Tit for Tat

1No matter which class I am teaching, for quite some time the first reading assigned has been an article on Goedel’s Theorem. The reason is to emphasize that any attempt to make an axiomatic system of any moderate complexity consistent and complete (able to determine whether any statement within the system is either true or false) will fail. This is because, at least when it comes to mathematics, Goedelian propositions will be generated by the system that are true, can be seen to be true, but are not provable. Goedel’s stand-in for all such propositions is the statement “this statement is not provable within this axiomatic system.” If this statement is true, then it is not provable. If it were to be false, and was provable, then it would again be proved that it is not provable, since you would have just proved a statement that says it is unprovable! I add to this that the axioms upon which axiomatic systems are based are by definition, not provable, their truth being self-evident. So, axiomatic systems contain unprovable truths coming and going.

When teaching ethics, after covering Gödel, the first thing I do is to point out our intuitive understanding of the truth and validity of reciprocity/justice/fairness. If someone were to give you a cup of your favorite coffee at the appropriate time and you were to punch them in the face, barring some convoluted back story, this would be grossly unjust. The truth of reciprocity is captured by phrases like “one good turn deserves another” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In practice, no normal person doubts the truth of that notion.

Fairness and reciprocity are axiomatically true. Their truth is self-evident. If anyone claims to doubt their truth, this person is almost certainly a liar and a hypocrite, at least on this topic. When this hypothetical person approaches another in a spirit of friendliness and politeness, only to be greeted with unbridled rudeness and hostility, he is likely to feel offended or at least to question the mental stability of the other person.

Ludwig Wittgenstein had some sensible things to say on topics like these.  He spends a few pages of his aphoristic writings wondering what it would mean to be mistaken that one was speaking or writing in English. There is not really a standard of certainty that goes beyond knowing such a thing. Part of his point is to throw a monkey wrench into the useless, theoretical musings of his analytic philosophy contemporaries.

So-called “modern” philosophy gets traced back to the writings of René Descartes and his quest for certainty. Descartes sought a theoretical proof of the existence of the “outside” world. Later philosophers like Martin Heidegger pointed out that this quest is misguided. We always already find ourselves in the world and being in the world sets the context for any theoretical musings.

For this reason, shortly after assigning Goedel’s Theorem, and sometimes The Halting Problem – which addresses the same issues – my students read a summary of The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist. This puts forward the thesis that there are two modes of consciousness going on simultaneously that are normally seamlessly blended together. One is a broad focused, low resolution, intuitive awareness of context, and the other is narrowly-focused high resolution mode that selects individual items out of this context. Evolutionary, this permitted animals to be broadly aware of their environments in case of predators, while also being focused enough to find food. In most people these functions are associated with the left and right hemispheres of the brain with plenty of communication between them. After a stroke or brain injury a hemisphere can stop working or be impaired and characteristic problems emerge as a result.2

The right hemisphere (RH) is associated with humor, intuition, metaphor, context, problem-solving, spirituality, being realistic, creativity, and mystery. It is in many ways the experiencing self. The left hemisphere, (LH) being more narrowly focused, is more verbal, logical, clear cut, optimistic, robotic (skillful but relatively mindless activities and memorized knowledge). Ideally, the RH provides the experiential material for the LH to ponder and review which in turn can modify how something is experienced.

Beauty is experienced, though it cannot be defined. The LH can analyze a beautiful experienced object without being able to explain why it is beautiful, though it can point at aspects of a thing that makes it admirable. Likewise, our experience of the rightness of reciprocity defies logical analysis. With regard to Descartes, it is not possible to prove the existence of the world theoretically, or beauty, or justice. They are not theoretical constructs. They are givens that can be partially analyzed. It is hubristic and mistaken to ask for theoretical proofs of such things. They are closer in nature to axioms whose truth are self-evident. Here we are in the world. Now what?

