Re: Moral Complexity, Moral Efficacy Was: Moo/Boo!
Mon, 16 Feb 1998 12:55:24 -0800 (PST)

In a probably vain attent to check my tendency to speculative sprawl, I'm
going to respond to some of your many excellent points in a few
individual posts. If this seems to you to derange the overall flow of
your argument (I don't think that it does, otherwise I wouldn't do it),
know that this was not my intention.

On Sun, 15 Feb 1998, Peter C. McCluskey wrote:

> Under most conditions when society is working well, lack of imagination
> about moral codes is good because the rules tend to be close enough to
> optimal that random changes are more likely to hurt than to help.

I see what you mean here, but I have to admit that my initial intuition is
exactly the opposite one. It seems to me that when you have a society
that is working well -- e.g., one that is stable and affords reasonable
assurance of survival and security -- that is exactly when morality should
get more imaginative. Survival is simple (if only because it is there are
relatively fewer states that count as healthy or functional ones for an
organism, than there are states that count as disease or malfunction), but
*thriving* is complex. What could be simpler than that practically
hardwired ethical injunction that says: Reject the New! Civilization is
importantly the story of how we hacked together frameworks (capital-
formation, legal systems, codes of civility, scientific methods) which
permitted us to reap the benefits of *overcoming* that simple injunction
(even if there was a time when we would not have survived without it).
Risk-taking, experimentalism, connoisseurship are all complex as opposed
to simple practices and attitudes.

> To the limited extent that simplicity and intolerance have any correlation,
> it sure looks to me like it's a negative correlation. The genealogical
> contortions needed for racists to keep their rules from being subverted
> by interbreeding is hardly as simple as the rule that all humans have
> equal rights. Until you mention some examples of connections between
> simplicity and intolerance, I will be inclined to assume that your claim
> is based on inadequate stereotypes of bigots as being simpler because they
> are less educated.

Yikes! I don't think that's what I think. Strictly speaking, I don't
believe in such a thing as an "uneducated" person. The education you get
from the "University of Life" is hardly a simple affair. I don't know
that respecting rights, or the Golden Rule, or even the noninitiation of
force principle is really *simpler* than racism is. Racism probably looks
pretty simple to racists, despite their silly and sad genealogical
contortions. Even the noninitiation of force injunction produces some
real contortions when applied to actual cases (see Friedman's
_Machinery_). No, what I meant was that the *dream* of simplicity as
applied to morality seems associated with intolerance to me. It's not
like I think any ethical system could actually manage to be simple really.

> Some more hints about why simplicity is good:
> Occam's Razor.
> Given 2 pieces of software that can accomplish the same tasks, would
> you prefer the more complex or the simpler?

One shouldn't posit explanatory entities beyond necessity, sure. But part
of what we're talking about here is that the ethical has (at least) two
relevant registers: necessity and flourishing. Two pieces of software
accomplish the same task from one angle of view, namely survival, but say
that one of the pieces of software, an ungainly highly complicated thing,
provides an incrementally less robust assurance of survival while at the
same time enabling a much more colorful mode of life. I'll pick the more
complex one every time.

More to come. Best, Dale