Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

The Future We Make

Well, the marking of the Chinese new year (good fortune to all of you out there!) provides an opportune moment to think about “the future of Chinese philosophy,” not so much in our soothsaying mode but in our capacity as people who are invested in shaping the field. Taking our cue from Robert Neville’s ambitious and provocative list of projects, perhaps we could think about the projects that we think would be important to take up and pursue vigorously in the field. Maybe each person interested could contribute one item to the list. Okay, I’ll start:

  1. Identify and defend something that is philosophically distinctive and valuable from the variety of writings and movements of Chinese philosophy.

So far, I don’t see this being pursued with as much energy in the comparative philosophy endeavor as the project of trying to understand Chinese philosophical views explicitly through the medium of Western philosophical theories and movements. I also confess that I’m not always optimistic about 1’s success.

Comments and additional items welcome!

February 13th, 2010 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy | 29 comments

29 Responses to The Future We Make

  1. Steve Angle says:

    OK, I’ll bite. First, I’d like to hear more about [1]. From what perspective do you envision the defense taking place, and to which audience? The way you frame this sounds a bit unpromising to me. (And apparently to you, too, at least some of the time.) And is this, in fact, a project that you want to pursue? Any hints on which direction you’d take?

    For myself, well…one thing that I’m interested in, and that I think has both intrinsic philosophical interest and importance, and might help get some leverage on an important obstacle to more cross-tradition and cross-nation philosophical dialogue, is:

      [2] Interpret and engage with twentieth-century “New Confucian” philosophers, as well as their current followers.

    My current view is that there is both stuff to learn from and stuff to criticize in the work of Mou Zongsan and others. Their vision of Confucianism is certainly not the only way the tradition can develop, but I think that if we take it seriously — which also means taking seriously the work of many of our Chinese and Taiwanese colleagues — we can figure out how to move forward.

    • Manyul Im says:

      Hey Steve. More about 1: I’m thinking of ways in which, as philosophers, we could take Chinese philosophy seriously, beyond — though not excluding of course! — the historical issues, as a source for viable philosophical perspectives that really aren’t represented in Western philosophy. I’d like to see work that explores Chinese philosophy in its role not merely as a tradition of which, from the Western perspective, one might say “Hey, it has one of those (e.g. virtue theory), too! and uses it in an interesting way!” — to be slightly cheeky. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d like to see something really nearly ground-shatteringly unique uncovered and explicated in a plausible way (hence, “defended”). I think what Chris Fraser is doing with early Chinese conceptions of activity versus action is promising in that regard. Maybe some of your work on sagehood? (I need to read it first, of course.) Myself? I’m working on a couple of things that have to do with ethical perception, but maybe that’s where most of my pessimism originates — reflections on my own work…

      So, basically, philosophically ground-shattering is what I’m hoping for in 1. Aim high, I say.

  2. Steve Angle says:

    Here are a couple more, while I’m at it. One project that is currently underway is:

      [3] Pursue the ways that Confucian ethics and Western virtue ethics can mutually inform/interpret/stimulate one another.

    This is partly an interpretive project (e.g., in Bryan Van Norden’s Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy) and partly a matter of sparking new creativity within the contenporary development of Confucianism and of Western virtue ethics (at least, that is one of my goals in Sagehood).

    I believe that one of the reasons that the Confucianism and virtue ethics project has resonated with many people — although it’s also drawn its share of mostly constructive criticism — is that it locates an area of adequate overlap between two different traditions. The idea isn’t to find direct answers to one tradition’s questions in another, but to see that there’s enough in common that cross-tradition engagement in that area is fruitful (with fruitfulness being judged from within each of the two developing traditions). With this in mind:

      [4] Let’s work to identify other potential areas of adequate overlap, and pursue cross-tradition dialogue in these areas in focused ways.

    Perhaps the recent conference at HKU on “happiness” identified such an area?

  3. Bill Haines says:

    Steve, three cheers for [2]. I want to urge you to make a quick and enormous contribution to the realization of that aim, right here and now. There’s a bottleneck, at least for non-Chinese who are sufficiently educated in Western and interested in Chinese philosophy. Many of us, perhaps the vast majority, don’t have the facility in Chinese that is needed to read through Mou’s vast corpus, etc. And we don’t know where to look to find the pieces that would most strongly motivate us to try. Of course we would have to read the vast quantities in order to do excellent commentary, but that sort of thing will happen sooner if people try something less ambitious now. One would want to know of some really good short pieces, or at least short books: relatively self-contained, well-respected among Chinese new Confucians, and worth attention in the West. Can you offer a short list?

    Kin to Neville’s #6 and #8:

    [5] Explicate and develop conceptions of ritual and its point that we find in Chinese philosophy, so as to establish broader communication between those ideas and modern ethical theory and anthropology-of-ritual.

    (My formulation of what I want is slightly truncated by the fact that this is supposed to be a list about Chinese philosophy.) Li 禮doesn’t sit very well with some of the most popular abstract ideas in Western moral theory, and yet in China it’s a model of morals. And it is a system of signs, like the “language” that is so important to philosophy on this side of the waters. (And like style.)

    • Steve Angle says:

      Bill, the best introduction to Mou’s thought is his 中國哲學十九講 Nineteen Lectures on Chinese Philosophy, which contains allusions to most of his major ideas. It’s not perfect, because while it is still a somewhat hefty book, sometimes the discussions are still too short to be completely intelligible. But it’s pretty good. An excellent, complete translation of it exists, but unfortunately is embroiled in a dispute over copyright and so far has not been published. N. Serina Chan is just finishing a terrific dissertation on Mou’s thought, which I hope will be published soon. It is an excellent, charitable yet not hagiographic analysis of his thought. Finally, my favorite of his works is 政道與治道Politics and Administration. It deploys the famous idea of “自我坎陷 self-negation” in a manner I find to be clear and important, and it does not get too deeply into the metaphysical waters of many of his later works.

  4. I’d aim for Analytic philosophers’ having a passable understanding of the philosophical lexicons of more foreign cultures.

    That sounds like it has to start with the breakdown of the mythos that philosophy is an intellectual inheritance from ancient Greece. Plenty of people were giving footnotes to substantive thought besides Plato’s, but philosophers at large in the West don’t have a clue about it.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Hi Joshua. Is there a term, or understanding of a term, that is sort of special to Yangism, and that you’d be willing to explain here (if only in terms of other early Chinese terms)?

      • Sure. Yangism doesn’t have a whole boatload of special terminology. Perhaps the most fruitful is 性, while the one I’m better prepared to discuss is 命 (though they appear together in some places [“公孫朝…公孫穆” in Liezi, 7:8]. I don’t think 命 is too particular to Yangism, but it is definitely used in a special sense in Yangzi’s work. The dominant ethical problem in any analogous term in Greek-outgrowth philosophy (“fate”, “destiny”, “predetermination”) is encapsulated in the problem of free will. Westerners since have tried to resolve the question: “Can we be held responsible for what we do?” by trying to set criteria “responsible acts of agents” versus “accidents with bodies” (e.g. hiccuping and startling someone into oncoming traffic isn’t the same as pushing someone into it in most ethicists’ views).

        This is the question that Yangists masterfully sidestepped, and did so by invoking 命.

        The Yangist interest in use of 命 can’t really be equated anywhere that I know in other Chinese thought or in Western thought. The Yangist question: “Since we already know that certain things are predetermined (命) (such as our mortality and pleasure centers), how much should we even care whether we get ‘held responsible’ for what actions we perform (be they applauded or despised)?” lies largely assumed. The Yangist is only worried about ‘being held responsible’ insofar as there are consequences that matter to 他自己 (i.e. those that promote or deprive his own life or his own sensual enjoyment).

        I couldn’t count how many times I’ve posed this question and been almost immediately dismissed as sociopathic, and yet my experience has been that responses from most other circles (Chinese or otherwise) fail to give a satisfactory retort other than what the Yangist already concludes and teaches to utilize to his own advantage.

        I think the problem of free will only arises when one ignores this crucial question that Yangzi raises and just assumes that jurisprudence somehow must be more than a bully against certain groups, that the system of accusation, litigation, conviction, and punishment should only punish the “truly guilty,” when all it really has to do is satisfy the collective interests of the masses to stay alive, even if it kills “innocents” (whose “innocence” is simply set by another standard for justice that can only prop itself on the sentiments of another population). The big difference is that in Yangzi’s time the lawmakers also were responsible for government overall, so the arguments come out in terms of leadership more generally, and less about law except in condemnation of standards that are “foreign to one’s own nature,” particularly 儒家. Yangzi puts it even better: “可殺可活,制命在外。”

      • Bill Haines says:

        Thanks Joshua !!

        From what you say it sounds like Yangism’s 命 is pretty much equivalent to a term familiar in the West (determinism), and what’s different in your view is that Yangists make better arguments using it, or argue on better premises.

        1.
        Westerners since have tried to resolve the question: “Can we be held responsible for what we do?” by trying to set criteria “responsible acts of agents” versus “accidents with bodies”

        I’m not sure which sense of “can” you’re using. It seems to me that the Western discussion is not about whether Smith is likely in fact to be held responsible, but either about (a) which of the things Smith does are genuinely her fault? and/or (b) which of the things Smith does should/shouldn’t she be held responsible for? And then (b) can be subdivided into different kinds of holding responsible (blame, legal penalty) and different kinds of “should” (one morally should/shouldn’t hold Smith responsible; it isn’t/is unjust to hold her responsible; it will/won’t promote the general happiness to hold Smith responsible, etc.).

        a. Within the terms of this Western debate, consistently with determinism, a utilitarian might hold (with Bentham) that a system of legal penalties does more good (by doing less unnecessary harm) if it makes exceptions for actions where incentives against them can’t be effective, e.g. actions done in unavoidable ignorance, pure accident, insanity, that sort of thing.

        a1. An egoist (I’ll say “egoist” instead of “Yangist” because I don’t claim to know what Yangists think) could have an analogous view about which actions of hers are worth beating herself up over (regarding as errors, remembering in order to correct their roots).

        b. And within this Western debate, consistently with determinism, someone might hold that to say that an action is “Smith’s fault” is to say that it expressed (arises from and evidences) some bad quality of Smith’s character. Actions she did from unavoidable ignorance or pure accident or strong coercion don’t do that. (Insanity (temporary or permanent) is trickier.) Smith’s own vices would thus be her own fault automatically, or trivially. Of course this move presupposes some conception of what character traits are good or bad.

        b1.An egoist could have an analogous view about her own actions: Smith can regard an action of hers as her own “fault” insofar as it expresses a trait in her that is worth having from the point of view of her own interest.

        Note that (a) and (b) are ways of distinguishing responsible acts of agents from OTHER determined actions.

        2.
        The Yangist question: “Since we already know that certain things are predetermined (命MING) (such as our mortality and pleasure centers), how much should we even care whether we get ‘held responsible’ for what actions we perform (be they applauded or despised)?” lies largely assumed.

        I think maybe you mean the Yangist rhetorical question, i.e. a question meant to endorse an argument from a premise about 命to a conclusion about how much we should care. I’m unsure about three things:

        a. What is the premise?
        b. What is the conclusion?
        c. How is the premise supposed to support the conclusion?

        a. My guess is that you mean Yangism thinks all things are determined. But what you say here sort of suggests otherwise, so I’m not sure.

        b. My guess is that the conclusion you have in mind is that we should not care at all, but you don’t actually say, and I’m not sure.

        c. If my guesses about premise and conclusion are right, then the premise seems to me to offer no prima facie support for the conclusion. If my actions tomorrow are predetermined, then the fact that a later event E is predetermined doesn’t tell me whether E depends on what I might do tomorrow, right? For example, a Yangist who thinks her pleasure center is predetermined probably still thinks she has reason to avoid eating nettles? Yangists do think they have some reasons for doing some things as opposed to other things, yes?

        3.
        all [penal law] really has to do is satisfy the collective interests of the masses to stay alive, even if it kills “innocents” (whose “innocence” is simply set by another standard for justice that can only prop itself on the sentiments of another population).

        a. I wonder whether in applying the death penalty the masses would be interested in (1a) above.

        b. Here it seems you’re acknowledging some place in Yangist discourse for imperatives based on the general interest, or something like that. (But limited to life/death rather than pleasure/pain?) I’m hoping you’ll elaborate on that.

        Meanwhile I’ll speculate (on the basis of egoism, since I associate Yangism with egoism). Maybe it’s like this: a penal system can be very helpful to me, so I have reason to want there to be one (though not just any old penal system). Everyone else is in pretty much the same boat. To have one we have to agree on the basics, and there are basic lines of a penal system that we’d all prefer (over none, and over alternative basics). So that’s what a Yangist will in general want to support, as being the best prospect for serving her own interests. For valuable reasons of economy (simplicity of thinking), then, a Yangist will think about desirable and undesirable aspects of a penal system in terms of what is in most people’s interest. Is that it?

        c. I would think that the masses would be interested in having their life/death (and pleasure/pain) be more rather than less under their control. A penal code that can punish them for what they do from unavoidable ignorance or accident puts such consequences less under their control.

        4.
        Yangzi puts it even better: “可殺可活,制命在外。

        Alas, I don’t understand!

        • [i]From what you say it sounds like Yangism’s 命 is pretty much equivalent to a term familiar in the West (determinism), and what’s different in your view is that Yangists make better arguments using it, or argue on better premises.[/i]

          Thanks for taking all of the time to engage it. Yangism doesn’t really have a metaphysical stake of that sort, and I think it is the most crucial thing to extract for clearer understanding of the Yangist position.

          [i](c) It seems to me that the Western discussion is not about whether Smith is likely in fact to be held responsible.[/i]

          A Yangist response to that question would be that it’s trivially possible. All that is required is a normative scale and a means to measure some aspect or another of an action on that scale.

          [i](a) Which of the things Smith does are genuinely her
          fault? [/i]

          This is what I see as the classic (I think Western) problem of free will that Yangism sidesteps by concluding that there’s no such thing as a “genuine” determination and that all we get are rivaling ethical precepts demanding their voices to be heard over others’.

          [i](b) Which of the things Smith does should/shouldn’t she be held responsible for?[/i]

          Yangzi’s whole argument is that it’s a meaningless exercise. A governing body will enforce whatever it pleases (as long as it is not overtly suicidal to its own infrastructure), accuse and convict whoever is it sees as a muckraker to its own stability, and face little opposition because it “preaches to the converted,” more or less. This applies at the individual and governmental levels. Yangism holds no hope for the enlightened society to come by means of any legislation or divine rule, and so Yangism is better reflected in people who are law breakers, not lawmakers.

          [i]a. Within the terms of this Western debate, consistently with determinism, a utilitarian might hold (with Bentham) that a system of legal penalties does more good (by doing less unnecessary harm) if it makes exceptions for actions where incentives against them can’t be effective, e.g. actions done in unavoidable ignorance, pure accident, insanity, that sort of thing.[/i]

          I’m still a bit lost in the “incentive against” something (I was thinking something like negative reinforcement, but I’m not sure if that’s right.) I think this is a fine reconciliation for the problem of free will in terms of legislation, but only if that reasoner believes that such a reconciliation works (since it seems to shift the problem to levels of “evitability,” “accident,” “unconsciousness,” “deviation from sanity,” etc., which is the subject of most legal battles on this matter). Per my hiccup example, the question could always follow, “How autonomic was the response? Was the person aware that he would have a hiccup reaction to spicy food and did he decide to eat it anyway?”

          [i]a1. An egoist (I’ll say “egoist” instead of “Yangist” because I don’t claim to know what Yangists think) could have an analogous view about which actions of hers are worth beating herself up over (regarding as errors, remembering in order to correct their roots).[/i]

          It’s broad for my tastes (Nietzsche, Stirner, Hobbes, Machiavelli, de Sade, Wilmot, and Helvétius are “egoists” in very different senses.), but not wrong, either. My first reaction as a Yangist is that “beating oneself up over” any prior error misses something crucial to the Yangist attitude that guilt over one’s past or dreams of glory for the future are both a waste of time. A Yangist would be fine with learning from the past, but not harping over it.

          Let me repost the main Yangist question: “Since we already know that certain things are predetermined (such as our mortality and pleasure centers), how much should we even care whether we get ‘held responsible’ for what actions we perform (be they applauded or despised)?”

          [i]a. (PREMISES) My guess is that you mean Yangism thinks all things are determined. But what you say here sort of suggests otherwise, so I’m not sure.[/i]

          Here’s the time for the most important unpacking. Yangism does not have a stake in the argument over the determinism-compatibilism-indeterminism dispute. For Yangzi, we could take facts and categorize them in two ways: those facts in life that are determined and those that are totally open questions with respect to determinism.

          Determined Life Facts: life, death, the singularity of one’s life, sentience of pleasure and pain (excepting anhedonia, CIPA, etc.)

