The Irrational Rationalists

I was recently talking with my friend Andrew Stratelates of the Escaping Atheism Project about the odd topic of people who believe in both subjective morality and self-improvement. In my experience the most common approach to reconciling these two is along the lines of “I subjectively want to do things that I subjectively want to call self-improvement”. The Distributist made a good video about a thought experiment in which one is offered a pill which would instantly wipe out all traces of impulses to conventional morality, enabling one to live out a hedonistic life with far more success because of one’s ability to manipulate and use others without guilt. I strongly recommend it:

His basic point is that when one considers the idea, one knows that it is wrong, even though one’s theory holds that there should be no reason not to and perhaps even a good reason to do it. I recommend watching it.

That said, there is still the easy response that the person doesn’t want to because part of instinctive (arbitrary, groundless) moral impulses are to retain them. And this is, ultimately, unanswerable. If one is claiming that one wills something, not that it is true, this is unanswerable. One can debate truth, but one can’t debate will. (Which is why you can kill a man in self defense but not because he has a persuasive argument.)

And the whole thing would be utterly unremarkable except for the oddity that the people who are taking this easy out of disclaiming rationality in favor of pure will also claim to be the most rational people around. I’m not going to get into why—in part because I’m still working on the psychology of the thing and have no answers I’m yet confident enough to give—but I do want to note this oddity. The people who most often talk about being rational and being unwilling to be as irrational as their opponents also (when pressed) explicitly disclaim being rational on most every human subject. It’s ironic, but also quite interesting.

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