An Atheistic Ethic: What do Human Beings Want?

This is part two in a series arguing for an atheistic ethic. As I said earlier, we need an ethic based upon some solid evidence about who we are as human beings and why we act the way we do. Let's begin by looking at what rational people want out of life. I think I know.


I think there is solid evidence that rational human beings want (or value) several important things. Let me offer a list of them: we want power, love, friendship, riches, health, freedom, significance, importance, self-esteem, affirmation, approval, knowledge, understanding, long life, safety, good looks, sex, and so forth. We want enough challenges to make us strong and enough pleasures to motivate us to continue wanting to live. These things are undeniable, in my opinion. They are obvious.

People whom I consider non-rational are, roughly speaking, people who do not want these things. To say the same thing another way is that a necessary condition for a rational person is that said person significantly values the above listed things. A person cannot be considered a rational person if said person has a flagrant disregard for wanting these things. Non-rational people have a deep seated Freudian “death wish” that is far below the universal human standard. While it’s probably true we all have some degree of a “death wish,” those people who refuse to care about themselves, or who refuse to continue living, or who do not care about the things mentioned above to a significant degree are simply not being rational people. Some criminals, for instance, may prefer being behind bars because they cannot live on the outside world for various reasons, or they have some inner need to punish themselves due to guilt or self-loathing. People who commit suicide, or who want to die, or do not care about themselves, or anyone else, are people whom I think are not being rational. They are hurting themselves, and that goes against our instinct to survive and to live life to the fullest. Any person who acts contrary to that survival instinct is not being rational in the sense that doing so goes against a fundamental built-in principle to live.

Now, why do we want the above listed things? Why do we want power, and love, and significance, for instance? May I suggest with Aristotle that the reason why we value all of these things is because we want to be happy. According to Aristotle happiness is the supreme good. We do not want happiness for any other reason. It is an end in and of itself. We do not want power or love or significance as ends in and of themselves. We want these things because having them makes rational people happy.

To someone who asks me why they should want to be happy, or to someone who asks what is the ultimate standard which tells me I should be happy, I simply say you cannot rationally want anything else. It’s impossible for rational people not to want to be happy.

So I stand squarely in the happiness ethical tradition stretching back beginning with Socrates/Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Mill, and up to the the modern day “Virtue Ethicists.”

Happiness for these thinkers means “holistic” happiness. It is not being a “pig satisfied.” It is not having mere hedonistic pleasure. The more of the above list of things a person has, the happier that person is going to be. Lacking in any one of them will reduce one’s happiness by some degree, or not having these things in sufficient kind and quantity will reduce a rational person’s happiness. Having riches, for instance, without any of the other things, will not bring a person enough happiness. The happiest person will have all of these things to the utmost degree.

If we want to be happy we must pursue them, and we must have some acceptable degree of them all.

23 comments:

Adrian Miu said...

Happiness is the end in and of itself and is the basis for morality but I think happiness is more of a state of mind than a state of facts (english is not my native tongue so I hope you get what I mean). Of course you can have a state of mind that is in contradiction with the facts and that would mean you won't be rational and a balance should be imposed. You have listed some important things. A more scientific approch would have been to mention the Maslow's pyramid of needs. Also, regarding those needs, there is a level where it is rational to have those needs. A 80years old person who is in the same need of good looks as a 20 year old is not rational. A 60 year old person having the same sexual needs as an 20 years old is not rational. A 20 year old having the same need for importance as a 60 year old Nobel prize winner would not be rational.
But I agree that the pursue of happiness is the strive of fulfilling those needs to a "decent" level.

Anonymous said...

"power, love, friendship, riches, health, freedom, significance, importance, self-esteem, affirmation, approval, knowledge, understanding, long life, safety, good looks, sex, and so forth. We want enough challenges to make us strong and enough pleasures to motivate us to continue wanting to live. These things are undeniable, in my opinion. They are obvious."

About ethics, the attainment of these things, the way in which we aquire them, this is where ethics come into the picture. People are presented with a problem, that these things provide happiness. People who have these things are happy. That is what the television and Hoolywood has been spewing for years. This is the formulae for happiness. Wrong! Happiness comes from a realtionship with God.

When we end up hurting other people and our selves in order to attain these things then ethics come into the picture. It is unethical to hurt yourself and other people in order to attain these things, and therefore, if hurting yourself or other people becomes the only option, acting ethically becomes, to your "rational" mind, irrational.

