Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Gary Larson and Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is an atheistic moral code that states that good is pleasure and bad is pain. The morality of an action can be obtained by measuring its effect on aggregate pleasure and aggregate pain across the whole population (which may or may not include non-human animals or plants). In order to prevent wild orgies and drunkeness, Utilitarianism suggests that the elite members of society create a scoresheet to overweight intellectual pursuits. Something like this:

Getting a lap dance at a sports bar while drinking beer = 1 point.

Translating Plato from its original Greek = 1,000 points.

The problem is that this assumes the population will sit still and listen to the elites when they try to suggest that the elites' hobbies are more important than those of the general public. Gary Larson points the way to the result.

What Utilitarians say: "Pleasure is good. Pain is bad. Intellectual pursuits are much better than booze and sex."
What we hear: "Pleasure is good. blah blah blah blah blah blah booze and sex!"


tim eisele said...

You know, thinking about it, I'm not so sure that utilitarianism is necessarily atheistic. It strikes me as more just an attempt to work out why some things are right and other things are wrong. Even if you believe that morality is only based on what God wants us to do, you run into the old question:

"Is it moral because God wants us to do it[1], or does God want us to do it because it is moral[2]?"

If we assume the first case, then all you have to go on is the explicit rules in the Bible, and Utilitarianism is obviously useless. But, in that case you can get into all sorts of tangles if there is disagreement about interpretations of biblical rules or if you get into a new situation that isn't obviously covered.

If you assume the second, though, then if we can work out God's criteria for deciding what is moral and what isn't, then we can apply these same criteria when we get into new situations, or to choose between different interpretations of the biblical rules. Utilitarianism may be flawed, but it is a stab at doing this, and if it were successful then it would be just as useful to theists as to atheists.

[1] That is, God's mere act of declaring something moral makes it moral, regardless of what it is. Which opens up the whole can of worms of things like "If God ordered us to commit murder, would that make murder moral?"

[2] In which case, there is some fundamental reason why things are moral, and God is just pointing out an inevitable moral code that follows naturally from this fundamental reason.

K T Cat said...

Utilitarianism is atheistic by definition, but it's precepts are so generic that they can be found anywhere in varying forms. Utilitarianism seeks to construct a complete moral code from that simple basis.

Dean said...

What I'm hearing is that I'm way behind on my lap dances.