So despite being busy ending my internship and travelling back home, I still managed to find time to run out this thirty-second Weekly Link Roundup. I must love you, or something. Let’s go with something. Especially if that something is essay summaries, discussion summaries, and links. Because that’s all you’re going to get.
- Monday, June 4 >> Giving is Hard, But There’s Help: “Let’s say you wanted to take your charitable giving as far as you can — ensuring not just that you probably helped a few people, but rather that you helped as many people as you could, as much as you can. This is hard and complicated work, but fortunately, if you’re interested in giving effectively, organizations such as GiveWell, GivingWhatWeCan, and LessWrong have some suggestions to help you along your way. Here’s a summary of seven suggestions for how to donate to help as many people as you could, as much as you can.”
- Tuesday, June 5 >> I’m Never as Clear As I Think I Am: “So after beginning a long trek toward my attempt to make sense of morality, I still failed to be clear enough with what I was saying, and I confused a bunch of people. All I ask, whether you’re following my morality series or not, is that you bear with me, give me more benefit of the doubt and interpretive charity, and wait for tomorrow, when I’ll try to begin attempt #4 — this time more careful, more slow, and more attention to detail.”
- Wednesday, June 6 >> Good and Ought as Relative: “In previous essays about morality, I mentioned a problem: the Is-Ought Problem. Most simply, this problem points out that any claim about what we ought to do must explain why it is we ought to do that. In this essay, I analyze the linguistics and semantics of “good” and “ought”, drawing on some previous philosophical problems to help us on our quest to solving the Is-Ought Problem and making sense of normativity.”
This week brought in 46 more on-site comments. Here are the summaries of the discussion so you can get involved, or just know what’s going on:
In “Jumping Over The Is-Ought Gap (Draft)” we discuss the nature of normativity, and how “ought” statements can be justified. We also talk about the difference between internalist and externalist standpoints, the difference between hypothetical and categorical imperatives, and the difference between moral realism and anti-realism. Unfortunately, this discussion seems to confuse the issue more than clarify it — so much so, I decided to redo this essay.
In “God, Babies, Hell, and Justice” we talk about to what extent Christianity teaches that all people go to Heaven.
Over on Cl’s site, my conversation at “A Legitimate Question” continues into its third week, with more talk about the methodology of science, the creation order in Genesis, and how consistent the Bible is with science.
Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite links to other cool places, for more ideas to share! As always,
(1) The links are also ordered so that the ones I like most are at the top, for those who don’t have time for all the links… but for those who do have time, I think all of them are worthwhile.
(2) The Link Roundup category has, I’d estimate, over 500 more links if you need the extra distraction. At a link an hour, that’s 20+ days of constant reading. If you budgeted 8 hours a day to constantly read these links, at a link per hour, that would take over two months. Fun facts!
(3) I don’t necessarily agree with everything said by these links; I just post what I find to be interesting and well-written. If you want to know whether I support a particular opinion you see, feel free to ask.
- Spreading the Wealth Around – Reflections Inspired by Joe the Plumber [PDF]: “This essay discusses the policy debate concerning optimal taxation and the distribution of income. It begins with a brief overview of trends in income inequality, the leading hypothesis to explain these trends, and the distribution of the tax burden. It then considers the normative question of how the tax system should be designed. The conventional utilitarian framework is found to be wanting, as it leads to prescriptions that conflict with many individuals’ moral intuitions. The essay then explores an alternative normative framework, dubbed the Just Deserts Theory, according to which an individual’s compensation should reflect his or her social contribution.”
- The Substitution Principle: “System 1, if you recall, is the quick, dirty and parallel part of our brains that renders instant judgements, without thinking about them in too much detail. In this case, the actual question that was asked was ‘what are the best careers for making a lot of money’. The question that was actually answered was ‘what careers have I come to associate with wealth’.”
- The Omega Bowl: “What I’m thinking of is—the Omega Bowl. Is that name taken? We could call it the Alpha and Omega Bowl if we need to be more specific. But it’s not a contest between two football teams. It’s a battle of the gods. Literally. Here’s how it works. [...] The rules are simple: all gods are invited, and the first god to move the iron ball into the basket under his/her/their own name, WITHOUT any intervention on the part of his/her/their believers, is the One True God for the entire year. [...] Time limit is fifty-five minutes, divided into four ten-minute periods with a 5-minute intermission (stop by the snack bar!) between periods. In the event that none of the gods is able to emerge victorious, the title of One True Belief for the Year will be shared by atheism and skepticism. How about it, believers? Anyone out there with a god big enough to go head-to-head with the competition?”
- Social Control – Why Heaven is Evil: “It’s just now occurring to me, way later than it should have: Heaven is almost as evil a doctrine as Hell. [...] So when people offer an infinitely huge reward to get us to do what they want… without having any good reason to think this reward will happen? We should be furious. And that’s exactly what the doctrine of Heaven does. [...] The doctrine of Heaven is every bit as screwed-up as the doctrine of Hell. It is every bit as insidious a form of social control. We should give it every bit as much hostility and scorn as we give to Hell.”
