Morality as cooperation

PXL_20240323_101412300~2 Via XitterMoral universals: A machine-reading analysis of 256 societies; which appears to be a project at the LSE.

As they say of their theory (edited), Recent research suggests that the function of morality is to promote cooperation: humans face, and have faced, a range of different nonzero-sum problems of cooperation, and have evolved and invented a range of solutions to them. These cooperative solutions take a variety of forms, including character traits, strategies, dispositions, behaviours, rules, norms, institutions, and technologies. Together, they motivate cooperative behaviour and provide the criteria by which we judge the behaviour, attitudes, and traits of ourselves and others. And it is this collection of cooperative solutions that philosophers and others have called morality. Because there are many types of cooperation, there will be many types of moral values. There are seven distinct types of cooperation: (1) the allocation of resources to kin; (2) coordination to mutual advantage; (3) social exchange; and conflict resolution through contests featuring (4) hawkish displays of dominance and (5) dovish displays of deference; (6) division of disputed resources; and (7) recognition of prior possession. And each of these types of cooperation gives rise to a corresponding type of morality: (1) family values, (2) group loyalty, (3) reciprocity, (4) heroism, (5) deference, (6) fairness, and (7) property rights.

This seems like a useful way of thinking of things; it makes morality a part of, and part conditioned by, what-makes-society-work; and since things need to be Darwinistically defensible, that fits. It also helpfully predicts that we will be less moral to strangers, other cultures, or people we perceive will be unlikely to cooperate with us.


Kant on Morality - a different and less successful approach: what morality should be, if you're an ever-so-slightly-whackjob-kraut.
* ACX has a post on Covid origins, which ends with general musing: "although the X theory is inherently plausible and didn’t start as pseudoscience, it gradually accreted a community around it with bad epistemic norms. Once X became A Thing - after people became obsessed with getting one over on the experts - they developed dozens of further arguments which ranged from flawed to completely false..." which seems nicely applicable to GW.


Wood, 1909, continued

PXL_20240309_084345662 Many years ago I transcribed R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse onto my personal website (yes, it really was that long ago; and really it was transcribed even earlier from a free-hosting site). As this seems a good excuse, I'll copy it to the end of this post as a reference.

But the immeadiate reason for this post is DC, who points out Vaughan R. Pratt's Wood's 1909 greenhouse experiment, performed more carefully. I think I am or was uneasily aware that this exists, though I can't recall reading it. We will not simply dismiss him because he is emeritus.

Pratt's first and I think major complaint is that Wood "superimposed a glass plate on the salt window". This is based on Wood's statement that "the sunlight was first passed through a glass plate". As far as I can tell Pratt thinks Wood's glass plate was directly on top; which would indeed be a problem. But I think that Wood put some distance between the two, and I think that isn't a problem1. As to the rest... I find my mind bounces off it. Perhaps I'm getting old; I certainly find that I don't care about these struggles as I used to. Or perhaps Pratt's stuff is badly written. Unlike Wood's, it wasn't AFAIK published.

None of this, of course, has any particular relevance to the atmospheric greenhouse effect which we all care about, apart from the regrettable similarity of name.


1. I think Pratt's attitude to Wood smacks of "our ancestors were idiots because they knew less than us". This is almost invariably false. I sometimes veer close to this - see my notes on Aristotle's physics for example - but I think I don't fall in.


R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse

The following text is from the Philosophical magazine (more properly the London, Edinborough and Dublin Philosophical Magazine), 1909, vol 17, p319-320. Cambridge UL shelfmark p340.1.c.95, if you're interested.

I found this reference by reading "History of the greenhouse effect", M. D. H. Jones and A. Henderson-Sellers, Progress in physical geography, 14, 1 (1990), 1-18. This, in its turn, I found from Jan Schloerer's FAQ: Climate change: some basics.

