Category Archives: Ethics

Interview with Blake Ostler

There’s a podcast interview with Blake Ostler at Mormon Discussion.1 While I disagree with Blake on a few things (primarily the King Follet Discourse) I think he’s been a tremendously important voice within Mormon theology. He’s raised very important ideas such as the idea that inspired commentary was added as part of the Book of Mormon translation process. Agree or disagree with him but he’s always a must read.

What’s best about what Blake has done is to actually publish his arguments in an easy to access format so people can engage with them. There have been lots of great ideas and thinkers out there. But often the arguments are lost as they simply don’t get distributed broadly. Anything we can do to fix that is helpful.

On a related note Ben Huff told me that SMPT’s Element will be widely available on the SMPT site. (I’ll post more on this later when I have more time)

  1. I don’t know much about this podcast, and haven’t listened to the interview yet.

Dresser on Fish on Scalia

Rod Dreher on Stanley Fish’s agreement withe Justice Scalia about Obergefell. Dreher often overreacts from my perspective. I do think he’s right that “rights talk” simply isn’t consequentialist. Those who adopt consequentialist arguments likely will miss what’s really going on. (Especially when the consequentialists aren’t keeping all things equal in terms of distinction between particular groups and larger groups) 

Why Humans Disagree on Right and Wrong

Interesting essay up at New Scientist on why humans disagree on right and wrong. As is often the case with New Scientist it’s a little overly sensationalist and speculative. The argument is that how societies get their energy incentivizes certain ethical stances. More or less it’s a variation on people’s ethics being highly biased by their economic needs. Thus societies oppose slavery when they don’t need it but manage to excuse it when it’s in society’s best interests. 

The author notes that hunter/gather societies are extremely egalitarian. Yet with the rise of agriculture about 9500 BC that expands throughout the world over the next 5000 years individuals specialize and have to be treated differently. Thus ethics comes to be viewed through a prism of different people being treated differently. Hierarchy becomes viewed as fair. What’s interesting about ethical views in such societies (according to anthropologists of modern peasant societies) is that it’s not the system that’s viewed as unethical.

What the downtrodden disagree with, ethnographers find, is not hierarchy as such, but their own place in it, or the suspicion that their so-called “betters” are not living up to their moral obligations. Resisting specific husbands, masters or lords who are abusing their authority is right and proper; resisting authority itself is not. 

With the rise of fossil fuels (coal, oil, etc.) in the 19th century we have a massive economic shift and thereby a structural change in society. Instead of ones place in hierarchy being bad it is the structures themselves seen as bad.

Continue reading Why Humans Disagree on Right and Wrong

Attitudes to Free Will

Interesting paper with a few psychological studies on why people believe in free will. I’m always a bit loath to put too much stock in these since there are the usual issues of small studies usually with university students for test subjects.1 Still it does have some interesting conclusions. 

People tend to believe in free will more after considering an immoral action than a neutral one along with an increased desire to punish others. People also believe in free will more if there is a cheater around. Also the amount of crime in a country predicts the level of free will belief.

Continue reading Attitudes to Free Will

  1. Some of these studies were a little better, recruiting via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk group. However they still likely don’t represent a terribly representative cross section of the country, let alone humanity. Selection issues and sample sizes are traditionally problem with these sorts of studies. While there is replication, again there have been strong critiques of how replication is happening in psychological studies such as recent criticisms of priming studies. I’m not saying ignore these in the least. However I think they are perhaps best seen as early steps and that one should always be careful pushing the conclusions too far.

Decarceration and Violent Offenders

There’s an interesting argument about crime and decarcerationfrom John Pfaff. He’s changed my view a fair bit. I had been under the assumption that the war on drugs was more responsible for our high incarceration rates. But “between 1990 and 2010, increased drug incarcerations contribute a mere 14% to prison growth, compared to 60% for violent incarcerations. All told, between 1980 and 2010, slightly more than 50% of the net increase in prisoners is due to locking up more violent criminals (with drugs and property both in the low-20%s).” That rather surprised me when I first read it some time ago.

This means that if we release prisoners to decrease our prison population we’ll necessarily be releasing violent offenders. 


Veil of Ignorance & Discrimination

Interesting post at BCC on religious freedom and LGBTQ rights in light of the Church’s recent statement on protections for gays. It’s informed by Rawl’s notion of a veil of ignorance. I’m far from a Rawls scholar and most people know my views on formal ethics. I’m much more sympathetic to virtue ethics. But this post does make one think.

Continue reading Veil of Ignorance & Discrimination