If I read that piece right, it seems to exclude a plausible middle by saying the alternative to moral realism is moral nihilism. (And it's also wrong to think that a belief in free will is necessary to a belief in morality). I don't really see why the integrity theory in the piece is not itself a theory of morality.

Just generally, I find the moral realism debate a bit misguided. Clearly there is such a social institution as morality. Descriptively, people feel bound by tenets within that category (even though those tenets vary). That morality's not like math doesn't make it false, just different.

The claim that morality might not be good is to me an empirical claim about whether we would prefer to live in a society that lacked morality (or maybe, whether an individual should prefer to discard moral motivation from their reasoning). And I just think that claim has an obvious answer...

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Or even that morality is good?

For an argument that it isn't, see "The deeper solution to the mystery of moralism—Morality and free will are hazardous to your mental health" - http://juridicalcoherence.b...

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Or even that morality is good?

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Totally agreed

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HA, if that is how self-sacrifice was used, only to cope with existential risks I could agree with you, but self-sacrifice is not used to cope with existential risk. Self-sacrifice is (usually) used to enrich the leaders and increase their power and status and to massage their egos.

Why exactly did the military to into Iraq? There were no WMD. Which company got a zillion no-bid contracts? Starts with H. Why were there no tax increases to pay for that war? Why was there such a delay in getting body armor to the troops that many of their families bought them with their own money.

Why do the wealthy not subject themselves to circumstances where self-sacrifice might be necessary? When there was a draft, the wealthy could get out of it. During the Civil War, you could hire someone to take your place. In Vietnam, there were all sorts of student deferments you could use political connections, and people at the local draft board could be bribed and had great discretion in who got drafted and who didn't. And then you could always go to Canada.

Now there is a "volunteer" military, but how “voluntary” is it when there is 9% unemployment? How voluntary is it when there is a gigantic disparity in income and the risk premium isn't very high. Why isn't there any morality porn that encourages the wealthy to pay higher taxes?

The whole idea of self-sacrifice derives from a strange zero-sum idea of sin and punishment. That anything “bad” has to be balanced by some amount of “punishment”. The self-sacrifice of Jesus was necessary to satisfy God that the “sins” of humans were balanced by the 3 days of torture on the Cross that Jesus endured. Why did God require the sacrifice of an innocent for God to be satisfied? Because that fit with the social order that those who made up the stories wanted. The leaders wanted to have followers that would be willing to sacrifice themselves for the leaders.

In the other thread, Robin talks about the acceptability of deaths due to coal mine disasters. Those deaths are only acceptable to the mine owners, and the mine managers like at Massey that forced miners to work in unsafe conditions. Who willingly signs up to risk their lives to increase their employer's profits?

LOTR is fiction. Reality is not like that. Reality does not require sacrifices to appease gods. Those who control how much gets spent on safety decide how much sacrifice is necessary to appease them.

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It is about encouraging others to think that by sacrificing themselves they will achieve high status (but useless status because they are dead).

Daedulus, I've been liking your writings but I think this is a dangerous simplification. A widespread norm to increase risk of sacrificing oneself in order to prevent a larger existential risk from existing within a community can make each individual community member safer than the absence of that norm. I think that's an important caveat to your point although the whole topic deserve greater discussion.

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ok i can't believe nobody else has pointed this out yet, so i guess i'm gonna have to be That Nerd. but um... Frodo didn't actually do the right thing. he made it all the way to Mt. Doom but he never would've destroyed the ring if Gollum hadn't bitten his finger off................... just sayin'.

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And movie characters rarely have to choose between the praise of associates and doing the right thing - key associates usually support doing the right thing.Now this is interesting. My first thought when reading your description of morality porn was that superhero stories often fall into it by portraying a hero acting against an unambiguously evil enemy. But because of their secret identities, choosing between praise of associates and doing the right thing is a common theme. In Spider-Man 2 Peter has to make himself look like a coward who flees from danger to stop Doc Ock, and in classic Flash comics Barry Allen is seen as constantly late even though he's the fastest man alive because he always gets distracted fighting evil. And the most heroic thing Bruce Wayne does in Batman Begins is act like a huge jerk in order to get everyone to leave his birthday party before the villains blow up his house. Maybe those stories aren't morality porn after all.

