Features, Politics

Scott Adams, Donald Trump and the Ethics of Persuasion

I recently read Scott Adams’s last book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, for a book club I’m in with some friends. We tend to eschew self-help books (especially those with hyperbolic, click-baity titles), but many of the principles Adams espouses seemed both sound and contrarian: focus on systems instead of goals, manage your energy instead of your time, add skills instead of becoming an expert. It was, in fact, a very good book, and a persuasive one – and yet all of us were left with the unshakable feeling that we’d been duped. Indeed, the fact that the book was so intoxicating to read made us all more skeptical of Adams’s advice rather than less. As one friend put it at the time, “I feel like I’ve been hypnotized.”

Scott Adams

Adams, who created the popular Dilbert comic strip, has been making the podcast rounds of late as an explainer and sometime defender of Donald Trump. His argument is somewhat orthogonal to the traditional pro-Trump case: as a trained hypnotist and longtime student of persuasion, Adams believes that the President’s apparent bluster and dishonesty are actually the work of a “master persuader” with “a set of skills we’ve never seen before.” Though he endorsed Trump for president, Adams only occasionally wades into the weeds of ethics and policy. His primary focus is instead on explaining the various persuasive strategies the president uses, many of which Adams himself endorses. But on a recent episode of Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast, Adams was tasked with defending the president’s persuasion in ethical terms. The resulting conversation left Harris in a familiar position: as he joked in the introduction, “I may have been hypnotized.”

So what is it about Adams’s style that leaves his interlocutors so vexed? The answer, it should come as no surprise, is that he uses the very same tactics of evasion and persuasion for which he admires the president. Adams does not hide this fact – on the contrary, he celebrates it as the appropriate response to humanity’s basic irrationality. As he tells Harris early in the podcast, “the truth is not as useful as it should be, because it doesn’t change people’s minds.” Whether or not this assessment is accurate, it surely runs counter to the ethos of intellectual honesty that defines Harris’s work. In what follows, I’ll try to do for Adams what Adams does for Trump: uncover the persuasive strategies that underpin his words. In so doing, I hope to make a case for the utility of facts and reason, in spite (or perhaps because) of our irrational nature.

Among the most well-documented and exploitable of cognitive biases is the phenomenon of anchoring, first theorized by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. This is the tendency to place too much weight on the first piece of information one receives (the “anchor”) when making a judgment under uncertainty. As Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow, “If you are asked whether Gandhi was more than 114 years old when he died, you will end up with a much higher estimate of his age at death than you would if the anchoring question referred to death at 35.” Adams views many of Trump’s more outrageous claims as masterful exploitations of this bias. Erroneously estimating his net worth to be $10 billion? The “big first offers” to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and ban all Muslim immigration? All anchoring strategies that reset the public’s intuitions about the facts and ethics at hand.

Adams deploys this tactic multiple times over the course of the Harris podcast, with varying degrees of success. For example, when pressed to defend Trump’s well-attested habit of barging into the women’s dressing room when he owned the Miss USA pageant, Adams first argues that “if you actually knew the secret life of any of our politicians, we would impeach all of them.” This is an astonishing claim and, crucially, an unverifiable one in principle. Whatever one’s initial assumptions about the percentage of government officials with dark secrets, the claim that they’re all impeachable surely resets one’s estimate in the direction of cynicism. Adams later walks back this claim, saying (without admitting any fault) that “it would be more common than not common for [politicians], especially the males, to have sketchy behavior with the opposite sex.” Compared with the “first offer” that every politician has an impeachable history, this seems downright plausible. But it is a far more pessimistic assessment than most of us would likely have come to on our own. And, of course, it says nothing in defense of Trump.

Adams tends to define “anchoring” in ways that extend beyond Kahneman’s initial case, applying it to any instance in which a radical claim resets our intuitions (whether it’s the first piece of information or not). One example Adams loves came when Megyn Kelly pressed then-candidate Trump to defend his lewd statements about women at a debate. Trump interrupted, “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” defusing the question and winning laughter from the crowd. The logic, Adams explains, is that the audience’s negative opinion of O’Donnell provides a stronger “anchor” than Kelly’s question. Thus distracted, they forget to be angry about Trump’s overt sexism. Anchors of this kind need not be true, of course (it was not “only Rosie O’Donnell” that Trump insulted); they need only to distract or call into question.

