Robert Frank’s brilliant book, The Darwin Economy, a very well-argued long statement against the inanity of political and economic discussions in the United States, should be taken seriously by the political right, left, center and none of the above. Although I differ from his consequentialist framework, I want to emphasize two things:
- Even though it may appear that he is not interested in issues regarding social justice, I don’t think it is the case that he is indifferent towards those issues (pp. 131, 169). There is a feel in the book for the opposite. He is motivated by those issues, but he is not being ideological about it. This can be seen very clearly about his interest about labor-managed firms and their failure to proliferate in the market (Frank, 2011, pp. 30-35).
- It is good not to lose sight of his line of argument: even if you become the most recalcitrant libertarian in the universe … a John Galt, a Prime Mover a la Ayn Rand, and being totally selfish about the whole thing … you will eventually end up choosing a society very similar to a welfare state, very, very close to one that is built on principles of social justice (pp. 131, 202-207). In other words, the most selfish of libertarians living all the Randian virtues, if he or she is intelligent, will end up in no less than a libertarian welfare-state (pp. 211-215)
Of course, for those who haven’t read the book, talking about a “libertarian welfare-state” sounds nonsensical. Yet, everything becomes transparent when we realize that Frank’s whole argument is not solely founded on Darwin’s observation regarding individual and group interests, but also on the views of one Nobel Prize laureate, Ronald Coase. Frank’s reasoning regarding Coase holds perfectly for the creation of a welfare-state. Yet, there are some aspects regarding his use of Coase which, I argue, can be better understood within a deontological framework, as presented in my previous post.
Meet Ronald Coase … and the Reason He Won the Nobel Prize …
Ladies and gentlemen … meet Ronald Coase!
This picture pretty much presents Ronald Coase as he looks today. Did you know he was born in December, 1910? Yep! That makes him …. ummm… 101 years old. Yes, he is alive … not kidding!
Anyway, Coase is famous for two great works in economics. The first one has to do with his research on why corporations exist. In his article “The Nature of the Firm” (1937), he discovered the obvious … at least it is obvious to us now, but not then! Why do corporations exist? For one simple reason, because if production consisted solely of independent businesses specialized each in one sole activity (one for extracting metal, another business for making them into pieces for assembly, another for building the product, and so on), each one of them would have to sign contracts with the others in order to create a chain of production between them. Even supposing that these contracts are negotiated at negligible cost and very easily, it wouldn’t be practical to negotiate all of them, and would drive product prices sky-high. Imagine a car that is built this way, nobody will be able to buy it. Yet, Coase realized that corporations exist because it is far easier, cheaper, and more efficient that a hierarchy of command is established, and then create a whole division of labor with a chain of workers doing different jobs … just like Adam Smith envisioned (Frank, 2011, pp. 90-91).
But the work that deserved him the Nobel Prize in 1991 was his 1960’s article, “The Problem of Social Cost“. The statement of this article has made us understand better the relationship between the law and the economy. Before this very important article, the law usually saw disputes within an ethical framework: perpetrators vs. victims. This framework does seem to hold in some cases, but in other cases, it is clearly inadequate. For instance, the paper (and an earlier one) makes one reference to the Sturges vs. Bridgman case (1879) as an example. In The Darwin Economy, Frank modifies it a bit, but the situation is exactly the same.
Before I go into details, I wish to talk about externalities. The term “externality” has to do with what all of us “internalize” and “externalize”, when we invest in something. Sometimes that investment has a positive or negative effect that a third party did not consent. For example, if I paint my house, and modify it to look good, clean, and so on, not only do I have internalized a gain from that investment, but I also externalize value to my neighbors’ houses, in this case, this is a positive externality: my investment in my house has the side effect of increasing my neighbors’ house value. I never sat down with my neighbors to ask their permission to increase their houses’ value, yet, in 99.99% of the time, they won’t protest because of it, they will welcome such intrusion without their consent. However, most of the time when economists talk about “externalities”, they mean negative externalities, i.e. externalities that cost to others.
In “The Problem of Social Cost”, Coase argues that externalities are reciprocal in nature. How so? He uses some cases illustrate his argument perfectly. I am going to use Frank’s version of the Sturges vs. Bridgman case. Frank quotes Coase:
A confectioner had used certain premises for his business or great many years. When a doctor came and occupied a neighboring property, the working of the confectioner’s machinery caused the doctor no harm until, some eight years later, he built a consulting room at the end o the garden, right against the confectioner’s premises. Then it was found that noise and vibrations caused by the machinery disturbed the doctor in his work. The doctor then brought an action and succeeded in securing an injunction preventing the confectioner from using his machinery. What the courts had, in fact, to decide was whether the doctor had the right to impose additional costs on the confectioner through compelling him to install new machinery, or move to a new location, or whether the confectioner had the right to impose additional costs on the doctor through compelling him to do his consulting somewhere else on his premises or at another location (Coase, 1959, p. 26).
If we use the perpetrator vs. victim ethical framework, we have a problem. As Frank argues very well in The Darwin Economy, it is not clear, from an ethical standpoint, who is the perpetrator or the victim (Frank, 2011, pp. 85-95). The situation for the doctor is the following: the noise costs him $20,000 in damage. The doctor could move at a cost of $10,000, or he could install soundproofing machinery at $5,000. In light of this scenario, there are two possibilities:
- The state could make the confectioner liable, in which case, he would have to install soundproofing machinery at $5,000 as the most efficient solution. After that, the confectioner would not have to compensate the doctor for the damage.
- If the state did not make the confectioner liable, the doctor’s best option is that he himself would have to install the soundproofing machinery at $5,000.
Most people find (2) troubling. Why should the doctor have to pay to the confectioner? Yet, as noted, no one is perpetrator or victim in this scenario. In case the state did not hold the confectioner liable, the confectioner would not have to pay, making the doctor adopt the most efficient solution to the problem (Frank, 2011, pp. 88-89). This is the problem of reciprocal externalities, where a simple and at low-cost negotiation would have been enough to solve without state intervention.
Of course, libertarians took Coase’s solution as if he had said that the state were not necessary, and that the state were actually hindering the market. Yet, as Frank notes, this could have not been Coase’s message at all. Actually the moral of the story is not that the state is not necessary in such situations. As we have stated above, Coase has studied the need for corporations to solve the problem that arises when negotiations among parties are impractical. In such cases a corporation establishes an authority which facilitates the whole process of production very efficiently. What happens regarding the confectioner and the doctor when negotiations become impractical? Very simple! It becomes the role of the state to mimic the situation where free parties would have negotiated if it were practical. That would be the best possible solution (Frank, 2011, pp. 89-91). If we generalize this situation, then we will end up in a libertarian welfare state.
Frank states that such a view would be classified as consequentialist (Frank, 2011, pp. 93-94). Yet, I see no reason why this should be the case. Referring to my earlier post, the problems considered here belong to the techno-scientific stratum of society, not to the ethical stratum. Why? Because this is not an ethical problem: again, none of the parties can be classified as perpetrator or victim. So, from a deontological point of view, there is no ethical principle to defend here. This is a market problem, to be solved in the most efficient way possible: there are reciprocal externalities, so the best possible way to solve this problem is the Coase’s approach.
Misapplications of Coase’s Approach
Before I make my core-criticism, I want to point out that Frank is being careful with many of his statements. Although he suggests Coase’s approach, he also says:
It isn’t my claim that the Coase framework is the uniquely correct way of thinking about such decisions. But to the extent that we can agree that the costs and benefits of the alternatives we face matter to at least some extent, I hope we can agree that the Coase framework might often facilitate clearer thinking about the relevant trade-offs (Frank, 2011, p. 98, my emphasis).
Despite this, I have a disagreement with Frank regarding a misapplication of the Coase framework. For example, should it be applied to interracial hand-holding? Let’s imagine that in the south, in the 1960s, each interracial couple would be willing to pay $100 a week for the right to hold hands in public. If there are 100 interracial couples, then that would be a total of $10,000 a week for the city or the state. Yet, there are a million whites willing to pay $1.00 a week to avoid the sight. If negotiations may have been practical, each white may have paid or $0.10 a week for a total of $100,000 which would finance a payment of $1,000 a week to avoid holding interracial hand-holding. That would mean that each interracial couple would be $900 better than before ($1,000 a week they receive minus the $100 they suffer from not holding hands). Each offended white would be $0.90 better than before. Therefore, this is a good deal for both parties … or is it? (Frank, 2011, pp. 95-96)
Of course, Frank makes it clear that such an arrangement is completely unacceptable (Frank, 2011, p. 96). Yet, what would prevent such thing from happening? Why wouldn’t it be ethically right for interracial couples or whites to carry out this transaction? What is the ethical reasoning that would make us regard this as unacceptable? Again, Frank uses a particular consequentialist framework. He explains his position to be against this arrangement in the following way:
… the analysis completely ignores the fact that people adapt over time in dramatically different ways to different forms of real or imagined injuries. The cumulative amount that white residents o Atlanta in the 1960s would have been willing to pay to avoid the sight of interracial hand-holding probably did outweigh the cumulative amount that the small number of interracial couples would have been willing to pay for the right to hold hands. But as interracial relationships have become more common during the intervening years, attitudes have changed dramatically, and in ways that were completely predictable at the time (Frank, 2011, p. 96).
As a deontologist, I cannot avoid thinking that Frank’s heart is in the right place, but this reasoning is not. I think that he implicitly carries out another misapplication of the Coase framework. Does Frank mean that if people are not able to adapt over time to interracial hand-holding, then the Coase framework would be ethically acceptable? Even if we were to argue that in such circumstances whites and interracial couples were to end up economically “better” under the Coase framework, it really strikes our moral sense to actually consider interracial hand-holding as being subject to negotiations.
As Frank does recognize, the Coase framework works very well when allocating scarce resources, which is what the market is all about. Yet, the example of interracial hand-holding is an ethical and not a market problem. From a deontological standpoint, we are treating a couple’s legitimate loving expression as being subject to commercial exchange, as if it had a price (in the Kantian sense). Yet it is not subject to price, because it involves dignity (see my previous post regarding the difference between price and dignity).
We have seen that in most of the cases, consequentialism and deontology usually end up in almost the same place, to account for what, phenomenologically, strikes our moral sense. Yet, here deontology has a very clear-cut criterion to establish why the Coase framework should not be applied in the case of interracial hand-holding, and why the consequentialist criteria don’t seem to work very well … at least the way Robert Frank applies them.
Coase, R. H. 1937. The nature of the firm. Economica, 4, 386-405.
Coase, R. H. 1959. The Federal Communications Commission. Journal of Law and Economics, 2, 1-40.
Coase, R. H. 1960, October. The problem of social cost. Journal of Law and Economics, 3, 1-44.
Frank, R. H. 2011. The Darwin economy: liberty, competition, and the common good. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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Many people who have heard about the terms “deontological theory” and “teleological or consequentialist theory” in the field of Ethics, usually have a very particular way of understanding the debates engaged by ethicists on both sides of the field. Sometimes the image people have about it is a caricature of the more nuanced views in both sides. Let me give you an example of what I mean, in the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights, there is a scene where Robin Hood, Achoo and Blinken want to cross a bridge. Robin assumes what we could call a deontological approach to the problem, while Achoo chooses a more consequentialist and more efficient approach.
