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Destroy My Belief System, Please!

 
 
igm
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 09:24 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

igm wrote:
There are obvious scenarios that should make you ditch your two-tenet religion...

Name two. No obvious scenarios come to my mind.

igm wrote:
Therefore if your tenets can be ditched you can't say that in the future you will always follow your two-tenet religion... therefore that would destroy your belief system.

That's conceivable, but it would depend on me getting confronted with these obvious scenarios of yours. So far that hasn't happened.

I don't know you and it's your belief system... but is there anyone alive that you love or really care about? I will then have at least one scenario... which I will give you.. but based on that hint... can you now think up a scenario that would make you abandon your utilitarianism for example?
Thomas
 
  4  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 09:57 am
@Frank Apisa,
Frank Apisa wrote:
Example of what I mean: There are people who consider "the evidence" that there is a GOD...(EVERYTHING)...as evidence that it is more likely that there is a GOD...than that there are no gods.

And there are people who consider "the evidence" that there are no gods...(EVERYTHING...the same "everything" those other guys used)...as evidence that it is more likely that there are no gods...than that there is a GOD.

I don't see the problem. The same thing happens in lawsuits every day. It is a fact that I either did or did not negligently burn down your house. The jury initially does not know which of the two proposition is true. Then your lawyer and my lawyer take turns walking the jury through the available evidence, and eventually the jury will decide our case on the balance of the evidence. Along the way, our lawyers will probably reach different conclusions. (If they didn't, they would have settled out of court in the first place.) It is even possible that different jurors will reach different conclusions, resulting in a hung jury. But although this would certainly raise a material problem for you and me, it would not raise a philosophical one. The fact that reasonable people can reach different conclusions from the same evidence does not refute that there is evidence in the matter of your house.

The parallel between this hypothetical lawsuit and the number of deities in the universe is exact: The number of deities in the universe is either zero, or one, or more than one. Exactly one of these propositions is a fact, and the other two are not, but we don't know which one. And that different people believe different things about the matter does not refute the notion that there's evidence about it.

Frank Apisa wrote:
Your first tenet reduces to: "Believe" whatever you feel like "believing"...but if you can, rationalize it by pretending there is evidence for it.

That is empirically false. I did not feel like abandoning Christianity for atheism when I became an atheist as a teenager. Indeed, I became an atheist largely because the pastor who confirmed me had done too good a job. He had made me quite enthusiastic about the Bible, and had instructed us that it's the job of good Lutherans job to read the Bible for themselves. So I did; I read the Bible cover to cover. And when I finished, I was an atheist because I found the Bible's facts to be self-contradicting and ill-supported. Moreover, I was an anti-Yahwist because the values demonstrated by the Bible's Yahweh character struck me as atrocious. This change in my view of Christianity was altogether involuntary, and wasn't at all what I "felt like" happening to me. It was, however, consistent with my two tenets.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 10:03 am
@igm,
igm wrote:
I don't know you and it's your belief system... but is there anyone alive that you love or really care about? I will then have at least one scenario... which I will give you.. but based on that hint... can you now think up a scenario that would make you abandon your utilitarianism for example?

I can think of many scenarios that would keep me from acting on my belief system. But that only means I'm a hypocrite. It does not mean that my belief system is wrong.
Frank Apisa
 
  0  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 10:07 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

Frank Apisa wrote:
Example of what I mean: There are people who consider "the evidence" that there is a GOD...(EVERYTHING)...as evidence that it is more likely that there is a GOD...than that there are no gods.

And there are people who consider "the evidence" that there are no gods...(EVERYTHING...the same "everything" those other guys used)...as evidence that it is more likely that there are no gods...than that there is a GOD.

I don't see the problem. The same thing happens in lawsuits every day. It is a fact that I either did or did not negligently burn down your house. The jury initially does not know which of the two proposition is true. Then your lawyer and my lawyer take turns walking the jury through the available evidence, and eventually the jury will decide our case on the balance of the evidence. Along the way, our lawyers will probably reach different conclusions. (If they didn't, they would have settled out of court in the first place.) It is even possible that different jurors will reach different conclusions, resulting in a hung jury. But although this would certainly raise a material problem for you and me, it would not raise a philosophical one. The fact that reasonable people can reach different conclusions from the same evidence does not refute that there is evidence in the matter of your house.

The parallel between this hypothetical lawsuit and the number of deities in the universe is exact: The number of deities in the universe is either zero, or one, or more than one. Exactly one of these propositions is a fact, and the other two are not, but we don't know which one. And that different people believe different things about the matter does not refute the notion that there's evidence about it.

