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Stephanos
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0 posted 09-18-2002 01:35 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Provoked to thought by Ron's reply in "Religion...", I was wondering


If all motives are fundamentally self-centered, and based upon the pleasure principle alone, what exactly is the moral difference we percieve, say,  between a man who derives pleasure from giving to others, and a man who derives pleasure from injuring others?  Is there any fundamental difference somewhere in their  motives?  If not, on what grounds should they either be praised or reprimanded (as in our criminal justice system for example)?


What are your thoughts here?

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-18-2002 01:36 AM).]

Ron
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1 posted 09-18-2002 02:25 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Questioning moral differences in the same context as the criminal justice system is an oxymoron, IMO. While there are some allowances for intent, society generally praises or reprimands deeds. Stealing, even if you plan on giving it to the poor, is still stealing.

Do you feel maybe you asked the wrong question, Stephen?
anya
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2 posted 09-18-2002 08:18 AM       View Profile for anya   Email anya   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for anya

Just to give my opinion, I am a great believer in utilitarianism, an action should not be judged on simply the happiness it appears to offer the person, but on the results that are achieved, on the ability of the action to benifit everyone involoved, So really I think that the right and moral thing to do is the one which will benifits the most number of people.

So even if someone is giving to the poor to give themselves a feeling that they are 'good' and have done a 'good deed' it is still a moral act because people benifit, everyone benifits, the person giving the money gets  a good feeling and the people they have given the money to are winning as well.

If a person derieves pleasure or happiness from inflicting pain from others then this action can not be considered moral because although they will be enjoying themselves they will be quite obviously disadvantaging others. The outcomes of your actions must be considered in every ethical decision.
Stephanos
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3 posted 09-18-2002 11:02 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Ron,

The example of our civil justice system was just that, an example.  But I could have used any example.  I am asking upon what basis can we show moral approval or disapproval of any action in light of the philosophy which says that personal pleasure is the determiner of action?  Is there a principle in operation higher than mere pleasure?  If no then I see no grounds for any rebuke or praise for anything.


If the criminal justice system stumbles you here, then use society's grass-roots approval or disapproval instead... it matters not which you use, my question remains the same.

Ron
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4 posted 09-18-2002 11:32 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

And my answer would remain the same, Stephen.

Only you and God know your intentions. How could I or anyone else judge you by them? Approval or disapproval must be limited to actions and results.
jbouder
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5 posted 09-18-2002 12:58 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Stephen:

I think in order to answer your question, one must consider the standard against which the good or fulfilling act is judged.

I've read your previous posts and am cognizant of your philosophical leanings, so I think this may be of some help to you.  Both Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote extensively on the definition of "good works" (Althaus' "Theology of Martin Luther" and Calvin's "Institutes" deal with the subject at length).  Both made a distinction between aa metaphysical righteousness and civic or civl righteousness (mainly because of Paul's emphatic assertion in the Epistle to the Romans that "no one is righteous").

Against a perfect standard of righteousness, no one is capable of a purely good act.  Even our best works are only imperfectly good for any number of reasons, including a self-centered motivation to be recognized for our actions.  A criminal act, on the other hand, would neither be perceived as metaphysically or civilly righteous (assuming, of course, that the law is just).

But Luther and Calvin both discussed civil righteousness at length.  That is to say that man is capable of good works that benefit others in their communities and world and that it is the duty of governments to uphold those who do good.  This does not mean the person is in any better standing metaphysically, but by earthly standards, the person certainly has performed a good act in spite of even the smallest of selfish motivations.

Anya:

The problem I have with utilitarianism is its failure to recognize the possibility that actions that benefit an individual to the detriment of many others have merit.

A case from life experience: I have a child with a disability.  In order to benefit from education, he requires a very expensive and very intensive education program currently only available in a private school in our region.  In order to secure that educational placement for him, I had to sue my son's school district.

