Re: poly: economics of morality

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Thu Feb 05 1998 - 12:43:27 PST

>... Societies in the same
>circumstances but with different internal rules may have differing rates
>of growth and survival, which would lead to domination by some set of
>moralities, which could be considered -- for practical purposes -- to be
>the 'right' moralities for those societies. Different technologies or
>environments could lead to different moralities.

I think this is missing the important dynamic of multiple modes of
heritibility of morality. There is probably some genetic predisposition
to certain kinds of morality, and this source is very slow to change.
Morality inherited via parents and grade school teachers changes faster,
but not as fast as the environment changes. Codes of conduct within
specific communities and competitive industries change faster than grade
schools, though perhaps still not as fast as the best expert advise about
what practices most allow a group to dominate other groups.

So we each face conflicting moral advise: our genetic disposition, our
childhood culture, group codes of conduct, and the advise of experts
and our own best estimation of dominating strategies. And to the extent
that morality is about santioning and discouraging behavior that might
benefit an individual or small group but hurt a larger group, we face a
fundamental tension: is the advise that the faster modes suggest better
because it reacts more quickly to the environment, or is it worse because
it represents narrower interests?

To take the example of cloning, ordinary people should wonder: is the
reason biomedical experts are more confortable with the idea of cloning
because they understand better how it is different from the sorts of
reasons our slower evolutionary heritage has for being wary of such things?
Or are they more comfortable because they are a special interest, much more
interested than most people in the benefits of open research than in the
social costs such change might bring?

>if we don't like the rights recognized elsewhere in the world, this way
>of thinking would lead us not to exhort more respect for human rights,
>but to make the foreign economy more like our own, which should cause
>their morality to evolve to one appropriate for an information-rich,
>advanced market society.

I'm not sure this argument makes sense. If their rights are well adapted
to their environment, I'm not sure we should want them to change. If their
rights haven't changed fast enough to adapt to their new environment, I'm
not sure wishing even faster environmental change on them is so hot. Better
to focus on what is blocking rights adaption and seek to reduce frictions

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Thu Feb 5 20:50:34 1998

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