For example, movies usually focus more on whether characters have the strength of will to do what is obviously right than on whether they have the wisdom to discern what is right.For major policy decisions and stuff wisdom is a huge factor. But in people's day to day lives, there are many problems they face where they know what the right thing to do is, but have trouble getting the willpower to do so (exercising, not cheating, not procrastinating, etc.). The writers could just be trying to give their audience a feeling of common identity, by showing that even heros have willpower problems.


Add to the list “belonging porn”, or tribalism. You're right, belonging porn might even be more harmful, since it often encourages opposing outgroups for no good reason.

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Most morality porn is about encouraging self-sacrifice. It is about encouraging others to think that by sacrificing themselves they will achieve high status (but useless status because they are dead).

This is the whole point of religions that promise an afterlife. Sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the leaders, and you will receive an infinite reward in Heaven.

Morality porn is trying to get people to adopt the idea that self-sacrifice is equivalent to being moral. It isn't. It is interesting that the political party that talks the most about morality is also the party that sent the US to war, killing thousands of US service men and women, but refuses to raise taxes. The “sacrifice” of the life of soldiers is good and acceptable, the “sacrifice” of higher taxes (still very low by historical standards) is bad and unacceptable.

Of course to get people to be willing to sign up for a job where they might be sacrificed requires that they not have any better options. Shrink the economy enough and that is what will happen.

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Add to the list "belonging porn", or tribalism.

Sport club rivalries, class warfare, nationalism, patriotism... it feeds on the ancestral need of belonging to a tribe of a few dozen foragers, when there really was a more defined "us" and "them".

Now it's easy to triggger that emotion and manipulate it for fun and profit.

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“Porn” stimulates strong sexual desire and satisfaction in ways detached from many of the contextual features that usually accompany such desire and satisfaction in real and praiseworthy sex. Critics complain that this detachment is often bad or unhealthy.I'm not sure about that, Robin. Porn helps to regulate sexual desire, by enhancing the experience of masturbation. It does not add to the desire, it reduces it (generally speaking, a good thing). Why would anyone want to increase their sexual desire, when most people, especially single men, are sex starved?

We know from evolutionary psych why this is the case - essentially due to the vulnerability of the human infant and the extended period of maturation - that women have metaphorically declared a "sex strike" on men, and so men, and perhaps to a lesser extent women, have invented masturbation to deal with this. It works, and porn makes it work better.

Biological evolution does not have to justify itself to any moral standard, only a practical one - "if it works, use it".

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Video games are achievement porn. You get the feeling and satisfaction of mastery and accomplishment without any actual accomplishment.

Which is why men are much more drawn to video games. Our brains think we must be mastering some important tribal skill and our mastery will be held in esteem by the tribe.

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To those commenters arguing that morality porn might be safe (or possibly beneficial) because it could teach viewers to do the right thing, no matter how hard: isn't the issue here the fact that morality porn's examples are so incredibly unrealistic? Morality porn makes morality about strength of will rather than wisdom. The enemy is pure evil--who has the courage to face him? Frodo doesn't ever have to stop and consider an Orc's point of view, and indiscriminate slaughter of Orcs is an obviously good thing. My fear is that morality porn teaches us that moral ambiguity is a lie, that we are always on the side of justice, and that the moral course is to have the strength of will to crush our enemies completely. Oh, and no one else on our team ever does anything evil.

In real life, the "evil" side is just as convinced of their own rightness as you are. Encouraging both sides to fight for their beliefs is just a message of strength, with no actual moral content.

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Also excellence pornography.

