Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Suffering sucks -- "objectively," Part II

Readers of this blog may already be familiar with Karl Popper's negative utilitarianism ("negativism"), and hopefully see some merit in the idea that, no matter how slight the discomfort, all desires are the result of deprivation. You can't enjoy life without first being unsatisfied with it; otherwise, you'd never be motivated to pursue that which you enjoy. Therefore, the elimination of negative sensation -- whether that means eliminating a biological drive, reducing the amount of time it takes to fulfill a desire, lowering the intensity of some form of discomfort, or eliminating a hurdle in the way of the temporary satisfying of a desire -- is a worthwhile pursuit. So far, so good.

But I'd like to append another term to this form of utilitarianism: pragmatism. Negative utilitarianism is still essentially a moral pursuit, which means that it is a subset of the overarching pursuit of logical outcomes in all contexts. This is fine, but how will the reduction and elimination of negative sensation work? How will we carry out tasks to this end? What will our tools be? How will we make decisions in scenarios where relative differences exist among competing potential actions? Pragmatic utilitarianism answers these questions, because, while utilitarianism addresses how functional or useful an idea is with respect to a value standard, pragmatism addresses whether the idea works at all, in any context -- and therefore, whether it is worth acting upon.

Moral utilitarianism: "What is the utility of this action? Will it be useful to the end of improving what we value?"

Negative utilitarianism: "What is the utility of this action? Will it be useful to the end of eliminating what we negatively value?"

Pragmatic utilitarianism: "Why do we value what we value, and what can we use in order to act to the end of maximizing and minimizing the interacting outputs? How can we test these potential actions for viability and workability? Once we've figured that out, what is the utility of the actions? Will they be useful to the end of eliminating what we negatively value?"

How this works: by employing qualitative analysis, or a kind of scrutiny pertaining to abstract qualities as found within finite physical objects, to the practical decision-making process in an effort to alter both quantities and qualities in an environment.

Where two or more qualities are the same but one is greater or less in quantity, a relative decision must be made; where two or more qualities are different, the quality which is most likely to yield the result of the highest value must be selected. The underlying principle of this practice is opportunity cost, a method for making decisions based on what, if anything, of value will be lost upon acting. After all, when making decisions, we necessarily exclude every action other than the one opted for, so it's essential that we understand what it is that we lose by gaining what we do from taking a particular action. The act of not acting, as implied by the wording of this sentence, is itself an action -- a kind of meta-action, to be specific, taken after assessing whether to act toward acting or "not acting." "Meta-decision" would be another term for this (deciding whether to decide).

Before refraining from making a decision in a situation, always be sure to ask yourself, "Am I sure that I'm unsure?"

1 comment:

  1. All desires are the result of deprivation, and all blogs about bad memes are the result of idiocy.