(urth) 5HC : Skinner, Turing and happiness

Iorwerth Thomas iorweththomas at hotmail.com
Mon Mar 21 06:13:51 PST 2005

>From: maru <marudubshinki at gmail.com>

>My own brand of utilitarianism would say that following the categorical 
>imperative will increase happiness at large, and eventually result i large 
>gains for myself in addition. 'Do well by doing good' in a long run sense.  
>That, and it is rationally desirable for one's beliefs to at the very least 
>be consistent.

There's an example from a book of ethical dillemas [1] on how following 
Kant's categorical imperative regarding honesty made a female correspondant 
of his (and probably by extension eceryone around her) extremely _unhappy_.  
Utilitarianism has a place in any well thought out moral philosophy, but it 
probably shouldn't be the only consideration.  Happiness at large tends to 
mean the happiness of the majority in the eyes of many [2]; this can lead to 
people suggesting some fairly twisted things.

(At a risk of introducing a political argument into the thread, I'd ask 
people to examine the position of the leader of the British Opposition 
towards the travelling minority, and whether it'd be easier for him to make 
his case were he a utilitarian.)

[1]  Alas, I've lent it to a friend.  I'll check the title and author if 
anyone's interested.

[2]  Though I have no doubt that you're too sensible to make that leap :)
>>>I know a few people who can't be really happy while anyone around them is 
>>>unhappy.  Could that be a less-extreme
>>>example of what your dissident is doing?  More religiously, that seems 
>>>very much like the bodhisattva idea, but if that's
>>>a bad connection, a misreading of intent, please tell me.
>>Not at all.  In a related sense, it could be argued that a Christian is 
>>someone who is willing to go to Hell in order that no one has to.  I can 
>>see where you're coming from, but I'm not sure happiness is the primary 
>>motivator (it's probably a motivation, but not the only one) in this case. 
>>  But never having been in our dissident's situation - and  I hope I never 
>>am - I can't say I know for sure (and even then, generalising from one 
>>case to all would perhaps be foolish).  We may have to agree to 
>No, you are thinking of Jesus there ; )  But that is a curious view of 
>Christians. I should like you to expand on that.

It's an observation of some theologian somewhere, passesd on to me by my 
Dad, who's an Anglican minister.  I don't claim it to be the be all and 
end-all  of the religion, but it does fit rather well with the idea of 
living life as an imitation of Christ.

>I'd have argued that a Christian is someone who doesn't want to suffer the 
>eternal torment of Hell, and so believes in Jesus and does what their 
>church tells'em.

There's no actual set definition of what a Christian believes (bar the 
Nician (sp?) creed, and maybe not even that, if you're a liberal Anglican).  
  There has been, since the inception of the religion, a strand that 
believes that either

a)  No one is in Hell, since God is merciful
b) Hell is temporary, intended to reform, for the same reason.

It's called Universalism; there's some textual evidence that Paul was one 
[3].  It lost steam once most people in the West were Christain, largly 
because the worry that Uncle Bob, the virtuous worshipper of Zeus, would 
have somewhat unfairly wound up in Hell became less of an issue.

It's tempting to suggest that someone whose primary motivation for being a 
Christian was fear of Hell probably wouldn't do a good job of escaping Hell 
(if indeed, it exists and there's anyone in there) becase they have the 
wrong motivation for what they do.

[3]  On the other hand, there's textual evidence for almost any view of Paul 
that you wish to put forwards.

>>On second thoughts, if you're correct, I doubt anyone _should_ have a 
>>problem with such a motivation, as it's quite clearly unselfish.  Mich ink 
>>has no doubt been spilled on such issues.
>Arrgh. The point was that even apparently unselfish, principled actions can 
>be as well, if not better, understood as enlightened selfishness as well.  
>But fortunately no ink need die for our debate. No, 'tis the electrons and 
>phospors who shall suffer.
I think my chief problem with this is that they could probably be understood 
just as well in a Jungian or Freudian outlook, depending taste - they all 
tend to reduce motivations to one primary thing, power, sex, happiness, 
whereas we always have several, including those we aren't aware of.  Also, 
not having access to people's inner thoughts, we can't know.

I'd like to observe that to a certain extent, I'm one of those people you 
describe; the problem is - my inability to be happy while those around me 
are unhappy doeas not imply that, in order to do what I must to make them 
happy, I'll wind up happy.  It just means that if they're unhappy, so am I.


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