Home Page with “A Cocktail Party Version”

Hello and welcome!  This isn’t so much a blog (given that I’ve yet to begin writing posts), but rather a manifesto.  My position is essentially that we’ll need descriptive rather than prescriptive understandings of welfare, in order to figure out what’s good and bad for any any subject.

Thanks for taking a look!


“A Cocktail Party” Version

Consider existence from the perspective of a human, a dog, a plant, a computer, and finally a rock. For the computer and the rock, perhaps existence is perfectly “insignificant,” or perhaps events alter subjects such as these without having any personal relevance to them. Furthermore we generally treat plants as if they’re just as oblivious in a personal sense — regardless of what is done to this kind of life, perhaps existence occurs just as inconsequentially for these subjects, as it seems to for computers and for rocks. When the human and the dog are considered, however, it’s generally thought that events affect subjects such as these in a way that can have positive and negative personal implications to these subjects. This dynamic will thus be referred to here as “the good and bad” aspect of reality.

Though philosophers must have pondered this element of our nature from the time that humanity was quite young, there is still no generally accepted understanding of what good and bad essentially are — or that which gives existence an apparent positive/negative potential for the human, the dog, the bird, and so on, though not for subjects such as the plant and the computer. But given that this feature should also be quite fundamental, we may thus expected that the scientific community will need to figure this out in order to resolve various standard questions associated with our nature. I propose the following model of positive and negative personal existence:

In one regard there are just two “operating systems” by which a given subject may function. The more primary is motivated by factors other than “sensations,” and thus here dynamics like pain, beauty, frustration, humor, hatred, love, fear, and so on, are simply not “in play.” Presumably microbes, fungi, and plants experience no sensations, and thus they function purely by means of this first mechanism. I refer to it as “instinct.”

Under the complementary system, however, positive and negative sensations serve as punishment and reward from which to motivate function. Thus sensations like hunger, itchiness, hope, fun, anger, orgasm, heat, cold, and so on, constitute the essential nature of both “good” and “bad” — or effectively serve as an ideology from which to derive how these subjects may lead their lives and structure their societies “properly.” I refer to this sensations mechanism as “self.”

The difference between the subjects mentioned above from this perspective, is that the human and the dog seem to experience “sensations,” while the plant, the computer, and the rock, presumably do not. Once there is an accepted understanding of a personal relevance, or good/bad dynamic, then our mental and behavioral sciences (like Psychology, Sociology, Cognitive Science, and so on) should gain founding theory from which to function in this regard. Furthermore this achievement would bring our sciences an actual “ideology,” or a position from which to address all questions associated with living our lives and structuring our societies, in a manner which is theoretically “good” for a given subject.

Creative Commons License Physical Ethics by “Philosopher Eric” is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

8 Comments on “Home Page with “A Cocktail Party Version””

  1. I’m more than happy to find this page. I wanted to thank you for your time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely savored every part of it and I have you book-marked to look at new stuff in your blog. I have found following MCQ is really helpfull for CSE student http://gatecseit.in/computer-science-mcq-2/algorithm/

  2. jimpintoJim Pinto says:

    Eric :

    I heard from Merle that you are quite active on your blog. I’m delighted and will continue to stay in touch this way.

  3. davidlduffy says:

    You might look at David Gauthier’s book (1986) Morals By Agreement (Rational Contractualism), and the work of John Harsanyi (Utilitarianism). They both work from the the standpoint of the individual. Gauthier thinks that “the hypothetical [social] contract, the contract we would settle on if we were choosing the outcome together, represents morality”.
    Harsanyi holds that it is possible to mathematically prove that there is a utility function that represents moral goodness: the sum of the utility functions representing the good of each individual. Rather than measure the individual good, they rely on individuals having some idea of what this is, so we can estimate it from their choices. James Dreier wrote a nice summary in his chapter Decision Theory and Morality (Ch 9 of the Oxford Handbook of Rationality), that I am quoting above.

    • Wow, no comments of substance for two years, then two in a single day!

      Hi David,

      Gauthier’s way of defining morality does seem perfectly reasonable to me in a standard sense, but what you may find strange is that my own theory regarding the nature of good/bad, doesn’t actually concern “morality.” (Or at least not in the “social construct” way that I understand the term to generally be interpreted. A friend has recently informed me that “normative morality” references an idea which isn’t socially defined however, so perhaps my ideas do apply in at least this regard?)

      Nevertheless, the concept which I’m referring to isn’t something which is in any way “decided,” but rather is an actual state of matter in itself, such as molecular composition, mass, and so on. If “morality” is defined to facilitate such a notion then I’ll take it, though otherwise I have no problem calling my theory “amoral.”

      So then what is my theory? It’s that the conscious mind produces a type of matter for which existence can be good/bad rather than inconsequential. Consider how we (non panpsychists) believe that most everything doesn’t matter to itself. Even for a living tree, I think, its own existence remains perfectly inconsequential to it. But when we ascend to something which is conscious (which I only know because I happen to be conscious) apparently personally relevant existence is produced in order for this kind of function to occur. “Sensation” is what I call this product of the conscious mind.

      As far as Harsanyi goes, he sounds like a “total utilitarian” like myself, and if so, then this is good! If he also keeps his position purely subjective, which is to say that the good of any given subject exists as the summation of positive to negative sensations which it experiences over a given period of time, then I endorse him even more!

  4. Philosopher Eric, I’m a long-time reader of Massimo’s blogs (though I seldom comment), but I’ve been following the comments threads lately and I think I see some striking similarities between your ideas and those of Joshua Greene.

    Greene was strongly influence by J.L. Mackie, Gilbert Harman, Richard Garner and Richard Joyce. (It seems to me that Greene’s dissertation is mostly Garner + updated neuroscience and psychology.) At any rate, I suggest Garner’s “Beyond Morality” and Greene’s dissertation, both of which are available online (just google them).

    • Hi Bored Nihilist,

      Thanks for the pointer to Greene. I suppose that he does have ideas somewhat like my own, though entirely bred from academia. Yes I can see value to viewing ourselves in terms of competing moral subsystems:

      Emotional, intuitive, deontological judgments (e.g., don’t push the fat man off the footbridge in the trolley problem)

      Rational, calculated, utilitarian judgments (e.g., push the fat man off to save more total lives).

      Nevertheless when compared against my own associated explanations, this does seem a bit simplistic. Consider the following:

      We are are entirely utilitarian in a conscious sense, meaning that each unit of positive sensation experienced contributes positive value to our existence, with the negative being the opposite. Nevertheless apparently our resulting perfect selfishness is effectively moderated by two other features that evolution provided us with. One is our “empathy,” or a means by which we experience sensations which correspond somewhat with the sensations that we perceive in others. Then the next concerns “theory of mind sensations” like shame, respect, pride, and other concerns about what others are thinking about us.

      So while I can see why Greene’s roughly emotional versus rational competing subsystems has been successful in academia, I present a conforming but continuous explanation regarding the trolley situations, and all others. From here we consciously behave exclusively out of the desire for personal happiness, which is effectively moderated by our empathy and theory of mind sensations.

      Moving now to Garner, I see that he’s trying to build “a system of behavior that will nurture our capabilities for love and language, for creation and cooperation.” I’d hate for anyone to misrepresent me with such a statement! My own ideas suggest that we are entirely selfish, technically manifested even through our empathy and theory of mind sensations. Instead of the “love and cooperation” stuff that we may want ourselves to be, my goal is to help us understand our true nature, even when we find it repugnant, so that we might use this understanding to better lead our lives and structure our societies.

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