I present the full text, although the second-to-last paragraph is (in my opinion) regrettable and wrong. See after the text for why I think its wrong.
XXIV. Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse 
By Professor R. W. Wood (Communicated by the Author) 
THERE appears to be a widespread belief that the comparatively high temperature produced within a closed space covered with glass, and exposed to solar radiation, results from a transformation of wave-length, that is, that the heat waves from the sun, which are able to penetrate the glass, fall upon the walls of the enclosure and raise its temperature: the heat energy is re-emitted by the walls in the form of much longer waves, which are unable to penetrate the glass, the greenhouse acting as a radiation trap.

I have always felt some doubt as to whether this action played any very large part in the elevation of temperature. It appeared much more probable that the part played by the glass was the prevention of the escape of the warm air heated by the ground within the enclosure. If we open the doors of a greenhouse on a cold and windy day, the trapping of radiation appears to lose much of its efficacy. As a matter of fact I am of the opinion that a greenhouse made of a glass transparent to waves of every possible length would show a temperature nearly, if not quite, as high as that observed in a glass house. The transparent screen allows the solar radiation to warm the ground, and the ground in turn warms the air, but only the limited amount within the enclosure. In the "open," the ground is continually brought into contact with cold air by convection currents.

To test the matter I constructed two enclosures of dead black cardboard, one covered with a glass plate, the other with a plate of rock-salt of equal thickness. The bulb of a themometer was inserted in each enclosure and the whole packed in cotton, with the exception of the transparent plates which were exposed. When exposed to sunlight the temperature rose gradually to 65 oC., the enclosure covered with the salt plate keeping a little ahead of the other, owing to the fact that it transmitted the longer waves from the sun, which were stopped by the glass. In order to eliminate this action the sunlight was first passed through a glass plate.

There was now scarcely a difference of one degree between the temperatures of the two enclosures. The maximum temperature reached was about 55 oC. From what we know about the distribution of energy in the spectrum of the radiation emitted by a body at 55 o, it is clear that the rock-salt plate is capable of transmitting practically all of it, while the glass plate stops it entirely. This shows us that the loss of temperature of the ground by radiation is very small in comparison to the loss by convection, in other words that we gain very little from the circumstance that the radiation is trapped.

Is it therefore necessary to pay attention to trapped radiation in deducing the temperature of a planet as affected by its atmosphere? The solar rays penetrate the atmosphere, warm the ground which in turn warms the atmosphere by contact and by convection currents. The heat received is thus stored up in the atmosphere, remaining there on account of the very low radiating power of a gas. It seems to me very doubtful if the atmosphere is warmed to any great extent by absorbing the radiation from the ground, even under the most favourable conditions.

I do not pretent to have gone very deeply into the matter, and publish this note merely to draw attention to the fact that trapped radiation appears to play but a very small part in the actual cases with which we are familiar.

Why is his second to last paragraph wrong?

Firstly, note that unlike the experiments described earlier, this paragraph merely expresses his opinion.

Second, although the troposphere is subject to convection, the stratosphere is not.

Third, in contradiction to his assertion about "the very low radiating power of a gas", the troposphere is largely opaque to infra-red radiation, which is why convection is so important in moving heat up from the surface. Only in the higher (colder) atmosphere where there is less water vapour is the atmosphere simultaneously somewhat, but not totally, transparent to infra-red and thus permits radiation to play a part.


The burden of thought

FB_IMG_1710242521019 Re-reading - for reasons of my own - my much-lauded review of Crowley's Beasts, I find I will repeat what I said in my review of Heart of Darkness: that the book puts forward, perhaps more as a gentle suggestion befitting the collapsing society it portrays than as a lesson for all times, that people grow weary of the burden of speech, indeed the burden of direction or thought. I don't like that as an idea; perhaps when taken as a warning it is valuable.

This is a more general though often more blurred pattern of SciFi/Fantasy: most characters don't need to think for themselves very much; they are supporting characters in someone else's heroic journey. The opposite - the Hero as entirely responsible for getting the right result and unable to delegate responsibility - is most forcefully put in the seminal Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality; or, if you prefer - and very likely you don't - in La Cummings ramblings about how during the run-up to the Brexit referendum, almost all the politicians nominally leading the effort sloped off to the Shires every weekend, leaving the true hard core to actually get it done.

