TED Conversations

Damon Horowitz

In-House Philosopher, Google


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LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT

Join us for a LIVE conversation with serial entrepreneur, philosophy professor, and Google Director of Engineering, Damon Horowitz.

This conversation will open at 5:00PM EDT, June 8th, 2011.

"I am curious to hear what prompts people to moral reflection and reconsideration: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right?"


Closing Statement from Damon Horowitz

I’d like to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and experiences here. My TEDxSV talk was intended as a provocation for the technology industry in particular to reflect further upon our ethical decision making – but I am delighted to see that it has encouraged much broader discussion.

The prominent themes I hear in this conversation reinforce the value of education, experience, and humility in our moral development. So long as we continually challenge ourselves to question our beliefs, there is some small possibility that we will not always be wrong about what is right.

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  • Jun 8 2011: I used to believe in the power of the state to solve complex social problems. I wasn't completely wrong, as state programs can have a measurable effect in helping out some people. My error was not based on pragmatism, but on ethics, and a misunderstanding of what the state actually is - a geographical monopoly on certain services with the implicit moral right to initiate force and coercion against peaceful people.

    I've found that, when you begin using clear language to describe things rather than the common language of euphemism and bias, a lot of mistakes that we habitually make are easily discovered. We just have to have the courage to describe things accurately, even if they conflict with our comforting delusions, and the insistence of others that we don't point out uncomfortable truths.
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      Jun 8 2011: There is an entire branch of ethical scholarship that concerns itself specifically with the question of language -- in particular, how we are to interpret claims about right and wrong, whether they are like other kinds of truth claims, or are more akin to expressive statements and the like. There is also a great tradition of linguistic self-consciousness in social criticism which seeks to identify hidden power relations in the very language used to frame and express ethical issues. And if we were to broaden our scope of concerns even further, we find Wittgenstein with his classic characterization of our philosophizing on these matters, and the tangles we get into in our attempts to untangle: "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language..."

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