Re: 'reason' and ethics; was computer pain

From: Mark Peaty <>
Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2006 01:15:34 +0900

And yet I persist ... [the hiatus of familial duties and seasonal
excesses now draws to a close [Oh yeah, Happy New Year Folks!]

SP: 'If we are talking about a system designed to destroy the economy of
a country in order to soften it up for invasion, for example, then an
economist can apply all his skill and knowledge in a perfectly
reasonable manner in order to achieve this.'

We should beware of conceding too much too soon. Something is reasonable
only if it can truly be expected to fulfil the intentions of its
designer. Otherwise it is at best logical but, in the kinds of context
we are alluding to here, benighted and a manifestation of fundamentally
diminished 'reason'. Something can only be 'reasonable' it its context.
If a proposed course of action can be shown to be ultimately self
defeating - in the sense of including its reasonably predictably final
consequences, and yet it is still actively proposed, then the proposal
is NOT reasonable, it is stupid. As far as I can see, that is the
closest we can get to an objective definition of stupidity and I like it.

Put it this way: Is it 'reasonable' to promote policies and projects
that ultimately are going to contribute to your own demise or the demise
of those whom you hold dear or, if not obviously their demise then, the
ultimate demise of all descendants of the aforementioned? I think
academics, 'mandarins' and other high honchos should all now be thinking
in these terms and asking themselves this question. The world we now
live in is like no other before it. We now live in the Modern era, in
which the application and fruits of the application of scientific method
are putting ever greater forms of power into the hands of humans. This
process is not going to stop, and nor should we want it to I think, but
it entails the ever greater probability that the actions of any person
on the planet have the potential to influence survival outcomes for huge
numbers of others [if not the whole d*mned lot of us].

I think it has always been true that ethical decisions and judgements
are based on facts to a greater extent than most people involved want to
think about - usually because it's too hard and we don't think we have
got the time and, oh yeah, 'it probably doesn't/won't matter' about the
details of unforeseen consequences because its only gonna be lower class
riff -raff who will be affected anyway or people of the future who will
just have to make shift for themselves. NOW however we do not really
have such an excuse; it is a cop-out to purport to ignore the ever
growing interrelatedness of people around the planet. So it is NOT
reasonable to treat other people as things. [I feel indebted to Terry
Pratchett for pointing out, through the words of Granny Weatherwax I
think it is, that there is only one sin, which is to treat another
person as a thing.] I think a reasonable survey and analysis of history
shows that, more than anything else, treating other people as things
rather than equal others has been the fundamental cause and methodology
for the spread of threats to life and well being.

You can see where I am going with this: in a similar way to that in
which concepts of 'game theory' and probabilities of interaction
outcomes give us an objective framework for assessing purportedly
'moral' precepts, the existence now of decidedly non-zero chances of
recursive effects resulting from one's own actions brings a deeper
meaning and increased rigour the realms of ethics and 'reason'. I don't
think this is 'airy-fairy', I think it represents a dimension of
reasoning which has always existed but which has been denied, ignored or
actively censored by the powerful and their 'pragmatic' apologists and
spin doctors. To look at a particular context [I am an EX Christian],
even though the Bible is shonk as history or any kind of principled
xxxxxxological analysis, it is instructive to look at the careers of the
prophets and see how each involved a seemingly conventional formative
period and then periods or a whole life of very risky ministry AGAINST
the establishment because being true to their mission involved the
prophet denouncing exploitation, greed and corruption.

So let me wave my imaginary staff and rail from the top of my imaginary
'Sin is against reason! And that's a fact! So THERE! And don't you
forget it, or you'll be sorry, or at least your children and their
children will become so! Put that in your pipes all you armchair