          Open Questions: human decision, “moral compass”

          Yangzi’s premises are rather brief from here. We get these universals: We’re born into the world. We’re going to die. We only get one life each. We’ll spend more time enduring pain and dealing with “hygiene factors” (to borrow from Herzberg) than we will ever spend enjoying the basic pleasures of life (food, sex, fun, and sport). Most of us will be forgotten, and even if we’re remembered, the “memory” will be a distorted (idealized or vilified) version of who we really were.

          These premises are usually supported by brute pessimism, biological descriptions, or by historical analogies in which the “sages” lived in misery and made others miserable, while the “villains” lived in ease…and made others miserable.

          With these rather fatalistic premises, Yangzi is able to run an inference of the following sort (which I didn’t put in FOPL this time):

          1.)Each person has two options – to pursue his own instinctive and base pleasures, or to pursue something seen as nobler. (Premise)

          2.)If he pursues the “nobler,” maybe he’ll get a good legacy. (Premise)

          3.)If he cannot “cash in” on an act when it is of use to him, it is not worth pursuing it. (Premise)

          4.)If the legacy costs him his life, then he cannot cash in on it, so it is not worth pursuing. (Conditional Proof from 2,3,First Clause of 4)

          5.)If the legacy consumes too much time, it’s useless because he won’t be able to “cash in” on it when it would be of significance to him (e.g. To an impotent man, a harem is just a lounge.) (Conditional Proof from 2,3,First Clause of 5)

          6.)If he pursues what he sees as nobler, he risks hastening his death. (Premise)

          7.)If he pursues his base pleasures, he risks hastening his death. (Premise)

          8.)Death is inevitable, so he only risks against the inevitable if he chooses either path. (Abovementioned Universal and Constructive Dilemma on 1,5,6)

          9.)He only gets one life, so it is better spent (by hedonics) pursuing those base pleasures and instinctive wants. (Conditional Proofing on 1~8, but with supplement)

          [i]b. (CONCLUSION) My guess is that the conclusion you have in mind is that we should not care at all, but you don’t actually say, and I’m not sure.[/i]

          This is close. Yangzi’s chime is more that we should care very little, since what follows (hopefully a bit more clearly) from above is that we should only concern ourselves with the opinions of others when there is a significant risk posed against satisfying our base pleasures AND if we care to continue to live our lives. Yangzi has a whole series of comments in which he is certain that artificial extension of life is a curse in disguise, and I think that he’s perhaps the only relevant Chinese thinker to the euthanasia debate.

          [i]A Yangist who thinks her pleasure center is predetermined probably still thinks she has reason to avoid eating nettles?[/i]

          I couldn’t exactly follow the argument about event E. However, I do know Yangzi’s answer to this question. Yangzi states that we shouldn’t force ourselves either way. Just because we know that death is inevitable, that doesn’t mean that we should just be reckless and self-destructive. That’s just as far from our nature 性 as it is to hold onto life for its own sake or to scramble for praise.

          [i]b. Here it seems you’re acknowledging some place in Yangist discourse for imperatives based on the general interest, or something like that. (But limited to life/death rather than pleasure/pain?) I’m hoping you’ll elaborate on that.[/i]

          Yangists really only discuss the efficacy of a certain strategy. It’s good egoistic strategy, for instance, to assume common basic wants of a population, and then to act in those interests, since they increase the likelihood of positive reciprocation. This is why I think Yangists are so intent on understanding the 性 of humanity more clearly. They’ve observed that people are hedonistic at heart, so a good strategy that likewise appeals to those wants makes communal living easier and makes those base pleasures easier to obtain.

          If phrased as an imperative, the Yangist maxim is this: “Live in zest until living loses its zest, and then let it go.” If a thief can live in immense zest by deceit and plunder, then die a quick death as a tyrant, that is as good a life as living to seventy in zest as a modest farmer who has a lot of good meals, is pleasured well by his wife, and feels great tranquility as he watches the wind blow.

          I’m sure I left you with even more questions since I’ve only covered some of the holes that my previous comment left.

        • Bill Haines says:

          Hi Joshua,

          (Sorry, today I’m using a machine that won’t allow Chinese characters.)

          I see that I had completely mistaken your meaning. Thanks for taking the trouble to set me straight! And I really appreciate the lessons on Yangism.

          I’m not quite sure what you’re saying Ming means to Yangists (at least in contexts like this). “Unavoidable”?

          B>> It seems to me that the Western discussion is not about whether Smith is likely in fact to be held responsible.
          J> A Yangist response to that question would be that it’s trivially possible. All that is required is a normative scale and a means to measure some aspect or another of an action on that scale.

          I’m guessing that the wrong quote from me slipped in here, and what you’re really addressing is the question, “Is anything really Smith’s fault (according to Y)?” I think your answer is meant to suggest that Yangists grant the theoretical possibility that there’s a normative scale, though they see no evidence that in fact there is one. I agree that moral responsibility requires at minimum a two-place scale.

          J> [“Which of the things Smith does are genuinely her fault?”] is what I see as the classic (I think Western) problem of free will that Yangism sidesteps by concluding that there’s no such thing as a “genuine” determination and that all we get are rivaling ethical precepts demanding their voices to be heard over others’.

          From “Yangism” forward I’m not sure I understand that. I’ll try to explain.

          I would distinguish between the Western debate about responsibility, which I was describing with “(a)” and “(b)”, and the Western debate about free will, though they are closely connected for many thinkers. The question about Smith doesn’t mention free will or determinism or determination.

          I think the classic Western problem of free will is the following dilemma:

          A) It seems that we have free will (because of one or more of the following)
          (i) it just seems that way
          (ii) we have reasons for doing one thing rather than another
          (iii) we are sometimes at fault
          B) It seems that proposition (A) conflicts with some other basic truth, such as
          (i) determinism
          (ii) the view that our decisions are not determined, or
          (iii) the theory that God knows the future.

          You say Y sidesteps the problem about free will or the question about fault by concluding X (There’s no “genuine” determination; there’s only REP). I worried for a long time about how to interpret that X, and late in the game thought of an interpretation that I now think is most likely to be what you mean: By “determination” here you don’t mean to allude to the word Ming at all; by “determination” here you just mean something like “answer to the question.” Is that it?

          B>> a utilitarian might hold (with Bentham) that a system of legal penalties does more good (by doing less unnecessary harm) if it makes exceptions for actions where incentives against them can’t be effective, e.g. …
          J> I’m still a bit lost in the “incentive against” something (I was thinking something like negative reinforcement, but I’m not sure if that’s right.)

          I think Bentham is thinking of legal penalties as effective threats, not as tools of conditioning. The general point I had wanted to make is that there are perfectly intelligible kinds of responsibility, and reasons to distinguish between actions that aren’t/are from ignorance/accident/etc, that are not even in prima facie conflict with even full causal determinism. The general idea applies to any kind of incentive-giving, I think, not just legal penalties, and has potential application to e.g. morality. But now I know that you weren’t talking about determinism at all.

          J> Per my hiccup example, the question could always follow, “How autonomic was the response? Was the person aware that he would have a hiccup reaction to spicy food and did he decide to eat it anyway?”

          I agree.

          B>> An egoist … could have an analogous view about which actions of hers are worth beating herself up over (regarding as errors, remembering in order to correct their roots).
          J> My first reaction as a Yangist is that “beating oneself up over” any prior error misses something crucial to the Yangist attitude that guilt over one’s past or dreams of glory for the future are both a waste of time. A Yangist would be fine with learning from the past, but not harping over it.

          Point taken, thanks. But I think a core of my point remains. There are different kinds of useful thing one can learn from the past. One kind of thing is “Oh! Actions of type A do not (or do) in fact produce results of type R (e.g., this lever brings a shock rather than a food pellet)!” Another is “Oh! I’m like that!” To learn about one’s character or psychology from one’s having done external action A, it matters whether one did A from ignorance or not, from accident or not, etc.; and those two points matter in similar ways. More specifically: If you hit me in the face, that’s a straightforward sort of prima facie evidence that you decided to hit me in the face, which is in turn evidence about your values or habits; but if you hit me from stretching (I had snuck up behind you) or from slipping on a banana peel, the action is no such evidence after all. And of course one can draw much subtler analogous distinctions.

          Hm. One of the things I might find out about myself is that when I choose and undertake a project that would benefit me, I can get distracted along the way either because certain kinds of step in the project are unpleasant to me, or because certain other goodies tend to attract me away from any long-term project, or because I inveterately forget things, or whatever – in short, kinds of problem that might be usefully addressed by conditioning, e.g. negative conditioning, which might be accomplished in part by beating myself up over certain mistakes & or even harping on the past a bit? Sometimes people even institute rules of punishment for themselves (e.g. a quarter in the jar for each naughty word), which if they’re effective might be useful to feeble egoists.

          J> Yangzi’s premises are rather brief from here. We get these universals: [a] We’re born into the world. We’re going to die. We only get one life each. [b] We’ll spend more time enduring pain and dealing with “hygiene factors” (to borrow from Herzberg) than we will ever spend enjoying the basic pleasures of life (food, sex, fun, and sport). [c] Most of us will be forgotten, and even if we’re remembered, the “memory” will be a distorted (idealized or vilified) version of who we really were.

          I’ve inserted letters. Now I’m thinking [a] is all you mean by saying that for Y, life and death and singularity of life are “determined.” (Originally I had thought you had meant that e.g. when we die is fixed in advance!)

          [a] and [c] are uncontroversial among secular thinkers. [b] is a little trickier for me to understand. Beyond the narrowest literal reading of it, I’m not sure how many of the following further points you mean to suggest:

          [b1]. Dealing with “hygeine factors” is painful on balance, so that our time of pain is greater than our time of pleasure.
          [b2]. (Even if dealing with “hygeine factors” needn’t be painful on balance, still) our time of pain is greater than our time of pleasure.
          [b3]. Our aggregate pain outweighs our aggregate pleasure (time multiplied by intensity).
          [b4]. [b] is inevitably universal, not just currently universal. Technology and social arrangements can’t change it for anybody ever (give or take the occasional lifelong run of luck).

          [b3] suggests that as between two possible times of death, the later is normally worse for the person. In fact the whole tenor of [b] seems to be to suggest that life is on balance bad in terms of pleasure/pain, which would suggest in turn that dying sooner is normally better. (By dying sooner one doesn’t live any fewer lives.)

          J> 1.)Each person has two options – to pursue his own instinctive and base pleasures, or to pursue something seen as nobler. (Premise)

          The underlying idea would seem to be that these are the only two candidates for what could possibly be worth pursuing; perhaps because for Y, the first is the only thing that is worth pursuing, and this argument is addressing someone who has proposed the second as an alternative. What we don’t have in this argument is any consideration of a third or a twentieth candidate, such as sheer length of life, etc. etc. That absence leads me to speculate that the real premise is something like this: “Pleasure is the only thing worth pursuing, and of course any pleasure that isn’t base is noble.” That interpretive speculation would seem to explain Y’s assumption that there are only two candidates. But that interpretive speculation can’t be right, since the rest of the argument makes clear that “noble” here isn’t referring to the quality of pleasures at all.

          J> 2.)If he pursues the “nobler,” maybe he’ll get a good legacy. (Premise)

          That’s plainly true, but only because it’s phrased in a way that doesn’t make the argument work. I think that to make the argument work, this has to be, “If he pursues the ‘nobler,’ the main possible benefit is a good legacy.” And then it’s not so plainly true.

          J> 3.)If he cannot “cash in” on an act when it is of use to him, it is not worth pursuing it. (Premise)

          Whether something is worth pursuing depends on probabilities in advance, not on actual outcomes, right?

          J> 4.)If the legacy costs him his life, then he cannot cash in on it, so it is not worth pursuing. (Conditional Proof from 2,3,First Clause of 4)

          Tiny quibble: sometimes one can cash in on something fatal, before one dies. Nathan Hale had his moment of self-congratulation, etc. Mill seems to rely on this kind of point.

          J> 5.)If the legacy consumes too much time, it’s useless because he won’t be able to “cash in” on it when it would be of significance to him (e.g. To an impotent man, a harem is just a lounge.) (Conditional Proof from 2,3,First Clause of 5)

          (By “the legacy” I think you mean “the ‘noble’ thing.”)

          J>
          6.)If he pursues what he sees as nobler, he risks hastening his death. (Premise)
          7.)If he pursues his base pleasures, he risks hastening his death. (Premise)
          8.)Death is inevitable, so he only risks against the inevitable if he chooses either path. (Abovementioned Universal and Constructive Dilemma on 1,5,6)

          In other words, the inevitability of death is premise 7a, and the rest of 8 is inferred from 6, 7, and 7a.

          And I think that’s an invalid inference. The “only” in 8 says that nothing else is at stake, which is a point the premises don’t support or even address. And that wholly unsupported part of 8 is the only aspect of 8 that is used by the rest of the argument.

          Separately: the argument hinges on a big fallacy of ambiguity here, yes? 6 and 7 don’t talk about risking becoming mortal (risking death as opposed to never dying). They talk about risking a change in the time of one’s death. And 7a doesn’t say that the time of one’s death is inevitable or beyond one’s influence. It only says that the fact that one is moral, the fact that one will eventually die, is inevitable.

          It’s hard to see how the argument can be fixed by deciding on a single interpretation of the “death” that is both risked and inevitable. For to risk something is to increase its probability (especially from zero), but that can’t be done to the inevitable.

          Separately: is there an underlying assumption that as among different options of “risking dying sooner” there is no difference worth taking into account between different sizes of the risk, nor between different degrees of soonerness?

          J> 9.)He only gets one life, so it is better spent (by hedonics) pursuing those base pleasures and instinctive wants.

          The argument doesn’t support 9 except on the assumption that pursuit of base pleasures and pursuit of the risky “noble” really are the only two candidates for worthwhile pursuits. I’m not sure what would motivate that assumption.

          Another problem I have with the overall argument is that I’m not sure which of two broad sorts of argument it is (or is closest to). The matter could be regarded as hinging on how we interpret the word ‘worthwhile’ in 3.

          1. On one reading, the concept of “worth doing” intended in 3 just is the concept “best serving the agent’s own interest.” Thus, since an altruist is perfectly capable of beliefs and arguments about what is in an individual’s interest, one can believe in altruism and accept 3 at the same time with no inconsistency, or at least no obvious inconsistency. On this reading, the whole argument is not trying to defend egoism as opposed to non-egoism. It’s just comparing strategies for serving one’s interest, without trying to establish that in deciding on projects one should aim ultimately only at one’s own interest.

          2. On another reading, the concept “worth doing” in 3 is the concept “good; genuinely valuable; ought to be done” simpliciter. And then anyone who thinks one ought to sacrifice one’s own interest when doing do benefits others far more could not at the same time accept 3. On this reading, the whole argument is defending (hedonistic) egoism against all comers; it’s trying to establish that (hedonistic) egoism is right, as opposed to all other views on how a person should life.

          (I guess a third possibility is that the argument is playing on that ambiguity in “worth”.)

          If description 2 is closer to what you have in mind, then I’ll have more objections to the argument; but I’ll wait.

          J> Yangzi’s chime is more that we should care very little [about whether others hold us responsible for things], since … we should only concern ourselves with the opinions of others when there is a significant risk posed against satisfying our base pleasures AND if we care to continue to live our lives.

          I’m wondering now whether by “be held responsible” you mean “be held (believed) to be responsible.” I think the usual meaning of “be held responsible” is “be subjected to penalty (or something like a penalty) on grounds of being responsible” (while the main secondary meaning is “be penalized if you fail,” as in “you will be held responsible for the safety of the children in your charge”). Thus being “held responsible” usually involves loss of options in the social or employment spheres, or fines, whipping, or imprisonment. That is, being held responsible tends to have an effect on one’s simple pleasures. And I think that on your view Y is in favor of taking such things into account, because you say “It’s good egoistic strategy, for instance, to assume common basic wants of a population, and then to act in those interests, since they increase the likelihood of positive reciprocation.”

          I’m wondering about the last part, “AND if we care to continue to live our lives.” Does Yangism hold that (1) living for another hour can have some value in addition to any increment of net pleasure it may bring, and (2) the hour of life has this further value only if the bearer cares about it?

          J> I couldn’t exactly follow the argument about event E.

          Doesn’t matter; it was based on my mistake of thinking you were talking about determinism, and my consequent mistake of thinking that you were assuming that there’s a conflict between the idea that everything that happens was fully causally determined aeons before, and the idea that we ought to take into account consequences in deciding what to do. I was arguing against that assumption, which you weren’t making.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Joshua, my first remark after quoting your 9 (my “The argument doesn’t support …”) misread 9’s “better” as “best.” Sorry.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Joshua, regarding the 9-step argument:

            I think your 1 isn’t necessary for 8, because 8 says “if.” And I’m reading “5,6” in your annotation to 8 as “6,7”.

            I think I was wrong to say that “the legacy” in 5 meant “the noble thing.”

            I think my first criticism of the argument for 8, about “only,” was partly wrong. 4 and 5 together lend some support to the “only,” though they’re not officially used in the argument.

