A Philosopher's Blog

Marriage Advice

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on May 31, 2011
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This past Saturday I went to see Mark Gungor speaking on how to laugh your way to a better marriage. Or, more accurately, I saw a video of him speaking to people about this. While I am good at many things, I freely admit that I am (or was) bad at marriage. After I was divorced, my ex-wife said that I was a good man and a good friend, but a lousy husband. In retrospect, I can see that she was quite right.

Like almost everyone who has been divorced, I have often thought about why my first marriage did not work out. While there are all sorts of specific reasons, one general problem that almost everyone faces is that people really have no idea what they are doing. Marriage, as the experts will tell you, is very different from dating. It is even different from living together. I do not just mean the legal difference (although that is a major factor). After all, the whole dynamic changes, leading to a clear distinction between BM (before marriage ) and AM (after marriage). Because of this, dating and even shacking up tend to be fairly poor preparation for marriage. As such, it is hardly a shock that experienced (and often young) people often fail at marriage-even when they are sincerely trying.

Not surprisingly, there are all sorts of experts pushing books, seminars and DVDs who purport to be able to give marriage advice. I’m generally skeptical of such products. First,I know that the entire field of psychology lacks a solid foundation and there is considerably disagreement even among those who claim to be experts. Hence, I have no real idea who to regard as credible (if anyone). Second,  these products tend to grossly oversimplify complicated matters, usually by presenting a gimmick method that defines the author’s product. Third, I am always suspicious of people who are trying to sell an idea. Of course, this does not mean that such products are useless. Rather, they should be approached properly: with skepticism and low-expectations. Just as a book on running a marathon won’t make you a top athlete, a book on marriage will not make you an awesome spouse. However, just as a book on running can provide some useful advice, so too can products on marriage.

Gungor’s approach, at least in the first hour, was a fairly stock approach. He noted that men and women generally have different behavior patterns that can lead to misunderstandings. For example, men are single-task creatures and women multi-task. As another example, men compartmentalize heavily and are weak on details  while women connect everything and store details. That men and women are generally different is obviously true. Obviously enough, not-failing at marriage requires being aware of these differences and being able to work with them. Maybe.

Gungor’s main focus was on sex. As he noted, a big chunk of marriage (at least in the West) is sex. He presented the standard view of men and women. Men, he noted, are generally more interested in sex than woman are. This seems to be true, although it is important to take into account cultural influences. Despite Sex & the City, there are still cultural elements that push the idea that men like sex more than women do. His specific take on the matter is that men and women are the reverse of each other when it comes to sex. As he sees it, a man has to go through the woman’s heart to get to her vagina. In the case of a man, a woman has to go through his penis in order to get to his heart. This, of course, is the old stereotype that women are interested in love and use sex to attract and keep men. The stereotype for men is, of course, that we are interested in sex and will sometimes be nice to women in order to get it. This all seems true-at least in many cases and in very general terms.

Gungor’s main advice here is that this is the way people are and making marriage work requires dealing with it. Women need to accept that men want sex and that this is essential to getting men to be concerned about women’s hearts. Men need to accept that women are concerned about their hearts and that the way to get sex is to “be nice to the girl.” This way everyone wins: the man gets sex and the woman has her emotional needs met.

Being a minister, Gungor approaches this from a religious viewpoint. Not surprisingly, he asserts that women who have sex before marriage are being idiots, since they are giving up sex without getting what they really need (the heart). However, Gungor does not actually argue for his view, he merely asserts this.

It is worth noting that he does have a reasonable point here. While humans do like sex, we also have emotional needs (even us men). If a woman is simply having sex and not getting any emotional satisfaction because she “gives it up” without expecting any emotional effort from the men, then she is probably making bad choices. After all, healthy and rewarding human relationships require more than mere fornication. Even for us men. Really.

However, as Gungor presents it, a woman is an idiot if she is having sex outside of marriage. On the one hand, this does have some merit. After all, sex outside of marriage does put the woman at greater risk for STDs and pregnancy will generally be more of a problem. Also, from a purely practical standpoint, an unmarried man can simply leave with all his stuff, rather than having to leave behind half.