There is no evidence that any of these things provide happiness. They are all idolatrous and vain pursuits.

Christianity is a prophetic religion founded on not only things that have become, but things hoped for and yet to come. It is said of Christians, that we come to hate those things we once loved, and come to love those things we once hated.

As Neitzches said, it is a transvaluation of values.

The pursuit of power is a dangerous one and leads to misery and destruction. You will never be happy until you realize that you are absolutly powerless.

If no one loves you, the Christian knows that God does love them.

A life of moderation will surely give health.

How more significant can you get, then to have a personal relationship with the creator of the Universe.

I believe your idea of significance may put people in conflict with each other, because the way most athiests see things, others must me insignificant in order for one to be significant. In Christianity we are all equally loved and important and significant to the one who really counts and that is God. That is why a Christian who is despised by many is still happy becasue they know God loves them and that is better than any recognition people can give.

God also gives Affirmation and self esteem by teaching us to value ourselves and other people. This imbedded ethic is in itself affirmation of countless things.

Freindship, we have in fellowhip with others, and of course with God.

Approval, God will not approve of everything we do, he does provide forgiveness and guidance.

Knowledge, God provides this as well, he provides security, not in material things, but in him. With this security, Christians are free from worry and can learn as much as they want if they so choose.

Understanding, takes a life time, and God reveals to us many things if we have eyes to see them and ears to hear them.

God provides eternal life.

Safety and security. God gives security, that this world fails to give. The pursuit of security in worldy things is the root of all evil.

Good looks, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Sex, get married and have all the sex you want.

God challenges us everyday.


"Happiness is a byproduct of having the above listed things."

This is your opinion and has yet to be proven. Hardly worhty of a basis for a seriious disscussion of ethics.


A relationship with God can give people happiness, joy and hope, and peace in the midst of the most lacking and "unhappy" circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see what the big deal is. We're all going to die in the end. In the end it really makes no difference. Not one bit of difference. It really doesn't matter what anyone believes. In the end it all comes to nothing. No memory, no knowledge, no existence. Nothing. Living and loving in the end comes to nothing. The ultimate goal of life is just that. Nothing.

Anonymous said...

Whoa whoa whoa! So your saying that anyone who wants to stay a virgin their whole life is a non-rational person?

John W. Loftus said...

What reason would there be for someone not to want sexual intimacy (except with the delusion God wants him or her to)?

Paul Manata said...

define 'rational,' please.

And, since I don't want to be 'non-rational' then can you list the "so forth" that I must desire to be rational. Since you're 'rational' I assume that you know what they are. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"I think there is solid evidence that rational human beings want (or value) several important things.... long life"

John, I didn't know that you wanted to go to heaven! Good man, good man!

John W. Loftus said...

Paul, that's a separate and complex topic that I'm not dealing with here. All I need do do is to argue what a person needs to have for him to be considered rational, even if I'm not dealing with what rationality is as a whole. A necessary condition for rationality is what I've described.

Even Christians who *claim* that they can be happy without any of the items I've listed here do so disengenuously. Anyone lacking the things above which makes for happiness will not be happy. Anyone who does not seek the things above are not being rational. These things are, once again, obvious. Why do you have to dispute the obvious so much in order to defend your faith? Would you be the first one to say of someone else with a different religious faith that they are locked inside a set of assumptions they should give up? That's what I think you should do if you continually have to deny what is obvious. One last thing, why didn't you comment on my earlier post when I critiqued your Christian view of ethics?

Kiwi Dave said...

Anonymous 8.49 said:
“I believe your idea of significance may put people in conflict with each other, because the way most athiests see things, others must me insignificant in order for one to be significant.”

I don’t know what you base your ‘most atheists’ generalisation on, but that’s not true for me. Significance in the eyes of my wife, children, colleagues is more or less enough, and I’m well aware that I am not the sole object of significance for any of them or even the most significant for most of them.

John’s list of needs should be understood in the context of his last sentence – “we must have some acceptable degree of them all.” So for me, some power over my own life is acceptable; I doubt very much that this limited power leads to misery and destruction.

You say there is no evidence that any of these things provides happiness. What social science says about this I don’t know. From personal experience I disagree and think that humans, for all their imperfections, are a much better source of human happiness than gods. In fact, it was my growing sense of no personal relationship with God which began my exit from Christianity.

Mark Plus said...

A relationship with God can give people happiness, joy and hope, and peace in the midst of the most lacking and "unhappy" circumstances.