At least in the Anglo-Saxon environment, there is a lot of favor for consequentialist approaches to problems. At the same time, there is an image of deontological approaches as being noble in spirit, but inherently stupid in practical terms … much like the way suggested by Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
A similar perspective is shared by Esperanza Guisán with her highly critical exposition of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy and his pure deontological views. In fact, she alleges that Kant was moved by his pietist prejudices against inclinations and emotions in general as being inherently “evil”. These are the grounds with which she practically insults Kant’s philosophy to the ground in a very aggressive criticism. Since Kant’s proposal is, for all practical purposes, religion in disguise, and she is absolutely unable to stand any religious view in any way throughout her book, then she gives the impression that no one should pay any more thought on the subject, and apparently the discussion ends there (Guisán, 1995, pp. 170-189).
Other authors who actually admire Kant’s contributions, and assume a deontological view (like myself), are more moderate. In fact, as the eminent bioethicists Jorge José Ferrer and Juan Carlos Álvarez point out, rarely can you find today a “purist” deontological philosopher, all of them incorporate consequentialist aspects to their philosophy in one way or another (Ferrer & Álvarez, 2003, pp. 113-114). In this case, I wish to talk about a deontological approach that I think is adequate to understand many of the proposals of The Darwin Economy from a deontological framework.
The Ethical Points that Kant wanted to Make
Kant has been damnable in the minds of many consequentialists. Some of their complaints are well founded, especially regarding the inflexibility of what should be done under specific circumstances. Others, like Guisán’s attacks, are unwarranted. It may be that Kant was playing a closet pietist while writing his ethics, yet that should be irrelevant when we are evaluating the validity of his contributions.
The question we should ask is what did Kant want to do with his philosophy. I have written about this before, and I invite the reader to read that article on deontological ethics, but I will repeat the main idea. In Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant points out that we all have the equivalent of what David Hume called “moral sense”, a very basic instinctual knowledge of what is good or bad, right or wrong. Yet, the major problem everyone has is that we, humans, are the masters of deception and self-deception. Sometimes, demagogues, religions, politicians, or even our own friends, can deceive us to make us do what is wrong or evil. It may well be that even though we believe that we are doing something inherently good, in another level we know it is wrong. What Kant said was that his proposal should be taken like a sort of compass to point to a secure ethical north (AK:404-405). He may have gone too far dismissing inclinations altogether, but this dismissal is not an issue of piety, but an issue of the subjectivity of inclinations. Today we know that we are unable to make rational decisions without emotions, nor with too much emotions. Still, Kant’s point is still valid, in the sense that too many times our inclinations can lead us astray. Instead by operating by inclinations, Kant is saying that we should use the rational compass of his proposal.
Also, it is worth noting that Kant “was not born yesterday”. He did say that good actions carried out contrary to inclinations are more ethically praiseworthy than those when we act in full agreement with inclinations. Yet he did not really pretend that every single human being can act from duty all the time. Sometimes we will act in conformity with duty, sometimes from duty, sometimes none. Yet, if we are confronted with a situation when we need to act the best way possible, Kant says that we should keep in mind the formulae of the categorical imperative to discover which maxims are the actual ethical laws to follow.
A More Contemporary Deontological Model
After G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, metaethics has become important, and its distinction from normative and the applied levels of ethics is far more significant in this process. So, the framework I am proposing for the discussion is the following:
- We can assume the formulae of the categorical imperative as Kant proposed or certain revised versions other people have made on them as our metaethical criteria to establish which are the objective ethical norms.
- At the normative ethical level, we can adopt all of the maxims that are consistent with our metaethical criteria as being objective ethical norms. These are the sort of norms which we should follow from duty, as Kant would say.
- In the practical or applied level, we deal with black and white situations and all of the grayish area in between. It is the juice of ethical discussions in philosophy.
In the normative levels, the ethical norms have their own rational foundation and can be assented and recognized as valid by all rational moral beings. I add here the term “moral”, because as Robert Frank says in another work of his, the term “rational” is often used in equivocal ways, which is one of the reasons he points out that “rational” choice models used by economists can be wrong very often. Some define rational as “intelligent selfishness”, yet humans do not always behave in such ways. The way I use the term “moral” in “moral being” is a person you can consider responsible for his or her actions, who is able to choose in terms of right and wrong according to a set of values, and is aware of the consequences of his or her actions.
Every rational being is moral, but do not always act ethically. I contrast moral with ethical. An act is moral if it follows the norms and values of a given society. On the other hand an act is ethical if the actions are made from objective norms and values which may or may not coincide with moral norms and values. Acting ethically is objectively good, acting morally is not always good. The ethical norms and values are themselves prescribed metaethically, set in the normative ethics arena, while applied ethics seeks the best objective criteria to act the best possible way given certain circumstances.
Given that by extension moral beings can be also ethical beings, and given that there is a distinction between acting in conformity with duty and acting from duty, the question is: which of the norms should prevail given certain circumstances? In this case, the Formula of Humanity can be our guide.
Act so that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means. (AK 4:429)
We can polish Kant’s Formula of Humanity in such a way as to replace “humanity” with “moral rational beings”, which would save us from specism. I wrote about a way we can phenomenologically provide the adequate foundations to determine who is a rational moral being and who is not, while not falling into specism. Other eminent bioethicist, like Diego Gracia, have also made similar approaches from the phenomenology of Xavier Zubiri, but the discussions on these matters are beyond the scope of this blog post.
For now, we should remind ourselves that rational moral beings can claim slight (but only slight) superiority from non-rational non-moral beings. We have the capacity to make rational and intelligent decisions that have great impact on non-rational non-moral beings as a whole. Yet, this superiority is not an argument in favor for “raping the Earth” as Ann Coulter so colorfully described it, or doing with it “whatever the heck we please”. And even if we were to have that sort of gross position, it is a poor approach, since we cannot claim absolute superiority above everything else. As environmentalists, religious naturalists, process theologians and many others have pointed out, we are all connected to the Earth in some way. If we do “whatever the heck we please”, the joke will be on us in the end, especially if we don’t decide to establish unsustainable policies. The religious naturalist, Michael Dowd, reminds us that we can’t live without bacteria, yet they can live fine without us.
Finally, the formulas of Humanity and Autonomy imply the Kantian distinction between price and dignity. For Kant, price is a property of that which can be replaced by something else as its equivalent. He makes a distinction between two sorts of prices: market price is the price that is related to general human inclinations and needs; and fancy price, is the property of something which conforms with a certain taste, with a delight in the mere purposelessness play of our mind. Yet, for Kant, dignity is the property of those beings whose value cannot be replaced by something else, and which can only be ends-in-themselves. In other words, dignity is the property of those who have no price, which means necessarily that every other being does (AK 4:434-435). For Kant, moral rational beings have dignity, nothing else does.
Part of respecting the dignity of moral rational beings is the respect on people’s own freedom, and the people’s ability too choose among some options. In this sense, Mill’s harm principle is perfectly compatible with this notion of dignity, and we can state with perfect consistency that we can create a society whose economy and jurisprudence is based on people’s freedoms, but we should exclude from them all of those unwarranted liberties which create undue harm to others. As Robert Frank has explained extensively in his book The Darwin Economy, this principle of harm does not say that nobody should do any harm to others:
As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, it’s permissible to constrain an individual’s freedom on action only when there’s no less intrusive way to prevent undue harm to others (Frank, 2011, p. 9).
Also, as Frank argues very persuasively, we as social animals, cannot establish the harm principle only to direct harm (e.g. hitting a person with a stick, robbing a bank). For the harm principle to have coherent meaning, we should also include indirect harm. For instance, if an athelete, say a runner, has worked hard for so many years to reach a certain level in a championship, and there is another player who decided to use steroids, there is no direct harm on the former, but there is indirect harm. If the runner has to choose to use steroids too to win, it will lead to serious health and social risks. If her or she decides not use steroids, then, in all likelihood, he or she will lose. No one can argue that there is no undue harm being done here. Frank says:
If Mill’s harm principle is to have any coherent meaning, indirect forms of harm must count. My conception of what constitutes harm to others strike some as expansive. But it’s one that even libertarians will find difficult to challenge in their own terms … Even if libertarians had complete freedom to join others in forming any sort of society they pleased, they’d find compelling reasons for joining one that gave indirect harm equal footing with direct harm. (Frank, 2011, p. 12)
No matter how much is an athlete willing to defend his freedoms to choose, he or she will ever join a competition where there are no rules and penalties against using steroids to win a championship. He or she would love to participate in a competition where such rule is enforced. Hence, from a deontological standpoint, this rule would be completely consistent with the dignity of the rational beings participating in it, because it takes away a freedom that prevents undue harm to all participants.
If this is the case, from a deontological standpoint, economic and political institutions built to guarantee people’s freedoms and help them make better choices without taking people’s freedoms away. In this sense, I wholeheartedly agree with Frank in recommending the book Nudge by the economists Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein (follow their blog here).
How would We Organize Conceptually a Deontological Approach to Society
Unfortunately due to language and ideological leanings, some of the social philosophy being elaborated in Europe never reach the United States. For example, the thinking of philosopher André Comte-Sponville on this matter is pretty much unknown in North America. One of the best books he wrote is Le capitalisme est-il moral? (2004), which I have discussed extensively in other blog posts. He proposes four different conceptual strata in order to understand social complexities. Here, I will change the terminology of some of the strata to adjust it to the discussion, but the idea is more or less the same. Here is the illustration:
From bottom-up direction, we can distinguish the following four strata:
- The Techno-Scientific Stratum: It involves techniques which have their own logistics, i.e. their own intrinsic problems, and their own solutions to those problems. Among these we can find the different natural sciences, technology, and the economy. For Comte-Sponville, all of these mechanisms are amoral, hence none of their mechanisms can be considered themselves ethical in any way. Since amoral processes generate good and ill for society, it needs an external social force to diminish the ill (the negative externalities) and increase society’s welfare (the positive externalities).
- Juridical-Political Stratum: The juridical-political stratum consists of the law and the state. It is up to the juridical-political stratum to restrict externally the processes of the techno-scientific stratum. However, this stratum also needs several restrictions. According to Comte-Sponville, laws are not equivalent to ethical norms, which means that unethical people can indeed follow the law verbatim, and still be evil. Also, at the level of the state, which he understands within Rousseau’s conception of what the Republic should be, it is important to point out that the people or the state should not have all the powers. It should have the power to guarantee its citizens’ welfare, but it should never have power against minorities, nor should it have the power to establish concentration camps. Therefore, it also needs the external restrictions established by another social force.
- Ethical Stratum: Comte-Sponville calls it the “moral stratum”, but it is the same idea. This is the stratum of ethical norms as well as the rational beings (as ends-in-themselves), who can establish these external restrictions through their votes, the courts, or even on the street, creating political pressure. It is the stratum where responsible decisions are made regarding the law, and the techno-scientific stratum.
- Emotional Love: Comte-Sponville is based on some of the Christian philosophy regarding what should move us to act ethically. Yet, the “emotional love” in a very loose sense of the term as a way to promote ethical behavior is exactly what cognitive scientists and neurologists have been studying for years. Love for our neighbor, for a nation, for God, can be powerful means to move us to act ethically. He points out three sorts of love that should be at the very top of all emotions that lead us to act ethically: love towards truth, freedom, and humanity.
According to Comte-Sponville, we make a mistake if we want to moralize the economy (which Marx tried to do), i.e. to adjust the economy to be forcibly fair and just using internal, not external, mechanisms. It is equally a problem to eliminate the needs of the ethical stratum and let the dog of the techno-scientific stratum loose (which is the movement-libertarians’ mistake). The state must have a role in the interaction between the techno-scientific stratum and the ethical stratum.