Sometimes, LH style thinking can get out of hand and try to bootstrap itself without the aid of the RH intuitive, experiential self. In the case of moral theories like utilitarianism and Kant’s deontology, these theories attempt to shoulder out our intuitive moral understandings about love and reciprocity and to supplant them with the products of rationalism. In other words, they falsely claim to be consistent and complete systems for moral decision making.

Recently, in conversation, a utilitarian admitted that he was a moral nihilist and the category of moral innocence did not exist for him. This negates the fundamental moral assertion that murder is prohibited, and in particular, harming the innocent is wrong. Harming the innocent violates justice/fairness/reciprocity. Once I realized that my interlocutor had abandoned this most basic of moral insights, as utilitarians do, I could see that LH theorizing had, apparently irretrievably perverted his moral insight; a moral insight that normally a two year old is perfectly capable of having. Here I am thinking of a two year old who complains that his ice cream is smaller than his siblings and exclaims “that’s not fair!”

3

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein, with his musings about what it would mean to be wrong that one was speaking English, points out that no theoretical anything can be as certain. To be wrong about a thing like that would mean giving up any level of assurance about anything at all. The idea that as per Descartes, having rejected as veridical his most basic sense-perceptions, that he will be able to theoretically resurrect them is ridiculous. He has to invoke God in the process and God’s existence, by His very nature, is not amenable to proof or certainty, hence every moderately decent religion’s insistence on the importance of faith and doubt.

In the spirit of Wittgenstein, what moral theory or principle, can possibly be more certain than one’s intuitive understanding of the fairness, justice, and rightness of reciprocity? If that were wrong, and if similarly one could be wrong about what language one was speaking, then all bets are off and we might as well all go home and watch TV, assuming it exists.

The appropriate response to G. E. Moore’s pointless musings about whether his hand exists, is to attempt to stab it as it sits on the table before him, and see whether he moves it out of the way. No LH theory is going to be more certain than the existence of his hand. His hand is in no need of proof and justification; certainly not by something epistemologically inferior to his senses.

A recent episode of Radiolab called Tit for Tat was about the prisoner’s dilemma. Two prisoners in separate rooms are given the choice of saying nothing or ratting out his fellow prisoner. If both say nothing, they get six months. If one rats the other out, he goes free and the other prisoner gets ten years. If both rat each out, then they each get five years. They are unable to communicate and do not know each other beyond attempting to participate in a thwarted bank robbery. Logic seems to dictate that they each rat each other out in case the other “defects” as it is called in the game.

Computer programmers then take this scenario and run it over and over. Multiple iterations change the logic of the situation. They experiment with different strategies. Always cooperate, always rat, mostly cooperate, mostly rat, mostly cooperate and then unexpectedly defect, etc. The winning strategy turns out to be tit for tat. If you cooperate, next time I cooperate. If you defect, next time I defect. In other words, reciprocity, fairness, and justice. The programs employing tit for tat, over time, take over this imaginary world and come to dominate. Actually, it is tit for tat with a ten percent dose of generosity that is the best. Every now and then when the other person defects you do not respond by defecting. This generosity has to be gratuitous and unexpected or the other person will take advantage of this strategy and use it against you. Over time, this strategy generates more and more cooperation and fewer and fewer defections.

For some people, this has morally nihilistic implications. Tit for tat with a dose of Jesus’ turn the other check is simply the best strategy for survival and world domination, if world domination means relatively peaceful, harmonious co-existence. Our moral intuitions are simply evolution’s way of getting us to promote our own survival. Biology über alles.

The other possibility is that reciprocity/fairness is simply true. A little bit of the heavenly perfect as described by Jesus’ parables is even better. Complete submission to ill-treatment might not be in the best interests of one’s persecutor since it is likely to encourage and prolong his behavior. A moderate but firm insistence that the ill-treatment should stop, rather than simply retaliation, is often going to be best.

