Price gouging: are we shooting the messenger of inequality?

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People price gouge when they buy goods during an emergency in order to re-sell them for a higher price. Why does price gouging feel wrong to us? In this post I consider a couple of possible reasonons and argue that price gouging might feel wrong because makes prior inequalities between people more salient. This is because when people price gouge others, only two kinds of people can buy a scarce good: the rich and the desparate. I call this "shooting the messenger of inequality" and argue that it is often counterproductive.


Fairness, evidence, and predictive equality

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Sometimes information that makes a prediction more accurate can make that prediction feel less fair. In this post, I explore some possible causal principles that could be beneath this kind of intuition, but argue that these principles are inconsistent with out intuitions in other cases. I then argue that our intuitions may reflect a desire to move towards more "predictive equality" in order to mitigate some of the negative social effects that come from making predictions based on properties generally correlated with worse outcomes.


AI bias and the problems of ethical locality

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In this post I argue that attempts to reduce bias in AI decision-making face the problem of practical locality—we are limited in what we can do because the actions available to us depend on the society we find ourselves in—and the problem of epistemic locality—we are limited in what we can do because ethical views evolve over time and vary across regions. Both problems have consequences for work on AI bias, and the epistemic locality problem highlights the important links between AI bias and the alignment problem.


When robustly tolerable beats precariously optimal

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Something is "robustly tolerable" if it performs adequately under a wide range of circumstances, including unexpectedly bad circumstances. In this post, I argue that when the costs of failure are high, it's better for something to be robustly tolerable even if this means taking a hit on performance or agility.


The virtues and vices of shark curiosity

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Embracing the kind of aggressive curiosity of sharks seems to be a good way of getting better at arguing. But it can have a chilling effect on discourse and friendships. In this post, I explain what I mean by shark curiosity, and how we can strike the right balance between nurturing and testing new ideas.


The optimal rate of failure

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We sometimes assume that seeing someone fail implies that they are doing something wrong, but I argue that the ideal rate at which our plans should fail is often quite high. I note that this has consequences in politics and ethics that are often underappreciated.


Does deliberation limit prediction?

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There is a longstanding debate about whether deliberation prevents us from making any predictions about actions. In this post I will argue for a weaker thesis, namely that deliberation limits our ability to predict actions.


Disagreeing with content and disagreeing with connotations

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It’s possible to agree with the content of a piece of writing but but to think that the conclusions that many readers might draw from it are wrong. I think it's useful to distinguish between these before criticizing the writing of others.


Impossibility reasoning

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It's typical to teach and use sequential reasoning, but all sequential arguments can be reforumalted as impossibility results. Thinking and presenting arguments in terms of impossibility results rather than sequential arguments can be more fruitful than sequential reasoning.


Keep others’ identities small

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I really like Paul Graham’s advice to “keep your identity small” - to avoid making groups or positions part of your identity if you want to remain unbiased. But I often want to add to it “and keep other people’s identity small too”.


Infinity and the problem of evil

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Some fictional dialogues in which I explore whether God should create all good worlds and how this relates to the problem of evil.


Transmitting credences and transmitting evidence

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There is a longstanding debate about whether deliberation prevents us from making any predictions about actions. In this post I will argue for a weaker thesis, namely that deliberation limits our ability to predict actions.


Against jargon

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It’s sometimes useful to introduce new terms into discourse, but new terms can increase communication efficiency but at the cost of accessibility and sometimes precision. In this post I outline the pros and cons of introducing new, domain-specific terms.


Utilitarians and disability activists: what are the genuine disagreements?

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I consider five key objections to utilitarianism from disability activists, and highlight where I think there are genuine tensions between the positions, and where I think there are not.


Some noise on signaling

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I ask what signaling is and argue that it’s a bad idea to simply accuse people of “signaling” because signaling can mean a lot of things. I also argue that not all signaling is bad.


Vegetarianism, abortion, and moral empathy

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When people disagree about moral issues, they often fail to treat the moral beliefs of those that they disagree with as genuine moral beliefs. They instead they treat them like mere whims or mild preferences. This shows a lack of what I call moral empathy. I argue that lacking moral empathy can be harmful and can prevent fruitful discussion on divisive topics.


Can we offset immorality?

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People offset bad actions in various ways. The most salient example of this is probably carbon offsetting, where we pay a company to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere by roughly the same amount that we put in. But there are arguably more mundane examples of acts that are intended to offset immoral behavior. In this post I ask what moral offsetting is and whether it is something we should be in favor of.


Prison is no more humane than flogging

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Many people believe that corporal punishmenthas no place in a modern criminal justice system. Imprisonment is seen as a more humane form of punishment, and it is one that is employed in most modern criminal justice systems. In this post I ask why we think that imprisonment is humane while corporal punishment is not. I think this should cause us to question the ethics of imprisoning people.


Is the born this way message homophobic?

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The message of “born this way“ is that your sexual orientation is something you’re born with rather than something you choose. This is considered an important point in the justification of gay rights. I’m a strong supporter of gay rights, but I realised just over a year ago that something about this slogan didn’t sit right with me. I’m now pretty confident that basing gay rights on the “born this way“ message can be pretty harmful to LGBT people and other oppressed groups.


Common objections to Pascal’s wager

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In this post I respond to some of the common objections to Pascal’s wager, keeping each response to under 100 words!