Adams makes particularly insidious use of this tactic on the podcast when Harris attempts to drill down on the distinction between Trump’s ethics and his persuasiveness. Replying to the claim that Trump’s supporters have never been happier, Harris (noting the extremity of the example) draws an analogy to the Third Reich, pointing out that the support for a leader says nothing about that leader’s ethics. However ill-advised a Hitler analogy may have been from a rhetorical standpoint, the point undoubtedly stands. But Adams seizes upon the opportunity to claim that “when somebody retreats to analogy…it’s because they’ve run out of reasons. Nobody uses an analogy if they have a reason.”

Donald Trump is a master of persuasion, says Scott Adams

This false generalization saves Adams from having to address the point at hand (that persuasion has nothing to do with ethics), while planting an anchor in the listener’s mind that makes them wary of analogies. Despite Harris’s protestations (“analogies are tools of communication”), the stigma sticks: each subsequent time he uses an analogy, he appears to be flailing. And Adams never fails to remind the audience when he does so. In fact, Adams repeatedly evades Harris’s points through “anchoring” questions designed to make Harris appear unreasonable: “Did you just go full Exorcist?” “Did you just go full Hitler analogy?” “Did you just change the subject?” “Did you just give me another analogy?” All the while, the very straightforward question that Harris asks at the start of the podcast – “where does your appreciation of the [persuasive] artistry grade into actually thinking that [Trump] is good and liable to do good things?” – remains unanswered.

Matters are complicated further by the fact that certain persuasive strategies are difficult to distinguish from mere cordial communication. Two of Adams’s favorite techniques – “embracing the argument” and “pacing and leading” – could easily be construed as adherence to Rapoport’s Rules for honest argumentation. (Devised by Anatol Rapoport and propounded by Daniel Dennett, these rules advise one to restate an opponent’s argument and list points of agreement before beginning a critique.) But as practiced by Adams (and Trump), they become tools of manipulation rather than intellectual honesty. This is evidenced by the fact that Adams embraces arguments in his discussion with Harris that he denies in other contexts.

For example, when defending Trump as an exceptional case, Adams concedes that “there’s greater risk with a President Trump than some vanilla president, but I think his supporters have said, explicitly and often, ‘we’ll take the risk, we’ll take the chaos, that’s the price of change.’” But on his own blog, defending his endorsement of Trump, Adams writes: “If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump look[s] scary. If you understand pacing and leading, you might see him as the safest candidate who has ever gotten this close to the presidency. That’s how I see him.” The blog post was written in 2016, so one could argue that Adams has adjusted his view – but for the fact that he has stressed over and over how developments between then and now have only confirmed his initial position. No doubt Adams knew that he’d have a difficult time convincing Harris that Trump is “the safest candidate who has ever gotten this close to the presidency,” so he opted for the opposite position instead.

This shiftiness is representative of Adams’s attitude toward the truth more generally. Throughout the podcast, he defends many of Trump’s positions as “emotionally” and “directionally” true, even as many of the president’s claims “don’t pass the fact checks.” Adams justifies this lax attitude by citing the prevalence of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance: if people don’t care about facts, why should we use them? There are at least three related claims being made here, each of which is worth exploring in brief.

The first is about the extent of human irrationality. Adams believes that humans are so hopelessly irrational as to be fooled by even the most naked emotional manipulation. There is certainly some truth to this, particularly as it pertains to moral and political issues. The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has famously argued that most of our moral judgments are post-hoc rationalizations laid upon knee-jerk emotional reactions. And studies by Geoffrey Cohen at Yale have demonstrated the overwhelming impact of group influence on political beliefs, over and above the factual content of a policy or the personal ideology of the voter. What’s more, the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have argued that human reason did not evolve to discover the truth at all, but rather to argue and persuade. Score one for Adams.

The second claim is that the problem of human irrationality is intractable, and therefore that we should exploit it rather than combat it. As Adams put it on another podcast, “once you realize that everyone is completely irrational, your life gets a lot easier.” Though they barely touch it directly during the podcast, this is the heart of the disagreement between Harris and Adams. Harris has built a career on identifying, exposing, and confronting various forms of irrationality, all with the stated aim of “build[ing] a bridge to a rational world that the better part of humanity can cross.” He often makes a point of stating the most unpalatable true statement he can think of, just so as to force his listeners to absorb the full implications of an argument. (One example: “there are single zip codes in New York and Massachusetts that have produced more of enduring value…than the entire Muslim world has produced in a thousand years.”) From Adams’s standpoint, Harris’s obsessive scrupulousness and intellectual honesty are, in some respects, just bad persuasion.

