Quotation of the day, we’re all assholes edition

Bryan Caplan:

Instead of saying, “We are no more morally blameworthy than [extreme case X]” we should be saying, “[Extreme case X] is just as morally blameworthy as we are.”  Blame everyone for their misdeeds, great and small.  Blame Nazis and drunks, adulterers and shoplifters, immigrant-haters and plagiarists.  Tailor the blame for the severity of the wrong-doing.  Think long and hard about what’s right and what’s wrong.  Consider extenuating circumstances.  But when someone does what’s wrong instead of what’s right, they are blameworthy and you should blame them.  And when you do what is wrong instead of what’s right, you are blameworthy and you should blame yourself.

(Emphasis added — and do pay attention to that part.)

If there is a better way to live, neither Aurelius nor Epictetus nor Kierkegaard nor Sartre nor Heinlein nor Caplan nor Cowan has found it — not that I’m going to stop looking, but don’t put any money on me finding it.


1 Response to “Quotation of the day, we’re all assholes edition”

  1. November 21, 2011 at 04:38

    If you can precisely define what you’re looking for, it’s possible to search systematically and thereby get it over with.

    Your statements seems to be, “Blame each wrongdoer exactly to the extend they deserve blame.” It looks tautological to me, in the good way. Except…’deserve.’ This term is seriously problematic everywhere.

    Though, possibly the semantics can be hacked.
    In these cases, the simple facts are that someone has performed an action, and certain people value the non-performance of that action. Whether it is even ‘wrong’ or not must logically follow from these base facts.

    Presumably, ‘deserve’ is also derived from these facts. Unless, in this case, by ‘blame’ you mean simply to acknowledge that the performed action is dis-valued by some population.

    And so here’s one hacking option: measure the severity by how dis-valued it is. (And presumably how much it affects the dis-valuing population.) Blame, in this option, is simply an acknowledgement of harm, essentially. Simply allow human nature to carry on as it will, at this point.

    However, one can certainly go further. The facts support more logic than this. If blame is something like punishment, then we have a second hacking option. I’d prefer to deprecate this one, because it is my favourite and thus I’m biased, but I can’t figure out how.
    The point of punishment is to prevent the dis-valued action in the future. ‘Deserve,’ then, is the punishment action at the maximum of the cost/benefit curve, targeted at the persons responsible for making the punishment necessary. In this scenario, ‘blame’ is something one does in lieu of punishment – it says someone deserved to be punished, even if no punishment can, was, or will be carried out.

    Since it’s mine, I know what the inside looks like. When you yourself do something wrong, it is a rule that shows you that you yourself think punishment should accrue to yourself, whether you manage to avoid it or not. Knowing this fact is one of the things humans hate knowing the most, which means you either ditch the rule or ditch the action, whether you’ll be materially punished for it or not.

    Presumably there are further options as well, though they’re only important if you don’t like the first two.

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