Category Archives: Good people disagree

What’s past is prologue – vectors into the future

We all were sea-swallow’d, though some cast again, And by that destiny to perform an act Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come In yours and my discharge. — Antonio, in The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1 (William Shakespeare, 1610) A freshman college course in Analytic Geometry helped to land me, several years later, onto a project team in… Read more »

Justice and the parsing of ethical language

Let me suggest that you cannot really understand the disputes in the U.S. Department of Justice over the recusal of Matthew Whitaker or William Barr on issues relating to Robert Mueller’s investigation without parsing three variants of “ethical language” that are in play. People are talking past one another on this topic, and in this post I will try to… Read more »

A year of rolling the dice

      1 Comment on A year of rolling the dice

I started this blog in early 2018 as a place to post some pieces I had developed over several years looking at how probabilistic randomness and other mathematical realities affect everything from the way we vote to our scientific and religious understandings of the “human condition.” Some blog posts achieved more web penetration than others, and so this post is… Read more »

Brett Kavanaugh, moral luck and the veil of ignorance

In this blog I have visited several times the intersection of mathematical probability with what we often call “divine justice” (also known as theodicy). For instance, the odds being diagnosed with any of several types of cancer resemble statistically the winning of a cruel lottery, with statistical annual diagnosis rates per 100,000 people eerily unchanged from year to year. Or take… Read more »

Ethics, legality and Iowa’s governor

      No Comments on Ethics, legality and Iowa’s governor

Note: This is a cross-post from the excellent Bleeding Heartland blog. A recent AP news story parsed through the repeated practice of Kim Reynolds, current governor of Iowa, of taking trips using planes owned by businessmen who do substantial business with the state. The most recent incident, involving a vendor handling state workers’ compensation claims, was approved by the executive director of… Read more »

The “values voter” – Whose values?

      1 Comment on The “values voter” – Whose values?

In a post a while back I wrote about the concept of “Big Picture” ethics, or meta-ethics, where making moral decisions determined by either by “the rules” or “the goals” become secondary behind a larger, generalized conception of principles or virtues that attempt to reconcile conflicting ideas and filter out the worst choices. One of the primary vectors of meta-ethics… Read more »

“Free will” versus “free won’t”

      1 Comment on “Free will” versus “free won’t”

“I can resist anything but temptation.” – Oscar Wilde One of the best-known series of studies on human volition, or “free will,” was the “marshmallow test,” conducted by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. In one variant of this study, children would be placed alone in a room with one marshmallow and told that if they waited and chose not to eat… Read more »

Why be ethical?

      1 Comment on Why be ethical?

I once viewed the assertion that we should all aspire to be ethical was a no-brainer, a universally-held social norm. I don’t believe so anymore. The election of a demonstrably-unethical businessman as president of the United States in 2016, supported despite his very public immorality by the most visible conservative, self-described religious voices, put the final nail in that coffin…. Read more »

“Signaling” our way out of an ethical dilemma

I have asserted in earlier posts about “Why good people disagree” that the human inter-brain “moral conversation” is likely one of biochemical probability evaluation. It is the end result of hundreds of thousands of “moral evaluator” brain neurons, representing the “rules” parts of the brain, the “good ends” parts of the brain, the “empathy” parts of the brain and the… Read more »

Your moral probability

      1 Comment on Your moral probability

When encountering an in-your-face moral dilemma, say the imprisoning of refugee children apart from their parents at the southern U.S. border, you can likely predict which classic ethical justification certain people are going to throw out first. Some people will first speak of the damage done to the children, letting their “empathy flag” fly high. Others will shout, “But the… Read more »