Ignorance, Consequentialism, Statistics, and Probability

A few days ago I had an interesting conversation on Facebook with a person who doesn’t want to be named. So, I call that person “X” for mysterious effect. The conversation started as comment on a slightly philosophical post about “good” persons. As you will see, I am reluctant to engage a lot in longer conversations of Facebook, for various good reasons, but I still found this conversation to be worthwhile to copy it in here. What are your thoughts on it?


There are no “good” and “bad” people. Which kind of ignorant is the question we should ask because that is really what people are different hues of.

So I will be first to admit that I’m a shade of ignorant, but I’m not dangerously ignorant, and I don’t actually prefer to be ignorant. I’m ignorant because I’m kept ignorant against my preference.

Michael Hrenka

How can you draw the distinction between ignorant and dangerously ignorant? Is that even possible?


Michael Hrenka The harm principle, if your ignorance results in people getting killed for example? Maybe your ignorance is more dangerous than a harmless ignorance which doesn’t result in anyone getting killed?

It’s possible to quantify ignorance by the consequences.


This would mean drunk drivers are some of the most ignorant people because look at all the people who get killed in car accidents. They are probably more dangerous than terrorists.

The self driving car could not come sooner. Cars should not start up in manual mode at all for people who have a high detectable alcohol content in their breath.


Michael Hrenka

X But what if the death of those people prevents the death of even more people? How can you reasonably expect to be able to know the actual or expected consequences of each action you take? Consequentalism is a good idea in theory, but given our level of ignorance it may not actually work in our best interests.

And how do you measure the level of your ignorance anyway?


Exactly, no one knows the long term consequences which is why everyone is ignorant. But again you can use logic to determine short term consequences, you might not know what will happen in 5 or 10 years but you know what may happen in 10 seconds with a bit more certainty.

The point is, if you drive under the influence you’re more likely to get into a car accident. The statistics are clear and it’s also clear what could happen if you don’t wear a seatbelt.

The only way to have security is to reduce known risks. No one has to drive drunk, so driving drunk brings unnecessary risk to everyone.

Consequentialism is all we have. It’s all we have ever had. If you don’t care about the consequences you cannot produce security for anyone.

Michael Hrenka

Negative short term consequences still might yield surprisingly positive long term consequences. We can’t know what will happen or will not happen as result of our action in 10 years. So, why would be even care about short term consequences?


Michael Hrenka Anything might happen, but what is most likely to happen is different. For example if you save lives you might save the next dictator, the next Hitler, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t save the maximum amount of lives because statistically very few people are like Hitler.

At the same time, the more people it is that you save, the more likely it is you’d be saving someone your future self would appreciate in some way. So this is why people from a consequentialist perspective would want to save the maximum amount of lives.

Everything in security breaks down to statistics and probabilities, where decisions are made by matrices and spreadsheets. So you would take the action most likely to produce the best consequences short or long term based on the information you have.

I’ll admit, I don’t have the highest quality information, but that doesn’t mean with better information I couldn’t make better decisions if my decision making process is sound. So the point is to develop a process which allows you to improve decision quality with information quality and only consequentialism allows for that.


And you’re right, when you have limited information every decision seems like you’re just gambling, just winging it, but if you’re aware that you’re gambling you can at least understand that you’re ignorant.

My understanding is why I don’t judge others so easily. I know I’ve made decisions due to lack of information, perhaps simply because I wasn’t alive long enough or wasn’t exposed to the right influences. Everyone does the same, and makes incorrect decisions.

At the same time a lot of people want to make better quality decisions over time and are relentless in trying to improve their ability to make decisions. I’m one of those people who will never stop trying to improve my ability to make wise decisions. I would say that is the best anyone can do to avoid being ignorant.

At the same time, I’ve found that consequentialism while it is the more difficult path, is the path which leads to the highest quality decisions for a rational individual. Some individuals aren’t trying to be rational so their decisions don’t have to be based on the consequences, but I’m not living under the irrational paradigm. I do care about the consequences to myself and to certain other people.

Michael Hrenka

I really like what you’ve written there, X. I would love to copy this conversation to the Fractal Future Forum in order to save it for the future. May I add your comments as quotes?


Michael Hrenka Copy it, but don’t attribute it to my name because I’m not trying to be promoted. If my ideas make sense then they might be able to create debate, so just say someone from Facebook says.