For now, the litigation is passed, but the benefit he received from the effort clearly outweighs the benefit others have experienced.  For example, my family had to suffer the financial and psychic strain of litigation, the school district (and resultantly the tax payer) had to absorb the cost of the private school placement, attorney fees, and increased staff hours in order to bring the dispute to resolution.

Now one might argue that the right education for a person with a disability may POTENTIALLY serve the common good (increasing the chance that a person with a disability will be able to live self-sufficiently and independently in adulthood and not be a burden on the taxpayer), but reality is reality ... some of these people will require life-long support at public expense in spite of early, intensive (and expensive) interventions.

Utilititarianism misses the boat because it overemphasizes the economics of actions and fails to recognize the value of the individual.

Back to my example for the moment, the utilitarian may argue that my past and subsequent actions have helped enable other children with disabilities to access the education they need for the first time in their lives (which is true) and, therefore, those actions serve the public good.  But again, these waters are muddied for the utilitarian when you consider the expenses and stresses other families and municipalities have incurred in order to make it so and whether the public detriment outweighs the public benefit, even when the individual benefit to the child is clear.

For that reason, I believe the US Constitutional principles exhaulting the rights of individuals to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness form elements of a superior philosophy.

Just my not-so-humble opinion.

Jim
Stephanos
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6 posted 09-18-2002 01:37 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Ron,  

I don't ever recall you saying that you believe pleasure seeking to be the only  prinicple of action in life.  So maybe the whole question is not posed to such as you.  And responding to what you've said, I do agree that only God is the ultimate judge of our actions.  And I do agree that results are important.  

What I am suggesting is that a philosophy which says that self-gratification is the only thing that guides action is ignoring evidence to the contrary... and I don't think it will foment either better results or a more favorable judgement day.  I refrain from judging individual actions harshly as I am not perfect.  My motives are in constant question.   I'm just critical of any philosophy which debunks what many great moral teachers have seen, on the basis of saying "Well they didn't really see anything different, they were just Epicureus in new garb".  For those who insist on pleasure seeking as the ruling priniciple, were I to concede, I would have to insist on the division of pleasure into further categories still.  What would make a certain kind of pleasure wrong to obtain or more right to obtain?  What would make the warmth of a theif in someone else's coat less admirable than the warmth of a man who bought his own with honest work?  There is something deeper than self gratification which is not being addressed, and that's what I am trying to bring out.  Far from agreeing on what it is... no one even seems to be willing to admit that it is there.



Jim,

I am conscious of reformation theology concerning "metaphysical" righteousness and our rightness before God that comes from faith alone... and of the distinction between civil and spiritual righteousness.  I am thankful for my roots in Calvin and Luther and many others, as I think in many areas they were seeing the truth more clearly than others.  But I believe that civil righteousness and even good old fashioned "earthly" righteousness can be used to make my case.  Because regardless of our inability to actually be righteous in our deeds, the moral demands of God are present nevertheless.  "Be good" is the command of God and his law to humanity (both civilly and personally).  Of course we are tempted to despair when we realize that we are in abject spiritual poverty, after having honestly tried.  But the law has always functioned as a "schoolmaster to lead us to Christ".  What we are dealing with now are philosophies which do not (or attempt not) to recognize the moral demands of God upon humanity.  And the idea that everything is based on self-gratification is an example of this in my opinion.  There is no moral reason why we should do right, or not do wrong... it's what brings the most profit personally.  This is not a new idea ... it is respectable hedonism... and as to results I am not convinced that it makes men moral at all.  Of course I recognize that the moral law of God cannot do so either.  But with it barking at our heels, we may be more motivated to find out what the solution is, or who the solution is.


