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    Contributor PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Preference morality

    The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    I'd sure like to see naked pictures of my neighbor's wife. I guess the moral thing to do is to send her some of me!

    The Platinum Rule: don't do unto others as you wouldn't have them do unto you.

    Well... I wouldn't want my neighbor's wife to AVOID sending me naked pictures of herself, so I'd better not avoid sending her dick pics.

    The Diamond Rule: don't do unto others as they wouldn't have you do unto them.

    Well, shit.

    Why do moral philosophers spend so much time and effort trying to define "the good", when we can just ask people directly what they want or don't want? Of course, one person's wants can be another person's not-wants, but surely there's a way to figure out which wants get priority. Hypothetically, if we could objectively measure how badly people want or don't want things, we could rank their preferences in terms of their severity. Basic needs would obviously be near the top of the list, and would necessarily be higher than preferences that violate someone else's rights or do harm. All other things being equal, my desire not to be deprived of my belongings would be much higher than your desire for my belongings. It seems to work, but I wonder what the answer would be if someone wanted my belongings really, really badly? Is it possible for their want to be more severe than my not-want in that case?

    One way to find out would be to look at the consequences of prioritizing one over the other, and satisfy whatever preference results in the least number of additional unsatisfied preferences (again, taking severity into account). Robbing me of my belongings would cause a lot of other important preferences, both mine and my family's, to go unsatisfied. It's hard to imagine a scenario where not letting someone have all my belongings would rise to that level of deprivation. Let's try anyway. Imagine that if he doesn't get what he wants--which in this case is my belongings--a much larger number of people will undergo a more severe frustration of their own preferences. Taken to this extreme, I think I'd be obliged to give him my belongings if it were the only way to avert this eventuality. It's only a hypothetical anyway, but at least it doesn't damage the original premise even when it's stretched to absurd lengths.

    Preference morality has the advantage of being the closest we can get to a truly objective system, because there exists definite information about what people would rather not be the case, even if it needs to be sought out. It's not like pleasure vs. pain systems, where you have to account for people who would like a certain balance of the two, people who are masochists, and so on. Those problems all disappear if you just go by what each individual actually says they would prefer. There's something inherently bad, from the perspective of a given person, about having a want or a need go unsatisfied. Even if that want is something meta, like the want to be denied satisfaction for a while so it will be extra good when I finally get it. That counts too.

    The endgame of this system is interesting to consider. If a perfect world is one where everybody has what they want, then a perfect world is one where there are no unsatisfied preferences. This means that there is no advantage to wanting something and then getting it, compared to not wanting it in the first place. Either way, you don't have any more wants or needs. But the logical extension of this principle is a world without wanters, without preferrers. It reveals the truth about our unfortunate condition, as minds capable of feeling the gap between reality and a model of reality we conceive as better in some way. The source of all our problems is that gap, and our ability to discern it (actually, we create it, by making up models of reality and judging them as better than the real thing). Even if you don't accept preference morality, it can be instructive to ruminate on this point: if there is anything like natural evil in the world, it isn't an external force, it's the conscious mind itself, anything with the ability to react with felt negativity to a state of affairs it does not want.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    .... Even if you don't accept preference morality, it can be instructive to ruminate on this point: if there is anything like natural evil in the world, it isn't an external force, it's the conscious mind itself, anything with the ability to react with felt negativity to a state of affairs it does not want.
    I think an effective approach must entail tapering your preferences and adjusting to life's conditions. In your scenario, it's preferred that a fundamental characteristic of all life is adjusted to suit human preferences. This is sure to frustrate anyone wanting this. On the large scale, people thinking their preferences are the most precious thing in existence is a destructive "ethics". Human preferences are sometimes antagonistic to self, society and nature. So this approach of finding "natural evil" in the world, rather than what's adjustable in human preferences, seems backwards to me.

    Another approach is choosing to like the conditions of life better. It's a better choice than wishing to indulge all preferences. "Amor fati"... If one succeeded a bit more than half-way then he'd love life, including its frustrations, better than not. And that's more do-able than altering how all life is.