Psychologist and cognitive scientist Paul Bloom

But while it’s true that human irrationality runs extraordinarily deep, the problem is not hopeless. As the psychologist Paul Bloom has argued, much of the literature on human unreason belies the vast background of reasonable behavior that goes unremarked upon. “Making it through a single day,” Bloom writes, “requires the formulation and initiation of complex multistage plans, in a world that’s unforgiving of mistakes (try driving your car on an empty tank, or going to work without pants).” Bloom has also noted that, however biased our moral judgments, they have nevertheless arced toward an expansion of moral concern. “If our moral attitudes are entirely the result of nonrational factors, such as gut feelings and the absorption of cultural norms,” he argues, “They shouldn’t show systematic change over human history. But they do.”

Adams’s arguments begin to unravel the moment one looks to the past to account for this change. One can simply ask, as Adams apparently will not, whether societies have experienced greater improvement when they have become more rational, or when they have become more accepting of “emotional” and “directional” truths. As Steven Pinker and others have argued, humanity has a long history of violence and irrationality, interrupted only by the rationalizing forces of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. The moral advances that attended this period are evidence enough that reason, however difficult to come by, is society’s best hope for progress.

Of course, one can only have a conception of “progress” when one embraces certain ethics. This brings me to the third claim underpinning Adams’s arguments, which goes unstated: ethics don’t matter because there is only persuasion. For all his rhetorical acrobatics, Adams manages to skirt the ethics question entirely, for reasons he has since made clear. In a blog post entitled “I’m Not Your Pope (But Thanks for Asking),” Adams faults Harris’s listeners for pressing him to clarify his ethical stance. “I didn’t think my opinion on that topic was useful,” he writes, “because no one gets their ethical guidance from cartoonists. I figured people could work out the morality questions on their own. But I was wrong. The anti-Trumpers need a Pope.”

The transparent evasion should by now be evident. Though he’s loath to say so on the podcast, Adams isn’t interested in defending Trump’s ethics. His actual reasons for supporting the president can be found in a blog post from prior to the election:

I don’t understand the policy details and implications of most of either Trump’s or Clinton’s proposed ideas. Neither do you. But I do understand persuasion. I also understand when the government is planning to confiscate the majority of my assets. And I can also distinguish between a deeply unhealthy person and a healthy person, even though I have no medical training. (So can you.)

Whatever one might feel about the estate tax or Hillary Clinton’s health, it is revealing to see Adams’s motives laid so unpersuasively bare.

The question before us is this: do we want to live in a society that strives, however fumblingly, toward truer and more ethical discourse? Or do we want to surrender to a post-truth world of competitive persuasion and disguised self-interest? For better or worse, the truth (or at least the impulse to discover it) represents our only lasting basis for convergence. Indeed, some fixed picture of what’s true and ethical is the only standpoint from which to judge the “directional” accuracy of the president’s claims. Otherwise, we risk becoming unmoored, vulnerable to the next hypnotist or conman promising to help us win big.

Jake Orthwein

Jake Orthwein

Jake Orthwein is a writer and filmmaker based in Santa Monica, California. He can be found on Twitter at @JakeOrthwein.
Jake Orthwein

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Jake Orthwein is a writer and filmmaker based in Santa Monica, California. He can be found on Twitter at @JakeOrthwein.

29 Comments

  1. Ricky knuckles says

    When is Sam Harris going to denounce Dave rubin??

  2. I think Scott has mentioned that his reasons for supporting Trump are more in the vein of Nassim Taleb: That Trump is the Anti-fragile president, someone who with chaos makes the system more robust (anti-fragile).

    We can almost know for certain that Hillary would have placated the fragilista politics of Obama, gone further with the madness in Colleges, Title IX, stifled the market, and henceforth. It can well be argued that the bet on injecting some anti-fragility into the system may be a moral one, even though it is based on cynical persuasion. And Adams does frequently mention the state of the current market as a signal of what I would say was this anti-fragility angle — Peter Thiel was a backer of Trump, probably for this reason, since he has said that Obama caused a technological stagnation.

    However cynical, it can still be argued that a greater-good anti-fragile stance is a moral one if the market goes as Adams, Thiel, and Trump have predicted.

