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Conversational Consequentialism

I'm a Consequentialist: I believe that the moral rightness of a thing should be judged based on the (expected) outcome of it, not based on any particular moral rules. That is, it's (generally) bad to lie because that leads to a confusing world, but if lying in a specific instance will keep you from being killed by the Gestapo, then by all means lie. It's bad to murder because that results in somebody being dead, not because anybody said not to. It's bad to be gay because uh well actually since it turns out that doesn't harm anybody it actually is okay to be gay, even if a deity tells you it's bad

I wasn't always a consequentialist, though, and trying to get this idea to fully permeate all of my thoughts takes a bit of effort. One of the main things that I've had difficulty thinking of in terms of consequences rather than rules or virtues is conversations. When talking with people, I still feel a very strong urge to be completely, frankly, brutally honest, and even worse, I feel that if I don't say something, that's the same as lying about it. This has gotten me into trouble. More than once. I've lost at least one, possibly two friends because of this, and it was only through deliberate, learned effort that I managed to avoid that urge getting me criminal charges

When you're talking with people, what are your goals with the conversation? Are you trying to convince them to do something for you? Are you trying to convince them to adopt your position on some issue? Or are you just having a fun conversation? In all of those situations, getting angry, or making the other person angry, is not a useful thing to do. Saying things that from your perspective are true, but where you can predict that the result of saying it is going to be counter productive, is incredibly tempting, but is actually counter productive. I mean, come on! You saw that coming!

Reference Points

On SEBASTIAN MARSHALL

I just spent some time reading Thomas Schelling's "Choice and Consequences" and I heartily recommend it. Here's a Google books link to the chapter I was reading, "The Intimate Contest for Self Command."

It's fascinating, and if you like LessWrong, rationality, understanding things, decision theories, figuring people and the world out - well, then I think you'd like Schelling. Actually, you'll probably be amazed with how much of his stuff you're already familiar with - he really established a heck of a lot modern thinking on game theory.

Allow me to depart from Schelling a moment, and talk of Sam Snyder. He's a very intelligent guy who has lots of intelligent thoughts. Here's a link to his website - there's massive amounts of data and references there, so I'd recommend you just skim his site if you go visit until you find something interesting. You'll probably find something interesting pretty quickly.

I got a chance to have a conversation with him a while back, and we covered immense amounts of ground. He introduced me to a concept I've been thinking about nonstop since learning it from him - reference points.

Now, he explained it very eloquently, and I'm afraid I'm going to mangle and not do justice to his explanation. But to make a long story really short, your reference points affect your motivation a lot.

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