If it is true that tit for tat and some supererogatory forbearance tends to produce a 4pleasant outcome, then this suggests a rather attractive tendency of the structure of reality. In many instances, being good and moral will actually have good consequences for you and for others. However, it does not work the other way. The hypothetical, or conditional, in logic “if p, then q” is not reversible. The fact that if you are good, often good things will happen, does not mean that if something has good consequences, you are being a good and moral person. Utilitarianism is an example of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Being moral often has utility, but producing utility does not make you moral.

Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy points out that someone only finds out what kind of person he really is when being a good person conflicts with his (earthly) interests. Do you still do the right thing when you will not be applauded, congratulated, met with approval, keep your job, spouse, friends, and family, and in Boethius’ case being beaten to death in one’s prison cell? Too often, I do not; and so it goes with most people perhaps. I am thinking of my silence when my college administration sends out mass communications to the faculty; these emails usually being absolutely morally monstrous. My business ethics students asked me once why I say nothing and my pathetic reply is that I do not feel like losing my job and being scapegoated by the entire academic community. Many others will agree with me, but remain silent out of fear of also becoming the victim of scapegoating and similarly losing their jobs or chances of future promotion.

In The Gorgias, Polus asks Socrates whether he would rather be an evil tyrant sadistically torturing and killing his victim and his victim’s family, or to be the victim. Socrates replies he would prefer to be neither, but if he had to choose, he would choose to be the victim who is at least morally innocent.

A utilitarian commented that he would be unable to choose since the net utility would remain the same and utility is the only proper way to judge the morality of an action. When I pointed out that one is a moral monster while the other is innocent he replied that the notion of innocence had no meaning in his moral worldview. In this, he was being consistent with his philosophy. Utilitarianism jettisons any care for justice in favor of the useful and in the process abandons the one moral insight that no human being has to be taught – that people should strive to be fair. The fact that many animals perceive the truth of this is the basis for my claim that it is not primarily learned – though it can be culturally reinforced or compromised.

5In hearing a living human being declare that innocence is not a moral category, I felt like I was watching a massive, man-made ugly urban landscape occupying the left side of his head, extending far above and around him, fatally deranging the poor man. And an individual morally outclassed by your average two year old.

Were this man to ever father a child, God forbid, imagine his future two year old saying “but I didn’t do it!” and him replying “Moral innocence WHACK! is not WHACK! a moral category WHACK! that I recognize. WHACK!

18 thoughts on “Tit for Tat

  1. Richard: ‘The truth of reciprocity is captured by phrases like “one good turn deserves another” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In practice, no normal person doubts the truth of that notion.’

    In post-modern reality, no good deed goes unpunished.

  2. Your utilitarian interlocutor – who denies the reality of innocence and guilt – is undoubtedly a left-leaning liberal who espouses doctrines that are all at once radically abstract and, in their arbitrary way, fanatically moral. People who declare themselves “beyond good and evil,” and who invoke the abstract principle of optimal and equal well being for all invariably carry into their project a parody of the actual, self-evident morality. They reject the self-evidently good reciprocity, which requires one to be cyclically debtor and creditor, for the wicked reciprocity of escalating rivalry that can end only with the annihilation of one party by the other – in other words, in a murder that cancels all debts. Abstractions are idols that, in the impoverished imagination of the idolator, demand blood offerings.

  3. When my children were small, I had many hours to observe and reflect on what I called “sandbox ethics.” This had three great principals: (1) labor confers property rights (“I built this sand castle so I decide who knocks it down”), (2) priority (It is mine because I had it first), and (3) sharing (1 and 2 do not confer rights in perpetuity). It appeared to me that these principles were natural, although weak and in need of adult reinforcement. Thus “sandbox ethics” caused me to reject the notions that ethics is altogether artificial and that humans are altogether depraved.

