Thursday, 30 July 2015

Thursday, 23 July 2015

why I can't make up my mind about ethics

You can still have a kind of normativity without free-will. Consider ubuntu (recognition of social determinism), or consequentialism (based on a set of desirable outcomes which have no moral judgment, e.g. economic outcomes, biological flourishing outcomes)
Hence, I think that my position is consistent or coherent..

So let's start with my moral theory. Please bear in mind that this is not a philosophy seminar or a journal, so my account is going to be brief, rough, and faulty. You are welcome to point out the faults, as I am not invested in my position enough to really care if it is true at this stage.

My view is confused. I admit it. I have sympathies for two positions. I am sympathetic to consequentialism, and I am sympathetic to skepticism.

The skeptical position is one of metaethics: Whether there is such a thing as 'good' or 'evil' or 'bad' or 'morally right'. I am more sympathetic to this position than any other.

The argument goes as follows, roughly. The phrase "it is good" or "it ought to be done" is in fact meaningless. If it is not meaningless, the meaning escapes me. I interpret it at most to mean "I expect that you shall at a future date do X" = "you ought to do X". I do not see the modal force of the "ought". Unless it refers to determinism, it has no modal force whatsoever. So, "it ought to be done" could mean "It shall be done" or "I insist that you do X", but doesn't say by what means, in virtue of what force, or in virtue of what authority.

Short of threat of dire punishment (retributivism) I do not see the force.

So, for example, this means that human rights are mere deontology, the same as the ten commandments.
"Thou shalt not steal" is coextensive with "You have a right to property", that is, both terms extend (refer) to the proposition "Property ought to not be taken without permission of the owner". But since I am perfectly unclear what "ought" and "owner" mean, I don't see the force of either "thou shalt not steal" or "you have a right to property". They're both just deontology < Deon, law. This is the law. Whether the force of the law is divine or the UN Charter of Human rights or whatever, it's just an arbitrary law.

Now: Whence these moral or legal laws? Well, presumably they're responses to psychological tendencies. So, we get pissed off when someone takes our stuff, so moral laws, and legal laws, are inventions to say, "you ought to not do x, and you ought to do Y", so as to satisfy this weird psychological atavism that we have.

I just do not see the force of any actual, real moraltiy here. I just see satisfying a psychological tendency with laws.

Now, that deals with deontology. Consequentialism is more tricky. Look. Consequentialism says that what is right is that which brings benefit. So, we ought to have a democracy, say, becuase most people will benefit, rather than the few, e.g. as in a plutocracy. Likewise, we can say, if there's a fat guy and a train, and throwing him in the path of the train by pulling a lever, say, as the only way to save people tied to the tracks (this is a STANDARD philosophical paradox), you end up with the result that it's best to push the one fat guy into the train's path to stop five people tied to the tracks from dying. So this is consequentialist logic: What is the best consequences we can expect, or aim for? And that is then "the good".

I have two problems with it, and it should be obvious. One: Says who that "it is good" rather than "more promoting of life" ? what is the difference? Why add that extra label? Second: What point in the distant future counts as enabling "it is good" ? consider if the five people tied to the tracks were Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and other friends of theirs. Would it still be best to push the fat guy (Churchill) into the way of the train? No? So it depends on a whole bunch of future contingencies which may be unknown as to whether an act is IN FACT good. That is, how it turns out, determines whether it's good, and since we're not omniscient, we can't tell how it will turn out.

What this means is that democracy loses its consquentialist foundation as a morally correct system. It also means that consequentialism fails.

In short, consequentialism is false because something that brings benefit now (whether to me, or to society), may at a later date inevitably cause something worse. We can’t predict without omniscience. So, if we can’t tell, because of consequentialism, whether this is good or bad here or now, we have to choose an arbitrary cutoff point such that good in the short term = good, and good which later causes bad in the long term = unfortunately collateral damage. But that still means the general principle of “future benefit = good” is false.

If consequentialism and deontology both fail, what are we left with? Well, ubuntu, exemplar ethics, duty (supererogation). Each of these have their problems. The most common problem is self-refutingness. That is, they all beg the question of what "and it is good" means. If "good" means "ultimately benefits us", then that's enough. So, if by "it is good that you do ballet" means "you will receive a benefit of discipline and training and elegance", say, then I don't see that you need to add "and it is good". Adding "it is good" adds no new further information.

From this, I conclude that technically, ethics don't refer; they're meaningless.

What I can however see is that we do have norms of behaviour and ideas of fairness. But I think those are built into us biologically and are the proper study of ethologists, not philosophers.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Philosophy is fair game

I’m a bit tired of the pontifications of Dawkins, Harris, Krauss and Chomsky. Whilst they are all PhDs or professors, their area of specialisation is not philosophy. Their comments seem to show a lack of understanding of the large body of research that stands behind the respective areas that they comment on so glibly. 