          • If Warp, Weft, and Way ever needed an Internet forum (wink, wink)…

            B>> I’m not quite sure what you’re saying Ming means to Yangists (at least in contexts like this). “Unavoidable”?

            While 命 does have somewhat clearer meanings in 儒家, 墨家, and their relevant rivals (including 楊家), which place 命 in the context of “mandates” (this is also true of 『可殺可活。制命在外。』, though I’m prone to read more from it than what is likely there) Yangzi is definitely not using 命 in that sense in most of the crux arguments of his surviving work. “Inevitability” would be okay, but it carries a lot of Western metaphysical baggage that isn’t there (e.g. disputes over determinism).

            B> I’m guessing that the wrong quote from me slipped in here, and what you’re really addressing is the question, “Is anything really Smith’s fault (according to Y)?” I think your answer is meant to suggest that Yangists grant the theoretical possibility that there’s a normative scale, though they see no evidence that in fact there is one. I agree that moral responsibility requires at minimum a two-place scale.

            It’s a bit more extreme than that. Yangists are psychological egoists in practice, but they are moral skeptics in theory. My personal belief is that Yangism really got a hold of what “applied ethics” is. Yangism’s take has been sharp on moral realists, that any venture to “find,” “know,” or “teach” “virtue” is a total squander. Yangzi aims to dig into what actually motivates people to act (their 性), and whether, given our impending deaths and the singularity of life, if it’s worth anything. Yangzi’s conclusion is the grimmest of the bunch. To the living, the only things that are worth anything are those that further or promote base pleasures and do not cause harm to them (do not negatively affect their 性).

            I don’t know how the argument would work formally, but I do know a workable analogy for what Yangzi is going to decimate by his criticism. Let’s consider a dog. We can command a dog to perform a task, and we can pat it on the head, and for some dogs, that’s reward enough. We can precisely train a dog to be solely and clearly seeking of just the head pat reward. Now, let’s explore some alternatives. Let’s imagine that we were able and willing to train the dog and offer better rewards. We could give the dog a treat, something that the dog likes, and something which is actually more valuable than a head pat for him because it nourishes him and gives him the joy of the taste (assuming he’s inclined to the flavor of the treat [though this is already assumed in calling it a “treat” and regarding it as a “reward” for his performance]). We could give even more preferable rewards (appealing mates, toys, a good game of fetch) if we so chose. Now, supposing that the owner granted the dog a choice of all of these things, which ones would the dog choose? My educated guess (from some dog training experience) is that they would go for the bigger pot depending on what they needed or wanted at that time, and that they would even opt for it if it wasn’t offered as a reward, but knew that it was somehow accessible.

            Now, instead of a dog, let’s talk about a Confucian. What reward choices does a Confucian get for obeying rituals, honoring ancestors, playing a pre-assigned role within the family and community, and imposing their ethos on leaders? It’s clear what the Yangist would say: “It’s just a head pat.” and in the scheme of life, Yangists would mock gravestones of the sort: “Here lies Checkers (or 孟子). He was a good boy.”

            J>> [“Which of the things Smith does are genuinely her fault?”] is what I see as the classic (I think Western) problem of free will that Yangism sidesteps by concluding that there’s no such thing as a “genuine” determination and that all we get are rivaling ethical precepts demanding their voices to be heard over others’.
            B> I would distinguish between the Western debate about responsibility, which I was describing with “(a)” and “(b)”, and the Western debate about free will, though they are closely connected for many thinkers. The question about Smith doesn’t mention free will or determinism or determination.

            I personally understand the problem of free will in terms of the following contradiction:

            1.)“Causal laws explain all events in the universe.”
            2.)“Judicial and moral laws are just only if an accused agent acted in accordance with an undetermined thought.”
            3.)“There are just laws.”

            …the contradiction being that if human thoughts turn out to be governed by certain laws of physics, we can’t justly accuse anyone being subject to those causal forces (just as we can’t prosecute trees for falling on people or property), and yet we accuse people, and supposedly justly (for at least some instances).

            Now, there are lots of attempts at solution for this argument. My reading on the Western side tells me that they take the following strategy: Assume the truth 3.) and reconcile 1.) and 2.) (like Hume, who denies 2.)’s coherence.) The Yangist one is this: Deny the truth of 3.), deny the coherence of 3.), and don’t even question 1.) or 2.). For Yangzi, it’s no longer a problem about “free will,” but a problem about “justness.”

            B>> You say Y sidesteps the problem about free will or the question about fault by concluding X (There’s no “genuine” determination; there’s only REP). I worried for a long time about how to interpret that X, and late in the game thought of an interpretation that I now think is most likely to be what you mean: By “determination” here you don’t mean to allude to the word Ming at all; by “determination” here you just mean something like “answer to the question.” Is that it?

            This is right. Yangzi claims that certain determined truths (those “universals of life” that I had mentioned and human nature) are enough to refute 3.).

            J>> I’m still a bit lost in the “incentive against” something (I was thinking something like negative reinforcement, but I’m not sure if that’s right.)
            B> I think Bentham is thinking of legal penalties as effective threats, not as tools of conditioning. The general point I had wanted to make is that there are perfectly intelligible kinds of responsibility, and reasons to distinguish between actions that aren’t/are from ignorance/accident/etc, that are not even in prima facie conflict with even full causal determinism. The general idea applies to any kind of incentive-giving, I think, not just legal penalties, and has potential application to e.g. morality. But now I know that you weren’t talking about determinism at all.

            I don’t mean to be so confusing on the topic. I think of the “free will problem” as an approach that some philosophers have when they try to solve this strange antinomy between a sense of fairness and understanding of causality. Yangzi isn’t invested in that line of arguing that tries to resolve “free will,” or at least it’s not at all evident that he is. In this light, Yangzi would question who got to pick the incentives and the basis on which they were chosen before he even thought to consider the idea’s consistency with determinism.

            The comment I previously gave is not from Yangism, just my reaction to my missing how Bentham expects to reconcile the free will problem by just reinterpreting laws in a determinist light.

            B> Point taken [about not beating oneself up], thanks. But I think a core of my point remains. There are different kinds of useful thing one can learn from the past. One kind of thing is “Oh! Actions of type A do not (or do) in fact produce results of type R (e.g., this lever brings a shock rather than a food pellet)!” Another is “Oh! I’m like that!” To learn about one’s character or psychology from one’s having done external action A, it matters whether one did A form ignorance or not, from accident or not, etc.; and those two points matter in similar ways.

            Sorry for missing the point there. It’s sensible to me, but I’m not sure how Yangzi would take it. Yangist material isn’t nearly as outspoken regarding how we’re supposed to understand our nature more clearly outside of introspection and examining the ends of others. Yangzi isn’t too occupied with questions of intentionality, either. A lot of the assumptions in Yangzi and Mengzi are that 性 is imbued in the first from 天, but can be warped through social conditioning. In the eighth chapter of the Zhuangzi (purportedly Yangist), we read it as, “A small deception alters the sense of purpose. A big deception alters the very nature of a thing” (Palmer). I think that, like all psychological egoists, the Yangist puts the presumption on individuals’ common psychology and then uses it to explain the success or failure of acts or policies. I think that both Mengzi and Yangzi have to take a tiered position of 性 in order to disambiguate their claims, sort of in the way that we talk about nature vs. nurture. For them, the “nature changes,” but the dispute between them is, “From what to what does it change (in terms of altruism and selfishness)?” The Yangist, above all, doesn’t want to corrupt his 性, which is argued to be 為我 (self-serving), but in two complementary respects.

            In one sense, 性 is self-serving in that it just seeks out hedonistic pleasures. In the other sense, 性 is self-serving in that it cares about extending itself for some stretch of time. The latter has no point outside of the former, and the former cannot exist without the latter.

            B> Hm. One of the things I might find out about myself is that when I choose and undertake a project that would benefit me, I can get distracted along the way either because certain kinds of step in the project are unpleasant to me, or because certain other goodies tend to attract me away from any long-term project, or because I inveterately forget things, or whatever – in short, kinds of problem that might be usefully addressed by conditioning, e.g. negative conditioning, which might be accomplished in part by beating myself up over certain mistakes & or even harping on the past a bit? Sometimes people even institute rules of punishment for themselves (e.g. a quarter in the jar for each naughty word), which if they’re effective might be useful to feeble egoists.

            Yangist literature stresses training oneself against overindulgence and pursuit of wants external to one’s nature (in a respect that is more sympathetic to Daoist ideas of naturalness (自然), only sucked inward), but I don’t think that a negative conditioning strategy fits their attitude.

            J>> Yangzi’s premises are rather brief from here. We get these universals: [a] We’re born into the world. We’re going to die. We only get one life each. [b] We’ll spend more time enduring pain and dealing with “hygiene factors” (to borrow from Herzberg) than we will ever spend enjoying the basic pleasures of life (food, sex, fun, and sport). [c] Most of us will be forgotten, and even if we’re remembered, the “memory” will be a distorted (idealized or vilified) version of who we really were.
            B> I’ve inserted letters. Now I’m thinking [a] is all you mean by saying that for Y, life and death and singularity of life are “determined.” (Originally I had thought you had meant that e.g. when we die is fixed in advance!)

            It seems that they are just results of causal laws. We’re at a loss over how and when these things will happen.

            B> [b1]. Dealing with “hygeine factors” is painful on balance, so that our time of pain is greater than our time of pleasure.
            [b2]. (Even if dealing with “hygeine factors” needn’t be painful on balance, still) our time of pain is greater than our time of pleasure.
            [b3]. Our aggregate pain outweighs our aggregate pleasure (time multiplied by intensity).
            [b4]. [b] is inevitably universal, not just currently universal. Technology and social arrangements can’t change it for anybody ever (give or take the occasional lifelong run of luck).

            Yangzi argues [b2] and [b3]. I think that it’s incumbent on me as a Yangist to address [b4]. I don’t know what Yangzi would say if he saw all of the immense convenience and pleasure outlets of this century. My nature makes it impossible for me to interact with frequent complainers, but I haven’t explored it much past that.

            B> [b3] suggests that as between two possible times of death, the later is normally worse for the person. In fact the whole tenor of [b] seems to be to suggest that life is on balance bad in terms of pleasure/pain, which would suggest in turn that dying sooner is normally better. (By dying sooner one doesn’t live any fewer lives.)

            Yangzi is pessimistic.

            J>> 1.)Each person has two options – to pursue his own instinctive and base pleasures, or to pursue something seen as nobler. (Premise)
            B> The underlying idea would seem to be that these are the only two candidates for what could possibly be worth pursuing; perhaps because for Y, the first is the only thing that is worth pursuing, and this argument is addressing someone who has proposed the second as an alternative. What we don’t have in this argument is any consideration of a third or a twentieth candidate, such as sheer length of life, etc. etc. That absence leads me to speculate that the real premise is something like this: “Pleasure is the only thing worth pursuing, and of course any pleasure that isn’t base is noble.” That interpretive speculation would seem to explain Y’s assumption that there are only two candidates. But that interpretive speculation can’t be right, since the rest of the argument makes clear that “noble” here isn’t referring to the quality of pleasures at all.

            I’ve made a mistake here. Nobility and base pleasures are not opposites on a scale. We often can manipulate the former for the latter. Instinctive (or intrinsic) and engineered (or extrinsic) ends are opposites, and the things perceived as “nobler” are engineered, but those engineered things are not always nobler (e.g. greed for money, which Yangzi thinks is loopy, also). There need to be two types of engineered ends, ones that are seen as nobler, and others that are seen as tyrannical. The difference is in the type of legacy one gets, so that means that there is a 2b.) “If he pursues the tyrannical, maybe he’ll get a bad legacy.” That would better cover 8.) by showing that the ONLY options he gets are either intrinsic/instinctive or extrinsic/engineered because the same risks apply to both (though I concede that there could be statistical variants on this in terms of impending death, which the argument ignores).

            J>> 2.)If he pursues the “nobler,” maybe he’ll get a good legacy. (Premise)
            B> That’s plainly true, but only because it’s phrased in a way that doesn’t make the argument work. I think that to make the argument work, this has to be, “If he pursues the ‘nobler,’ the main possible benefit is a good legacy.” And then it’s not so plainly true.

            I don’t think it’s so plainly true. There could be people who pursue what they believe to be nobler or other extrinsic ends, but still end up with nothing to show for it. That’s true for a good chunk of the philosophers in history.

            J>> 3.)If he cannot “cash in” on an act when it is of use to him, it is not worth pursuing it. (Premise)
            B> Whether something is worth pursuing depends on probabilities in advance, not on actual outcomes, right?
            That’s right.

            I think it’s right to question 3.) in this argument, since it is (as you say) not apparent prima facie what Yangzi is going to say is “worth pursuing” without taking all of the auxiliary premises about 性 being self-serving and of the things that count as intrinsic or extrinsic ends. (In psychology I think this comes to talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, too.)

            J>> 4.)If the legacy costs him his life, then he cannot cash in on it, so it is not worth pursuing. (Conditional Proof from 2,3,First Clause of 4)
            B> Tiny quibble: sometimes one can cash in on something fatal, before one dies. Nathan Hale had his moment of self-congratulation, etc. Mill seems to rely on this kind of point.

            Yangzi would criticize that as a self-deception if the lives they led up until their deaths were truly miserable. “Nothing can escape the reality,” so he says.

            J>> 5.)If the legacy consumes too much time, it’s useless because he won’t be able to “cash in” on it when it would be of significance to him (e.g. To an impotent man, a harem is just a lounge.) (Conditional Proof from 2,3,First Clause of 5)
            B> (By “the legacy” I think you mean “the ‘noble’ thing.”)

            This is right, but it should address further that it’s one of a sort of engineered ends. I think I’m suffering from ambiguity between the legacy and its pursuit here. I knew I should have made this argument more formal!

            J>> 6.)If he pursues what he sees as nobler, he risks hastening his death. (Premise)
            7.)If he pursues his base pleasures, he risks hastening his death. (Premise)
            8.)Death is inevitable, so he only risks against the inevitable if he chooses either path. (Abovementioned Universal and Constructive Dilemma on 1,5,6)
            B> And I think that’s an invalid inference. The “only” in 8 says that nothing else is at stake, which is a point the premises don’t support or even address. And that wholly unsupported part of 8 is the only aspect of 8 that is used by the rest of the argument.

            You’re right. “Only” doesn’t need to be there. Yangzi actually needs it not to say “only” because he still needs to take the contentment of one’s life into consideration, or else the hedonics measure in 9.) doesn’t follow, either. In fact, there needs to be a semi-long argument that goes from 8.) to 9.). It would be the short answer to: “What state of contentment, ease, and pleasure does the pursuer of engineered ends risk compared to the pursuer of intrinsic ends?”

            The inference for 8.) is valid if you take the measures to be something of the sort [(A v ~A) ⊃ B], but it is a false dilemma without fixing the mistake in 1.), since then we have a proper dilemma then, but the “noble” or “tyrannical” being another scale on the engineered/extrinsic side.
            Hygiene factors are variably intrinsic/instinctive or extrinsic/engineered.

            B> Separately: the argument hinges on a big fallacy of ambiguity here, yes? 6 and 7 don’t talk about risking becoming mortal (risking death as opposed to never dying). They talk about risking a change in the time of one’s death. And 7a doesn’t say that the time of one’s death is inevitable or beyond one’s influence. It only says that the fact that one is mortal, the fact that one will eventually die, is inevitable.

            I always figured the view worked in this manner. Based on whatever habits or general way of life we lead, we have a time of death that is determined based on those parameters. It could be accidental, or it could be a gradual decay, but either way it is the result of a lifestyle choice. Most people who have been hit by buses, for instance, were “going somewhere else,” going about some everyday aspect of their lives. Conversely, drunks regularly die of cirrhosis. However, if those habits change, the risk is always there. Someone may decide against walking through a busy street, or someone may choose to stop drinking. We do not know, necessarily, that such behavior will extend life (We feel more certain about life extension in combating alcoholism because, ceteris paribus, we’re not damaging our organ systems.) However, that’s all we risk.

            Infamously, Yangzi doesn’t cast harsh judgment on the indulgent and drunk rulers of his day. They have made their choices and are unafraid of the results (He also claims that success of an empire is a matter of luck, not conscious involvement, but that’s much harder to argue, and I think true on a very charitable interpretation.). The “wisdom” the Yangzi sees could similarly be viewed as escape from the logical mistakes that lead to the issues that I think could be best rendered as “having one’s cake and eating it, too.” Thieves know that they will be hunted; officials know that the one who they serve may kill them. However, all of that value judgment cast on top of it, as far as Yangzi is concerned, is just psychological comfort (the sort that Nietzsche described as ressentiment) given after a life of pursuing these engineered ends as though they mattered in the scheme of individual lives.

