equilibrium at (B, B). Note that there are other outcomes where both would be better off, such as at (A,C) and  (C,  C)  but  society  can never  settle  there  because someone  will, in  each  case, unilaterally deviate. Note that in this interaction neither player paid any attention to the fallout of their behavior on bystanders (or the other player, for that matter). Bystanders are marginalized people whose well-being depends on the choices made by the players. As of now I have not even described how the bystanders fare. In a society with selfish players, such as what I described thus far, that is of no material consequence. Let  me  now  describe how bystanders  fare. Assume,  for  simplicity, that there  is  only  one bystander, and the payoff to this person is as shown in the ‘Bystander’s EarningsMatrix’ in the right-hand panel of Table 1.The way to read this matrix is to first find out what the outcome of the game is (that is what the players do) and then read off how much the bystander earns. Thus if the  players  choose  (B,  C),  the  bystander  earns  10. I  shall  henceforth  do  what  I  have  already done, refer to the full description of the two players plus the bystander as a ‘society’. Table 1, with the two matrices describes the full society. With selfish players, since the equilibrium will  be (B, B), the bystander will geta payoff of 6 in equilibrium. In this society, when the players make their decision, they do not pay any attention to the effect their actions have on the bystander. Now suppose a good Samaritan comes to town. She is dismayed by the moral degeneracy of the players, and the fact  that  they  pay  no  attention  to the  poor  bystander’s  well-being.  Here  they are, rich individuals, earning 104 dollars each, whereas the poor bystander gets only 6.  Observing this, the Samaritan gets down to teaching the players some basic morals. Morals can be of many kinds. For simplicity, I shall suppose that the Samaritan focuses on a consequentialist ethic--a kind of utilitarianism, with some attention to equity, which seems like a natural moral in this context. Thus the Samaritan tells them: Your choice of (B, B) gives you (104, 104),but do you not see this leaves the bystander with a miserable payoff of 6?If you, the super-rich, opted for (A, A),you would each lose only 2 and the bystander would get 20. Surely you should be prepared to sacrifice $2 for an additional $14 for the poor bystander? Ignore the other player, if you wish, since she is super-rich like you, but be mindful of what happens to the poor when you choose. With that the Samaritan vanishes.

Suppose the players now become moral creatures, who value the earnings of the bystander (or anyone who is below the poverty line of less than, say, $25) as much as his or her own payoff. 

Then, since both don’t know what they other will do, they will both transfer more cash than they would have done if they could coordinate their actions. Beggars can get rich because passers-by assume that they themselves are much more likely to give a little money than ‘normal folk’. There is a 'Samaritan's curse' such that altruism leads to 'poverty traps' or other such counter-productive outcomes.

However, where there is an altruistic intention and only a few ‘super-rich’ players there is no problem in implementing a cooperative solution. Since there is no selfish motive to defect, the thing is robust.

Basu doesn’t get this. He thinks there will be a ‘consolidated payoff’.



If the outcome is, for instance,(A, B), player 1 gets a consolidated payoff of 84, which consists of 80 for herself and 4 for the bystander, and player 2 gets a consolidated payoff of 124, consisting of 120 for himself and 4 for the bystander.

This is double-counting! The bystander gets 4. Yet the payoff for the two agents has risen by 8!


The consolidated payoffs for both players, for each of the possible outcomes, gives us a new game, The Samaritan’s Curse.

But this ‘new game’ is based on double-counting! It is stupidity, not mathematics!


If the two rich blokes are minimally rational, and value the bystander’s welfare (up to a 25 dollar limit) as they would their own, and since defection from the altruistic project can’t affect welfare (because both now consider a dollar given to the bystander (up to 25 dollars) as just as good as that dollar in their own pocket, it follows that they will chose A,A which yields them both 99.5 while putting 25 dollars in the pocket of the bystander. Suppose one defects, then the other can feel super moral about pocketing a mere 97 dollars. He is no worse off because of the stipulation that he gets as much joy from a dollar in bystander’s pocket (up to a 25 dollar limit) as he would from that same dollar squeezing into his own wallet.

 Basu thinks the rich guys will choose C,C. This is crazy. Both guys have to shell out 11.5 dollars to bystander to bring him up to the 25 dollar threshold. Thus they get to keep only 94.5 (less if the other guy defects) which is 5 dollars less than if they chose A,A.

Basu’s double counting and his not getting that transfers are the way to go has caused him to write nonsense.

There is no ‘dilemma’ here. This is stupidity simply. Basu cooked up some numbers to show something everybody knows is possible- viz. peeps being 'Samaritans' can fuck things up, for e.g. by creating a perverse incentive for mendicancy- but he was too stupid to keep the numbers straight. He talks nonsense about just giving cash to the poor guy 'not being in the feasible set'! He says

In short, every individual can be genuinely moral, try to do whatever he or she can do to enhance the modified utilitarian objective but nevertheless find that they have collectively taken society to an outcome that all of them consider morally inferior.

Moral people set up charities and identify the needy and help them achieve a social minimum. This may not be in Basu’s feasible set- and may also be why Indian Governments which have appointed buddhijivis as Chief Economic Advisor have fucked up so badly. 

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Latria, dulia & Simone Weil's abulia

The Church makes a distinction between 'latria'- adoration of the Godhead- and 'dulia', veneration of Saints or 'hyperdulia' veneration of the Virgin Mary. In the Gospels, 'dulia' has the connotation of slavery. Latria is sacrificial and liberational and directed at the Absolute. We may bind ourselves in love and veneration to what is closer to our own human-all-too-human contingency. But we should only do this as a step towards something higher.

Simone Weil's version of the cogito was 'I can, therefore I am'. She could convert to Catholicism and she did convert to Catholicism but she couldn't be a Catholic- at least in the sense of preserving a Catholic 'conatus' by eating enough to keep body and soul together. She may have had a medical condition- anorexia or something of that sort- or she may merely have lacked some necessary motivational or epistemic resource to avoid a type of abulia- a lack of will- sufficient to preserve 'conatus'- i.e. her continued physical existence in the congregation of the Faith she had espoused.

It may be that Simone Weil would have had a very different life had she been born a Catholic and received thorough instruction in that creed. In particular, she would have understood that 'latria' is a purely internal process. It does not alter or enhance its object- which can only be the Godhead, nothing lower or lesser. For Catholics, it is folly to worry over the mysteries of Faith. A layperson may rely wholly upon her confessor. She is not required to set the world to rights. Instead she can do something useful, or simply enjoy life. That is the great benefit of embracing Catholicism- your burden is lightened by humility because, it turned out, your Cross was just an ego inflated by studying worthless shite at College and being told you were really smart and thus you should teach that shite. 

 Sadly, for Simone Weil, though she was passionately for the Roman Church, her passions were not of it. The truth is, she was as crazy as a bed-bug- a desirable property in a crap, ultracrepidarian, French psilosopher but a nuisance more generally speaking. It is sad that a few pedants are still obliged, simply to advance their career, to pretend Weil had something important to say about ethics or morality. 

As a case in point, Deborah Casewell has an essay in Aeon on Weil which well illustrates the mischief caused by a failure to distinguish latria- worship directed at the Trinity- from contemplatio as dulia- which is harmless only if directed at long dead Saints. Furthermore, contemplative veneration, being wholly internal, is not itself any sort of resource we can more equitably re-distribute. It is not the case that if we decide to adore all equally then we have done anybody at all some great favor.