This is not to say that I disagree with them. It seems to me, prima facie, that what they say is correct. My point of objection is that they think that it’s ok to just talk informally about an area of specialisation that is not their area. Dawkins is a biologist. Yet he writes books about the existence of God without demonstrating any understanding or knowledge of the philosophical literature. Harris is a neuroscientist. Yet he writes on free-will. Krauss is a physicist, yet he’s dismissive of philosophy of science without any charity. And Chomsky is a linguist, yet he waxes lyrical about politics.

Philosophy is not just an arbitrary set of ideas that nonspecialists are entitled to pontificate about. If I went round, saying I was an emperor, just because some moistened… oh wait, that’s something else. If I went around saying stuff about biology, neuroscience, physics or linguistics and pretended to be some authority or expert in that area, I’m pretty damn sure these guys would call me on it and say, "hang on, you don’t actually have a higher degree in that area and your opinion doesn’t count”. I mean, can you imagine what Dawkins would say if I said that actually Lamarckism is right? I don’t think it is, but imagine the look of contempt on his face? 

Just because something makes sense to you or you think you have a novel philosophical idea, it doesn’t mean it is either novel or that your idea is worth mentioning - because believe it or not, there are professional philosophers who have churned every single idea around to death, and found that most of them don’t work. So whatever you’re saying philosophically has probably been said before, in much more detail, but by actual philosophers. I’d like to suggest that before you give an opinion, take a look at I’m pretty sure you’ll find that your idea has been exhaustively discussed already.

As a simple example, Dawkins mentions Bayes’ Theorem in his God Delusion, in one sentence. It takes me five chapters in my PhD to adequately dismiss the argument he presents in one sentence. This shows how little seriousness he accords the theistic position, and, that he is therefore guilty of a major, major straw man fallacy. Please, non-philosophers, stop acting as if you have something novel or useful to say to add to the debate. At most you’re demonstrating a disrespect for the discipline and your contempt for it by failing to do the most rudimentary research. Please look at the website given above and learn what experts have discussed, agreed on, said, and also what is unsaid. If you have something useful to contribute, please submit it to a philosophy journal, see if you get published, and then you will be entitled to an opinion on it. Note that I’m not saying you have to have a PhD. Just do your homework first. You can talk casually on facebook about ideas, but please do not assume you are saying something new.

Just as I do not qualify, or have the right to, an opinion on Lamarckism, because I have not researched evolutionary biology, so does Dawkins not have a right to comment on theism without doing his homework and demonstrating the appropriate level of academic discipline. He should know better, after all, he is a prof.

The point is that even the ancient greeks were winging it and didn't have 2500 years of argument to back up their views. Anyone on facebook who writes what they think is more or less using hearsay and ignoring 2500 years of thought.

So, yes, Plato and friends were amateurs like anyone else on facebook, and were very often wrong or simplistic, which is why the disciplines still exist.

The same for science. Aristotle made many pronouncements about science but he was mostly wrong. We can respect him as an original but not really use him nowadays. The same goes for anyone else who just wings it. You need to see what has been said before you just assume your view is legit. However, whilst people are prepared to grant that respect to the sciences, they are not prepared to grant it to philosophy, and trot out the tired old canard "I am entitled to my opinion". No, no you aren't. I've spent over 20 years on this and I can tell you that I still make major errors and do not understand the nuances of some of the debates.

Imagine the outrage if I went on facebook and pronounced that set theory was nonsense, or that I had refuted quantum mechanics? Everyone would point at me and laugh and say that I was a crank, a hack, and an amateur. So why do people think they can get away with doing precisely the same to philosophy?

A useful distinction given to me by Rodger Wilkie: Opinion versus Position. An opinion is just your view. A position is an opinion that you’ve done research on and that you can defend with an argument. I am not interested in your opinions. I am interested in your positions.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Do not sign up as a customer with Discovery Health or affiliates


We’ve been deeply (read: extremely) dissatisfied with Discovery. On many occasions they opt out of paying by using the story that we’re in a “self payment gap” but state that we still need to pay them monthly even though they’re not covering us. Also, when my wife changed jobs and we were moved off their “scheme", we were told we had to pay them back for things that they had covered, because we’d not given them a year’s contributions. It came to about 14000, and they demanded we pay immediately or get blacklisted. I understand that SA law gives us three months to pay. Moreover, imagine this happened with household insurance? Ooops, you changed household insurance, guess you have to refund us the R100000 we paid you out on that burglary incident, sorry for you. Can you imagine what would happen to an insurance company that tried that? So why does Discovery get away with it?

What I find obnoxious is:
- “Self payment gap." What is the point of having insurance if they refuse to cover you for random and whimsical periods of time? Do they think we’re going to phone them EVERY time we’re about to incur a medical expense and ask whether or not they will cover it and or whether or not we will be expected to pay for it anyway?
- Their lack of clarity between their tiers of cover, model of cover, and what they cover and don’t cover, in a human-readable and user-friendly format. I do not want to read a book to know whether they’ll pay for my kid’s antibiotics. My time isn’t worth it. The antibiotics cost less than the time it takes me to read the book, so I’d rather just pay for it myself than “bother” them with a claim and then only get 80% covered or so, and then only be told “no, you’re in self-payment” (translation: you ARE NOT covered).
- I fail to see the advantage to them over a hospital plan. They only actually offer cover if you’re hospitalised, and outside of that they try really hard to avoid paying.
- “Medical savings”. They’re trying to pretend that they’re a bank with a savings account and that our policy money is going into this savings account, and when the savings account is empty due to claims, we can no longer claim (“self payment”). My question. Why should I then bother with your company, if you are (a) not in fact an insurance company, and (b), I have a savings account with an actual bank already, and (c), my financial management methods are my business, not yours…? Don’t tell me how much to save/put aside each month, then tell me I’ve not put aside enough. Either you’re an insurance company or you’re a bank. Stop pretending to be one and admit that you’re just the other.

