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By "before", do you mean taking precedence over the utilitarian arguments? Because in that case, as always with deontology, you face this position being taken to absurdity, e.g. claiming you have assassinating the dictator at the cost of a nuclear war that kills everyone but you.

Do you not think that you can ever be morally obliged to suffer indignity or coercion?

Check out the Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze. It's by no means obvious that Operation Barbarossa was a dumb idea. Opinions to the contrary often seem to assume that militaries and societies can run on orders, rather than oil and bread.

However, I think that Hitler's earlier decision to go to war in 1939 was the beginning of the end of fascism. The promise of fascism was military power. By fighting a war against two of the main powers of the day (France and Britain) with backing from an economic juggernaut of unprecedented proportions (the USA) Hitler was taking a huge gamble with the risk of defeat. And the defeat of fascism militarily was its defeat ideologically. Soon, even the Spanish and Portugese regimes were moving in a conventionally conservative direction.

Similarly with communism: once the hydrogen bomb ended the prospect of a Soviet military victory in the Cold War, it was stuck in an economic competition with an economic juggernaut of unprecedented proportions (the USA again) and in comparisons with countries that had fundamentally better economic systems. The promise of communism was prosperity, which became a joke once Soviet citizens had a standard of living that trailed increasingly behind such erstwhile primitive backwaters as Finland, Spain, and even Taiwan.

There is no good evidence for intelligent design, but the closest is that God apparently directed history so that fascism was defeated militarily and communism defeated economically, i.e. on the grounds of their main promises. It's as if e.g. communism was able to deliver a more free society than classical liberalism or fascism a more stable society than classical conservativism.

A free man has the right to murder even a benign dictator.

What about Tito, if you thought there was good reasons to believe that the result would be civil war and genocide? (As ultimately there was within about 12 years of his death.) Is the right to "feedback" enough to justify instigating bloody chaos?

People are very quick with historical counterfactuals, I think. The Red Alert series was smarter. We know what happened with Hitler as Germany's leader in the 1930s; we don't know what would happen with Goering or Himmler as leader. Maybe they would have been smarter, more successful, and the Nazis would have won. Or if Hitler was killed in 1918, maybe German communist or ultra-conservatives unleash even more bloodshed. Germany was a highly industrialised and highly dysfunctional country - some degree of tragedy was likely. I also think that the USSR was likely to lead to horrors, even if Stalin died in 1923. Sometimes, a happy end requires a very big counterfactual.

That's not to say that "I would kill Hitler, in hindsight" is a bad judgement. There's a plausible case to be made that he was an exceptionally dangerous figure - that probably a Goering or Himmler or communist or non-Nazi far right Germany would have been less awful. However, it's overstating the case to think that e.g. Hitler's assassination would be utility-maximising, as opposed to expected utility maximising.

The same applies all the more strongly for those on the left who regret Trump's survival. Be careful what you wish for, because what you ask for is not always what you want.

darkly hint towards the murder being motivated by transphobia without explicitly saying so

In the view of the Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents (admittedly not the most prominent outlet in the US, nor Pittsburgh, nor perhaps the Pittsburgh lesbian community) her death is now part of the 2024 "campaign of terror":


I think critics would be quite happy to go back to calling it "infanticide", but there's resistance to that too. Just like "woke", "SJW", and "PC".

On "post-birth abortion" (more accurately, non-resucitation of neonatal infants) the Republicans are right that this occurs, though it is a matter of physician's judgement rather than something the mother can just demand:

In these cases, where there is little or no prospect of an infant surviving after birth, families might opt for perinatal palliative care, or comfort care — prioritizing comfort while allowing an infant to die naturally without exercising full resuscitation efforts.


They conclude that, fortunately, there is no actual post-birth abortion... because they DEFINE abortion to exclude such cases. That's like saying there are no gun owners who commit school shootings, because you DEFINE "gun owner" to exclude those who use guns for illegal purposes that would lead to their gun licence being revoked.

