2014-04-17

The Morality Of Immorality

Jason Brennan has some very different ideas about what constitutes moral behavior than I do.

First, he wrote an argument in favor of politicians' lying to stupid voters. He suggested that it "might be obligatory and praiseworthy in some circumstances," and called it a "duty." To illustrate his point, he first established that we would all lie to a pack of killers if it meant saving the innocent from murder. I'm sure I don't need to tell you where this lead. In Brennan's analogy, "stupid voters" are comparable to a murderous posse. Ergo, it is obligatory and morally praiseworthy to lie to stupid voters.

Against the many sound objections to his theory, Brennan wrote another post arguing that, just because his argument could be used to promote the actions of a despot, doesn't mean that the idea itself is bad. Specifically, he writes:
Many of the commenters said that my position can’t be right because people will misapply it in dangerous ways. They are right that politicians will misapply it in dangerous ways. In fact, I bet some politicians who wrongfully lie do so because they think that they mistakenly fall under a murderer at the door-type case. But that doesn’t mean that the principle is wrong. It just means that people tend to mess up the application.
One interesting aspect of Brennan's point here is that he might not realize how it could be used to nullify his whole initial idea. To wit, just because voters tend to mess up the application of their votes doesn't mean they're "stupid" and ought to be lied to. But anyway...

It doesn't take a Socrates to see why this kind of thing doesn't sit easy with most people with an interest in being moral. I might be able to craft a thorough rebuttal of the idea, but I don't feel much inspiration to do so. As I commented at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, there is no need to defeat with logic what can be defeated by common sense. It doesn't strike me as a valid moral premise that the bulk of the people you are dealing with are stupid ignorami whose actions are dangerous.