On the other hand, most of these safety features of marriage can also be had via monogamy and having a good partner. After all, the lowered risk of STDs does not arise because of marriage magic, but because of monogamy. That, of course, does not require marriage (and marriage is no guarantee of monogamy). Also, while marriage does lock a couple into a legally binding economic contract, it does not automatically make either person better or more responsible.  What is missing is, of course, the legally binding economic contract. Even though the divorce rate is 50%, this no doubt encourages some people to stick with a relationship because ending it would be more costly. As such, it can be a useful means of providing an extra safety “hook” as well as providing some greater degree of financial security. After all, as noted above, an unmarried man (or woman) can leave at anytime and legally keep all his (or her) stuff. However, a married person has to consider that if he (or she) packs it in, he (she) has to leave behind at least half of his (or her) stuff.

As a final point, it might be thought that Gungor is advocating a form of prostitution. After all, he advises women to marry and get the heart stuff from the man rather than just giving it away without getting that ring. Of course, he is not telling women to hold out for cash for sex. Rather, he is giving women sound economic advice: do not give away a good or service without getting something of equal or greater value in return.

Looked at less cynically, his advice is basically good: in order for a relationship to work, those involved need to believe that their needs are being fairly met. Of course, this does not seem to entail that marriage is a necessity-unless, of course, that legal economic contract is a necessity for a specific woman.

So, here is my simple marriage advice: know what you need, know what the other person needs. Put effort into meeting those needs, provided that you regard them as legitimate and fair. Repeat until you get divorced or die.

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Online Reviews

Posted in Business, Epistemology, Reasoning/Logic, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 30, 2011
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Like all sensible people, I hate to waste money. So, when I plan on buying something, I like to ensure that I am making a good choice. Looked at philosophically, this is both a value problem (what is best?”)and an epistemic problem (“how do I know?”)  Conveniently many online stores, most famously Amazon, have customer reviews online.  However, as you yourself have probably noticed, these reviews are often not as useful as they might seem.

The first you will see of the typical online review system is stars (or whatever). On the face of it, this might seem to provide a useful assessment of the product. However, it is simply an average (maybe) of all the rankings. As such, it is only as good as the individual rankings. From a critical thinking standpoint, the ranking system is a survey and hence can be assessed by the standards of an inductive generalization.

One obvious problem with the ranking system is that it is based on a biased sample. People who take the time to write a review (or just click stars) will tend to include a disproportionate number of people who have had very good or very bad experiences. This is borne out by the fact that many products have numerous 5 star and 1 star rankings. As such, the stars should be read with due caution.

A second concern is that the rankings are often based on small samples. For example, my own 42 Fallacies on Amazon currently has a 5 star ranking based on one person. While I do agree with the ranking (oh, if only there were six stars), assessing a product on the basis of a small number of reviews would be risky. Of course, even a large sample will still suffer from a bias problem.

A third concern is that people game the system. Since the review processes tend to be rather lacking in regulation and verification, it is very easy for people to load in fake positive or negative reviews. Like plagiarized papers, these are often very easy to spot. If, for example, the “review” reads like company PR, then it is probably a ringer. If, as another example, the review is incredibly negative but praises a competing product at great length, then it is probably someone acting on behalf of that competitor. However, some “hired guns” are probably clever enough to load in reviews while concealing their true nature.

Since the stars are generally not entirely trustworthy, it is natural to turn to the specific reviews.

In some cases, these reviews can be useful. Not surprisingly, assessing reviews is an exercise in critical thinking. As a general rule, I look for reviews that seem to be balanced in assessing the product and note the weaknesses as well as the strengths.  While this does not guarantee that the review is honest, it tends to be a good indicator of a lack of bias. I also look for consistency across the reviews. For example, if reviews for a laptop consistently mention that the screen is not very good, then that serves as some evidence that this is true of the laptop (or that a hired gun has been busy cranking out reviews). Some companies, such as Amazon, link reviewers to their reviews and this can be useful for getting a better picture of the reviewer’s credibility and expertise. For example, if a reviewer has reviewed numerous books in an area and always takes a measured approach in her reviews, then this increases the credibility of her reviews.

Another factor to look for is the time factor. Many reviewers review the product as soon as they get it, which can (in some cases) be a problem. For example, a review of an Android tablet written right after the person opens the box and fires it up will not tell  you much about its actual battery life or ease of use in various tasks. Some reviewers post updates to their reviews, which can be useful.