For moderates on abortion who don't even like the existence of a slippery slope towards infanticide (e.g. as "little prospect" becomes extended, then a judgement for the mother etc.) this sort of thing is cold comfort and an easy point of attack for Republicans against Democrats.

More generally, to see how this is a needlessly difficult issue for Democrats, see how the (generally sympathetic to them) FactCheck puts it:

Claim: Democrats “introduced legislation that allowed abortion on demand ... up to the moment of birth."

Claimed by: Lindsey Graham

Fact check by FactCheck.org: Spins the Facts

Same with AP news:

Claim: Forty-nine Democratic senators voted that it should be lawful to kill a full-term baby the moment before birth while it is still inside its mother.

Claimed by: social media users

Fact check by AP News: Misleading.

These editorial spins are fact-checker answers for when they can't say that something is false, but they would love to do so.

Trump and the Republicans have played things like "post-birth abortions" very well so far. If they're smart, they'll apply the same mix of hyperbole and accuracy for the "abolition of motherhood". The Republicans may struggle with young women, but married women with children have been fertile ground (excuse the metaphor) for them and other conservative parties in the past.

From Kamala Harris's perspective, the Brezhnev -> Andropov route is the most realistic path for her, though she'd hope to live longer than Androppedoff.

"the only reason it has a national identity is due to its language"

To which a lot of Welsh people are actively hostile, especially (I think) in South Wales, where most of the population is.

To put the SDP in some perspective for outsiders to UK politics: they are the descendents of a centre-left breakaway from the Labour party in 1981, who largely dissolved in the late 1980s. Somehow, they managed to survive through a nuclear winter and have remerged a little as a party for people who like Brexit/social conservativism, but who are more economically centrist/left wing than the Tories or Reform. They are one of the tardigrade parties in the UK: no matter the hostility of the environment and their tiny size within it, they seem to just survive.

I would be slightly more surprised at Gabbard being the Democrat candidate than Mitt Romney.

Since completeness is defined, at least per wikipedia, with a ≤ instead of a <, it would seem relatively hard to deny? The others are less obviously necessary.

Suppose you have a revealed preference analysis of preference. Note that I do NOT NOT NOT mean a revealed preference theory of evidence about preferences, but the idea that observed choice behaviour is what preference is. In that case, Completeness holds trivially, provided the choices in question are in fact made.

However, if you understand preferences as mental attitudes, then it is perfectly possible that someone does not have an attitude such that (1) they prefer A to B, (2) they prefer B to A, or (3) they are indifferent (in the technical sense) between A and B. For example, Duncan Luce did experiments that found that, under some conditions, people's choices in apparently repeatable choice-situations fluctuated probabilistically. IIRC, they preferred A or B to a random choice between the two, indicating that this was not indifference. Now, it's possible that they were interpreting those choice-situations as non-repeatable, but it could also be that their preferences with respect to A and B don't form a strict ordering.

What followed: there are inconsistent, deductively false beliefs, that nevertheless need subjective credences.

There's no basis in decision theory or mathematics for that claim, AFAIK.

Fair enough—well, not necessarily in the sense that you're not performing updates, but in the sense that you have no universal probability function.

There is a cool literature on imprecise probabilities you might like to look at:


I haven't read any applications of this approach to Pascal's Wager, but since IP is arguably a more realistic model of human psychology than maximising expected utility (which assumes unique additive probabilities) someone should definitely do that.

I guess I just don't have any better, clearer way to handle things.

Me too! I don't want to dox myself, but I think that Bayesian decision theory is similar to things like General Equilibrium Theory, neoclassical capital, and other concepts in economics, in that they can be useful tools to make decisions given idealised assumptions, but they shouldn't be taken too literally. Like any scientific model, their value comes not from their approximation of truth, but because of empirical and formal properties they possess, e.g. track-records and approximations of relevant features in the world (empirical) and tractability/computability properties (formal).

