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?
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?
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?
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.
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…