Thanks for the responses,

thought provoking as usual, Jim and Ron.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-18-2002 01:42 PM).]

hush
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7 posted 09-18-2002 01:57 PM       View Profile for hush   Email hush   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for hush

From the other thread:

Stephan said:

'Let me ask this question first...  Doesn't your question reveal that you hold a value judgement that is not totally based on pleasure?  Did you notice that there is a presupposition smuggled into your question ... namely that people should refocus the way they derive pleasure?  But why should they?  If one claims to get more pleasure out of being spiteful than out of being kind... and the non-verbal claim can also be the fact that they have chosen to be spiteful...  then on what grounds can you suggest a superior way?  Pleasure being quite subjective in nature, would reduce your statement to "It is my preference to be more kind and giving". '

The reason I phrased my question in the manner I phrased it is that it seems to be the conviction of most people I know that helping the disadvantaged is a desireable trait- as such, it becomes the more-prefferred way, not the superior one. Jim Crow laws were prefferred in the post-Civil-War south... and, it wasn't a matter of right or wrong, it was a matter of majority rules.

I think that humanity is much less likely to claim that we shouldn't be compelled to help others... so far, there aren't any laws requiring us to help the homeless by giving them our dollars... and I hope there never are- however, socially speaking, doesn't it make sense to educate people on the personal pleasure that can be derived by helping, that way more people will be likely to make the choice to help, thus helping to alleviate the problem (or at least, its symptoms) and showing that if humanity is going to choose helping others as a moral by which it chooses to operate, we can do it without unfair laws and regulations? I don't know if what I just said makes much sense or not...

I think the problem with your interpretation of the 'pleasure principle' is that you view it as a reduction in human values. Pleasure and personal benefit should be a very imperitave concern of each person, in my opinion. Now... people being creatures of compassion and emotion, we have a natural leaning toward helping those that we can relate with... so, maybe if the public was better educated about the disable, the poor, the homeless, they would be better able to understand their plight instead of just thinking they should get off their lazy asses and work... and consequently, they might be more motivated to do something to help based on their own compassion, and the pleasure it brings them to alleviate suffering in another person.

My point is this: even if the person's ideal is making their lives matter in a context that is more important than the self, and more outwardly concerned, going out and working for those goals is still an attempt to attain what is considered right by the individual... because we feel satisfaction with ourselves when we do what we feel is right, and that satisfaction is a form of pleasure.

From this thread:

Stephan said:

'what exactly is the moral difference we percieve, say,  between a man who derives pleasure from giving to others, and a man who derives pleasure from injuring others?'

The difference is this: injuring others has been deemed, by society as a whole, to be an unnacceptable behavior. Therefore, there are laws against doing so. One cannot pursue happiness if that puruit is an intentional effort to thwart another's pursuit of happiness.

Whether or not I decide to give a homeless man five dollars does affect his life in a potentially positive way- however, not giving to him does not inflict any greater harm. It's not like I stole his five dollars- that would be different- that would be an intentional injury to him. But when it comes to giving or not giving me five dollars, it is a personal matter, and it is wholly my decision.

There is a major difference in the nature of the choice.

'Is there any fundamental difference somewhere in their  motives?'

This is where I have more trouble with drawing a line, because there being a fundamental difference in their motives does imply a universal morality. That's an area I'm having trouble with right now, and I don't really know how I feel. We all know what it's like to be hurt... and I can't honestly say that I believe someone choosing to hurt another in order to pleasure themselves is driven by the same motivating forces by someone who wants to help someone up.

I think it's possible that the nature of the motivation is the same- pleasure. However, we all have different ways in which we acheive pleasure... and while one person who is hurting might feel better by making someone else hurt worse, another person who is hurting might see the needy in relation to themselves, and derive their pleasure by knowing that they helped another human being feel better, which is something they know they, themselves, would appreciate.

So, I think I can still say that pleasure is the motivating principle... the difference lies in the ways we choose to attain pleasure.

Ron said:

'Approval or disapproval must be limited to actions and results.'

In a pragmatic sense, I agree with you... after all, wouldn't it be easy if every murderer was sentenced to death, regardless of their motivation?

