Battlepanda: The Experience machine, again


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Experience machine, again

Julian Sanchez offers a round-up of the responces illicited by his article on parentalism. I have contributed an awful lot of wasted pixels over this so I'll endeavor not to waste too many more.

Just to remind y'all: I don't believe in an absolute morality. Now, that does not mean I don't think morality is necessary or that I am an immoral person. It means that, epistemologically speaking, I think ethics/morality systems have more in common with the rules of the road than with the laws of physics. Stop signs are a good thing. Just because they are not rooted in some fundamental universal constant does not make them any less of a good thing. Now, we all agree with what's good on the road (although there are conflicts even in those simple goals)-- less accidents, speedier traffic, easier access to the places we want to go . What about in life in general? Is it greater material wealth? Greater harmony? Less stress? Less poverty? Everybody's needs and desires are different. Just like in a marketplace.

Just like money is required to facilitate exchanges in goods and services, we need a token against all the "good" (cleaner air, greater GDP) we can generate in our society so that we can compare and make choices. Utilitarians call this token (duh!) 'utility', and instead of trading it, we seek to make decisions that maximize it. There's a factory pumping out smog. Should we close that factory? How about if 1000 people gets asthma and ten jobs are saved? What if 10 people gets asthma and 1000 jobs are saved? The choices are tough, and I would trust it more to a utilitarian than to someone who thinks "economic growth should always come first" or "the health of our children should always come first."

The Experience Machine that generates utility is no more dangerous to utilitarianism than an indiscriminate printing press that spews out money/credit every which way is to libertarianism, as long as both those machines remains in the abstract.

Those who have followed the argument thusfar will see that I have parted ways with my fellow utilitarians, Werewolf and Jew, who thinks that utility really is an absolute good. Luckily, this difference in theoretical position tends not to have many if any practical ramifications.

Now it's time for me to turn the table on Julian:

1) You have seeked to undermine the maximization utility/happiness as a basis for morality on the grounds that it is not an absolute good. Now tell me why freedom is an absolute moral good even divorced from the fact that it causes people to be happy.

2) Question One might seem unfair, since I've already stated that I'm someone who is skeptical that there is such a thing as an absolute moral good (though do answer because I'm curious to hear your argument.) So here's another. Lets say that the Experience Machine really does prove what it goes out to prove -- that happiness unaccompanied by reality is empty. How does it then follow that a libertarian viewpoint is superior? We all come up against physical limitations on our freedom without losing our agency. Why should limitations imposed by society put a qualitatively different drain on our sense of reality? A peasant's life under the rule of a king is unjust and undesirable for any number of reasons, but we can hardly argue that it's bad because his life somehow isn't real.

As for the objection that it is only natural to break down limitations, not to erect them. That too is untenable from a libertarian point of view. Libertarians are all about establishing societal barriers that forsakes the freedom of the individual for the welfare of the whole, as long as they are rules and law that enable and facilitate financial exchanges. Even *gasp* taxation is begrudgingly accepted by many libertarians when it is necessary for defense. You can't argue against rules in general while insisting that your rules alone must be instituted.