I am relatively sure that their business practices are at the very least misleading, and I am somewhat slightly less sure that they are even legal. I think that at the very least, Discovery should be nailed on false advertising; by calling themselves "health” rather than “banking” they lead the client to assume that they are a health insurer of some sort, and that the money being paid to them is a premium, not a deposit into a savings account.

At best, they are guilty of not making their payment policies clear and concise for their clients. Furthermore, they use bulk deals with corporate sector to bully you into signing up (“group benefits” … right, like we actually benefit from dealing with you). They offer lots of deals and discounts on gym memberships and stuff like that that we don’t really care about, but they don’t actually do what we do care about, which is cover medical bills.

We can accept that there’s a limit on how much they’ll cover per annum, but they do their damnedest not to cover anything or tell you when you’ve run out, and list the transactions that incurred the expiry, and then as I mentioned, when you leave them, they ask for a refund for what they did cover.

I will never voluntarily sign up with them again (I didn’t in the first place, it was mandatory corporate “benefits”). 

Keywords: discovery health, discovery, medical aid, medical scheme, south africa, unfair, bad, bad service, rip-off


Follow up.

I spoke to a representative who phoned me as a result of my HelloPeter post.  As usual, he explained their business model, and that I must read the terms and conditions, and that if I had not liked the “plan” that our family was on, that we could have simply gone for a hospital plan, or simply not signed up at all. He also explained that the “self payment gap” and the demand for refunds when you leave the protective fold of the discovery-blessed acolytes, are all a function of their needing to be a sustainable business so that they can cover people.

I explained the following:

1. You’re not listening. I am complaining. That means you’re doing something wrong, or are misleading me in such a way that my expectations are not being met. If I am complaining badly, it means that I am not perceiving value for money. If the customer complains, it really means you are doing something wrong. Own it and fix it. Here’s my other post. THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. Get it into your heads.

2. We didn’t voluntarily sign up with Discovery. We’d heard enough bad press about them already to not want to. It was part of mandatory “group benefits” which one received on getting a job. Either job plus discovery, or no job plus no discovery. Yes, technically we did have a choice. But that’s also like a choice between “starve to death” or “be irritated intensely and do not starve to death”, which isn’t a cool choice. You’re going to take “be irritated and don’t starve to death” every time. Ergo, from my point of view, no, we didn’t have a choice. The only reason we have so many people on discovery in this country is group benefits. I’ve yet to meet a satisfied customer and I have oooh about 700 people in my phone? I dunno, small sample size I guess.

3. I said that Medscheme did not have this convoluted model, and making the model convoluted is not so as to add value and tiers of cover, but rather is to make it too hard to understand the catches and fineprint so that you can refuse to cover us on a whim. 

4. I asked him if he read software license agreements on installing software. He admitted he didn’t. I said frankly, we had no choice to sign up, so you could put whatever you like in your agreement - that you won’t in fact cover us, that you will demand money when we leave, that you will own my car - you can put anything you like and I have to sign it because I need a job. He responded that HR at the company would let us opt out or change the cover plan. That’s probably true. (The latter). We could have just gone to a hospital plan. But we already had that. And, I pointed out, I was under the impression that discovery was in fact a medical aid and would in fact cover us for more than hospital, but as it turns out, they don’t really. I pointed out that we wanted more than a hospital plan, but less than an “Executive” plan which was not affordable. I pointed out that as far as I understood it, the R 4000 or so per month was actually covering us.

We said that we would agree to disagree. 


Here’s their written response from HelloPeter. As you can see from the response, they’re not addressing the key complaints, being that the plans are obscure/obfuscated, and that it is illegal to threaten someone instantly with financial blacklisting when they leave your “scheme”, and, that you’re supposed to notify people a few times before threatening them, and, that they do not understand the concept of customer service. I hope the potential future losses of revenue from our family are worth it, we will not sign up with you again. 


As discussed, the Medical Savings Account (MSA) is a fixed amount that Discovery Health gives you at the beginning of the year for day-to-day medical expenses. You pay this amount back to us in 12 equal monthly instalments but, if necessary, you are free to use the whole amount at the beginning of the year to pay for valid medical expenses. The 12 instalments form part of your monthly contribution.

If you leave the Discovery Health Medical Scheme part-way through the year, we calculate how much of the MSA you have used and how much you have contributed to it. If you have used more from the account than what you have paid into the account, then you will need to pay the difference to us.
I confirmed the details on how your plan is structured.