    I am very familiar with your moral dilemma when faced with the “moral monstrosities” that daily circulate through the university. Prudence is a virtue, but “prudence” is also very often the mask of cowardice. I found Bonald’s notion of “performative conservatism” useful in identifying “empty gestures” that would seriously impair my ability to meet my other duties. I think it is well to ask if a family man has the right to make himself a martyr. Of course it is also well to ask how many sins are rationalized by the title of “family man.” I’ve seen the need to “feed his family” used to excuse some pretty loathsome behavior.

    I like what you’ve said about moral innocence. For the weak (which is to say for most of us), it is our only shield against unjust harm.

    • Thanks, JMSmith. Performative conservativism and avoiding empty gestures sounds good to me, but, as you say, there is always the danger of rationalizing bad behavior.

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  5. >In The Gorgias, Polus asks Socrates whether he would rather be an evil tyrant sadistically torturing and killing his victim and his victim’s family, or to be the victim. Socrates replies he would prefer to be neither, but if he had to choose, he would choose to be the victim who is at least morally innocent.

    This is a seriously weird question. If you are the evil tyrant, you can obviously STOP torturing and killing, you can stop the wrongdoing from happening. As the victim you cannot. Would I rather have the power to stop wrongdoing from happening or rather not? Of course I would rather have it. But the question implies that I would not actually stop it because I would be actually evil.

    The question implies if you are the evil tyrant, you are not the same person as today. The evil tyrant has no moral sense or conscience, while you are asked this question because you do. So the question means: would you prefer to lose your moral sense?

    There is a better version of this question. Would you prefer on evil tyrant to torture a whole city, or a whole city of evil people to torture one innocent person? The “intuitive” utilitarian answer is that it is better for one person to suffer instead of many. The virtue ethics / Christian answer is that it is better for one person to be evil than for many people to be evil.

    What I find a bit weird is that why do utilitarians tend to be so short-termist? Obviously a lot of evil people gonna do a lot more evil in the world than just one. A long-term consequentialist view is going to be similar to the virtue ethics view.

    Similarly, as a long-term consequentialist, I find the short-term utilitarianism of Effective Altruism really weird. You can save a life by paying for a $15 mosquito net in Malawi. Yeah, but I have no idea what that life is going to be, if that kid will be grow up into a great person or a mass murder. I don’t simply want to help people, I want to help people who are going to help people. And I want to help people who are going to help people who are going to help people. For example, paying for someone’s education with the condition to pay it forward and pay for someone else’s education is really a good way for that one time money to do a lot of good works before it is eaten up by inflation. But the problem is enforcing that contract. For this reason, it is better to be charitable inside a small community where you have a good idea of how people are going to behave and moral norms can be enforced.

    Tit for tat with 10 percent generosity is not IMHO what Jesus taught. I think the essence is incomplete information. Someone makes a hostile move, but you are not sure he is a bad guy. Maybe there is a misunderstanding. Maybe he thinks you are the bad guy. So you turn the other cheek. ONCE. If he is a good guy, it will make him realize you are a good guy and thus the both of you can talk peacefully about the issue. If he hits the other cheek, now you know he is a bad guy and you can switch back to Old Testament mode and proceed to kick his butt.

    I don’t quite understand what moral nihilism in the context of biology or GT telling us to be just and somewhat generous means. What is the difference between saying X works because it is (morally) good, or saying X works, hence doing so is (morally) good? We had this discussion before but I never really grasp it that morality has to be not only objectively true but also objectively binding or mandatory. (Objective goodness works in consequentialism. Objectively good is whatever leads to the objectively best outcomes for all.) I mean, my basic assumption is that we (rightists) are the good guys, we want what is objectively good for people. Only the bad guys have to be coerced and punished around.

    … okay. Not even good guys can be always good. But there is a difference between morally good and politically good. Political goodness is a lower threshold. Political goodness means I know I am myself in a fit of passion might do immoral things, so I am willing to sign a social contract that bans it those things and commit resources to enforcement and punishment.

