Monday, July 28, 2008

That's logic!

3 blog posts that try to challenge our paradigms:

1. Instead of imprisoning convicted criminals, why not torture them instead?

2. If we're going to have liberal policies aimed at counteracting the unfair luck inherent in the circumstances of people's birth, why confine this within national boundaries? Why not redistribute all wealth throughout the world?

3. "Given how little it seems to cost to have someone killed, why don't more corporations have their competitors' leaders knocked off?"

I feel like all of these arguments -- to the extent that they're being made in good faith, which is questionable -- are making the same intellectual error...


UPDATE: See the comments on this post and this post for discussion of what the error is.


LemmusLemmus said...

Could you spell out what "the same intellectual error" is? Or would that be another long blogpost?

I hope the move goes smoothly.

John Althouse Cohen said...


I intend to get to that in a future post, especially about #2. No time for that right now.

LemmusLemmus said...

Looking forward to it; maybe I'm going to post something about no. 2 myself.

I'm pretty sure all posts are serious.

dbp said...

I will take a stab at it if you don't mind.

I think all of the questions assume things which are not true.

To take the first one for instance: The assumption seems to be that prison exists to punish criminals, so why not make the punishment shorter and more intense? A more complete picture of the reason for imprisonment includes three parts: Prevention of crime (they can't easily pursue crime while locked-up), rehabilitation, punishment.

In fairness, 1 and 2 at least make assumptions which are at least partly true, for instance punishment is part of the reason for imprisonment, but 3 has no component of truth. Corporate officers are not expected by their boards to put their freedom at risk by breaking laws. There has often been described an agency cost when managers pursue their own insterests as the expense of the organisation. This is not always a bad thing.

Daryl said...

The error in No. 3 appears to be different from the other two:

There, the error is a misunderstanding of the word "cost."

The "cost" of hiring a hitman to kill a competitor executive is not only only the hit man's invoice, but also the cost of:
1 - the exec has to pay for it out of his own pocket (using company money would leave a trail)
2 - potential criminal penalties, including the death penalty
3 - risk of retaliation

The real definition of "cost" is the sum total of the downsides, including but not limited to money that must be spent, and including opportunities foregone ("opportunity cost")

As to #2, the answer is obvious. They aren't Americans. That's a perfectly good reason not to help someone. There are billions of people around the world who I might be helping right now, except for the fact that they're not Americans.

demian said...

The shared logic error is:

If modest pursuit of a goal is a commendable, then extreme pursuit is doubly virtuous.

Each proposal raises new problems.

* Torture: An extreme focus on suffering -- one of incarceration's aims -- may undercut co-existing goals, such as rehabilitation.

* Global income redistribution: Extreme redistribution requires a world government. What form will it take: Democracy? Dictatorship? Communism? Many forms of governance actually suppress income generation.

* Assassinating CEOs:
An extreme focus on the balance sheet ignores real expenses. The cost of a hitman includes not just his fee but the risk of jail time and fatal damage to a company's reputation.

[cross-posted at Ann Althouse's blog]

Paul said...

The error is thinking that the end justifies the means.