There is a logical relation between happiness and events/things that I referred to and used in my previous post, but I don’t think I explained it explicitly enough. So here goes:
Why do we value certain things? So, why do we value good food, good jobs, etc? The answer, according to Aristotle (who I roughly agree with here), is that all our actions must end with some ultimate end, namely happiness. So the things (food/jobs) are valuable because they produce happiness, so they are instrumentally valuable whereas happiness is intrinsically valuable.
The point to notice is that the “reasons” for being happy aren’t intrinsically valuable. Realizing that happiness is the intrinsic value brings up the question: why not just pursue the intrinsic value, and not arbitrarily assign necessary conditions for happiness to purely instrumental values.
I’ve written before on the idea that in life, finding meaning involves forming your own conception of what is valuable in life (http://fensel.net/2011/07/27/getting-caught-up-in-the-absurd/). I purposefully left what this meaning could be blank, I find that it has to be a variable depending on the individual person. What is valuable to me might not be to you, and so forth.
However, there is some universal idea of happiness that people have that we may all share. Happiness is an incredibly difficult word for me to define without providing a circular definition, but it implies a basic idea of enjoyment, satisfaction, and coincides with whatever people think has meaning in life.
Movies, quotes, etc. have perpetuated the idea that their is some pursuit of happiness (which happens to be the title of a really good movie). Meaning, there is some end goal that people are pursuing that will result in happiness. Since we all want happiness, we should all pursue it, and we find our own ways of doing this.
A lot of people would reply that happiness is not something to be pursued, and that people have to learn to be happy with what they have (I’m one of those people). In general however, this idea can often be boiled down to one idea: you already have enough reasons to be happy. The people in your life, where your at, family, etc. are often the “real reasons” that people will use to show why you should be happy with what you’ve got. This contrasts with the successful, rich, perfect family ideal that some people use to pursue happiness. If these were the only two options, I would obviously go with the former-learn to be happy with the things you already have.
The point of this post, however, is a rejection of the idea that you already have things in your life that give you reason to be happy. Meaning, you shouldn’t be happy because you have a nice family/job/relationship/etc. The reason for this is because under this system of logic, happiness becomes a result of what you have, justified by the things you have. Meaning, you are happy because you have a family.
Instead of being happy because of the family, you should be happy because being happy is worthwhile. Happiness is, as argued to some degree by Aristotle and utilitarians, the only valuable end. So, if you were strictly logical, you would reason:
1. Happiness is intrinsically valuable.
2. There is no such value that happiness could be worth sacrificing for.
3. There is no reason, other than to improve happiness in other places, for you to be unhappy.
What I am effectively saying is, you always have a reason to be happy. Since happiness is valuable at all times, you should always be happy. Other values, such as other people’s opinions, social status, money, etc., are not intrinsically valuable. Their instrumentally valuable only as much as they relate to your own happiness.
This probably doesn’t seem like I’m saying much, but discovering this idea, and actually understanding it, defined who I am possibly more than any other revelation. Consider what I’m saying: there never needs to be a reason for you to be happy. Happiness, due to it’s intrinsic value, is reason in itself for you to have it. So, you are happy because you want to be happy.
Conversely, this means that you never really have a reason to be unhappy. Being unhappy diminishes the value of your happiness, and their is no separate value that could logically justify this.
To apply this idea (that I imagine is sounding like obvious stuff, but I can’t stress enough how different life is if you actually hold this belief), reflect on yourself when your at times of high happiness or high misery. When your really happy, do you always have a justification outside of happiness (ie are you only happy when something goes really well)? When your really miserable, do you think you have reasons to be (like saying: I’m sad because of ____)? The idea of this post, that I hope comes across, is that both of these reasons are completely illogical. Failing a class, losing a job, etc. are not reasons to be unhappy. They are reasons to do other things (like look for a new job), but feeling unhappy about it literally is only a negative value that improves nothing.
Two possible objections:
1. If you buy into Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, you might think that you need food/shelter/security before you can feel truly happy. This might be true, as people might be animals that need these basic necessities before being able to escape stress of fearing death. However, to respond, I would simply say: the lack of those things aren’t truly reasons to be unhappy. We may be incapable of avoiding unhappiness in these situations, but we are also not purely logical creatures. The point of this post is simply that, if we had perfect logic, we would realize that we should always be happy. (Side note: the ability to be happy for no outside reason, or to be happy when we think there are reasons to be sad, is not easy. As illogical animals, we don’t have the ability to act and feel logically at all times. So, as illogical animals, we should simply try to be logical as often as possible. Just, when reflecting on this, at least realize the logic even if your emotions won’t listen).