 You may look at me with a 'just and loving gaze' but I quickly draw the curtains  or tell you to fuck off. This is because I gain no benefit from your being a holier than thou asshole. Still, if you venerate that which is venerable, but do so in a judicious and hierarchical manner, then- it may be- your character and disposition improve and you stay the fuck away from my back-garden and don't inflict your 'just and loving gaze' on me as I sit on the toilet. 

Casewell writes-


(In)What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?’ Weil uses two examples to illustrate her ethical vision and challenge our immediate idea of why and how we should act towards others. She begins by focusing on what appears to be a rather common-sense approach to the question of how we should relate to other people – we should look at each of them as a person, with a personality, a certain je ne sais quoi, which we respond and relate to. This is a form of personalism.

This may seem a harmless enough tautology. We should relate to an x by seeing it as an x.  The problem here is that either we too are persons and must relate to ourselves as persons or else persons aren't persons for themselves. One solution is to make 'personalism' an antisymmetric relation for each person. One is most a person for oneself and then there is a partial order over other persons to the extent that they are persons for you and vice versa. This gives rise to the 'natural' notions of oikeiosis as kinship and belonging together. What this entails is that it is cool to bombard your g.f with gifts and texts. It isn't cool to do any such thing to a stranger. That's called 'stalking' and is a strict no-no. 

Another solution, if you have lost your family and have become a refugee and thus are cut off from your natural 'oikeiosis',  would be to accept an ethics based on an imposed partial ordering- e.g. everybody having the same duty to the King and then various shades of obligation as by Law prescribed or permitted for Economic, Aesthetic and Emotional reasons. Here, it is still the case that there are some persons are more important than others. Indeed, there may be a class of non-persons.

 'Personalism' is not, by its nature, associated with any specific deontic logic. The latter may be a purely contingent, or wholly economic, matter. There is a duty to the self, because there is a self-preserving or 'conatus' based relationship to the self, just as there is a duty to others engaged in a joint enterprise, but since the self is a closer person that duty takes precedence save by express stipulation- e.g. recruitment to the armed services- of a contractual or otherwise binding kind.

As opposed to seeing oneself and others as persons, one may try to see God or the Devil or some abstract utility or quality as animating, to a greater or lesser degree, all bodies. In this case 'personalism' isn't about actual people. It is a dangerous type of 'dulia'- a bondage to a false God or Matter's mere decay.

Personalism sees that the personality constitutes the particular metaphysical centre of the person, and thus grounds the rights of the individual.

e.g. my right to fly up into the sky and hurl mountains into the ocean is grounded in my metaphysical center.  

Weil explores this, and asks us to imagine encountering a man on the street. When you do, you notice particular aspects of him. For example, he has long arms, blue eyes, his mind is full of thoughts, probably about nothing in particular. Now, Weil poses her direct challenge: what prevents her from putting out his eyes?

He'd stomp her.  

After all, if it is to the personality, that particular metaphysical centre of the person, that we owe and direct ethical action:
If the human personality were what is sacred for me, I could easily put out his eyes. Once he was blind, he would still have a personality.

But Weil would have been stomped. Why is she pretending she's Batman? I suppose coz she was mental. She scared people.  You never know with loonies. They might be quick enough to poke your eyes out, before you stomp them. OMJ! Weil was the Joker!  

This stark thought experiment underlines her fundamental dispute with personalism: it ignores the effects of suffering on the personality.

Suffering had turned Weil into a super-villain. She might have weighed 80 pounds and been as blind as a bat but she could probably poke your eyes out before you could stomp her.  

In making that the centre of our response to the other, it supposes it impossible that human beings can be utterly destroyed by suffering, and instead maintains that they have the power to overcome their circumstances, no matter what.

Yet people suffering a stab wound may die and be cremated because of that suffering. It seems immortality of some sort is being assumed. Even if a guy whose eyes you poked out dies as a result of his injuries, his ghost may still be around. 

So, it cannot be that which stops her from putting out his eyes. Instead, what would stay her hand is ‘knowing that if someone were to poke out his eyes that it would be his soul that was lacerated by the thought that someone had done evil to him’.

So, this is gonna be one pissed off ghost or soul or spirit or whatever. That's why you shouldn't keep poking out people's eyes. Their ghosts may get together and stomp you but good.  


Similarly, she rejects the idea that what prevents us from harming others are their rights.

Coz she's a nutter who thinks in terms of poking out the eyes of dudes she meets. 

The notions of rights and of the person give you nothing

unlike what happens when you scoop the eyes out of your victims to make yourself a tasty broth, or just take their wallets and watches 

if unconnected with the language of our human relatedness.

Why? Suppose 'the notions of rights and of the person' causes some dudes to turn up to talk to you in 'the language of our human relatedness', then you could gains a few pairs of eyes to make into tasty broth as well as gain some nice wallets and watches. Also, have you considered removing the kidneys and livers of your victims? You may be able to sell them if you pack them in ice.  

Rights talk doesn’t stop evil:

Actually 'Rights talk' prevents the evil of incarceration being visited upon a guy who stomped you coz u were trying to poke out his eyes. The fact is, he had the right of self defense. You, on the other hand, had no right to poke his eyes out. Sad. 

it is more appropriately the language of commerce and legal pleading.

But it is also a defense in law for battering in the brains of a lunatic who goes around poking peeps' peepers out.  

When the language of rights is used, the relationship that we hold towards that person becomes objectifying, it transforms a cry of pain into a weight on the mute scales of justice.

Actually, the language of rights includes immunities from having any fucking relationship whatsoever with nutters save that of being the guy who batters in their brain when they try any rough stuff. 

We see them, not as a person to whom we owe a fundamental, impersonal and constant duty,

for example that of poking their eyes out 

but as a holder of various externally imputed values.

Like valuing having functioning eyes in their heads. 

For example, she argues, if you’re a farmer setting a price for your eggs, you have the right to reject someone offering a ridiculous price because of your relationship to the eggs and the price being set.

This is not the case. A farmer setting a price for his eggs is subject to various laws and administrative orders. He may be obliged to sell his produce directly to a marketing board.  

In the case of a young woman who is forced into a brothel, that language of rights is ludicrous.

No. It is the basis on which she can be rescued and her tormentors can be punished. 

Another thing entirely is being violated; what you are dealing with is an ‘uprising of the whole being, fierce and desperate’ and ‘at the same time a cry of hope coming from the bottom of the heart’. This is an injury that cannot be paid back or bargained away.

It can be prevented by battering the violator's brains in. Equally an 'uprising of the whole being' can be terminated by a swift shotgun blast. 

It is the human being to which we owe everything.

My Bank thinks otherwise. 

The language of rights obscures this

Sadly, this isn't the case.  

Her argument here is that we owe ethical action, not to the person conceived or known through any aspects of their personality, but instead to this universal cry of pain, which is impersonal – it’s not attached to the person, but present in everyone.

The ethical duty we owe to the universal cry of pain which is present in everyone may be discharged by poking out the eyes of those we encounter so as to give them something to really cry about. If Simone Weil beat us to it, maybe we could shove hot pokers up their arses. Those blind fucks sure will have something to howl about then!

