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What is the Most Helpful Categorical Breakdown of Normative Ethics?

I don't think the tripartite division is particularly helpful. It smacks of parochialism. It's only been the standard way of breaking down 'normative ethics' among a small clique of analytic philosophers in the Anglophone world - i.e. a few thousand people - beginning sometime in the twentieth century. It's a shame that it has become the default pedagogical tool for introducing students to ethics. It has some merit as such, but students end up thinking that it's 'the' division of ethics, and it invariably ends up occluding more than it illuminates.

If you try and fit most 'canonical' figures in the history of social and political thought into the tripartite division - e.g. Thucydides, Epictetus, Augustine, Montaigne, Voltaire, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Dewey, Wittgenstein - it becomes immediately apparent that it's an incredibly crude and misleading way of looking at ethics, and assumes a great deal about what 'ethics' is. Let alone if you go beyond the canon and look at more marginal figures, or ethnography/anthropology/cultural history for that matter. As someone else said, most thinkers are sui generis; it is almost always unhelpful to impose these kind of blunt ex post categories on them. The subject is infinitely richer and more complicated than that.

Capitalism and Selfishness

"This does not mean that capitalism is bad because capitalism is not conceptually tied to selfishness. The question of which system of economic ownership we ought to have is entirely separate to the question of which ethos we ought to follow."

This is almost solipsistic - it sounds like you're denying that a complex social world exists out there with powerful and entrenched system of causation. Only for the most remote, cerebral idealist are these two things possibly separate. What's the point of this kind of philosophy?

Capitalism and Selfishness

I don't way to be too harsh, but this is the apotheosis of obtuse Oxford-style analytic philosophy. You can make whatever conceptual distinctions you like, but you should really be starting from the historical and sociological reality of capitalism. The case for why capitalism generates selfish motivations is not obscure.

Capitalism is a set of property relations that emerged in early modern England because its weak feudal aristocracy had no centralised apparatus by which to extract value from peasants, and so turned to renting out land to the unusually large number of tenants in the country - generating (a) competitive market pressures to maximise productivity; (b) landless peasants that were suddenly deprived of the means of subsistence farming. The peasants were forced to sell their labour - the labour they had heretofore been performing for themselves, on their own terms - to the emerging class of agrarian capitalists, who extracted a portion of their product to re-invest in their holdings.

The capitalists have to maximise productivity through technological innovation, wage repression, and so forth, or they are run into the ground and bankrupted by market competition. There is, as such, a set of self-interested motivations which one acquires if one wants to be a successful and lasting capitalist. It is a condition of the role within the structure of the market. The worker has to, on the other hand, sell themselves to those with a monopoly of the means of subsistence or face starvation. To do so they have to acquire the skills, comport and obedience to be attractive to the capitalist class. Again, one has to acquire certain self-interested motivations as a condition of the role within the market. Finally, capitalism requires a sufficiently self-interested culture such that it can sustain compounding capital accumulation through the sale of ever-greater commodities.

Which five books would you recommend to an 18 year old?

Leiter is an ideologue and a bully, so that wouldn't surprise me. I think Srinivasan is a careful thinker, though. In fact she believes that because all of our beliefs are caused by antecedent factors outside of our control, that we cannot fully and sincerely commit to any belief. She has a view that is not unlike Rorty's ironism. So she's definitely 'epistemically aware'.

And the same is true, in my opinion, in the opposite direction: the EA community is extremely homogeneous. Its members generally share the same utilitarian, rationalist, technocratic, neoclassical worldview.

Which five books would you recommend to an 18 year old?

I meant socialist in broad terms. One can be a socialist and not think much of a project for change based on the 'voluntaristic' exchange of money without demolishing capitalist social relations. It pushes back to your philosophy of society, and whether you think capitalism operates as a systemic whole to generate those things which you think need to be changed.

I'm not sure that you're not building a strawman, either. The defining problem of anti-capitalist thought since the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution to spread to Germany has been why it isn't obvious. And it's worth saying that no one wants to abolish private property altogether, just the historically specific property relations that emerged in the early modern period and made it such that peasants could not earn a living except by selling themselves to those who owned the means of production. Even more ambitious forms of social anarchism allow for usufruct.

Which five books would you recommend to an 18 year old?

Libertarian capitalism dovetails with EA insofar as it respects side-constraints on property rights - one has a right to that which one receives through 'free' contract - and conceives of person-to-person help as voluntaristic. Of course, Rand didn't think much of helping others either.

That's also why, correctly in my view, socialists don't think much of EA.

Should you switch away from earning to give? Some considerations.

I think you're reflexively looking for a heuristic explanation for something which is in fact fairly obvious. Most people consider stereotypical earning-to-give careers - management consultancy, IB and so on - as both stultifyingly dull and ethically nebulous on their own terms. The one redeeming fact of the situation is supposed to be that you are giving away an appreciable portion of your earnings. A life of this order requires you to meet a fairly high threshold of asceticism.

The idea that people might avoid earning-to-give because of the psychological toll of loss aversion fails to take into account that a lot of the people who are attracted to EA rate personal income as a low priority (or even something to be avoided).

Moral anti-realists don't have to bite bullets

Moral anti-realists think that questions about how people ought to act are fundamentally confused. For an anti-realist, the only legitimate questions about morality are empirical. What do societies believe about morality? Why do we believe these things (from a social and evolutionary perspective)? We can't derive normative truth from these questions, but they can still be useful.

That is not true in the slightest. If I reject that social action can be placed within a scheme of values which has absolute standing, I suffer from no inconsistency from non-absolutist forms of valuation. Thucydides, Vico, Machiavelli, Marx, Nietzsche, Williams and Foucault were neither moral realists nor refrained from evaluative judgement. But then evaluative thought is an inescapable part of human life. How do you suppose that one would fail to perform it?

Population ethics: In favour of total utilitarianism over average

I agree that given the amount of good which the most effective charities can do, there are potentially strong reasons for utilitarians to donate. Yet utilitarians are but a small sub-set of at least one plausible index of the potential scope of effective altruism: any person, organisation or government which currently donates to charity or supports foreign aid programmes. In order to get anywhere near that kind of critical mass the movement has to break away from being a specifically utilitarian one.

Population ethics: In favour of total utilitarianism over average

Perhaps I have not been clear enough. I am not disputing that average and total utilitarianism can lead to radically different practical conclusions. What I am saying is that the assumptions which underlie the two are far closer together than the gap between that common framework and much of the history of moral and political thought. From the point of view of the Spinozian, Wittgensteinian, Foucauldian, Weberian, Rawlsian, Williamsian, Augustinian, Hobbesian, the two are of the same kind and equally alien for being so. You are able to have this discussion exactly because you accept the project of 'utilitarianism'. Most people do not.

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