Frank Apisa wrote:
Your first tenet reduces to: "Believe" whatever you feel like "believing"...but if you can, rationalize it by pretending there is evidence for it.

That is empirically false. I did not feel like abandoning Christianity for atheism when I became an atheist as a teenager. Indeed, I became an atheist largely because the pastor who confirmed me had done too good a job. He had made me quite enthusiastic about the Bible, and had instructed us that it's the job of good Lutherans job to read the Bible for themselves. So I did; I read the Bible cover to cover. And when I finished, I was an atheist because I found the Bible's facts to be self-contradicting and ill-supported. Moreover, I was an anti-Yahwist because the values demonstrated by the Bible's Yahweh character struck me as atrocious. This change in my view of Christianity was altogether involuntary, and wasn't at all what I "felt like" happening to me. It was, however, consistent with my two tenets.



Your tenet #1 is merely an invitation (apparently to yourself) to "believe" whatever you want to "believe"...and to pretend there is a reasonable explanation for why you "believe" it. And it allows you to rationalize the notion that the "belief" can actually be called a "fact"...rather than what it should be called, "a guess."

It sounds to me as though you will not be able to see this for now...but as you did with the Bible when you were a teenager, Thomas, as you get older, I think it will "dawn on you."

0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  3  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 11:22 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
So without further ado: Why should I ever believe in facts that the balance of the evidence does not support? Why should I ever believe in values that, when acted on, increase suffering or diminish happiness overall? Or as I said in the first place: Destroy my belief system, please!

I'm not going to address #1. I'm a big fan of facts myself. #2 is problematic for all the reasons that utilitarianism is problematic. Even most utilitarians don't believe in strict utilitarianism, because it leads to absurd results.

For instance, suppose there's a hospital where five patients are waiting for transplants. One needs a new heart, one needs a set of lungs, one needs a liver, and two need a kidney each. The patients will all die if they don't receive a transplant immediately. A perfectly healthy individual walks into the hospital to visit a sick friend. That individual, it turns out, is a perfect donor match for all five of the transplant patients. Taking the organs from the healthy individual will, of course, kill her, but it will save the lives of five people. On the whole, then, there will be a net increase of four "units of happiness" if the hospital operates on the healthy individual, even though that individual doesn't consent to the operation. Under your two-tenet "religion," would you support the hospital's decision to operate on the healthy individual?
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 11:34 am
I have far more of a quibble with utilitarianism in less dramatic instances. How is happiness to be measured? What useful demographic information can be marshaled to justify a measure--i.e., how reliable would that be? What about those who are only happy when either they are unhappy (such as a chronic complainer or a hypochondriac), or when others are unhappy (such as the quidnunc, the gossip). Is one to assume that their happiness lies in their own or someone else's unhappiness, and should measures be tailored to account for that? I think utilitarianism is unworkable because there are too many variables for which the would be legislator cannot account, especially in the realm of mundane affairs. That's not to say that legislators of other ideological stripes won't have the same types of problems. I just don't see an especial appeal in an attempt to be utilitarian.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 12:48 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
On the whole, then, there will be a net increase of four "units of happiness" if the hospital operates on the healthy individual, even though that individual doesn't consent to the operation.

I consider this calculation inaccurate. Such a decision by the hospital would shatter thousands of people's trust in the hospital system, repelling them from going to a hospital. Over time, I expect, this indirect but profound consequence would cost many more lives than the five initially saved.

joefromchicago wrote:
Under your two-tenet "religion," would you support the hospital's decision to operate on the healthy individual?

No, because I disagree with a key factual premise your story implies --- that the consequences of the hospital's action are limited to the five transplant patients and the one unfortunate visitor. That being said, I would support the hospital's decision if I did judge this implied premise to be correct.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 12:59 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:
I have far more of a quibble with utilitarianism in less dramatic instances. How is happiness to be measured?

With about the same precision that medical doctors and nurses achieve in assessing your "health". The medical concept of "health" is just as unsatisfactory for purposes of philosophy seminars. (What about people who want to die of small pox?) But it's good enough to work reasonably well in practice. And the same, I submit, is true for Utilitarian concepts like happiness and suffering.

Setanta wrote:
What useful demographic information can be marshaled to justify a measure--i.e., how reliable would that be?