    In the end voting for a president is always a computationally irreducible bet. Like Haidt says, we go by gut feeling and then rationalize our decission. Sam Harris is a natural perpetual alarmist, i.e. he does so as well

  3. Jake, I’m pretty sure you supported HRC, who got filthy rich partly thru the Clinton Bribery Foundation. Trump is less unethical than Clinton. Obama’s unethical Big Lie that “you can keep your doctor” has been worse for America than anything said by Trump. Anybody writing a critique of Trump’s ethics while ignoring those of HRC is being intellectually dishonest, and contributing to a culture opposed to reason.

    This might improve your peer status among unreasonable Trump haters, but doesn’t support the goal of making society more reasonable.

    • NickG says

      Exactly.

      Harris has been a de facto shrill for Hillary Clinton, so much so he lost me after years as a follower. On any relevant matric – including ethics, effectiveness, management ability, honesty, values, I’d pick the Donald over Hilary.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says

        On the planet where I live, Sam Harris has made it very clear repeatedly that he does not like Hillary Clinton, that he considers her a bad candidate, and that he recommends voting for her strictly on a lesser-of-two-evils basis. Then again, on the planet I inhabit, voting for a New York real estate businessman with a long history of fraud lawsuits, connections to organized crime etc etc in the hope that he’d “drain the swamp” seemed like an obviously bad idea from the start.

  4. DiscoveredJoys says

    “…do we want to live in a society that strives, however fumblingly, toward truer and more ethical discourse?”

    You can argue that any ‘rationality’ and ‘ethics’ are relative and arise from the cultural axioms you inherit at birth so ‘truer’ and ‘more ethical’ are just as dependent on gut feelings as everything else.
    It is almost certain that some of those axioms will later be replaced by others. Big ticket items such as capital punishment, meat eating, and excessive consumption may become ‘unethical’ and ‘unreasonable’ in the future – or not. We can’t tell because we can’t accurately foretell the future.

    Very few people are willing to sacrifice themselves and their families for the ‘greater good’ but can be persuaded to to ‘go along’ with popular movements as long as their individual interests are not harmed too much, so Scott Adams may have a more realistic (rational and ethical) view than is supposed.

  5. John Dickinson says

    “The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has famously argued that most of our moral judgments are post-hoc rationalizations laid upon knee-jerk emotional reactions”.

    I actually feel somewhat sorry for those who have been through this and are still pinning their flag to someone like Trump. They’re so far down an embarrassing path on which so much of their credibility hangs and on which so much reputational investment has been sunk. The commenter above, Tom Graessle Grey, is a good example. He can argue against HRC and BA with specific examples of unethical behaviour and some of it might be valid. But to then claim that it demonstrates that (the ethical wasteland and moral wreck that is) Trump is more ethical sinks their credibility and reputation further. Love is blind.

    • Com Devino says

      Do you understand that this exact critique, to the letter—just switch the names—can be applied to your own perspective, with no change in truth value?

      • Barry says

        Only if you believe that “truth” is a malleable concept which takes one’s feelings and cognitive biases into account. Because in the world of real facts, Trump is always worse. Sorry.

        • Com Devino says

          >Because in the world of real facts, Trump is always worse.

          Than who?

          • Barry says

            Than everyone the Trumpers try to play the “what about…?” card on. Trump has an incredibly long history of corruption, scumbaggery, ignorance and racism. The sheer amount of insane logical contortions people like Scott Adams have to put him through to see him in any sort of positive light says it all.

          • Com Devino says

            >Than everyone the Trumpers try to play the “what about…?” card on.

            Name one.

  6. –“The question before us is this: do we want to live in a society that strives, however fumblingly, toward truer and more ethical discourse? Or do we want to surrender to a post-truth world of competitive persuasion and disguised self-interest?”

    I don’t see why it would have to be one or the other of these options since they are not mutually exclusive. Persuasion is not necessarily untrue or unethical or a way to disguise one’s agenda (means vs ends debate much?). Nor is self-interest a sure path to an unethical, untrue world.

    With Trump around ‘normal people’ seem to react strongly and more often to his means of saying and doing things, as opposed to the end results.

    This presidency seems to break a lot of the rigid moulds about “how things should be done”, leaving a lot of “what things should be done” out of discussions.

  7. While I do like most of the article I think you made 2 false statements
    1) as far as I’m aware Scott is not a trump supporter. He didn’t vote for trump and in general didn’t get politically active
    In his own words all he does is describe the techniques he sees trump as using while predicting how the media will react to them.
    2) you made it sound as if Harris made a strong case for trump bring especially amoral.
    While he did show individual cases of very bad behavior I don’t think he manged to show trump being any less moral then any other politician.
    He also failed to show him being less moral then Clinton who was the only other choice.