Finally, Comte-Sponville tells us about the importance of taking into account all four strata when making a decision that is going to affect society. We should prioritize one or the other depending on the circumstances, and have the best welfare of humanity when making the decisions. To omit the importance of each one, would lead to irresponsible decisions. Therefore responsibiity, should take into consideration the ethical ideals for society as established metaethically and by normative ethics, but taking into account the consequences that lead society to the best welfare possible.
This is not incompatible with the “libertarian welfare-state”, which Frank advocates, or even the “libertarian paternalism” as Thaler and Sustein advocate.
Why Teleological-Based Models do not Work for Me
Of course, Robert Frank seems to favor a teleological model. His main objection to deontologists, at least as it appears in The Darwin Economy seems to be the following:
Deontologists face other hurdles, such as how to explain where the bedrock moral principles they invoke come from. (Frank, 2011, p. 94).
Of course, this is not the whole objection, which we will discuss in our next blog post on the subject. Yet, he knows that at a practical level, deontologists and consequentialists (teleologists) are almost in the same place:
Consequentialist and deontologists have been at each other’s throats for millenia. Nothing I say here could possibly settle the issues that divide them. But because I will advocate policy claims that follow from Coase’s consequentialist framework, it’s important to emphasize that the two frameworks are less squarely in conflict than may often appear (Frank, 2011, pp. 94-95).
Yet, although there is little difference in extension, there is a difference in intension. I think that the objection quoted above actually is better understood from a consequentialist framework. For example, at all times consequentialism posits the importance of happiness of most individuals possible as the guide for all ethical decisions. Yet, stating this begs the question as for why should we should use this as a criterion for any decision. There is a problem de jure, regarding why should our happiness or interests (in the language of Peter Singer) be considered superior to all other beings, or even if there were no other being, why is happiness and interests good? How do you establish this as an objective criterion when whatever especially when this is moved by subjective inclinations that do not necessarily have a tendency towards ethical behavior. G. E. Moore’s criticisms to the naturalistic fallacy in all modalities, does include pleasure and happiness as identical to being good. He advocated a form of utilitarianism, but a platonist utilitarianism, where happiness alone is not the sole value to be sought by our actions, but many objective abstract values as well.
Deontology, since Kant, has provided an adequate response. The preference of rational moral beings should be preferred because it is us who are the ones who have the ability to make the best decision for society and the world. Also, notice that in all of this there is a consequentialist component of deontology. All non-rational, non-moral beings serve as means, such as the economy as a whole, the jurisprudence and political body (the state), and all the sciences. In this sense, we have provided a more complete deontological model for ethical behavior, especially regarding the economy, in contrast with some other consequentialist models.
In my next blog post on this subject, I will examine other objections by Frank to deontologists, and the consequentialist approach of Ronald Coase.
Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral?. España: Paidós.
Guisán, E. (1995). Introducción a la ética. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra.
Ferrer, J. J. & Álvarez, J. C. (2003). Para fundamentar la bioética. España: Universidad Pontificia Comillas & Desclée de Brower.
Frank, R. H. (2011). The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kant, I. (1999). Groundwork of The metaphysics of morals. In M. J. Gregor & A. Wood (eds.), The Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant: practical philosophy. (pp. 37-108). US: Cambridge University Press.
Moore, G. E. (1903). Principia Ethica. http://fair-use.org/g-e-moore/principia-ethica.
Moore, G. E. (1912). Ethics. http://fair-use.org/g-e-moore/ethics/.
Paton, H. J. (1971). The categorical imperative: a study in Kant’s moral philosophy. US: University of Pennsylvania Press.
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Unlike the previous post where I cheered for Robert Frank’s book The Darwin Economy, I want to be a bit more critical about the book this time.
Before I begin, I want to say that I still cheer for this book, and it is one I ardently, enthusiastically, and wholeheartedly recommend. If I had the chance I would buy lots of them and give them as gifts to my friends, neighbors, legislators, governor … you name it. One of the greatest things about reading this book is that it becomes one of those events which invite you to revise your thinking on a rational basis. And I never cease to marvel at the depths of Frank’s views on the economy. It certainly has stimulated me to revise my own ideological views about how the economy works, and which solutions should be adopted to make this world a better place. As a matter of fact, there are many areas in the book I will use for my Ethics course this semester (most of the students in my course are from Business Management).
That does not mean that I agree with all of the examples he uses in the book, nor do I agree with the way he portrays many aspects of what is a deontological view of Ethics. Frank seems to promote a teleogical or consequentialist view of Ethics, while I use a deontological approach.
What is the Book About?
Before discussing what the book says, let me clarify what the book is not about. When I showed the book to several on my friends in Facebook and Google+, some raised concerns about the subject. They warned me of the possibility that I might fall into social darwinism. Of course, whoever has read my educational material about what Ethics is and is not, knows that I would never fall into it. Although I always begin the course explaining from a biological level how evolution made us have a moral sense, I strongly warn my students that Neodarwinism, as it is proposed today, only describes a whole process by which living beings reproduce, speciate, and change over time. It does not intend to prescribe ethically what we should and should not do as rational moral beings. As we shall see soon, Frank does not turn Darwinism’s description of biological processes into an ethical advice.
Originally, The Darwin Economy was going to be called The Libertarian Welfare State, which gives you an idea of what it is about. Given that Frank was told that such a title would never sell in Europe, he changed its name to The Darwin Economy. It was also written as a reaction to the almost inane (I would say “insane”) “dialogue” that seems to permeate all of political discourse in the United States. Of course, most of us know Adam Smith as being the father of the science of economics as we know it today, yet Frank predicts that in a hundred years from now, the majority of serious and learned economists would name Charles Darwin as the parent of their discipline. Contrary to some misconceptions, Smith showed that, sometimes, if you let selfish people act in the marketplace, the “invisible hand” of the market will lead to good outcomes for society. Frank points out that Smith would not recognize his own views if he ever read the proposals made by extreme libertarians today, who think that government should do nothing and that a free unregulated market will always lead to good outcomes.
Smith’s skepticism about a universal goodness out of selfish people stems from the fact that many business owners can join together and conspire to oppress the people, in which case, the government should intervene to prevent such conspiracies against the public. However, one question we could ask is: When does the invisible hand fail? Frank finds the answer in Charles Darwin’s own work. What drives biological descent with modification is precisely competition among individuals and groups. Both the cheetah and the gazelle compete for survival by trying to be faster than the other. The fastest member of each species tends to survive and reproduce, passing those genes along. When that happens, individual and group interests are in harmony, since the prevalence of fast gazelles and fast cheetahs do actually benefit their respective groups as a whole. In this case, we have “invisible hand”-like results.
However, Darwin also noticed that individual and group interests diverge. This is the case with the bull elk (as you can see in the cover of the book). Members of the species are polygenous, meaning that they take more than one mate if they can, to be able to reproduce. Their male antlers are not really meant to defend themselves against other predators, but to win some fights with other males; whoever wins, will end up with as much as 100 females maximum. So, whoever has the biggest antlers will end up with their mates and pass the genes along. Yet, in this case, there is a problem. If males with heavy antlers prevail, then such feature becomes a disadvantage from the group’s point of view, because they can end up being eaten by predators if chased in dense wooded areas. In this case, individual and group interests diverge. Such cases do happen in the economy, and when they do, the “invisible hand” of the market breaks down.
Bull elk are pretty much stuck with the situation, since their intelligence is not complex enough to make rational decisions about what to do with their antlers. They are pretty much stuck with natural selection. Yet, Frank does not suggest that we ought to be stuck with natural selection, not even market selection for that matter (which is what social Darwinism would suggest). Instead, he points out that we, humans, as intelligent beings who actually can make rational decisions, we should collectively establish a mandate which benefits the group.
He uses the example of hockey players. If you let players have the choice of not wearing helmets, all of them end up not wearing it. This is not because they ignore the fact that helmet protects them (there is no cognitive error in the process), quite the opposite, they know that playing without helmets could increase the chance of being hurt during the game. Yet, given the immediacy of seeing better, hearing better, and intimidating the opponents better …. they are not too worried about a more abstract concern of harm. Yet, if you ask them if they should be a mandate to wear helmets, they would all favor it. Why is there a discrepancy?
If there is no mandate, the individual interest to win prevails, leading other players to do the same, since they are also thriving for their individual interest to win. Yet, when they all do it, the result is that not one individual is in any advantageous position, yet everyone is worse off, since all of them are unprotected. Hence, individual and group interests diverge. A rule mandating helmets and prescribing a penalty for those who do not want to wear it, would make all players wear helmets, everyone would be in equal footing, and they end up better than if there were no mandate.
This is what happens with the construction of ever more expensive houses for the middle class, even when there is no increase in salary in real terms over the years, leading huge problems. Those at the top earned more throughout the years, buying far more mansions, and spending considerably in them, even when they are no happier than before for doing so. This consumerist behavior “trickles down” to those below. As a result, the middle class competed for more and more expensive houses even when they had no real income growth. This apparently benefited them individually, especially regarding status, but not as a group. This inevitably leaves the middle class worse off.
[Note: I highly recommend Robert Frank’s analysis on this very interesting subject in his book Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class.]
Frank suggests that a progressive consumption tax will discourage this sort of behavior, among others which create harmful activities such as carbon dioxide emissions which create global warming, while, at the same time, leading governments to have money to invest on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure and services people actually need.
Again, his whole argument makes a LOT of sense, and, in a way, I am completely surprised that this has not led to further policies for scrapping the income tax and payroll tax, and phasing in some of these progressive consumption taxes. In another sense, I am not surprised, since many people in the United States are actually misled regarding how taxes and economic prosperity are related. You need government to take care of bridges, dams, roads, and even the army. As Frank argues, if there were no taxes, there would not be an army, without an army you couldn’t defend yourself against other countries which have armies, and if conquered by another nation you will end up paying mandatory taxes to that country. Also, he shows in the book how lowering taxes has helped terrorist causes. Many people are not aware that because of irresponsible tax cut policies, a lot of funds were cut to keep nuclear missiles in Russia (the former Soviet Union) guarded. This means that terrorists may have far less barriers to reach them. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mushroom cloud metaphor that George W. Bush talked about when launching the failed Iraq War in 2003 will be realized in some way any time soon.
Again, I enthusiastically recommend Frank’s book as being one of those bright lights which challenge people of all along the political spectrum to re-evaluate our own positions on the economy and politics. None of what I will say in these series will ever change that. In fact, I thank him for changing my mind about a lot of things.
Frank’s Ethical Position of the Discussion
Yet, there is a little difference I have with him regarding his approach to the issue of ethics. I confess that I have still to read his book What Price the Moral High Ground?, which seems very interesting. I want to react to Frank’s notion of ethics as he is pondering about the issue presenting Ronald Coase’s contribution to the discussion on what should be the relationship between the economy and the state regarding cases where the traditional ethical framework of perpetrator and victim seems inappropriate. Surprise, surprise! As a deontologist, I fully agree with Coase!
Frank alludes to the famous debate between the consequentialists (teleological ethicists) and the deontologists (deontological ethicists). I happen to be the latter, Frank seems to hold a consequentialist approach. Yet, he recognizes the following:
Consequentialists and deontologists have been at each other’s throats for millenia. Nothing I say here could possibly settle the issues that divide them. But because I will advocate policy claims that follow from Coase’s consequentialist framework, it’s important to emphasize that the two frameworks are less squarely in conflict than may often appear (pp. 94-95).
In many areas of ethical discussions, there seems to be a “battle” between deontologists and consequentialists, but I don’t want to give that impression in this case. Ronald Coase’s views actually does make a lot of sense to me, but reasons very different from Frank’s views. The purpose of my next blog post is to ponder about a deontological solution to some of the problems raised by Coase’s framework.