Many christians believe that a created entity called "satan" found its relationship with their god profoundly dissatisfying, and it chose to rebel. That story raises a lot of awkward questions about the "true" nature of god that conflict with the public-relations version.

Mark Plus said...

I really don't see what the big deal is. We're all going to die in the end.

Then we need to conquer death through scientific & technological means.

Anonymous said...

Lets reverse the second law of thermodynamics and then we and the universe can become eternal and then we can fulfill our desire to be happy and live forever. O.K.

carl said...

The most obvious fact in the spiritual climate of our age, to which the preaching of the Christian gospel must adjust itself, is that a world view, usually defined as scientific, is discredited in its interpretation of the human situation by contemporary events. It is discredited though it boasted tremendous triumphs in the technical conquest of nature; and had gained such prestige that "progressive" Christianity thought itself capable of survival only by reducing its world view to dimensions which would make it seem compatible with the scientific attitudes of "progressive" men.

There was a curious pathos in this adjustment, because the failure of our culture to understand man and his history stemmed precisely from its inability to appreciate the uniqueness of man as distinguished from nature. It therefore misunderstood everything about man, his grandeur and his misery, because it transferred attitudes and techniques, which had been such a tremendous success in understanding nature, to the human situation, where they were the source of misunderstanding.

The "idea of progress," for instance, resulted from a transmission of the concept of evolution, true enough in nature, to human history, where human freedom made a determined development impossible; for man was always free to use his growing powers over nature for egoistic and parochial, rather than for universal, ends. Thus modern culture was unable to anticipate or to understand the evils which would arise in the technical possibilities of modern society, or the demonry of the cynical revolt against the standards of civilization manifested in nazism, or the even greater evils in the Communist revolt, which was animated, not by moral cynicism, but by a utopianism akin to the very utopianism of the liberal world.

In short, everything in our present historic situation -- is not understood because of characteristic, rather than fortuitous, errors in modern culture. Its confidence in the perfectibility of man rested in its trust in both the virtue and the power of mind. This was akin to the confidence in mind of the Greek rationalists; progressive optimism also shared the Greek belief that evil was the subrational forces of the self which mind could gradually master. Hence our psychologists are always looking for the roots of human "aggressiveness" on a level where scientific techniques can eliminate them. They did this precisely in the moment when the fury of Communist idealism and fanaticism proved its most dangerous "aggressiveness" to be compounded of monstrous power lusts and illusory heavenly visions. These are in a dimension which is not understood by those who think of man as one of the objects in nature, to be manipulated and beguiled to seek "socially approved ends." While they prate endlessly about the "dignity" of man, they actually rob him of his dignity. They make this mistake because they do not understand that his dignity and his "misery" have the same root in man’s radical freedom.

It is not possible to understand this radical freedom if we try to comprehend human selves as parts of some system of nature or of reason. This freedom can be apprehended only in dramatic-poetic terms, because it consists of the self’s transcendence over every rational or natural scheme to which it may be related. In other words, the affirmations of a religion of history and revelation are based upon the presupposition that there is a power of self-revelation in the mystery of the divine; and then the power of faith to apprehend such a revelation is a proof of the human self’s greatness. These presuppositions are precisely the treasures about which modern Christianity was so embarrassed and which it tried so desperately to fit into systems elaborated by a Hegel, a Comte or a Marx. They are the sources of its understanding of man and his history, including his wholly unanticipated and totally tragic present history.

Carl said...

The relation between the self and God is not primarily an intellectual one, though everyone will have the intellectual problem of relating what he has perceived about God in this personal and "existential" encounter with what he knows about the structures, coherences and intelligibilities of the universe. This encounter is one of faith or trust on the one hand, and of repentance on the other. It requires faith as trust because the soul commits itself to the tremendous proposition that it deals with a power which can give meaning to, and can complete, both its own fragmentary life and the whole strange drama of human history. Neither the life of the individual nor the whole drama of history fits neatly into any system of rational intelligibility. The root of the progressive, as of the classical, error is either to complete life falsely or to deny it any significance because its unity cannot be fitted into the coherence of either nature or mind. The mystic of course annuls life in all its rich historical variety because he thinks he has discerned a divine ground of existence which consists of undifferentiated being and which negates all particular being and historical striving.

The encounter between the self and God under the prompting of the primary self-disclosure of God-that is, under the presupposition that Christ is the clue to the character of God-moves in a circle of faith and repentance. Faith is required that the mysterious power can complete our fragmentary lives. But repentance is the precondition of faith because, in the ultimate encounter, every soul is convicted of trying to complete its life prematurely and making itself into the center of some system of meaning, of power or of virtue. The self is not condemned for being a particular self; it is condemned for being a false self.