And this - you knew, I hope, that I'd get somewhere in the end after this lengthy intro - leads me to the Libertarians. Whose chief virtue is Freedom and Independence and so on. Which they - and I - hold to be primary. And they begin almost every discussion with the assertion that what everyone wants is Liberty. Yet while it is true that everyone hates petty restrictions on whatever they happen to want to do at that moment, I think the vast bulk of the population doesn't want Responsibility For Their Own Lives; far from it, they flee from such. Which neatly explains the popularity of such as Trump.


* Nature: Why the world cannot afford the rich. I was going to write a post on this drivel, but perhaps a drive-by as a ref is all it deserves. Or perhaps Will Kinney's take? While I'm here, Online images amplify gender bias is also bollox, due to it taking "bias" to mean "non equal numbers of male and female" rather than "doesn't reflect reality". Continuing the sequence of fuckwit ideas, we have Public AI as an Alternative to Corporate AI by Bruce "I know security but am strangely clueless in the wider sphere" Schneier.
* On Christmas Day: Spiers and Boden, Carol, on Spotify.


Orange Man Running

b4s4 Per SCOTUSblog and any number of other sources Supreme Court rules states cannot remove Trump from ballot for insurrection. This looks like the right decision, and they seem to have found a good reason too. Read the full thing if you must.

The backstory: Trump got sued off the ballot in a couple of states, on the grounds of having indulged in insurrection. I don't really buy the insurrection story1, but that doesn't really matter, because the one certainty in this case was that the Supremes were going to avoid ruling on that3.

Instead, they have cunningly begun by interpreting the fourteenth amendment, as "expand[ing] federal power at the expense of state autonomy"; having set that scene, they have the context to argue that section 3 cannot be interpreted as increasing state power, and therefore cannot give the states the power to interfere at a federal level; therefore section 5 confers on Congress, and no-one else, power to enforce those provisions. This allows them to obtain the solution that everyone of sense wanted2 - that Trump should be allowed on the ballot - without really disturbing anything else.

Getting the judgement unanimous was politically desireable4. Unfortunately SKJ couldn't resist having a last somewhat spiteful word - the oathbreaking insurrectionist is, in their own words, not needed. However their ostensible reason for writing, that the matter could be decided this way because deciding the other way would "create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles" doesn't really make sense5. Those are just generic interpretive words, they aren't actually reading from the constitution, which they have to.


Thinking about this a bit more I'm more inclined to believe the judgement right, in principle, even on originalist grounds. The purpose of the amendment, everyone agrees, was to prevent the South being re-taken-over by insurrectionists post-war. Thus the language was written, and worked, for local - state level - office. But the language doesn't work for federal-level office, because of the patch-work effect. This didn't matter at the time, and so wasn't noticed, or was quietly ignored, or never considered. Now it does come up, and the only way to rescue it - to go back to a single point of truth, rather than many - is to require federal level approval.


1. Anyone following that link will notice the distinct lack of prescience in my "part B, the twilight of the Trump. Various folks have said that Trump will remain dominating the Repubs; might even run in 2024, and so on. I don't believe it. He has not the patience, or the staying power. He will just fuck off and ghost-write his memoirs, or retreat to playing golf, or some other stupid thing". Oh well.

2. Is this obvious? I think so. Voters know what happened, or they know Trump's character, or they've seen enough sources that they have carefully chosen to feed them the viewpoint they want, and so are as informed, or as ignorant, as voters usually are. There doesn't seem to be a good reason to disenfranchise them. I think it would have been good if the Dems had said this clearly. If you'd like to read someone disagreeing, the Graun has Mark Graber saying "treason" a lot.

3. They were also going to avoid ruling on presidential immunity if they possibly could, and succeeded in that, too.

4. Not all bad takes remember that they succeeded; Manisha Sinha for CNN manages to believe that the conservative majority in the Supreme Court dunnit.

5. And on further thoughts, I suspect that "X cannot be, therefore we decide not-X" isn't valid, judicially. I think that you need positive reasons for deciding not-X. But IANAL and I've only just thought of this, so use with care.


More Facts, Please - Volokh.