The View from Hell

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Parable of the Good Republican

with 9 comments

Jesus and the Pharisees ordered another round of light beer.

“Jesus,” said one of the Pharisees. “The older I get, the more I realize that my faculties for moral reasoning are flawed – especially since they are the products of the amoral process of evolution. I still have strong moral intuitions, which present themselves as objective. But it seems like there are lots of good people who have drastically different moral intuitions. How can I tell if my moral intuitions are correct?”

Jesus lit a cigarette. “You should try with all your might to be less confident in your moral intuitions if they conflict with those of your epistemic peers,” he said, and coughed.

“Ah,” said the Pharisee. “But who is my epistemic peer?”

“Let me tell you a little story,” said Jesus, who was on his fourth light beer of the night. “I was speaking at a conference last year in support of minimum wage laws. There were two questions at the end of my talk.

“One was from an anti-poverty activist, who congratulated me on supporting the minimum wage, and said that those opposed to the minimum wage were instruments of oppression.

“The other was from a Republican who grew up in the American Midwest. He said that he, too, wanted to help poor people, but had studied the effects of minimum wage laws, and found that these laws actually harm poor people.”

“Now,” said Jesus, pointing dramatically at the Pharisee. “Who has proven himself my epistemic peer?”


Written by Sister Y

January 10, 2011 at 3:44 am

Posted in meta-ethics

9 Responses

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  1. The last one, right?

  2. It occurs to me that not all readers are familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

    Sister Y

    January 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm

  3. (But yeah, the last one.)

    Sister Y

    January 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

  4. That was a very good post, but people are apparently shy because of the question. I liked it though. Interactivity.

  5. Don't worry – it's one of those rhetorical questions.

    Sister Y

    January 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm

  6. I didn't reply because I didn't quite get how the Republican could be the epistemic peer? Would asking for an explanation ruin the whole exercise?


    January 11, 2011 at 6:44 pm

  7. Well, the Republican has actually studied the effects of the laws (empirical evidence) and thus is open to the possibility of contradiction, whereas the anti-poverty activist is trying to wall off his intuitions against attack, by dismissing any opponents as “instruments of oppression.” As the Republican is the one challenging his moral intuitions, he is the epistemic peer.

    Of course, I think the epistemic peer of Jesus is surely the smug anti-poverty campaigner with plenty of shaming language but no original thoughts, no solutions, and no possibility of being contradicted by evidence or persuaded by alternative views. Depends how you think about Jesus!


    January 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm

  8. Salem has it pretty much right.

    What makes one an epistemic peer is NOT that the person shares our point of view. What makes him an epistemic peer is that he is truth-seeking and concerned with the same basic values as we are.

    The outcome of two epistemic peers disagreeing is that (a) they should try to figure out if they can resolve the difference, and if not, (b) they should BOTH become less CERTAIN of their beliefs. My friend whose dissertation I wrote this based on calls it “forced reflection.”

    Sister Y

    January 11, 2011 at 8:25 pm

  9. The first one was more about angry tearing down (the kind of anti-status-quo that led to the horrors of the worst of the French and Russian Revolutions). The last is more like the conservative 19th century British MP who nevertheless was open to facts, data, and reality, and open to moderate degrees of change over time.

    19th Century Britain is one of my favorite time-places, as they proved that violent revolutionary change was not necessary to bring about significant change. Slow? Yes, but much more peaceful and non-violent.


    January 26, 2011 at 4:26 am

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