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First of all I think yours is an excellent description of ‘X porn’ and how it’s used in everyday language. In years past, the term ‘porn’ included a sense of illicitness, whereas enjoying an episode of ‘America’s Test Kitchen’ (‘foodie porn’), or Transformers 4 (‘explosion porn’) doesn’t have that same illicit sense. Thank you!

That being said, I think there’s a misunderstanding here about the function of entertainment to begin with. To your first point, EVERY story has a ‘hero’. EVERY story makes a moral stand on something (or else it’s not really a story). So to pick at something like ‘moral porn’ (using the term 'beware') would be to indict all but the most obscure works of fiction, whatever medium. To try and avoid something like ‘moral porn’ (if that’s ones goal) would require almost no ingestion of most forms of entertainment. (Nevermind that ‘morality’ is an ambiguous and ephemeral concept to begin with, and much of what we consider ‘moral’ is subjective in nature, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment…)

As to your second point, isn’t this simply a function of the imagination itself, and not truly specific to a certain moral sense? Can’t we (and don’t we) do the same thing watching the news or sports? Isn’t this called ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacking’? Of course we have no idea what we’d do in whichever situation we’re presented with in a fictional or voyeuristic sense. On the one hand we want to think we’d ‘do the right thing’, on the other hand we’re glad we don’t have to make those kinds of choices.

To your third point, another function of entertainment is to provide a ‘release’ as we see (and allow ourselves to ‘experience’) the hero making choices we would never actually make, or don’t feel as if we could ever make, in our own lives. We go the theater to yell at the blonde girl in the horror film ‘DON’T GO IN THERE’, and what does she do? Likewise, of course Frodo sacrifices himself. So does Luke Skywalker. So does Jesus. But just because we as an audience are ‘rooting’ for the hero, that isn’t an indication of some sense of heightened ‘moral superiority’. It may just be that we want to see people do things that we would never dream of doing ourselves. In my opinion, the position of an audience member is far more tenuous (morally speaking) then you seem to be presenting here.

Perhaps taking Arnold Kling’s advice and applying this idea to ‘theater, specifically political theater’, might be more appropriate and applicable?

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dave, middle men can generate value, and in the retail/wholesale examples you give they do, but they can only do so in efficient markets. Retail selling of merchandise can be a pretty efficient market.

In inefficient markets the middlemen can extract what ever value they want and starve the rest of the value-added chain. Health care is delivered to individual consumers, it is not generated “wholesale” and then distributed retail. Health care is generated on the retail level. Health insurance doesn't add any value other than the value of aggregating the purchasing power of many consumers and then doing the actuarial accounting to figure out what the premiums should be.

Health insurance is an inefficient market because no one knows what they need when they pay the premiums, the consumers of the service are not the ones paying for it, the trade-off between price and utility is completely obscure and can change by more than an order of magnitude depending on things which have nothing to do with health care, the provider or the patient.

Health insurance is made less efficient by insurance companies “gaming” the system by kicking people out if they have health problems and need insurance. Those people still need health care. Their health care needs don't disappear when they lose their health insurance, only their ability to obtain health care disappears. Health care providers are still obligated to provide health care, they just don't get paid for it.

Health insurance companies make the health care market less efficient because they spend administrative resources (at a cost which they pass on to subscribers) trying to move costs from them to someone else. Kicking a person off of a health insurance plan means someone else has to pay the cost of their care, it doesn't make the cost any less.

Insurance companies can negotiate prices for services that are below actual cost for providers. What happens when there are two hospitals serving an area and one is reachable by mass transit and the other is not? Where do the uninsured people who need health care go? Who pays for their care? Which hospital can afford to charge a lower price for insured health care? The one with little uninsured care, or the one forced to provide lots of uninsured care?

I think that health insurance is a good example of productivity porn because it produces a lot of profit while not producing any value. Moving costs around in health care doesn't produce any value, even if it does produce profit.

Usually moving costs around produces a more efficient market (and does so in the wholesale and retail example you used) and so lowers total costs. That doesn't happen in the health care market because the inefficiency is built into it and the moving around of cost doesn't improve efficiency it makes it worse.

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