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.. Society
We Live in the Present

10 Views of Landscape
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Culture is Ordinary
I pay rent.
Listening to Corn
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What is Public Schooling For?

AI and Art
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Is this picture real?
NonFungible Tokens
Public Art
Tearing Down Statues
What is Art?
Working With Reality

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.
Bird Brains
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Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
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I Lost My Knife
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The Phenomenology of Swim Bladders.
Thinking about medical procedures
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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?

A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
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Money is Different
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Spending Money Into Existence
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Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
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The Past and the Future.
Uncertainty and Unpredictability

Competition and Cooperation
Dr Malthus would be pleased
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Evolution is not Religion
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Politics and Evolution
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Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
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Libertarian Coercion

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
Moral Realism.
What do we owe animals?


Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
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Sorites Paradox
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The Gorilla in the Room of Science
The Purpose of Science
What is Going On?

If It Walks Like a Duck
Right Wing Freedom
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Constructed Life
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A society needs a government.
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Rules in a Knife Fight?
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The Homeless
The Problem with Hedonism
To the Moon
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
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Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

The Problem with Hedonism

Sounds good at first

Hedonism is an ancient way of thinking about what is good - basically pleasure is good.

Wikipedia gives us this early quote from Sumeria.
"Fill your belly. Day and night make merry. Let days be full of joy. Dance and make music day and night [...] These things alone are the concern of men",
Sounds like sex, drugs and rock and roll to me.

I've spent time in a culture like that and a striking thing is how innocent it seems to the participants. They are just having a good time. They aren't trying to hurt anybody. Of course non-participants have a different perspective - a couple actually.

One is just a civil matter - partygoers often don't realize how much of a disturbance their fun can be.

And another is a moral matter - hedonism is equated with debauchery by many people.

Epicurus presented a gentler sort of hedonism - for him pleasure meant living a simple, modest, and peaceful life.

In our time hedonism is found as a basis for many movements. Objectivism and libertarianism come to mind. It's an intuitively satisfying idea that appeals particularly to people looking for a secular justification for their motivations and actions. Something is good if it feels good. Simple.

Not so simple actually.
Lots of people consider smoking cigarettes a pleasure. I know people who cough so much that sometimes they can't take a puff on their smoke. Or getting drunk - so drunk you end up in a gutter in a puddle of puke. Is that really pleasure? Pleasure can be a trap because there are many things that feel good at first but have bad consequences later. The initial pleasure traps you into suffering later.

So it's not so self evident what we might call a pleasure. Hedonism involves a bit of a paradox - if you seek pleasure you ain't gonna get it. Often pleasure has to be approached indirectly - it has to be experienced as a side product of doing something else. So how can pleasure be a motivation for anything if it can't be directly approached?

Utilitarianism generalizes the hedonism from only pleasure to anything that has utility for people as a ground for thinking things good or bad. Sounds good - but again it doesn't quite work - what is utility for people?

What if a utility for you or your country is a harm for me or my country?

How can we compare utilities and harms? How do we do the math?

And if the math goes against people what psychology is going to make them accept the harm? An advance on Utilitarianism was Armartya Sen's Capabilities Approach. That idea measures the capabilities that a society offers it's residents to live fulfilled lives. What a fulfilled life actually is is left as an exercise for the citizens - but the idea is that whatever a fulfilled life is, it requires certain fairly definite capabilities to attain it.

When I was young I really liked the hedonism that Ayn Rand presented. Each of us only have our own experience of our lives. That experience has to be satisfactory or the rest is mush.

She spoke against altruism - and by that she meant sacrificing yourself for the benefit of others. She was thinking of religious altruism but I read it in the middle of the Vietnam war and I read altruism as the demand of society that young people go fight and die in foreign wars.

But with Rand we start to get a hint about another thread of hedonist thought. It's not just a moral grounding for secular people. It's a profoundly individualistic way of thinking. The measure of good or bad is the individual's experience - nothing else. If the individual doesn't like their experience they are presumed to have the capability of changing it. And if they don't change it then it's nobody's problem but their own.

But are individuals the only level that we can think of this on? How about the level of society? Maggie Thatcher famously quipped that there is no such thing as society. There are only individuals and families going about their own lives. I guess Maggie lead a sheltered life and didn't notice that cars run on a different side of the road in England and France - but I wonder how she'd account for that in the absence of society. Somehow everyone in England just decided to drive on the left side of the road? As individuals?

An aspect of social reality is that there are lots of things we don't do for hedonistic reasons. Like driving on the correct side of the road. I don't think people do that because of the pleasure of avoiding pain. I think they do it because they just recognize that that's the way it is. The social dimension of humanity means that none of us is an island - we are all part of each other. We mutually interact and a lot of what we do is driven by the logic of that interaction rather than by what anybody wants.

Consider Ukraine - once that previous president tore up the agreement with the EU then the dance we are now watching in horror was pretty much set. Nobody wanted it. Nobody thinks this dance is a good idea on any level - certainly not hedonistic ones. That dance is what society does - not hedonistic individuals even if all the individuals are hedonistic. Which is a big problem for hedonism I think - how can you hope do prosper if your world view ignores so much of reality?

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.