Natural Rights of Recipience



Frequent Catallarchy commenter Joe Miller, a professor at UNCP, writes in defense of natural rights of recipience. I realize that this stance is not one that will find support among most Catallarchy readers. Yet, it is a virtue to examine views foreign to us and constantly scrutinize our own beliefs for weaknesses. Please show Joe the same respect he has shown us by remaining civil in the discussion. - Jonathan Wilde

Yes, I’m defending them, and I’d like to thank the nice folks at Catallarchy for allowing a non-classical liberal anarchist to invade the pixels today. Before I defend natural rights of recipience, I want to lay out a bit of groundwork. First, I’m not actually a rights theorist. I’m a consequentialist (a utilitarian, to be specific), so I don’t think that there is any such thing as a right, natural or not. But rights talk is useful shorthand even for a utilitarian, so I’m going to help myself to the language, providing justifications for using it as I go. Second, I want to distinguish between different kinds of rights. Rights are characterized by two sets of distinctions: contractual/natural and non-interference/recipience. Of the four possible combinations, two have names: positive rights, which are contractual rights of recipience (or the right I have to demand that keep your contracts) and negative rights, which are natural rights of non-interference (with a natural right being a right that one gets by virtue of being a rational, autonomous, sentient being). Contractual rights of non-interference aren’t discussed very often, as most rights theorists think that non-interference rights are all natural rights. Natural rights of recipience are also not often discussed as such, though the concept underlies much of liberal political theory.

As I said, I am a utilitarian, and so, like Mill, I am going to pass up the advantages I might be able to get from appealing to natural rights as such, but will instead appeal to what Mill calls “utility in the largest sense, grounded in the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.” There is much debate as to what this phrase means, exactly. I think, however, that it is a reference to the distinction Mill makes in Utilitarianism between higher and lower pleasures. Mill argues that higher pleasures are qualitatively better sorts of pleasures, and he claims that he knows this empirically simply by asking those who have experienced both higher and lower pleasures. Although Mill is frustratingly vague about definitions of higher pleasures, I think that the best way to characterize them is as the sensations that result from activities that require that we (a) exercise our autonomy (or choice-making abilities) and (b) express our individuality. Traditionally, Mill scholars go on to give all sorts of snobbish examples of higher pleasures (e.g., poetry, wine, classical music, and chess). While these are higher pleasures, so, too are things like poker, beer, and video games. Many video games, I’m thinking here about online role-playing games, require players to make numerous choices; often these games are complex enough to allow for considerable expression of individuality in reaching successful conclusions.

So what does any of this have to do with natural rights of recipience? Well, one of the implications of this account of higher pleasures is that the only way to achieve them is through the exercise of our autonomy. Ideally, people would exercise their autonomy in ways that lead to higher pleasures, but of course not everyone will do so. Still, since by definition I can’t force someone to act autonomously, and since autonomy is a necessary condition for attaining higher pleasures, it looks like I have good reasons for protecting liberty generally. I have, in other words, a utilitarian argument for negative rights.

But the requirement that I protect autonomy does not entail that I am prohibited from doing things that promote higher pleasures. Indeed, this point is particularly crucial when we consider that autonomy is not the only necessary condition for attaining the higher pleasures. Consider that most of the kinds of activities that are likely to yield higher pleasures are luxury activities. Only rich societies can afford things like philosophy, art, and math, and only really rich societies have video games and microbreweries. In other words, to have a society with an abundance of activities that lead to higher pleasures presupposes that the society be one in which basic needs (food, shelter, medical care, and education, primarily) are already being met.

Like Mill, I think that capitalism is the best way of insuring a wealthy society. I’m not going to argue for that claim here both because I lack the space and because I suspect that, in this forum, not many will disagree. But capitalism, like the traditional utilitarianism with which it has so much in common, is not always efficient at distributing wealth. Capitalism creates enough aggregate wealth to allow for the pursuit of luxury activities, but it does not guarantee that each individual can afford those luxuries. But as a Millian utilitarian, I am interested in promoting higher pleasures, and the more of these, the better. Of course, we have no way of knowing ahead of time which citizens will be most efficient at producing higher pleasures, so in the absence of such knowledge, the best way to ensure that we maximize higher pleasures is to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to experience higher pleasures.

This goal, however, will mean more than just simply not interfering with others. Just as societies must have certain basic necessities in place before they can afford activities that lead to higher pleasures, so, too much individuals have a certain minimal level of education, food, medical care and shelter in order to experience higher pleasures. I’ve never tried the experiment, but I suspect that an illiterate, starving, plague-ridden homeless guy won’t gonna get all that much out of either poetry or Halo. So providing everyone with a real opportunity to experience higher pleasures will mean that everyone must have a certain minimal level of basic necessities.

