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The Happiness of Others

Uploaded by palma on Oct 12, 2000

Sam Vaknin's Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Web Sites


Is there any necessary connection between our actions and the happiness of others? Disregarding for a moment the murkiness of the definitions of "actions" in philosophical literature - two types of answers were hitherto provided.

Sentient Beings (referred to, in this essay, as "Humans" or "persons") seem either to limit each other - or to enhance each other's actions. Mutual limitation is, for instance, evident in game theory. It deals with decision outcomes when all the rational "players" are fully aware of both the outcomes of their actions and of what they prefer these outcomes to be. They are also fully informed about the other players: they know that they are rational, too, for instance. This, of course, is a very farfetched idealization. A state of unbounded information is nowhere and never to be found. Still, in most cases, the players settle down to one of the Nash equilibria solutions. Their actions are constrained by the existence of the others.

The "Hidden Hand" of Adam Smith (which, among other things, benignly and optimally regulates the market and the price mechanisms) - is also a "mutually limiting" model. Numerous single participants strive to maximize their (economic and financial) outcomes - and end up merely optimizing them. The reason lies in the existence of others within the "market". Again, they are constrained by other people’s motivations, priorities ands, above all, actions.

All the consequentialist theories of ethics deal with mutual enhancement. This is especially true of the Utilitarian variety. Acts (whether judged individually or in conformity to a set of rules) are moral, if their outcome increases utility (also known as happiness or pleasure). They are morally obligatory if they maximize utility and no alternative course of action can do so. Other versions talk about an "increase" in utility rather than its maximization. Still, the principle is simple: for an act to be judged "moral, ethical, virtuous, or good" - it must influence others in a way which will "enhance" and increase their happiness.

The flaws in all the above answers are evident and have been explored at length in the literature. The assumptions are dubious (fully informed participants, rationality in decision making and in prioritizing the outcomes, etc.). All the answers are instrumental and quantitative: they strive to offer a moral measuring rod. An "increase" entails the measurement of two states:...

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Uploaded by:   palma

Date:   10/12/2000

Category:   Social Issues

Length:   6 pages (1,414 words)

Views:   1888

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