    Good guys, at least generally, when in a rational mood, want what is objectively good for others. Thus good guys can socially contract to make both bad guys and themselves in a passionate mood forced to act in accordance with this. Why would the universe itself have to make morality objectively binding, mandatory? It is enough if it is objectively good, that is, leads to objectively good consequences. In this sense moral nihilism only exists if someone does not believe some actions objectively lead to better outcomes than others. And does anyone think that in practice? But morality does not have to be inherently, cosmically binding: we as good guys can just engineer the binding, the enforcement.

    • I don’t think the question put to Socrates is “weird.” Polus is asking whether he would prefer to do evil or to suffer evil. This is the essence of a moral choice since a purely moral act entails voluntary submission to some evil. There are certainly occasions when doing the right thing is the same as doing what is in my own self-interest, but such occasions are not morally admirable. A bad man acts just like a good man under these circumstances. We only know that a man is moral when he suffers evil for doing good. Like Socrates, we all hope to never face an extreme moral test like the one proposed by Polus, but we do not know that we are moral until we have paid the price of morality.

      • But this dilemma does not exist in that context. Then the question should be asked this way: the tyrant commands you to kill someone, and if you disobey he will kill you. Do you obey? Putting it differently: is there a valid self-defense or acting under compulsion and not of one’s free will kind of excuse in this case? This is a valid way to put this dilemma, as you literally choose between doing evil or suffering evil with no third option.

        But the original version is not as if you are yourself the tyrant and thus under no compulsion, the dilemma does not exist as you can just simply decide to not do evil without any suffering any evil.

      • It’s also important to remark that in the context of the dialogue, Polus represents a morally distorted consciousness. What he unwittingly confesses in his question is that he would prefer to do evil, or as he calls it in morally distorted terms — exercising despotic power.

      • @Tom – Polus is a psychopath. The fear of punishment is clearly all that stops him from the most extremely immoral behavior.

    • This is a seriously weird question. If you are the evil tyrant, you can obviously STOP torturing and killing, you can stop the wrongdoing from happening. As the victim you cannot.

      ———–Interesting and useful thought-experiments sometimes involve factually impossible scenarios e.g., Would you care if you died thinking your spouse loved you, but in reality she did not? The scenario involves both knowing and not knowing. Nonetheless, your answer can determine whether you are a narcissist or not. In the case of Polus’ question, the question may seem weirder than it is because more rhetorical context is needed. Polus is arguing that the happiest person is a tyrant who can do whatever he wants whenever he wants to – steal, murder, exile, torture, whatever enters his head. Socrates’ sensible reply is that anyone can do whatever he wants and suffer the consequences. Suffering no consequence, i.e., avoiding punishment, for unjust acts is worse than justly being punished, therefore the tyrant is in a worse position than an ordinary person. Polus then accuses Socrates of being insincere as “everyone knows” that being a tyrant would be better than being an average citizen. The torture scenario is Polus trying to press the point. Polus, nihilist that he is, takes it for granted that you do not have a conscience and only refrain from evil out of fear. So, the “real” question is not whether it is better to have a conscience or not – although that is an interesting point worth pondering and something I have lectured about.

      There is a better version of this question. Would you prefer an evil tyrant to torture a whole city, or a whole city of evil people to torture one innocent person?

      ———————–I am grateful to you for bringing this up. The second choice describes a scapegoating scenario; a scenario that can only be identified with the help of the category of moral innocence. Utilitarianism is inherently on the side of a whole city of evil people – in fact, it makes all its adherents evil in this manner. When it comes to a choice between the mob and victim, consequentialism is always pro-mob – even if it seems to side with the victim – it only does so because the mob are imagined to benefit by doing so.

      The “intuitive” utilitarian answer is that it is better for one person to suffer instead of many. The virtue ethics / Christian answer is that it is better for one person to be evil than for many people to be evil.