            J>> 9.)He only gets one life, so it is better spent (by hedonics) pursuing those base pleasures and instinctive wants.
            B> 1. On one reading, the concept of “worth doing” intended in 3 just is the concept “best serving the agent’s own interest.” Thus, since an altruist is perfectly capable of beliefs and arguments about what is in an individual’s interest, one can believe in altruism and accept 3 at the same time with no inconsistency, or at least no obvious inconsistency. On this reading, the whole argument is not trying to defend egoism as opposed to non-egoism. It’s just comparing strategies for serving one’s interest, without trying to establish that in deciding on projects one should aim ultimately only at one’s own interest.

            Yangism, like egoism, challenges altruism elsewhere, really on the basis of its take on 性, so altruism is perhaps a strategy that egoists can use, but is not intrinsic.

            B> 2. On another reading, the concept “worth doing” in 3 is the concept “genuinely valuable” simpliciter. And then anyone who thinks one ought to sacrifice one’s own interest when doing so benefits others far more could not at the same time accept 3. On this reading, the whole argument is defending (hedonistic) egoism against all comers; it’s trying to establish that (hedonistic) egoism is right, as opposed to all other views on how a person should life.

            Yangzi also believes this because it’s flatly how 性 innately operates. Yangzi can’t really argue that “egoism is right.” He just contends that every other alternative is in one way or another incoherent.

            B> I’m wondering now whether by “be held responsible”.

            It’s just about being judged as a good or bad person, whether someone blames us for some behavior. I’d worry if someone accused me of assaulting his wife and he was looming before me with a weapon, but I wouldn’t worry as much if it was just an angry, accusative e-mail.

            B> I’m wondering about the last part, “AND if we care to continue to live our lives.” Does Yangism hold that (1) living for another hour can have some value in addition to any increment of net pleasure it may bring, and (2) the hour of life has this further value only if the bearer cares about it?

            (1)is a Yangist view if one keeps the modal part (via the risk portion of the above argument) in mind. (2) is definitely the case for Yangism.

            To make yet another analogy, and perhaps to summarize this point, a Yangist treats all lives like individual plays on a scoreless game, and like such a game, life has fun adventures and various pleasures to explore, while at the same time one can grow to hate this game if it’s played too long. What Yangists find ludicrous is any attempt to insert an arbitrary scoring system to the game of life. Fame, fortune, esteem, and even *indulgence* are no greater indicators of the worth of a life than a person’s hair length or number of carrots that she eats. The matter for Yangism is that compelling a nature not to be 為我 is committing self-deception (denying or undermining facts in favor of a foreign, external ethic) and self-mutilation (since it regularly comes with risk to life and well-being). If one really needs a marker to see how “good” her life is doing, she just needs to know her own inborn 性 and compare her life to the fulfillment of it. 命 is critical for this view because Yangzi holds that it wastes what little time we get to try to force ourselves beyond determined limits (our 命, our “inevitabilities”). We could spend ten years in aggregate toil for five more years of aggregate lifespan, but that robs from the time pursuing one’s deeper pleasures. We could become more expert in certain minutia whose only end is…to know, or at least to reach a comfortable level of security in an answer, but knowledge is just storage in brains that will die.

            Sadly (or not, depending on your inclinations), something like academic interest is not an end-in-itself for anyone on the Yangist boat. That of course led me with the puzzle how I could possibly be a Yangist philosopher AND adherent. The short of it is that I have fun doing it, and that’s as far as I could ever push myself to go, since it seems that the question: “Why do you have fun doing it?” doesn’t have an answer that has much to do with me, but with human psychology in general, and so wouldn’t have as much bearing on my personal interests, but on everyone’s 性.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Thank you! I think your explanations are very clear (though I may soon be corrected), and the view is very interesting.

            If I understand you, the overall Yangist view is roughly this:

            1. There are certain things we care about for their own sake, not for the sake of further things they might bring or prevent. Specifically they are (a) pleasure (and the absence of the opposite), and perhaps (b) time alive, and (c) nothing else. We can’t be got to care about anything else for its own sake (or at least, not much and not for long).

            2. Genuine moral rules, if they exist, don’t come with known rewards and punishments, known carrots and sticks.

            Therefore:
            3. Therefore, if one pursues morality at the expense of pleasure (and life), one must be doing so on the basis of avoidable cognitive or intellectual errors. (Perhaps one does not recognize what one’s ultimate concerns are. Or perhaps one has false or unsupported views about the consequences, i.e. about rewards and punishments associated with moral requirements.) In brief: morality is an intellectual blunder – – “climbing a tree to catch a fish,” to borrow a phrase from Mengzi.

            If you certify that’s the Yangist view, then the next thing I’d like to do is to attack the premises and the conclusion. (The inference looks OK to me.)

            * * *

            In one sense, 性 is self-serving in that it just seeks out hedonistic pleasures. In the other sense, 性 is self-serving in that it cares about extending itself for some stretch of time. The latter has no point outside of the former, and the former cannot exist without the latter.

            It’s true that you can’t seek or have pleasure without being alive. But the last sentence seems meant to suggest something more, viz. that the two aims do not push in different directions. But I think they can, especially given other Yangist premises. Consider creatures Smith and Jones, each of them pretty rational about how to serve her own ends. Smith’s one ultimate concern is to maximize her total net pleasure (pleasure minus unpleasure, intensity times duration). Jones’ one ultimate concern is to live as long as possible. In the same situations, Smith and Jones will make very different choices.

            The difference between the two is especially stark in case life is such that our aggregate pain pretty much inevitably outweighs our aggregate pleasure. You said that Yangzi thinks life is indeed like that. (I think the thought was that pain outweighs pleasure pretty much every week.) If Smith is convinced that life is like that, she’ll seek a quick death. Jones won’t.

            Maybe, though, by “seeks out hedonistic pleasures” you don’t mean maximizes aggregate pleasure. Maybe you mean the phrase quite literally, so that someone who “seeks out hedonistic pleasures” is someone who, when faced with a choice between (a) five pleasures that bring no pains, and (b) six pleasures that bring ten pains, would choose (b).

            I always figured the view worked in this manner. …

            I don’t see how to understand all that as an answer to my proposal that the general line of thought is basically relying on an ambiguity as between death and time of death.

          • B> If I understand you, the overall Yangist view is roughly this:
            1. There are certain things we care about for their own sake, not for the sake of further things they might bring or prevent. Specifically they are (a) pleasure (and the absence of the opposite), and perhaps (b) time alive, and (c) nothing else. We can’t be got to care about anything else for its own sake (or at least, not much and not for long).
            2. Genuine moral rules, if they exist, don’t come with known rewards and punishments, known carrots and sticks.
            3. Therefore, if one pursues morality at the expense of pleasure (and life), one must be doing so on the basis of avoidable cognitive or intellectual errors. (Perhaps one does not recognize what one’s ultimate concerns are. Or perhaps one has false or unsupported views about the consequences, i.e. about rewards and punishments associated with moral requirements.) In brief: morality is an intellectual blunder – – “climbing a tree to catch a fish,” to borrow a phrase from Mengzi.

            In the Yangist position, (b) is just a necessary condition for (a), so we care for it insofar as (a) is obtainable within reason.

            This is a fair assessment, yes. I would only quibble over the word “genuine” in 2., since Yangzi would aim at outset to characterize non-self-serving moral rules as ultimately unnatural or misleading. Also, Yangzi is aware that obedience to engineered ends comes with engineered rewards and punishments (as part of an overall system). Many of them, however, do not come with any reward that doesn’t affect (a) or (b) negatively.

            J>> In one sense, 性 is self-serving in that it just seeks out hedonistic pleasures. In the other sense, 性 is self-serving in that it cares about extending itself for some stretch of time. The latter has no point outside of the former, and the former cannot exist without the latter.
            B> It’s true that you can’t seek or have pleasure without being alive. But the last sentence seems meant to suggest something more, viz. that the two aims do not push in different directions. But I think they can, especially given other Yangist premises. Consider creatures Smith and Jones, each of them pretty rational about how to serve her own ends. Smith’s one ultimate concern is to maximize her total net pleasure (pleasure minus unpleasure, intensity times duration). Jones’ one ultimate concern is to live as long as possible. In the same situations, Smith and Jones will make very different choices.

            Smith would probably be more of a Yangist egoist, since I wager that he’s taking the quality of that extended life into account. I don’t know if there is such a thing as “negative egoism” (like there is for utilitarianism), but Yangist work does write a lot about that. The difficulty with Jones is that living for the prolongation of one’s own life would be like saving money just to save money unless Jones’ motives for longevity were explained better.

            I think Bill Maher has a good quip on comparison that you raise (and that’s in line with Yangist belief): “And please stop assuming that longevity and perfect health are always the correct option. No! Sometimes, fun costs you. It just does. And that’s okay. You’re willing to make that purchase. Sammy Davis Jr. was 64 when he died. Give me 64 Sammy years. I’ll be happy. I’d rather have that than 150 Ken Starr years, I’ll tell you that.”

            B> The difference between the two is especially stark in case life is such that our aggregate pain pretty much inevitably outweighs our aggregate pleasure. You said that Yangzi thinks life is indeed like that. (I think the thought was that pain outweighs pleasure pretty much every week.) If Smith is convinced that life is like that, she’ll seek a quick death. Jones won’t.

            My favorite passage from Yangzi whittles a century of life until the time when “we are at ease and content, without the least care, does not amount to the space of an hour.” With that in mind, Smith’s agreement with that claim wouldn’t render him suicidal until he didn’t have recourse to seize the pleasures he enjoyed before and doesn’t consider pleasures that he reasonably believes that he could come to enjoy. If I were just my head, would I think the fun I have reasoning, arguing, and so forth may elate me past my toleration of all of the drawbacks?

            Also, Smith wouldn’t be out to “beat the odds” against suffering as a Yangist, but to savor his pleasures and weigh that against his *toleration* of that suffering (including the mild, humdrum maintenance of hygiene factors) which inundates his life.

            I think the Yangist quote exaggerates on the pain of the present age for the average person. I feel like I have a lot of carefree moments, and that I would even if I had never read any philosophy; but I also think I can attribute a fair share of my more carefree outlook to Yangist influence. If I were quadriplegic, mentally diminished, or hypersensitive to pain, I think my outlook would change.

            B> Maybe, though, by “seeks out hedonistic pleasures” you don’t mean maximizes aggregate pleasure. Maybe you mean the phrase quite literally, so that someone who “seeks out hedonistic pleasures” is someone who, when faced with a choice between (a) five pleasures that bring no pains, and (b) six pleasures that bring ten pains, would choose (b).

            I think Yangism settles well on (a) being preferable to (b) (barring masochists).

            B> I don’t see how to understand all that [response] as an answer to my proposal that the general line of thought is basically relying on an ambiguity as between death and time of death.

            I think Yangzi is just talking about where one risks moving the time-of-death mark with his lifestyle choices, and so the “inevitability” of death is just says that the mark necessarily exists.

          • Bill Haines says:

            B>> I don’t see how to understand all that [response] as an answer to my proposal that the general line of thought is basically relying on an ambiguity as between death and time of death.
            J> I think Yangzi is just talking about where one risks moving the time-of-death mark with his lifestyle choices, and so the “inevitability” of death is just says that the mark necessarily exists.

            Sounds to me like you’re saying, “The Yangist argument is indeed fatally fallacious in the way you described.” Yes?

            B>> Consider creatures Smith and Jones, each of them pretty rational about how to serve her own ends. Smith’s one ultimate concern is to maximize her total net pleasure (pleasure minus unpleasure, intensity times duration). Jones’ one ultimate concern is to live as long as possible.
            J> Smith would probably be more of a Yangist egoist, since I wager that he’s taking the quality of that extended life into account.

            I think that by “Smith” you must mean “Jones.”

            My two hyper-simple “creatures” Smith and Jones are not meant to be psychologically realistic humans. They can be cyborgs if you like. They are abstractions set up for the purpose of trying to communicate a question (not the question “Which is closer to Yangism?”). I’ll present the question again in a minute.

            J> Also, Smith wouldn’t be out to “beat the odds” against suffering as a Yangist, but to savor his pleasures and weigh that against his *toleration* of that suffering (including the mild, humdrum maintenance of hygiene factors) which inundates his life.

            Are you talking about my defined Smith, or about a paradigmatic Yangist? I’m not sure why you’re saying these things here – what conclusion you’re trying to suggest, and what you mean to be answering.

            J> The difficulty with Jones is that living for the prolongation of one’s own life would be like saving money just to save money unless Jones’ motives for longevity were explained better.

            I can’t tell whether your point is that Jones is mistaken about how to live, or that I’m mistaken in thinking she’s a psychologically realistic human, or something else.

            All my talk about Smith and Jones was for the purpose of pressing a question about Yangism, which you seem often to have answered indirectly but clearly, in opposite ways.

            The question is whether according to Yangism, people’s natural interest in longevity is or is not wholly instrumental to an ultimate aim that is hedonistic. In other words: do people naturally have one ultimate end (net pleasure) or two (net pleasure and longevity)? In other words, are there not some cases in which people (who are in tune with their natures) would knowingly choose extra time alive at the cost of some net pleasure? I mean, according to Yangism.

            My purpose is to get clear on how I should polish up Point 1 of my three point account of Yangism, before attacking it.

            I’m not trying to push any answer as more reasonable than the other. My sense is that I just haven’t quite communicated the question yet, because I haven’t got a direct answer; and that’s all I’m working on.

            I have the impression that you think there’s something wrong with the question itself, because there is something inherently pro-longevity about the hedonistic aim, not just (a) on the grounds of how easy it is to have fun these days, but at least partly (b) on the grounds of some starker, clearer fact such as “you can’t have pleasure unless you’re alive” or “you can’t seek pleasure unless you’re alive.” And I think line of thought (b) is simply mistaken. I’ll spend the rest of this comment trying to press that point home, to defend my main question as a question.

            For the opposite of pleasure, I like to use “unpleasure,” so that it’s clear that I mean the exact opposite of pleasure. Now, here’s what I mean by the aim of maximizing one’s net pleasure. I mean the aim of living in such a way that one ends up having had the greatest amount of pleasure minus unpleasure, where pleasure and unpleasure are measured by duration times intensity. I believe you’ve told me that that’s at least roughly what you mean by more casual phrases such as “seeking pleasures.”

            Maximizing net pleasure could equally well be described as minimizing net unpleasure, where net unpleasure is defined as unpleasure minus pleasure. As between an option whose overall yield for me is 3 units of pleasure and 1 units of unpleasure, and a second option whose overall yield for me is 5 units of pleasure and 2 units of unpleasure, the second option is the one that does the better job of minimizing net unpleasure, even though it gives me more unpleasure than the first option does.

            Just as we casually abbreviate “maximize net pleasure” as “maximize pleasure” or “seek pleasure,” we might casually abbreviate “minimize net unpleasure” as “minimize unpleasure” or “avoid unpleasure.” So understood, all six phrases mean exactly the same thing. For convenience I’m going to call it HP (the Hedonic Project).

            If we make the mistake of taking the casual abbreviations literally rather than as abbreviations, we will draw false conclusions about necessary and sufficient conditions for success in HP. As follows:

            (1) The casual abbreviations “minimize unpleasure” and “avoid unpleasure” misleadingly suggest that a sufficient condition of success in HP is immediate death, and indeed that the only sure method is immediate death. For immediate death is indeed a sufficient condition of minimizing unpleasure (taken literally), and we don’t know any other way to minimize unpleasure. Only, minimizing unpleasure isn’t the same as the Hedonic Project.

            (2) Exactly similarly, the casual abbreviations “maximize pleasure” and “seek pleasure” misleadingly suggest that a necessary condition of success is staying alive. For staying alive is indeed a necessary condition of getting as much pleasure as possible. Only, getting as much pleasure as possible isn’t the Hedonic Project.

            Both suggestions are simply false about the Hedonic Project. There is no more intrinsic connection between HP and staying alive than there is between HP and going to Cleveland. For pure egoistic hedonism, the choice whether to kill oneself, like any other choice, is made on the basis of my best estimate of whether it is likely to minimize one’s net unpleasure, i.e. maximize one’s net pleasure.

            And I’m asking, is that how our natures are according to Yangism, or does Yangism say our natures are like that except that we also have an independent ultimate concern to live longer? (Or neither?)

            I’m not asking about non-ultimate concerns, i.e. concerns that can be explained on the basis of other concerns. And I’m not asking how much we care about longevity according to Yangism. And I’m not asking whether Yangism thinks suicide sometimes makes sense, and I’m not asking how often.

          • B> Sounds to me like you’re saying, “The Yangist argument is indeed fatally fallacious in the way you described.” Yes?

            Maybe. I am guessing that I’m missing where the ambiguity. The time of death is fixed for a lifestyle, but risks being changed upon changes in lifestyle, whether one dedicates his life to pursuits of intrinsic ends (pleasure) or to extrinsic ones (title, wealth, virtue, etc.). I’ll have to go over what your assessment of the argument is and where and why you think the ambiguity arises.

