Continued

A continuation of last week's dialogue.

[...]
Matthew: Likewise, it will be the damnation that's bad, not the life.
Simplicio: So you think a good life outweighs damnation?
Matthew: No, just like you don't believe an otherwise good life outweighs torturing a dozen people to death.
Simplicio: So then the kid dying would be better than xer living and going to hell after all?
Matthew: Yes, like her dying would be better than her living an torturing a dozen people to death.
Simplicio: So then you should be happy about xer drowning in the baptismal pool.
Matthew: Only to the extent you should be.
Simplicio: Ah, but xer going to hell is much more likely than xer going on a murder rampage.
Matthew: I'm not sure about that, but I'll assume it without granting. So what?
Simplicio: So on net your expectation value of the happiness generated by xer continuing to live is negative while mine is positive.
Matthew: Et iterum quaero: So what?
Simplicio: So your analogy breaks down. Having the child live will increase total happiness from my perspective but not from yours.
Matthew: I think I already told you I'm not a consequentialist.
Simplicio: But here the consequentialism is not for deciding what we rightly should do, it's for deciding what we rightly should be happy about.
Matthew: I'm not even convinced that is a valid distinction, but even if it is, I'm neither kind of consequentialist.
Simplicio: Everybody is a happiness consequentialist.
Matthew: Nope. I, for one, am not.
Simplicio: Are too.
Matthew: Are not.
Simplicio: Well, I just don't believe you.
Matthew: I think it might help to look at yet another thought experiment. This time the setup is a classic: A transplant surgeon has five patients that will die without (presently unavailable) transplants of different organs.  A healthy traveler comes in for a routine checkup and mentions that  he is conveniently without family or friends who would miss him. During the checkout it turns out that his organs are compatible with the five patients needing them.  If the surgeon killed him for the organs nobody would ever know. Now the normal usage of this scenario is that under consequentialist theories of morality killing the traveler is the right thing to do, which for many people is a reductio ad absurdum of consequentialism ...
Simplicio: ... Hold on there, there are several arguments why  this wouldn't be the right thing to do even under consequentialism...
Matthew: ... all of which are incredibly lame. But that's not the point I'm trying to make right now. Right now  I want to use it as an argument against happiness consequentialism. So suppose exactly this had happened, and the surgeon had actually killed the traveler, and the five patients had been saved. Only he was wrong about nobody finding out and now you're hearing it on the news. Would you be happy he did it? And if yes, are  you also sure every secular rationalist would be happy about it?
Simplicio: Not really.
Matthew: So there, that means happiness consequentialism is at least not the only option.
Simplicio: But maybe they're just unhappy about people doing evil things,  even if good came off it.
Matthew: While that would be beautiful, I can modify the scenario to remove that excuse: The traveler actually had some kind of accident that would have knocked him out for a week.  And due to some bizarre defect of the EEG machine he was wrongly presumed brain-dead. He was a registered organ donor, so his organs were harvested before the broken machine was discovered. Nobody was morally responsible, otherwise the consequences were identical. Must  everybody be happy now?
Simplicio: Well, that scenario is getting rather far-fetched.
Matthew: Please. The the least convenient possible world and all that.
Simplicio: Fine, that's not the difference. But I'm not done yet. Another difference is this: Both with the child who might turn a murderer and with the five saved organ recipients, the reason you're not happy is because their good comes at the price of damage to other people. But when it comes to the child who could be damned, were talking about a damage to xirself. So maybe different people are just not commensurable for  happiness consequentialism purposes.