One can, for example, observe the preferences people reveal when they make choices. To illustrate the point with a deliberately blunt example, one can give people the choice between eating rat poison and eating apples. If they consistently choose the apples, one can reasonably conclude that the prospect of living makes them happier than the prospect of dying.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 01:04 pm
@Thomas,
I can't agree that happiness can be assessed with the same precision as health, given what we know about metabolic systems and the process of metabolism. There is no such research and statistical basis for happiness. People were, as an example, happy enough with the prospect of the prohibition of alcohol that three-quarters of the legislatures of the states ratified it. There appears to have been just as much happiness to have repealed it thirteen years later. Doctors can tell you if there are toxic substances in your blood, urine of feces. I don't know that there is any reliable test for toxic emotions, though.
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 01:09 pm
@Thomas,
OK, you added that second part after i had begun my response to the first part. Your example is over-simplistic. Practical politics is much more subtle and not nearly as cut and dried. As an example, a politician might live in a district where 45% of the adult populace favors the legalization of marijuana, 35% is opposed and 20% don't care. If the 45% represent voters under the age of 40, and voter turn-out data over many decades show that people in that demographic reliably don't vote in the same numbers as the people who are opposed, the wise politician will not endorse the legalization of marijuana, especially if the 35% opposed represent voters over the age of 50 who do reliably vote.

Practical politics is hard!

(EDIT: At any event, practical politics is not simple.)
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 01:44 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
I consider this calculation inaccurate.

Well, that's one of the big problems with utilitarianism. Nobody knows what "counts" as a unit of happiness or how far out one is to measure the consequences. For instance, suppose one of the transplant recipients goes on to develop a cure for cancer. Now how do you weigh the balance of happiness? Would you be willing, in that event, to sacrifice the healthy individual?

Thomas wrote:
No, because I disagree with a key factual premise your story implies --- that the consequences of the hospital's action are limited to the five transplant patients and the one unfortunate visitor. That being said, I would support the hospital's decision if I did judge this implied premise to be correct.

Let me get this straight: if the entire moral calculus were limited to the six individuals in the hypothetical (i.e. the five transplant patients and the healthy individual), you'd be willing to sacrifice the one to save the five?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 02:04 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
For instance, suppose one of the transplant recipients goes on to develop a cure for cancer. Now how do you weigh the balance of happiness?

In the very hypothetical case that I know one of the recipients will develop a cure for cancer, and that the involuntary donor will not, I would sacrifice the donor. But in reality, I don't know that. So I go with the most likely case, that neither of the six will find a cure for cancer --- which brings us back to your original scenario.

Perhaps it helps to recall the philosophical premise here, as laid down on page one of Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation: "By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government." Notice the words "tendency" and "appears". The idea is that we use our best judgment given the information we have. No Utilitarian demands that we know every detail of all the consequences of each of our actions. (J.S. Mill and H. Sidgewick phrase the principle in a very similar way.)

joefromchicago wrote:
Let me get this straight: if the entire moral calculus were limited to the six individuals in the hypothetical (i.e. the five transplant patients and the healthy individual), you'd be willing to sacrifice the one to save the five?

Yes. If these six truly were the only people affected by the hospital's decision, I would.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 02:11 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:
People were, as an example, happy enough with the prospect of the prohibition of alcohol that three-quarters of the legislatures of the states ratified it. There appears to have been just as much happiness to have repealed it thirteen years later.

Don't laugh, but I think you underestimate voters' capacity to learn. I think the people who voted for prohibition did not know about the impact of the 18th Amendment on organized crime, wholesale political corruption, and various other side effects of prohibition. The people who voted for repealing prohibition did know about these things and did not like them. It's easy to be cynical about these things, but people eventually do change their minds in response to new information. The problems of having to make decisions with incomplete information are not unique to Utilitarians.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 02:12 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:
the wise politician will not endorse the legalization of marijuana, especially if the 35% opposed represent voters over the age of 50 who do reliably vote.

Maybe not, but that doesn't make it a good thing.
0 Replies
 
Rickoshay75
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 02:19 pm
@Thomas,
I try, and sometimes manage, to live my life by a minimalistic, two-tenet religion.

Believe in facts if the balance of the evidence supports them, and for no other reason.
Believe in values if acting on them will tend to increase the overall surplus of happiness over suffering, and for no other reason.>>

It's not about believing -- those are just compelling thoughts. It's what you do that counts in the end.

What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is WHAT WE DO.
John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 02:55 pm
@Thomas,
I agree completely that voters learned the lesson embodied in "Be careful what you wish for." (After all, you might get it.) My point is that determining what conduces to happiness is not at all a simple matter, and that utilitarianism is not likely to be a workable system. That is the point of the second quote of mine that you responded to. Whether or not it were a good thing to oppose the legalization of marijuana, if it will enhance a politician's electoral prospects, that's what he will do. In the end, that would be the downfall of utilitarianism. Politicians want to be employed, and they want to be continued in their employment. They will propose to the voting public (emphasis on voting) whatever they think that public wants to hear, to get themselves elected, and to get themselves re-elected.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 03:35 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

In the very hypothetical case that I know one of the recipients will develop a cure for cancer, and that the involuntary donor will not, I would sacrifice the donor. But in reality, I don't know that. So I go with the most likely case, that neither of the six will find a cure for cancer --- which brings us back to your original scenario.