Redemption for the self means, not the annihilation of the self, but its transfiguration from a self-centered and self-defeating self to one which finds its life in creative loyalties and affections. Thus the Christian plan of salvation re-enacts the theme of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, of dying to live. St. Paul declares that we are "buried with Christ in our baptism that we may rise with him in peace" are the only effective witnesses that the Christian faith has rightly apprehended the dimension and the reality of both the divine and the human self.

We would probably all agree that in a world of "clamor and evil speaking," the the most significant witness would be the nonchalance and charity of Christians who know how "to forgive one another even as God, also Christ, has forgiven you."

But we must admit humbly that there is no such clear witness by the church as the "body of Christ" to the world. Every effort of evangelistic sectarianism to select out the true saints from the morally ambiguous multitude, which makes up the church, has proved abortive. The "gathered church" always proves itself as unclear in its witness as the conventionally inclusive church. Why should this be so?

The first element in an adequate answer to that question embodies a truth which erupted tumultuously in the history of Christianity at the Reformation, but has since been periodically suppressed. That truth is that rebirth of the Sold man," even if genuine, does not wholly eradicate all tendencies to self-seeking; so that even the most gracious saints remain in some sense sinners. Luther put this truth in the phrase, "Justus et peccator simul." Nothing could of course be more obvious than this truth. Experience with monks or bishops, theologians or princes of the church, pastors and ordinary laymen, attest to the persistence of sin in the life of the redeemed, to the persistent power of human self-love which can be radically broken by the love of Christ. But it cannot be destroyed! We therefore face this interesting situation: that the church would be powerless and ineffective if it did not manifest some "fruits of the spirit," but that it, just like any individual, must be embarrassed when it calls attention to itself as a proof of the powers of God. For the very pretension of virtue is yet another mark of the sin in the life of the redeemed.

The lack of a clear spiritual witness to the truth in Christ is aggravated by certain progressive developments, among them the increasing complexity of moral problems and the increasing dominance of the group or collective over the life of the individual. The complexity of ethical problems makes an "evangelical" impulse to seek the good of the neighbor subordinate to the complicated questions about which of our various neighbors has first claim upon us or what technical means are best suited to fulfill their need. The "Enlightenment" was wrong in expecting virtue to flow inevitably from rational enlightenment. But that does not change the fact that religiously inspired good will, without an intelligent analysis of the factors in a moral situation and of the proper means to gain desirable ends, is unavailing.

Logismous Kathairountes said...

I'm afraid we really won't be able to have any sort of conversation about this, John, since you take as axioms a number of things that aren't obvious to me at all - And that makes me non-rational, apparently.

You've read the book of Ecclesiastes, right? That book is a negative apologetic against the very thing you've just put forward. The author didn't accept your axiom that worldly goods (money, sex, good looks, power, etc.) lead to happiness, and so he set out to test them to see if they really did lead to happiness.

In essense, he had the things that you say bring happiness, as much as anybody in the world at that time had them. He discovered that worldly goods don't lead to happiness.

That book is the record of an experiment undertaken with the goal of testing the exact assumptions that you make here. I'll add that my own experience matches up with that of the author of Ecclesiastes.

Furthermore:
1) According to you, everybody with a different experience of life than you is non-rational. Reconsider this. It is possible that somebody may have experienced something to disprove these ideas, and this view allows you to ignore as the product of a non-rational mind any data they may be able to provide.

2) Having happiness as an end in and of itself puts your position on the same level as a Christian who claims that God's glory is an end in and of itself. Think of this next time you think that a Christian is being non-rational when they consider God's glory the ultimate telos of their life - If you won't answer for your telos, why should they have to answer for theirs?

3) This: "Lastly, a person cannot simply pursue happiness." makes no sense to me. Isn't that exactly what you're saying? People want whatever they want for the sake of happiness, which is the ultimate good. You've reduced human goal-related activity to the simple pursuit of happiness, right? Am I just not understanding this sentance?

Will G said...

This view of happiness would be true for most people, but some people, a minority, for genetic reasons do not naturally desire some of the things you list. For example most humans, on the whole, desire to extend a certain amount of good will towards others and agree not to break certain rules, but psychopaths do not and derive no happiness from being 'nice' to people. Therefore, for a psychopath, being evil is legitimately part of their ideal of the good life, because they derive no enjoyment or happiness from being a good person.

