Living the Good Life, pt. 1

2 Nov

So I know that technically I was going in order of the book chapters, but after reading the current chapter that I am on (which is quite a few more than where I am writing wise) I decided to meld the two into one blog post(or try), since (in my mind) they both go together.

First off:  What is good?  What is valuable?  How do we decide what to value?  Some value “things” like new shoes, cars, their homes, things they can “easily” acquire.  But others value other things, such as friendship, justice, peace, and other principles, and others still are value mixtures of both.  But how is it decided that these things have value?  New shoes get old, are they valuable still?  Friendships fade, but are the relationships still meaningful?  What is it that decides with each of us what is considered of any worth?

In our society, it would seem that entertainment and everything shiny and/or “labor reducing” is valued if not semi-worshiped, but why is this?  Do any of these things really matter?  And if they don’t then why is it that we are placing such a high interest in them?

This is a good quote from the book:

“Some of us might even claim to place an absolute value on human life.  Now suppose I told you that I had invented a marvelous Convenience Machine that would save everyone an enormous amount of time and energy in our daily routines.  However, the downside of the Convenience Machine is that its use would result in the deaths of over 75,000 Americans per year.  Would you us this machine?  Perhaps you’d refuse on the grounds that the value of life exceeds any amount of convenience.  But suppose our economy centered on the use of this machine, and without it, the nation would be thrown into an unparalleled economic depression.  Perhaps you’d still refuse to use it and insist that we change our economic expectations rather than continually sacrifice so many lives.

Well, we in face have the Convenience Machine in several brands:  Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, and so on.  Motor vehicle accidents in the United States result in about 45,000 deaths a year; another 30,000 deaths are caused by diseases brought on by automobile pollution.  So how much do we really value life?” (Pojman, Louis:  Ethics:  Discovering Right and Wrong.  Wadsworth:  Belmont, CA:  2009. Pg. 46-47.)

So, what is it exactly that we value?  It would seem to me that we value that which we think will make us happy now, only to find out later that it didn’t come through with the happiness.  And so we have the search for the good and for the good life.

If you happen to be sitting there reading this, thinking to yourself, “I’m not sure what exactly it is I value,” then all you need to do is reflect on a normal day on what you spend your time on, and that will normally point to what you value.  The author goes on after this to say that some things we value have either intrinsic or instrumental value, meaning that they are valuable just because they are valuable or because they are useful.

Things like hard work are useful because they are instrumental — a means to an end.  Hard work is valuable because it is a way to obtain something (such as financial security or money).  Other things like joy, can be said to be intrinsic, or joy for joy’s sake.  But, it can also be said that other things such as family, or meaningful relationships, are instrumental values, they lead to happiness or joy.  So we could probably make a list of intrinsic values that are derived from instrumental values, but that would be a very long list, so I’m not going to do that here, but I encourage you to do so (even as a comment or two).

This leads to a question though, are values simply derived from desires?  Or are there any intrinsic values at all?  Are the things we say are good for their own sake, just simply manifestations of our desires?  Some like to say that we are able to choose the things we value and indeed we make up our own values, but this seems to set us up for our own failures and we can only be blamed for those.  Instead, I agree with the author that we are more or less “chosen” by our values, such as happiness, pleasure, health, and love.  We will also naturally reject other “non-values” such as pain and suffering.  As for the value of pleasure, we have a division among people who are much smarter than myself on how pleasure is enjoyed and even measured.  There are hedonists and well, nonhedonists.  The Hedonist, as many of you know, claim that all pleasure is good, it is the only thing good (joy would be a part of pleasure) and that pain should be avoided at all costs.  Experiences are only to be considered “good” if they are able to provide pleasure.  Pain, therefore, is the only thing that is bad in itself according to the hedonists.

Now even hedonists divide among themselves, separating into those who follow sensualism and satisfactionism.  Now I’m not going to go into those in too much detail, but basically, sensualists follow that all pleasure is equated with sensualism, and sastisfactionists claim that all satisfaction is pleasure in “disguise”.  No matter what camp the hedonist falls into however, they still espouse that pain or suffering needs to be lessened or avoided altogether.

But should pain be avoided?  Should it be rejected or embraced?  What would life be like without any pain or suffering?  Much nicer but richer…probably not.  Pain seems to be a valuable tool that help leads to growth and development.  A rejection of pain seems to be like a rejection of knowledge and the ability to mature as an individual.  Also, pleasure is not always good, if the experience alone is focused on the gaining of pleasure only, then that is one thing, but considering that every action is not done in a vacuum and that every single action has consequences.  When the source of the pleasure can make a big difference in outcomes, that is a big difference.  The lasting impression could lead to pain, so is that moment of pleasure worth it?  Some sources of pleasure may be quite intense, but they are “short lasting”.

Now hedons (units of pleasure) are used to measure the amounts of pleasure that an individual experiences.  They are different criteria for how to measure a hedon, but in all honesty, I don’t think it really matters much.  If a person is so focused on pleasure and the fulfillment of that value alone, they will isolate themselves from the rest of their life.  Living in such a way is not living at all, but merely existing in a Pleasure Machine that does nothing.  We find that the pleasure machine is really anything that brings pleasure and attempts to block out pain, any sort of distraction from the reality of life.  Things like the pleasure machine are found all over the world, the most common are things like drugs, alcohol, television, spectator sports, vegeing out on the computer, etc.  I think hedonism should be rejected as any valid sort of moral theory, as its only function is to isolate and inevitably destroy the individual’s character and life.

Now, as for those other values, I think that will be left for part two of Living the Good Life (I know I was going to put it all in one post, but this first one is so long).

If you have any comments, let me hear them!


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