Ends and Means - Is Morality Dependent upon World View?On one of my rare visits to the blog of Judith Curry, I came across a conundrum. She had an article discussing whether the ends justify the means.
In it she had a paragraph about Peter Gleick who, by pretending to be someone else, obtained revealing documents from the Heartland Institute. She implied that she believes the ends did not justify the means in that case. Her very next paragraph was about the stolen emails from CRU, and the way she referred to them it's clear she believes that when it comes to stealing thousands of emails, the ends did justify the means.
However in the latter case, the use to which the stolen emails were put was for nefarious purposes (to misrepresent science and scientists and thereby try to delay action to mitigate global warming). On the other hand, the use to which the Heartland Institute documents were put was to expose nefarious goings on. They showed, among other things, the depths to which the Heartland Institute would stoop to prevent any action to ameliorate global warming.
Now I'm not one to see the world in black and white, but Prof Curry's position does strike me as very perplexing from a moral standpoint.
(Coby posted an article recently on the Heartland affair, in which he discusses how ethical ends vs means issues are not always black and white. Scott Mandia expresses the view that what Dr Gleick did was wrong, but that despite this error, he continues to contribute a heap of good to the world, while the Heartland Institute continues to only do bad. He provides scorecards as evidence.)
Logical fallacies and flawed assumptionsCurry bases her article on a post by Roger Pielke Jr, which in my opinion has logical fallacies and flawed assumptions.
He argues that people doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is akin to companies pretending horse meat is beef. What he refers to is people wanting to mitigate global warming because they believe that it will cost relatively less to act sooner rather than later. (Yes, his argument is more about cost in dollar terms in the relatively short term (decades) rather than loss of human life, biological diversity, and general ecological destruction over the medium to longer term (centuries to millenia.))
As well as disregarding medium to longer term impacts of global warming, there are (at least) two other flaws in Pielke Jr's argument:
Firstly, he says that the science is not 'strong' in regard to increasing costs associated with extreme events (hotter, longer droughts; bigger floods etc), as a proportion of GDP, even if we do nothing to limit global warming. The jump from the science not being 'strong' to 'there will not be increasing costs/GDP associated with extreme events' as the world heats up, is a leap much to big to take IMO. For one thing it's not a scientific point - the science is quite clear that we will get more and more often events that today are considered extreme. The point he is putting forward is an economic one (not a scientific one) - that GDP will rise faster than costs associated with extreme events. IMO the science is at least grounded in evidence. The economics has a lot more ifs and buts and assumptions (and in any case, he doesn't point directly to any cost/GDP projections to support his position. He merely makes a passing mention of the Stern Review and the IPCC).
Secondly he seems to imply that even if people overly attribute an extreme event (today) to global warming then it is because someone (knowledgeable) has deliberately deceived them, rather than because they are ignorant or were mislead by another ignorant person. There is nothing to support that assumption.
To sum up Roger Pielke Jr's position, he seems to be saying let's pay for extreme events as they happen. Don't plan for them or take any preventative action now because the world will have more money in the future to deal with the increase in weather disasters.
To sum up Prof Curry's position, she seems to be saying:
1. Let the world heat up and do it's worst. Let future generations deal with the consequences.
2. Deception is bad (even if you have good intentions) but stealing is good though you have bad intentions.
The Conservative BrainI guess these positions are manifestations of the drawbacks of having a conservative brain. (Having a conservative brain is not inherently 'good' or 'bad'. It has benefits as well as disadvantages. There are upsides and downsides to having a liberal brain too.)
This article gives some insight into the conservative brain. Put simply, scientific evidence indicates that people having a 'conservative brain' are more fearful (eg saying climate scientists are 'alarmists'); while people having a 'liberal brain' are more tolerant of uncertainty (more easily make decisions when there is inherent ambiguity).
Then there is the finding that conservatives have a greater tendency to avoid self-harm ("I don't accept science because I don't want to pay tax"), whereas liberals avoid collective group harm ("I want to save the world and everyone and everything in it").
Combine those two tendencies of the conservative brain and you are part way towards explaining the difficulty many conservatives have when it comes to accepting, let alone acting upon, unpalatable facts that affect the whole world.
More of my musings on the conservative brain can be found here.