But you also don't know that people will lose faith in the medical system and stop going to hospitals, which was your reason for not sacrificing the healthy person for the benefit of the transplant recipients. In both cases, the utilitarian will have to measure the possible long-range benefits and detriments, along with the likely and immediate ones, in order to determine whether an action is moral or not. That is one of the other major problems with utilitarianism: it doesn't provide a particularly useful guide for determining what a person should do now. It's also highly susceptible to fingers being placed on the scales, depending on who's doing the weighing.

Thomas wrote:
Notice the words "tendency" and "appears". The idea is that we use our best judgment given the information we have. No Utilitarian demands that we know every detail of all the consequences of each of our actions. (J.S. Mill and H. Sidgewick phrase the principle in a very similar way.)

This ignores the fundamental problem with utilitarianism: it rests on the myth that people value happiness over everything else. But experience tells us that that's not true. For example, suppose you were offered a drug that would make you happier than you have ever been before, but, by taking it, you would be rendered catatonic. You'd be immobilized, unable to speak or hear or do anything, but you'd be conscious and you'd be supremely happy. Would you take that drug?

Thomas wrote:
Yes. If these six truly were the only people affected by the hospital's decision, I would.

Then that settles it. Your fears of possible repercussions could be easily allayed. The circumstances surrounding the unfortunate donor's death need not go beyond the walls of the hospital. After all, who better than a hospital to provide a reassuring explanation for an unexplained death?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 04:03 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
But you also don't know that people will lose faith in the medical system and stop going to hospitals, which was your reason for not sacrificing the healthy person for the benefit of the transplant recipients.

Perhaps I technically don't know it --- as Frank would say, it's not a fact, just a guess about a fact. But it's a guess I'm fairly confident about.

joefromchicago wrote:
That is one of the other major problems with utilitarianism: it doesn't provide a particularly useful guide for determining what a person should do now.

Whatever maximizes the expectancy value of the present discounted value of all future happiness . If this involves costs and benefits in the far future, discount their present value at the long-term market interest rate. In principle, the field of economics has a fairly standard procedure for this kind of tradeoff.

joefromchicago wrote:
It's also highly susceptible to fingers being placed on the scales, depending on who's doing the weighing.

Perhaps. Do you know of any respectable ethic that doesn't have this problem?

joefromchicago wrote:
You'd be immobilized, unable to speak or hear or do anything, but you'd be conscious and you'd be supremely happy. Would you take that drug?

Sure!

joefromchicago wrote:
The circumstances surrounding the unfortunate donor's death need not go beyond the walls of the hospital. After all, who better than a hospital to provide a reassuring explanation for an unexplained death?

Once again, we disagree about implied facts here. My factual belief here agrees with Mr. Lincoln's: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time. But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time". The hospital's embarrassing little secret will eventually be revealed. And when it is, people will start dying nedlessly, because they won't dare go to hospitals anymore. It's better to sacrifice the lives of those five unfortunate organ-recipient-hopefuls so that sick people and their visitors keep coming to hospitals.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 04:08 pm
@Rickoshay75,
Rickoshay75 wrote:
It's not about believing -- those are just compelling thoughts. It's what you do that counts in the end.

I disagree. Whether my moral beliefs are correct and whether I'm a hypocrite are two separate questions. Each of them "counts" in its own right.
0 Replies
 
igm
 
  2  
Reply Wed 29 Jan, 2014 05:00 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

igm wrote:
I don't know you and it's your belief system... but is there anyone alive that you love or really care about? I will then have at least one scenario... which I will give you.. but based on that hint... can you now think up a scenario that would make you abandon your utilitarianism for example?

I can think of many scenarios that would keep me from acting on my belief system. But that only means I'm a hypocrite. It does not mean that my belief system is wrong.

It also means that you can't know your belief system is correct. Therefore your belief system is useless because you can't know if it is more or less detrimental than not having your belief system and it is easier and simpler not to have it than to have it and you are freed from having to be a hypocrite when circumstances demand you fail to adhere to your belief system. It would make more sense to look for a belief system that you can know is better than the one you have... if one exists... or stop attempting to maintain your belief system.

I have shown that you cannot know your belief system is wrong or right but you have admitted that it has the potential to make you a hypocrite... something that can impact negatively on your relationships with others.

It is not worth maintaining it should be destroyed.

 

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