    • Buck says

      1) Adams endorsed Trump later in the election cycle, after having tongue-in-cheek endorsed HRC for concerns of self-preservation. I don’t believe he stated who he voted for.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says

      1) “In his own words all he does is describe the techniques he sees trump as using while predicting how the media will react to them.”
      By his own admission, the truthfulness of words is much less important than their persuasion value, so his self-description is worthless (or at least cannot be taken at face value) for figuring out what he stands for. And for someone who supposedly doesn’t support Trump, he has spent a considerable amount of energy to rationalize Trump’s antics and deflect attention from his shortcomings.
      2) if you don’t think Trump is especially amoral, you have not been paying attention the last year.

    • Barry says

      Scott is arguably one of the leading voices of the alt-right in 2017. He is one of the most celebrated figures of r/the_donald. He will defend literally everything that Trump does. Throwing in a “hey, hey, hey, I’m not a Trump supporter!” every now and then is like a dude saying “I’m not racist, but…” and then yelling the N-word 100 times.

  8. What strikes me bizarre is that we’re just having this conversation with the Trump Presidency when, arguably, these dynamics have been true since at least the Jackson Presidency.

    Clinton and Obama, for example, were masters at rhetorical ju-jitsu by extracting what they agreed with in the assertion part of a question and subsequently twisted and manipulated the question to inject their own biased worldview as settled reality.

    Harris does the exact same thing, subtly intimidating his sycophants to nod in agreement with his alleged rational pronouncements so that why can view themselves as rational and, therefore, superior to those who take exception with Harris’ worldview. Adams is no different. Pride is our downfall.

  9. “Otherwise, we risk becoming unmoored, vulnerable to the next hypnotist or conman promising to help us win big.”

    You already are vulnerable to that, unless you suggest every unsuccessful elected candidate in history is because everyone’s so much less ethical than you are.

    Adams is showing you the techniques people use to make this stuff work, which is of much greater value for avoiding disaster than simply clinging to your principles as if they were enough.

  10. Red Black says

    I’ve been a Dilbert fan and think Scott Adams has a real talent there. I was disappointed to see him become an apologist for Donald Trump. I initially followed his blogs about Trump with interest, but over time it appeared Adams would explain any crap Trump churned out as some sort of brilliant five level chess. I didn’t like Hillary either, partly because of her lack of ethics, but I’d rather be discussing estate taxes then wondering if Trump really does want to launch nuclear weapons just because he can.

  11. Barry Oners says

    I think you’re missing one big component here: Like Trump, Adams has little to no real moral compass, and most of his blogging is informed by a single motivator: popularity. Once the frog brigade grabbed ahold of his blog and started upvoting everything he wrote he decided to decide himself as Trump’s #1 apologist. I’ve read his stuff for years and it is very strange to me – Adams’ 90s books pretty much systematically disassemble the overwhelmingly bad faith arguments he’s making today. Either his mental facilities have greatly declined or he’s just in it for the money. I’d bet it all on the latter.

    • Buck says

      This is ironic, because Adams’s hero of persuasion, Prof. Robert Cialdini, explicitly attacks immoral persuaders in the epilogue of his seminal book Influence. I read it recently and couldn’t believe how clearly principled the passage was versus the amoral way Adams talks about persuasion. Quoted in full to show the context:

      “The enemy is the advertiser who seeks to create an image of popularity for a brand of toothpaste by, say, constructing a series of staged “unrehearsed-interview” commercials in which an array of actors posing as ordinary citizens praise the product. Here, where the evidence of popularity is counterfeit, we, the principle of social proof, and our shortcut response to it, are all being exploited. In an early chapter, I recommended against the purchase of any product featured in a faked “unrehearsed-interview” ad, and I urged that we send the product manufacturers letters detailing the reason and suggesting that they dismiss their advertising agency. I would recommend extending this aggressive stance to any situation in which a compliance professional abuses the principle of social proof (or any other weapon of influence) in this manner. We should refuse to watch TV programs that use canned laughter. If we see a bartender beginning a shift by salting his tip jar with a bill or two of his own, he should get none from us. If, after waiting in line outside a nightclub, we discover from the amount of available space that the wait was designed to impress passersby with false evidence of the club’s popularity, we should leave immediately and announce or reason to those still in line. In short, we should be willing to use boycott, threat, confrontation, censure, tirade, nearly anything, to retaliate.

