Re: Ch. 7: From Beliefs to Behavior
Happiness and Ethics
In this chapter, the authors express a pure utilitarian ethic, arguing that we should behave in ways that maximise our personal happiness.
I have a few problems with this theory. This chapter weighed on my heart when I was listening to a rather wonderful radio discussion the other day about suicide. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/pro ... on/5030840
A theme in this program was that we are not simply individuals, but are enmeshed with others. This was one of Heidegger’s existential arguments which his British utilitarian critics found so offensive. There is a culture of English individualism epitomised by Bentham, which this chapter celebrates and which I find rather loathsome, due to its bad effect on mental health and indifference to belonging to a community as the framework of identity.
In explaining why individual pleasure is not a good criterion for morality, the argument in the next chapter that there is no valid objective morality is also worth addressing. My own view, which I have expressed here before, is that human flourishing is good. I consider this idea to be a foundational axiom for systematic ethics. The implication is that to be ethical, we have a duty to maximise human flourishing, and to analyse the evidence regarding how to go about this task.
What it means is that ethics is hardly about personal happiness, which is just an incidental result of ethical action. Ethics is about making the world a better place, and recognising that human flourishing involves deep scientific understanding of nature.
There is something deeply flippant about arguments in this book about such questions as why Pete likes cheesecake. I feel there are very big ethical questions, poverty, climate, war, economics, politics, which are just sidelined by their emphasis on personal feelings.