    Life evolves by struggle. Individuals do too, in the sense of psychological growth. We reach mountaintops by climbing the mountain-side. States of flow (trying to flesh out that metaphor a little) happen when you're challenged. Once you're on your mountain and come back down then, yeah, you're bored again. So we need new challenge. Are the ups and downs worth it? Yes! And not just for the exuberant states. Because the climbing isn't bad either, unless a person is sticking pins in his own eyes, telling himself "This is so frustrating! I prefer to get what I want with no effort!"

    From my perspective, your conundrum doesn't seem like such a conundrum (referring to the bit of your post that I quoted). There's no "natural evil" in life's challenges if one welcomes that state of affairs. One could choose getting over resenting it, if that's his native reaction. This outlook is akin to the stoic advice to attend to what you can change but don't fret over what you can't. I'd add to do more than "don't fret over" it. "Felt negativity" isn't inevitable, because the very attitude can be overcome as well.

    So embracing the struggle as the point of living solves the conundrum.
    Last edited by abaddon; 05-16-2017 at 04:01 AM.

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    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
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    Do unto others as you would have them do to you. It seems simple enough, but there is no principle so simple that someone cannot use it to create an absurd situation.

    The problem is, morality and morals are general terms and the application of morality and moral codes are specific.

    The basis of all morality and moral codes are two simple edicts, don't kill your friends and don't steal your friend's stuff. Everything which comes afterwards is an argument over definitions. Who is my friend and what is his stuff? Every culture develops their peculiar definitions, which depend upon the environment and resources. The concept of good and bad have no real application in morality, except when used as synonyms for moral and immoral.

    The problem with moral codes and morality is that the code stays fairly constant, but the definitions change. It's pretty clear where the boundaries are when friends are family members, out to third cousins. It gets really weird when some guy comes along and declares that all men are brothers. Suddenly, there is no one on Earth eligible to be robbed and murdered.

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    Do unto others as you would have them do to you. It seems simple enough, but there is no principle so simple that someone cannot use it to create an absurd situation.

    The problem is, morality and morals are general terms and the application of morality and moral codes are specific.

    The basis of all morality and moral codes are two simple edicts, don't kill your friends and don't steal your friend's stuff. Everything which comes afterwards is an argument over definitions. Who is my friend and what is his stuff? Every culture develops their peculiar definitions, which depend upon the environment and resources. The concept of good and bad have no real application in morality, except when used as synonyms for moral and immoral.

    The problem with moral codes and morality is that the code stays fairly constant, but the definitions change. It's pretty clear where the boundaries are when friends are family members, out to third cousins. It gets really weird when some guy comes along and declares that all men are brothers. Suddenly, there is no one on Earth eligible to be robbed and murdered.
    That's only a problem for amateurs.

    The pros know that you can just redefine those you wish to rob or murder as 'not men' (or 'not real men'). 'Subhuman', if you will.

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    Contributor PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    .... Even if you don't accept preference morality, it can be instructive to ruminate on this point: if there is anything like natural evil in the world, it isn't an external force, it's the conscious mind itself, anything with the ability to react with felt negativity to a state of affairs it does not want.
    I think an effective approach must entail tapering your preferences and adjusting to life's conditions. In your scenario, it's preferred that a fundamental characteristic of all life is adjusted to suit human preferences. This is sure to frustrate anyone wanting this. On the large scale, people thinking their preferences are the most precious thing in existence is a destructive "ethics". Human preferences are sometimes antagonistic to self, society and nature. So this approach of finding "natural evil" in the world, rather than what's adjustable in human preferences, seems backwards to me.

    Another approach is choosing to like the conditions of life better. It's a better choice than wishing to indulge all preferences. "Amor fati"... If one succeeded a bit more than half-way then he'd love life, including its frustrations, better than not. And that's more do-able than altering how all life is.