It is not only this universal capacity to suffer that we are obligated to, but also a fundamental universal expectation that this is not right.

though it may be to the left of the universal expectation of the capacity of the hot poker up its pooper.  

Even though Weil is, as the above brief biographical comments show, extraordinarily aware of the pain and suffering of others, and the universality and frequency of it, she argues that, despite this, humanity hopes and expects good to be done rather than evil.

Because humanity kills those who expect to get away with doing evil.  

This is not linked to any particular aspect of personality, nor to anything that differentiates one from another.

It is linked to 'tit for tat' 

Instead, Weil argues that the cry of the person who is suffering is an impersonal cry.

Though what they are crying out is 'keep that nutter the fuck away from me for the holy sake of fuck!'  

This impersonal cry comes from the capacity to suffer, not from the means, reason for, or gravity of the suffering in the particular case, as ‘[w]hat is sacred in a human being is that which is, far from the personal, the impersonal. Everything that is impersonal in a human being is sacred, and that alone.’

Explain this to them after you poke their eyes out. You aren't torturing them at all. You are worshipping that which is sacred in them- viz. their ability to feel a lot of pain u blinded them and are now shoving a red hot poker up their bum.  

Another way of putting this is that there is something absolutely sacred about every human being, something that goes beyond the circumstances of their lives and the contingencies of their personalities.

Torturing and then killing people may indeed cause them to call out to God and, it may be, their souls ascend to Him. Thus, to a certain sort of mind, it makes sense to be obsessed with poking out peepers or shoving red hot pokers up poopers cause it's all about getting closer to the sacred, right?

What should prevent evil is an awareness of this sacred aspect of humanity, not their right not to be harmed.

Weil was evil- at least to herself. She starved to death. It is true that she may simply have been mad and was let down by the doctors of the period. But the fact is, she represented a shitty, not a sacred, aspect of humanity- viz. its love of shitting higher than its arsehole.  

Saying that the impersonal is what is sacred entails, for Weil,

tearing out the entrails or poring out the eyes of random dudes- at least in thought experiments.  

that our ethical response to another person is rooted in that, not in the particularity of how they present themselves to us, or whether or not they grab our attention. In the text ‘Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations’, she acknowledges that despite this inherent universality and equality in being subject to harm, we do not live in situations that enable us to realise this, because, in our social situations and interactions, ‘[m]en are unequal in all their relations with the things of this world, without exception’. This is why Weil stresses the identical, the impersonal and the sacred in each person.

Why not extend this to animals and plants and rocks and lakes? 

If we do not have this base, she says: ‘It is impossible to feel equal respect for things that are in fact unequal unless the respect is given to something that is identical in all of them.’

It is impossible to feel equal respect for things because feeling respect uses up scarce cognitive resources. It is also impossible to feel up everybody at the same time because you only have two hands and a lot of hot bods keep well clear of them. 

Our obligation to another human has to be unconditional to be of use and of meaning.

The reverse is the case. My obligation to repay your loan is conditional upon your actually having lent me money. It is useful to have these types of conditional obligations. By contrast, an unconditional obligation to repay debts to all and sundry, regardless of whether they lent you money, would be utterly mischievous.  

And it is only unconditional because it has its source in that reality outside of us.

It is because there is a reality outside us that unconditional obligations are mischievous. Weil may not have known about Gentzen's sequent calculi which proceed on the basis of conditional tautologies. The silly bint was using the wrong type of logic. Then she starved to death. Sad. 


This reality that is outside the world, and outside of humanity’s understanding and efforts, is the good, as found in the being of God.

If that is reality, what is fantasy? 

This undergirds all that is beautiful, truthful and good in the world, and ‘at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world’.

At the center of this silly bint's human heart was crazy shit. Then she starved to death. Sad. 

It is this Platonic vision of reality that grounds our obligations,

This is not a 'Platonic vision'- Plato didn't starve to death- it is the vision of a nutter.  

because ‘consciousness of the various obligations always proceeds from a desire for good which is unique, unchanging and identical with itself for every man, from the cradle to the grave’.

This is simply untrue. Consciousness of our various obligations proceeds from the reputational and other harm we incur by failing to discharge those obligations in a proper manner. Thus I pay my taxes because I could go to jail if I don't. I repay loans, because my creditors could distrain my assets if I don't. I know that if I get the reputation of being an ungrateful and unreliable fellow, then my life will get much worse. 

The language of rights, she claims, obscures this

Weil used language to obscure common sense to herself. Then she starved to death. Sad. 

and locates our duty and obligation elsewhere. It is the human being to which we owe everything, and we do so ‘for the sole reason that he or she is a human being, without any other condition requiring to be fulfilled, and even without any recognition of such obligation on the part of the individual concerned’.

But we don't actually do any such thing- unless we happen to be mad and are starving  ourselves to death for some silly reason. 


Yet, as her example of the man on the street shows, we are not immediately aware of this. It is not only that aspects of their personality stand out and call us to care more about one person than the other; it is not only that we live in situations that elevate one person over all the others; it is also not only that we are more inclined to view others as means, but we ourselves rarely look beyond this to find the impersonal.

Why? Because this type of behavior has survival value. If we want the impersonal we should do latria to the Godhead not pretend that spying on peeps with a just and loving gaze as they do number 2 is some great benefaction on humanity.   

So, while the impersonal is universal and thus the basis of our ethical obligation and response to the other, it needs bringing out and working towards.

This is false. The 'impersonal' is not universal. It is merely an absence of affect. Such absence may be universal among rocks and stones but it is not universal among humans because emotions have survial value. Evolution has endowed us with them for a good reason.

Obligations are meaningless save in relation to corresponding entitlements. They are conditional, contingent and are associated with uncorrelated asymmetries. Indeed, they arise under 'bourgeois strategies'. That may not be cool, it may not be hip, it may not be groovy, but it is true.  

This is where the development of a particular ethical stance of attention, rather than a set of ethical mandates, comes in – although it must be said that Weil insists that the principal needs of the human body – such as food, warmth, sleep, health, rest, exercise, fresh air – and the principal needs of the soul must all be met for a society to be just.

So ugly and horrible men, like me, must be supplied with affectionate wives and kiddies. Good to know.  


Weil’s ethics entail an attitude of ‘attention and love’ that is both developed from us and given to us from that external reality.

The Church has good reason for insisting that 'latria' be accorded only to God. St. Aquinas says '"Reverence is due to God on account of His Excellence, which is communicated to certain creatures not in equal measure, but according to a measure of proportion; and so the reverence which we pay to God, and which belongs to latria, differs from the reverence which we pay to certain excellent creatures; this belongs to dulia,

We cannot, by our own efforts, bring the good into the world as it is beyond the world and any human faculties, but we do have the power of turning our attention and love towards it.

This is not the teaching of the Church. Indeed, this is mischievous nonsense. We can by our own effort bring good into the world. Religion helps us do so more amply. However, this aint the only reason for our existence. Many of us can do no good- at least not at our age or given our physical, mental or economic condition. Yet, we may be something good in the mysterious economy of the katechon. This does not license you inflicting your 'just and loving gaze' on me when I'm sitting on the toilet. Seriously, dude. I've warned you of this before. Fuck off or I'll call the police. 

It is thus that ‘[t]hose minds whose attention and love are turned towards that reality are the sole intermediary through which good can descend from there and come among men’.

