Tag Archives: Morality

Of money and morals

BOOK REVIEW

You Are Under Arrest For Masterminding the Egyptian Revolution: A Memoir, Authors: Alex Mayyasi and Ahmed Salah.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
, Author: David Graeber.
Your Money or Your Life: Economy and Religion in the Middle Ages, Author: Jacques Le Goff.
A History of Interest Rates, Authors: Sydney Homer and Richard Sylla.
The Idea of Usury, Author: Benjamin Nelson.
Summa Theologica, Author: Thomas Aquinas.
Politics, Author: Aristotle.

By Alex Myyasi – Hundreds of years ago, when modern finance arose in Europe, moneylenders moderated their behavior in response to debates among the clergy about how to apply the Bible’s teachings to an increasingly complex economy.

Lending money has long been regarded as a moral matter. So just when and how did most bankers stop seeing their work in moral terms?

In the early 1200s, the Church’s position was that extracting a single cent of interest was evil. The roots of this revulsion run deep, and across cultures. Vedic law in Ancient India condemned usury, and rulers routinely capped interest rates from Ancient Mesopotamia to Ancient Greece. In Politics, Aristotle described usury as ‘the birth of money from money’, and claimed it was unnatural because money was sterile and should not ‘breed’.

Judeo-Christian religions cemented the usury taboo.

Throughout early Medieval Europe, the local church or a wealthy family was often the only source of capital, especially outside the major commercial centers. Many peasants bought their land by getting mortgages from a monastery. In a world without credit markets and insurance, then, charging interest felt like extorting a friend or family member.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church played its own part in sowing the seeds of a change of attitude. In the 13th century, it introduced the concept of Purgatory – a place that had no basis in scripture but did offer some reassurance to anyone committing the sin of usury each day.

Eventually kings, politicians, and business people embraced usury wholesale, and the Church looked the other way. more> https://goo.gl/LztiKA

Raising good robots

We already have a way to teach morals to alien intelligences: it’s called parenting. Can we apply the same methods to robots?
By Regina Rini – Philosophers and computer scientists alike tend to focus on the difficulty of implementing subtle human morality in literal-minded machines. But there’s another problem, one that really ought to come first. It’s the question of whether we ought to try to impose our own morality on intelligent machines at all. In fact, I’d argue that doing so is likely to be counterproductive, and even unethical. The real problem of robot morality is not the robots, but us.

Can we handle sharing the world with a new type of moral creature?

We like to imagine that artificial intelligence (AI) will be similar to humans, because we are the only advanced intelligence we know. But we are probably wrong. If and when AI appears, it will probably be quite unlike us. It might not reason the way we do, and we could have difficulty understanding its choices.

Plato’s student Aristotle disagreed. He thought that each sort of thing in the world – squirrels, musical instruments, humans – has a distinct nature, and the best way for each thing to be is a reflection of its own particular nature.

‘Morality’ is a way of describing the best way for humans to be, and it grows out of our human nature. For Aristotle, unlike Plato, morality is something about us, not something outside us to which we must conform. Moral education, then, was about training children to develop abilities already in their nature. more> https://goo.gl/cVSt0W

Related>

What Is the Role of Morality in a Capitalist Economy?

BOOK REVIEW

The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality, Author: Branko Milanovic.
UltraSociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth, Author: Peter Turchin.
Theory of Moral Sentiments, Author: Adam Smith.
The Bounds of Reason, Author: Peter Turchin.
A Cooperative Species, Author: Samuel Bowles.
Individuality and Entanglement, Author: Peter Turchin.
The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good, Author: Robert H. Frank.
What Price the Moral High Ground? Author: Peter Turchin.

By Peter Turchin – I think people who want to understand how human societies and economies really work will find these articles interesting, along with Branko Milanovic’s blog post exploring this issue in greater detail: “Henry and Kant: outsourcing morality.”

I (Branko) actually find myself in sympathy with the operations of Gekko, Skilling etc., not because I like them as individuals but because I see an iron logic in their behavior. Let me explain that iron logic as composed of three elements.

  1. Personal ethics do not exist
  2. Laws exist and they are supposed to embody the general moral rules so that we know what we can do, insuring that the pursuit of our private interest leads to some greater social good
  3. We then just follow our private interests.

In a (less than ideal) metaphor, imagine the rules as fences around a path, like in bobsledding.

Morality is embedded in the fence and I am going to play by the rules (but nothing more) and, even when I consciously do not play by the rules (as for example when I cheat and score a goal by hand), I do not have to feel bad about it. It is the job of the referee to catch me and punish me. In other words, there is no internal ethical mechanism to stop me from scoring a goal by any means I can find.

Blaming the financial crisis on greed is like blaming an airplane crash on gravity (a point made by Judge Richard Posner [2, 3] some years ago).

The financial crisis was not cause be either Greed I or Greed II, but by complex social dynamics outlined years ago by Hyman Minsky (Google it!), involving imperfect financial regulation.

Societies whose business leaders have moral integrity are successful societies.

Of course, it is always good to have some Greed I types around, and it is at any rate impossible to eliminate them. But they are part of a moral mix. more> http://goo.gl/kv8fFX

Society Cannot Function Without Moral Bonds

BOOK REVIEW

Theory of Moral Sentiments, Author: Adam Smith.
Wealth of Nations, Author: Adam Smith.
Descent of Man, Author: Charles Darwin.

By Geoffrey Hodgson – Adam Smith regarded individuals as driven by moral motives as well as self-interest. This is most clear in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, but ideas of justice and morality also pervade his Wealth of Nations.

It took economics a while to get rid of this argument. In two classic works published in 1871, William Stanley Jevons and Carl Menger placed individual self-interest at the foundation of economics. Three years later, Léon Walras built neoclassical general equilibrium analysis upon a similar assumption. For the next 100 years or more, self-interested, utility-maximizing, “economic man” was the centerpiece of mainstream economic theory.

There is now an enormous body of empirical research confirming that humans have cooperative as well as self-interested dispositions.

Morality means “doing the right thing.” It entails notions of justice that can over-ride our preferences or interests. Moral judgments are by their nature inescapable.

Morality differs fundamentally from matters of mere convenience, convention or conformism. Moral feelings are enhanced by learned cultural norms and rules. Morality is a group phenomenon involving deliberative, emotionally-driven and purportedly inescapable rules that apply to a community. more> http://goo.gl/bU8JeX