Conjective

We are allowed to rant here, right?

I said, “But the individual retains volition over the shaping of self in every respect. The individual can only exercise that volition selectively. And the individual should be careful about rejecting the formative structures without extensive deliberation, per Hayek.”

Those who subjectively value the increase in virtue should expect to have to shoulder that burden personally. The only true route to reform, whether of society or the individual, is through personal expense.

Adam: “One cannot conceive of virtue without language, the consensus that bravery, restraint, wisdom, charity, fairness, and similar qualities, are in fact worthy of praise.”

This is perhaps the point of departure between Adam and I, at least in our understanding thus far. I can demonstrate charity in a way that words cannot. Words are ultimately about exchange. This is something I hope to get at in my research on Richard Whately. There are some behaviors that demonstrate virtue above that which can be articulated. Those virtues are not open to debate or discussion. They are also not amenable to imposition. They truly must be caught, and voluntarily, rather than taught, didactically.

In other words, I am not really trying to persuade anyone to adopt my ethic. I try repeatedly to say that I don’t know why anyone would adopt my ethic. But I also don’t see a way to effect reforms that reach Pareto outcomes without direct personal sacrifices. The usual response is that my ethic is vulnerable to moral hazards. Precisely. The goal is not really the reform, but the transformation of the individual. So volition is central.

So there is an ought that is merely moral, that is, conjective, or socially praiseworthy. Then there is that peculiar ethic that I try to hold myself to, that goes beyond the conjective, beyond what I can hope to persuade you to do through words, beyond that which I can motivate you unto through appeals to your self-interest no matter how long your time horizon. I’m saying my ethic is impossible. But that is why it is true religion. It is not entwined in any way with self-interest. All religion that so compromises itself I count as less than.

And that lesser religion is usually sufficient for social progress. But it cannot motivate the redemption of sinners. No simply moral religion would allow Saul, murderer of Christians, to become Paul. It is offensive to most ears, and rightly so. It says that your morality is insufficient.

I illustrate this by showing that all reform is a fail. Inasmuch as reforms are justified by Kaldor/Hicks efficiency rather than Pareto efficiency they implicitly claim that the best morality we can hope for is one that sacrifices the losers for the sake of the whole. You see, the losers of such reforms are never accounted for when measuring the success of the reform. They are dead.

Pareto efficiency is not a possibility, unless people are willing to make personal sacrifices. Then it is not a political reform really, but an anarchic mob spite-ing the illegitimacy of the regime by accomplishing what the regime cannot.

In other words, I am saying that Christians should shoulder the full burden of the reforms they advocate personally and sacrificially, otherwise they are compromising their religion.

Can a Christian, can I, remain involved in politics, continue to vote, continue to participate in the conjective? I suppose so. But I must not bring any of my radical sacrificial altruism into that exchange.

This is how I manage to remain an economist, despite my ethic. I take the Misesian / Hayekian approach as demonstrated in the Socialist Calculation debate: Given the ends specified, will the selected means achieve those ends? There is no value judgment in this. It is purely conjective. Consequently, my primary function in political discussion is to say “no.” That is, with Hayek, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” This is why economists are unpopular.

I have no ideal outcome. I am not deluded into thinking that all individuals could possibly adopt this radical sacrificial individualist ethic. Again, I don’t know why anyone would want to adopt this ethic. I think the primary function of the ethic is prophetic, that is showing that the emperor has no clothes. Showing that the tidy reforms of the past have actually prejudiced some at the expense of others. Showing that the advocacy practiced on symbolic margins is not praiseworthy. Showing the Church that entanglement with the state is ultimately a harmful compromise. Showing the Kantian duty is insufficient for motivating people to do positive good. Showing that even virtue ethics leaves something undone. All of this can be done through the simple economist’s “no.” But then overcoming that “no” in any way requires my peculiar ethic. The ethic is altogether spiteful, and in spite of existing powers. It is throwing starfish back into the sea, one at a time.

The positive good is important because progressives believe that the state can be effective in accomplishing it. Progressives are right that morality and virtue are insufficient for caring for the very least of these, but then they presume that the state can accomplish those ends. The economist says, “no.” the sacrificial altruist says, “I must do it.” Virtue ethics might be the best we can possibly hope for with respect for civic morality. And it is very good! Particularly when it recognizes that exchange is ubiquitous and essential.

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