Re: Ethics

Daniel Fabulich (
Sat, 25 Jul 1998 02:38:07 -0400 (EDT)

On 24 Jul 1998, Hiro Protagonist wrote:

> Daniel Fabulich <> writes:
> > It seems to me that you give your case away if you agree that crime pays
> > when it is done infrequently enough. Do you agree with that?
> No, I disagree fundamentally about a philosophy and a lifestyle where
> one compromises egoistic _principles_ in order to get away with
> short-term egoistic-seeming goals.

No, no, no. I'm saying that crime pays in the long run when done right.

Egoism has a very strict definition: "An action is right if and only if it maximizes the total long-term utility of the agent." Choosing a principle is an action, too; if following a principle ever results in less long run utility for the agent than rejecting that principle, then the principle is wrong from the perspective of egoism.

While choosing principles does happen to be rational, it is because egoism is not rational, not because egoism demands it. Indeed, egoism demands that we reject the principle whenever principled behavior would result in suboptimal agent utility.

> I also consider crime opposed to
> egoistic principles for another reason: the "Do unto others as you
> would have others do unto you" principle. Rational-egoistic ethics are
> derived from knowledge of the nature of a volitional, conceptual
> consciousness, and this includes knowledge of the effects on it of
> fraud or coercion. This is why a rational egoist would try to avoid
> being coerced or defrauded.

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" is a rational principle. However, it is also not egoism. Consider: if we were playing Prisoner's Dilemma, in a version in which you don't know my identity or in which neither of us will ever play again, then from the perspective of egoism we necessarily gain more by defecting than we do from cooperating. "Do unto others" demands that we cooperate, however, because we would both rather our partner cooperate. So to that extent, because "do unto others" results in less utility for the agent, it disagrees with egoism.

Of course, I'll never oncinvce you of this obvious fact so long as you believe that it's impossible to keep a secret. Might I reccomend an experiment? Go find someone who you know to be sane. Ask them if they've ever kept a secret which they didn't tell anybody. Repeat this until you're satisifed that just about everyone has done this, and that many of them are perfectly sane.

Prove conceptual consciousness. Prove to me that if I tell you something false, I'll go mad. Indeed, that is surely what I'm doing right now if you're right; you'd best prove to me that I'm mad. In fact, you'd best prove that everyone in the whole world who isn't an objectivist is mad. Then, for you're grand finale, prove you're not the paranoid one after all.

> But this knowledge also implies the corollary that these principles
> apply equally towards all beings of similar nature. So if someone who
> understands what the effects of fraud or coercion would be when used
> against himself, perpetrated the same against another rational being,
> he is pulling the rug away from under his own feet, and invalidating,
> in fact, though he may not even consciously accept this, his own right
> to self, property and action. The only difference is this: if he
> consciously accepts it, he has, as they say 'sold his soul', and if he
> represses this knowledge, he will lose his mind.

You keep making sweeping statements about the psychosis of egoism without backing them up *at all*. Prove to me that I'll go mad if I turn egoist. Use objective evidence to substantiate your claim; even one paper published in a respectable peer-reviewed psychology journal would suffice.

Hint: Anecdotal evidence is not a proof.

> I don't think the question of whether or not "crime pays when it is
> done infrequently enough" has any bearing on ethics at all. And in any
> case, I think it doesn't pay, never, in the long-range.

And the fact that there are demonstrable cases in which crimes go unpunished doesn't phase you a bit?

You refuse to believe that there is one happy thief in the whole world, nor could there be. You seem satisfied in your belief. I wish you well. I also wish religious people well; you have provided about equivalent proof.

> > But even if I did; are you trying to say that lies don't hold up in the
> > long run? If so, what could you say to the millions (if not billions) of
> > people who believe in miracles that didn't happen?
> I think the 'long-run' for those lies is a little longer, on the scale
> of things, but it will arrive eventually, and inevitably, and with
> devastating consequences for those who maintained the lie and profited
> off it, which is not to say that they don't suffer devastating
> psychological consequences already.

Many of them are dead, and died happily, which is the best one could hope for up until recently. This directly contradicts your claim.

> There is no difference. The dictionary says lack of *economic*
> motive. That does not imply lack of *self-interested* motive. Just
> means that what the kleptomaniac is interested in stealing often has
> little economic value.

Economic value is comparable to utility gained. If I gain more long term utility by stealing than I do by working and buying legitimately, then I have gotten economic profit from stealing (again, provided I keep my identity a secret). If I would have been happier working and buying legitimately, then theft does not result in economic profit, even if it does result in an accounting profit.

The self-interested kleptomaniac steals compulsively, because they cannot keep themselves from stealing, despite the fact that it is not in their own best interests. The self-interested egoist steals only when it benefits them in the long term.