            B> I think that by “Smith” you must mean “Jones.”

            Isn’t Smith the one who takes net pleasure into account? If that’s the case, since we assume that Smith is rationalizing in order to maximize net pleasure, Smith wouldn’t seek out longevity in itself until he had considered what pleasures he expected to get out of it. That’s more in line with the Yangist view. If the extension of his life is even more miserable than the one that he has since been willing to tolerate, he wouldn’t care to prolong it.

            The question is whether according to Yangism, people’s natural interest in longevity is or is not wholly instrumental to an ultimate aim that is hedonistic.

            It is. I should note that not everyone who writes on Yangzi agrees with me on that.

            In other words: do people naturally have one ultimate end (net pleasure) or two (net pleasure and longevity)? In other words, are there not some cases in which people (who are in tune with their natures) would knowingly choose extra time alive at the cost of some net pleasure? I mean, according to Yangism.

            I think this is the leap that misses the mark. I went over our discussions again, and I think the issue lies in this concept of “net pleasure,” which I never wanted to invoke in this discussion, but I suspect that this is causing an oversimplification.
            What are we counting as the “net pleasure?” Do we mean [I] total pleasure minus total suffering for the span of someone’s whole lifetime, [II] total pleasure minus total suffering from that person’s present status until his death, or [III] something else?

            Yangists are definitely not egoists of the form that perform the auto-felicific calculus for their whole lives (they are not [I]) for all sorts of reasons. Yangists are more like [II], but there is even more to that.

            We could think of these in divisions and remain consistent with the “universals” that Yangism poses of humanity: [IIA], total pleasure minus total suffering is always a net negative, and it only gets worse; [IIB] that total pleasure minus total suffering is net negative, while it is perhaps better or worse than it was before, or [IIC] that total pleasure minus total suffering is net negative, but that it only gets better.

            Yangism takes stance [IIA] or [IIB] depending on personal circumstance. When one reasonably concludes [IIA], they would be in accord with their own natures (性) and with nature in general (然) if they just let themselves perish. When one is somewhere in [IIB], then they get to go through more of that felicific calculus step until they conclude [IIBa] that it will be more pleasant to some foreseeable future or [IIBb] that it will be less pleasant to some foreseeable future. If the foreseeable future of [IIBb] is the end of one’s life, then we can still go back and conclude [IIA]. However, if we can go from that point and investigate again, then do a comparison against where we are now, where [IIBb] will put us, and where [IIBb.a] or [IIBb.b] will put is after that, then as long as we can foresee a [IIBb.a] that is more pleasant than our present state, then the suffering is worth enduring. This can regress indefinitely until one settles on [IIA] or on some [IIBb.b….a].

            I have my own beliefs about how to supplement this picture, but this seems to be the picture of actually making decision to continue life or die that Yangzi appears to embrace, especially in the pieces of dialog we have with him and Meng Sunyang.

            B> I have the impression that you think there’s something wrong with the question itself, because there is something inherently pro-longevity about the hedonistic aim, not just (a) on the grounds of how easy it is to have fun these days, but at least partly (b) on the grounds of some starker, clearer fact such as “you can’t have pleasure unless you’re alive” or “you can’t seek pleasure unless you’re alive.” And I think line of thought (b) is simply mistaken. I’ll spend the rest of this comment trying to press that point home, to defend my main question as a question.
            [Take hedons (pleasure) and negative hedons (unpleasure), and the sum is the net pleasure of the HP.]
            [Casual abbreviations lead to mistakes:]
            (1) “Minimize unpleasure” and “avoid unpleasure” misleadingly suggest that a sufficient condition of success in HP is immediate death, and indeed that the only sure method is immediate death. For immediate death is indeed a sufficient condition of minimizing unpleasure (taken literally), and we don’t know any other way to minimize unpleasure. Only, minimizing unpleasure isn’t the same as the Hedonic Project.
            (2) Exactly similarly, the casual abbreviations “maximize pleasure” and “seek pleasure” misleadingly suggest that a necessary condition of success is staying alive. For staying alive is indeed a necessary condition of getting as much pleasure as possible. Only, getting as much pleasure as possible isn’t the Hedonic Project.
            Both suggestions are simply false about the Hedonic Project. There is no more intrinsic connection between HP and staying alive than there is between HP and going to Cleveland. For pure egoistic hedonism, the choice whether to kill oneself, like any other choice, is made on the basis of my best estimate of whether it is likely to minimize one’s net unpleasure, i.e. maximize one’s net pleasure.

            Besides my issue with “net pleasure,” there’s one more piece that I think separates Yangism from the HP as you put it. Yangism is a four-fold matter: (1.A) minimize extrinsic displeasures; (1.B) minimize intrinsic displeasures; (2.A) minimize extrinsic pleasures; (2.B) maximize intrinsic pleasures. Otherwise, I guess it’s fine to think of Yangism as a sort of HP.

            Nothing is inherently pro-longevity about the Yangist HP. When I was given the claim: “There are certain things we care about for their own sake […]: (a) pleasure (and the absence of the opposite), and perhaps (b) time alive, and (c) nothing else,” I was taking “perhaps (b)” to be an indication of a logical relation. [J> HP is a human endeavor. Human endeavors require human life. Therefore, HP requires human life. More strongly with Yangism, one’s 性 is 為我. Something is 為我 if, and only if a 我 exists. Thus, one’s 性 exists if, and only if a 我 exists.] We may perhaps care about time alive, but only if it is conducive to pleasure (and absence of unpleasure) for its own sake.

            That must have been a misreading. I think now I see that you mean that “perhaps time alive is something we care about for its own sake,” which is something that Yangzi in fact denies. “But if we hasten to enjoy our life, we have no time to trouble about what comes after death” (Forke, Liezi 7:3), he says (It’s written as a rhetorical question in the Chinese.).

            The Yangist characterization of 性 does not carry within it some inborn survival instinct. This is a hot plate issue though. Why would autonomic instincts engage for self-protection even if we enter situations with certain foreknowledge of defensive futility, defeat, and permanent displeasure? Why, oppositely, do people beg for assisted suicide, mercy killing, and the like? Yangzi is prepared to answer the latter question, but not the former question, in my mind.

          • Bill Haines says:

            J> What are we counting as the “net pleasure?” Do we mean [I] total pleasure minus total suffering for the span of someone’s whole lifetime, [II] total pleasure minus total suffering from that person’s present status until his death, or [III] something else?

            What people who talk about such things usually have in mind as relevant to choice is [I] or [II]. The difference between [I] and [II] can’t make any difference to any choice, right? The difference between [I] and [II] is the net pleasure one had in the past, which is the same for every option one is considering now.

            I understand very little in your two paragraphs about IIB etc. But I think I have got hold of one point. You write, “then as long as we can foresee a [IIBb.a] that is more pleasant than our present state, then the suffering is worth enduring.” I think you’re probably saying that any future that would be more pleasant (=less unpleasant) than one’s present state is better than nothing by hedonic standards, or hedonic standards of the sort that one finds in Yangism as you understand it.

            If that’s what you’re saying, I think it’s a strange view. I’ll call it SV. Here’s one argument against it:

            I think you think there’s such a thing as suffering so terrible (level T) that if I’ll be tortured like that for the rest of my life after today, it would be better for me that I not live after today – at least according to Yangism. Now suppose that today I am tortured just enough to stay suffering at level T+1 all day. In the afternoon I am told that at I can choose now between (a) dying at midnight and (b) being tortured to level T from midnight on, for ten years, and then dying. By SV, Yangist hedonic standards favor choosing the tortured decade. But (as I said at the beginning of this paragraph) I think you think Yangist hedonic standards favor the choice of death instead.

            J> Besides my issue with “net pleasure,” there’s one more piece that I think separates Yangism from the HP as you put it. Yangism is a four-fold matter: (1.A) minimize extrinsic displeasures; (1.B) minimize intrinsic displeasures; (2.A) minimize extrinsic pleasures; (2.B) maximize intrinsic pleasures. Otherwise, I guess it’s fine to think of Yangism as a sort of HP.

            There are two things I don’t understand. First, I don’t know what you mean by “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” pleasures and displeasures.

            Second, I don’t understand what basis a Yangist might have for a preference among options in case there is a conflict among the four imperatives, as I suppose there would be more often than not. For example, suppose option X will give me 1 unit of intrinsic pleasure and 2 units of intrinsic displeasure, while option Y will give me 2 units of intrinsic pleasure and 3 units of intrinsic displeasure. Imperative (2.B) tells me to choose option Y, while imperative (1.B) tells me to choose option X.

            I might speculate that you will say one should choose option B, because you don’t really mean four imperatives, you mean two:
            (A) Maximize net intrinsic pleasure, and
            (B) Maximize net extrinsic pleasure.
            That still leaves me not knowing what (if anything) Yangism might prefer in the cases where those two imperatives conflict, as (for all I know) they might very commonly do. When these imperatives conflict, what Yangist basis might there be for preferring one option over the other? Maybe there’s just no evidence about that.
            (B> I think that by “Smith” you must mean “Jones.”

            (J> Isn’t Smith the one who takes net pleasure into account?
            One of the two was defined as wanting (only) longevity, so your “wager” that she’d “take the quality of that extended life into account” seemed to fit Jones better than Smith, who was defined as taking the quality of life into account.)

          • 03/04/2010:

            What people who talk about such things usually have in mind as relevant to choice is [I] or [II]. The difference between [I] and [II] can’t make any difference to any choice, right? The difference between [I] and [II] is the net pleasure one had in the past, which is the same for every option one is considering now.
            It sure could. Any HP has to compare a condition as measured in hedons with a projected hedon level in the future. If the Yangist HP is done for [I], then he will have no motivation to live once it becomes impossible to reclaim some mean status for the rest of his life. [II] calculates his present condition only, so he doesn’t have to consider his “net pleasure” only his current status, and then a projected status in the future.
            You would have to look at it like a X/Y graph where X is time and Y is some measured level of pleasure minus displeasure. A least squares method could spot a trend to all of the scattered points for a given time (Yangzi gives a couple of his own for the whole of life.). If one made his decisions on some mean of those Y-points ([I]), then the results would be radically different from those wherein he only considers his immediate condition at a single Y-point ([II]).
            The mistake is, I think again, in “net pleasure.” It could reasonably maximize net pleasure to remain in a maximally long, drug-induced high, and then to drop off once the drugs wear off. Yangists don’t measure value to their lives or decisions in this way (or any way like [I]) since it produces arbitrary scoring, that “the better life” is just the more pleasant one.
            Yangism starts from one’s immediate condition (within a certain threshold), and then a consideration of whether one’s present condition is bad enough to justify death (either too torturous or too gratifying, beyond the threshold), then another of whether some future condition will be better than one’s present status. I know that Yangism is fine letting people go out “in a blaze of glory” or “on a bender” if they reliably determine that there is no less invasive way to rise past their present Y-point (since invasive behavior invites more intrinsic suffering, in accord with the Daoists).
            I should make a correction, though. I’ve presented Yangism before like it spends its time looking for “the better high” than its present condition. Actually, Yangzi asserts that we would not have any motivation to change our nature if it were within some other bound that was felt to be sufficiently pleasant. I should say, then, that Yangist HP looks for a greater Y-point when it’s on the low end, to remain constant or greater when it’s in a moderate Y-level, to not expect ever to get into the high end, and even then to force oneself lower if the gratification becomes too much (e.g. too much to ever feel a pleasure ever again).
            I have got hold of one point. You write, “then as long as we can foresee a [IIBb.a] that is more pleasant than our present state, then the suffering is worth enduring.” I think you’re probably saying that any future that would be more pleasant (=less unpleasant) than one’s present state is better than nothing by hedonic standards, or hedonic standards of the sort that one finds in Yangism as you understand it.
            If that’s what you’re saying, I think it’s a strange view. I’ll call it SV. Here’s one argument against it:
            I think you think there’s such a thing as suffering so terrible (level T) that if I’ll be tortured like that for the rest of my life after today, it would be better for me that I not live after today – at least according to Yangism. Now suppose that today I am tortured just enough to stay suffering at level T+1 all day. In the afternoon I am told that at I can choose now between (a) dying at midnight and (b) being tortured to level T from midnight on, for ten years, and then dying. By SV, Yangist hedonic standards favor choosing the tortured decade. But (as I said at the beginning of this paragraph) I think you think Yangist hedonic standards favor the choice of death instead.

            I think the dilemma in option (b) would have to entail T+1 for one day, T for ten years, T+2 for one day, and then dying. If it’s a steady downhill either way, that defaults to [IIA], and so option (a).
            The Yangist HP assumes “thresholds” for pain and for gratification. The SV could be oppositely strange according to Yangists and some immense, damaging gratification (G). The respective option (b) would be G-1 for one day, G for ten years, G-2 for one day, and then dying.
            I don’t know what you mean by “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” pleasures and displeasures.
            I can’t mean that as a Yangist. I’m using the extrinsic/engineered v. intrinsic/innate ends idea here for the four-part division. Following certain ends leads to pleasures and displeasures that are of both a common and uncommon sort. Yangzi is cynical about the idea that there are worthwhile pleasures that are outside of one’s basic nature, and that disqualifies a lot of things as “pleasures.” This conversation, for instance, while interesting and entertaining (not in a demeaning way) for me, is comprehensible in a Yangist HP only if something in my own 性 is predisposed me to this kind of enjoyment.
            I think I could start with some token examples:
            Extrinsic/engineered pleasures: flattery, congratulation, approval, wealth, “true love,” sense of accomplishment, power, longevity.
            Extrinsic/engineered displeasures: insult, censure, disapproval, poverty, “lost true love,” sense of failure, impotence, early death.
            Intrinsic/instinctive pleasures: parasympathetic sensations (from food or music), orgasm, tranquility, restfulness, vitality.
            Intrinsic/instinctive displeasures: shots from less pleasant C-fiber firings, anorgasm (“painful orgasm”), stress, sickness, feebleness.
            The “ends” are just the pursuit of the pleasurable conditions. Yangism gives a hoot about pursuing extrinsic ends unless they contribute to intrinsic pleasures.
            Sometimes, Yangist literature doesn’t indicate to me whether some ends are intrinsic or extrinsic: liberty, safety, sense of belonging.
            Second, I don’t understand what basis a Yangist might have for a preference among options in case there is a conflict among the four imperatives, as I suppose there would be more often than not. For example, suppose option X will give me 1 unit of intrinsic pleasure and 2 units of intrinsic displeasure, while option Y will give me 2 units of intrinsic pleasure and 3 units of intrinsic displeasure. Imperative (2.B) tells me to choose option Y, while imperative (1.B) tells me to choose option X.
            I might speculate that you will say one should choose option B, because you don’t really mean four imperatives, you mean two:
            (A) Maximize net intrinsic pleasure, and
            (B) Maximize net extrinsic pleasure.

            That still leaves me not knowing what (if anything) Yangism might prefer in the cases where those two imperatives conflict, as (for all I know) they might very commonly do. When these imperatives conflict, what Yangist basis might there be for preferring one option over the other? Maybe there’s just no evidence about that.
            The extrinsic pleasures and displeasures are illusory, so they are discounted from a Yangist HP unless they directly contribute or hinder an intrinsic end that cannot be got by alternative means. Yangist work regularly accuses that most extrinsic ends lead to intrinsic displreasure.
            One of the two was defined as wanting (only) longevity, so your “wager” that she’d “take the quality of that extended life into account” seemed to fit Jones better than Smith, who was defined as taking the quality of life into account.)
            I thought Jones was a creature/cyborg whose imperative was to live as long as possible. To me, that assumes that living, itself, is an intrinsic end or pleasure, which Yangzi and I deny.

          • Now that I think about it, sense of belonging is regarded as an extrinsic end.

          • Bill Haines says:

            Sorry for the delay, Joshua.

            Thanks for the examples of intrinsic v. extrinisic. That’s very helpful.

            Any HP has to compare a condition as measured in hedons with a projected hedon level in the future.

            I would think no HP has to do anything like that. This is the first time I’ve encountered a conception of hedonism that makes one’s current hedonic level generally relevant to choice among current options. [II] as you defined it earlier does not do that.

            J> “Yangism is a four-fold matter: (1.A) minimize extrinsic displeasures; (1.B) minimize intrinsic displeasures; (2.A) minimize extrinsic pleasures; (2.B) maximize intrinsic pleasures.”

            J> “The extrinsic pleasures and displeasures are illusory, so they are discounted from a Yangist HP (unless they directly contribute or hinder an intrinsic end that cannot be got by alternative means).”

            I’ve put part of the second quote in parentheses because it’s irrelevant to our discussion of ultimate ends. The two quotes seem to contradict each other.

            “Illusory” implies “not real”. But if that’s what you mean, then the part in parentheses is wrong. So maybe you mean “tending to impart illusion” (what a bent mirror does). But then I don’t see how the point might be relevant to the conclusion you draw, about discounting extrinsic pleasures for their own sake.

