In utilitarian ethics, happiness is an impersonal measure of the quantity of the pleasure in the greatest number of people, though personal happiness is pleasure in the free exercise of personality. … Virtue is a quality, happiness is a state.
An obligation that has not been assimilated as a personal value is not a genuine desire. To the extent it is not internalised, it is felt as coercive and according to the degree of resistance, it is an obstacle to happiness.
Virtuous actions that strive for the greatest good may elicit resistance or punitive action, nor do they necessarily lead to happiness or satisfaction, which probably depends less on one’s accomplishments in the world, or for others, than on the intimate rewards and pleasures of daily life.
… individual agency is diluted in the “group mind”.
The calculus of the utilitarian is closer to the morality of states than an ethics of character.
One can ordain a homogeneity of goods, but not of desires.
The more impersonal the perspective, the more axiomatic the rule, the more artificial the methodology … , and the more the morality becomes a meta psychological attitude distinct from its affective base.
A detached perspective reduces self-interest and should increase the moral value of an action, but it is engagement, not detachment, that aligns moral feeling with right conduct. Self-denial and detachment are an insufficient foundation for happiness and no warrant for moral conduct.
The move from intrinsic to extrinsic relations is the shift from personal value, which is qualitative, to impersonal fact as a quantity.
Those who do not struggle to survive are more prone to depression and more likely to kill themselves. In this regard, even illness and disability are not barriers to happiness.
Happiness consists in the ability and opportunity to seek that which one desires. It is the enjoyment of a subjective aim, an alignment with the forward-going process of life, a finding that contrasts sharply with the Buddhist concept of desire as the source of suffering and the extinction of desire as the source of happiness.
Even if one accepts that fairness or generosity is a pre-requisite for moral conduct, the appeal to common sense rather than argumentation exposes gaps in the analysis that are fatal to the principle. A philosophy that avoids psychology by positing givens just when psychological explanation is required may constitute an edifice that is logically consistent all the way down, until it arrives at its own foundations.
We cannot derive a feeling from a rational argument.
A person can have immense pleasure on hearing a new piece of music for which he has not yet developed a desire. Even solitude is a source of inestimable pleasure. Such observations raise questions for any theory of pleasure that depends on the value of its objects.
A moral duty or rule as a guide to conduct is inadequate, and inorganic, in that it attempts, by fiat rather than by example, to induce people to share in what is a spontaneous impulse of innate empathy.
Feelings are tributaries of drive that transition will into action in combination with object-concepts.
An action cannot be severed from the private states of those involved, but engages character intrinsically at all phases, not as a subjective quality added to an objective fact. Specifically, the principle of greater happiness cannot implant an obligation in an agent irrespective of his private states when the effect of his conduct is assessed by an appeal to the private states of others.
The concept of luck, contingency and probability relate to objects in the world, not psychic events. The concepts of agency, certainty and choice relate to processes in the mind, not events in the world. Fate is an overarching concept that removes agency in a way that luck does not.
The fact that the present, as it becomes past, can be revised from a future perspective undermines the stability of an outcome-centered moral theory. We use our best judgement with the knowledge at hand, but a good act can be reinterpreted as a bad one, and the reverse, as conditions change. Luck is also like this.
The genetics of constitution and the accidents of parenting are a bit like karmic transmission, though displaced later in maturation, where one is a product of an ancestral complex, yet posses some degree of freedom for self-betterment or the capacity for degeneration. That intrinsic constitutive luck is essential to character would seem inarguable, since the installation of exocentric values depends so heavily on experience in childhood and on the moral instruction and example of parents.
For the individual, self-justification is primary, moral or rational. Ideally, he should be his own judge and jury, though an appraisal by others is essential for punishment, as well as to modulate the self-serving effects of denial, forgetting and rationalisation.
There are many ways to trace the transition from self to world, or from the subjective to the objective pole of the mental life, such as from dispositions and implicit beliefs through concepts to objects, from dreamless sleep through dream to perception, from the first budding of a thought to a concrete action, from a personal value to an impersonal duty.