For more about the topics raised in the last paragraph in my comment above, the Stanford Encyclopedia page is pretty good - written by a very good young philosopher, Seamus Bradley, who has done other work on the topic worth reading. Much of the great work in this literature, e.g. by John Maynard Keynes, Teddy Seidenfeld, Peter Walley, Clark Glymour, Henry E. Kyburg, and Isaac Levi, is extremely technical, even for decision theorists. The SEP page covers most of their ideas at a more accessible level, sometimes in its appendix. The best young guy in the field is probably Richard Pettigrew, who has done some magnificent work that has still not been incorporated into the broader Bayesian consciousness, e.g. https://philarchive.org/rec/PETWIC-2 (see this video for a relatively easy introduction to that paper - https://youtube.com/watch?v=1W_wgQpZF2A ).

I find this topic very interesting, because (like you, I think?) I see Pascal's Wager (or something like it) as the best current case for religious belief. I actually like Arthur Balfour's variation of this type of reasoning, which avoids some of the features of Pascal's arguments that are awkward, e.g. regarding infinite expected payoffs:


Here's John Passmore's summary of Balfour's position, from One Hundred Years of Philosophy (1968):

In his A Defence of Philosophic Doubt, being an Essay on the Foundations of Belief (1879), Balfour set out to show that the naturalism of nineteenth-century science rests on principles-the principle of the Uniformity of Nature, for example-which cannot possibly be derived demonstratively. This negative conclusion is the starting-point of The Foundations of Belief (1895). Naturalism, Balfour argues, conflicts with our moral and aesthetic sentiments, whereas theism satisfies them. If naturalism were demonstrable, he admits, it ought for all its distastefulness to be preferred to theism; but since it is not, our feelings should carry the day. He denies that there is any impropriety in thus bowing to our feelings: our beliefs, he says, are always determined to a large extent by non­rational factors.

Basically, the idea would be that, at least assuming a common human nature, it is prudentially rational to believe in God, because one is permitted to do so in the absence of a refutation; there is no refutation of God's existence; and one can expect better consequences from such belief.

Whether that reasoning is sound is one of the most important questions of philosophy, in my view, and it's brought me very deep into epistemology/decision theory. Balfour's starting place is Hume, but Subjective Bayesianism (either with precise or imprecise probabilities) seems very apt for such reasoning. Indeed, on a Subjective Bayesian view, I don't think there is any reason to think that theism is less rational than belief in even our most supported scientific theories.

Interesting, I didn't know that.

voting against your party basically never happens in British politics, because the party leaders can just replace you instantly with someone who toes the line

No, quite the opposite? It's rare to vote against a governing party on a confidence vote, but that's because that could trigger the downfall of the government, and you have to REALLY be interested in rebelling to do that if your party is in government. It would be like a Democrat/Republican voting to remove a Democrat/Republican president, which AFAIK basically never happens in US politics.

(I can't find it via a quick search, but I remember back in 2016 over at the subreddit linking to a professor who argued for stripping the franchise from Trump voters, on the grounds that it's legitimate — the right thing for democracy, even — to remove the vote from those who've demonstrated that they will misuse it by supporting an unacceptable candidate.)

There are things like that:


But then it would seem like you could dismiss the smaller ones, and only care about the commensurable ones in the largest class? (That is, with nothing incommensurably larger than them?)

It's not so much a question of caring about the importance, but rather whether one is rationally obliged to have a preference over all of the options.

What do you mean by a sigma-algebra with regard to deductive beliefs?

A sigma-algebra is a set that is closed under complement, (countable) intersections, and (countable) unions. For example, if A in the algebra and B is in the algebra, then A U B is in the algebra.

Deductive closure is the requirement that a set of propositions contains every implication of conjunctions from that set. This is also called the logical omniscience requirement of Bayesianism: it assumes you know all the logical relations and have updated accordingly.

It seems reasonable enough to me to assign probability to some set of incoherent beliefs.

Not sure what you mean here?

Like, it might make sense to guess how subjectively likely it is that some math problem works out one way or the other—I'm certainly entitled to be surprised by it.