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Hace un tiempo publiqué en mi página de internet mi primera obra educativa de curso de ética que estoy dando en el Colegio Universitario de Cayey,en la Universidad de Puerto Rico y se titulaba "¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica". Ahora hice disponible solamente en PDF y ODF (pronto lo haré disponible en DjVu y versión interactiva) de "¿Qué es la Ética? Una perspectiva filosófica". Este segundo material educativo debe considerarse continuación del primero. Si alguna persona quiere leer "¿Qué es la ética?" sin consultar "¿Por qué somos seres morales?" podría tener algunas lagunas durante la lectura.
Este material es la versión 0.1, lo que significa que esto es solo el comienzo del desarrollo de este material y está incompleto. Hace falta, por lo menos, una sección de preguntas guía y vocabulario, hacen falta ejercicios para aplicar los conceptos filosóficos a problemas cotidianos y también falta una sección que recomiende información disponible en libros y la internet en torno al tema de la ética. También faltan algunas referencias para que algunas aserciones del escrito tengan unas bases más firmes, aunque aclaro que he hecho lo posible para sustanciar las aserciones tanto con estudios científicos como con obras filosóficas que han sido clave para la discusión de la ética en general.
También, como v. 0.1 es una versión bien temprana puede ser que se hayan colado mis errores estilísticos usuales, pero estoy abierto a que se me señalen mis errores.
Como el lector o la lectora se dará cuenta en seguida, el escrito no es "políticamente correcto". Critico a los religiosos y antireligiosos, a varios sectores de los sistemas democráticos (especialmente a aquellos que siguen ciegamente a los partidos políticos), critico también al cientificismo que, a pesar de las objeciones de Daniel Dennett, sí existe y que es defendido por varias personas que han publicado obras que ahora tienen mucho alcance popular (pienso en Sam Harris y su obra The Moral Landscape). Esto se debe a que no importa cuáles son nuestras convicciones económicas, políticas y religiosas, siempre hace falta una reflexión genuinamente y honestamente crítica de nuestras posiciones.
Se conciben a la filosofía y a la ética como empresas racionales, por lo que, tal vez, a los irracionalistas no les gustará para nada mi postura. Mantengo también una postura admitidamente contraria a la moda quineana que prevalece en la filosofía anglosajona, porque distingo (contra Quine y sus seguidores) entre verdades-de-razón y verdades-de-hecho según las distinguieron Leibniz y Hume. Entiendo que esta posición es fundamental para cualquier filosofía que quiera establecerse sobre unas bases metafísicas y epistemológicas sólidas. Ya argumenté en contra de Quine en mi libro The Relation between Formal Science and Natural Science, porque el famoso "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" solo critica la versión carnapiana de la distinción de los juicios analíticos y sintéticos sin tocar otras versiones como la de Frege o la de Husserl. El holismo quineano también es un non-sequitur, el hecho de que Carnap no distinga efectivamente entre ambos tipos de juicio no significa que tengamos que sucumbir a un holismo tan descabellado que las ciencias formales sean revisables a la luz de la experiencia recalcitrante.
En el material que acabo de publicar, argumento que la ética es una ciencia que pertenece al ámbito de las verdades-de-razón, no hay nada en ella que pertenezca al ámbito de la experiencia y, por ende, la ética es una rama de la filosofía … no de las ciencias, la política y la religión.
Debido a que la mayoría de mis estudiantes son de administración de empresas y no tiene formación filosófica, prácticamente ofrezco una sección que es un "crash course" en Platón y Aristóteles, porque ellos son los que nos han legado las herramientas conceptuales para la filosofía en general, incluyendo a la ética. Expongo una breve discusión de la falacia naturalista (o la dicotomía "valor"-"hecho") y trato de proveer brevemente unas bases para todo lo que se va a discutir en futuras clases de ética.
También tengo la idea de que esta serie de escritos podría convertirse fácilmente en un libro de texto de ética. Los dos materiales de ética que he publicado hasta ahora podrían corresponder a los dos primeros capítulos de ese texto. Veamos hasta dónde llega esta idea.
Como siempre, el texto está disponible en formatos PDF y ODF bajo unas licencias libres compatibles con la definición de "obra cultural libre" y de "conocimiento abierto". Estas licencias son las Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License y la GNU Free Documentation License. Espero que sea de su agrado. Pueden bajar "¿Qué es la Ética?" presionando en los iconos abajo, o yendo a mi página de internet.
P. D. – Toda crítica, dentro de lo razonable, será bienvenida. Pueden escribirme a: email@example.com.
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Como ustedes saben, he hecho disponible en mi página de internet una lectura con fines educativos titulada: "¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica". Hoy hice disponible la versión 2.2 del escrito.
Lo que es distinto de esta versión de la anterior es fundamentalmente un énfasis en selección de grupos. Al principio de la sección titulada "Condiciones Ambientales para el Desarrollo del Sentido Moral" puse una cita del mismo Charles Darwin en el que propone la selección de grupos como la explicación ambiental de cómo los seres humanos adquirimos un sentido moral. Además, en las notas finales, añado que este tema de selección de grupos, aunque es aceptado hoy día por la mayoría de los evolucionistas, es un tema controversial y señalo algunas referencias que pueden ayudar a los estudiantes a comprender mejor los aspectos controversiales. Por otro lado, también proveo fuentes para que los mismos estudiantes puedan aclarar sus dudas en torno a la selección de grupos, ya que, por lo visto, aún en las mejores universidades del mundo, algunos de los mejores evolucionistas presentan una extraordinaria caricatura y representación maliciosa de dicho concepto (véase, por ejemplo, la Clase número 3 del curso abierto de la Universidad de Yale titulado: Principles of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior por Stephen C. Stearns).
Nota Aclaratoria: El curso de Stearns es buenísimo y lo recomiendo para cualquier persona que desee comprender con lujo de detalles la teoría de la evolución neo-darwiniana y gran parte de la evidencia a su favor. Sin embargo, entiendo que suscribe un punto de vista ingenuo en torno al llamado "conflicto genético" como alternativa a la selección de grupos y una mala exposición del punto de vista de selección de grupos.
Incluí entre las fuentes al libro de Conor Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea, por entender que, a pesar de que él es teólogo, él comprende muy bien el debate que se está dando entre los biólogos hoy día en torno a este tema. Él hace una breve, pero extraordinaria, exposición de los orígenes del debate en torno a la selección de grupos: tanto el origen de la idea en las obras de Charles Darwin, como la formulación ingenua conocida como el análisis Wynne-Edwards, su rechazo en la comunidad científica a favor de la selección por parentesco, para que resurja (como dicen en inglés "with a vengeance") la selección de grupos a la luz de nueva evidencia a favor de esta perspectiva.
A la misma vez, añado como fuente un artículo publicado en la revista Nature titulado "The Needs of the Many", que explica brevemente la mayor parte de los aspectos del debate .
Finalmente, añadí también la referencia a un artículo publicado en la revista académica, Evolution, titulado "Eight Criticisms not to Make about Group Selection", porque ayuda a distinguir entre la concepción de selección de grupo que los opositores sostienen y lo que la selección de grupos (no-ingenua) realmente sostiene.
Para leer o bajar ¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica en distintos formatos, pueden ir a esta página.
Tema aparte: Para posibles objeciones al uso de la selección de grupos en el escrito educativo por ser un tema controversial.
Mis Conclusiones en Torno a la Selección de Grupos
Soy un cristiano evolucionista (un teísta evolucionista), en calidad de filósofo de las ciencias trabajo también temas relacionados a la teoría de la evolución, pero no soy evolucionista en el sentido de que no soy un biólogo evolucionista. He estado estudiando la teoría de la evolución orientándome bastante con autoridades en el tema. Utilizo como referencia principal el libro de texto (universitario) Evolution (2nda. edición) de Douglas J. Futuyma, un estudioso evolucionista mundialmente reconocido, además del curso de Stephen C. Stearns que mencioné anteriormente. El libro Evolution contiene una discusión importantísima en torno a selección de grupos, aunque lo entiende como una suerte de selección de parentesco, y que me da a entender su cientificidad porque tiene un alto poder explicativo y los modelos que provee pueden ser cuantificados, lo que hace que esta propuesta sea falsable (en términos popperianos). Otras autoridades como E. O. Wilson (cuya formación en este campo no puede ponerse en duda), David Burnie, David S. Wilson, entre otros, endosan abiertamente la selección de grupo. Incluso, el artículo de "The Needs of the Many" cita a un antiguo opositor de la selección de grupo, Andy Gardner: "Everyone agrees that group selection occurs". En el caso de este artículo y del libro de Futuyma, selección de grupo a múltiples niveles parece explicar un tipo de adaptación especial de organismos, aunque parece que no otras.
Mientras más leo del tema, más me doy cuenta de que la razón del debate se debe a que distintos evolucionistas sostienen perspectivas incompatibles en torno a la evolución, lo que lleva a algunos a pensar que hace falta refinar la semántica de la discusión para que se aclaren muchas dudas teoréticas en torno al tema. Aún así, aparentemente, hoy día, la opinión predominante en torno al tema es que la selección de grupo realmente ocurre.
Hay otro factor importante en cuanto al conflicto: los prejuicios y unos puntos de vista transmitidos de una generación de académicos a otra ("received views"). Gran parte de este problema tiene que ver con la primera formulación de la teoría en el siglo veinte en la modalidad Wynn-Edwards, que postula que las características de los organismos evolucionan "para el bien del grupo". A esto se le conoce como "punto de vista ingenuo de la selección de grupos". Hoy día, ningún proponente de la selección de grupos sostiene este punto de vista. Ningún organismo evoluciona características para el bien del grupo, sino que estas características prevalecen porque hay factores ambientales que lo permiten y que resulta en el mejor comportamiento entre los miembros de un grupo. Una vez estas características, en combinación con factores ambientales, posibilitan un comportamiento altruista o solidario entre los miembros de un grupo, la tendencia de ese grupo es a la de sobrevivir. Sencillamente, grupos en que prevalecen los solidarios y altruistas sobreviven sobre los grupos en que prevalecen los egoístas. En otras palabras, el comportamiento altruista es desventajoso dentro de los grupos (porque el altruista está en desventaja ante el egoísta), mientras que es ventajoso entre grupos (porque un grupo en que predomina el altruismo aventaja al que predomina el egoísmo). Eso lo explico con lujo de detalles en mi escrito educativo ¿Por qué somos animales morales?
Supuestamente, de acuerdo con la visión predominante ("received view"), William D. Hamilton propuso la selección de parentesco como una medida para explicar el altruismo en especies tales como las hormigas o las abejas. Esta perspectiva se ve entre mucho como una extensión de la selección genética y una alternativa a la selección de grupos. De acuerdo con los oponentes de la selección de grupos, los comportamientos que son resultado de la evolución solamente se pueden entender en términos de selección de genes. Esta perspectiva tuvo su máximo empuje con la propuesta del "gen egoísta" de Richard Dawkins en su famosa obra The Selfish Gene. ¿Qué dice la "selección de parentesco"? Que, usualmente, los organismos hacen que sobrevivan los genes suyos mediante su comportamiento altruista al sacrificarse por aquéllos otros que comparten su propio código genético. Hamilton también proveyó una famosa ecuación que describe cómo esto ocurre y que parece confirmarse a nivel experimental. Muchos despreciaron la versión ingenua de la selección de grupo y abrazaron las ideas de Hamilton.
