Political Alliances
Politicizing the Fed

Truth and Beauty       

By Jonathan B. Wight

Is truth recognizable by its beauty, as Richard Feynman and others have thought?  Massimo Pigliucci explores this idea in a recent edition of Aeon. He argues:

“ The problem is that it’s difficult to defend the notion that the truth is recognisable by its beauty and simplicity, and it’s an idea that has contributed to getting fundamental physics into its current mess….  the history of physics (alas, seldom studied by physicists) clearly shows that many simple theories have had to be abandoned in favour of more complex and ‘ugly’ ones.”

The same might be said of economics, where the beauty of a mathematical model may have little to do with the complexity of local institutions and other bottlenecks to getting prices to work or markets to clear without externalities.  Behavioral economics is far messier than standard models of rationality. 

Many ethical theories also tend to be simplistic—it’s about consequences, and only happiness consequences!  No, it’s about rules and duties!  No, it’s about virtue! 

The reality (in my opinion) is a hodgepodge of pluralism, in which one navigates carefully across these and other dimensions.  No simple rule or rules will suffice.  This makes it unlikely that Artificial Intelligence (AI) robots will replace humans in the realm of ethics, at least not for awhile.  (Alternatively, you could argue that since humans have been behaving unethically for thousands of years, how much worse could robots do by just following a few simple rules?  Answer: there will always be unintended consequences to any rule…)


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