Agreed, but then you're going beyond the Bayesian model of belief.

Could you elaborate on determining a partition? My thought would be that it would be impossible to actually do things like that for everything in practice, and that generating precise probabilities in general is hard, but in theory, it would be correct if an agent acted that way? (See the page on Solomonoff induction)

There are quite a few things going on with partitions in Bayesianism, but for example, P(H) = P(H | A1) P(A1) + ... + P(H | An) P(An), where {A1, ... An} is a partition of propositions (mutually exclusive and exhaustive). The probabilities for the elements of such partitions must add up to one, by the Law of Total Probability.

To create such partitions, Bayesian epistemologists use "catch-all" hypotheses, meaning basically "The disjunction of all the possibilities that I haven't considered." Problem: how do you determine P(H | Ac), where Ac is a catch-all hypothesis? If you can't do this, then you don't know whether your probability distribution is coherent.

Bayesian decision theorists and statisticians stare at me blankly when I bring this up, because they don't do Bayesianism the way that philosophers do it. They assume that the probability distribution is over what Savage called a "small world", with a nice simple and manageable set of events (they almost all prefer that domain rather than propositions, AFAIK) that is an idealised model of some portion of the real world. That's definitely a great way to reason if you're making some practical decision or making an inference within a simplified model of some phenomenon, but it's incompatible with the high aspirations of Bayesian epistemologists, who are interested in a rational agent's reasoning, and agents don't just reason about small worlds.

Solomonoff induction is popular among some rationalists, but it has no particular status within Bayesianism: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/12429/

It's also controversial within Bayesianism (and even moreso statistics/decision theory/philosophy) whether people's beliefs should be representable as precise probabilities over a sigma-algebra, but that's a huge topic beyond the scope of what I have time to discuss here.

under a seemingly reasonable definition of rational

Why do you think that the Completeness Axiom is an axiom of rationality, rather than a modelling convenience? I once checked through the great Bayesian decision theorists, e.g. Savage and Morgenstern for an argument for this axiom, but they ALSO seem to view it as a modelling convenience. As I recall, Savage explained the axiom as, "No, this isn't a requirement of rationality, but I can't do the maths in a simple [by HIS standards!] way otherwise." When I ask living great Bayesian philosophers, decision theorists, or statisticians, they ALSO view it as a modelling convenience, or change the subject from representation theorems to Dutch Book Arguments, epistemic accuracy arguments, and so on.

This isn't just a technical point, since it's not clear to me that a rational agent must assign an additive probability to their belief in Mysteries, such as the Trinity, because in a Bayesian model this also requires determining likelihoods of the deductive closure of your beliefs, over a sigma-algebra of propositions, under the assumption of the Trinity. (Otherwise you don't know whether your credences are coherent.) However, this is a problem for Trinitarian Christianity, rather than unitarian monotheisms. Again, this seems to be another case where your reasoning seems to favour Islam, rather than standard Christianity.

(By the way, I recently talked to a large number of Bayesian statisticians, all of whom were literally laughing out loud when they learned that people like Yudowsky think that you can determine credences in hypotheses like "God exists" or "This interpretation of quantum mechanics is true." That is not how someone who understood Bayesian mathematics would speak, in their view. For one thing, they brought up the problem of determining a partition.)

As you note, there are two separate things here:

(1) Focus on literary technique.

(2) The subject matter.

It's easier to use (2) as a way to lure otherwise uninterested students into talking about (1), IF you are more interested in (1), as English teachers tend to be. But there we agree.

Makes sense, thanks for the update.

I think the idea was that pederastic men REALLY wanted to have egalitarian relationships with men their own age, but couldn't under the conditions prior to legalisation, and would switch if these egalitarian relationships were possible.

Couldn't you argue that large religions that revise existing religions are less to be false, because God would not tolerate such mass heresy, and so Islam is more likely to be true than Christianity?