I'm not saying this challenges the core of your ideas, because the good life for most humans is still to be, in this instance, a person of good will towards others. But a few humans, for various reasons, end up dramatically different in their ultimate ideal of the good life. So this ethical theory can only apply to the majority of 'normal' people, but obviously for psychopaths your idea of the good life leads directly to not caring for others and hurting others. This is because extending good will towards others does not contribute in the slightest way to happiness or eudaimonia for psychopaths (if I understand you correctly.)

What I mean is, it's not a matter of psychopaths not being rational, for genetic reasons or other reasons, their brains are fundamentally different so that they genuinely don't desire niceness towards others as something that could ever bring them happiness and a 'good life'.

Adrian Miu said...

While I agree that the things John mentined are not neccessary for the happiness the discussion is diverted from the original intent (I think). While those things are not ultimately neccessary for attaining happiness it is neccessary not to deny them to others in order to create a "valid" ethical theory.
The fact that one might not need to get laid everynight in order to be happy doesn't imply that it is not imoral to deny that person's rights to get laid. Consequently, the fact that a sociopat may need to behave badly towards people in order to feel happy does not mean he's entitled to deprive other people of the rights for that.
Every theory of morality be it religious or not must set some rights and obligations. You have the right to pursuet happiness but you are also obliged not to interfere with others people pursuet of happiness. I know that this brings us almost back to square one. A person's desire to live may interfere with a psichopat's desire to kill.
The original Golden Rule is a negative statement (Do not do onto other what you do not want to be done unto you) while the "christian golden rule" is a positive one. The original Golden Rule "prevents" a sado-masochistic person to commit harm to others while Jesus was of no help in this direction (probably the catholic paedophile priests would like to be fucked up the ass and they are following Jesus words when they molest those children).
What needed to be added to the pursuit of happiness is the rule of minimum action / least interference.
If a sociopath need to do action X (murder, rape etc) in order to be happy but not doing action X would prevent harming other people's right to happiness than action X must not be performed.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John: (I'll get to the commentators later if I have a chance)

I'm not sure how your list links to ethics yet, but I'll wait for you to 'connect it up.' But I do have some quibbles about the list. (What a surprise!)

In the first place, you treat the list as both universal and absolute. I'd suggest that the game CAREERS might be a better analogy. (For those few who have never played it, you start by setting a 'success formula.' You have 100 points, but you are free to distribute them between wealth, happiness, and fame however you want -- and your goal is secret from the other players. You win only if you are the first to reach your goal in all three areas.)
I think all of us would, if we accepted your list, disribute points among them, individually. Some would give more points to one or the other, some might give zeros in some categories.

Second, you list some things, particularly 'good looks' that we have little control over -- and one sure formula for unhappiness is to consider something which we don't have control over as necessary for happiness. (And I speak as someone who would get a zero in that category, something which I simply had to accept.)

Third, I think every one of us have individual things that we would put above things on the list. For me -- and for my wife -- one example would be cats. We have a very limited budget ("riches" for us is never likely to be a reachable goal for various reasons) but we spend a substantial part of it on cat food and cat litter. We both have minor allergies and would be healthier without cats, and since I am the one who changes the litter twice a week, my arthritis and bad shoulder guarantee me two days of pain a week -- one reason I'm grumpier on Tuesdays and Fridays. And certainly feeding time and cat-box changing and other cat-related factors impinge on my freedom in various ways. But Sprout, Kittenz, and Captain Puddles are worth it, as were the now deceased Brrup, Poo, and Rumbles, as will the next additions to the family be. We both have reached the point where life without cats would be a seriously diminished life. I'm sure you have similar things on the list. (One thing not on your list -- or mine -- but which would be on most people's is children, despite the number of things on your list they lessen.)

Finally, you make no mention of altruism, of the desire simply to do things that make the world a better place, even if it does not directly affect you. Now some people claim that 'altruism' doesn't exist, that it is a form of selfishness, that we act altruistically (if religious) out of a hope for Heaven, or (if we are atheists) for our own self-esteem. But an atheist will sacrifice his life for a cause or a fellow human being -- and surely the momentary second of self-esteem would not balance it. Atheists marched in the South for Civil Rights, atheists joined the Army to fight against Hitler -- knowing there was a good chance they would not saurvive the war -- atheists will try and save someone being attacked by a robber, or by a mob of bigots -- even if they are not members of the group the bigots hate.