Balderdash! The Church may be the bride of Christ and the Pope may hold the keys of St. Peter but no 'sole intermediary' is posited by the Christian Faith. It is a different matter that salvation may only be through the Lord Christ. Furthermore, Rome diverged from Byzantium on the importance accorded to 'contemplatio'. Speaking generally, it is in Orthodoxy that hesychasm and theosis and so forth license the view Weil is taking. In any case, she was merely a convert. She needed to take instruction in the mysteries of the Faith rather than just dash off any garbled nonsense of her own. Still, allowances should be made coz she didn't have a penis. 


Paying attention to others in this way is something that we have the potential to do, but not something that comes naturally. Instead, it needs to be trained and developed. In ‘Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God’ (1942), Weil suggests that learning to attend is akin to the drudgery of schoolwork:
If we concentrate our attention on trying to solve a problem of geometry, and if at the end of an hour we are no nearer to doing so than at the beginning, we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that hour in another more mysterious dimension.

Fuck off! I have sat through or slept through many a Maths class. The only 'mysterious dimension' I made progress in related to the quality and quantity of my resentful farts. Eventually, the College authorities gave me a Degree in Mathematical Economics even though I hadn't passed a single maths exam. The fact is they just wanted me off the premises which, no doubt, they carefully fumigated.  

Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren effort has brought more light into the soul.

If you've got so much light in your soul, how come you peep into my window so as to inflict your 'just and loving gaze' on me while I poop?  


Attention is not as active a process as it might first appear in this analogy. As Weil conceives it, attention is less like the active straining to solve a geometric problem, and instead more a sustained passive state where you are attentive to what the conditions are that aid you in solving the problem. ‘Attention,’ Weil wrote, ‘consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object.’ You hold this knowledge that you have acquired in your mind, but let that object itself make its mark on you.

Yes, yes. This is a slow witted take on a perennial wisdom which, however, doesn't involve starving to death or being a blathershite.  


This attention is at the higher level directed to God and to the other. I have described this as a stance or a posture, but another way that she describes this is ‘looking’ and ‘reading’. She sees that the ethical action towards the other, especially to the other who is suffering, is to look at them in a way that is attentive, where ‘[t]he soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth’.

Okay, okay. I sometimes do suffer from constipation and moan and groan while on the potty. Does this really justify all you God-botherers coming to gawk at me? Fuck kenosis. It is my bowels which need emptying, hopefully, without doing to much damage to my asshole.  

This way of looking is only possible after training in attention.

and being crazy and thinking God likes being contemplated the fuck out of.  


This is what Iris Murdoch,

an alcoholic nutter 

among others, appreciated about Weil’s thought. Weil’s concept of attention does not presume that ethics is purely a matter of calculation, choice and action, or that the consequences are of the greatest importance. Instead, in Murdoch’s characterisation of Weil’s concept, attention involves the development of a ‘just and loving gaze’ towards the other. It is this, not the choices that are made, which is the proper mark of a moral agent.

Which these crazy bints weren't. Writing stupid shite is immoral.  

Ethics then becomes the entire attitude that is adopted towards the other person in specific and the world in general. When you view someone with this just and loving gaze, you can see them as they really are (as Murdoch explores through the always topical example of a mother- and daughter-in-law).

That shite creeps people out. They don't think it is ethical at all. Chesterton has a story about a philanthropist whose 'just and loving gaze' sizes up the dregs of humanity and procures them the help they need. They gang up and kill the cunt. Father Brown sympathizes with them. A human gaze can be just or it can be loving, it can't be both.  


This demand is not an easy one.

Foolish demands seldom are. 

While akin to the Kantian demand to view another as an end, not a means,

Which we immediately repudiate because we mustn't be the means to some pedantic cunt's end.  

it does not easily define or detail how you are to act towards the other. Instead, it details how you are to adjust your vision of the other.

Unless you have starved yourself to death in the mean time. 

And perhaps our immediate response to this is that we are already well aware of those who suffer and well aware, too, of how best to alleviate their pain.

No we aren't. Even the smartest Doctors are kept on their toes finding better ways to alleviate pain without turning people into junkies.  

We echo the words of the young Weil and call, if not for revolutions to feed the starving, at least for increased donations to charity and structural changes to aid those most vulnerable.

Thus creating poverty traps. 

Yet Weil’s ethical concern is not just for those abstract, suffering others (as her identification of the vital needs of the person shows), but for the way that we delude and justify ourselves. As she writes in the ‘Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations’, we live in a world where we do not notice those, in front of us, who are suffering.

Very true! Weil's friends and associates should have got her medical help. They were probably too afraid coz she kept talking about poking peeps' peepers out.  


If we keep our attention on this world, we never notice those others, because we cannot give equal respect unless we look beyond the particularities to that which is identical in all.

We mustn't give 'equal respect'. At least, that is the teaching of the Church Weil converted to.  

We must go past the personalities and stories that capture us to the impersonal that underscores our duty to the other person. This is the tension at the heart of Weil’s life and vision.

No, the tension at the heart of that crazy bint's life probably had to do with anorexia compounded by some sort of frontal lobe malfunction. Also, the poor thing had been educated in France- where philosophy is a compulsory subject at High School.  

She understands that we have to be forced out of our partiality for the particular over the universal. Yet her ethics challenge us to do this to her. She lived an exceptional, singular life, one that catches the eye and holds our attention, a life that challenges and changes our ethical ideals.

Only if we are stupid and ignorant or have to earn a living teaching stupid ignorant shite 

But, if we are to take the mandate of her ethics seriously, if they are to be possible, then we must turn our gaze beyond her and attend instead to the impersonal, universal in humanity.

Everybody shits. The thing is universal. Still, that doesn't license you come watch me poop no matter how 'just and loving' your gaze might be. Fuck off and leave me alone.  

It is this that is everything, without which we will be lost.

Unless you get a proper job- like delivering pizzas  

That, surely, is worth another self-sacrifice.

OMG, is this silly lady gonna starve herself to death? That would make reading her shite so worth it.  

Friday, 23 July 2021

Ronnie de Sousa on why moral philosophy is shite- part 1

Ronnie de Sousa, whose supervisor was Benacerraff, writes in Aeon- 

I have come to regard the very idea of morality as fraudulent. 

But either 'fraud' has an utilitarian definition or it is itself a moral concept. In the former case, morality is merely an unconscious, or Schelling focal, Rule-Utilitarianism. In the latter, this assertion is itself fraudulent.

Morality, I now believe, is a shadow of religion,

Though the appeal of soteriological religion is that it makes ultimate felicity wholly independent of morality. Sinners get saved merely by Grace not Works. 

 serving to comfort those who no longer accept divine guidance but still hope for an ‘objective’ source of certainty about right and wrong. Moralists claim to discern the existence of commands as inescapable as those of an omniscient and omnipotent God. Those commands, moral philosophers teach, deserve to prevail over all other reasons to act – always, everywhere, and for all time. But that claim is bogus.

Or it is merely imperative. Ross's paradox describes situations where you say something illogical to intensify the imperative force of your assertion- e.g. 'Don't post the check to the insurance company. Just burn down the fucking house already!'. The meaning is 'don't forget to post the check, otherwise we will be un-insured against fire, flood, etc'. 


By ‘morality’, I refer to the sort of rules the transgression of which common sense decries as ‘immoral’, ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’. 

