Tyler Cowen on our local cone of value, and the name of his book

How do you weigh the interests of humans versus animals or creatures that have very little to do with human beings? I think there’s no answer to that. The moral arguments of Stubborn Attachments — they’re all within a cone of sustainable growth for some set of beings. And comparing across beings, I don’t think anyone has good moral theories for that.


If you think one of the next things growth will do is make us fundamentally different through something like genetic engineering or drugs… we’re not then animals but we could then be fundamentally different beings that are outside of the moral cone I’m used to operating in and then I’m back to not knowing how to evaluate it. There’s some like common moral cone that has the humans not the hamsters, future growth could push what are now humans outside that cone and then I think I’m back to a kind of incommensurability. Meantime I think in terms of expected value—if it doesn’t happen we’ll just be better off, if it does we’re not sure, so full steam ahead is where I’m at. But I do think about this quite a bit.


Russ Roberts: Why did you call this book Stubborn Attachments?

Tyler Cowen: The idea that we as humans have stubborn attachments to other people, to ideas and to schemes and to our own world and then trying to create a framework that can make sense of those and tell people it’s rational and they ought to double down on their best stubborn attachments and that that’s what makes life meaningful and creates this cornucopia in which moral and ethical philosophy can actually make sense and give us some answers.


stubborn attachments cover

quote tyler cowen pragmatism subjectivism