    Life evolves by struggle. Individuals do too, in the sense of psychological growth. We reach mountaintops by climbing the mountain-side. States of flow (trying to flesh out that metaphor a little) happen when you're challenged. Once you're on your mountain and come back down then, yeah, you're bored again. So we need new challenge. Are the ups and downs worth it? Yes! And not just for the exuberant states. Because the climbing isn't bad either, unless a person is sticking pins in his own eyes, telling himself "This is so frustrating! I prefer to get what I want with no effort!"

    From my perspective, your conundrum doesn't seem like such a conundrum (referring to the bit of your post that I quoted). There's no "natural evil" in life's challenges if one welcomes that state of affairs. One could choose getting over resenting it, if that's his native reaction. This outlook is akin to the stoic advice to attend to what you can change but don't fret over what you can't. I'd add to do more than "don't fret over" it. "Felt negativity" isn't inevitable, because the very attitude can be overcome as well.

    So embracing the struggle as the point of living solves the conundrum.
    That is definitely a valid approach, but it cannot be argued with a straight face as anything other than a reaction to the way life actually is. It is therefore a vindictive strategy, something invented in order to cope with reality, not a discovery of "the point of living" or something so illustrious. And as I said in my opening post, everything you describe can be subsumed under the model of indirect preference satisfaction. One who sublimates the challenges of life into a kind of game with its ups and downs would prefer that dynamic over a life free of hardships. Totally permitted under preference theory.

    I also should mention that species doesn't come into account here, so your remarks about human preferences are a little off-center in my opinion. Any organism that shows some degree of consciously preferring one state over another, in the sense that being in the unwanted state constitutes a felt harm and not just a functional one, is a moral agent worthy of consideration.

    If you meant instead that we should just go with the flow and accept the conditions life has set up for us, that too is a bit of a cop-out. We already reject what the universe has in store for us in every action we take that goes against entropy. We feed and clothe ourselves, stave off the inevitable boredom you described by inventing projects to keep us occupied, and struggle to fit everything into just the right mixture to satisfy our preference for an emotionally stable life. These are all effective strategies, but at root, they are the same sort of maneuver as joining a religion or picking up a drinking habit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    Do unto others as you would have them do to you. It seems simple enough, but there is no principle so simple that someone cannot use it to create an absurd situation.
    I've yet to see one that preference morality (and more specifically negative preference utilitarianism) is unable to withstand, but that all depends on one's definition of absurd.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    I'd sure like to see naked pictures of my neighbor's wife. I guess the moral thing to do is to send her some of me!

    The Platinum Rule: don't do unto others as you wouldn't have them do unto you.

    Well... I wouldn't want my neighbor's wife to AVOID sending me naked pictures of herself, so I'd better not avoid sending her dick pics.

    The Diamond Rule: don't do unto others as they wouldn't have you do unto them.

    Well, shit.

    Why do moral philosophers spend so much time and effort trying to define "the good", when we can just ask people directly what they want or don't want? Of course, one person's wants can be another person's not-wants, but surely there's a way to figure out which wants get priority. Hypothetically, if we could objectively measure how badly people want or don't want things, we could rank their preferences in terms of their severity. Basic needs would obviously be near the top of the list, and would necessarily be higher than preferences that violate someone else's rights or do harm. All other things being equal, my desire not to be deprived of my belongings would be much higher than your desire for my belongings. It seems to work, but I wonder what the answer would be if someone wanted my belongings really, really badly? Is it possible for their want to be more severe than my not-want in that case?

    One way to find out would be to look at the consequences of prioritizing one over the other, and satisfy whatever preference results in the least number of additional unsatisfied preferences (again, taking severity into account). Robbing me of my belongings would cause a lot of other important preferences, both mine and my family's, to go unsatisfied. It's hard to imagine a scenario where not letting someone have all my belongings would rise to that level of deprivation. Let's try anyway. Imagine that if he doesn't get what he wants--which in this case is my belongings--a much larger number of people will undergo a more severe frustration of their own preferences. Taken to this extreme, I think I'd be obliged to give him my belongings if it were the only way to avert this eventuality. It's only a hypothetical anyway, but at least it doesn't damage the original premise even when it's stretched to absurd lengths.