            The HP counts all pleasures: if a pleasure P brings false opinion, and the false opinion leads to displeasure D, and D is so great as to outweigh P, then we shouldn’t go for P; but that’s because P is outweighed, not because it doesn’t get counted at all. That looks to me like a non-arbitrary approach. At least it has theoretical simplicity.

            J> “Yangists don’t measure value to their lives or decisions in this way (or any way like [I]) since it produces arbitrary scoring, that “the better life” is just the more pleasant one.”

            You seem to be saying that the view that that the better life is the more pleasant one is arbitrary. How would it be? I don’t understand.

            J> “I think the dilemma in option (b) would have to entail T+1 for one day, T for ten years, T+2 for one day, and then dying. If it’s a steady downhill either way, that defaults to [IIA], and so option (a).”

            I don’t understand this passage at all; but my laying out the reasons might be tedious for you and annoying. If not, please let me know.

          • I would think no HP has to do anything like that. This is the first time I’ve encountered a conception of hedonism that makes one’s current hedonic level generally relevant to choice among current options. [II] as you defined it earlier does not do that.

            The only way that one could say that one option produces or does not produce more pleasure relies explicitly on those things that one qualifies as pleasant/unpleasant. However, those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition (within certain innate “thresholds” for extreme suffering and extreme gratification).

            The most immediate example that comes to mind is paying Malaysians or the like far less than American workers to produce the same product. However, the calculated improvement of lifestyle (which can be calculated in hedons) is dependent on the alternatives that are presented to those foreign people. A dollar a day is preferable over a dollar a month, for instance. However, people who experience one increase in pleasure will explore other options and determine if that option yields greater hedons. There are some more things worth exploring on this point.

            We should remember that this “greater” or “less” calculation in terms of hedons is meaningless without a value by comparison. It is true that we compare decisions against each other for hedonic result, but we also regularly get this option: “Act in a manner that retains one’s present hedonic level as closely as possible.” This regularly available option tells us that we can similarly decide that our current level is more than adequate, and that there is nothing left for us to maximize without causing displeasure that we would prefer to avoid (reach the upper threshold, cause a condition that prompts [IIA]). That in itself should be enough to show that one’s present hedonic level is relevant to our current choices.

            There is a deep problem if we don’t account for past hedonic levels, and that is one of setting any means of performing any felicific calculus. We are unfortunately a sad species that relies on induction for most all of our decisions as agents. Unless we have CIPA, we don’t just keep our hands on hot stoves. Pain teaches us not to do that, by which I mean that it only gives us sensation that we interpret in a manner that instinctively prompts avoidance. The same is true for pleasant sensations (barring other neurological disorders). All of those comparisons have to be made on memories of past pleasures and pains. What I call a “current/present condition” is highly dependent on this, perhaps most simply because said condition isn’t some point in time measured on a scale in isolation, but something that is ongoing, more reliably measured when fluctuations in our hedon levels are less erratic.

            The above-mentioned is nothing unique to Yangism.

            The priority of one’s present condition, something that is more unique to Yangism, can be illustrated. For example, I think that it is reliable reasoning to say that my life would suck more without my right arm, but I don’t necessarily have a reason to let the loss of a limb affect my hedon level well after it has occurred. Pain subsides; pleasure wanes. What is important is how I feel now in making a given decision, not how I felt then. The past is a device for inductive reasoning and prediction of outcome, but the outcome is measured only against my present condition.

            J> “Yangism is a four-fold matter: (1.A) minimize extrinsic displeasures; (1.B) minimize intrinsic displeasures; (2.A) minimize extrinsic pleasures; (2.B) maximize intrinsic pleasures.”

            J> “The extrinsic pleasures and displeasures are illusory, so they are discounted from a Yangist HP (unless they directly contribute or hinder an intrinsic end that cannot be got by alternative means).”

            B> If “illusory” implies “not real,” the part in parentheses is wrong. So maybe you mean “tending to impart illusion” (what a bent mirror does). But then I don’t see how the point might be relevant to the conclusion you draw, about discounting extrinsic pleasures for their own sake.
            The HP counts all pleasures: if a pleasure P brings false opinion, and the false opinion leads to displeasure D, and D is so great as to outweigh P, then we shouldn’t go for P; but that’s because P is outweighed, not because it doesn’t get counted at all. That looks to me like a non-arbitrary approach. At least it has theoretical simplicity.

            Sorry to say it, but that’s just the internal conflict of Yangism. Yangzi is clearly against any involvement in a social environment that isn’t directly conducive to a reasonably high level of intrinsic pleasure for oneself (and in some passages, one’s “clan”). The pursuit of extrinsic pleasures or the avoidance of extrinsic displeasures is “a grub that eats away one’s vital forces.” A Yangist wants most of all to avoid plaguing his mind (and body) with concerns over those things that don’t mean anything when one is dead.

            I agree with a handful of interpretations that can be consistently used to sustain the view. One is that Yangists put stress-free living and “moments of ease and contentment, without the slightest care” as a quite dominant intrinsic end for people, then argue that any extrinsic pleasures and displeasures lead to a lifetime of hedon-killing preoccupations. Another is that Yangists hold so much distaste for the arbitrary assignments of “virtue” and “vice” to things that they’ve had more than their fill in displeasure from irritation, annoyance, (worst yet) restrictions on their pursuits of intrinsic pleasures, and so immediately disregard extrinsic pleasures and displeasures as being of any warrant. Another is that extrinsic ends are devised from outside of one’s own 性 and are (probably) just mandated merely to meet the intrinsic ends of a separate, equally egoistic population, and so are only as valuable as we are willing to pretend that they are or as we care about satisfying the intrinsic ends of others for our own ends. Another borrows from Laozi, which intuits that we are in accord with nature and the Way when we “empty our minds and fill our bellies” and “do not dwell on the flower.”

            To perhaps make a Western comment, I think you’re treating Yangzi like a Jeremy Bentham, when you should really see him like a Bernard Williams.

            J> “Yangists don’t measure value to their lives or decisions in this way (or any way like [I]) since it produces arbitrary scoring, that “the better life” is just the more pleasant one.”
            You seem to be saying that the view that that the better life is the more pleasant one is arbitrary. How would it be? I don’t understand.

            It’s arbitrary because we could very well have been born with no sense of pain or pleasure, just as it’s clear that we are not born with the fear of death or the impulse toward extrinsic ends. There is no normative stance on the matter that we or someone else didn’t just make up. We have to keep in mind that Yangzi and I are still moral skeptics. The egoistic impulse is purely epistemic. There’s no higher-order evaluation on the thing, whether something was “good” or “bad.” Being a creature of sensation is our nature (性). We pursue our pleasures until there is no more pursuit to be had, and then we let ourselves go.

            J> “I think the dilemma in option (b) would have to entail T+1 for one day, T for ten years, T+2 for one day, and then dying. If it’s a steady downhill either way, that defaults to [IIA], and so option (a).”
            I don’t understand this passage at all; but my laying out the reasons might be tedious for you and annoying. If not, please let me know.

            I don’t mind the tedium of a response too much, but it takes me more time to respond to a tedious and highly detailed response.

            I hope I at least got the unique character of 命 explained by this point.

            I also haven’t penetrated what the “fatal ambiguity” is regarding the time-of-death and the inevitability of death, so I’m most interested in hearing more about that.

          • Bill Haines says:

            J> those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition (within certain innate “thresholds” for extreme suffering and extreme gratification).

            Regarding the part outside the parentheses:
            I don’t understand. Are you saying that (X) the only thing it can mean to call a condition “pleasant” is that the condition is more pleasant that the condition of the caller at the time of the calling (and vice versa)?

            I think it’s unlikely you mean (X), but I can’t think of another interpretation, so I’ll present my objections to (X).

            1. (X) implies that nobody can ever truly say that her current condition is pleasant (no matter how great the sex is), and that nobody can ever truly say that her current condition is unpleasant (no matter how bad is the torture or the concert).

            2. (X) implies that if I am being tortured worse than anyone ever has, and I learn that I am going to be tortured a little less badly in a minute (though still worse than anybody else has ever been tortured), I would be right to think that my condition is about to become pleasant …

            3. … But at the same time, (X) implies that you would be wrong to answer “Yes, your condition is about to become pleasant.”

            I have plenty to say about the relation between (X) and suicide, and about other things in your latest comment; but I’ll wait to find out what you really meant by the part outside the parentheses.

  5. Bill Haines says:

    Joshua, you’ll understand that b1 should have an extra ‘not’ in it somewhere.

  6. Bill Haines says:

    Maybe I’m taking the wrong approach to understanding what you’re saying about Yangism. I’m not yet grasping an alternative.

    J> The only way that one could say that one option produces or does not produce more pleasure relies explicitly on those things that one qualifies as pleasant/unpleasant. However, those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition, within certain innate “thresholds” for extreme suffering and extreme gratification.

    By “the only way that one could say” I think you mean either “the only way that one can meaningfully say” or “the only way that one can justifiably believe” – that is, the issue is either semantic or epistemic. I don’t know which. But the two kinds of claim are very different.

    Offhand one might think (and you seem to say) that for judging a condition’s pleasantness-for-Smith-at-time-t, the viewpoint that has the most authority is the viewpoint of Smith in that condition at t (hence not: the viewpoint of Smith deciding at t-minus-n whether to be in that condition at t). But the relativity view you set out would seem to imply that (short of sex or torture) nobody is ever in a condition that they (meaningfully or justifiably) regard, at the time, as pleasant or as unpleasant. So the offhand view conjoined with the relativity view implies that the only things that can possibly make any difference to the quality of life are sex, drugs, and physical agony. It would seem that the intermediate conditions – the ones you’re talking about quantifying – don’t count at all.

    Here’s what I think Bentham would say about choosing among options, given that nobody else can be affected by my choice. To simplify, let’s suppose that today I can choose among just three options: that I be in condition A or B or C tomorrow; and at the end of tomorrow I die. Suppose I am in condition A today. I reasonably expect B to be more pleasant and C to be less pleasant than A. So I should choose B. In fact B would come out the winner no matter what condition I’m in today. The condition I’m in today is irrelevant to the comparison.

    The relativity view similarly does not imply that the ranking among those options for my choice depends on my current condition. The relativity view says that in order to be able (meaningfully or justifiably) today to call tomorrow-A “pleasant” or “unpleasant” I have to be in some condition other than A today; but that point doesn’t seem to affect the rankings.

    But the relativity view might make a difference to the rankings when a certain special kind of option is on the menu: unconsciousness (e.g. death). Actually it’s not clear what the implications of the relativity view would be for that case. On the one hand, one wants to say that the condition of unconsciousness is obviously neither pleasant nor unpleasant. That judgment seems offhand more objective and reliable than any judgment on any conscious condition. On the other hand, one wants to say that certain other conditions are more pleasant than being unconscious – but once one says that, the relativity view implies that anyone in those other conditions ought to say that unconsciousness would be positively unpleasant (hence not: neither pleasant nor unpleasant). And one wants to say that certain other conditions are more unpleasant than being unconscious – but once one says that, the relativity view implies that anyone in those other conditions ought to say that unconsciousness would be positively pleasant (hence not: neither pleasant nor unpleasant).

    One way in which Yangism and the self-oriented slice of Benthamite utilitarianism might differ is that the latter is about one’s whole future considered impartially (a hedon tomorrow has the same value as a hedon next year), while Yangism might “count” a pleasure only insofar as (a) one actually wants it, or (b) insofar as one naturally wants it, or (c) insofar as, if one is (or were) wanting in accord with one’s nature, one does (or would) want it. Something like that.

    But then I wonder about some things. For one thing, offhand it seems possible (even usual) to want a condition because one has a false view about how pleasant it will be. According to (a) (and maybe (b) and (c)), my false view wouldn’t really be false, because the view from the vantage of the wanter is what counts – even though I’m going to be very surprised when I actually enter the condition.

    If what counts is what I actually want, then it would seem there’s no room for criticizing some of my wants; but Yangism does seem to do some criticizing. (Not moral criticizing, of course; but most critizing people do isn’t moral.) One kind of criticism might simply point to inconsistencies among my wants, or among the wants I think I have. Criticism based on my “nature” would seem to be a different kind of criticism. Is it?

    J> We should remember that this “greater” or “less” calculation in terms of hedons is meaningless without a value by comparison.

    I don’t see how that might seem plausible. I can (meaningfully and justifiably) judge which of two objects is bigger and which is smaller without comparing either to any third object. Why can’t I do the same with two options?

    Maybe your point is that we need units. I agree that we need units if we’re going to report our conclusions in numbers. But I don’t need units to see that an elephant is bigger than I am, and I don’t necessarily need units to see that one option offers more pleasure than another. And I don’t see how my hedonic state at given time is going to give me a unit, unless I can judge the non-zero distance between it and something I regard as a zero hedonic level. Your relativity view makes that impossible in principle, because it reduces the recognizable distance to exactly zero.

    J> we also regularly get this option: “Act in a manner that retains one’s present hedonic level as closely as possible.”

    You seem to be saying in most choices, or in many choices in the course of a day, that’s one of the options. Is it? Partly that depends on whether by “as closely as possible” you mean (a) “as closely as something you can now do can cause or ensure,” in which case we always have that option, or (b) “as closely as can be,” in which case I think we have that option whenever we’re in a neutral hedonic state (as maybe most people often are), between pleasure and unpleasure, and have the means to relinquish consciousness permanently. Aside from that situation, however, I think a person is pretty much never in a position to do anything that will have a significant leveling effect on her hedonic level over the rest of her future or the rest of her life.

    Further: if I have the option at time t of ensuring a constant hedonic level for the rest of my life, and I take that option, it’s unclear in what sense I could have that option again. But you say this is an option one can have regularly. ?

    J> This regularly available option tells us that we can similarly decide that our current level is more than adequate

    By what sort of standard? I mean, adequate for what? I don’t understand. Hedonism (e.g. the HP) generally says “the more the better” and leaves it at that.

    J> This regularly available option tells us that we can similarly decide that our current level is more than adequate, and that there is nothing left for us to maximize without causing displeasure that we would prefer to avoid (reach the upper threshold, cause a condition that prompts [IIA]).

    Here it sounds as though you are trying to explicate “adequacy” as bestness by rational maximizing standards. Is that it?

    I’ve never understood your expression “[IIA]” at all. I don’t understand what kind of thing it is supposed to signify. A standard for deciding? A kind of condition? A kind of option? A proposition about what life is like in general? And I don’t understand whether, by calling the thing [IIA], you’re saying it’s a species of [II], a version of [II], a corollary of [II], or some other sort of appendage to of [II].

    By the way: above I mistakenly thought that your two characterizations of [II] were radically at odds with each other. I misunderstood. But now I have an answer to your question, which I’ll quote:

    J> What are [egoistic hedonists] counting [in deciding among options] as the “net pleasure” [attributable to each option]? Do we mean [I] total pleasure minus total suffering for the span of someone’s whole lifetime, [II] total pleasure minus total suffering from that person’s present status until his death, or [III] something else?

    My answer: [III] Something else, viz. total pleasure minus total suffering (for that person) from the time the options would begin to be realized forward. (Not: from her present state forward.) The person’s present state is no more important than her past state to the comparison of options she has not yet decided among, because her present state won’t be affected by that decision.

    In a way it doesn’t matter: [I] and [II] and [III] will always agree on their rankings of options. The only difference is that [I] and [II] pointlessly bring into the calculation hedons that simply aren’t at stake in the decision, attributing them equally to all options.

    Regarding the “fatal ambiguity”:

    Removing extraneous complications – the form of the thought committing this particular fallacy, as I see it, is this:

    1. Downside D of option O is that it increases the likelihood of death (i.e. risks hastening your death). (Premise)
    2. Death is inevitable no matter what you do. (Premise)
    3. It is impossible to increase the likelihood of death (2).
    4. Downside D is not real. (1,2)

    What makes the inference to 4 seem valid is that both 1 and 3 use the same phrase, ‘likelihood of death’. And what makes the inference actually invalid is that, as the parenthesis in 1 explains, 1 and 3 are using the phrase in different senses.

    • J>> those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition (within certain innate “thresholds” for extreme suffering and extreme gratification).
      B> Regarding the part outside the parentheses:
      I don’t understand. Are you saying that (X) the only thing it can mean to call a condition “pleasant” is that the condition is more pleasant that the condition of the caller at the time of the calling (and vice versa)?

      Well, (X) would definitely need some extra considerations. I think all hedonic scales have to accept a perhaps greatly complicated model of human nature. Pleasure and displeasure can be measured against each other in some sort of HP, but there are completely distinctive mechanisms at work in each one. Some of our displeasures and pleasures are a highly evolved facet of our autonomic nervous system, virtually correlates of the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses. At the extreme poles of these are these “thresholds” as I have called them. Some sensations of pleasure are so intense (so abuse pleasure response system) that they overall damage one’s ability to detect pleasure, while some pains are so unpleasant that they override “survival instincts” (in quotes because Yangist material seems geared to treat that matter skeptically).

