1. On utilitarianism
This time, to make it easy for my self, and also because I like it,
something I wrote in 1998, found yesterday, and probably haven't seen
since 1998. If you don't know what "utilitarianism" means: it gets
defined below, as done in an English philosophical encyclopedia, and
then criticized by me.
This is similar to similar criticisms in my extensive notes to Aristotle's Ethics, Mill's Utilitarianism,
and Hume's Moral
Enquiry, but then it antedates them, though there probably are
similar arguments still earlier in my philosphical notebooks.
Anyway... ethics and morals are relevant to human society, and worth
serious pondering (see Robert Reich linked yesterday),
and utilitarianism is a fairly common ethical position that many take,
though probably mostly unconsciously in most cases.
What is indented and
between the two horizontal lines that follow is something I wrote in
1998, as I
wrote it, with only the first sentence translated from Dutch and with
title supplied, and with the links to my Philosophical
Dictionary also added today.
There is an endnote, in which I both give and promise
Here is a quotation from the Concise Ecyclopedia of Western Philosophy:
characteristic English empirical theory of ethics, which maintains:
(1) The rightness of an action is to be judged by the contribution it
makes to the increase of human happiness or the decrease of human
misery. The moral validity of a law or rule, the value of an
institution, depends on the same considerations. Nothing else matters:
e.g. conformity to revelation, authority, tradition, even "moral sense"
or conscience: even perhaps, contract or history. An action may pass
any of these tests, flatter the conscience of the doer, and yet bring
deliberate misery and ruin. What matters is the contribution to
(2) Hence (on reflexion) pleasure is the only good in itself and pain
the only evil in itself. Happiness includes pleasure and freedom from
pain: perhaps such a balance of pleasures such as itself produces
further pleasures. (p. 383)
If so, I should be quite unhappy, being in pain most of the
time, even though the pain is comparatively mild. 
In any case, the quotation formulates what most people would hold these
days, at least if they are not religious.
However, I disagree, and briefly explain why.
First, the initial point about rightness I take to be a
An action is
right to the extent that it decreases misery or increases happiness;
wrong to the extent that it increases misery or
decreases happiness. If taken as a stipulative definition, I have no
objection: those who think what's right is something else, say pleasing
may introduce another stipulative definition of right.
Second, if it is a stipulative definition, it only lays down
usage, and this is why I don't object. My problem is especially with
the notion of happiness, and secondarily with the symmetry of happiness
and misery. To start with the notion of happiness.
There are two problems here, namely that "happiness" is far
too much of a blanket term, while anyway I don't believe people seek
happiness, as such, in any normal sense of "happiness", whether it is pleasure or
something else, like riches, health and a long life.
The problem of the blanket term is that, as stated, the
stipulative definition makes it right to shoot heroine, supposing that
to bring pleasure, to torture, on the same supposition, and so on. In
short, not everything that may bring happiness is right, in the senses
in which "happiness" and "right" are normally used (where something
being right entails it is approved, just, meritorous etc.). Mill
made the same point by contrasting Socrates' happiness with the
happiness of a swine, holding the former to be better than the latter,
even if both are numerically the same.
I call this the problem of the blanket term, because
normally the problem is approached by making distinctions. That's fine
with me, and accords with ordinary usage and my intuitions, but it goes
against utilitarianism as stated, for it simply denies the validity or
the applicability of the stipulative definition of "right", for now
what would be right would be such as increases happiness provided it is
happiness of a certain kind, and not others (like the pleasures of
junkies and sadists).
But I simply don't believe people seek happiness in the
sense in which that term is ordinarily used. I think people seek
satisfaction or gratification, where the difference is that what
satisfies or gratifies people is to fulfill their needs or desires. This
gives a feeling of happiness or relief (in case of pain), and these
feelings are indeed an important part of what motivates people.
What motivates people are their desires, needs and value-judgments, and
and the like simply are kinds of feelings that
arise when one's desires or needs or values are satisfied, just as
displeasure or pain arise from not being able to satisfy one's desires,
needs or values.
The relation between desires, needs and values on the one
hand, and pleasures arising from their satisfaction on the other hand,
is in many cases much like that between eating and the pleasures of the
In any case, for me something can be right or good only if it
satisfies some desire, need or value. This often also results in some
pleasure, but the amount of pleasure has no regular relation with the
degree of goodness, and may be rather incidental.