    Preference morality has the advantage of being the closest we can get to a truly objective system, because there exists definite information about what people would rather not be the case, even if it needs to be sought out. It's not like pleasure vs. pain systems, where you have to account for people who would like a certain balance of the two, people who are masochists, and so on. Those problems all disappear if you just go by what each individual actually says they would prefer. There's something inherently bad, from the perspective of a given person, about having a want or a need go unsatisfied. Even if that want is something meta, like the want to be denied satisfaction for a while so it will be extra good when I finally get it. That counts too.

    The endgame of this system is interesting to consider. If a perfect world is one where everybody has what they want, then a perfect world is one where there are no unsatisfied preferences. This means that there is no advantage to wanting something and then getting it, compared to not wanting it in the first place. Either way, you don't have any more wants or needs. But the logical extension of this principle is a world without wanters, without preferrers. It reveals the truth about our unfortunate condition, as minds capable of feeling the gap between reality and a model of reality we conceive as better in some way. The source of all our problems is that gap, and our ability to discern it (actually, we create it, by making up models of reality and judging them as better than the real thing). Even if you don't accept preference morality, it can be instructive to ruminate on this point: if there is anything like natural evil in the world, it isn't an external force, it's the conscious mind itself, anything with the ability to react with felt negativity to a state of affairs it does not want.
    I'm not convinced that this is a universal aspect of the human condition, at least in the sense of calling our condition 'unfortunate'.

    To the brunt of the most fecund of the population, life is innately enjoyable, even when we haven't achieved all of our desires. If it wasn't, there would be no means to propagate our species. And so what many thinkers regard as 'problems' actually have no existence in the minds of many people, until the problems are so dire that they.. actually are problems.

    Most of the human race, most of the time is like a squirrel happily hopping along, looking for nuts.

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    Contributor PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    I'd sure like to see naked pictures of my neighbor's wife. I guess the moral thing to do is to send her some of me!

    The Platinum Rule: don't do unto others as you wouldn't have them do unto you.

    Well... I wouldn't want my neighbor's wife to AVOID sending me naked pictures of herself, so I'd better not avoid sending her dick pics.

    The Diamond Rule: don't do unto others as they wouldn't have you do unto them.

    Well, shit.

    Why do moral philosophers spend so much time and effort trying to define "the good", when we can just ask people directly what they want or don't want? Of course, one person's wants can be another person's not-wants, but surely there's a way to figure out which wants get priority. Hypothetically, if we could objectively measure how badly people want or don't want things, we could rank their preferences in terms of their severity. Basic needs would obviously be near the top of the list, and would necessarily be higher than preferences that violate someone else's rights or do harm. All other things being equal, my desire not to be deprived of my belongings would be much higher than your desire for my belongings. It seems to work, but I wonder what the answer would be if someone wanted my belongings really, really badly? Is it possible for their want to be more severe than my not-want in that case?

    One way to find out would be to look at the consequences of prioritizing one over the other, and satisfy whatever preference results in the least number of additional unsatisfied preferences (again, taking severity into account). Robbing me of my belongings would cause a lot of other important preferences, both mine and my family's, to go unsatisfied. It's hard to imagine a scenario where not letting someone have all my belongings would rise to that level of deprivation. Let's try anyway. Imagine that if he doesn't get what he wants--which in this case is my belongings--a much larger number of people will undergo a more severe frustration of their own preferences. Taken to this extreme, I think I'd be obliged to give him my belongings if it were the only way to avert this eventuality. It's only a hypothetical anyway, but at least it doesn't damage the original premise even when it's stretched to absurd lengths.

    Preference morality has the advantage of being the closest we can get to a truly objective system, because there exists definite information about what people would rather not be the case, even if it needs to be sought out. It's not like pleasure vs. pain systems, where you have to account for people who would like a certain balance of the two, people who are masochists, and so on. Those problems all disappear if you just go by what each individual actually says they would prefer. There's something inherently bad, from the perspective of a given person, about having a want or a need go unsatisfied. Even if that want is something meta, like the want to be denied satisfaction for a while so it will be extra good when I finally get it. That counts too.