But these could be arbitrary shibboleths or 'costly signals' enabling a separating equilibrium which in turn can be seen as a 'discoordination game' permitting hedging and arbitrage on a 'pooling equilibrium' coordination game. 

Common sense can be dialethic or 'fuzzy logic' based or even 'ontologically dysphoric'- i.e. not at home in this world. All that matters is that it arise out of 'common knowledge'. 


Such rules are generally regarded as obliging us without qualification. 

The big reason philosophy declined continually in prestige over the last 50 years is because pedants started asserting that all sorts of crazy shit was 'generally regarded' as true. In this particular case, there is an implicit qualification stipulating for the sort of person who might reason in a particular way and hold certain values. A 'Tarskian primitive' can be wholly undefined but not every term in a discourse can be 'primitive'. Consider the word 'debit'. It is inextricably linked to 'credit'. It can't be a stand alone Tarskian primitive. 

 How can there be an obligation without a corresponding rights-holder? The notion of an obligation without any qualification is empty. This is like saying- 'Cats are generally regarded to be dogs- because only dogs are man's best friend and yet we see lots of people doting on their cats.' 

They prescribe duties not in virtue of your goals or role – such as ‘the duties of the secretary includes taking minutes of the meeting’ – but without qualification. They are claimed to ‘bind’ us merely in virtue of our status as human beings. 

That's a big qualification! The 'conatus' of continuing to be a human being involves not doing all sorts of stupid shit however 'moral' they may be deemed. 

And philosophers have constructed a vast industry devoted to the elaboration of subtle theories designed to justify them. Against morality thus conceived, I have five complaints.

Only one complaint is effective- viz. these guys are stupid and write like shit and don't know shit about that which they write about. Moral philosophy could 'pay for itself' without having to participate in a Credentialist Ponzi scheme. It could recruit smart peeps wot rite gud. Then stupid auto-didacts like me would pay good money for a product which 'alters our ethos' in a useful manner and thus is ethical, rather than pretending to be about ethics for some crap careerist reason.

First, most systems of morality are inherently totalising. Adhering to them consistently is impossible, and so each system is forced into incoherence by setting arbitrary limits to its own scope.

So what? Using a particular mathematical system- e.g. ZFC- does not require us to believe or be bound by its 'totalizing' implications. Methodenstreit we will always have with us. A pragmatic sort of instrumentalism is useful and productive. The author would know Benaceraffs identification problem very well.  The pity of it, is that Moral Philosophy treated as 'open', problems which Maths had either closed or 'depassed' by reason of results relating to Concurrency, Complexity, Computability etc. during the Seventies and Eighties. No doubt, 'Decision theory's' refusal to embrace Knightian Uncertainty, Hanann consistency, Muth Rationality, Machine learning etc, etc, played a part as did a Sen-tentious type of Welfare Econ which I have critiqued elsewhere.

Still, the fact is, moral philosophy became the marriage of ignorant sophistry and virtue signaling axiologies of an adolescent type.  Simply by replacing Hilbert type calculi with Gentzen 'sequent calculi' all its vaunted dilemmas and aporias disappear.

 Second, our preoccupation with morality distorts the force of our reasons to act, by effecting among them a triage that results in some reasons being counted twice over.

'Double-counting' arises wherever amalgamation problems arise. Getting rid of it is easy if sequent calculi are distinguishable or, equivalently, the thing has a graph theoretic model. Even otherwise, if there is a robust Structural Causal Model then 'forking' can be imposed such that double counting is avoided. This aint rocket science. It is Accountancy 101. Double entry book-keeping itself defeats double counting.  

 Third, the intellectual acrobatics invoked to justify this double counting commit us to insoluble and therefore idle theoretical debates.

Only if really stupid people are doing the debating. The problem with moral philosophy is that it has been adversely selective- i.e. it attracts cretins who then become Professors who have to cater to sociopathic Grievance Studies type nutters. 

 Fourth, the psychological power of moral authority can promote deplorable systems of evaluation as easily as good ones.

Thankfully, pedants have no 'moral authority'. Anyway, they will soon be revealed to have groped their students or tweeted something homophobic or be discovered to have voted Republican.

 And fifth, the emotions cultivated by a preoccupation with morality encourage self-righteousness and masochistic guilt.

Virtue signaling of any sort has this effect.

When making choices, I suggest, we should consider our reasons without asking what is ‘morally right’.

No. When making choices we should look over our shoulder and see what the smart peeps are doing. Tardean mimetics is the way to go. 

 This might seem preposterous. Let me explain.


Note that the word ‘ought’ and its relatives (‘must’, ‘should’, etc) are used in four different ways. 

Nonsense! They can be used in umpteen different ways. Moral philosophers, by reason of their great stupidity, think they can taxonomize natural language semantics- carve it up according its joints, so to speak. But natural language is a co-evolved process on an uncertain fitness landscape. It tames complexity faster than the thing can burgeon. Thus, the thing can't be done. If it could, 'Keisler order' wouldn't have infinitely many classes, and moral philosophy mightn't be a waste of time (unless it is done by smart peeps wot can rite gud- in which case it would be litterachur of an improving type for gormless folk like wot I iz.)

Only one is ‘moral’. There is an ‘ought’ of prediction, as in ‘According to the forecast, it ought to rain tomorrow.’ 

No. That's just bad English. 'According to the forecast, it might rain tomorrow' is exactly the right thing to say.  You ought not to pretend that the forecast aint stochastic. 

A second ‘ought’ is of prudence or practical deliberation: ‘You ought to try an electric toothbrush’; 

The above is bad English. What the Queen, Gor Bless 'Er, says is- 'Dude! Try a fucking electric toothbrush on something other than your twat! You'd have less plaque and halitosis and shit'. Take it from me. I'm totes British and live within walking distance of Bucking Palace. 

‘I should see a doctor about that lump in my breast.’ 

Is okay. Morality does require you to preserve your 'conatus'. 

The third refers to legal obligation: ‘By law, I must file my tax returns this week.’ 

This too is okay for the same reason.

These are different uses, but they pose no obvious problems of interpretation. The fourth, the ‘moral ought’, is another matter. That’s the one that claims overriding authority for general rules such as ‘You ought to keep your promises’ or ‘You must not hurt innocent people.’

But the thing is still defeasible because 'promises' and 'innocence' and 'hurt' are Tarskian primitives. The proposition is not well defined. It has no juristic force independent of determinations of facts. 

The fact is imperative statements- be they what they may- have no conceptual tie to action absent some protocol bound, buck-stopped, decision procedure regarding alethic matters. Of course, in so far as imperatives are related to existential issues, they can be subsumed under the rubric of 'conatus' and 'synderesis' etc.  This is the common sense notion that morality requires you to be healthy and prosperous and secure etc, etc, because if you aint then you are no fucking use to man nor beast. 

Some imperative statements of an 'unnatural' kind- if made by smart or good peeps- have an aesthetic or emotional valency such that we find them useful. But that is a separate matter and has to do with mimesis- which was the true 'first philosophy' and the high road to ethical religion, politics and oikos based ecumenicism and irenicism and telling pseudo-categorical akrebia to go fuck itself as well as the donkey of a pedant which it rode in on.

The moral is uneasily related to both prudence and law. 

