Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Toby_Ord2 comments on Not for the Sake of Happiness (Alone) - Less Wrong

48 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 November 2007 03:19AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (94)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: Toby_Ord2 22 November 2007 11:41:48AM 2 points [-]

Eliezer,

There is potentially some confusion on the term 'value' here. Happiness is not my ultimate (personal) end. I aim at other things which in turn bring me happiness and as many have said, this brings me more happiness than if I aimed at it. In this sense, it is not the sole object of (personal) value to me. However, I believe that the only thing that is good for a person (including me) is their happiness (broadly construed). In that sense, it is the only thing of (personal) value to me. These are two different senses of value.

Psychological hedonists are talking about the former sense of value: that we aim at personal happiness. You also mentioned that others ('psychological utilitarians', to coin a term) might claim that we only aim at the sum of happiness. I think both of these are false, and in fact probably no-one solely aims at these things. However, I think that the most plausible ethical theories are variants of utilitarianism (and fairly sophisticated ones at that), which imply that the only thing that makes an individual's life go well is that individual's happiness (broadly construed).

You could quite coherently think that you would fight to avoid the pill and also that if it were slipped in your drink that your life would (personally) go better. Of course the major reason not to take it is that your real scientific breakthroughs benefit others too, but I gather that we are supposed to be bracketing this (obvious) possibility for the purposes of this discussion, and questioning whether you would/should take it in the absence of any external benefits. I'm claiming that you can quite coherently think that you wouldn't take it (because that is how your psychology is set up) and yet that you should take it (because it would make your life go better). Such conflicts happen all the time.

My experience in philosophy is that it is fairly common for philosophers to expouse psychological hedonism, though I have never heard anyone argue for psychological utilitarianism. You appear to be arguing against both of these positions. There is a historical tradition of arguing for (ethical) utilitarianism. Even there, the trend is strongly against it these days and it is much more common to hear philosophers arguing that it is false. I'm not sure what you think of this position. From your comments above, it makes it look like you think it is false, but that may just be confusion about the word 'value'.

Comment author: notsonewuser 02 October 2013 07:53:44PM 0 points [-]

I'm claiming that you can quite coherently think that you wouldn't take it (because that is how your psychology is set up) and yet that you should take it (because it would make your life go better).

What use is a system of "morality" which doesn't move you?

Such conflicts happen all the time.

Often, for me at least, when something I want to do conflicts with what I know is the right thing to do, I feel sad when I don't do the right thing. I would feel almost no remorse, if any, about not taking the pill.