Mark Peaty CDES
Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> Mark Peaty writes:
>> Sorry to be so slow at responding here but life [domestic], the
>> universe and everything else right now is competing savagely with
>> this interesting discussion. [But one must always think positive;
>> 'Bah, Humbug!' is not appropriate, even though the temptation is
>> great some times :-]
>> Stathis,
>> I am not entirely convinced when you say: 'And the psychopath is
>> right: no-one can actually fault him on a point of fact or a point of
>> logic'
>> That would only be right if we allowed that his [psychopathy is
>> mostly a male affliction I believe] use of words is easily as
>> reasonable as yours or mine. However, where the said psycho. is
>> purporting to make authoritative statements about the world, it is
>> not OK for him to purport that what he describes is unquestionably
>> factual and his reasoning from the facts as he sees them is
>> necessarily authoritative for anyone else. This is because, qua
>> psychopath, he is not able to make the fullest possible free
>> decisions about what makes people tick or even about what is reality
>> for the rest of us. He is, in a sense, mortally wounded, and forever
>> impaired; condemned always to make only 'logical' decisions. :-)
>> The way I see it, roughly and readily, is that there are in fact
>> certain statements/descriptions about the world and our place in it
>> which are MUCH MORE REASONABLE than a whole lot of others. I think
>> therefore that, even though you might be right from a 'purely
>> logical' point of view when you say the following: 'In the *final*
>> analysis, ethical beliefs are not a matter of fact or logic, and if
>> it seems that they are then there is a hidden assumption somewhere'
>> in fact, from the point of view of practical living and the
>> necessities of survival, the correct approach is to assert what
>> amounts to a set of practical axioms, including:
>> * the mere fact of existence is the basis of value, that good and
>> bad are expressed differently within - and between - different
>> cultures and their sub-cultures but ultimately there is an objective,
>> absolute basis for the concept of 'goodness', because in all normal
>> circumstances it is better to exist than not to exist,
>> * related to this and arising out of it is the realisation that
>> all normal, healthy humans understand what is meant by both 'harm'
>> and 'suffering', certainly those who have reached adulthood,
>> * furthermore, insofar as it is clearly recognisable that
>> continuing to exist as a human being requires access to and
>> consumption of all manner of natural resources and human-made goods
>> and services, it is in our interests to nurture and further the
>> inclinations in ourselves and others to behave in ways supportive of
>> cooperation for mutual and general benefit wherever this is
>> reasonably possible, and certainly not to act destructively or
>> disruptively unless it is clear that doing so will prevent a much
>> greater harm from occurring.
>> It ought to be clear to all reasonable persons not engaged in self
>> deception that in this modern era each and everyone of us is
>> dependent - always - on at least a thousand other people doing the
>> right thing, or trying to anyway. Thus the idea of 'manly', rugged,
>> individualism is a romantic nonsense unless it also incorporates a
>> recognition of mutual interdependence and the need for real fairness
>> in social dealings at every level. Unless compassion, democracy and
>> ethics are recognised [along with scientific method] as fundamental
>> prerequisites for OUR survival, policies and practices will pretty
>> much inevitably become self-defeating and destructive, no matter how
>> well-intentioned to start with.
>> In the interest of brevity I add the following quasi-axioms.
>> * the advent of scientific method on Earth between 400 and 500
>> years ago has irreversibly transformed the human species so that now
>> we can reasonably assert that the human universe is always
>> potentially infinite, so long as it exists and we believe it to be so
>> * to be fully human requires taking responsibility for one's
>> actions and this means consciously choosing to do things or accepting
>> that one has made a choice even if one cannot remember consciously
>> choosing
>> * nobody knows the future, so all statements about the future are
>> either guesswork or statements of desires. Furthermore our lack of
>> knowledge of times to come is very deep, such that we have no truly
>> reasonable basis for dismissing the right to survive of any persons
>> on the planet - or other living species for that matter - unless it
>> can be clearly shown that such killing or allowing to die, is
>> necessary to prevent some far greater harm and the assertion of this
>> is of course hampered precisely by our lack of knowledge of the future
>> This feels incomplete but it needs to be sent.
>> Regards
>> Mark Peaty CDES
> I agree with you as far as advice for how to live a good life goes,
> but I guess where I disagree is on the technical matter of what we
> call reasonable. Peter Jones said that a system of economics designed
> to create universal poverty is not reasonable. I would agree *given*
> that the purpose of an economic system is not to create poverty. If we
> are talking about a system designed to destroy the economy of a
> country in order to soften it up for invasion, for example, then an
> economist can apply all his skill and knowledge in a perfectly
> reasonable mannner in order to achieve this. The human values driving
> an economic system, although we can predict what they might be in the
> majority of cases, are subjective states and are beyond reason: this
> is what I want, this is what I like, and you can't tell me otherwise.
> This stands in contrast to empirical statements such as "the Earth is
> flat", which is true or false independently of what anyone thinks or
> wants.
> Stathis Papaioannou
> _________________________________________________________________
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Received on Wed Dec 27 2006 - 11:17:11 PST

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