While five star reviews should be greeted with a critical review, one star reviews often demand special attention. In some cases, of course, the rating is deserved. However, one star reviews are sometimes inflicted unfairly. First, as mentioned above, people try to game the system. Second, the review might be based on an unusual experience with the product that would generally not be a factor for most users. For example, a certain percentage of electronic devices arrive with problems (such as a defective battery) and this should be taken into account when reading a review that gives a product one star for a failed battery. Naturally, if the same problem appears over and over again in reviews, then that makes it a point of concern. Third, one star reviews are sometimes due to a reviewer not using the product properly or not understanding the product. For example, I have seen reviews attacking a product for not doing something that it was never intended to do. Fourth, some one star reviews are criticisms not of the product but of something else, such as the shipping time or the seller. While these can be relevant factors in buying a product from a specific seller, they really are not relevant to assessing the product. A fifth point of concern is that one star ratings are sometimes used in retaliation.

Naturally, you cannot go wrong buying my books. 🙂





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The Future of Philosophy Books

Posted in Business, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 29, 2011
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Thanks no doubt to my 42 Fallacies and 30 More Fallacies, I have received a few emails asking about publishing philosophy books. This got me thinking about the future of philosophy books.

Before Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others opened up the epublishing business to everyone, a person who wanted to publish a philosophy book faced various hurdles (beyond the obvious one of writing a book). These hurdles varied with the path selected by the author: professional publishing or self publishing.

Getting a philosophy book published professionally was and is rather challenging. Philosophy books are generally not huge sellers (unless “philosophy” is taken to include self help books and various other dubious domains) and hence publishers are typically not scouring the globe for a new philosophy book. Publishers that specialize in philosophy books generally tend to cater to the academic markets and produce books for classes or for professionals in the field. As such, publishing a book in this area typically requires academic credentials (connections do not hurt). There are, of course, more popular philosophy books. However, publishers still tend to seek authors with academic credentials. There are, of course, exceptions-but they tend to be somewhat uncommon. I expect that this aspect of publishing will not significantly change, other than a shift in the medium from paper to digital (although I expect paper text books to endure for a long time).

In the past, self-publishing was generally not a great option. The author had to bear the cost of publishing the work (either directly or by getting involved with a vanity press). The author was also stuck with advertising and selling the book. While I am sure there are some amazing exceptions, what I have heard about self-publishing has been negative (the stories usually end with “and that is why I have 1,498 books in my attic”). However, self-publishing changed radically with the advent of printing on demand and ebooks. However, the most important change was the advent of Amazon’s Kindle program (and similar programs from Barnes & Noble).

Thanks to Amazon and Banes & Noble anyone can easily publish a philosophy (or any) book. This means that the field of philosophy (at least on these marketplaces) is open to anyone who can use a computer. One good thing about this is that the number of philosophy books will increase. Another good thing is that good writers with interesting ideas who might have been unable to get a deal with the major publishers will be able to get their ideas out there. A third good thing is that such books can be made available to folks who might not otherwise read a philosophy book.  A fourth good thing is that it gives the author control over his destiny, at least in terms of his books. Even though I have a professionally published book, I rather like being master of my own works, rather than being a supplicant to professional publishers.  It is, of course, natural to compare this situation with the Modern Era of philosophy: the printing press enabled new thinkers (such as Descartes and Hume) to get their ideas out there when the established academies were still often locked in Scholastic dogma.

There are, of course, some non-good things about this. One obvious problem is that self-published works are not subject to editorial review. While a professionally published philosophy book might be crap, it is at least reviewed crap. It is certain that the percentage of crappy books in the self-published field will be much higher than in the professional realm. A second concern, at least for academics, is that self-published works generally do not “count” and ebooks are looked on with suspicion by many in the traditional academy. Academic types, like me, are subject to the dreaded “publish or perish” in that we have to publish works in order to get promotions and tenure. As such, a self-published ebook typically will not help an academic advance his career (there are some exceptions). In my case, I’m already a tenured full professor, so I no longer have to worry about that (aside from looking good on my yearly evaluations). I do, however, have to worry about the bills-hence my new “career” writing ebooks. I suspect that there will be a gradual shift towards counting such books, much like some schools already give “points” for blogging.