      “I don’t consider myself pugnacious by nature, but I actively advocate such belligerent actions because in a way I am at war with the exploiters — we all are. It is important to recognize, however, that their motive for profit is not the cause for hostilities; that motive, after all, is something we each share to an extent. The real treachery, and the thing we cannot tolerate, is any attempt to make their profit in a way that threatens the reliability of our shortcuts. The blitz of modern daily life demands that we have faithful shortcuts, sound rules of thumb to handle it all. These are not luxuries any longer; they are out-and-out necessities that figure to become increasingly vital as the pulse of daily life quickens. That is why we should want to retaliate whenever we see someone betraying one of our rules of thumb for profit. We want that rule to be as effective as possible. But to the degree that its fitness for duty is regularly undercut by the tricks of a profiteer, we naturally will use it less and will be less able to cope efficiently with the decisional burdens of our day. We cannot allow that without a fight. The stakes have gotten too high.”

      • Barry Oners says

        That’s a great quote and I agree 100%. For the record I don’t think Scott is totally off-base when he blogs about Trump; he’s good at explaining why the techniques he uses are effective (at least amongst a certain segment of the population), though I think whether or not Trump is really some cosmic brain persuasion genius or just a two-bit salesman is yet to be determined. As in-tune with Trump as Adams seems to sell himself as, he really does consistently fail to predict what moves Trump will make – his predictive powers are considerably worse than your average CNN pundit. I feel like Adams is in the same position Trump finds himself in now, with respect to white supremacy – he’s afraid to bite the hand that feeds, and since his readership is 95% denizens of the_donald, he’s going to give them what they want – a full-throated defense of everything Donald Trump says and does. Adams correctly identifies the techniques that Trump is using but utterly fails to explain why possessing such attributes makes one a good leader, hence why he flails around so much to justify every single move Trump makes.

        I think the podcast with Harris really revealed his true intentions to some extent – there’s a bit in there where they agree that Trump is a con man, and Adams’ follow-up is, “yes, but isn’t he a successful con man?”. There’s another where Harris claims that Trump is not as rich as he’s said and Adams retorts, “maybe not, but he certainly is now”. In Adams’ world, money = success = leadership ability, which is almost exactly the sort of idiot thinking I *thought* Dilbert was supposed to rail against. Funny, that…

      • Ethan Zwirn says

        Wow. So it appears his worldview is roughly the opposite of his mentor’s. Interesting. Adams is correct about factual truth mattering much less than we like to think, though.

  12. cedichou says

    Excellent analysis, thank you. The ethical void at the center of Scott’s arguments is a big red flag.

    You find the same dishonesty in his arguing against climate change: an argument that there are no ethics, that all models are wrong and scientists are trying to game the system.

    Scott’s has no intellectual honesty, it’s disheartening. He is now defending Trump on twitter for his non-condemnation of the Charlottesville events. It’s kind of sad that having achieved some level of success, he became a disingenuous and cynical misanthrope.

  13. Egbert Victors says

    Adams’s views aren’t worth this much thought and analysis. Spend some time his blog or Twitter and it quickly becomes clear he’s intellectually bankrupt and incapable of critical thought, as well as a witless, tasteless dullard. David Futrelle accurately called him the “Dunning-Kruger poster boy.” He thinks anyone who disagrees with him is either misunderstanding him or he throws out the term “cognitive dissonance” which he doesn’t understand the meaning of. Just don’t bother with this clown’s pseudo-intellectual dribblings. There are SO many other thinkers and writers worth your time.

  14. John Mauer says

    Self interest leads to an ethical and moral world, or perhaps I’ve misread the purpose of Adam Smith. To deny self interest is both unethical and immoral.

  15. Very good read. Plato’s “Gorgias” is still as up-to-date now as it was then… nothing new under the sun !

  16. augustine says

    A relativistic morality or ethics is no morality or ethics at all. Next month half of us in our ineluctable irrationality could believe that child abuse is just swell. Why not?

    “As Steven Pinker and others have argued, humanity has a long history of violence and irrationality, interrupted only by the rationalizing forces of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. The moral advances that attended this period are evidence enough that reason, however difficult to come by, is society’s best hope for progress.”

    Only by those forces? Hardly. Sorry, but reason, or Reason, does not fill the void and never will. Religion is essential. Religion and reason are not in competition (apples and oranges) but well compliment each other. The competition is between religions.

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