We now have a utilitarian argument for the importance of protecting liberty, for regarding liberty as a kind of right, but we also have a utilitarian argument for the desirability of providing everyone with basic necessities. There is good reason, then, to think of this as a right as well, a right enjoyed by all people simply by virtue of being people and a right that entitles all holders to receive certain things. Now in a well-functioning capitalist system, the market itself will provide most people with the necessary luxuries; for the majority, positive rights are met by the invisible hand of the market. But those who slip through the cracks still have rights of recipience. And those have to be met, too.

Of course, to say that X has a right to A is to say that there is someone else who has a responsibility to see that X receives A. For example, when A is a negative right, then it really is a right of non-interference, and it is filled just when everyone else leaves X alone. If A is a positive right, then X has a right to A because Y has promised to give A to X, so Y is solely responsible for fulfilling X’s right. If A is a natural right of recipience, then everyone has the responsibility of fulfilling X’s right to receive A. But what does that mean? Well, for starters, it clearly can’t be the case that every individual has a responsibility to provide A to X. Even if X is entitled to receive an education, it does not follow that everyone else must each independently provide X with an education. Moreover, it cannot be the case that Y, who is just as poor as X, has an obligation to provide X with A. Ought implies can, and so anyone who cannot provide A to X is not obligated to do so.

But what about Z, who can afford to provide A to X? Is it Z’s responsibility to do so? I think that the answer here is still no. Consider that there will be lots of individuals who are in the same position as X. Morally speaking, there is no reason to distinguish between X and the many others who share X’s same circumstances. So if X has a moral claim on Z, that is, if Z is responsible for providing X with A, then everyone else in the same position as X would have exactly the same claim on Z. Unfortunately, no one in even the richest society can afford to provide A to everyone too poor to provide A on his/her own. (I don’t see how a completely deregulated economy fares much better. As Micha has pointed out elsewhere, our society mostly redistributes from the sort-of wealthy to the sort-of poor. Eliminating all taxes won’t provide the wealthiest will that much extra money nor will it provide the poorest with much extra—and may actually provide them with less—for meeting basic necessities. I find it hard to imagine that even paying zero taxes, Warren Buffet will suddenly have sufficient wealth to personally guarantee food, shelter, medical care and educations to everyone who cannot afford one.)

I think, then, that responsibility for fulfilling rights of recipience cannot possibly attach to individuals. Instead, it must attach to society as a whole. Government redistribution of wealth is a mechanism for discharging our collective responsibilities to fulfill natural rights of recipience. And this forced redistribution is not inconsistent with Mill’s defense of liberty; remember that liberty is valuable only because it is a necessary condition for attaining higher pleasures. If certain restrictions on that liberty (say, a restriction on what you can do with 15% or 33% of your salary) are also necessary for protecting conditions under which maximizing higher pleasures is possible, then those restrictions are likewise justified on utilitarian grounds.

I know that most parts of the argument here are done far too quickly. That’s what happens when you reduce a journal-length (or maybe even book-length) topic to a blog post. I’ll trust the readers at Catallarchy to point out all of the weak spots, and I’ll try to defend them as they come up. With luck, by the time we’re all done, I’ll have a journal article out of it. :smile:

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Alex, You are right that I

Alex,

You are right that I don't defend Mill's conception of higher pleasures here, mainly because there is no way to do that in this particular forum. A defense of that claim took two dissertation chapters, which you are welcome to read if you really want to slog through them. You'd probably be the first person not on my committee to do so.

I do, however, hint at Mill's account. He holds it it be an empirical truth that some kinds of activities give a different type of pleasure than other kinds of activities. That part seems right, I think. I do get pleasure from completing a logic proof or from reading Dickens or from discussing philosophy. I also get pleasure from drinking bourbon or from a good run. But the types of pleasures are different in each case. Mill claims that the former are better types than the latter. How do we know this? Well, we ask people who experience both kinds of pleasures whether they would be willing to exchange their capacities for the former for an unlimited quantity of the latter. In other words, would you be willing to give up all of the abilities of Socrates in exchange for living the life of the world's most contented pig? Mill claims that few who know both kinds of pleasures would make the trade. I think he's right. Much turns on the empirical question, but I think, given the way human beings happen to be designed, that few people really will choose the contented pig. Mill discusses all of this in ch. 2 of Utilitarianism, which is linked above.