In a nutshell, my rather obvious prediction is that there will be an upswing in the publishing of philosophy books, thanks to the blossoming epublishing. In the future, I assume that people will start referring to academics living in digital towers, rather than the traditional ivory towers.

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Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 28, 2011
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Since 2001 the United States has been almost pathologically obsessed with terrorism. Our security and intelligence (such as it is) has been focused on terrorism and we have launched two (or more, depending on how you count) wars in the name of fighting terrorism. Meanwhile, China has been growing in strength and influence.

While China does not seem particularly interested in having a cold-war style confrontation with the United States, they are in a position to become our most serious competitor in the world. While we have been happily buying their exports and accepting their money, we do not seem to have an effective and focused China strategy (unless it is secret). This, I submit, has been an error.

While I do not think that we should create a cold-war with the Chinese, we certainly need to change our focus. Instead of obsessing over a handful of poorly armed and poorly funded terrorists, we should focus on China. After all, China has over a billion people, a real military, nuclear weapons, billions of dollars and global influence. Focusing on terrorists seems a bit like worrying about a rat when there is a dragon nearby.

The Chinese strategy does not seem to be primarily military based (although they have been building their forces and capabilities) but instead primarily economic. Our strategy seems to be that we buy their stuff and accept their money. This hardly seems like a winning game plan. Our companies do, of course, try to sell the Chinese stuff. One thing that we have going for us is that Western goods are still looked at as being prestigious. However, China is changing.

One key change is that the Chinese “middle class” is emerging an expanding. This has the potential to change things in very significant ways for the United States. On the negative side, if China becomes more “middle class”, then it will be harder for American companies to find cheap labor to make products. This will mean that the companies will need to find a new source of cheap labor to exploit. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the world is not lacking in poverty and we might see Africa becoming a new source of cheap labor. Or, if the American economy continues to flounder, the United States might provide a viable cheap workforce. On the positive side, a  more “middle class” China (a middle class Middle Kingdom) can mean an even more lucrative market for American products (perhaps made in Africa). It could also lead to political changes in China that could improve relations with the United States. Then again, Chinese nationalism might result in a worsening of relationships. What might occur is a competition between the United States and China that recreates the competition between the European powers just prior to World War I (complete with a new round of imperialism in Africa, perhaps).

It is also well worth considering that people have been overestimating China and that political turmoil or some economic disaster will result in her downfall. We should, of course, be ready for that as well.

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Crime & the Economy

Posted in Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 27, 2011
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While the causes of crime are no doubt many and varied, common wisdom holds that there is a connection between crime and economic conditions. More specifically, it is often claimed that poor economic conditions lead to more crime. This, of course, seems sensible enough. After all, people who are short of money might well turn to crime out of desperation.

Since the mainstream economy is still not doing well, it would seem reasonable to expect an uptick in crime. Interestingly enough, the FBI recently reported that violent crime has decreased by 5.5% and property crimes have declined by 2.8%. This, of course, seems to indicate that the alleged causal connection between poor economic conditions and crime might not hold true. Before rejecting the alleged link, it seems reasonable to consider the matter in more detail. After all, the FBI’s statistics is for crime across the country and the overall decline is consistent with actual increases in some areas of the country.

In fact, there are areas in which crime has increased. The Northeast has actually seen an 8.3% increase in murders as well as rather small increases in forcible rapes (up 1.4%) and aggravated assaults (up .7%). Not surprisingly, certain cities are also suffering from higher than average crime rates.

The data indicates that the cities most plagued by crime have established histories of decline and poverty. This is hardly surprising, given that these cities have consistently suffered from crime. While these crime rates have been a legitimate matter of concern, they might also provide a picture of things to come.

While overall crime is down despite the economic downturn, one obvious concern is that if the downturn persists then there will be new places with established histories of decline and poverty. This will most likely result in an increase in crime. Another factor, exacerbated by the both the economic situation and the new focus on reducing the public sector is that police resources are decreasing. Should the economic woes become entrenched, this will (as noted above) most likely result in an increase in crime. It will also mean less tax income which will mean even less police resources to combat the crime generated by the economic situation. This certainly gives us yet another reason to work at restoring the economy.

Naturally, economic conditions are not the only factors involved in crime. Even when the economy has been doing great, crime still remains. Of course, even when the economy is doing great, zones of poverty and decline still exist and are almost always zones of high crime. If nothing is done, we can expect that these zones will expand and that new ones will appear.

