Tyler Cowen on historicism and taking sides

I’ve become more historicist as I’ve got older. We in the west are embedded in a society that we should not pull apart and reassemble. We’re embedded in some form of common sense morality, there’s a history behind us. A lot of things we can’t change readily but we can make different alterations at the margin.

I don’t have answers to the large scale Parfitian or Rawlsiam or Nozicikian moral questions. I don’t think there are absolutes and even if there are I don’t think there are many things we can treat as absolutes in real-world decision making.


I’m not sure there is really a morality across species that are very different and cannot trade with each other. It may be that in some unpleasant way we just have to take sides. And to take the side of a vision of the world that is not just nature but is also humans building… I don’t think I can justify it morally but that is the side I will take. Because the alternative is we all go extinct pretty rapidly. I mean you can be a very conscientious vegan but if you look closely at different parts of your life they’re actually all pretty morally unacceptable, where you live, the various supply chains you interact with.

I just don’t think there’s a utilitarian scale where you can add up the insects on one side and the humans on the other. And so I’m on the side of the humans and the other animals we trade with.


quote tyler cowen bernard williams historicism conservatism commensurability

Fallow period