Lo que los evolucionistas en general no saben, y que fue bien documentado por David S. Wilson en su blog, Hamilton no formuló la selección de parentesco como alternativa a la selección de grupos, sino que más bien los que se oponían a la selección de grupos tomaron la propuesta de Hamilton para no abrazar cualquier versión de la selección de grupo. En su mente, ellos equiparaban la visión ingenua de selección de grupos con la de cualquier otra propuesta similar. Es iluminador observar cómo Hamilton concibió ulteriormente su propia propuesta cuando se encontró con otra fórmula matemática hecha por George Price que suponía la selección de grupo. El mismo Hamilton admitió que su propuesta de selección de parentesco no es otra cosa que una forma de selección de grupos. (Para más información, leer este artículo).
Este prejuicio contra la selección de grupos empeora aún más cuando tomamos en cuenta cuáles son las voces públicas (fuera de la academia) más importantes para la divulgación de la teoría de la evolución. La voz más conocida es, sin lugar a dudas, la de Richard Dawkins. Le tengo una tremenda admiración a Dawkins en términos de cómo él hace exposiciones bien lúcidas de aquellos detalles de la teoría de la evolución que son difíciles de exponer al público, además que me resulta un intelectual bien agradable con un celo por las ciencias que realmente admiro y que, en muchos aspectos, quiero emular. De todas las obras de Dawkins, siempre recomiendo las siguientes: The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow, Climbing Mount Improbable y The Greatest Show on Earth. De hecho, en mi escrito educativo, utilizo los libros de Dawkins como referencia.
Lo que lamento de Richard Dawkins es dos cosas. La primera es que utiliza la teoría de la evolución como una bandera contra la religión y a favor del ateísmo, lo que ha hecho la vida de cuadritos para aquellos de nosotros que queremos enseñar la teoría de la evolución al público. Contrario a lo que la mayor parte del público parece creer, Charles Darwin y Thomas Huxley, despreciaban este tipo de abuso de la teoría de la evolución.
La segunda, es que la voz de Dawkins tiene una carga de autoridad pública desproporcionada, lo que lleva al público a pensar que lo que él sostiene en sus libros y en su página de internet (con todo y lujo de detalles) es el consenso de los evolucionistas. Es cierto que la mayor parte de lo que él expone en sus libros es plenamente correcto en torno a los detalles de la teoría de la evolución. Sin embargo, no todos los evolucionistas están de acuerdo con su punto de vista de selección genética (o su metáfora del gen egoísta). Por ejemplo, Simon Conway Morris, evolucionista hartamente reconocido, considera que esta metáfora es simplista y que no da cuenta de la enorme complejidad de los procesos evolutivos. Sin embargo, la voz de Dawkins en cuanto a este tema, especialmente en cuanto a sus más ávidos lectores, se asemeja mucho a la de los seguidores de alguna figura religiosa, que creen que la autoridad de su "líder" es casi universalmente aceptada, cuando, en realidad, sus puntos de vista tanto en la religión como en otros asuntos no son realmente compartidos por la inmensa mayoría de los evolucionistas. Es más, muchos resienten el hecho de que haya hecho de la evolución su bandera anti-religiosa.
Uno de los temas en los que Dawkins no goza de mayoría es precisamente en el tema de selección de grupos. Él abraza la selección de parentesco y la selección genética como alternativas a la selección de grupo. Inevitablemente sus expresiones contra aquéllos que favorecen la selección de grupo, específicamente sus palabras decepcionantes contra E. O. Wilson y, especialmente, contra David S. Wilson, han llevado a una gran parte del público (no de los científicos) a pensar que Dawkins está en lo correcto. Desgraciadamente los dos Wilsons no gozan de la misma popularidad de Dawkins, pero, aún así, David Sloan Wilson ha mostrado por qué Dawkins está rotundamente equivocado. La selección genética promovida por Dawkins y la selección de parentesco no conflijen con la selección de grupos, contrario a lo que parece insinuar Dawkins (véase las respuestas de D. S. Wilson a Dawkins aquí y aquí). Utilizando la metáfora del gen egoísta, un gen podría sobrevivir mejor si utiliza como "vehículo" a organismos sociales cuyo comportamiento altruista permite la supervivencia de un grupo o una especie. ¿Cuál es el problema? El problema es que Dawkins desea que el metafórico egoísmo del gen sea fundamento exclusivo del proceso de evolución y selección natural, y que explique, a su vez, el comportamiento altruista. Desgraciadamente, si los genes individuales compiten con otros genes individuales, la evolución moral no hubiera sido posible, así como Thomas Hobbes ilustró en el caso de los hombres: la moral no se puede desarrollar en una "guerra de todos contra todos". La selección genética sí ocurre, pero la selección de grupo es un mecanismo por el cual la selección natural hace que sobrevivan grupos en que predominan altruistas y solidarios, lo que a su vez permite el desarrollo del sentido moral en muchos de los primates, incluyendo al ser humano. Ésta y otras razones muestran por qué, aunque la metáfora del "gen egoísta" es útil, puede ser simplista en un gran número de casos si no se tienen en cuenta otros procesos evolutivos. David Burnie, una autoridad de la evolución, también caracteriza a esta metáfora como simplista por la sencilla razón de que los genes no luchan o compiten entre ellos, sino más bien los organismos. Es más, a veces es competencia entre grupos a diferentes niveles. Otras críticas aparecen en la obra de Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea, que contiene aún más críticas de otros científicos y eruditos en el tema, incluyendo las críticas de Jan Sapp, Simon Conway Morris, K. Weiss, S. Fullerton, entre otros (pp. 41-78). Como filósofo, también Cunningham le echa más sal a la herida cuando afirma que la distinción "gen/vehículo" re-establece una especie distinción cartesiana mente/cuerpo que no es deseable en las ciencias. Yo también añadiría, con un poco de mayor malicia (lo confieso), que el concepto de memes también vuelve a introducir otro elemento indeseable para las ciencias: la creencia en la posesión diabólica o demoníaca … "no es que creas en la religión por impulsos racionales, sino porque los memes religiosos te han poseído"; para Daniel Dennett "nuestro yo es también un meme".
Éstas son las razones por las cuales decidí introducir el tema de la selección de grupo en la discusión del escrito educativo que escribí para mis estudiantes. Recuerdo que como el escrito está disponible bajo una licencia libre, cualquiera que use este escrito puede modificarlo si lo considera apropiado. Aún así, espero que la gente entienda perfectamente por qué creo que el poder explicativo de la selección de grupo para dar cuenta de la moralidad de los seres humanos es bastante grande. La validez del argumento es sólida. Como siempre, estoy abierto a cambiar mi parecer si el argumento está bien explicado. A fin de cuentas, no debería predominar el fundamentalismo en la filosofía, en la teología ni en las ciencias.
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Ya está disponible la versión 2.1 del documento educativo "¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica". Hice majoras de contenido para añadir mayor presición en la información. Añadí también una referencia bibliográfica pertinente en cuanto a cómo se da cuenta de la evolución del ojo. Esta referencia es un capítulo de un libro de Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable.
Espero que el escrito sea útil. Recuerden que es una obra funcional con propósitos educativos. Esta obra la escribí para mi curso de Ética (FILO 4021) en la UPR – Colegio Universitario de Cayey. Como se halla bajo licencias plenamente libres y que cumplen con las definiciones de obra cultural libre y conocimiento abierto, invito a otros profesores y estudiantes a que utilicen este material, lo modifiquen, y lo mejoren, como les sea conveniente.
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Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XX — Identity, Solidarity, and Responsibility
A Renegade Theologian
Yet, the past is the past. When Pope Pius XII died, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church had no idea where to go or what to do given the new scenario. While they pondered the whole thing, the Cardinals decided to elect a particular Cardinal Roncalli. He was old, was fighting with cancer, he was not going to last long. Roncalli accepted and became Pope John XXIII. Then he did something totally unexpected, he called for an ecumenical council: the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Behind this council were the best brilliant minds the Church had at the time, one of them was a priest called Hans Küng. He was one of the most progressive theologians behind Vatican II. Pope John XXIII was not able to see the ending of the Council, and the next Pope, Paul VI, foresaw the last procedures and the publication of the official documents. Thanks to the Council, there were serious reforms in many areas since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), including the celebration of Mass in the vernacular language instead of Latin.
- Judaism: between Yesterday and Tomorrow
- Christianity: Essence, History and Future
- Islam: Past, Present, and Future
But he knows that this is not enough. There are other sorts of problems. The global market is now moving to what we have called in a previous blog post “market fundamentalism”, and this is done at the expense of the vast majority of the people of the world, and also at the expense of our environment.
So he asks a very important question, perhaps the most fundamental question: “Why ethics?” He further asked: Why should we be good if maybe we can lose benefit in the end? Why shouldn’t we be bad if we can gain from it? He asks all of these questions on two levels: individually and collectively. The answer seems to be evolutionary, especially from the point of view of group selection, especially multilevel group selection, where isolated groups, even when internally act ethically well with one another, it becomes threat to outsiders, even to the rest of humanity. As our connections to the rest of the world are greater, and our interdependence of countries or economic blocks are far greater, the more empathic connection we establish with others, and the more the welfare of one group depends on the rest. We begin to see humanity as a whole.
Hans Küng hardly uses evolution or group selection as his framework, but the idea is the same. The reason why we need a global ethic is because humanity as a whole needs to survive. He does agree with the third formulation of the Kantian categorical imperatives which states that humanity must not be considered merely as a means, but as an end-in-itself. The rest of nature and human affairs should be considered as means to that end. Yet, at the same time, we cannot see those means from an exploitative and mere utilitarian point of view, the environment, the ecosystems, plants, animals, species, and so on, should be means to that end, but in a sense they must be preserved, they have a dignity of their own, because without them we can’t survive. Capital, industry, governments, trade agreements, science, technology, religions are all means to that ultimate end which is humanity, who are (so far) the moral species in the planet capable of making ethical decisions.
What do we need for this new global ethic? Here are some requirements for a global ethic:
- A minimal fundamental consensus regarding determined ethical values, norms, and attitudes which would enable humans to live with one another in a dignifying way. This requires a global governance in which political states, in their own way, preserve the political values of democracy and especially the separation of church and state, so that the freedom to adopt world-views can thrive.
- This consensus must presuppose internal peace in a society, depending on the common will to solve social conflicts without the use of power. It also supposes the common will to respect a particular set of law and order. However, this law and order must be implemented by institutions which can establish a regularity, but at the same time change according the needs of the time, institutions to renew themselves.
Küng distinguishes three different sorts of moral doctrines (he calls them “ethics” in the sense of moral attitude founded on a world view, not “ethics” in the sense I use it):
- Ethics of Success: It only looks at the selfish end of an individual or group by any means necessary. This sort of “ethics” is not itself ethical, because the ends are reached in principle at the expense of anyone or anything (perhaps even everyone or everything).
- Ethics of Principle: It only looks at the principles disregarding completely what are the consequences of a an individual or group does. Usually people like this operate under the principles of peace and justice, but they are dangerous in the sense that a person will do anything, literally anything, to try to fulfill those ideals. It is ideological in nature.
- Ethics of Responsibility: For Küng, this is the position that should be adopted by humanity. It looks for the welfare of humanity as an end-in-itself, but at the same time involves the ethical evaluation of the means that we use to attain it. Küng recognizes two very important forms of responsibility: identity, which is responsibility to oneself, personal responsibility; and solidarity, which is responsibility towards the world.
For the world-wide adoption of an ethics of responsibility, Küng considers necessary to establish in each country and in a global level an institutionalization of ethics, which should not be understood as a form Marx’s Error (the moralization of the economy) or a form of ethical angelism. It means that there should be institutional support in order for ethical commissions, ethic codes, and other political means for humanity to make the best responsible decisions.
