Monday, January 30, 2012

Is-ought and climate change

More on the is-ought problem and climate change policy, from philosopher and law professor Keith Burgess-Jackson's blog:

The Great Climate Hoax

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the globe is warming. What follows, as a normative matter? Nothing. As David Hume (1711-1776) pointed out long ago, you can't validly deduce an evaluative proposition from a set of factual propositions. (Put differently, there has to be at least one evaluative premise in order for there to be an evaluative conclusion.) What we should do about global warming (again, assuming it exists) depends on the consequences of global warming. Few if any changes have only good consequences or only bad consequences. Almost always, there are both good and bad consequences. Whether we should do something to stop the change, therefore, depends on which type of consequence—good or bad—predominates.

How often have you heard a dispassionate discussion of the good consequences of climate change? All you hear, day after day, is a depressing litany of bad consequences. This alone shows that global warmists are biased. They want intervention to stop climate change, so they mention only the bad consequences of climate change. A rational person with no ideological axe to grind would attend to good consequences as well as to bad consequences. For example, how many people around the world die of extreme cold as opposed to extreme heat, and how would that change if the globe warmed? What is the optimal temperature for the alleviation of suffering, for both humans and sentient nonhuman animals? How many different species of animal or plant would there be if the globe warmed, as opposed to how many there are today? What is the optimal temperature for food production? Would there be more food rather than less if the globe warmed?

Change per se is neither good nor bad. Whether a given change is good or bad, all things considered, depends on its consequences (and how these are evaluated). I wish scientists would inform the public of all the consequences of global warming, so that the public can decide for itself whether to expend its scarce resources in preventing it. That scientists have not done this is the best evidence yet that they are advocates rather than, as they purport to be, disinterested observers. Is it any wonder that they are not trusted? Do you trust people who are hell-bent on selling you something to the point where they omit relevant information? In law, this is called fraud.
I think Burgess-Jackson is exactly right here. Note that this is simply to make a point about logic, and agreement with his logical point says nothing about my own (or anyone else's) position about climate change policy.

As an aside, I think it is unfortunate that he uses the term "hoax" in his title, what with the connotations such a term has with other pejoratives such as "climate denier." But presumably he chose that word carefully in order to provoke his readers' thinking.


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