Matthew: OK, new excuse, new thought experiment. There is some evidence that arranged marriages are happier. I think it's not clear-cut, but lets assume it's true in the least convenient possible world. The downside is, of course, the thwarted freedom of the spouses. But note how it gets thwarted for their own happiness. So should you be happy if society decides to go back to involuntary arranged  marriages on that ground?
Simplicio: Hmm. I might say...
Matthew: Let me strengthen that: Could any rational person be unhappy about society going back to that arrangement?
Simplicio: Yes.
Matthew: So then peoples autonomy being thwarted for their own happiness should not always make everyone happy.
Simplicio: No - so do you have any point coming?
Matthew: Yup, the reason the kid of your original example might be damned is precisely that she might chose so if we give her the chance.  So your argument just doesn't work.
Simplicio: Yeah, that's the usual story, but I don't buy it.
Matthew: Doesn't matter. Christians do, so you would expect it to factor into their happiness reactions.
Simplicio: OK, so technically you wouldn't have to be happy about a kid drowning in the baptismal pool even if you believed in heaven. But you wouldn't mention any of these ideas if you weren't trying to escape that conclusion.
Matthew: Uhu, when I answer a question it's usually because I'm trying to answer it. What's your point again?
Simplicio: I can't imagine you actually thinking that way. You're obviously rationalizing.
Matthew: Well it's not my problem you're a bigot.
Simplicio: Pardon ma French, le fuque?
Matthew: You heard me quite right. Bravo, India, Golf, Oscar, Tango.
Simplicio: Look, it's you who's always ranting against gay rights.
Matthew: I realize the kids nowadays like to use that word as a dysphemism for social conservative. But that's not actually its meaning and using it that way is just another sign of your bigotry.
Simplicio: This is out of line. You can't just call me names in the middle of a sober discussion...
Matthew:  Was it that sober though?
Simplicio: Huh?
Matthew: Dude, you started out telling me I don't actually believe my religion. Your whole point in this entire discussion  was accusing me of insincerity and rationalization and now it's suddenly too mean to turn the table? Bit rich, no?
Simplicio: (breathes deeply) So perhaps you would like to explain how I'm supposed to be bigoted?
Matthew: Let me count the ways. You've got your identity invested not only in atheism being true but also in it being obvious. You clearly derive some of your self-worth from feeling  rationally superior to all those religiulous drones. You assume they must be insincere and driven by willful ignorance  or dishonesty and obstinately persist in that model even if much more charitable interpretations  are obvious.
Simplicio: But this is different! My opponents actually are that way!
Matthew: Said every bigot ever, and most with better evidence.
Simplicio: Look who's coming in. Hi Jenny, when will you come out as an atheist?
Matthew: Don't feed him,  it's the same stuff as every week.
Jenny: So you folks have been psychoanalyzing each other again?
Simplicio: ...
Matthew: ...
Jenny: So is either of you closer to the other's position than before?
Simplicio: No, quite the opposite.
Matthew: You can say that again.
Jenny: Not a great strategy then, eh?
Matthew: True. But the thing is, we disagree on the same information, so one of us must be thinking wrong.
Simplicio: Exactly.
Jenny: And of course you realize people are a bit more complicated than your usual just so stories even when they are wrong?
Matthew: Yes. But that doesn't help fixing the problem.
Jenny: So are you trying to fix the problem or just the blame? Because if it's about the problem, you would do a lot better appealing to each others rational side so it can eventually overcome whatever resistance is in its way, no?
Matthew: Of course you're right. But we still fall for the other way every single time.
Jenny: (warmer now) I know, concupiscence sucks. But keep fighting the good fight and I think it will get easier with time.
Simplicio: Concupiscence, yeah right.
Jenny: Or akrasia if you so prefer. Anyway, I've got this super-important petition you both need to sign. The government wants to steal chocolate from blind schoolchildren with AIDS, and...