    The endgame of this system is interesting to consider. If a perfect world is one where everybody has what they want, then a perfect world is one where there are no unsatisfied preferences. This means that there is no advantage to wanting something and then getting it, compared to not wanting it in the first place. Either way, you don't have any more wants or needs. But the logical extension of this principle is a world without wanters, without preferrers. It reveals the truth about our unfortunate condition, as minds capable of feeling the gap between reality and a model of reality we conceive as better in some way. The source of all our problems is that gap, and our ability to discern it (actually, we create it, by making up models of reality and judging them as better than the real thing). Even if you don't accept preference morality, it can be instructive to ruminate on this point: if there is anything like natural evil in the world, it isn't an external force, it's the conscious mind itself, anything with the ability to react with felt negativity to a state of affairs it does not want.
    I'm not convinced that this is a universal aspect of the human condition, at least in the sense of calling our condition 'unfortunate'.

    To the brunt of the most fecund of the population, life is innately enjoyable, even when we haven't achieved all of our desires. If it wasn't, there would be no means to propagate our species. And so what many thinkers regard as 'problems' actually have no existence in the minds of many people, until the problems are so dire that they.. actually are problems.

    Most of the human race, most of the time is like a squirrel happily hopping along, looking for nuts.
    I'd love some of whatever you're smoking.

  9. Top | #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post

    I'm not convinced that this is a universal aspect of the human condition, at least in the sense of calling our condition 'unfortunate'.

    To the brunt of the most fecund of the population, life is innately enjoyable, even when we haven't achieved all of our desires. If it wasn't, there would be no means to propagate our species. And so what many thinkers regard as 'problems' actually have no existence in the minds of many people, until the problems are so dire that they.. actually are problems.

    Most of the human race, most of the time is like a squirrel happily hopping along, looking for nuts.
    I'd love some of whatever you're smoking.
    I don't know. I've always gotten the impression from your posts that you don't enjoy your life very much. Believe me, I get it. I just don't think that's as common of an experience as you think, and so the whole model of 'what we want versus what we have causing all of our angst', it makes sense, but I don't think it's universally applicable. Many, many people I know don't seem to think in those terms.

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    Contributor PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by PyramidHead View Post

    I'd love some of whatever you're smoking.
    I don't know. I've always gotten the impression from your posts that you don't enjoy your life very much. Believe me, I get it. I just don't think that's as common of an experience as you think, and so the whole model of 'what we want versus what we have causing all of our angst', it makes sense, but I don't think it's universally applicable. Many, many people I know don't seem to think in those terms.
    I really, really have to correct you on that. I enjoy my life and I'd rather keep living it. The conclusions I'm reaching have nothing to do with the particulars of my experience, which is why I am always careful to point out that even the best lives are nonetheless subject to the features I'm talking about. My goal is to expose something at the root of life, conscious life specifically, that so many people are happy to just ignore without seriously examining it. It doesn't mean you can't like your life, can't do things that make you happy, and can't feel generally okay each day, as I do. But it's intellectually dishonest to put that as the default state when it's actually a counter, a fleeing from the basic layout of things, which under an unbiased and critical evaluation is mostly antithetical to the things we want.

    I reacted to your reply the way I did because it's just a dopey thing to say. Most people in the world just frolicking around like happy little squirrels--do me a favor and Google how many people are hungry right now and don't know if they'll ever eat again. While you're at it, maybe look into the quality of life for your average squirrel. But that's not even the point, because I'm not just saying things are bad only for people who go hungry every day. It's the fact of our ability to prefer being satiated to being hungry, and the discomfort we feel as those states drift apart without our regular supervision, that constitutes the 'unfortunate' part of consciousness. It's a structural failing, not an incidental fact about the state of the world.

    This thread isn't so much about pessimism, though, as it is about how we can improve our moral systems by incorporating preferences as a substitute for one-size-fits-all concepts like pleasure and pain.

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