No. Prudence, or regret minimization, acknowledges an ontologically dysphoric 'moral' realm. The Law has acknowledges the justiciability of 'moral clauses' in contracts and has developed a culpa levis in abstracto doctrine with respect to torts and Trusts and so forth. The relationship of morality to prudence and law is easily understood. 


Moral duties are apt to conflict with self-interest; and legality is neither sufficient nor necessary for morality. 

However, there is always a way to make morality justiciable. The mistake is to think it can, without getting out of its arm chair, reduplicate a protocol bound juristic process which is buck-stopped so as to be useful. The latter is a co-evolved process. The former is a case of going potty in the chair provided by a University. 

Morality is sometimes invoked in favour of a proposed law or against an unjust one; but it is widely agreed that in a modern pluralistic society the law should not enforce every moral norm.

The law is costly to enforce. This is a matter of 'economia'.

Lying is widely regarded as immoral, yet only under oath is it illegal. Modern law has also increasingly withdrawn from some ‘private’ domains. Sex and religion are obvious examples. Most now agree with what Pierre Trudeau said in 1967, when he was Canada’s justice minister, that ‘there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation’.

Canada is welcome into my bed-room any time. The elder sister of the Commonwealth will probably be very grateful and cook me a nice breakfast with lots of Canadian bacon and...urm...maple syrup? Fuck. That sounds disgusting. 


In short, many things are neither legally compulsory nor forbidden. But morality is not so restrained: a system of morality can, like God, claim total authority over every action and even every thought. Such a totalising system would seem oppressively intrusive. Yet the leading theories of morality can mitigate their overreach only by setting arbitrary limits to their own relevance.

No. It is sufficient to accept a 'univalent foundations' approach like that of Voevodsky in Maths. If I personally got paid to shit higher than my arsehole as a 'Moral Philosopher', I would interpret Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit as nothing more than what he claimed, (but with better math)- viz the 'Muth Rational' solution to a particular type of Coordination game such that the 'Transition Matrix' has the same property. In other words, this is something, 'common knowledge' based 'common sense', would lead us all- by 'spontaneous order'- to implement in a manner univocal with the desired result- e.g making this party fun by means which are also fun. 

This shit aint hard to understand & thanks to the internet, it is easy to give a 'quick and dirty' mathematical representation to something which is immediately superior to that of any toiler in this Vineyard of Vinegar. This is literally a case of 'the last' being 'first'. 

You can now make a better of fist of this sort of shit over a half bottle of Bacardi and access to a smartphone than even Hilary Putnam or David Lewis could have done forty years ago (to be clear, both shat the bed in their final years) . The Math has moved on as has access to it- which is not to say that it can actually illumines shit- save for those for whom it is a mimetic target. 

In this respect among many others, morality seems like the ghost of religion. Religion is totalising by its very nature: God knows and judges everything you do and think. 

Ronnie, baby!, become a Hindu and say 'Aham Brahmasmi' , or a Sufi, and say 'Anal Haq' or just quote Christ- 'ye are as Gods' and, like Picard says on Star Trek, 'make it so'. 

The truth is, as Foucault proved, it is Neo-Liberalism which watches you poop. God is the guy who forgives and takes in the pederasts and serial killers and Pol Pot type nutters. The Eschaton is like totes cool with Charlie Manson. Those who serve the Son of Man are brought into a mysterious economy of order which the Church terms 'Katechon' and stupid nig-nog wogs like wot I iz term 'Krishna'. 

And terror, though less fashionable among Christians nowadays, is a tried-and-true instrument of faith. Many Christians have lived in terror of hell. ‘Divine justice never stands in the way,’ proclaimed the 18th-century revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards. ‘Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment.’

Yup. That's the sort of revenge porn dudes in Colonial times stroked themselves off to. I suspect the thing has to do with constipation- which Luther certainly suffered from. Suddenly, anal intrusion- of a suitably Satanic sort- didn't sound so bad. This is not a matter on which I can speak with any authority. Being a cow worshipping vegetarian means you tend to shit like a cow. 

And it works: the threat of hell (though not the promise of heaven) turns out to be a good motivator.

Fuck off! Getting rich is a great motivator more especially if you can claim this is an 'outward and visible' sign of inner 'election'. Equally, making the poor feel terribly ashamed of themselves, motivates them to move somewhere else or else work themselves to death in manic protestation of their own shame and abandonment. 

 Without God, however, the moral terrorism that relies on hell loses some leverage. And anyway, most moralists are reluctant to equate morality with fear of punishment. Still, morality hardly retreats. The most commonly defended systems of morality, when taken to their logical conclusion, extend their tentacles to every choice. Just as venial sins can be forgiven, so in practice some acts are exempt from moral scrutiny. But that is only in virtue of ad hoc intellectual acrobatics with which moral systems insulate themselves from their more repugnant implications.

No. Moral systems are heteronomous and thrive on notions of pollution and disgust. They can be justified by 'pathogen avoidance theory' or other such prudential considerations. However, ethical theories have to perform all sorts of intellectual acrobatics so as to prove compatible with ad captum vulgi moral truth.  Nietzsche says,  Kant wanted to prove, in a way that would dumbfound the whole world, that the whole world was right: that was the secret joke of this soul. He wrote against the scholars in favor of popular prejudice, but for scholars and not for the people
This is the killing joke which animates 'moral philosophy'. 


This can be illustrated for all three of the most prominent systems of moral theory: Kantianism, utilitarianism, and virtue theory inspired by Aristotle. Each, if taken strictly, entails that everything comes under morality’s purview. Here’s a sketch of how they do so, and of how each tries to walk some of it back.

'Taken strictly' means 'taken as a fucking joke'. But anything at all can be subjected to such ridicule. Socioproctology restricts itself to pointing the finger at assholes, not dudes doing useful stuff. 


In Kantian morality, a ‘categorical imperative’ is supposed to follow from the simple fact that I am a rational being. 

But, Kant explicitly founds his method on that of the law courts. He knew, being of Pietist stock, that this was a 'second best' solution- indeed, Socrates says it is like using the oars when there is no wind to fill the sails- and, his ancestors would have certainly endorsed the Rabbinical use of the word 'kategoros' as meaning Satanic- i.e. the Devil as accuser. 

Anyway, one could always see Hegel as repairing Kant so that what you have is a 'spread' of Brouwerian 'choice sequences' such that each seeks to be the 'Subject' of the other and so you get a 'Muth Rational' (i.e. reflexive equilibrium) solution which we term 'Spiritual' in that things which are material and scarce become 'non-rival' and thus spark endogenous growth. Recall that Kant and the beametenliberalismus Germanic pedagogic class were playing at 'catch up growth' w.r.t to Adam Smith's Scotland which was itself seeking to catch up with England. 

A recent result of Terence Tao re. the Collatz conjecture shows why looking at 'almost all' cases enables you, like a magician, to determine useful outcomes in advance. Essentially, there is always a robust 'reflection principle' which in turn means a Gibbard type 'revelation principle' is accessible for any coordination game or mechanism design involving a univocal Transition Matrix. In plain words, the Maths shows that Natural language- precisely because it is co-evolved on an uncertain fitness landscape- makes that which psilosophers think is hard, actually as easy as pie. Indeed, we now know why Maths itself must hold this to be so. Plato's project is complete. Sadly, its main utility was to assert that buggering wealthy young boys was inferior to letting them learn maths. This is not now generally considered to be a particularly relevant or useful result. The Ancient Greeks may have had their reasons for valorizing pederasty but we have better reasons for sending child molesters to the type of jails where they get to mount each other to their heart's content. 