To be a Christian, you have to think that (a) Muhammad was a false prophet, (b) Muhammad was massively successful, and (c) God let Muhammad live a long and successful life (vastly more successful in his lifetime, as a prophet, than Jesus) knowing that it would lead to a mass heresy, and then tolerated Islam becoming a massively successful religion. Whereas, in Islam, Christianity is one of the revelations of true Islam that was corrupted due to human imperfection: Jesus was essentially a Muslim prophet, but - like all those prior to Muhammad - unsuccessful in delivering the true revelation, with his followers adding false elements e.g. that Jesus was not just the Son of Man, but the Son of God; not the blood descendent of David through Joseph, but the Son of God (and also God).

You might say, "Ah, but God doesn't intervene in such cases, at least not post-X AD, when he cut back on the smiting and miracle business, whereas before he might turn you into a pillar of salt if you looked back towards a sinful city" but then it seems you should also give up Premise 7.

And Muslims don't deny all of Christianity (e.g. that there is one God) just things like the Trinity, which are hardly the most attractive parts: even if you're willing to tolerate the mystery of the Trinity, it's hardly the first thing you'd bring up if you were trying to convince someone of Christianity. You'd want them to at least believe that God the Father exists, that Jesus was his son, that Jesus rose from the dead having sacrificed himself for our sins, and THEN, once the person is on board and emotionally invested and convinced they must be a Christian to be saved, say "And Jesus is also God, in a sense that I cannot explain to you and is a wonderful, beautiful mystery."

On the assumption of an activist God, who sometimes (but not always) intervenes to promote religions, Islam seems more plausible than Christianity.

I have a model (not, I think, original) of three ideal types:

(1) People interested in things. Their ideal book would be a hard sci-fi book that explains how the time machine/interstellar space craft actually works. I have known a few people who embody this almost perfectly and they are either about as autistic as you can be while still being functional OR successful salt-of-the-earth tradesmen.

(2) People interested in abstract ideas. I think that people who gravitate towards classic dystopian fiction, as well as Big Theory sci-fi like Dune or some of Asimov's work, tend to be this way, as well as mathematicians, philosophers, theologians, theoretical physicists etc.

(3) People interested in people. They like books about people. This is almost all books regarded as "classic" literature, as well as a lot of any genre of books, as well as a lot of entertainment in general.

My classic image of (3) is a high school English teacher, who are also at least partly responsible for putting many of type (1) and (2) people off reading fiction. Works like the Dune novels and Asimov's books/stories were literally banned as dissertation topics at my high school due to "insufficient literary merit"; I was just about able to convince them to let me write about Dostoevsky, but I was strongly encouraged to write about the characters rather than the ideas. I know another person who had the same experience with Brave New World and Nineteen-Eighty Four, which were too respected to be banned as topics. You were supposed to write about Jane Austen, Shakespeare (as long as you focused on style and characters), George Elliott (or F. Scott Fitzgerald if you weren't bright) and the like: character-focused, with minimal action, and certainly no in-depth discussions of how a time machine worked.

This was one difference between gay rights (sans gay marriage) and transgenderism. You didn't have to assert a factual claim as a result of homosexuality being legal, gays being able to adopt, gays being able to serve in the military etc. Gay people weren't insisting that e.g. "You must say that gay sex is identical to heterosexual sex" or "There is no difference between gay people and straight people."

The T seems conceptually revolutionary to a far greater degree than the LGB part, which only aimed at moral and legal changes.

I have unfortunately observed a steady supply of young boys eager to pimp themselves out for rich sugar daddies flush with money and drugs, and none of my male friends who were active on grindr as teens show any regrets in their adult life.

AFAIK, this was common among gay men back in the days when it was illegal. John Maynard Keynes, for example, had a thing for very young men/older boys. I think the hope was that this would go away if homosexuality was normalised.

Related: Douglas Murray (a gay conservative) once pointed out, when criticising the concept of an "LGBT community", that there is no more unnatural an alliance than between gay men and asexuals.