This completely undermines utilitarianism,
since all manner of things may satisfy some desire, need or value
besides such things as give one pleasure.
Here it may be well to give an example. I desire to live in
a society in
which there is publicly declared code of law, rather than in a society
without one. My reasons are varied, but mostly have to do with what I
think about people in general. Now the actual pleasures that may be
derived from living in such a society, or from contemplating that one
lives in such a society, may be quite small, yet this does not make my
desire less important for me when I consider human societies and people.
Consequently, I disagree with all of the rest of (1), in fact only agreeing with
the first sentence, and that only on condition it is taken as a
stipulative definition, and then with the addition that I prefer
But I also disagreed about the supposed symmetry between misery and pleasure. Here
my reason is that it seems factually false: Pain and misery are
stronger motivators than pleasure and happiness.
People generally seek to avoid any amount of pain, and therefore
generally seek to diminish pain (for the moment disregarding
masochists, who may be taken to be mentally ill), but they are often
satisfied by a modicum of pleasure, and seek no more, even while they
Third, I also disagree with what is said under (2) in the
quotation. Pleasure is not the only good, and pain is
not the only evil.
Indeed, some pleasures some people seek - shooting heroine, torturing
people - may be evil, and some pains some people have - say those
necessary to do a brave act that rescues people - may not be evil,
though they still will be unpleasant.
Also, as I said before, often the pain or pleasure that
accompanies acts is not of much importance in judging the act good or bad: what matters is
whether the act satisfies one's desires (taken in a wide sense that
also covers needs and values). If much pain or pleasure is involved it
may be difficult to do the act or avoid doing it, but even so it is
good or bad relative to the desires one has and not primarily to the
feelings of pain and pleasure that accompany it or gets produced by it,
unless, indeed, one is a dogmatic utilitarian, of course (in which case
I recommend that one starts shooting heroine, since this seems to give
a whole lot of intense pleasure).
Finally, the claim that "(h)appiness includes pleasure and
freedom from pain" also is not true, neither in
principle nor in practice: very many people feel quite happy when they
have achieved something they desired much to achieve, but which cost
them a lot of pain to realize, such as climbing the Mount Everest,
winning a fight, or running the marathon.
16 juni 1998
Endnote: I added the links
because they matter to me
and to my argument,
since they clarify the senses in which I understand important terms.
I think the above is a nice bit of analytic philosophy - and for more
see my extensive notes to Aristotle's Ethics, Mill's Utilitarianism,
and Hume's Moral
Enquiry - but I leave a lot unsaid, notably about needs, values,
desires, the existence of the real world
To clarify a little here: Our desires are for
states of the world, states of our bodies or states of
our minds, and by
our minds I mean conscious experience -
what we experience we experience, which for a natural
realist like I am is what gets produced by the brains in our
skulls, without interference or contribution from a non-material soul. 
Our bodies are part of the real world, that exists
independently of our desires, and there resides one of the key points
about ethics: While our desires, values and the bodily feelings we have
are all in a rather solid sense private to us , our bodies, and therewith the foundation of the
experiences our brains generate, are located in the real world, and
subject to the doings and ommissions of other people, while our ideals and ideas for the
most part, if they are to become real at all, require that reality,
populated by very many others with similar minds but other ideas and
ideals, will be(come) of the form and shape we desire.
This is what makes so much that is private, personal,
particular, unique and rapidly changing 
relevant to others: That we are a located in one and the same real
world, through which we can effect each other for better or for worse,
intentionally or accidentally.
Further see W.K. Clifford's
Belief on my
site in the full version, and with my extensive
This should do for now, but I hope to add some further explanation
about ethics, morals, and propositional
attitudes later, possibly in a wider context of philosophical
 I refer to my ME/CFS.
 This is still a subject of much
confusion, some probably created on purpose by psychiatrists.
Regardless of these, the fact is that a non-material soul has nothing
to do with real science, even it it were to exist - as I do not believe
- because its existence and real contents would be as vague, arbitrary,
untestable, and metaphysical as the gods postulated by religions (of
which at most one can be right).
 This may be different in the future.
Whether it is a good thing one's mind may be read by a future chip
depends very much on who does the readings, and what for.
 The actual consciousness
we have is located in what William James called the specious
present, rarely longer than a few seconds at most, since attention
tends to rapidly change from subject to subject.
(that I prefer
to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which
is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: