Technically Exists

On normative ethical theories


Inspired by this tweet.

There are a lot of proposals for what makes an action morally good or bad. These normative ethical theories can take various forms, but the most plausible are types of utilitarianism. This is because utilitarianism allows agents that follow it to behave rationally.

The von Neumann-Morgenstern utility theorem shows that any agent that does not behave as if it has a utility function can have arbitrary amounts of resources pumped from it. This is a huge problem for any normative ethical theory that does not allow agents to behave this way. “Moral” agents would be unable to reliably perform obviously good acts like life-saving surgery because another agent could come along at any time and trick them into giving up the surgery equipment or other necessary resources. Since this is intuitively not how morality works, morality must be some form of utilitarianism.

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The world's problems


There are a lot of problems out there. Some of these problems are small, like whether you should get a new phone or not. Other problems are big, like how to solve climate change. But of these problems, which ones are the most important? I don’t know, of course, but I’m going to hazard a guess at them anyway.

First, a quick overview of the criteria I’m using to determine importance.1 I’ll be considering the impact, tractability, and neglectedness of problems. Impact is simply how good solving the problem would be. Tractability is how easy it is to make progress on the problem; if all else is equal, directing the same amount of resources to a more tractable problem will result in more good being done. Neglectedness is how few people and resources are being directed at the problem. Due to the law of diminishing returns, a more neglected problem will generally be easier to make progress on than a less neglected one.2

My current guess for the 5th most important problem is poverty, which I believe can be most effectively solved through unconditional cash transfers. In developing countries, this would involve performing the work of charities like GiveDirectly. For developed countries, the goal would be the implementation of policies like universal basic income, which provides regular cash transfers to every citizen.

  1. These criteria come from the effective altruism movement, though I won’t be applying them as rigorously here as others might elsewhere. 

  2. A more neglected problem will also generally have less people advocating for it, which in turn means you’re less likely to have heard of it. If my choice of problems seems weird to you, there’s a good chance that this is the reason. 

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Ranked choice voting is worth supporting


Ranked choice voting (RCV) has a lot of supporters in the U.S. voting reform movement. However, the single-winner version, which also goes by the name instant-runoff voting (IRV), does have some detractors, particularly among those who support rated voting methods instead. Most still agree that RCV is an improvement over the single-choice voting method1 used in almost every U.S. election, but a few dispute even this. While I believe that RCV is likely not the best single-winner method, I also believe that it is an improvement over single-choice voting. As such, I think you should support RCV even if you agree with many of the arguments made against it.

The first argument I will address is RCV’s failure of the favorite betrayal criterion. The favorite betrayal criterion requires that a voting method never allows a voter to get a worse result by giving their favorite candidate maximum support. RCV’s failure of this criterion means there are situations in which a strategic voter will “betray” their favorite candidate by ranking them lower than another candidate. In other words, a voter’s favorite candidate may sometimes act as a spoiler that must be ranked lower than a more viable candidate in order to avoid the voter’s least-preferred outcome.

  1. This method is commonly called first-past-the-post voting or plurality voting, but I’m avoiding those terms because it’s generally not obvious what they refer to. 

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STAR voting in an interstate compact


Jameson Quinn lays out a proposal for an interstate compact that links the result of the US presidential election to the national popular vote, similar to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. However, unlike the NPVIC, this compact is designed to support not just plurality voting, but other voting methods as well. Specifically, approval, score, and 3-2-1 are all compatible.1 Two notable methods are missing from this list: instant-runoff voting, supported by FairVote (though under the name ranked choice voting), and STAR voting, supported by The Equal Vote Coalition.

  1. It also works with borda count, but because borda is (at least arguably) worse than plurality, I have chosen to omit it. 

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Should you pursue common or rare achievements?


Recently I’ve been considering what video game achievements are most worth aiming for. Specifically, the question is whether I should go after common achievements or rare achievements. I’d been targeting rare achievements, but it occurred to me that I might be better off going after common ones instead.

One reason to pursue common achievements is that they’re generally lower-hanging fruit. All else equal, the easier an achievement is, the more people will have it. Thus, if you simply want to maximize the number of achievements you have, going after more common achievements seems like the way to go. Occasionally a rare achievement may seem just as easy, but that shouldn’t be your main focus, only a possibility that you pursue as it comes up.

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