Archive for October, 2009

16
Oct
09

Is there any reason to obey the Hobbesian state?

Hobbes claims that we should obey the government out of self interest. We join the state to escape from the state of nature and so we have a duty to obey it due to self interest.

But a problem immediately confronts Hobbes, which he recognizes and voices by putting it in the mouth of a fictional antagonist who he labels the fool: why obey the law all the time. If I have a duty to obey the law out of self interest, why do I have a duty to obey it when it is not in my self interest. Maybe I could cheat on my taxes and nobody would find out, or maybe I can steal something when no one is looking. The fact that the law prohibits these things should have no hold on me, since my hypothesis is that I can contravene the law and still benefit from the safety of society. In one way of thinking about it, I free ride on the law abiding instincts of others. Living in a state of nature might be really bad, and living in a state might be good, but it seems that the best thing would be to live in the state of nature while everyone else was living in the state and following its edicts.

Can Hobbes’ resort to morality to ground a duty to obey the laws? It seems that this option is cut off to him. After all, Hobbes says that there is no morality prior to the formation of the state and it’s laws. Until we agree to do certain things in society, there is no morality. But what grounds the moral force of our original agreement? If agreements have no prior moral force, then it seems that there is no reason to obey the agreement by which agreements have force.

One interesting response might be to say that the agreement in the state of nature applies to itself, so that when I agree that agreements will have force, I’m also agreeing that the agreement I’m making has force. The original agreement or covenant is retroactive (or self referential might be better) and so applies to itself.

I like this clever response, but how will it work for Hobbes? It seems that this again goes against self interest. It seems that all of us will want to preserve the possibility of breaking the laws of the state when it suits our interests. One might say that we all must agree to this provision, otherwise we won’t get out of the state of nature, but is this right? It seems like we could escape the state of nature if none of us agreed that the law had independent force, regardless of what our self interest dictated.

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11
Oct
09

a lesson from wildfire strategy

Here’s an interesting article talking about the United States’ wildfire prevention strategy.

Here’s the point. The strategy we’ve used in the states  focused on wildfire suppression, and this has resulted in a buildup of high density forest areas that are capable of fueling blazes that are essentially uncontrollable and capable of massive damage. We fought every battle, and we may have ended up losing the war.

This is interesting in itself, but the point for me is just that questioning as the basic goal of philosophy is important. The author of the above article makes this point in terms of “bounded rationality” but the point is deeper. The point is that oftentimes, our intuitive reactions to things are just plain wrong, and that we must come to respond to the world by abandoning platitudes and knocking down prejudice. Only thinking carefully about  problems earns us the right to master them. There is no way around this intellectual labor.

11
Oct
09

why you should sometimes be mean

Most people only make comments selectively. If they think something is really funny, they will say it, if they think it’s less so, they might hold it back or say it depending on the company. When one is with friends, there is little hesistation and everything comes out, and when with strangers, one may censor oneself fairly closely, not knowing the humor of the others or the response one will receive.

So, on the one hand, it’s good to be engaging and positive when one is dealing with new people; such people will feel like they can speak their mind. However, different people respond to social circumstances differently. I know some friends who always make great comments when they censor themselves to a fairly high degree. If they feel like they can say whatever they want, they start to say a bunch of ridiculous stuff. This I think is one reason for why good friends make fun of each other more than strangers or acquaintances make fun of each other. Friends know when their friend is at their social peak. So they feel free to censor the friend more. When one of my good friend makes a bad comment, I feel free to mock them over it. Likewise when I say something silly. This mutual censorship keeps each person at their peak, where only the good comments come out.

This results in a kind of self reinforcement in good friendships in which each interaction is of a high quality since both parties are wary of saying trivial things and aim to say funny things.

Being too nice results in a flood of bad comments, and most of all, you don’t help keep other members of the conversation at their best and as a result, participants who feel they can anything they want and be met with approval begin to feel that their comments have no import and that the conversation is superficial and not demanding.

09
Oct
09

impulse buys

Sometimes it’s scary to think about how psychology can help various companies sell more of their product.

Just the other day I was walking in a computer hardware store and there was candy  near the register. Almost every place in the world that one can shop at has candy and tabloids and magazines near the register. The idea is that these things cost so little, and are so near the place where payment is due, that its easy to spring for them and then pay for them before finding out, under calmer circumstances, that the twix bar you just bought wasn’t worth the 1.25 you just paid for it (and for tabloids, well, I just have no idea how they could ever be worth their price).

07
Oct
09

no one pays for a roommate

Here’s a clearer way of putting this post.

No one pays to have a roommate. There is not anyone so cool that people would pay to have them occupy a house with them.

Think of this non-existent craigslist advertisement:

Hi, my name is Jordan and I’m fucking awesome. I’m hilarious and we’ll have such a good time together. I’ll liven up your life for only $500 a month.

Yea there are maids that live in house for really rich people, but no one seriously thinks that maids are hired for COMPANY.

On the other hand, people will tolerate a roommate for a fee (the rent the roommate pays), and when they get richer, one of the first luxuries purchased is solitude.

In other words, people don’t really like other people and almost no person is so fun or awesome that they wouldn’t have to pay a fee to be in close proximity to others.  Thank god there is sexual attraction or I think people spend MUCH more time alone.

07
Oct
09

what the housing market tells us about human nature

You would think that people would love having a roommate. A roommate lowers ones own cost of housing (if you share the same room) and theoretically, a roommate can help you do all sorts of things (take your dinner out of the oven, come get you if you’re stranded somewhere, or divide household labor).

1. Imagine the most optimistic case: a roommate that is so helpful and fun with chores etc. that you would have a roommate who paid no rent. In fact, you would pay to have this person room with you. This never happens.

2. Imagine next the case of a roommate who was annoying and not great with the chores, but was worth the money they paid in rent. You let them move in because their total cost to you is less than the amount they are willing to pay in rent.

3. The last case is one in which the market rate that a renter would pay you is not more than the disturbance they cause. Such a person lives alone even though they could pay less rent by putting up with a roommate. (Why don’t more strangers get rooms together at hotels? It would lower their cost and give them someone to talk to. As the thrust of this post suggest, we happily pay money NOT to have to talk to strangers).

What I find striking is that given how could a roommate good be, how many people try to reach a level of wealth to afford 3. My point is that living alone is a luxury,  and that it is one of the first luxuries people purchase. In other words, I think the capability for human cooperation is overrated and that people have a fairly strong desire to be alone, or at least to have a place where they can be alone.

But then you also have to think that on second thought, 1 is quite common: in our society it’s called marriage. Without making any assumptions about gender roles, in most marriages where one person works, the partner is so fun and helpful, that the first person essentially pays to have the partner as a roommate.

What this tells me is that without sexual attraction the human race would really dislike itself, of course, it’s not revolutionary to point out the importance of sexual attraction for the perpetuation of our silly little lives.

07
Oct
09

types of pluralism

Moral pluralism is the idea that there is not just one moral system, but even this is a little crude. We could be pluralists about moral actions, or moral systems. In other words, there may be two permissible systems for me to follow, but I must pick one to give my allegiance to. Or, I may be able to live by two systems at once, sometimes acting from the rules of one system and sometimes from the rules of the other.

Also, what should count as pluralism. What if I’m allowed to save either of two people in a certain situation, does that mean there are two moral systems I’m allowed to operate under, or is there just one system that permits either outcome?