Similar to how you can just see, as a rational being, that 2 + 2 = 4, you are expected to just see that an act is wrong unless you could coherently envisage a world in which everyone does it. 

That is easily done. Kant, as repaired by Hegel, and then Hegel as repaired by Brouwer, and Brouwer as repaired by Martin Lof and Martin Lof as repaired by whoever the fuck... I don't actually know any fucking Math... like you hadn't already guessed. Anyway, my point is, young people can easily prove that for any given 'Spiritual' task- e.g. getting the kids to fix the fucking planet already without worrying about who got tenure or was awarded the Nobel- there is a Muth rational- i.e. common knowledge (plus Aumann signal based) Transition Matrix or 'golden path' which is univocal and robust etc, etc.

Ronnie is way brighter than me. He could put this so much better. The guy is now Canadian. Since the time of Stephen Leacock, the Canadian academic has shown wit and catholicity of interest and empathy and a lapidary mastery of the English language all the more laudable because they are all either Mounties or Moose.

This provides a test for every thought and deed. It not only applies when my actions affect others: Kantian morality explicitly burdens me with duties to myself. 

Listen, Ronnie, you big moose, Kant explicitly released you from the burden of having to jerk off which coz you got great big hooves was totes considerate of him. 

This is another manifestation of morality’s status as the ghost of religion. If God owns me, it is not absurd to suppose that God alone can dispose of me. But in secular terms this makes no sense. Sure, I might sometimes say I promised myself … But a promise can always be waived by its beneficiary. As the promisee, I can waive my own promise. To say I failed to keep it is just to say I changed my mind. Kantians recognise that some duties are ‘imperfect’: you could always give more to charity, but we shan’t blame you if you do the minimum. But placing that minimum is arbitrary. Some Kantians, though not Kant himself, might even grant that sometimes I really need to lie – to the murderer, for example, who asks me to reveal their victim’s whereabouts. But those concessions, however sensible, are not part of the Kantian system: on the contrary, any derogation to the categorical imperative is strictly inconsistent with it.

Kant ended up babbling about Zarathustra. So what if he made mistakes? So did Newton and Einstein and so forth. It is clear that a merely categorical imperative can't be 'universalizable' because we have no set of categories which can divide up Reality according to its joints. Just as the fact that 'crucial experiments' refuted Kant's arguments for 'a priori synthetic' judgments with respect to Absolute Space and Time and incongruent counterparts and so forth, so too with his categorical imperative. But that's cool coz we now know so much more about 'categories'. 

There's nothing stopping a moral philosopher coming up with a categorical theory with 'univalent foundations' which sheds new light on 'wedge issues' and 'hard cases'. This may 'alter our ethos' if done sufficiently well. We are plastic that way. 

Does utilitarianism fare any better? The principle of utility sets the happiness of the greatest number as the ultimate value. Nothing in the logic of that principle can exempt any act or thought from being fed into the calculation of overall utility. Again, in practice, utilitarians will make exceptions. A racist’s distress, however genuine, at an African American’s success can simply be discounted, perhaps by appealing to a concept of ‘rights’, justified in some ingenious way by reference to utility. Moral claims, as always, outrank prudence – the rational consideration of one’s own interests – but most utilitarians want to keep an area of personal freedom relating only to the latter: whether to play hockey or chess is not a moral question.

Again, this is no big scandal or stumbling block. Utility can be conceived in 'regret minimizing terms' once the fitness landscape is accorded appropriate properties of uncertainty and indeterminacy. 

Essentially, any bunch of shibboleths- those of Mussar Judaism or modern Jainism or whatever- can have a representation as a deontic logic with 'univalent foundations'.  Defeasibility can always be moved down an extensional fork.

Perhaps, given our fallible nature, inconsistency in a moral system is a defect we must live with

Or live without coz who gives a fuck?

It is not clear, however, that utilitarianism can consistently insulate such questions from its own reach.

This type of pedantic shite is constantly finding things 'not clear' when it is fucking obvious that shite is shite. Either utilitarianism has a representation as a sequent calculus or it doesn't. If it does, it can insulate itself from anything it likes because the tautologies it invokes are conditional. If utilitarianism has no such representation then it is 'anything goes' and 'global' indeterminacy means we can't say it hasn't insulated itself from any shite whatsoever. 

 For since my happiness is a component of the total, any harm I do to myself will affect the world’s net utility.  

Nonsense! Us guys will be laughing ourselves silly over your self-inflicted harm.


If hockey can harm me, my choosing to play it should be, strictly speaking, immoral. 

Though we only pay to watch that sport coz we want to see peeps spitting out their own teeth.

Not even the trivial can be kept apart in principle from the morally significant. As Peter Singer has stressed, for the price of another pair of shoes, you might have saved some child from starvation. 

For the price of listening to Singer, rather than cooking and eating him, you might have saved everybody from stupidity. 

For a consistent utilitarian, you are guilty whenever you contribute much less to charity than what would entail your own destitution.

The true scandal is that Jeremy Bentham didn't go around giving beejays to homeless dudes the way Queen Victoria did. 

 Since most people find this to be more than they can accept, Singer has provided a calculator that will suggest how much you should set aside to save others from poverty. 

The cretin doesn't get that his University Department should be defunded according to any decent 'calculator'.

But that again sets an arbitrary limit to the principle of utility.

No. No fucking principle is involved. This is just naked stupidity.

For an Aristotelian or ‘virtue theorist’, the case can look somewhat better.

Not if there is a 'slingshot' type situation such that there is only one true fact which is not decomposable. Yet, if anything is true, there must be such a fact- at least at the 'end of time'.

 A virtue theorist can admit a plurality of values. 

or, indeed, a plurality of selves.


The ideally virtuous person I could (but fail to) be differs from the virtuous person you could be. 

But both these ideal persons may be fucking in a really gross manner- if only in some ideal sense.

Even here, however, the totalising tendency can be made out. For whether there is a single model for all or a different one for each, you might not be actualising your own potential for human excellence as efficiently as you should. 

You definitely aint, if you lend credence to that crap. Antidosis is the way to go- i.e. swap places with the  cunt lecturing you and lecture him instead. Moral Philosophy is so obviously the predestined pharmakon/pharmakos worthy of being turned over to the Grievance Studies zombies. At any rate, that's how come Alexander's tutor ended up anchoring a more Catholic Pantocrator's theological paideia. Till Vatican Two which too, for English Catholics, was that kiss of death which kept its Lazarus identity alive. 

Aristotle himself avoids having to say that every act and thought is subject to moral praise or censure mainly by conceding, in the opening chapter of his Nicomachean Ethics, that ‘exactness must not be looked for in all discussions alike’. 

This is the fault of akrebia. Economia is the may to go. Philosophy must pay for itself one way or another.

The morality-free space I can carve for myself is mainly due to the impossibility of knowing exactly what my potential might be.

Excellent! Way to bury the lead, Ron! 

It's lines like that which explain why it can be worthwhile for smart peeps to teach shite.