No system is perfect! Remember what I said regarding Funes Syndrome in the light of what Francisco Catalá’s reasoning: if a system is perfect, it will not work. At the same time, a human system cannot be perfect because there are fallible humans all over the place making decisions (and chances are that many of us will make wrong decisions).
There are times in life where all of the strata we have discussed align themselves perfectly. Sometimes what is profitable, is also healthy for the law and the state, is ethical, and even empathic: each stratum will agree with one another. In this sense, there will not be any problems making the right decision … it would be supid to choose otherwise from an ethical standpoint. Yet, most of the time, the decisions we have to make means that we should establish priorities to make the best decisions possible. Should we establish priority on the tecno-scientific stratum? On the juridical-political? On the ethical?, On the first and the second? On the second and the third? Which priorities we ought to establish will depend greatly on the circumstances.
And that is precisely the point. Many people who study economics, politics, or ethics wish to find the answer to world’s problems. Guess what? There is no such answer. And the reason why there is none, is not because we should not address those global problems, but because there is no one single answer to everything, given the complexity of circumstances that we find in the world. So, how should we propose solutions? Simply by looking at the particular circumstances and cases where problems arise so we can reflect on them rationally and responsibly, and suggest the best solutions possible to these problems.
Usually the problem of the commercial media (especially in the United States) is that many times people suggest black and white solutions for everything, which makes the whole commercial media in the U.S. irrelevant and irresponsible (especially in the case of FOX News, but this applies to other news networks as well). Quoting the Joker when he tried to kill a loving couple and was threatening Las Vegas on TV:
Ooo! Medical drama, life and death stakes, compelling human conflict … RATINGSSSS!!!!!!!!!
(The Justice League, Season 2, “Wild Cards – II”)
Note: Yeah, I just compared U.S. news media to a mindless, insensible, and in principle irresponsible criminal psychopath!
Not always letting the market free will solve the problems of the market, not always reinforcing the state will solve its own system nor the economy. When do we use the economy or the state in different sorts of manners? That will depend in each and every case where these problems appear. I can say with assurance, though, that black and white solutions which fall into the Funes Syndrome are doomed to failure.
Here is what is missing in some discussions on evolution. Many people ask why are some species “altruistic”. In reality much of the species have developed an economic solidarity where the majority give in order to receive something in exchange. However, for that system to persist, there must be also some members of the group which are altruistic, i.e. they genuinely self-sacrifice for the sake of the group and let that group survive. I suggest this for all of you who are working on the evolutionary view of society, especially in light of group selection.
In other words, the end result of making responsible decisions is to make a solidarity system, where the techno-scientific stratum is functional in the quality of economic solidarity, where the juridical-political establishes necessary restrictions to the techno-scientific stratum to validate people’s rights, and an ethical stratum establishing necessary restrictions to the juridical-political stratum so that everything operates the best way possible for humanity’s welfare.
Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.
Küng, H. (2003). Proyecto de ética mundial. Madrid: Editorial Trotta.
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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:
Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XIX — The Tyranny of Angels
(The entire analysis from here on is based on this proposal by the philosopher André Comte-Sponville with some modifications of mine)
One of my all-time-favorite literary works is Dante’s Divine Comedy. Imagine all of what Dante revealed in that excellent piece of work:
- Theology: Natural Theology, the Doctrine of the Trinity, Demonology, Angelology, Moral Theology, Bible (Christian) Hermeneutics, Theology of Grace and Sin, Anthropology
- Natural Philosophy: Astronomy, Cosmology, Geology
- Ethics: the Seven Deadly Sins, the Four Cardinal Virtues, and the Three Theological Virtues, Psychology
- Mythology: Greek, Roman, Judeo-Christian
- History: References to Historical Figures in the Past and During his Time
- Social Criticism: Depending on What His Criticism is, He Places his Contemporaries are in Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell … these Criticisms include Economic, Political, and Religious
Apparently what Dante did was to place almost all of the knowledge available in his time in one poetic work. That is a big feat! Imagine that you want to accumulate all of current knowledge, all of natural science (physics, biology, chemistry, … ), social science (psychology, sociology, economy, politics), philosophy (including ethics), geology, geography, cosmology, the mythologies we have now gathered from around the world, all sorts of current beliefs, etc. … and express all of these in a poem, and in verse! That’s why Dante’s Divine Comedy is a classic, and will always be a classic.
There are many parts of the Divine Comedy which appeal to me, one of them is Hell … Who isn’t appealed by that? We want to know all of the gory details, which make it precisely interesting! Our minds frequently want challenge, rarely it is entertained by the absolute peace of Heaven (Paradiso). Yet, even if you look at Paradiso from a theological, philosophical, and historical standpoint, it becomes interesting too. One of the theological subjects I’ve been fascinated with ever since I was little was Angelology (the theology on Angels). St. Thomas Aquinas was the all-time expert on the subject, and I read all about the way Christianity conceived it.
(One of Gustave Doré’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy)
Dante describes the hierarchy of angels, pretty much according to Christian tradition. From lowest to highest, this is the hierarchy: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. Each angelic "choir" is in charge of one aspect of creation, or the activities of heaven: from the angels (or guardian angels) who care for humans and living things, to the seraphim, who contemplate the face of God and praise him for eternity.
This heavenly hierarchy seems to be always in ascendance, going up, from the simple offices given by God, to the most sublime.
Comte-Sponville does not discuss angels in his work. He is pretty much a spiritual atheist, although you can’t help notice a deep admiration he has for the most intelligent Medieval theologians and Christian doctrine in general. Yet, he discusses what he calls "angelisms". They are the exact opposite of barbarities (as we have already discussed), but are not less dangerous. Barbarities descend from one stratum to another, angelisms ascend.
The reason why angelisms, as cute the name Comte-Sponville names them, are not all that lovely is because they are forms of ridiculous, i.e. they are confusions of strata. Placed in power, they also become tyrannies. An angelism essentially cancels out the logic of the lower stratum to substitute it for the higher. Here are the angelisms he talks about in his work:
Juridical and Political Angelism
In Popperian terms, the juridical and political angelism is the tyranny where the problems of the techno-scientific stratum are addressed by juridical-political solutions. As Comte-Sponville points out, this is a serious mistake (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 123-126). He mentions the famous fallacy that many French incurred in when a particular slogan was adopted in an anti-AIDS campaign: "The end of AIDS is a matter of political will!" Comte-Sponville rightfully points out that this is not true, politics nor the law are going to solve the AIDS problem. It is essentially a scientific problem. Of course, people who would defend this slogan would say: "You smart@$$! You know what we mean!" He would respond: "Of course I know what you mean. Yet, usually we are too carried away with our slogans, thinking that if we choose such and such policy, eventually AIDS is a problem that will be solved." The state should support measures to fund all of those studies to solve the AIDS problem, but it should never be a problem handled by the government, but by scientists (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 124-125).
A similar problem has to do with the current economy meltdown. It is true that we should choose the best politicians to deal with the problem. Yet, as much as you wish to vote for the very best, we cannot expect for them to solve the economy overnight! Our survival instincts misleads us, especially when we think that an extraordinarily complex and global problem can be solved by politicians we elect. It is not the case. This false impression that politicians can solve problems almost overnight, especially when our survival instincts on top priority, play very well during elections. If things go as bad as how it began or worse, the opponent of a current president or governor will use this to convince the public about how incompetent the incumbent president or governor is.
The only thing that should be taken into consideration in times like this is whether a politician has contributed to establish the appropriate economic external restrictions, and a limited intervention in the economy, in order to stimulate it and place it back on track. The economy is not solved by legislation per-se (which would be a juridical angelistic approach to the problem), but by how that legislation has an economic effect that will correct the economy. No simple task!
Comte-Sponville made similar statements in his work, regarding protests of the unemployed (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 125-126). As much as governments wish to stop protests by legislation, they can’t. They have to use economic measures to solve the problem. The alternative, is a totalitarian state (and who wants that?!)
What citizens should be careful, though, is to be sure not to elect politicians committed to economic or political interests which could be adversely affected if the right thing to do threatens them.
In the case of ethical angelism (Comte-Sponville calls it "moral angelism"), the problems inherent of the juridical-political stratum are solved by the ethical realm (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 126-127). In most cases, this is the well-meaning sort of policy adopted by many states around the world, yet, a wrong one.
"How do you solve the problem of war?" asks Comte-Sponville: "Humanitarian aid". "How do you solve the poverty problem? The creation of charities." Don’t get me wrong, even when politicians make the right choice, these charities are needed. Although we have to take into account for the way "faith based initiatives" can contribute to the public good, but at the same time, there are other organizations which are essentially rackets in the name of God or Christ which exploit this angelism to no end at the expense of the public good. Examples of this are Pat Robertson’s charities (see here and here), or even non-Christian organizations such as Narconon (not to be confused with Narcotics Anonymous or Nar-Anon).
There are many organizations in the United States, much of them faith-based, who try to assist drug addicts. However, drug addiction is linked heavily to crime in the States. In Puerto Rico, more than 80% of criminal activity is related to drug trafficking. In Mexico, both the U.S. and the Mexican government have lost their war against drug cartels. This cannot be solved by charities to rehabilitate drug addicts. The problem of drugs has a juridical-political origin: certain drugs are forbidden by law for sale or consumption. As a result, the market prices of drugs (which cost practically nothing to produce) skyrocket. Drug cartels create addicts out of society, mostly those marginalized by the economy, and since the whole enterprise is criminalized and unregulated, there is no official "justice system" in the juridical-political stratum … everything is solved by guns and bullets. In order for these addicts to pay for the drugs they consume, they have to vandalize, steal, and kill to get the money so that they can pay for the drugs. Besides, if they owe anything, the money will prevent the eventual breaking of the bones or the bullet in the head that is usually followed with not paying on time.
Hence, the solution to the problem of drugs, relies squarely on the juridical-political stratum, not on the ethical stratum. People want the government to assume an ethical stance on drugs for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad. Yet, the ethical angelism of forbidding drugs because they are unethical actually harms society.
The same can be said about prostitution. There is no question that selling women’s bodies for money is deeply unethical, undignifying, and degrading. Yet, keeping it criminalized and unregulated is the sure way to spread VDs, subject women to danger on the streets related to gang violence, needless to say subject them to genuine immediate threats to their lives due to either their pimps or their clients. Whoever has the naïve idea that prostitution will go away if we take them off the streets and place prostitutes in jail, just know that it has never happened in history, no matter how many governments (even totalitarian ones) have tried. Even an ethicist such as St. Thomas Aquinas resigned to the idea that they were a necessary ill for society. Charities won’t solve this problem certainly, although charities are needed to alleviate the problem (regardless of whether prostitution is legal or not).
There is still another sort of angelism which I call emotional angelism (Comte-Sponville calls it "ethical angelism"), which consists of canceling all of our ethical responsibilities and duties for the sake of love. This, for me, is the most amusing of all angelisms, because Comte-Sponville uses the example of the hippies. Some people have a very naïve concept of love, and with John Lennon sing the song "all you need is love". Lennon is correct in a sense, if love is used to motivate our moral sense and act according to our ethical duties. Yet, the statement "all you need is love" can be abused to say that ethics is not necessary because "all you need is love".
As Comte-Sponville would respond to such statement:
"Stop believing for a moment that you are Jesus Christ! Start by fulfilling your duties in the [ethical stratum], register as voter in [the juridical-political stratum], and learn an occupation in [the techno-scientific stratum]. If you think that love is going to solve any problem in some of these strata, then you are deceiving yourself: you are proof of angelism" (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 128, my translation)
In every day language, we would tell to that hippy: "Move your ass, get a job, and have a life!"