But we're back to the Cold Equations... and I choose not to live formulaically (sp?) because while in the context of actions and reactions, cause and effect, it's much easier, and more clearly defined... to do so is to live in denial of emotions. That's not a life I'd choose.

Should a mother or father who killed an intruder to his or her home in order to defend their children be sentenced to the same punishment as the serial killer who has killed dozens for pleasure, and will continue to do so?

I know, I know, I just said 'for pleasure,' and that might look like it's in opposition to my earlier comments... but like I said, one cannot actively pursue their pleasure if it intrudes upon the ability of others to seek pleasure...

Anyway... that's all I have for now...

THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION
ALL OTHER WARS ARE SUBSUMED IN IT

-Diane Di Prima

Stephanos
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8 posted 09-18-2002 02:56 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Hush,

I would like to say again, that I see where you are going with your ideas ... and I don't wholly disagree.  I think good deeds should be endorsed for the "pleasure" they bring, more than they are.  In that sense being moral is not given it's due.  Because I know that the pleasures of doing good, outweigh (not always in quantity but in quality) the pleasures of doing wrong.  So we are not diametrically opposed here.  It's just that I see the moral element above mere pleasure as a necessary ingredient.  I don't think the pleasure principle as the motivation for all of action is sufficient to explain certain things... even things you have said.


For example...

you said,  "One cannot pursue happiness if that puruit is an intentional effort to thwart another's pursuit of happiness."


Do you really mean "cannot" or "should not" pursue happiness?  If you mean cannot then I would disagree with you in actual fact ... criminals do it every day.  If you mean "should not" then it seems you have made a judgement outside the realm of personal pleasure.  Because it is very possible for someone to derive pleasure from infringing on others' rights, or even from breaking the law.  They have made their own personal judgement of what yields them the most pleasure.  So what, (they would say) if it causes others pain?  The action really has nothing to do with others according to your premise about self-gratification.  Even your belief (which I agree with) that personal happiness should not infringe on the happiness of others, is a judgement based on concern about "the happiness of others" and not your own preference.


Now here is where it gets tricky and elusive.  You might respond to the above statement by saying that the very reason you are concerned about the happiness of others is based on a pleasure principle of your own.  But if you say that, then you are necessarily reduced to saying "It is simply my preference that people should not pursue happiness by infringing on the happiness of others".   If I ask " And Why should I feel compelled to agree with you"?  you can give me no answer from your viewpoint of self-seeking.  The best you can do is what you've done, by bringing the ideas of majority and community into the picture.  Yeah but if defying the majority is my preferred pleasure in life (such as in rebellion and anarchist mentalities), then you have nothing to say to me that counts.  Because according to you, even the judgement that men ought to consider others is only based on pleasing oneself.  The only other things you can offer are views smuggled in (often without conscious effort) from a world-view that believes in a moral principle greater than preference.   The dead give away is when people use words like "ought to", "should", and "should not".  Those kind of ideas don't really have any roots in a self-gratification view of morality.  

Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (09-18-2002 02:59 PM).]

Ron
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9 posted 09-18-2002 04:54 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

A lot of interesting points. Part of the problem, I think, when discussing this is the terminology. Pleasure-seeking and self-gratification are loaded terms, both negative in connotation and with an implication of being very temporary. A better term, I suspect, is self-interest, which can often be in marked contrast to simple pleasure. And a point that even hush seems to have missed is that self-interest has to be regulated by reason.

Pleasure is short-term and often foolish. Self-interest is long-term and should be reasoned.

Eating chocolate all day long may bring me great pleasure, but my reason tells me that doing so would not be in my best self-interest. Ain't healthy. Similarly, rape and murder may bring short-term pleasure to some people, but such acts aren't likely to contribute to their long-term security. Ain't smart. Giving five dollars to a needy person not only supplies short-term pleasure, but also makes long-term sense. A reasonable man knows that ignoring the needs of society to satisfy their own needs will inevitably lead to an upheaval in the status quo. Desperate men do desperate things.