      What I find a bit weird is that why do utilitarians tend to be so short-termist? Obviously a lot of evil people gonna do a lot more evil in the world than just one. A long-term consequentialist view is going to be similar to the virtue ethics view.

      Similarly, as a long-term consequentialist, I find the short-term utilitarianism of Effective Altruism really weird. You can save a life by paying for a $15 mosquito net in Malawi. Yeah, but I have no idea what that life is going to be, if that kid will be grow up into a great person or a mass murder. I don’t simply want to help people, I want to help people who are going to help people. And I want to help people who are going to help people who are going to help people. For example, paying for someone’s education with the condition to pay it forward and pay for someone else’s education is really a good way for that one time money to do a lot of good works before it is eaten up by inflation. But the problem is enforcing that contract. For this reason, it is better to be charitable inside a small community where you have a good idea of how people are going to behave and moral norms can be enforced.

      ———————–That’s an interesting fear, that the person you help might be unworthy or evil. Requiring that the recipient of your generosity do the same thing for someone else doesn’t appeal to me. Gift-giving is better than charity because it sets up an ongoing reciprocal connection between people where each takes turns in being in the other’s debt which many of us find painful. A “strings attached” gift doesn’t sound fun at all. Here’s a hundred dollars – send me an itemized list of what you spent it on….

      Tit for tat with 10 percent generosity is not IMHO what Jesus taught.

      ——————–It is not what Jesus taught and I did not suggest it was. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek – not an eye for an eye. Jesus is the counsel of heavenly perfection. The Radiolab hosts described it as 90% OT eye for an eye, and 10% Jesus – that’s supposed to be the ideal tit for tat strategy. ONLY Jesus, in this fallen world, means being wiped out.

      I think the essence is incomplete information. Someone makes a hostile move, but you are not sure he is a bad guy. Maybe there is a misunderstanding. Maybe he thinks you are the bad guy. So you turn the other cheek. ONCE. If he is a good guy, it will make him realize you are a good guy and thus the both of you can talk peacefully about the issue. If he hits the other cheek, now you know he is a bad guy and you can switch back to Old Testament mode and proceed to kick his butt.

      I don’t quite understand what moral nihilism in the context of biology or GT telling us to be just and somewhat generous means.

      ———————Biology, like all science, is incapable of handling morality because morality cannot be reduced to the quantifiable. The fact that something works for survival value, or whatever, does not mean it is moral. Morality and expediency sometimes align, sometimes not. Biology by itself and GT by itself would be morally nihilistic.

      What is the difference between saying X works because it is (morally) good, or saying X works, hence doing so is (morally) good?

      ——————–No one is saying that “X works because it is morally good.” And I would never say “X works, hence it is morally good.” The second choice in the dichotomy seems like meaningless gibberish.

      We had this discussion before but I never really grasp it that morality has to be not only objectively true but also objectively binding or mandatory. (Objective goodness works in consequentialism. Objectively good is whatever leads to the objectively best outcomes for all.)

      ———————Consequentialists cannot distinguish between mere expediency and morality – and thus the category of moral innocence is eliminated – a point I complain about in my article. “Best outcomes for all” can involve a multitude of immoral decisions. I want such people nowhere they can affect me.

      I mean, my basic assumption is that we (rightists) are the good guys, we want what is objectively good for people. Only the bad guys have to be coerced and punished around.

      … okay. Not even good guys can be always good. But there is a difference between morally good and politically good. Political goodness is a lower threshold. Political goodness means I know I am myself in a fit of passion might do immoral things, so I am willing to sign a social contract that bans it those things and commit resources to enforcement and punishment.

      Good guys, at least generally, when in a rational mood, want what is objectively good for others. Thus good guys can socially contract to make both bad guys and themselves in a passionate mood forced to act in accordance with this. Why would the universe itself have to make morality objectively binding, mandatory? It is enough if it is objectively good, that is, leads to objectively good consequences. In this sense moral nihilism only exists if someone does not believe some actions objectively lead to better outcomes than others. And does anyone think that in practice? But morality does not have to be inherently, cosmically binding: we as good guys can just engineer the binding, the enforcement.

