Bryan Caplan  

Pre-Debate Disagreement

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In his promo for Tuesday's Caplan-Hanson debate, Robin writes:
We don't actually disagree that much; basically we both like debates but couldn't find anyone else to debate us.  So we looked for something we sorta disagree on, and will at least have fun discussing it.
At risk of getting self-referential, I disagree with Robin's claim that we "don't actually disagree that much."  In fact, I wonder if we could disagree more. 

I think it's ridiculously easy to construct counter-examples showing that it is often wrong to do the efficient thing.  Robin, in contrast, stands by efficiency no matter what counter-examples I throw at him.  I think that moral philosophy should begin with simple, concrete cases, and cautiously build from there.  Robin, as far as I can tell, thinks that moral philosophy should begin with sweeping generalizations (e.g. "Always do the most efficient thing"), and throw our intuitions about simple, concrete cases to the dogs.

Of course, if I've totally misunderstood Robin, he'll probably tell you so on Tuesday.  One thing, though, is certain: We deeply disagree about something or other!


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Wlodek writes:

Seeing that none of you can keep a proper boxing guard I predict a double knockout. Hopefully it will be available on PPV.

Arare Litus writes:

In case of double knockout, do they both win? Both lose?

I hope to hear some postscript - results of the pre&post poll of audience on the debate question, zingers, and the blooper reel....

Have fun!

stanfo writes:

I hope this is taped. And I hope you know I would actually pay to see this, even though this will likely be just an extension of your lunch time chats.

"I think that moral philosophy should begin with simple, concrete cases, and cautiously build from there. Robin, as far as I can tell, thinks that moral philosophy should begin with sweeping generalizations..."

You present the classic dichotomy between theorist and experimentalist, between Platonic "realism" and materialism. Do theories imply observations or do observations imply theories? Are mathematical theories invented or discovered? In the real world, people occupy different points along a continuum (probably of many dimensions) from theologian to businessman.

Rob writes:

For a preference utilitarian efficiency (utility/effort+time+etc) is the only thing that can matter.

hacs writes:

What is the most efficient manner of a country diminishes extreme poverty (people without net non-human and human wealth) or extreme danger represented by criminal psychopaths? An immoral, absurd and illegal answer would be probably killing them all. It is a logical answer but is it a rational one?

Is it rationality only the principle asserting that the human being chooses the best answer (from a purely objective cost/benefit standpoint) for her/him to any choice's problem? What does efficiency really mean?

There are inherent moral questions in the usual rationality tacitly introduced in the notions of choice set, cost and benefit (consequently, in the usual concept of efficiency), which are relegated to a second plan (or even forgotten) in economic discussions.

David Jinkins writes:

A few days ago I reread a bit of chap. 4 from Parfit's Reasons and Persons, and IMHO Parfit definitely agrees with Bryan. He will often use concrete examples to illuminate the issues involved with some moral dilemma and then reject the premise that leads to a conclusion that doesn't agree with "common-sense morality".

This is the best way to do moral reasoning. If you use the purely deductive method, then you leave room for someone to disagree with your axioms and easily throw out your entire system.

Bob Murphy writes:

We don't actually disagree that much; basically we both like debates but couldn't find anyone else to debate us.

Should I check my spam folder? My voice mail box?

George writes:

Bryan wrote:

We deeply disagree about something or other!

Isn't that basically the motto of academia?

Grant writes:

Is someone YouTubing this?

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