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Posted in Environment, Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 26, 2011
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The environment continues to be a hot battleground for various groups. While the main theater of war has been climate change, there are also side battles involving other matters, such as the threat posed (or not posed) by mercury. Not surprisingly, many of the folks who argue against climate change and contend that health risks of things like mercury are exaggerated tend to be associated with companies that produce substances alleged to cause climate change and/or be a health threat.

While the EPA has often been accused of being a mere lap-dog to corporate interests, it recently issued 946 pages of new rules governing the emission of mercury and other pollutants by power plants. The main argument for these laws is utilitarian. According to the EPA’s Lisa Jackson, while the rules will cost companies $10.9 billion a year, they will save 17,000 lives and provide as much as $140 billion in health benefits. Even if the lives are left out of the equation, this seems like a rather good idea. After all, getting $140 billion in benefits certainly seems to be worth the $10.9 billion.  Naturally, it is worth noting that the cost will be paid by the companies and the benefits will be reaped by the people who will avoid the harm done by the pollutants. However, this seems morally acceptable and it would seem hard to argue that the companies have a right to save $10.9 billion by costing other people their lives or health.

Obviously enough, this argument has merit only if the numbers involved are accurate. Not surprisingly, there are those who are questioning their accuracy.  There are, of course, always grounds for questioning such numbers. The first is, of course, the inherent problem of induction: whenever engaged in inductive reasoning, the conclusion can always turn out to be false even if the premises are true. Of course, this is a fairly weak method of challenging since it applies to all inductive reasoning. What is, of course, needed is something more substantial.

Willie Soon and Paul Driessen recently wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal raising a substantial criticism, To be specific, they  claim “the EPA systematically ignored evidence and clinical studies that contradict its regulatory agenda, which is to punish hydrocarbon use.”

In critical thinking terms, they are accusing the EPA of trying to make the public a victim of the fallacy of incomplete/suppressed evidence and they are also accusing the EPA of bias. If the first charge is correct, then this would be a serious problem. After all, when drawing a conclusion there is a logical (and ethical) requirement to consider all the reasonably available  significant evidence. Also, if the EPA officials are biased, then this impacts their credibility in a negative manner.  Obviously enough, the same standards apply to Soon and Driessen.

One concern about Soon is that while he is at Harvard, he is an astrophysicist. This raises some questions about his expertise in assessing the impact of mercury on the population. While any competent scientist (or critical thinking professor) can engage in legitimate criticism of methodology, assessing the actual causal impact of mercury falls under the domain of other areas of expertise.  There is also some concerns raised by the Soon and Baliunas controversy. A general concern about Driessen and Soon is the same one they leveled against the EPA: the possibility of bias. While the EPA might have an agenda, Soon and Driessen can also be regarded as having an agenda of their own. As such, it is well worth considering their claims in the light of potential bias.

Since I am not an expert on mercury, I will not enter the fray other than to point out the obvious: mercury is well established as a toxin and it seems like a good idea to reduce the amount of the substance being released into the environment. However, I am willing to consider all the available evidence and arguments in terms of what level of pollution would meet an ethically acceptable balance between the costs to reduce the levels and the harms inflicted by this pollutant.

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Stimulus Checkup

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 25, 2011
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Your money at work, their taxes unpaid.

The stimulus, as readers no doubt recall, was a massive federal money dump into the economy. The hope was, of course, that it would keep the moribund economy going and perhaps even jump start it back from the brink of death (or revive it as an undead monster).

Given how the political system works, it should hardly be shocking to learn that $24 billion stimulus dollars (which could be referred to by their proposed street name of “Stimmy d”) went to 3,700 contractors who owed a combined total of $750 million in back taxes. Naturally, it should be pointed out that only 5% of the 80,000 contractors who got a hit of “Stimmy D” are known tax cheats.

As is to be expected, the tax cheating varied. The most impressive example was a company that received over $1 million in stimulus money while it owed over $2 million in taxes. That is certainly a case of bi-winning: the company was winning by not paying its taxes and winning by getting federal money.

From a moral standpoint, the contractors that take money from the state (that is, from the taxpayers and China) should pay their taxes. After all, if they expect to get their “fair share” of stimulus dollars, then they should be expected to pay their fair share of taxes. To use an analogy, if I expect to partake of the food at pot-luck party, then I am obligated to contribute.