John W. Loftus said...

Jim, not surprised to see you comment since I had asked for some constructive criticism. With you I don't even need to ask! ;-)

My list is not meant to be exhaustive.

I agree with your point #1...that's what I was getting at, thanks.

As far as good looks goes, even big ugly people can still try to dress well and look as good as they can under the circumstances. No rational person would try to make themselves look worse when they could look better. Some people even think plastic surgery is worth the cost.

Lastly when I try to make the world a better place it also helps me and the ones I love. Altruism exists, but such a view is problematic since what motivates us to be altruistic is still rational self-interest. I believe I can account for altruistic acts from my ethical framework.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John: I want to suggest a concept that I think is more useful and less problematical than your rational self interest and that is the concept of teamwork of viewing the whole of humanity as a team -- specifically in the sports sense.

In many cases, perhaps most, the two lead to the same result in practice. "Playing selfish" in the sense of trying all out to do the best you can do so you get a great contract, or get your name in the records books, will probably be the best way of helping the team.

But there are certain times when you have to do something against your interest because it helps the team. Maybe simply try and hit a ground ball to the right side instead of going for a home run, maybe staying in the game when you have nothing and wrecking your E.R.A. because the bullpen needs rest, maybe risking a season- or career-ending injury just to make that one play that the team needs.

The point is that acting ethically is frequently acting in your own self-interest. (The one thing that believers are most afraid to admit is that, usually 'being good' is smart and 'being evil' is dumb -- but that punctures their argument that 'without the fear of hell' men would go wild.)

But sometimes acting 'for the good of the team' does require sacrificing personal advantage -- for no corresponding long-term personal reward. It means fighting racism -- at the risk of your own life -- even if there is no benefit for yourself -- even if it can be argued that you, as a white man, benefit from the handicaps that blacks are given and that keep them from competing with you. Because the team (humanity) is better off if racism is abolished or cut back -- or, the same thing, it makes for a better world.

There are two problems with the rational self interest standard. The first is that like Christian ethics, it is incredibly self-centered to the point almost of solipsism. Christianity sees the nexus of ethics in the intersection between God and the person. You love your neighbor because God commands it, not because your neighbor is, as a team member, deserving of love. You do not steal because God will punish stealing, not because stealing is a way of disrespecting your neighbor who you steal from.

But the self-interest standard locates the nexus entirely in yourself. You do not steal because you benefit from a world where people do not steal. You love your neighbor because you enjoy a world in which people love each other.

The nexus of morality is, I would argue, at the intersection between you and your neighbor.

But there is another problem with the 'self-interest' standard. It leads itself to being misunderstood, not just by opponents but by people practicing it -- much as 'pragmatism,' 'situational ethics,' and 'moral relativism' can be assumed to mean 'do whatever is best for yourself' not just by people criticizing the terms. We have all seen people use these terms to justify acts that are, we would agree, totally unethical.

Both you and I could explain the difference to those Christians who love to use the terms against us, but the argument is a subtle one, and one which takes patience to make and to hear, patience that the grabbers for the simplistic usually don't have.

So I suggest, as you work on your eth9ical system, you consider the idea of teamwork. (And I also suggest, as I finally get my own series out there, that you criticize me as strongly -- and constructively -- as I am criticizing yours.)

And tomorrow I'll finally get to some of the rest of you.

John W. Loftus said...

Prup, as far as I can see you're arguing the same thing I am, except you don't like the phrase "rational self-interest." The team concept might work, but when we're all on the same team who is our opponent? What is the goal of a team that has no opponent? If other players are better than we are should we be content to sit on the bench? Why?

So the analogy breaks down, as do all analogies at some point. What we need is a description of how we should act rather than an analogy. An analogy is only useful to explain what we mean. But explaining what we mean can be more to the point, because we can distinguish between nuances of what we mean much better, which we must do apart from any analogies anyway.

Russell Blackford said...

I like the direction of this post. However, I doubt that there's a single thing "happiness" that we want these things for. I suspect it's more that there's a plurality of things that we want for themselves. I'm not sure that the best way to think of it is that they are all means to the end of some inchoate hard-to-define thing called "happiness". That would be explaining the obscure with the more obscure, I think.

All the same, almost everything you say still makes sense from my perspective.

Don't forget Hume ... I don't think he was on your list.

larryniven said...

Errors errors everywhere. Details at http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2007/08/let-head-shaking-commence.html