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6 Responses to Continued

  1. Ben says:

    Not less than a whiff of Ed Feser about that bigoted thing, and I sympathise with that. Reflecting on it, I can't help but be reminded of Bernard Williams' revisiting of relativism in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. He talks about the impossibility of assuming the phlogiston theory in the modern day, and says the underlying reason for this impossibility is that a leap has been made to a position wherefrom we cannot rationally leap back (modern understanding of physics 'back' to phlogiston theory); is there an anology to be made with religious conceptions of the world and morality? I don't agree with it, but that - or, more importantly, the perception that that is the case - can explain the attitudes on the antitheistic side. I feel the chill of the spectre of his statement in Morality: An Introduction to Ethics that if god exists, he makes no difference to morality:

    • Motives for following moral word of god are moral or not;
    • If they are moral, then we already have moral motivation, and god adds nothing more;
    • If not, then they are likely to be prudential motivations.

    ('Moral' here being "doing something because one cares disinterestedly about the situation which one’s action is supposed to alter or cares about the other people involved" and 'prudential' as being acting from reasons/after consideration in a self-interested way)

    If I have time I'll post something about the organ donor, too. Good treatment. Always love an insane utilitarian doctor.

    • Gilbert says:

      I know nothing about Bernard Williams, so I can't comment on his thought as such.

      The idea that informed atheists never turn religious for rational reasons certainly is a popular New Atheist doctrine, just like the doctrine that true Christians never loose their faith for rational reasons is popular among some Evangelicals. Neither doctrine is particularly compatible with empirical experience and in both cases the counterexamples get explained away by tightening the standard of morality basically to something that would convince the person claiming no one rationally changes their mind away from their position.  That kind of position could explain a bigoted attitude to opponents, but then the causality could also be reversed, with the bigotry explaining the opinion that nobody could rationally come to disagree. In practice I would expect it to be a vicious circle, with both kinds of directions of causation co-existing to some extent.

      I think the argument for divine irrelevance you bullet-pointed is either simply fallacious or presuming its conclusion. Most obviously it assumes the only way God could be relevant to moral is divine command theory, which is simply untrue. But even with that assumption it wouldn't work. For comparison, most people also think they have some moral obligation to keep normal, man-made law, tough not an absolute one. But one could easily make an analogous argument against following human law being a moral obligation:

      • Motives for following human law are moral or not;
      • If they are moral, then we already have moral motivation, and law-abidance adds nothing more;
      • If not, then they are likely to be prudential motivations.

      Both arguments can be saved by defining moral motives as not including legitimate authority-following, but that's just assuming the conclusion.

  2. MugaSofer says:

    Matthew: OK, new excuse, new thought experiment. There is some evidence that arranged marriages are happier. I think it's not clear-cut, but lets assume it's true in the least convenient possible world. The downside is, of course, the thwarted freedom of the spouses. But note how it gets thwarted for their own happiness. So should you be happy if society decides to go back to involuntary arranged  marriages on that ground?
    Simplicio: Hmm. I might say...
    Matthew: Let me strengthen that: Could any rational person be unhappy about society going back to that arrangement?
    Simplicio: Yes.
    Matthew: So then peoples autonomy being thwarted for their own happiness should not always make everyone happy.
    Simplicio: No - so do you have any point coming?

     

    That's not rejecting consequentialism, though. It's assigning higher utility to "freedom".

     

    • Gilbert says:

      What do you mean by consequentialism?

      The way that word is normally used it means moral (or in this context appropriateness of happiness) evaluations are only of consequences and not of any other aspects of actions. In that framework the happiness from not having been thwarted in one's freedom may be a terminal value or freedom may be an instrumental value if it tends to lead to better results. So basically I don't see how valuing freedom over happiness in the case of a genuine conflict between the two is supposed to not be a rejection of consequentialism.

      • MugaSofer says:

        The way that word is normally used it means moral (or in this context appropriateness of happiness) evaluations are only of consequences and not of any other aspects of actions.

         

        Let me put it this way - if you achieve a happy outcome, but cause ten times as much suffering in the process, will a consequentialist be pleased?

         

        In that framework the happiness from not having been thwarted in one's freedom may be a terminal value or freedom may be an instrumental value if it tends to lead to better results.

         

        Are you equating "better" with "happier"? Because that's not required for consequentialism. You can define "better" however you like and still be a consequentialist, just like you can define sadism as a virtue and still be a virtue ethicist. It's a way of applying your predetermined values, not an entire ethical system.

        • Gilbert says:

          On the first question, most of them probably not, so what? On the second question, no.

          Or perhaps more meta: I have no idea what you're trying to get at.

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