The continuum from personal responsibility to guilt over a broken promise, to moral outrage and a demand for punishment over an unfulfilled obligation, is as much an illustration of the transition from self to world as that from value and intention to conduct and coercion.
One can say that the transition from a disposition, to an intention or resolution, to a promise with an obligation involves an increasing objectification of the will. Specifically there is a progressive surrender of agency from an intrapsychic to an extrapersonal locus. One could also say that the exo-centric values depositing in an object carry with them a feeling of agency that is transferred from the self to the other. In this way, intention objectifies in the other as obligation.
Take the resolution of the arhat to achieve personal salvation versus the obligation of the bodhisattva to strive for the salvation of others. Both are dedicated, but in the latter this dedication is referred outward as a social responsibility. … the transition from self-betterment as a good in itself, to self-betterment as a means to the good of others, i.e. a subtle bias in object-concepts or means/end relations, seems less important than the fact that the ends and means are both expressions of character.
A biding promise may be carried out reluctantly, with little resolve, or be broken, while a resolution that approaches a vow can have considerable force. A moment of resolve can re-define a life.
There are situations in which the moral thing to do is withdraw a promise to a person who is later exposed as unworthy, or if the conditions that motivated the promise no longer apply; for example, an oath to defend one’s country in a war of conquest, a promise to give financial aid to a person who comes into a fortune etc.
The many ways of extracting promises from people, or placing them under an obligation, are the fabric of a society woven together by a trust that obligations will be respected. An abuse of trust is exploitation. … A contract is only as good as the good will of the parties that honour it.
The admonition, to thine own self be true, entails that we avoid making a promise that conflicts with the best of our values. Then the keeping of the promise will not do violence to one’s character. The same is true for the breaking of a promise that is impetuous or foolish.
In a sense, there are three selves in a promise, one representing personal advantage or egoist desires, which may or may not be concordant with the agreement, the other, empathy, compassion, loyalty or obligation, the exocentric values, where the needs of the other are represented, and a third that represents the ideal self, the ideal for that individual, which may or may not be of high ethical quality. The ideal self represents the individual’s idea of what sort of person he would like to be, a construct of aspiration in the dispositional matrix of the core self. The guilt over a bad promise kept, or a good one broken, is the friction of these discordant voices.
From an evolutionary perspective, punishment of social reprobates is comparable to the elimination of the unfit in animal populations. Society takes the place of the physical environment and eliminates organisms who exceed some conventionally accepted deviation from the norm. Ideally, a person who commits a crime should accept, even welcome just punishment, though in the highly individualistic, hedonic and egocentric societies of the west, it is rare that a person accepts responsibility for his actions, still more rare that he accepts the punishment that goes with the verdict.
Threats and rewards, as expectations, are the psychic equivalent of dangers and opportunities. A threat places egoist and other-centered values in a precarious balance, while reward is mainly bound up with self-centered ones.
Praise and punishment, success and failure, are equilibria of self and other that arise in psychological constructs central to character, identity and trust.
As time goes by, the objectivity of the constructual element in the promise may replace the subjectivity of loving.
Customs are implicit accords of values shared in a group over some portion of its history. … It is an implicit agreement by the subject to act in conformity with the culture to encourage closeness in feeling and conduct, and discourage separation and divisiveness.
A promise that is based on virtue, for example giving to charity, donating blood, food, clothing, helping the sick, can and should become so customary that an obligation is unnecessary. In contrast, an unusual custom that is inconsistent with egoist desires, e.g. revenge for a neighbour’s injury, an unjust bequest , may require a promise for its execution. For some , these are major distinctions. To me, they are the shadings of core values that differ in the degree to which obligations – for self and other – are instilled early or acquired late, the degree to which assents are unique or shared, an their extent of publicity, compulsion and enforcement.