2. The happiness of ourselves isn’t the only end worthwhile, as we also value the happiness of others (if this is true, I can potentially prove morality, but I am working on it and it isn’t easy). What this entails is that perhaps when the happiness of another is decreased, or worse ended, we might have a reason to be unhappy as something we value for its own sake is gone. However, the logic still goes against this. Being unhappy does not improve the happiness of others that we value, so the unhappiness is not intrinsically or instrumentally justified. However, I would never advocate someone being purely reasonable in all areas, as value itself is slightly unreasonable (I’ll get into this in a future post). It would be wrong to expect people to be able to logically deduce that they shouldn’t be sad when a relative dies. However, this only applies in extreme cases, and in almost every other area, it is not intrinsically or instrumentally worthwhile to be unhappy.
Assumptions, simply defined, are things that a person “knows” that were not derived with reason. Reasoning, in my understanding, is the ability to logically deduce one fact from another.
The above two definitions, which I don’t think are too controversial, help define the difference between a priori and a posteriori knowledge. A priori knowledge (knowledge without experience) has to be an assumption of sorts. A posteriori knowledge, when correct, is knowledge learned from experience and supported by reason.
The initial problem, that a priori knowledge is meant to solve, is how we have any knowledge at all. If we can only reason from knowledge to other knowledge, then we either have no knowledge or there must be some knowledge we have through a process other than reason.
So the question is: what a priori knowledge do we have that is justifiable? If we start from complete skepticism, are we left with only a Cartesian sense of “I exist”?
My answer to this question involves an argument for materialism (which I’ll post later today). I wanted this post to introduce the topic beforehand.
In any discussion of justice, most people will easily agree: natural liberties (like the right to not be killed, right to body) are equally distributed. It is unjust for one person to have more of a right to their own body than another. This is the case whether you think rights are intrinsic to humans, or they are a product of some social contract. The basic idea is the same: everyone is entitled to equal rights, and justice is not complete without this. (Side note: a strict utilitarian might disagree with this, but I’ve already gone over why strict utilitarianism doesn’t work. The fact that utilitarianism doesn’t necessitate equality of liberty is the main reason John Rawls rejects it)
The next question: is economic inequality, by its nature, unjust? Intuitively, most people don’t think so. Excessive inequality is often thought to be (as noted by the OWS movement), but there seems to be some notion of an acceptable level of economic inequality.
The point of this post: is there a disparity between our need for equal liberty, but our acceptance of economic inequality? Consider what economic power entails:
-Power to influence politics (advertisements, lobbying, etc.)
-Power to get healthcare
-Power to get an education (at least easier)
-Power to use the legal system (there are few things in life more depressing/difficult than being poor and needing to go to court)
-Power to buy food
The list could go on for a while. In a society with currency (which is every single one), having money gives you the ability to do whatever society can offer for it.
From a stance of equal justice, how do the largely unequal distributions of the above powers become justified? Even if the state handles the situation better, and a more progressive society is in place (one that guarantees its citizens the rights to healthcare, food, water, etc.), money will still tilt the scales to whomever has it.
So, is the easy answer (equal distribution of income in an egalitarian way) the right one? The track record of communism doesn’t seem to say so. Because of this, I want to bring up a concept from John Rawls (who, if you want to read a work of philosophy, I recommend more than any other philosopher). Basically, the idea is that pure economic equality might cause the entire economy to shrink, or slow its rate of growth. Economic inequality, in a capitalistic society, helps give incentives to people to achieve/produce more than they would under communism. To combine this fact with a concept of justice, Rawls claims in his two principles of justice that “economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to the benefit of all”. In simple terms, this means that it is only just for one person to have greater economic power is if that inequality helped benefit everyone. So, a person who invents a new type of phone gets richer, and it is just because that extra income gave incentive for the person to invent the phone that’s beneficial to everyone.
The practical application of this theory is a bit more complicated than I’m going into, but I think the basic description is sufficient for this post. As of now, I agree with Rawls on this point. If correct, however, this means that the current distribution of economic inequalities is in all likelihood unjust. It seems clear, to me at least, that the current distribution is not one in which the inequalities are to everyone’s benefit.
Sadly I’ve been too busy this week to do much blog writing, and I will be til Friday. I’m working on a few blog ideas, I think I’ll write one on economic inequality potentially being an inequality of liberty and another on the logic of assumptions. I should hopefully be able to publish both this weekend, as well as reply to the comment debates I’m currently in.