      ———————–For me, consequentialists are the bad guys. These days I am with Berdyaev – make the individual person the highest good and make all abstractions like “happiness” subordinate to that highest good. If you refuse, you are making it clear that you are potentially in the torture and murder the innocent game and are thus not one of the good guys at all. If you accept, you abandon consequentialism in favor of morality. My article is about what happens when someone takes the theory of consequentialism and substitutes that for their moral conscience.

      • This is hard to answer briefly. But briefly, you would be right if consequentialism or naturalism would be some high philosophy to draw inerring conclusions from. I just treat it as a practical heuristic to approximate moral rules. I am at least 50% convinced that the real moral rules are at some level metaphysical, not necessarily in a God sent a fax down sense but how mathemathics itself seems to be weirdly carved into the fabric on the universe itself. But this approximation works, and is easy to convince modern people with it.

        From this angle, there is moral innocence. Moral judgements predict future behavior based on past behavior. Moral judgements are like “is this guy going to be a safe neighbor?” So I am not on the side of the mob, as a lot of evil people implies a lot of people making the world unsafe.

        The problem is this: sometimes you may, even must, act in a way that is dangerous for others i.e. use violence.

        You know this one: https://jim.com/rights.html briefly it means you need to have three players to form a moral judgement. One guy attacks another, the other kills him in self-defense. Is the second guy dangerous for the third observer? Depends on whether the first guy attacked him to rob him, or because the second guy kidnapped his family.

        But we are presupposing the third guy is just a normal decent guy, who would neither rob someone nor kidnap someone’s family and hence deduces that in the first case the attacker is the dangerous one and the second case the kidnapper, who defended himself from the attack of the man whose family he kidnapped is the dangerous guy, even when in that situation it looked like self-defense. So this is a decent heuristic, we are presupposing moral judgements that inherently come somewhere else. This is encoded in the idea of the “reasonable person”.

        The idea in that article is Evolutionary Stable Strategy. That societies can develop approximate heuristics what is okay, what is not okay. This can be seen in utilitarian ways, as people finding ways to live with each other, not fight all the time, focus on working not fighting, have a better economy, more able to defeat neighbors etc.

        So this ultimate depends on moral rules that do not inherently come from nature or consequences, but can be very well approximated that way.

        The big difference between moral innocence as predicting non-dangerous behavior (in cases when one OUGHT not be dangerous, sometimes one is allowed to be ought to be, hence the need for the third observer) and Christian moral innocence is that the Christian considers the man-eating tiger innocent as it is incapable of making moral choices. This approximation works precisely the other way around, the man-eating tiger is very dangerous, the human murderer is somewhat less, because he is capable of making moral decisions so you might reason with him or try to reform him, to convince him to act differently.

      • Hi, Dividualist – Thanks for commenting. I’m afraid I can’t agree that utilitarianism provides good heuristics. Upon first hearing about utilitarianism, students invariably think that a utilitarian doctor would kill a healthy innocent patient in order to save five through organ donation. The utilitarian advocate has to do some fancy footwork to avoid this obvious conclusion. But students ALREADY know a doctor shouldn’t kill the healthy patient. I would be much happier trusting people’s inborn instinct in favor of reciprocity and fairness than anyone whose moral thinking has been corrupted by theory. Aristotle argued long ago that moral knowledge (what is universally true for all people in all situations) is impossible. Barring simple legalism (don’t kill the innocent, etc) in many actual, complicated life situations non-theory driven thinking will be necessary. Should I leave my girlfriend now that she has cheated on me? It depends on “I,” the exact she, the precise nature of our relationship, etc. My 18 year old self considered it obvious that consequentialism and Kant were both wrong and I wondered why my elders presented me with such unattractive, unworkable choices.

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