The Hansonian Moralist
By Bryan Caplan
I’ve repeatedly criticized my dear friend Robin Hanson’s subordination of morality to the view he calls “dealism.” Not only is the doctrine absurd. It also fails on its own terms because Robin’s proposed deals consistently fail the market test.
Indeed, Robin’s whole persona violates the basic principles of salesmanship. Instead of trying to show the world that he’s a regular relatable Joe, Robin routinely publicizes views most people find abhorrent. He positively goes out of his way to inform people that they’re a bunch of hypocrites. Dale Carnegie would not approve.
Only recently, though, did I realize that where Robin fails as a dealist, he excels as a moralist – in three distinct ways.
First, Robin often constructs sound original moral arguments. His arguments against cuckoldry and for cryonics are just two that come to mind. Yes, part of his project is to understand why most people are forgiving of cuckoldry and hostile to cryonics. But the punchline is that the standard moral position on these issue is indefensible.
Second, Robin’s moral arguments actually persuade people. I’ve met many of his acolytes in person, and see vastly more online. This doesn’t mean, of course, that Robin’s moral arguments persuade most readers. Any moral philosopher will tell you that changing minds is like pulling teeth. My point is that Robin has probably changed the moral convictions of hundreds. And that’s hundreds more than most moralists have changed.
Third, Robin takes some classical virtues far beyond the point of prudence. Consider his legendary candor. Strategically, it’s folly, provoking mockery and abuse. Unless, of course, you embrace the virtue of honesty as essential to a life well-lived. St. Jerome once had a dream where God told him, “You are not a Christian, but a Ciceronian.” Robin should have a dream where the Singularity tells him, “You are not a dealist, but a puritan.”
Two requests for the comments:
1. List original Hansonian moral arguments, whether or not you accept them. They need not be explicitly framed as moral arguments; any determined effort to debunk conventional moral judgments counts. Please provide URLs.
2. Identify original Hansonian moral arguments that led you to revise your moral views.