Fact 1.5

More on Sam Harris’s 9 facts and why they don’t (I think) get us from is to ought. Just a little more, because the power is about to be turned off. Work is difficult around here these days.

FACT #1: There are behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which potentially lead to the worst possible misery for everyone. There are also behaviors, intentions, cultural practices, etc. which do not, and which, in fact, lead to states of wellbeing for many sentient creatures…FACT #3: Our “values” are ways of thinking about this domain of possibilities. If we value liberty, privacy, benevolence, dignity, freedom of expression, honesty, good manners, the right to own property, etc.—we value these things only in so far as we judge them to be part of the second set of factors conducive to (someone’s) wellbeing.

Sure. But it’s more complicated than that, and Facts 4-9 don’t discuss some of the most important complications. The more common situation about cultural practices and the like is that they lead to well-being for some people and misery for other people. It just isn’t usually the case that cultural practice X leads to well-being for everyone or that cultural practice Y leads to misery for everyone. One of the things that cultural practices do is sort people and allot more well-being to some than to others.

I think we lose sight of how new and bizarre and non-natural liberal morality is. I strongly agree that it is a better morality, but alas that is not because it is natural. It’s more because it isn’t. It’s not natural to treat strangers or foreigners well, it’s not natural to think that everyone should have equal treatment, it’s not natural to think that women matter just as much as men do. What is natural is, once one gets past close relatives, likely to be pretty disgusting. Primates are not naturally universally altruistic, to put it mildly. (Bonobos are closer to that description than most primates. But how much can we rely on bonobo nature to claim that humans are naturally generous and egalitarian?) What is natural tends to be zero-sum, and that means that self-interest (at least) is a lot more natural than other-interest. We have to buck our own natures in order to be good, or even decent. That’s fact 1.5, perhaps.

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