Lying and ethics (opening shot: my analysis and summary of Sam Harris' new ebook)
#25
I clicked on the split threads option but then it needed so many quotes to put to put context into these posts that won't make sense in isolation(some of your discussion with karatalaamalaka and one of ajita's post)
Maybe we can just leave it and move on and back to topic from next post.

So taking it back to ajita's conclusive review.

Ajita Kamal Wrote:Harris does what he does best. Bury his moral premises into his model of ethics and selectively pick the evidence to fit the model. The problem is, when we're speaking of ethics, moral premises and factual propositions are inextricable. Moral premises change as perception of factual propositions change, and perception of factual propositions ALWAYS change for someone truly objective about the evidence.

When one ignores subjective premises, possessing a lot of data can actually be a liability when discussing ethics. A master at self-deception (or just the regular kind of deception) can be very good at cherry picking convenient facts (which usually are popular with a target audience) and ignoring inconvenient ones. This becomes a problem of logical inconsistency when someone claims that the scientific facts have been shown to demonstrate a moral value as objectively true.
1. Science usually deals in degrees of certainty, not in absolutes, especially when it comes to low probability predictions.
2. No such scientific consensus exists (in line with Harris' argument), not even close.
3. Even if it did, the is-ought problem gets in the way.

Science has shown how our intuitive emotional reactions are often in opposition to our informed moral inclinations, provided we are in possession of the facts. Let's say I can apply all current scientific evidence in a real life situation. I can still easily think of a situation where the consequences of saying the truth are so unpredictable and scientifically untestable (current science) that averting an immediate and rather obvious danger to a life by lying is, in that situation, for me, the moral thing to do. That is, even if we can make the best scientific judgement we can in each situation, I submit that it is true (in the subjective moral sense) that in particular situations preventing an imminent and certain (in the scientific sense) danger by lying outweighs a very uncertain (in the scientific sense) one by not.

Moreover, we simply cannot extricate the subjective element here, even if we are in possession of all the objective facts (not just the scientifically knowable ones constrained by uncertainty, but all facts knowable at a hypothetical Laplace's demon level of certainty). There will be cases where the absolutely known consequences of a lie would be found unfavorable by a majority of people (were they in possession of all the absolute facts regarding the consequences). But there can still be exceptions where individuals (or even groups) are in disagreement, even if they had all the facts, simply by virtue of their mental make-up. That is, the subjective element is a wrench in the works when attempting to dictate an absolutist morality.

What's the alternative towards a naturalistic science-based philosophy of ethics? It seems that the argument against lying is rather easily made from a subjective perspective, using the science to explain the facts without burying moral premises. The question to me is why then try and make an ontological claim that lying is always bad?

And your thought-provoking questions as a starting point to get back to the topic:
arvindiyer Wrote:If we steer clear of an 'ontological claim that lying is always bad' but nevertheless treat lying as something to be reduced to the extent possible, then the practical questions are :
How do we check our own tendency to lie? When should a person be held accountable and eventually punishable for participating in a lie? How can we create mechanisms and institutions to dis-incentivize lying and keep ourselves honest?
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#26
Quote:How do we check our own tendency to lie? When should a person be held accountable and eventually punishable for participating in a lie? How can we create mechanisms and institutions to dis-incentivize lying and keep ourselves honest?

Can't it be just like every other action ?
Just like every other action that has effect on others, we check our tendency to lie or say a misleading truth or deliberately lie(in case a misleading truth is too risky and stakes too high) based on what we think to be it's effect.

Just like every other action, we can base the accountability on various factors such as harm caused by the action, intention (and possibility of whether or not person is expected to cause harm again by repeating such action), causation/knowledge (how obvious was it for a person that the act of lying would result in that outcome? this is similar to intention) , situation (for example could that person have avoided that lie without losing something significant or did he have no other alternative but to lie despite his desire yet knowing that it would cause harm).

Infact I think it is by these parameters that we decide the accountability anyway , whether or not the statement was a lie, for example we would find the actions 1 and 2 equally contemptible 1) You tell the truth to a criminal revealing the location of the safe house and lead him to witness causing their death 2) you lie to the victims about a safe location and cause them to meet with the criminal causing their death.
If you vary the intent and knowledge for example in case 2 the person thought the criminal was only going to offer money for keeping mum not kill, while there was knowledge of the exact outcome in case1, you will find the person more accountable in case1.
Similarly if person was blackmailed/threatened by criminal in case2 while did what he did it for money and greed only in case1.

I think mechanisms of sorts are already in place and similar to every other action,both legally (people face legal penalty for their lies for example a doctor can get expelled or even jailed for lying about patient's reports which jeopardizes patient's health etc. ) and socially (chronic liars are shunned in social gatherings and in general have a bad reputation)


(19-Oct-2011, 10:54 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: Tom Clark's talk on Worldview Naturalism also provides a promising framework to address these practical questions. Let us start with under what conditions a person should be held accountable for a lie, or for that matter, any transgression. Enforcing strictly individual accountability is untenable when we recognize that individual actions maybe the products of conditions the individual did not choose. This circumscription of individual accountability does not at all detract from our collective responsibility to alter the conditions that determine our individual behaviors. We can alter these conditions using what Clark calls 'behavioral technology', processes designed by consensus with an end towards, say, reducing crime or inequality.

Perhaps a concrete example related to lying is in order here. Consider the issue of selective and sensationalized media reporting which departs often seriously from the facts and borders on lying. Reporter P Sainath, in a talk evocatively entitled 'A structural compulsion to lie', recognizes, like Clark, that this is not the moral failing of any one individual but the result of prevailing conditions like paid news and TRP pressues. He also recognizes, that it is our collective responsibility to alter this structure. The solution, or the 'behavioral technology' he recommends is similar to what in the scientific world is a 'structural compulsion to tell the truth', namely, repeatability and peer-review.

Towards the end of the recent TED Talk, How to Spot a Liar, author Pamela Meyer offers an optimistic view that Web 2.0 has made such peer-review a 24-7 process and hence may in fact help keep us more honest. To use the terms as Pinker uses them, the near-immediate sharing of all experience on Web 2.0 blurs completely the distinction between 'individual knowledge' and 'mutual knowledge' and thus greatly reduces the scope and incentives for ambiguity and concealment. However, there is nothing binding us to use these tools which can potentially be used to keep us honest to actually keep us honest, and nothing guaranteeing against their subversion and therefore we are not going to run out of ethical debates anytime soon.
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#27
(19-Oct-2011, 10:54 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: How can we create mechanisms and institutions to dis-incentivize lying and keep ourselves honest?

(19-Oct-2011, 10:54 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: Reporter P Sainath, in a talk evocatively entitled 'A structural compulsion to lie', recognizes, like Clark, that this is not the moral failing of any one individual but the result of prevailing conditions like paid news and TRP pressues. He also recognizes, that it is our collective responsibility to alter this structure.

Dan Ariely, author of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves, cites the banking sector as one example of incentive structures that 'create the right circumstances for people to misbehave'. In this RSA talk summarized in the animation below, he observes that dishonest behaviour can be discouraged by decreasing psychological distance (thus making 'plausible deniability' harder) and using practices like confessions as aids to self-scrutiny, which will in turn challenge our tendency to justify ethically questionable actions by rationalizations.





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