In the end, then, in each moral system, some space is typically protected from the tyranny of totalising morality only by making arbitrary concessions about realms of life that are deemed insufficiently important to need controlling. The price paid is inconsistency.

This is false. Any axiological system will exhibit robustness to 'immaterial' perturbations. That's the first thing you learn when you train in Accountancy. Emotive talk of 'protection' from some meta-metaphorical 'tyranny' is unworthy of the guy who wrote the previous sentence. 


Perhaps, given our fallible nature, inconsistency in a moral system is a defect we must live with. But that would still leave the institution of morality open to my second charge: the double counting of some reasons.

Poor fellow, he is repeating himself. It's only funny when I do it coz I'm drunk not senile. 


Reasons to act come in a host of different kinds. They can be driven by whims or by long-term concerns; they can relate to my welfare or to that of others; and they can pertain to any domain, from the aesthetic to the financial. Some take the form of rules claiming a special status in virtue of being moral reasons, which automatically outweigh other types of reasons. As we saw, morality can arbitrarily decide to ignore some of your reasons, such as your preference for one flavour of ice-cream or the colour to paint your door. But when a reason does wear the special badge of morality, then, most philosophers insist, it is ‘definitive, final, over-riding, or supremely authoritative’, in the words of William K Frankena in 1966, and ‘inescapable’, as Bernard Williams put it in 1986. What could justify such a status?

This is stupid shit. I have shown why- in all contexts- it is irrational to have 'reasons to act' save for consideration under a contract. When the police ask 'what was your reason to be in x at time y?' always say, 'I want my lawyer'. Reasons speak to intentions. Consider Regina v Shivpuri. If Shivpuri had kept mum he couldn't have been convicted. That cretin- studying law at SOAS- thought 'impossible attempt' applied. Sadly, the Judges decided to listen to some shite Utilitarian philosopher and took 'reason to act' as 'intention' which established 'mens rea'. Shivpuri was silly but innocent. Judges changed the law coz they thought the bloke was smart. He was Jim Garrison's co-author - i.e. as stupid as shit. 

A crucial feature of moral reasons is that they are always

strategic, not alethic.

based (or ‘supervenient’) on other, ordinary facts that can be specified without reference to morality.

This stupidity has gone on too long. It is easily refuted.

 Suppose for example that you are considering doing X. You notice that doing X will cause someone pain. That might strike you as a reason not to do X. Call that reason A. Another fact might also strike you as a reason against X: that it will be boring, perhaps, or too expensive. Call that reason B. Moralists will tell you that your reason A, but not your reason B, also ‘grounds’ another reason not to do X, namely that it would be immoral. And on that basis, reason A but not reason B now gets to be ‘inescapable’, ‘overriding’ any reason you had in favour of X: that it would be exciting, say, or memorable. So now it seems that reason A, unlike reason B, gives you two reasons not to do X: reason A (that it will cause pain), plus the fact that X is immoral. But since this second reason was just grounded on reason A, what can it possibly add to it? How can it suddenly make reason A override all other reasons? It seems to be just a way of counting it twice.

Why is this fucked in the head? It's because 'noticing' is promiscuous rather than purposeful. This means the information set is being updated (by 'notices') in a manner which invalidates the assumption that the sequent calculus being deployed has any deontic component. The 'Moralist' who tells you stuff, aint part of your sequent calculus nor is stuff you 'noticed' part of his.  True, you could abandon your own 'sequent calculus' and just glom on to that of the Moralist's. But that has nothing to do with 'grounds'.  It has to do with mimesis or cognitive dissonance. 

Double counting is solved by looking at 'value added'. What if values are incommensurable? Then there is a change in an inventory matrix which can be evaluated in different contexts on the basis of 'shadow prices'. There really is no big problem here.


Unless, of course, some actual added value is conferred by the label despite its being grounded entirely on the original reason. And that is just what the moralist claims. Your original reason just consisted in the fact that X would cause pain in a particular person. But the morality of that reason is now said to derive from something else: namely, the fact that there is a general moral rule that says you shouldn’t ever cause anybody pain. The reason you have been given by the moralist is indeed another reason, because it is not just about this case but about everyone, always and everywhere.

So this is simply a 'certificate' or other such signaling or screening device. Where value is added some such process to increase inventory fungibility can pay for itself. 

It is not the case that you get twice the kudos for knowing Accountancy and qualifying as a CPA. Some value is added but it really is up to you to take advantage of this new 'signal' .


Unfortunately, the quest for moral foundations makes things only worse

Coz quests for a toilet where no toilet is can worsen the underlying problem. Just fucking squat down on the path to Truth's pathless land and squeeze out a turd already.

Notice, however, that this general rule, if indeed it is different from the reason you had in the first place (not to hurt this person) is brought in to justify it. 

We don't know that. General rules may have been brought in for wholly different reasons. Some kids may think that the only reason 'general reasons' are brought in is so as to spoil their fun. But those kids are sociopaths. You genuinely don't want them using your nut-sack as a football. 

The claim now is that it’s wrong to hurt this person because that would be an instance of a general moral truth: it’s always wrong to hurt anyone (unless it’s deserved, or a means to some good, etc – we can take an ‘other things being equal’ clause as given). But it is a fact of logic that a general statement can never be more probable (hence more credible) than a single instance. 

It is also a fact of logic that conditional tautologies- which is what give rise to Gentzen type sequent calculi- suffer no such infirmity. Another way of saying this is that Reason is Bayesian not bullshit simply.

The general statement entails the particular, but not conversely. 

Only for Hilbert style calculi. Kant and Hegel and so on could be seen as committing to a constructivist program which, speaking equitably, is feasible enough. 

If your original reason is challenged, surely you would want to support it with something more credible than it was in the first place. 

Which is why you don't offer a 'sound' reason save for consideration. Otherwise, if under the grip of an autocrat, give Good Soldier Shweik type reasons. Baffle the bureaucrats with stupid, stinky, bullshit. They will decide it isn't worth their time to 'reform' or 're-educate' you. Obviously, there is a danger in going down this road. Nehru & Co continued to be Shweik type Gandhian shitheads- preventing India from feeding or defending itself- after the country had become Independent. Their rationale was that if India became a sufficiently shitty shit-hole then nobody would want to conquer it again. Then the Chinese attacked. Colin Clark, who well knew the shittiness of the Indian mathematical economist- or moral philosopher, come to that- assumed that Mao only fucked up coz he'd had Indian advisors!

Instead, the moral philosopher tells you that your reason has become overriding, because it is derivable from another reason less credible than itself. It seems that your confidence in your original reason should be diminished rather than raised by that ‘justification’. Why bring in the dubious to buttress the obvious?

Why get a Credential or Professional certification or invite 'Client Satisfaction' scores? Everybody has a different 'sequent calculus'. There is an arbitrage opportunity even absent information asymmetry. It is enough if uncorrelated asymmetries exist and are common knowledge for it to be eusocial to invest in 'signals' relating to 'bourgeois strategies'. 

This is where the moral theorists really get going. They recognise that a justification is just another reason, which can in turn be challenged, and so on. To stop the ‘and so on’ from going ad infinitum, they appeal to ultimate values or principles that serve as foundations from which both the original reason and the general rule can be deduced. If those foundations are absolutely certain, they will transmit that certainty to the particular reasons they entail.

Okay. You win. Ronnie, mate, you have wasted your life in a shite profession. Sad.