It also seems reasonable to expect the folks who handed out the stimulus money to check on the tax status of the recipients. After all, this seems like it would be easy enough to check. It also seems eminently reasonable for the state to determine if a company owes it money before giving it money.

It could, of course, be argued that these companies needed the money precisely because they owed so much in taxes. This, of course, assumes that they were not paying their taxes because they had run short of money. In these cases, the stimulus plan could be seen a form of company welfare-the state taking care of the poor companies that cannot take care of themselves. However, this does not seem to hold true in most cases.

It could also be argued that these companies were holding their own Tea Party revolution by not paying their taxes. Perhaps they believed they had been taxed enough already. They clearly did believe that they taken enough already since they gladly accepted the stimulus dollars. However, changes in taxes should probably be attempted via legal means first. If those fail and the taxes are unjust, then perhaps it is time for some tea partying.

Given how these things usually work out, I expect there will be some token wrist slapping and some of the less connected companies might be made into examples. However, this sort of thing is business as usual. To a degree, what I found most surprisingly was that the percentage of tax cheats was so low and that the cheating amount was so small.

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Psychopaths & Ethical Egoists

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 24, 2011
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There seem to be some interesting similarities between psychopaths and ethical egoists.

Based on the stock account, a psychopath has a deficit (or deviance) in regards to interpersonal relationships, emotions, and self control.  In terms of specific deficiencies, psychopaths are said to lack in shame, guilt, remorse and empathy. Robert Hare, who developed the famous Hare Psychopathy Checklist, regards psychopaths as  predators that prey on  their own species: “lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse.”

Interestingly enough, these qualities also seem to describe the ethical egoist. Ethical egoism is an ethical theory that individuals ought to maximize their own self-interest. This is generally contrasted with altruism, the view that people should (at least some of the time) take into account the interests of others.

Ethical egoism can also be cast in more general terms as a form of consequentialism. On this sort of view, people should maximize what is of value (V) for the morally relevant beings (MRB). The sort of utilitarianism endorsed by Mill is a form of consequentialism. However, Mill is clearly not an ethical egoist since he considers all humans (and sentient beings) as morally relevant beings. In the case of the ethical egoist, the scope of morality (who counts as a MRB) extends only to the individual. For example, if I were an ethical egoist, then the MRB would be me (and me alone). If you were an ethical egoist, then your MRB would be you (and you alone). As far as values goes, V could be almost anything. However, it tends to be things like self-interest, pleasure and happiness. Famous ethical egoists include Glaucon (as laid out in his Ring of Gyges tale), Ayn Rand, and Thomas Hobbes.

While this oversimplifies things a bit, those who accept ethical egoism generally claim that people are naturally inclined toward desiring “undue gain” and are not naturally inclined towards sympathy or goodwill towards others. Hobbes makes it rather clear that people are lacking in sympathy and are motivated only by the hope of gain and glory. In many ways, this view seems to cast humans as naturally exhibiting some of the key traits of psychopaths. It is no wonder, then, that Hobbes argues that people do not form society out of mutual good will or on the basis of being social beings. Rather, people form society out of selfishness and it can only be maintained by the power of the sovereign.

However, what defines the theory is not the description of humans but rather the prescriptive element. Proponents of ethical egoism endorse the claim that each person should act so as to maximize value for himself. Rand goes as far as to cast selfishness as a virtue and altruism as the height of foolishness. In a way, it could be seen that Rand is advocating that people act like psychopaths.

Of course, there are important distinction between being a psychopath and being an ethical egoist. One is that psychopaths are supposed to behave in ways that are impulsive and irresponsible. This might be because they are also characterized as failing to properly grasp the potential consequences of their actions. This seems to be a  general defect in that it applies to the consequences for others as well as for themselves This reduced ability to properly assess the risks of being doubted, caught, or punished no doubt has a significant impact on their behavior (and their chances of being exposed).

If Glaucon’s unjust man is taken as a role model for ethical egoism, the ethical egoist is supposed to strive to be the opposite of the pyschopath in this regard. The successful unjust man is supposed to grasp the consequences of what he does and hence acts in ways that are calculated to conceal his true nature. The unjust man is also supposed to have the impulse control needed to act in ways that make him appear to be just. It is tempting to conclude that an ethical egoist is essential a psychopath would good impulse control and a grasp of consequences. Or, put another way, that a psychopath is an ethical egoist who is not very skilled at being an ethical egoist.

