Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Landsburg needs to read some Landsburg

Way Way back last year Steven Landsburg wrote the following in a Slate article on the costs and benefits of executing hackers.

" Some might argue that capital punishment has moral costs and benefits beyond its practical consequences in terms of lives lost and lives saved. Those who make such arguments will want to modify a lot of the calculations in this
column. As for myself, I hold that the government's job is to improve our lives, not to impose its morality."

I just have one question. Why does Landsburg seem to think his normative criteria isn't imposing his own moral values on other people? Doesn't his criteria involve personal moral judgments (for example, that life is worth improving) which are being forced on others? I'm certain the person being executed would consider Landsburg's criteria as being forced on him.

In this column Landsburg seems to think that his criteria is totally divorced from moral philosophy. This isn't the story he was telling in his book "The Armchair Economist". In the chapter "Telling Right From Wrong", Landsburg seemed to be saying that his criteria was the result of a sequence moral judgments and reasoning, just like any other normative criteria. Here's a quote I particuarly like: "When all the facts are in, we still need a moral philosophy to guide our decisions". Now he seems to be saying that we can make our decisions without any moral judgments at all. So, I would like to know what happened between then and now? Did SL change his mind or am I reading the column incorrectly?