Re: Subject: Re: A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies
Thu, 18 Nov 1999 11:50:20 -0800

Lee Daniel Crocker, <>, writes:
> Simple desires of ordinary humans are a powerful and fruitful
> base from which to reason about ethical questions. Take this
> statement of J.R.Molloy, for example:
> "A scientific approach to making decisions together with other
> people, acting in the public sphere would, I imagine, eliminate
> biases which interfere with obtaining the most successful decisions."
> He imagines, indeed, because that statement is so utterly 180-
> degrees opposite of reality that its consequences can only exist
> in his imagination. We can confidently reason that this premise
> will not lead us to rational conclusions about ethics. Premises
> more in tune with reality are likely to lead to better results.

Actually Robin has a paper suggesting that rational actors engaging in public debate should reduce those disagreements which are about the underlying facts of a dispute. In fact to the limited extent I understand his result, it is rather hard to understand why disagreements about facts persist at all.

Of course even if people agree about the facts, they will often be differences in how beneficial various outcomes are to them personally. This will still be a source of disputes. But J.R.'s comment about eliminating biases could be taken to refer to biases due to factual issues, while leaving room for disagreements about relative benefits. (Actually these aren't really disagreements; everyone may agree that action A benefits one group the most while action B benefits the other. Then it's just a matter of tactics and maneuvering to get the upper hand.)

> Those premises most useful for ethical reasoning are those about
> human desires: not lofty, theoretical, ideological desires like
> peace and progress, but simple ones like food and sex that we can
> observe the reality of directly. What other realistic base can
> there be?

I don't think you can eliminate the "lofty" desires from the picture. Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs, with simple ones at the bottom, sex and food and the like, and higher ones above them, like peace, friendship and self esteem. Once the basic desires are satisfied the higher order ones come into play. Most people in Western countries today have their basic physical needs pretty well taken care of, so higher order desires play a significant role in their motivations.