Interestingly, when Socrates gives his rebuttal to Glaucon, he argues that the unjust man actually does not grasp the true consequences of his actions. That is, the unjust man does not realize that he will corrupt his soul in the process of being unjust. If so, perhaps the ethical egoist is a psychopath with an ethical theory.

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Summer Vacation

Posted in Business, Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on May 23, 2011

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When people first find out that I am a philosophy professor, they tend to make a remark about trees falling in the forest, followed by a question about God. A few ask if I can score them some weed. If the conversation progresses a bit, most folks will say “wow, it must be nice having the summer off.”

What folks who say this do not know is that this summer “vacation” is an unpaid break. True, I do get a check for the week after finals (of course, I am also expected to complete my grades, go in for meetings and such during this time). But, after that, it is a time free of paychecks until August. Amazingly, the bills keep on coming.

Fortunately, since 1994 I have always managed to have a summer class. It does not pay as well as the normal year, but any income is welcome during the summer paycheck desert. However, this year I have a true summer “vacation.” Thanks to the Republicans bravely cutting the education budget so that the wealthy can get a reprieve from the cruel lash of taxes, I am out of work for the summer. I am sure that this really helps the economy and no doubt creates several jobs somewhere. Plus, I am sure that the students are learning more important things by not being in my class. I am, after all, a philosophy professor. I am not at all bitter about this.

Since I am often cast as a liberal, it might be suspected that I am spending my summer on the couch, waiting for the USPS to bring me my fat entitlement checks. However, I’ll be back to teaching in the fall (I hope) and hence there is no sweet government largesse for me. Curses, foiled once again.

What I am doing, at least after running (and breakfast, of course), is writing. I’ve completed one book (30 More Fallacies), I have an actual book contract (complete with a non-disclosure requirement), and I have the groundwork laid for several more books. However, I will be glad to get back to my normal job. Writing eight hours a day and having the pay lurking out there in the distance is not quite how I would like to live year round.

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The World Didn’t End

Posted in Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on May 22, 2011
Harold Camping in 2008

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If you are reading this, then the world did not end.

Predictions of the end of the world have come and gone, yet the world remains. The latest prediction was made by Harold Camping and spread by his organization, Family Radio. Like others before him, Camping calculated the end of the world based on his interpretation of the bible. These predictions are always somewhat ironic given that the bible seems to explicitly state that the exact date cannot be known (at least by us, presumably God knows).

This is the second time Camping has been wrong: he predicted that the world would end in 1994. Obviously enough it did not.

While the vast majority of people do not buy into end of the world predictions, charismatic predictors always seem to attract devout following. Perhaps the best known of these was the Millerites who believed that the world would end in 1844. Obviously enough, it did not.,

While such predictions tend to afford little more than amusement to the many, they can be quite harmful to those who buy into it. Back in 1844, many Milleritess found themselves in dire financial straits. After all, believing the end was coming, they had little reason to keep their possessions. Given the assumption that the world is ending, this behavior does make

The Family Radio folks seem to have followed the tradition. Some of them stopped paying their mortgages and some stopped saving for their kid’s college education, Again, this makes sense-if the world is ending, there will be no mortgage company to take your house and no colleges to educate the children.

While the economic harms of falling for one of these predictions can be serious, there are also other potential consequences. Those who believe in these predictions often invest a great deal in them in terms of making an emotional commitment. When the prediction inevitably does not come true, these people are in for painful disappointment.

Because of these serious consequences, people should obviously consider predictions regarding the end of the world with a great deal of skepticism. Unfortunately, those who are most inclined to accept such claims tend to be among the least inclined to subject them to a critical assessment.

While it is tempting to assume that the people who make such predictions are engaged in deceit, they often seem to be sincere. This sincerity, no doubt, makes it easier for them to convince others that their predictions are true. Given the repeated failures of end of the world predictions, one would hope that people would be increasing skeptical of such claims. However, every new prediction seems to attract new followers.

It is no doubt just a matter of time before another charismatic person makes yet another prediction about the end of the world. Assuming the universe is finite in duration, perhaps someday one of them will get it right.

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