For some reason, this angelism reminds me of a commercial I saw in The Onion. Hmmm.
Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.
Dante, A. (1999). Divina comedia. (A. Crespo, trad.) Barcelona: Planeta. (My favorite version of the Divine Comedy to Spanish).
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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:
Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XVIII — Barbarians at the Gates!
(The entire analysis from here on is based on this proposal by the philosopher André Comte-Sponville with some modifications of mine)
It is incredible that today everyone understands by "barbarians" those kinds of societies which are practically in the Stone Age. The Greeks and the Romans used the term "barbarian" to describe anyone non-Greek and non-Roman respectively. In fact, the Greeks called Romans "barbarians", and when the Romans came to power, they returned the favor. According to the usage of the word, "barbarians" were by definition uncivilized.
Rhodes was destroyed by Rome, yet even Rome recognized that it was an exceptional place, and many members of the Roman nobility and elite went to that city to be educated. It was the center of inventions such as … a … steam engine! Nope.. Thomas Newcomen didn’t invent the first steam engine, he reinvented it in 1712. It was first invented by Heron of Alexandria, and was used in a variety of religious temples and activities. Legend says that after a civil war, Vespasian tried to rebuild the city, and someone suggested that it would be easier to do this if he used the steam engine. Vespasian destroyed the machine and said: "I have to feed the common people." And we had to wait about 1700 years for the steam engine to be reinvented. Unfortunately Rhodes was exterminated by one of its disciples: Cassius. Yep, the same one who conspired against Caesar. Also, the Antikythera machine was invented in Greek society, and it is a very, very sophisticated machine to predict the positions of the sun, moon and the planets in the sky. Could they be considered "barbarians"?
(Top: The original Antikythera Mechanism discovered accidentally underwater at the Antikythera island in Greece
Bottom: A reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism, Courtesy of Mogi Vicentini)
When we reflect on the people who are traditionally known as "barbarians", they don’t fit the traditional profile we have of them, and of Rome as civilized society. For instance, the Celts were "barbarians" by Roman standards. Yet, they developed a very sophisticated calendar (the only Celtic calendar available to us came from ancient Gaul, the Coligny calendar. It is terribly complicated. It is so complicated, that after its discovery in 1897, no one knew exactly how the thing worked … until Professor Garrett Olmsted cracked the code, and published his discovery in 1992. It is actually a combination of Solar and Moon calendars into one, a calculator, so very advanced at the time that you could predict the position of the sun and the moon accurately within 20 years, or 50, or 100, or 200 or more!
Rome, on the other hand, had a messy calendar … it was so bad, that at one point, the equivalent of our August in our calendar was the moment when Spring began. Julius Caesar had to reform it to make it much more accurate. Celts had some women in power, and laws favoring women or even handicapped children. Can you name one woman who became a Roman emperor or consul? And what about the Roman tendency to leave handicapped children to die? Also, it has been shown that the Celts invented roads long before the Romans did, and extended them throughout Europe, completely decentralized. In many ways what the Romans did, as they extended their power in Europe, was to build their own roads over the Celts’.
Romans would destroy Syracuse (which they considered inhabited by barbarians), despite the fact that it was the home of the great genius Archimedes, whom the Romans themselves killed.
Persia at the time, was far more advanced than Rome, not only culturally but also militarily … if you don’t believe me, ask Crassus , one of Rome’s consuls (along with Pompey and Caesar) . No wait! Now I remember! After invading Persia with seven legions, the Parthians beated the Romans big time. The Roman army would never forget Parthian military strategies for the rest of their lives (which only lasted for minutes, or hours). Not all of them died, though. Those who survived ended up slaves for the rest of their lives. And since Crassus was looking for gold, the Parthians gave him all of the gold he wanted … melted gold for him to drink.
If Rome were more advanced than the "barbarians", then why were they not so advanced as they proclaimed or as we have been taught in school? Can you name one (just one) famous Roman mathematician? No? Terry Jones from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, would tell you the reason: "There weren’t any!"
Barbarians such as Alaric, the one who "sacked" Rome, contrary to some testimonies at the time, did not want to destroy Rome, and he never burned down Christian Churches (for the simple reason that he was Christian himself). The "sack" was very restricted. Not only is Rome an empire he actually admired, but also Rome was the city of St. Peter and St. Paul. He held Rome captive for three days, but after not being able to negotiate with the emperor … he left in peace. Later his people would become the Visigoths, and would become the allies of the Western Roman Empire.
So many things are so misunderstood about history! ~ Sigh ~
Now, why do I come up with "barbarians" all of the sudden? In terms of history, it is a subject which fascinates me. I wanted to share a bit! However, regarding Comte-Sponville’s view of society and Ethics, there is also a discussion about what he calls barbarity, but to understand "barbarity" we have to take a brief look at his inspiration, a philosopher called Blaise Pascal.
Pascal developed an ethics where he distinguished different stratified aspects of our being. He called a confusion of these strata "ridiculous". Comte-Sponville would adopt this for his philosophical views on society. For him, ridiculous could be a confusion of strata as shown in the stratified scheme at the top of this article. If the techno-scientific stratum is confused with the juridical-political stratum, then we would have what he calls "ridiculous". Yet, Comte-Sponville also uses another term for a specific form of ridiculous called tyranny. For him, tyranny is the ridiculous in power.
Comte-Sponville makes a distinction between two forms of tyrannies. The one we will discuss in this blog post is called barbarity, or the tyranny of the low. It consists in reducing or submitting a higher stratum to the lower one. So, here is the scheme of barbarity.
Technocratic or Liberal Barbarity
The first sorts of barbarities which Comte-Sponville discusses is the technocratic barbarity, or the tyranny of the experts, and the liberal barbarity, or the tyranny of the market. (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 110-115)
Both of these philosophies assume as main argument that the people actually do not know what they need or what to do. So, these barbarities consist of experts who say: "Look, people are generally too stupid to actually know how to do things right, or what they really want. Legislate what we tell you to legislate, forget about what the people are asking for, and things will go fine." In a way this is what the Chicago Boys did in Chile when they created their plan, or "the brick" as it was called at the time. The same problem happened in the United States, when both Clinton and Bush paid too much attention to Alan Greenspan, a person who was extremely influential in legislation regarding the economy, and such legislation led to the economic meltdown, the crash in the real estate market, and the unfortunate house foreclosures. In Puerto Rico, Governor Luis Fortuño created a committee completely made up of bankers and businessmen, ignoring the government and the worker sector of society. The result was an economic plan which was a complete failure, since it recommended that people be sacked from government employments, which led to a crisis in effective demand, along with people being fired from their jobs in the private sector. Nothing in the private sector was prepared to absorb all of the unemployed, which deepened the recession. The Economist magazine lists us in the year 2009 and 2010 as being the worst economy in the world right now.
This contrasts with Ireland when it went through a similar crisis that Puerto Rico faces. But then, the committee was made up of the private sector, government representatives, and the labor unions. Everyone made some sacrifices (even the business sector), which led to an economic success to the point of having a greater GDP(PPP) per-capita than Great Britain. One of the major reasons why Ireland is in recession is that it liberalized the speculation in real-estate, just like the United States.
But let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that these barbarities worked. Why is it wrong, in principle, to delegate everything to the experts or the market? We discussed in an earlier blog the that letting the market be free, and reduce the power of the juridical-political stratum, can make society be subject to the intrinsic irresponsible behavior of the techno-scientific stratum, particularly the economic stratum. In other words, the technocratic and the liberal barbarity, cancels out democracy. In a democracy, the people rules, as it should, because only in a democracy can there be critical views over the very interested opinions and schemes of the technocrats and the market. Otherwise, it would be a technocracy or a plutocracy, not a democracy. Democracy is the means by which moral beings can use the juridical-political stratum to make the necessary external restrictions to the economy for the people’s benefit.
Political barbarity is the second barbarity which Comte-Sponville discusses. It is the sort of barbarity where the ethical stratum is subject or reduced to the juridical-political stratum. He also identifies two kinds of political barbarity. The first one is the totalitarian barbarity, which could be seen clearly in totalitarian states such as in the case of Communist Russia and the Soviet Union. We explained before that Marxism’s Error was to try to moralize the economy, suspend the requirements for it to function and replace it with the logic of the ethical stratum. For that to work, it tried to make people assume the ethics of the political party. In other words, the ethical thing to do is what the communist party says it should be done, even if it is to kill the opponents of the party (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 115-118).
Yet, there is another form of political barbarity called democratic barbarity. This happens quite often with political parties. In the United States, the people who are Democrats or Republicans actually give up their moral sense and ethical convictions to benefit those political parties. The effect is that many of their members stop requiring them the changes they need to make in order to be more democratic, nor do they require them to make essential changes to the juridical-political stratum so that the state can have cleaner governments and make them accountable to the people.
I still remember when Al Gore "lost" to Bush, in part because of votes which went for Ralph Nader. Nader argues correctly, that Gore actually won the elections. Yet, I remember friends of mine on the net talking extensively about how Nader is to blame for everything. Much of my Democratic friends have not thought that if they actually asked for significant changes in the Democratic Party, there wouldn’t be any Ralph Nader. I tried talking to them about reforming and uniforming the elections all over the United States, the use of free / open source software to run the computers which count the votes, asked them about important reforms to forbid companies from contributing to political campaigns (which, in my opinion, is institutionalized bribery), ways to let third parties be an option, about Democrats who didn’t work along the lines of worker’s rights, or GLBTT rights, and so on. But immediately everything was forgotten, and Nader was to blame for everything once again. They make it all about winning an election, while giving up their moral agency and require changes. I’ve also said the same things to my right-wing friends in the Republican Party, who mostly agree that there should be a cleaner political process.
However, Comte-Sponville talks about a democratic barbarity which is different from what I’m talking about: the fallacy that people ought to give up their right to criticize or protest against the government, because the current government was chosen in elections. Once again, this is practically giving up our moral agency and let the juridical-political stratum be set lose (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 118-121). People who argue like this have lost all sense of democracy, and limit it to going to an election every two or four years. Democracy is done every day through protests, through writing letters to your legislator, writing letters to your president or minister, or insuring human rights in the courts, or civil disobedience. We enjoy our rights today because a lot of people throughout history actually struggled and conquered them for us.
The ethicizing barbarity consists of subjecting or reducing the stratum of emotional love, of empathy, to the ethical stratum (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 121). Comte-Sponville shows the example of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who legislated against some social tendencies which his radical Islamic views considered immoral. He implemented a tyranny of the puritans. He legislated against miniskirts and St. Valentine’s Day.
But a more common manifestation of the ethicization barbarity occurs every day with people who want to love another person only in proportion to a person’s moral or ethical practice. This is not true love, because even from an ethical standpoint, we should love everyone. The interesting thing about true love (ethical and emotional) is that we should love in a way that is not really proportional to the moral or ethical purity of others. Besides, no one is perfect, no one can be called purely "good". Paraphrasing Jesus Christ in John 8, "he who is without sin, be the one to cast the first stone".
Collado Schwarz, A. (2008). Soberanías exitosas: seis modelos para el desarrollo económico de Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico: Fundación Voz del Centro.
Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.
Jones, T. & Ereira, A. (2006) Terry Jones’ Barbarians: an alternative roman history. UK: BBC Books.
Olmsted, G. S. (1992). The Gaulish calendar: a reconstruction from the bronze fragments from Coligny. Bonn: R. Habelt.
