People typically express their opinions in a piecemeal fashion through short posts, essays, or responses to current events. Each of these works focus on a sliver of our world and make it hard to see an author’s global values, even when aggregating many works. Rarely do I see people describe their “epistemic roots” or state clearly their devotion to a set of principles.
Here, I want to share who I am by describing the principles I believe in. They are ordered carefully.
Some principles I feel are important but do not necessarily flow with the above:
Overall, having an optimistic worldview and faith in reason leads naturally to an open search for answers to the central questions on my mind.
From there, the vNM Utility theorem highlights the beginning of the path to individual rationality. Applied to others, it also suggests that a respect for peoples needs and choices is warranted. Of course, no one is perfectly rational, but to a large extent, they make the right decisions based on their needs and their information. This nonjudgmental approach to individual choices connects utilitarianism and libertarianism. This fundamental agreement between two different approaches to collective choice suggests several other key principles: freedom of speech, the principle of charity, exit rights and Scott Alexander’s archipelago communitarianism.
However, standard libertarianism and utilitarianism diverge once we consider welfare. If we respect individual rationality, must we accept that “they get what they deserve”? In my mind, though people should face the consequences of their choices, people face many consequences which they have no choice over! Accidents of birth, random events, and decisions made beyond a persons control all leave people with consequences they did not choose. This fact implies that many would be better off with some form of welfare, without distorting their incentive to make the right personal decisions.
So, how do we take care of others? We may agree to welfare in the abstract and on a global scale, but what do we do as individuals? I will gather the empirical evidence in future posts, but I have a simpler answer for now: Effective Altruism. As a community, we can weigh the evidence and decide how to best invest our money and time to alleviate suffering. With reason and optimism, we can build a better world for everyone.