      However, this is scarcely a complete picture of pleasure or displeasure. The fact that people are entertained, or that they have acquired “tastes” for often completely opposite stimuli (e.g. the subjective fact that I hate musicals, but love dark comedies) tells a story that an autonomic model does not cover in a very cohesive fashion. There have to be separate engagements from other developed regions of our brains, the sort that do all of the interpreting, measuring, judging, and so forth.

      This is where one’s present condition becomes quite meaningful, since the measure of one’s hedonic level is in one way virtually universal to all people (and is more easily argued as a quality of human 性). The rest of it, however, remains highly individualized. All of it is subjective, though, isolated to each agent. Yangist positions demand and promote further investigation of humanity for a 性 that reflects entirely (not almost) universal qualities of the human species for all humankind (not minding Yangzi’s pretty forward sexism), regardless of neurological particularities, psychological conditioning, or other circumstantial inhibitors. Yangzi lands on a lot of ideas for what our natures are, and he and like-minded philosophers use other claims to qualities of all of humanity to produce the egoistic model.

      Yangist criticism of all of its rival schools attacks the fabrications made and fruitlessly enforced on or in favor of these individualized pleasures. It’s not in the nature of everyone to value compassion, have filial piety, be interested in justice, or even to care for their bodies. Yangists only have to cite obvious counterexamples of people who were truly contented in their lives (that is, “did as their natures compelled them”) and shamelessly violated one or more of these fabricated “virtues.” Yangzi then contends that extrinsic pleasures and displeasures become tied to these failed understandings of nature in order to force intrinsic pleasure or displeasure causally. For a Yangist, that’s tantamount to, say, corrupting data for the sake of promoting “perceived social benefit that might result if the proposition were believed to be true” (to quote Russell). Yangzi is neither surprised by such tactics (since they would fit into his egoistic model), nor is he interested in compelling a rival “virtue” or “vice” against them.

      The issue at hand, then, would indicate that “those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition” has two basic suppositions: that there are accurate and inaccurate self-assessments for hedonic level and that “maximization” of any end requires a well-ordering ‘≥’ operation in which persistence of one’s present situation is often a standing choice.

      J>> The only way that one could say that one option produces or does not produce more pleasure relies explicitly on those things that one qualifies as pleasant/unpleasant. However, those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition, within certain innate “thresholds” for extreme suffering and extreme gratification.
      B> By “the only way that one could say” I think you mean either “the only way that one can meaningfully say” or “the only way that one can justifiably believe” – that is, the issue is either semantic or epistemic. I don’t know which. But the two kinds of claim are very different.

      I should note that I often drop certain words when taking an argument in hand, namely adverbs like “consistently.” All I mean here is that negating, “’The subjective evaluation of one’s hedonic level at time-now,’ is the level against which alternative options are compared,” leads to the impossible task of attempting to answer the question, “Which of these options will provide more pleasure?” because it leaves blank, “More than…?” If it’s just a list of other options that an agent could do, then the decision doesn’t appear to be relevant to the agent at all. A horse’s kicking me in the eye leads to more displeasure than one’s nipping me in the ear, but that doesn’t matter to an agent whose present situation does not involve horses. Since the number of possible, real-world choices is uncountably infinite, we would end up doing nothing if we spent all of our time calculating alternative options that were not closed into some finite set by the present situation of the agent (just what he can do at or in some reasonably predicted future from time-now) and by his present condition/hedonic level.

      Offhand one might think (and you seem to say) that for judging a condition’s pleasantness-for-Smith-at-time-t, the viewpoint that has the most authority is the viewpoint of Smith in that condition at t (hence not: the viewpoint of Smith deciding at t-minus-n whether to be in that condition at t). But the relativity view you set out would seem to imply that (short of sex or torture) nobody is ever in a condition that they (meaningfully or justifiably) regard, at the time, as pleasant or as unpleasant. So the offhand view conjoined with the relativity view implies that the only things that can possibly make any difference to the quality of life are sex, drugs, and physical agony. It would seem that the intermediate conditions – the ones you’re talking about quantifying – don’t count at all.

      Actually, it ought to imply the exact opposite, that we are always and constantly regarding our subjective condition at some hedonic level, and that our decisions are prompted by our status-at-time-now, whereas all of those memories of our hedonic levels at time-now-minus-n only serve as a basis for comparison when they appear (or in fact are) relevant to our attempts to construct predictions of the consequences of a selection among a closed class of decisions.

      Here’s what I think Bentham would say about choosing among options, given that nobody else can be affected by my choice. To simplify, let’s suppose that today I can choose among just three options: that I be in condition A or B or C tomorrow; and at the end of tomorrow I die. Suppose I am in condition A today. I reasonably expect B to be more pleasant and C to be less pleasant than A. So I should choose B. In fact B would come out the winner no matter what condition I’m in today. The condition I’m in today is irrelevant to the comparison.

      I would press, as a Yangist, that we can’t just leave the agent out of the calculus like that. What I challenge, though, is this part, “Let’s suppose that today I can choose among just three options.” Unless one of those options is, “Choose neither of the other two options,” we’re just assuming that an agent is thrust into a game of deciding among choices that are independent of the agent’s present situation and present condition. Yangists don’t see decisions at all in this way. “How much exertion goes into any given choice, and does that choice lead to a pleasure that I reasonably expect to justify the exertion? Is the spoil worth the toil?” Utilitarians give a lot of these “magic button” scenarios for all of that, but that ignores what a Yangist means. For a Yangist, even the deciding, measuring, determining and finding a way to calculate all of those decisions is, itself, a toil.

      This is probably the most depressing part about Yangism, but it criticizes something that I don’t know Bentham to consider seriously. Sometimes people just turn apathetic, tired of being agents.

      A second addendum, while it is fine to assume “In fact B would come out the winner no matter what condition I’m in today,” for this example’s ease to a separate, but relevant matter, we don’t know that to be true unless we know what Smith’s condition-at-time-now is, if by “the winner,” you mean, “the winner over doing nothing at all.”

      The relativity view similarly does not imply that the ranking among those options for my choice depends on my current condition. The relativity view says that in order to be able (meaningfully or justifiably) today to call tomorrow-A “pleasant” or “unpleasant” I have to be in some condition other than A today; but that point doesn’t seem to affect the rankings.

      I agree, but I think that’s just because you leave out a rank, the rank of opting out of agency altogether. I just don’t think there are any compelling choices that say that I have to be an agent when presented with a closed set of ultimately undesirable decisions.

      But the relativity view might make a difference to the rankings when a certain special kind of option is on the menu: unconsciousness (e.g. death).

      We can shut down our agency by choice, and many often do. I think everyone learns this trick at about four years old, but “grows out of it” or finds more sophisticated ways to do essentially the same thing.

      Actually it’s not clear what the implications of the relativity view would be for that case. On the one hand, one wants to say that the condition of unconsciousness is obviously neither pleasant nor unpleasant. That judgment seems offhand more objective and reliable than any judgment on any conscious condition.

      The Yangist [IIA] is just a default position which says that when there is no foreseeable pleasure that the agent believes to outweigh the displeasures that would be needed to attain it, that removal of a self from agency is the preferred option.

      On the other hand, one wants to say that certain other conditions are more pleasant than being unconscious – but once one says that, the relativity view implies that anyone in those other conditions ought to say that unconsciousness would be positively unpleasant (hence not: neither pleasant nor unpleasant). And one wants to say that certain other conditions are more unpleasant than being unconscious – but once one says that, the relativity view implies that anyone in those other conditions ought to say that unconsciousness would be positively pleasant (hence not: neither pleasant nor unpleasant).

      I think this is incorrect. Consciousness is a necessary condition for the detection of pleasure or displeasure. The want to say something of the sort you state would have to be of a counterfactual proposition, like, “That option would be preferred if I were conscious.” Unconsciousness (dropping out from agency) is a preferred option in times of insurmountable suffering, and so plenty of people who saw no hope or expectation for some hedon level higher than zero would opt for the zero.

      One way in which Yangism and the self-oriented slice of Benthamite utilitarianism might differ is that the latter is about one’s whole future considered impartially (a hedon tomorrow has the same value as a hedon next year), while Yangism might “count” a pleasure only insofar as (a) one actually wants it, or (b) insofar as one naturally wants it, or (c) insofar as, if one is (or were) wanting in accord with one’s nature, one does (or would) want it. Something like that.

      For a Yangist, it seems that (b) would have to imply (a), since all of his arguments seem to criticize certain wants for being contrary to natural wants (if in this “natural want”, we’re constrasting between intrinsic and extrinsic ends), and further for being indefensible against those natural wants.

      But then I wonder about some things. For one thing, offhand it seems possible (even usual) to want a condition because one has a false view about how pleasant it will be. According to (a) (and maybe (b) and (c)), my false view wouldn’t really be false, because the view from the vantage of the wanter is what counts – even though I’m going to be very surprised when I actually enter the condition.

      This is why Yangzi contests that the vantage is corrupted by other wanters. We only become swayed toward the values of these wants once other wanters have implemented reward and punishment systems (that is, fabricated extrinsic pleasures and displeasures to be carried out upon failed obedience to some wanter’s or wanters’ standard) that needlessly complicate and derail attainments of intrinsic ends, those that we are naturally disposed to wanting.

      If what counts is what I actually want, then it would seem there’s no room for criticizing some of my wants; but Yangism does seem to do some criticizing. (Not moral criticizing, of course; but most criticizing people do isn’t moral.) One kind of criticism might simply point to inconsistencies among my wants, or among the wants I think I have. Criticism based on my “nature” would seem to be a different kind of criticism. Is it?

      Yangzi’s argument would be more like: A person’s nature tells him that his agency is geared toward attaining intrinsic pleasures. We are born into societies wherein pursuit of extrinsic ends leads to some intrinsic ends. But if it is possible to attain and retain those intrinsic ends without “going the long way” through extrinsic ends, then it is preferable to “take the shorter route” and just to pursue the intrinsic pleasures without concern for the extrinsic pleasures or displeasures. Why?

      In the first, simply ignoring the extrinsic ends avoids confusion over what one’s intrinsic ends really are. We don’t confuse the path for the goal.

      In the second, we don’t subject ourselves to extrinsic displeasures because we simply do not perceive them as remotely meaningful in our pursuit of intrinsic pleasures. People who turn a deaf ear to scowls and other pithy reprimand and are not tempted into this vicious cycle by courtesies and compliments lead less oppressed, more pleasant lives.

      In the third, extrinsic displeasures are in part designed to inhibit the pursuit of certain intrinsic ends (those that are seen as unsavory by the individuals of a separate population), and so narrowing or deterring one’s options for those things that we naturally want is nonsense because it makes the unjustified claim that somehow “nature needs correction,” which is definitely not any Chinese view that I’ve ever heard. (It also doesn’t work in Western ethics well because all demands for justification of an imperative resort to factual matters, not simply other imperatives which are not themselves justified on factual grounds. It’s akin to saying: “Universal facts should change!” That, I think, is an obvious and laughable category mistake.) Even worse, it begs the question because it appeals to its own extrinsic fabrication in order to justify itself (via this idea of “correction” taken in a moral sense).

      In the fourth, it’s just easier to do it this way, and so wins on a hedonic model.

      J>> We should remember that this “greater” or “less” calculation in terms of hedons is meaningless without a value by comparison.
      B> I don’t see how that might seem plausible. I can (meaningfully and justifiably) judge which of two objects is bigger and which is smaller without comparing either to any third object. Why can’t I do the same with two options?

      I think we agree here. My point is purely formal, in that the relations “greater than” or “less than” are binary operations, and therefore demand two terms. I hopefully answered this question with my response to the Benthamite example, which is a separate concern from the quote you give.

      B> But I don’t need units to see that an elephant is bigger than I am, and I don’t necessarily need units to see that one option offers more pleasure than another.

      You do. Sight and “common sense” just use measures that we take for granted. They are quite natural.

      J>> we also regularly get this option: “Act in a manner that retains one’s present hedonic level as closely as possible.”
      B> You seem to be saying in most choices, or in many choices in the course of a day, that’s one of the options. Is it? Partly that depends on whether by “as closely as possible” you mean (a) “as closely as something you can now do can cause or ensure,” in which case we always have that option, or (b) “as closely as can be,” in which case I think we have that option whenever we’re in a neutral hedonic state (as maybe most people often are), between pleasure and unpleasure, and have the means to relinquish consciousness permanently.

      I think that the only hedonically neutral state is unconsciousness or some other removal from agency (by death, going limp, etc.), so I don’t agree with the conditions placed on (b). I think that we are most often than not in a somewhat pleasant state, irked by occasional twinges and the like, but never really “neutral.” I don’t really know what (b) means by itself, though (I use “can be” and “possible” interchangeably). I agree with (a), but don’t believe that it’s always an option since there could very well be scenarios where we have to move many standard hedonic deviations from our present condition. You all have been talking some about them elsewhere as these “big moment” ethical dilemmas.

      Aside from that situation, however, I think a person is pretty much never in a position to do anything that will have a significant leveling effect on her hedonic level over the rest of her future or the rest of her life.

      Life doesn’t have to be static for this system to work, which is why it only needs to remain “as close as possible” to the hedonic level. That gives space for some fluctuation.

      Further: if I have the option at time t of ensuring a constant hedonic level for the rest of my life, and I take that option, it’s unclear in what sense I could have that option again. But you say this is an option one can have regularly. [Is that reasonable?]

      Sure. All we have to allow is that alternatives regularly present themselves and that we consider them against our present condition.

      J>> This regularly available option tells us that we can similarly decide that our current level is more than adequate.
      B> By what sort of standard? I mean, adequate for what? I don’t understand. Hedonism (e.g. the HP) generally says “the more the better” and leaves it at that.

      Yangism is definitely not like that. Yangists can actually be satisfied at a certain hedonic level. Yangists concern themselves with infliction of harm against themselves, and they would acknowledge problems of sorts wherein excessive duration or intensity of a pleasure actually causes pain or numbs the potential for repeated, future sensations of a comparable sort (by the warmth of a fire, for instance).

      J>> This regularly available option tells us that we can similarly decide that our current level is more than adequate, and that there is nothing left for us to maximize without causing displeasure that we would prefer to avoid (reach the upper threshold, cause a condition that prompts [IIA]).
      B> Here it sounds as though you are trying to explicate “adequacy” as bestness by rational maximizing standards. Is that it?

      No, it’s “adequate” in the way that there is little to no motivation to seek a higher hedonic level because the constancy and pleasantness of a given hedonic level demotivates interests in alternatives.

      J>> What are [egoistic hedonists] counting [in deciding among options] as the “net pleasure” [attributable to each option]? Do we mean [I] total pleasure minus total suffering for the span of someone’s whole lifetime, [II] total pleasure minus total suffering from that person’s present status until his death, or [III] something else?
      B> My answer: [III] Something else, viz. total pleasure minus total suffering (for that person) from the time the options would begin to be realized forward. (Not: from her present state forward.) The person’s present state is no more important than her past state to the comparison of options she has not yet decided among, because her present state won’t be affected by that decision.

      It seems that we have grossly uncommon decision procedures, then, since mine take into account the deviation from another hedonic level (the present one) to the one that results from a decision, and the reflexive consideration that perhaps one’s present level is the one at which one would prefer to stay is always a significant option because it does not aim for a raising or lowering of the hedonic level, and of course the interest in avoiding certain fluctuations relies very much on a present and constant consideration for one’s hedonic level. This is also why I thought your terrible (T) or a gratification (G) would need to have dips and crests, respectively, to be of interest to the Yangist HP as I presented it.

      In a way it doesn’t matter: [I] and [II] and [III] will always agree on their rankings of options. The only difference is that [I] and [II] pointlessly bring into the calculation hedons that simply aren’t at stake in the decision, attributing them equally to all options.

      We must not be thinking of the “net” in “net pleasure” the same way. It just seems that [I] wouldn’t equate because people with miserable childhoods and no prospects would just give up agency even if opportunities for significantly raised hedonic levels presented themselves. Such a perspective on “net pleasure” would be far different from one where the person just considered the shift from his present hedonic level to the following one (as in [II]). Your [III], to me, doesn’t appear to account for the space between decision and realization of that decision, so is not a “net pleasure” in the same sense as I thought you were meaning it. Is it more like “net pleasure for the duration from initiation to termination of the result from a decision?” I have all sorts of confusions about that which I’ll give as our conversation (hopefully) continues.

      Regarding the “fatal ambiguity”:
      Removing extraneous complications – the form of the thought committing this particular fallacy, as I see it, is this:
      1. Downside D of option O is that it increases the likelihood of death (i.e. risks hastening your death). (Premise)
      2. Death is inevitable no matter what you do. (Premise)
      3. It is impossible to increase the likelihood of death (2).
      4. Downside D is not real. (1,2)
      What makes the inference to 4 seem valid is that both 1 and 3 use the same phrase, ‘likelihood of death’. And what makes the inference actually invalid is that, as the parenthesis in 1 explains, 1 and 3 are using the phrase in different senses.

