[extropy-chat] Pleasure as ultimate measure of morality [Was: Pleasing Oneself]

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Tue Feb 27 18:59:20 UTC 2007

Jeffrey, I see that you have become not only a man but The Man, congratulations!

On 2/27/07, TheMan <mabranu at yahoo.com> wrote:
> I think pleasure and suffering can weigh each other
> out. If and only if there is more pleasure than
> suffering in a person's life, that life is
> intrinsically worth living (all other things equal).

Would you similarly place love and hate at opposing ends of a scale?
If so, where would you place apathy?  Can one hate if one does not

Might it be that pleasure is not right in itself, but simply an
indication to the organism that things appear to be heading in the
right direction (per its evolved values)?

> But even if most of the human beings in the world
> today would accept and - by changing the law - start
> applying an ethics that says that all human beings,
> who are expected to experience more suffering than
> pleasure for the rest of their lives, should be
> killed, that ethics might still upset so many people
> that such a change in society might worsen the total
> balance of pleasure/suffering in the world more than
> it would improve it.

That seems kinda silly, because by the reasoning you just
provided--and continuing per your thesis that pleasure is the ultimate
measure of morality--you should simply do away with the remainder who
feel bad.  Surely you'll end up with a few who will  *feel* even more
pleased with the perceived outcome.

Remember I'm not arguing against pleasure, I am only suggesting to you
that pleasure is derivative of doing right, not right in itself.

> Even most of the people who
> suffer more than they experience pleasure, would
> suffer from the knowledge that they might get killed
> any day.

But couldn't they avoid much of that suffering by achieving a state of
blissful intoxication until they died?  Again, maybe there's a
principle more fundamental than feeling bliss that more of us would
agree is a greater good?  Hint: It might have something to do with our
growth, rather than simply our pleasure.

> It may be that what many people prematurely believe to
> be utilitarian (for example killing people who are
> incurable ill, constantly suffer tremendously from
> their illness and exhaust society's resources by
> staying alive) might be utilitarianistically right
> only if a sufficient number of people are okay with
> it. How many would be a sufficient number, I don't
> know, but I think it's far more than 50% of the
> people. And since we are not there yet, your intuition
> is totally right when it says to you not to accept
> such an ethics that would shorten some people's lives
> for the misguided sake of (what is, given the
> circumstances today, wrongly perceived as) improving
> the balance of pleasure/suffering in the universe,
> even if it might at a first glance improve that
> balance.

Yes, the utilitarian argument becomes clearly absurd when taken to its
extreme.  It works only in the range where, like pleasure, it overlaps
with a more fundamental principle describing how we come to agree that
certain actions are more right than others.

> So your objection is not an objection against a
> "classical-hedonist-utilitarianistically
> recommendable" practice, but an objection against what
> you misguidedly perceive as being a
> classical-hedonistic-utilitarianistically
> recommendable practice.

I had to read that three times before I figured out that you're
probably saying that I'm arguing against something different from your
actual claim.

Actually, I was trying to show you that your premise of "pleasure
being the ultimate measure of morality" leads to absurdity, not that
you were directly claiming the obvious absurdity.

> Jef writes:
> >>> I understand you are claiming that morality is
> >>> measured with respect to pleasure integrated over
> >>> all sentient beings, right? Do you also integrate
> >>> over all time? So that which provides the
> >>> greatest
> >>> pleasure for the greatest number for the greatest
> >>> time is the most moral?
> >>
> >> Fundamentally, yes. However, this does not
> >> necessarily
> >> imply that one must inexorably commit immoral acts
> >> against other sentients in order to achieve this >>
> goal.

Do you realize that your response here contradicts itself with the
implicit assumption that there are acts more moral than that which it
claims to be fundamentally most moral?

> >
> >I understand that you claim that pleasure is the
> >ultimate measure of morality, but your statement
> >above seems to say that you think that there may be
> >other measures of morality (possibly higher) that
> >might come into conflict with increasing pleasure.
> >Doesn't your statement above seem to contradict your
> >thesis?
> This can be explained by what I wrote above.
> Utilitarianism may, today, require the practical
> appication of some "ethics" that may not seem purely
> utilitarian at first sight. Today, people value their
> free will so much that it would be
> utilitarianistically wrong to even try to take their
> free will away from them. It's much more feasable to
> increase the pleasure within the limits that people's
> request for free will set. Utilitarianism has to take
> feasability into account too, among many other things.

So you agree with me that what is considered moral is always
considered within context.  You also seem to agree with me that this
context should (in the moral sense) be an expanding one.

If you examine the implications of the beliefs you expressed above,
then you should (in the sense of expectation) see that you, Jeffrey
TheMan,  already conceive of a principle of growth of context as more
fundamental than the amount of pleasure that such growth enables.


> >It almost seems as if you saying that the freedom to
> >choose is a greater moral good than actual pleasure
> >(which of course I would agree with).
> Its value is greater, but not intrinsically, only
> instrumentally, and only in some circumstances, such
> as today's circumstances. See above.

You might want to consider that value cannot be intrinsic.  Assessment
of value is always relative to the observer.  And as more people come
to share a particular value, it goes from being considered "good" to
being considered morally "right."  Fundamentally, it's about growth in
the direction of our increasingly shared values (increasingly shared
because they increasingly work) leading to increasing opportunities
for the pleasure that you seek.

I doubt that I have much to add at this point, so I wish you well
Jeffrey, you da man.

- Jef

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