Re: deconstructing Derrida & 3rd culture

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Wed Mar 01 2000 - 13:51:57 MST

Dan Fabulich wrote:
>the sociobiologist's move to make ethics a science ... The problem with
>it is this: Suppose I waved a magic wand and, all of a sudden, we knew
>everything about all of our future behaviors. ... We now try to
>ask, "given that So-and-so did such-and-such on such-and-such a day with
>such-and-such intentions, heck, even given that her action has
>such-and-such Total Consequences ... was this action right or wrong?"
>It's not at all obvious what answer you'd give, if any, since no empirical
>facts by themselves can establish that an action is right. ...

I responded:
>With a similar magic wand you could find out everything that Dan Fabulich
>would ever think about ethics under any circumstances. And isn't that
>the closest Dan Fabulich could ever get to knowing what is ethical?
>Sure there might be some things about right and wrong that Dan Fabulich
>could never know. But no other approach to ethics could possibly reveal
>more to Dan Fabulich than this.

Dan replied:
>True enough, but we'll never HAVE a magic wand like this. The prediction
>would surely affect my way of thinking about ethics, so the prediction
>would have to not only model my thoughts on the matter but its own effects
>on my thoughts on the matter.

Of course. This is what economists do with "game theory", and philosophers
do with "reflective equilibrium". But I don't see why this is a criticism
of the evol-psych approach. Why is it so hard to imagine that once we
understand in more detail where our ethical feelings come from and how
pliable they are that we could reach an equilibrium where we are at peace
with and accept those feelings, and the limited degree we have bent them?

>Not to mention problems like Newcomb's
>Paradox, etc. This problem gets harder still if I never die, friggin'
>impossible if I ever make it to some Omega point, etc.

I don't understand the relevance of these considerations.

>And, if that didn't convince you, on a practical level this problem is
>harder than trying to predict the high/lows in temperature and when it
>will rain from now until my death (if ever) based solely on a few weather
>vanes in Paraguay.

Why must ethics be so prone to a "butterfly effect"?
Must it really be something that we feel compelled to change whenever
we seem to be reaching an equilibrium?

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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