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Archive for the ‘Utilitiarianism’ Category

Let me unpack what I mean here. Happiness is standing in for Utilitarianism [as you can see ‘Happiness’ is comparatively user friendly] – Bentham the great grandaddy of this school defined it as the greatest total sum of happiness which has been rather cheaply reduced to the phrase ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ [see Note 2 on Chapter 8: The Greatest Happiness: Is that the goal? in the slim volume Happiness: Lessons from a new science] on the other hand ‘a good life’ is standing in for an even older way of looking at the world – the ancient greeks and romans used to ask themselves just what made a good life…

Socrates championed being true to yourself and your values. If you think that’s an argument for Happiness he took the poisoned cup prescribed for him as not to do so would have broken his own values – hardly something that made him, his followers or even his detractors happy. Socrates thought that a good life was about living to standards – ethics and the one work we see this sort of thing [Plato’s Republic] at work – those who cannot live a good life need to be controlled…

Orwell, in one of his essays, attacked the supposed utopia of Swift’s Houyhnhnms as totalitarian of a very dark shade – that those peacefull beasts had to impose constrictions on their very thoughts and speech. Given that utilitarianism had not risen above communism and was still [I believe] a defence of liberty when he wrote his essay he would not have criticized it per se. Now we are leaving utilitarianism behind as a defence for liberty – let folk seek their own happiness as long as it does not harm others to a more pro-active ‘happy’ agenda… where we can discover what would make us happy and then legislate towards that end…

I prefer the idea that we should construct what is a good life built on principles – sometimes the decisions we make which make us grieviously unhappy are the ones we ‘know’ are right. How does that sit with the ‘happy’ agenda? How could you so formulate a world where there are no unhappy choices or to ask another question- how meaningless would that world be?

Just recently on the run up to the Euro and the local elections we’ve had clergy telling us to go out and vote… but what if we don’t like the political reality enough to more than hesitate over the voting slip – and what if we know that before we even get up in the morning… Now I’m sure that Lord Layard [that guru of New Labour] would want us to be happy to vote as much as the clergy.

But to take this as the nutshell to crack the the arguments about with…

I doubt the clergy would expect you to change your internal reality for the sake of the electoral process whereas Layard’s view is much more to do with our internal motivators – in short he would want us to have an internal reality that gave us a kick for expressing our views on the ballot paper…

Now I doubt either of these schools of thought would appreciate my deliberate spoiling of the ballot papers I was given yesterday [Yes – I did vote ‘Liberty!’ even though I had to write that myself… you’ll be gald to know, Dear Reader.] the questions I’m trying to get to are who would be the most displeased with my disposition? why? and what does that mean about how we should live?

In the end various members of clergy would have different views on how I behaved… so I’ll try to stick to the mentality that declared I should get out and Vote! and I’m sure they’d be dissapointed but understanding that I decided my own path despite the diferent values meant a diferent course of action to the one proposed. Perhaps Layard would be happy to know I was happy enough to vote against the entire status quo of the political situation. Perhaps not as it says that positively voting is meaningless in a world that should be seen as meaningful – boxes are to be ticked or crossed.

Layard does argue for electoral change in a world of diminishing turn out – so let’s stop being gentle and take the ideas he promulgates full on. My protest vote would be wrong. I was not happy, for whatever reason, to vote for anybody. In Layard’s world we should either change the choice until I am happy to vote or we should change me until I am happy to vote. Perhaps a mixture of both. What freedom then?

We return to the Houyhnhnms – do we want a society where we cannot express things which disturb the minds of others around us? In this sense I prefer the idea that we should be able to decide what pursuits make us happy but that we should seek to live a good life… We may not be happy but we can be right – not only in our own minds but that we can be acknowledged as having the right to decide what we think that is.

Call me hopelessly romantic [and I’ll reply with a very hard nosed reply made from a mixture of anthropology and game theory to defend my view] but I think if we were developped as individuals with a sense of our own responsibility we would not seek to harm those around us.  As opposed to the current state of affairs where we are taught there have to be losers and they are to be trampled by the system until they reach a certain low point in which case the government will look after them – so we don’t need to worry our little heads about them…

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