There are those who would argue that even religion is powered by self-interest. You want eternal life? Do what your doctrine tells you to do in order to obtain it. You want to please God? Perform whatever "good deeds" your doctrine demands. You want to avoid damnation? Avoid doing whatever your doctrine defines as sin. When you "want" something and do something to satisfy that desire, that is self-interest.

Of course, what we're really describing is the essence of Objectivism, the philosophy espoused by Ayn Rand and those who have followed her. Although it smacks of Behaviorism, and certainly shares many characteristics, there is also a strong emphasis on reason and intellect. In my opinion, too strong of an emphasis, often bordering on a Utopian dream rather than reality. Personally, I believe Man needs more moral guidance than Objectivism allows, because history suggests reason all too easily becomes justification. There is also a very strong "I-only-believe-what-I-can-see" component in Objectivism that often borders on the silly. Rand, for example, denied the existence of hypnotism right up to her death. Still, while there things I see as faults with the philosophy, it's difficult to deny their principle premise. Man is a selfish creature, but that needn't be a bad thing.

Amy, I think you're right to argue with my premise that "approval or disapproval must be limited to actions and results," and would like to amend what I said. Approval or disapproval must be limited to actions and results within the context of the situation. To use and extend your own examples, we certainly wouldn't give leniency to a serial killer just because he said he did it to protect his kids. Nor would we have much compassion for the mother or father who killed a school teacher because he was polluting the mind of their children. We don't even give more than token consideration to the parent who "thinks" their kids are in mortal danger and kills an unarmed intruder. When the law judges intent, it seems to me that it does so based on the context of the situation. Because as foolish as the law may often seem, even it realizes we cannot see into the heart of another man.


jbouder
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10 posted 09-20-2002 07:29 AM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Ron:

What's wrong with behaviorism?  When properly applied, it is one of the most effective philosophies of mind.

Jim
hush
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11 posted 09-21-2002 12:08 PM       View Profile for hush   Email hush   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for hush

In regards to the difference between self-interest and pleasure- sometimes the two coincide. Other times they don't. However, my observations of people lead me to believe that we usually act based on what will give us more pleasure. If that happens to be what is in our best self-interest, great. The world is working according to Ayn Rand's idealism...

But y'know... we have a pretty bad obesity problem in the U.S. Do Americans eat and exercise according to their own self-interest then, or pleasure? I know quite a few girls who had kids before graduating high school- are teenagers more concerned with the long-tern consquences of sex, or the immediate pleasure? I buy expensive things on whims and use them once or twice... amd I more concerned with the gratification of getting the thing, whatever it may be, or the financial sense it makes to hold on to my money?

You can apply this line of reasoning to almost anyone- people who stay with lovers who are bad for them, people who smoke or habitually use drugs and alcohol, people who go to college but don't bother doing the work or studying, people who dirve with a suspended liscense.... on and on and on... I still say that pleasure is the motivating principle. People who tend to incorporate reason into their lives might work out what is in their best self-interest, and then derive pleasure by acting that out. However, people with loyalties to or penchants for certain people or things, might disregard self-interest, knowingly or unknowingly, instead engaging in what is more pleaurable.

I still don't think this is a bad thing. I think it really goes hand-in-hand with Objectivism, anyway. People who aren't perfect and infallible will seek pleasure... after all ,Dagny slaving to keep Taggart Transcontinental running wasn't in her best self-interest, but obviously, she weighed her options, and it gave her more pleasure at the time that she made the decision to return to the slavery of her work than to retire into the luxury of Galt's Gulch. It's human nature... in my opinion.  

'Well, I will not be an enemy of anything
    I'll only stand here'

-Counting Crows

[This message has been edited by hush (09-21-2002 12:09 PM).]

 
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