      I’ll see if there’s something to address in this, as well.

  7. Bill Haines says:

    J>>> those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition (within certain innate “thresholds” for extreme suffering and extreme gratification).
    B>> Regarding the part outside the parentheses:
    I don’t understand. Are you saying that (X) the only thing it can mean to call a condition “pleasant” is that the condition is more pleasant that the condition of the caller at the time of the calling (and vice versa)?
    J> Well, (X) would definitely need some extra considerations. […]

    I guess that’s a “no” (though I’m not sure). Then I just don’t understand what you’re saying in the >>> statement quoted above. I had originally thought it meant this: “To call a condition “pleasant” (or “unpleasant”) is precisely to say that it would be more pleasant (or more unpleasant) than the condition one is in at the time of the calling.” Now your reply makes me think maybe what you mean is this: “There are various kinds of pleasure: Pa, Pb, Pc, etc; and for each kind Px, the only thing it can mean to call a condition “pleasant(x)” is that the condition is more pleasant(x) than the condition of the caller at the time of the calling.”

    Is that what you mean? If the answer is No, then it would be helpful if instead of spelling out at length the reasons for the answer No, you would just state directly what it is you actually mean by that >>> statement.

    You go on to say some things about the biological causes and effects of various pleasures, but offhand that material seems to me irrelevant to the question of the for-its-own-sake value of pleasure to a person, or what it is people want for its own sake (not what they want for its consequences; not what they have reason to want as means to pleasure). Of course I could be wrong – but I don’t know what kind of relevance you have in mind, so I don’t know what to do with your points about causes and effects.

    J> This is where one’s present condition becomes quite meaningful, since the measure of one’s hedonic level is in one way virtually universal to all people (and is more easily argued as a quality of human 性). The rest of it, however, remains highly individualized. All of it is subjective, though, isolated to each agent.

    “meaningful” – how? You don’t seem to say.

    “the measure of one’s hedonic level is … universal to all people” – I don’t understand that clause (I mean the part I’ve reproduced, before we apply the qualification). It sort of suggests so many things –
    1. All people can measure how pleased I am.
    2. The same unit applies to measuring each person’s pleasure.
    etc., but doesn’t have any plain literal meaning. I don’t seem to be able to think of an interpretation that could possibly be what you mean. Can you tell me what you mean, plainly and directly?

    “All of it is subjective, though, isolated to each agent”

    All of what? That is, what does “it” stand for here? (Pleasure? A measure of pleasure? A kind of pleasure?)
    What do you mean by “subjective”? (Had by just one person? Knowable by just one person? Both? Something else?)

    J> The issue at hand, then, would indicate that “those things that qualify as pleasant or unpleasant are only relative to a person’s current condition” has two basic suppositions: that there are accurate and inaccurate self-assessments for hedonic level and that “maximization” of any end requires a well-ordering ‘≥’ operation in which persistence of one’s present situation is often a standing choice.

    (I don’t know what the “issue” is or how it is supposed to indicate that.)
    (I take it that you do mean that these are suppositions, not that in conjunction they amount to a statement equivalent to the italicized statement.)

    I have no problem with the first supposition so long as by “there are accurate” you do not mean “there are exactly accurate”; and so long as you do not mean the first supposition in such a way as to imply that there always are self-assessments.

    The first part of the second supposition seems to me plainly true, and plainly not a supposition of the italicized claim.

    I argued earlier that the second part of the second supposition is in general false; I think you haven’t yet replied.

    J> All I mean here is that negating, “’The subjective evaluation of one’s hedonic level at time-now,’ is the level against which alternative options are compared,” leads to the impossible task of attempting to answer the question, “Which of these options will provide more pleasure?” because it leaves blank, “More than…?”

    But (1) it gives no appearance of leaving that blank, any more than “which of these things is bigger?” gives an appearance of leaving such a blank. And (2) your way of filling in the alleged blank is not a possible way to fill it in. Here are my reasons for both (1) and (2):

    (1): If I have two (or more) options, and toward choosing I ask “which will provide more pleasure,” obviously I mean (A) “Which will provide more pleasure than the other(s)?” That’s what a hedonist thinks is directly relevant to her decision. The question (B) “Which option(s) will provide more pleasure than I’m having now?” is key only if it happens to imply an answer to question (A).

    (2): Now, you might think that the answer to (B) will imply an answer to question (A) if it happens to be the case that one of my two options would give me more pleasure than I’m having now and the other would give me less.

    Here’s why I don’t agree with that. The quantity of pleasure I’m having now is a level of pleasure. But the quantity of pleasure I’m going to get from an option is not a level. Its quantity is in units of level-times-duration. So strictly speaking it doesn’t make sense to say that the whole hedonic benefit or loss from an option is greater than, equal to, or less than the pleasure I’m having now, any more than it makes sense to say that ten man-hours is greater than five men, or a cubic inch is greater than two inches.

    If we know that each of the options among which I’m choosing produces a steady hedonic level for the same period of time (same as all the other options) and has no other hedonic consequences, then it might be natural to think of the attractiveness of options in terms of levels of pleasure rather than levels multplied by duration. And then it would make intelligible (if not strict) sense to say that the hedonic benefit of an option is greater than, equal to, or less than the pleasure I’m having now. But that sort of situation is rare.

    J> If [what fills in the blank is] st a list of other options that an agent could do, then the decision doesn’t appear to be relevant to the agent at all. A horse’s kicking me in the eye leads to more displeasure than one’s nipping me in the ear, but that doesn’t matter to an agent whose present situation does not involve horses.

    If X is one of my “options” now, it’s something I can choose now. That’s what “option” means. So if those two horsy events are “options” for you now, you are in a position to choose either of them (e.g. by how you approach a nearby horse). You could get a horse to nip you in the ear by taping some hay to your ear, but I don’t know how a horse’s kicking you in the eye might be an option for you – unless you can move your head really fast to get your eye in the path of a kick, or sign up to be kicked so many times that one of the kicks is bound to hit your eye.

    B>> Offhand one might think (and you seem to say) that for judging a condition’s pleasantness-for-Smith-at-time-t, the viewpoint that has the most authority is the viewpoint of Smith in that condition at t (hence not: the viewpoint of Smith deciding at t-minus-n whether to be in that condition at t). But the relativity view you set out would seem to imply that (short of sex or torture) nobody is ever in a condition that they (meaningfully or justifiably) regard, at the time, as pleasant or as unpleasant. So the offhand view conjoined with the relativity view implies that the only things that can possibly make any difference to the quality of life are sex, drugs, and physical agony. It would seem that the intermediate conditions – the ones you’re talking about quantifying – don’t count at all.
    J> Actually, it ought to imply the exact opposite, that we are always and constantly regarding our subjective condition at some hedonic level, and that our decisions are prompted by our status-at-time-now, whereas all of those memories of our hedonic levels at time-now-minus-n only serve as a basis for comparison when they appear (or in fact are) relevant to our attempts to construct predictions of the consequences of a selection among a closed class of decisions.

    I didn’t say anything here about memories, nor about hedonic levels had before the time of deliberation, nor hedonic levels at “t minus n.” But I think we’re covering elswhere in this discussion what I did say here.

    B>> … The condition I’m in today is irrelevant to the comparison.
    J> I would press, as a Yangist, that we can’t just leave the agent out of the calculus like that. …

    Nobody is suggesting that my life experience makes no difference to how pleasant this or that objective condition would be for me. Is that what you’re talking about – that my experience makes that kind of difference?

    J>> What I challenge, though, is this part, “Let’s suppose that today I can choose among just three options.” Unless one of those options is, “Choose neither of the other two options,” we’re just assuming that an agent is thrust into a game of deciding among choices that are independent of the agent’s present situation and present condition.

    I don’t see how it is possible to think so.

    J> Yangists don’t see decisions at all in this way. “How much exertion goes into any given choice, and does that choice lead to a pleasure that I reasonably expect to justify the exertion? Is the spoil worth the toil?” Utilitarians give a lot of these “magic button” scenarios for all of that, but that ignores what a Yangist means. For a Yangist, even the deciding, measuring, determining and finding a way to calculate all of those decisions is, itself, a toil.

    Utilitarians give abstract scenarios in order to clarify abstract points that people often get confused about. That doesn’t mean they’re denying obvious facts about life. Utilitarians also don’t think options come prepackaged with letter-names and numbers of hedons, though you can see how it would be possible to get the impression from some conversations that utilitarians did think so.

    J> Sometimes people just turn apathetic, tired of being agents.

    Happens to me every night. What’s the interesting point that follows from that?

    B>> The relativity view similarly does not imply that the ranking among those options for my choice depends on my current condition. The relativity view says that in order to be able (meaningfully or justifiably) today to call tomorrow-A “pleasant” or “unpleasant” I have to be in some condition other than A today; but that point doesn’t seem to affect the rankings.
    J> I agree, but I think that’s just because you leave out a rank, the rank of opting out of agency altogether.

    Let’s distinguish between two things: (O) the option of opting-out (e.g. the option of falling asleep or killing oneself, as a choice), and (E) the event of stopping being an agent (e.g. falling asleep or dying). I can fall asleep without deciding to. Of course one often has option (O). When I say things like “Suppse I have ten options” and I don’t specifically mention (O), that shouldn’t suggest that I am somehow omitting it from the discussion, any more than the fact that I don’t mention any other specific option (such as having a horse bite my ear) means that my theory commits the error of neglecting that kind of option.

    It can also of course happen that when I am trying to decide among several options, one of which might or might not be (O), I simply (E) fall asleep or die before making a decision.

    B>> But the relativity view might make a difference to the rankings when a certain special kind of option is on the menu: unconsciousness (e.g. death).
    J> … I think everyone learns this trick at about four years old, …

    Sorry, I meant permanent unconsciousness.

    B>> One way in which Yangism and the self-oriented slice of Benthamite utilitarianism might differ is that the latter is about one’s whole future considered impartially (a hedon tomorrow has the same value as a hedon next year), while Yangism might “count” a pleasure only insofar as (a) one actually wants it, or (b) insofar as one naturally wants it, or (c) insofar as, if one is (or were) wanting in accord with one’s nature, one does (or would) want it. Something like that.
    J> For a Yangist, it seems that (b) would have to imply (a), since all of his arguments seem to criticize certain wants for being contrary to natural wants (if in this “natural want”, we’re constrasting between intrinsic and extrinsic ends), and further for being indefensible against those natural wants.

    If there are actual wants that are contrary to natural wants, (b) cannot imply (a). I think that’s really plain on the surface of things. What am I missing?

    J> Yangzi’s argument would be more like: … first, … second, … third, … fourth …..

    That’s interesting stuff, and I’m looking forward to arguing against that Yangist argument, once we find our way out of the preliminaries. Maybe we should just skip ahead to that.

    B>> But I don’t need units to see that an elephant is bigger than I am, and I don’t necessarily need units to see that one option offers more pleasure than another.
    J> You do. Sight and “common sense” just use measures that we take for granted. They are quite natural.

    Why do I need units? Or do you just mean that when I make a visual comparison between the elephant and me, I’m necessarily using myself or the elephant as a unit? But we were talking about the idea that when I compare things (such as options) I need some further thing (such as my present state) as a unit.

    J>>> we also regularly get this option: “Act in a manner that retains one’s present hedonic level as closely as possible.”
    B>> You seem to be saying in most choices, or in many choices in the course of a day, that’s one of the options. Is it? Partly that depends on whether by “as closely as possible” you mean (a) “as closely as something you can now do can cause or ensure,” in which case we always have that option, or (b) “as closely as can be,” in which case I think we have that option whenever we’re in a neutral hedonic state (as maybe most people often are), between pleasure and unpleasure, and have the means to relinquish consciousness permanently.
    J> I think that the only hedonically neutral state is unconsciousness or some other removal from agency (by death, going limp, etc.), so I don’t agree with the conditions placed on (b).

    I was arguing that your claim “Things are regularly like X” is false because in fact things are only like X when uncommon circumstance Y obtains. Your above response is only that circumstance Y is even less common than I think, and perhaps never obtains at all. Thus you seem to be attacking your original claim more strongly than I am willing to do.

    I disagree with the particulars of what you say. I think a neutral hedonic state is perfectly consistent with consciousnessness, as is a state neutral between warm and cool. (Perhaps we can avoid blips of non-neutrality only for short periods while conscious.) I don’t see how going limp (or otherwise losing agency without losing consciousness) would be relevant to whether I’m in a neutral hedonic state.

    J> I don’t really know what (b) means by itself, though (I use “can be” and “possible” interchangeably).

    I’m using them interchangeably too. Suppose I ask you to toss a coin now so that it lands as far north as possible. If I mean “as far north as something you can now do can cause or ensure,” i.e. as far as you can throw it now, then obviously you are capable of doing what I asked. But if I mean “as far north as can be,” i.e. as far north as the coin could possibly be, then I’m asking you to toss it so that it lands on the north pole; and that might not be within your ability. That’s the kind of distinction I meant to draw above between (a) and (b).

    B>> Aside from that situation, however, I think a person is pretty much never in a position to do anything that will have a significant leveling effect on her hedonic level over the rest of her future or the rest of her life.
    J> Life doesn’t have to be static for this system to work, which is why it only needs to remain “as close as possible” to the hedonic level. That gives space for some fluctuation.

    I was taking for granted that you were leaving space for some fluctuation. I think that the point I was denying here is a point that’s obviously wildly false. A similarly false claim would be the claim that it is regularly true that I have an option that would ensure that I remain in the same building I’m now in, for the next ten years (give or take the occasional brief trip). That claim is obviously wildly false. I might sometimes have such an option, for example if I am visiting a penitentiary and have occasion to commit a serious crime. But normally I do not.

    (Note the radical difference between (i) my having the option of doing something now that will ensure that I stay in the same building for the next ten years, and (ii) my in fact staying in the same building for the next ten years.)

    B>> if I have the option at time t of ensuring a constant hedonic level for the rest of my life, and I take that option, it’s unclear in what sense I could have that option again. But you say this is an option one can have regularly. [Is that reasonable?]
    J> Sure. All we have to allow is that alternatives regularly present themselves and that we consider them against our present condition.

    I don’t see how that reason could seem to support that answer. I’m lost!

    J>>> This regularly available option tells us that we can similarly decide that our current level is more than adequate.
    B>> By what sort of standard? I mean, adequate for what? I don’t understand. Hedonism (e.g. the HP) generally says “the more the better” and leaves it at that.
    J> Yangism is definitely not like that. Yangists can actually be satisfied at a certain hedonic level. Yangists concern themselves with infliction of harm against themselves, and they would acknowledge problems of sorts wherein excessive duration or intensity of a pleasure actually causes pain or numbs the potential for repeated, future sensations of a comparable sort (by the warmth of a fire, for instance).

    But that’s just arguing that an option that might seem to promise the most pleasure overall, is not in fact the one that promotes the most pleasure overall (because it has hedonic drawbacks one might at first overlook). So what your last lines don’t seem to address is the idea of being satisfied with something while knowing that it is truly not hedonically best, all things considered.

    J> We must not be thinking of the “net” in “net pleasure” the same way. It just seems that [I] wouldn’t equate because people with miserable childhoods and no prospects would just give up agency even if opportunities for significantly raised hedonic levels presented themselves.

    Granted that people would be like that, how would that have the implication you say it would have? I don’t see any connection.

    J> Such a perspective on “net pleasure” would be far different from one where the person just considered the shift from his present hedonic level to the following one (as in [II]).

    That’s nothing like what [II] says; also “the following one” lacks reference because there isn’t just one (unless you mean “the immediately following one”).

    J> Your [III], to me, doesn’t appear to account for the space between decision and realization of that decision, so is not a “net pleasure” in the same sense as I thought you were meaning it. Is it more like “net pleasure for the duration from initiation to termination of the result from a decision?”

    “net pleasure” just means net pleasure (as in your definiens). Traditionally, I think, hedonism evaluates options by the net pleasure “caused” by those options (reading causation broadly so that things cause themselves, so that the options are counted among their own consequences). Options are the objects of decisions; they are the decided-upon things. Thus options aren’t exactly the same as results of decisions. For one thing, the options I decide against never result from any decision. For another thing, as you mention, decisions have effects other than their objects, which we might call “side-effects.” For a third thing, the fact that I decide on an option doesn’t mean I’ll be able to bring it about. I might fail: and then option O will not result from my opting for O.

    Presumably there would be no “termination of the result” of anything, but given that sentient life will end there will be some end to the hedonic consequences of any option. The consequence of any action event, though, will presumably be various increments of hedonic levels over time (or rather, probabilities of these), usually not actual levels over time. For my actions aren’t the only things that influence my hedonic levels.

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