The Question: What makes A Good Life For The One Who Lives It?

Good Goods...

Knowledge is often viewed as both intrinsically good in itself AND instrumentally good in that it can lead to other goods such as fame, wealth and wisdom. But sometimes goods can go wrong. For example, we take a course in astrology in order to gain knowledge of what...? It is helpful to know what we are looking for before we pursue knowledge of any kind - Noam Chomsky.

Is there a "science" to it?

The "Hedonic Calculus" (Bentham) - pleasure is the only intrinsic good and pain is the only intrinsic bad. Although Bentham's thesis has nothing to do with the psychological compulsion to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Rather, he tries to compare pleasures using a number of metrics such as intensity, duration and so on.

Nozick disagrees, saying that it is the quality of experience that determines whether things will go well for us or badly. According to Nozick, it is not a life that "feels great" but a life that involves doing what matters to us most that's important such as - doing stuff, relationships, being a good this or that such as a good parent and so on.

All of Nozick's examples have the potential to be both pleasurable and painful and sometimes both at the same time; Bentham asserts that we are misguided in that regard, but how would Bentham measure an experience that is both pleasurable and painful at the same time. Especially in terms of his metrics such as "purity" of the experience e.g. total pleasure, and "certainty" that the experience is in fact pleasure and not pain.

All of the course on morality is based on two principles: 1) that we can decide only what is moral for ourselves and no-one else; and 2) that all of our higher awareness of what is good and bad either for ourselves or others arises from our bodies, not from something outside ourselves. They keep referring back to bodily awareness. Why? probably because the discussion is focused exclusively on "morality" as a human question, not moral dogma as a non-human.

It is helpful to remember that the pleasure and pain centres are very close to each other in the brain e.g being tickled, laughing till we cry, S&M and so on.

Is a long life always a better life? Is life itself valuable? Do we place too much emphasis on longevity for the wrong reasons? When someone dies suddenly and painlessly, should we feel sorry for that person?

A Life of Desire

Categorical desire: "I hope I live long enough to go to Africa".
Conditional desire: "I want to travel to Africa, if I am alive".
Death "cheats" us out of fulfilling our desires, but is life worth living without desires beyond the desire to live? What about opportunities we missed before we were born? Doesn't every deprivation of opportunity matter? Is death worse for someone with realistic desires than someone with outlandishly unrealistic desires? And, if death is a misfortune for the one who dies then who suffers that misfortune and when?


Boredom. Alienation. Detachment. Or is that just a failure of our imagination? There are limits to our conceptions of what we could do with immortality. The only worse thing than becoming bored is becoming bored with ourselves and our limited conceptions of ourselves.

Typically, we would become "too much for ourselves" and that means something akin to depression. But before that, there would be good reasons for *not* dying.

Normative ethics: aka "first order" - attempts to address what is permissible.
Meta-ethics: addresses questions about the nature of morality.

What is it we seek?

The Big Three

Consequentialism: a focus on the consequences of actions.
Utilitarianism: a focus on what is intrinsically good, not just instrumentally good. Referring back to "Good Goods" in "Pleasure and the Good Life".
Great Happiness Principle: the right act being the act that results in the greatest amount of happiness overall.

Moral without God's Will

Related to Kan't You are No Exception, YANE principle. If we all did the immoral thing it would be bad for us all. So, in that sense, people who act immorally are viewed as acting irrationally - viewing themselves as an exception but no one else.

Motivation - a question of will

Consider two shopkeepers: Mr Practical gives the correct change only if it seems to be good for his business reputation. Mr. Righteous gives the correct change because it is morally right.

Oughts, Musts and Shoulds

When we do things because we ought, must or should and our own desires and emotions are disengaged from the action, do we have a healthy moral character? If yes, then can we sustain that level of righteousness over time without our own desires and emotions getting in the way? If no, then what is it about our own desires and emotions that we need to consider in the long run? We are concerned here with what are known as "virtue ethics" - how we aim to be.

Bentham: "life is all about pleasure".
Nozick: "life is *not* all about pleasure".
Is there anything else in life that is worthy of mention beyond the satisfaction of our basic desires? Well, how about preferring the destruction of the entire world to a scratch on our finger!? Brandt insists that statement to be rational. The Epistemic principle on the other hand would assert that having such a preference would be due to lack of knowledge or facts, or incapacity to assimilate knowledge or facts. But would mere knowledge or facts change what we prefer - internally, for ourselves? Wouldn't those facts and knowledge need to be put to us in a way that maximizes the benefits to ourselves while minimizing the suffering - for ourselves?

Because once we take on oughts, musts or shoulds of the situation we lose our sense of engagement with the matter at hand and would therefore rely on dos and don'ts from the outside to remind us to follow through on the right thing to do. And when we are talking about doing the right thing because someone else deems it to be so, then we have lost the moral argument. Is there a possible balance of interests here?

More importantly, can it be taught to someone to do the right thing given that our bodies, rooted in desires, do not understand "morality", no matter how worldly, educated or erudite we are.