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Utilitarianism

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To be fair, poohat, you should acknowledge that his question had to do with convincing *other* people of his position, which is in some sense a different question from whether or not he can *support* his position in the sense of understanding it to be true for himself.

In other words, it has to do with argumentative strategy, rather than with proof.

That said, in answer to the original post I would say that the best argumentative strategy is precisely to present the proof. If the other person doesn't accept reason, then there's nothing you can do about it and you shouldn't worry about that other person. Of course, in presenting your argument, you must keep the other person's context of knowledge in mind. But since I don't know what that is in this case, I can't really comment more specifically on argumentative strategy in this case.

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I agree with Ryan, but I will add this. When I was younger, I was on a quest for the "holy grail"--that magic phrase to make a socialist or a christian *see*.

I discovered that it doesn't exist, of course. The reason why we call it "evasion" as opposed to "honest error" is that the person already does see--and pretends that he doesn't.

I don't think that one can seriously advocate the "greatest good for the greatest number" as an honest position. Oh, I can think people can be honestly confused about this issue (and many others), but the ones who are confident enough to push their views in an argument or debate aren't honest.

Observe how they themselves behave. Do you see such people looking to commit suicide to help the masses of humanity? Selflessly bring food to the hungry? Or are they mouthing platitudes that they expect *you* to obey?

An interesting litmus test: do these people take delight in winning a debate, particularly in making mincemeat of their opponents? That is hardly the greatest good for the greatest number!

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Wow, you are one step ahead of him y_feldblum. He says that "if [quantification] were so important, a process could be introduced to measure serotonin levels in the living brain. But it is not. We can pretty well measure happiness through facial cues."

And he goes on to justify selfish actions by his inclusion into the greatest happiness number. "In your second point, you forget that the happiness of the measurer is included in the measurement. If the world became indifferent to my suicide, I would decide against it nevertheless in order to secure 58 years of further pleasure and spare however many seconds of pain. If my starvation were unimportant to all others I would still eat."

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He proposes:

Quantification of happiness is not important.

Measurement of happiness [by resorting to facial cues] is important.

Firstly, the two propositions are in contradiction. To measure is to quantify. Secondly, he proposes to measure a "second-degree emotion". Happiness is an emotion, and how it is expressed by the face is a whim based on the emotion. How does one measure a whim, in what units? How many millimeters do the points of the mouth have to be raised above normal? And how do we know that this measurement is an accurate reflection of happiness? Many religious teachings involve going around with a happy face all day, no matter what one is feeling.

The "greatest happiness" categorically demands a quantity, expressed in terms of the Plank unit (smallest possible unit) of happiness. Otherwise, there is only happy and not happy; there is no happier than. If happiness were qualitative only, it would be impossible to compare two instances, let alone make a judgment about which action including all its consequences leads to greatest happiness. If that is his wording, he specifies that there must be a greatest happiness number, and this thing cannot be expressed by the total number of millimeters difference in the corners of everybody's mouth, for all time.

In short, he disregards the definition of utilitarianism, while at the same time depending on it; he is stealing the concept.

Moreover, how much analysis has he done or is he aware of that show, incontrovertibly, that selfish actions lead to the greatest total happiness? How does he know that what he does for himself is the most effective way to make himself and everybody else in the universe the most happy?

And, just for fun, ask him what would happen were people to cover most of their faces: eg in the desert to protect against sand and dust and heat, and in winter to protect against ice and the cold, and when it's simply in fashion or imposed by religion? How could one measure through facial cues?

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How is one able to judge, in units, an emotion?  Number of dopamine molecules attached to every individual neuron per unit time?

Didnt Rand claim in IOE that it was possible to measure things like 'love' (she took a behaviorist view iirc)? Would happiness be any different?

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Quite the opposite. (Rand made a big point out of the fact that love is measurable.) Some things are conducive to cardinal ranking, while others are conducive to ordinal ranking. You don't think "I value [something] [some number of units]"; you think "I value [something] more/less than [something else]." Love is measured in the latter way, as a relationship to other values.

(Incidentally, she left it an open question whether all such rankings could ultimately be reduced to units. Personally, I doubt it; but I couldn't make much of a case either way.)

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The people who argue for utilitarianism, of the Mill persuasion, answered my arguments against it with the following:

"The impartial observer"--this is what they use instead of saying "the objective perspective," but it is meant to be the same thing. To an impartial observer (this concept originated with Adam Smith, not Mill, but Mill appropriated it, as did Bentham), every life is equally as valuable as every other life, and therefore no one life can weigh "more" or "less" than any other life. Since an individual values life, and the standard of value is that individual's life, no (rational) individual can value another's life more than his own, but the impartial observer is not one of those individuals. It is a perspective outside of any individual's perspective, and therefore all lives are weighed as equal. I argued that rationally, even from an impartial observer standpoint, a murderer's life is of less "value" than a producer's life. I was answered with the idea that the impartial observer would not agree, that the happiness of the murderer, the interests of the murderer, are weighed equally with that of the producer. From the producer's point of view, he is more valuable than the murderer, but from the murderer's point of view he may not be. From the impartial point of view, everyone's happiness is weighed equally.

If this is the argument you are up against, there are some obvious inaccuracies. And, since this is the very best argument for Utilitarianism (at least that I've ever seen), you don't really have to worry. If you present your arguments against this view and are still denied, the person is most certainly evading reality and can no longer be of any use to you intellectually (or in any other sense).

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The "impartial observer" and the "objective perspective" are most definitely not the same thing. The impartial observer values nothing. That's what the definition, in this case, means. If the impartial observer valued anything, they wouldn't be impartial. Their argument then becomes, "An observer who values nothing would value all x equally." The "impartial observer" is a floating abstraction; the concept doesn't refer to anything in reality. So any argument which relies on it to prove its case is invalid. This argument divorces the concept of "value" from that which makes it possible: a valuer and a purpose.

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Exact and succinct; those two objections - that impartial is necessarily nonvaluing and that impartial observer is arbitrary - are the first two that came to my mind.

I have one objection to add: It is the concept, specifically, of one's own life in relation to oneself that gives rise to values. The impartial observer argument steals the concept of value; one premise affirms the concept and another denies the concept's epistemological basis.

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