Mark D. Fulwiler (
Thu, 26 Mar 1998 15:30:07 -0800

"Peter C. McCluskey" <> wrote:

> I hope my criticism didn't convince you that debating fundamental ideas
> is futile. Many attempts use futile approaches, such as rephrasing ideas
> their opponents have already rejected. If you want to alter your opponents
> beliefs (rather than promote solidarity within your side of the debate, as
> many arguments seem designed for), you need to understand why they reach
> different conclusions than you, which requires a genuine interest in how
> they think.

You make good points, Peter. Rants-although they are fun-rarely convince
anyone of anything. But a little rightuous anger isn't all bad, is it? I
love reading some of the arguments of the radical abolitionists of the
early 1800's. They called slavery evil and slaveholders evil people.
It's exhilerating to read them. They didn't make utilitarian arguments
against slavery, but they did have some effect on public opinion. Would
they have done better with an economic analysis of slavery which would
have shown that it made the country as a whole and the slaves, but not
the individual slaveholders, economically worse off?

> People whose moral views are as fully formed as they will ever be
> have lost the capacity to improve themselves.

Well, I hope my moral views are open to refinement. However, the
fundamentals (slavery is wrong, etc.) are not going to change. Your mind
can be so open that your brain falls out.

> My moral beliefs are ultimately based on utilitarian arguments (e.g.
> comparisons such as the U.S. vs. the Soviet Union have shown that the
> rule "if in doubt, avoid coercion" produces results that almost all
> humans prefer). I see no sign that disagreements about things like
> whether torture is nice explain much of the political disputes we see
> (I think Robin Hanson has a paper on his web site arguing this better
> than I can).
> I would be curious to hear whether you have a justification for a
> religious-style attitude towards moral rules, or whether your "coercion
> is immoral" rule is merely shorthand for something like "I've studied
> enough history to know that all coercion that has been tried in societies
> like ours has been unneccesary and has produced undesired results, and
> we should avoid coercion until we hear a fundamentally new argument for it".

I suppose you have to ground all moral beliefs in some sort of
utilitarianism, since you can't prove an "ought." However, many
so-called utilitarians neglect freedom as a utility. I'm in favor of
freedom even if it means I'll be slightly worse off economically.
Utilitarianism has to mean more than economic bean counting. I think
only in a free market will we maximize human happiness in general.
Unfortunately, however, individuals can and do maximize their happiness
by coercion. That's the problem. I could have a grand old time stealing
$50 million from Bill Gates (if I didn't get caught and had no
conscience) and he'd probably barely miss the money. (He's not even
trying to spend all his money when he's alive anyway.)