4 comments on “Dealism

  1. I agree a lot with your model of morality. I am currently writing a series of posts outlining similar idea. Understanding function of morality is key. For the longest time I was unhappy (and confused) why people are not trying to answer “Why be moral to begin with?” question.

    Though I think couple more ingredients are required for a full working model — primarily: why is there so much self-deception around morality? For example, admitting that you’re behaving morally in order to gain something somehow diminishes the goodness. Thus people will deny that dealism approximates their morality well.

    Because of this I feel EAs will generally not agree with your position. Dealism (or at least my naive interpretation of it) will argue that using animals in whatever way we want (including torture for fun) is fine, because they cannot strike back. This on its own does map to our moral intuitions well.

    Morality is clearly about signalling. Agents like to cooperate with other agents that are self-less and non-Machiavellian. But how do you prove that you are self-less? If it’s obvious to others that your good actions were taken to improve your perceived trustworthiness or status, than they will not assume you’re actually non-Machiavellian. You somehow have to prove to everyone that you do the goodness for the goodness sake. That your algorithm cannot act unnicely.

    So how do agents show that they are self-less? By using:
    (1) self-deception — don’t ask “why be moral?”, only Machiavellians do this
    (2) emotions (for some reason difficult to fake for humans) for verifiably precomitting to agreements (friendships, marriages, tribalism)

  2. Re: [4]
    You know that the “Underground Railroad” was a metaphor, don’t you? Slaves didn’t use actual railroads to escape because they were a choke point, too easily policed. It was only the last leg, Baltimore to Philadelphia, where free blacks provided sufficient camouflage. Railroads made it easier to get to Canada, but it was the Fugitive Slave Act that spurred them to Canada, not vice versa. (Henry “Box” Brown started in Virginia and relied on high speed transit, but I don’t think he was typical.)

    You shouldn’t think just in terms of North vs South, because that isn’t the only place the debate played out. England had few slaves and no fugitives, but clarified its ban on slavery c1770, banned the slave trade in 1807, and slavery in the Empire in 1833, all before railroads. Maybe other technological change made communication easier; and maybe railroads had the same effect in America.

    Maybe railroads brought the North and South into conflict, but why did the North abolish slavery? Agricultural slavery turned out not to be viable, but Northerners kept domestic slaves for a long time. Around 1800 they began a slow process of emancipation, declaring the children of slaves to be free.

  3. Ok Douglas, I guess I don’t have good evidence for why runaway slaves became an important problem for the south. Although the Hummel and Weingast paper points out that states such as Maryland were where the runaway slaves mattered and were somewhat common (if Maryland stopped supporting southern slavery, the slaveowners’ influence on congress would be crippled).

    And maybe slavery became doomed when England banned it, and I don’t have a good understanding of why that happened.

    LoopyBeliever, I don’t expect any consensus among EAs about the nature of morality. I expect the EA movement to continue trying to generate compromises between multiple moral systems. I’m guessing that dealism is about as popular among EAs as any other comparable-level moral system.https://concepts.effectivealtruism.org/concepts/moral-trade/

    Yes, people pretend to be more moral than they actually are, for signalling reasons. People aren’t able to prove themselves to be perfectly selfless or perfectly honest. But we can provide plenty of relevant evidence, and humans have evolved to devote a good deal of brainpower to evaluating such evidence.

  4. I think it is important to separate the questions. Why did the rate of fugitives increase? Why did the South care so much to accept the Fugitive Slave Act in place of a slave state? Why did the north adopt Abolition — did fugitives play a role? I don’t think fugitives were very important for moral change in America because they weren’t important anywhere else.

    Sorry, I hadn’t read your links, so I didn’t know it was just about Maryland. So, yes, railroads could have made a difference. I don’t think that they did, because they were a chokepoint, but I don’t have numbers. I ran across the claim that the reason to keep slaves illiterate was to prevent them from forging freedom papers to use on the railroad. They did keep slaves illiterate, but those on the Underground Railroad had the help of literate conductors who could have done the forging. But I don’t think that they exploited this. I think rural fugitives avoided cities and those in Baltimore more often sought refuge with black shipping crews. But I don’t know.

    As for why the South accepted the Fugitive Slave Act, I’ll stick with the historical consensus that it was “symbolic,” which you can dress up as “signaling,” but I don’t think that helps much. Maybe Hummel and Weingast are right that the Deep South should have worried about fugitives leading to the collapse of slavery in Maryland, but that is very weak as evidence that they did worry about it, that it motivated the passage of the Act. I think they did worry a bit about the slow decline of Maryland slavery because it was uncompetitive, like in the North.

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