- Easy Useless Economics: “So now we’re in another depression, not as bad as the last one, but bad enough. And, once again, authoritative-sounding figures insist that our problems are ‘structural,’ that they can’t be fixed quickly. We must focus on the long run, such people say, believing that they are being responsible. But the reality is that they’re being deeply irresponsible.”
- Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and Other Delusions – Just Say No: “On January 27th, 2012, Dr. Peter Boghossian of Portland State University presented a controversial thesis to a packed crowd : faith is a belief-producing process that does not lead one to the truth. [...] There are many bad ways of discovering truth about the way the world works like divination, dowsing, sacrificing animals, and lucky guesses. And most people—even people of faith—would agree that these are poor and unreliable. Faith, says Dr. Boghossian, is like these other methods and should be discarded on the same grounds. He shows how the practices of various religious traditions have been shown using the methods of science to be ineffective and lead their practitioners to false conclusions.”
- Beware of Other-Optimizing: “We underestimate the distance between ourselves and others. Not just inferential distance, but distances of temperament and ability, distances of situation and resource, distances of unspoken knowledge and unnoticed skills and luck, distances of interior landscape. Even I am often surprised to find that X, which worked so well for me, doesn’t work for someone else. But with so many others having tried to optimize me, I can at least recognize distance when I’m hit over the head with it.”
- Test My Wings? That Would Mean Less Time For Flying!: “Measuring success at helping people is hard; it has inherent limits; it’s time-consuming; and it’s expensive. But it has to be done. The first reason is that no matter how much sense an idea makes in your head, translating it to reality is another matter. I’d argue that acceptance of this basic idea is the single reason that we now have medical alternatives to prayer. The second reason is that there are a a LOT of different charities out there for a donor to choose from – and without some sense of what they’ve actually accomplished, a donor has nothing to go on but theories and brochures. To me, that’s not much better than flinging our money randomly around the globe, with anyone who has a good story and a good accountant getting a chance to play. That isn’t a reasonable approach to solving the world’s problems.”
- The Root Causes of Poverty: “iveWell generally focuses on the question of how to get “bang for your buck” as a donor – help as many people as possible, as much as possible. Against this approach, one might seek to factor in the potential of a program to get at the “root causes” of poverty, and start – or be part of – a chain reaction that ends poverty at the country or even world level. Below is our take on the following broad question: Why have some parts of the world emerged from poverty while others haven’t? How can financial aid from developed nations best be directed to cause large-scale emergence from poverty?”
- On The Implausibility of the Death Star’s Trash Compactor: “I maintain that the trash compactor onboard the Death Star in Star Wars is implausible, unworkable, and moreover, inefficient. [...] The Death Star clearly has a garbage-disposal problem. Given its size and massive personnel, the amount of waste it generates — discarded food, broken equipment, excrement, and the like — boggles the imagination. That said, I just cannot fathom how an organization as ruthless and efficiently-run as the Empire would have signed off on such a dangerous, unsanitary, and shoddy garbage-disposal system as the one depicted in the movie. Here are the problems, as I can ascertain them, with the Death Star’s garbage-disposal system:”
- The Resurrection of Jesus: “Now, if you discount the idea that this was actually Jesus and the magical disappearance, this all seems very reasonable. Two followers were walking along and discussing Jesus’s death (not implausible). They met a traveling rabbi who didn’t look like Jesus (not implausible). They told him they were discussing the Messiah, and the rabbi began explaining the messianic interpretation of various scripture passages (not implausible). Later on, they reflected on this conversation and decided it was Jesus himself who had met them. This last step might strike some as implausible, but I think if there were already stories of Jesus’s appearance circulating, it would actually be quite psychologically reasonable.”
- Accepting Your Error Rate: “It’s disturbing to discover we’ve been mistaken about something important – especially when we’ve wasted time or effort because of the belief, or expressed the belief in front of others. So we’re incentivized to come up with justifications for why we weren’t actually wrong. We try to avoid psychological discomfort, and we try to save face in front of others. But there is a healthier way to think about wrongness: recognizing that we have an error rate.”
- Why Do Atheists Gather?: “In the first of my posts summing up the Reason Rally, there was a commenter who said that gathering on the National Mall was ‘sink[ing] to the level of the religious’. At the time, I considered this too self-evidently absurd to merit refutation – but then I heard it again, in an NPR interview featuring Hemant Mehta and James Randi, where a caller charged that that we were ‘turning atheism into a religion’ by gathering in this way. Since this confusion seems to be more widespread than I thought, I decided to address it.”
- Listening to the Hair Dryer: “Let’s say Person 1 thinks their hair dryer is talking to them, and is telling them to shoot every redhead who gets on the 9:04 train. And let’s say that Person 2 thinks their hair dryer is talking to them, and is telling them to volunteer twice a week at a homeless shelter. Is it better to volunteer at a homeless shelter than it is to shoot every redhead who gets on the 9:04 train? Of course it is. But you still have a basic problem — which is that you think your hair dryer is talking to you.”
- Steven Pinker on the myth of violence: “Steven Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that, though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur, we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.