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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:
Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XVII — Two Big Mistakes in Twentieth Century (and the Twenty-First?) (1)
Today we have a globalized world, where countries are joining together forming economic blocks, and whose resources are either exploited or shared among countries. Some blocks are created in order to create a solidarity among countries to recover from economic previous disasters, which is the case of European Union. There are other economic blocks which are created to create an internal solidarity among nations close in culture and geography, which are a response to what are seen as external economic threats. This is the case of Latin America, which has created two economic blocks which run parallel among countries: the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América – Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos: ALBA-TCP (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas), and Unión de naciones Suramericanas: UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). These were created as a solidarity of Latin American nations and as an economic defense against NAFTA, CAFTA, and other free trade agreements with North America (United States and Canada). African countries created the AFrican Union in order to see if the situation of instability in many African countries can change.
Although this tendency began before the end of the Cold War, much of it is a result of the end of the Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the crumbling of the Soviet Union, corporations everywhere had no obstacles to expand their capital. Yet, as I have said before, some countries are responding to these expansions of corporate capital, sometimes adopting also a capitalist path (such as UNASUR), but there are others adopting a more socialist approach (ALBA-TCP).
Aren’t we falling in the same errors of the past, but on a bigger scale? Let’s use the our Popperian modification of Compte-Sponville’s scheme to analyze this problem.
Marx’s Fatal Error
Certain people are wondering if I’m a Marxist. I assure you, I am not. Yet, I have used Marxian analysis before, because I think that Marx made a very serious, honest, systematic, and brilliant approach to capitalism as a system. You may love Karl Marx or hate him, but you can’t ignore him. Capital is still a must read for anyone who wishes to understand capitalism. Too bad that the media demonizes Marxian works so much that people reject them, even when they haven’t read it, and have absolutely no idea what it is about.
As I have stated before, if you wish to evaluate historical events using the materialist view of history elaborated by Marx, handle it with care, since it is very tricky, and, in many cases, it is either worthless or misleading. In other cases, it has been extremely valuable.
However, I’m not here evaluating Marx’s materialist view of history or historical materialism as a framework for historical explanation, but actually what it predicts. In the realm of prediction, the materialist view of history has failed altogether.
Marx described capitalism very accurately as the relations of production where the mode of production is social (collective), the mode of exchange is social (collective), but that the mode of appropriation is individual. One trait of capitalism is the massive scale of exchange of commodities, as well as its way of producing through division of labor. It’s not that one worker specializes in creating one commodity, but rather that a series of workers (a collective) produce one product. A car is created by workers in an assembly line specializing in one sole aspect of production. This lets production be efficient and faster, compared with previous modes of production.
Yet, according to Marx (as well as other classical economists), this labor accumulated in the commodity by the workers (the proletariat) adds value to the commodity. Part of the value is used as salary for the proletariat, part is used for rent, but another very, very important part of the value produced by the proletariat is appropriated by the bourgeoisie: the social class which owns the means of production. This is what constitutes the Marxian doctrine of the surplus value: the workers produce more than they are actually paid in salary. For Marx, the surplus value is that part of the value added by workers in the process of production that is not remunerated in salary, and is appropriated by the bourgeoisie.
As far as it goes, this is totally correct and the situation hasn’t changed much in this respect. Quite the opposite, the more the global market expands, the more people become proletariats, they are paid very low salaries for massive productions, and at the same time, the bourgeoisie (the stockholders and their allies) lobby in different countries to pay less "rent" (in the classic economic sense of the word). Hence the surplus value they receive in exchange is massive, literally in a global scale.
Another thing that hasn’t changed at all is class struggle. As I have pointed out before, Marx was totally right in this aspect. Natural resources and labor are in principle scarce resources. I point this time and time again so that people grasp the nature of this problem. If wealth were not scarce, there wouldn’t be any class struggle. Why? The whole value created by workers is itself scarce wealth. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat have two very different conceptions of what to do with it. On the one hand, the proletariat wants higher salaries in the form of higher wages, more health care benefits, more vacation time (with pay), more days off, and so on. Of course, that costs to the bourgeoisie, it is less value they can lay their hands on. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie wants more wealth in the short-term, which necessarily implies paying lower wages, not provide health care benefits, not granting any vacation time, etc.
As a result, there is class struggle. This concept of "class struggle" is far from being ideological. The denial of its existence is of ideological origin. What the so-called "first world countries" did during so much time is try to get the state to intervene in the midst of the economy to calm down the class struggle and make the economy more functional. In Capital (in the Epilogue to the Second Edition), Marx states that class struggle sometimes is calm, sometimes is more agitated, but it is always there. Nothing can be seen clearer than the recent union busting legislations in Wisconsin and Ohio in recent months. It has all been relatively calm between workers and corporate interests, but thanks to corporate lobbying, they are eliminating rights of workers to form unions. In Marxian terms, this weakens the proletariat, and opens the door to more exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. Then workers respond massively to these union busting legislation in these states. Marx’s analysis in this respect is impeccable.
Yet, here is where Marx failed:
- Marx assumed, brilliantly, that in a moment of serious economic depression (Engels would call it "economic crack"), the situation would agitate class struggle to the point of the proletariat rebelling against the bourgeoisie, a proletariat revolution.
- Marx predicted that workers would establish what he called socialism, which is nothing more than the establishment of what he called the dictatorship of the proletariat. This notion of dictatorship should be understood correctly, because what he meant by the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was very far from what history would know as the dictatorships of Stalin, Mao or Castro. For Marx, the current democratic-capitalist condition is the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie", where the bourgeoisie is the ruling class. "Dictatorship of the proletariat" means that the proletariat becomes the ruling class.
- During socialism, the state (the proletariat in power) would take away the means of production of the bourgeoisie, and appropriate itself of the surplus value.
- Marx also predicted that this socialism would be a transitional stage, where the proletariat would eventually transform socialism to communism. Again, "communism", as understood by Marx, is not understood in terms kin to the Soviet Union or the current Cuban government. For Marx, communism is a stateless society, a state of anarchy (correctly understood, not in a pejorative sense).
In this prediction we find the problem. For now, it is obvious that none of this became true. If you study the Marxist states which arose during the twentieth century, you realize something very important: none of these states resembled what Marx wanted. Take Russia, for instance. Marx’s idea of socialism is that it would be carried out in developed capitalist societies, since the only component to be changed was the mode of appropriation, from individual (to the bourgeoisie), to collective (proletariat). Yet, the term "state" here should be understood more in Rousseau’s sense of the word, not in the sense of "government". In Russia, what do we find? A country with only two industrialized cities: St. Petersburg and Moscow. Other than that, everything other region of Russia was pretty much in the feudal stage (in the Marxian conception of the economy). When Lenin assumed power, and then Stalin became head of state, the programs carried out by the Bolsheviks were totally different from what Marx had in mind, because of that reality. They made the political communist party the only legal party in government, created a new ruling class at the expense of the proletariat, and for all practical purpose established what is called today a "state capitalism", which competed with capitalist countries, especially the United States.
Yet, Comte-Sponville in his work invites us to go beyond that. He reminds us of a passage in Marx’s early work on historical materialism called The German Ideology, where Marx said, in categorical terms, that man is selfish by nature (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 94). Comte-Sponville accepts Marx’s anthropological comment seriously, but in my case I want to soften it a little bit. From an evolutionary Darwinian standpoint, it is reasonable to assume that humans in general are selfish when it comes to scarce resources, and I want to emphasize, underline, establish in bold-italics, etc. the phrase "scarce resources". Why do I do that? We are the sons and daughters of evolution, which means that within our own nature, there is a struggle for life, for survival. Therefore, this inherent selfishness in our nature as humans is what has let us thrive and survive for thousands of years. However, what happens when you give away things which are valuable but never scarce? What happens when you give away the sort of stuff that you will never lose by giving it away? As incredible as it may seem, there is such valuable stuff, and we will discuss it later. However, our natural tendency to give away stuff which isn’t scarce is to share it. Forbidding people from not sharing this stuff can lead to lots of social ills, including human rights issues.
Now that we have made the proper clarifications, Comte-Sponville is correct when he says that Marx lacks a proper anthropology to address the solution to the problem of capitalism, and class struggle (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 94). Let’s say for the sake of the argument, that the proletariat revolution occurred in a fully developed capitalist country. Let’s say also (for the sake of the argument) that the proletariat will carry out socialism exactly as Marx stated. The question is, would such socialism lead to the communism as Marx expected (a stateless society, without any social classes)? The answer is a decisive "no".
Comte-Sponville invites us to think about Marx’s anthropology at this stage. Humans are inherently selfish when it comes to distribution of scarce resources such as physical wealth. Yet, he says that for some reason the proletariat, whose members happen to be human, will give up their own instinctual selfishness to distribute wealth through socialism, which would lead then to communism: a stage where everyone is treated equally, where everyone would receive the wealth they deserve according to the amount of labor they have worked, where no need for coercion is necessary. Of course, Marx’s anthropology, when it comes to the proletariat, falls into the Funes Syndrome, which we explained in an earlier post. Communism a la Marx is not possible, simply because it would require every member of society to give up his or her own natural instincts towards private wealth. Huge problem! As it has been shown in Israel’s experience with the kibbutzim, it doesn’t matter how "collective" your mindset tries to be, there are little aspects of selfishness which pour out of you, things you want for yourself, there is self-interest, and there is more interest to take care of your kids rather than care for all of them! Not that you don’t actually care for them, but there is always that instinct that you want to care for your children more than others. The same happened with Fourier’s phalanstères, the same thing happened with other social experiments (Pinker, 2002, p. 256).
Marxism failed because the success of its theory depended greatly on the disposition of people to share wealth. The only way to establish a just and fair economy is by forcing people to share in a certain way. We are no longer here talking about mere coercions to make society functional, but rather to establish a dictatorship where people are continually forced to share wealth. And this explain perfectly why all efforts to establish a Marxist socialism are always accompanied by either dictatorship or authoritarian rule Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 94-96; Pinker, 2002, p. 256). Not surprisingly, many so-called "Marxist" countries are now moving towards a more liberalization of the economy by legalizing many forms of private property in the capitalistic sense, some are even transforming themselves to capitalist countries, something which makes them "communist" in name only.
Capitalism works, precisely because much of it is based on our natural tendency to selfishness when it comes to scarce wealth. It is a system which constantly tells us to be greedy. It’s good! It works! Hence, it triumphed over Marxism in the end, and which is one of the reasons (not the only one) which resists proletariat revolutions from the inside. The bourgeoisie is effective when it comes to its rescue in times of recession or depression, even if it has to use Keynes to make it last.
From Comte-Sponville’s standpoint, Marx’s error was essentially to cancel out the requirements for the functionality of the capitalist economy, and moralize it through the juridical-political stratum (the state). In other words, Marx tried to moralize the economy. As we have said before, regardless of which economic system you use, the economy generates problems of its own, and has an internal logic which makes it work. Any economy, regardless of how effective it is in being "fair", is by its own nature amoral. What Marx tried to do is to apply ethical practice to the economy, and the end result was failure. Economies work because they are functional, not because they are ethical. So, here is an illustration of Marx’s error according to Comte-Sponville (with our revised Popperian modifications).
Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.
Marx, K. (2002). El capital. Tomo I/Vol. 1: Libro primero — El proceso de producción del capital. P. Scaron (Trans.). México: Siglo Veintiuno Editores. (Work originally published in 1867).
Marx, K. (2004). Manifesto of the Communist Party. [Webpage] Accessed in: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm. (Work originally published in 1848).
Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: the modern denial of human nature. US: Penguin Books.
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