I don't see how anything that I've written constitutes a defense of equality of outcome, and I certainly don't see this as a defense of communism. Where are you seeing advocacy of state ownership of capital? Where have I claimed that everyone gets an equal share of wealth? This is a defense of welfare capitalism. It's a mistake, I think, to see no middle ground between laissez faire capitalism and communism. There are plenty of stable middle positions.

I'll grant you that many governments are bad and that there are some places that might be better off with no government than with the one that they have. I deny that this is one of those places. The argument that you give is, basically, many governments are evil, so we should get rid of all of them. Many capitalists do bad things, too, but that's hardly a reason for eliminating capitalism. Using past failures to show that we shouldn't bother to make an attempt to do things better in the future is going to be pretty tough on the whole notion of progress.

As for the playstation comment, well, there is an is/ought gap in there. The fact that something is one way doesn't at all undermine the claim that it ought to be some different way. And no, I don't think that government should aim at providing everyone with playstations (or with books or wine, etc.) I do think that government should provide people with basic necessities so that, in choosing whichever sorts of activities they want, they will at least be capable of choosing activities that lead to higher pleasures.

AAGH!! WHY is the comment

AAGH!! WHY is the comment thingie cutting off the beginning of my last paragraph?! :furious:

It should start off, "First, can you address the poor track record..."

Wow. Nothing in this

Wow. Nothing in this article actually supports the notion that expensive, materialistic pleasures are a) "higher" in any sense (you and Mill need to go back and explain this notion without appeals to aesthetics), b) a morally necessary component of . What you're essentially arguing for is equality of outcome - that inputs be divorced from outputs. This is essentially an unsupported appeal for communism.

Equally incongruous is this thread of reasoning:

Eliminating all taxes won’t provide the wealthiest will that much extra money nor will it provide the poorest with much extra—and may actually provide them with less—for meeting basic necessities. I find it hard to imagine that even paying zero taxes, Warren Buffet will suddenly have sufficient wealth to personally guarantee food, shelter, medical care and educations to everyone who cannot afford one.)

I think, then, that responsibility for fulfilling rights of recipience cannot possibly attach to individuals. Instead, it must attach to society as a whole. Government redistribution of wealth is a mechanism for discharging our collective responsibilities to fulfill natural rights of recipience. And this forced redistribution is not inconsistent with Mill’s defense of liberty; remember that liberty is valuable only because it is a necessary condition for attaining higher pleasures.

u address the poor track record of every government in human history in actually increasing the sum total of the happiness of the humans under its control? Do you honestly think that Congress and the IRS have the ability of all world citizens to own a Playstation as their top priority? Secondly, again, this holds no water without a coherent explanation and justification of "higher pleasures" that gives a solid reason why they are important enough to justify monopolized initiation of force and the use of that force to confiscate private property.

Interesting. Wrong, but

Interesting.

Wrong, but interesting.

This strikes me as a nice,

This strikes me as a nice, if inadvertent, demonstration of the moral bankruptcy of straight mass-outcome utilitarianism. One implicit premise used-- but not defended-- is that individual human beings are not ends in themselves but may legitimately be used as means to the collective goal of maximizing the sum total of "higher pleasures". Soft slavery, but slavery still.

Another, higher-level implicit premise here is the idea that it's even OK in the first place to measure the goodness of a society by a single collective metric, rather than acknowledging the existence of a large set of mutually incomparable metrics.

Your explicit premises are

Your explicit premises are also wrong. You claim that we have no way of knowing which citizens will be most efficient at experiencing higher pleasures. But the outcomes of market transactions in fact provide us with such knowledge-- for one thing, the degree and manner in which people participate in the market correlate with their desire for such pleasures. It's not anywhere close to perfect correlation, but it's much better than nothing at all.

And the idea that autonomy is not a good in itself, but only a useful instrument for the pursuit of higher pleasures, is ridiculous. Consider Samuel Adams' famous quotation on the folly of loving wealth greater than liberty: was Adams insincere, do you think, or duped, or in some other way failing to express a genuine human value?

Nicholas, There is a

Nicholas,

There is a circularity problem with using market preferences to determine who most efficiently pursues higher pleasures, namely, that those who cannot afford higher pleasures won't show up in our market analysis. Suppose, for example, that instead of being born a member of the gentry, John Locke had been born a peasant. Instead of studying medicine, Locke would have farmed, probably been illiterate, and almost certainly wouldn't have produced the Second Treatise. That would have been a tremendous loss; Locke the philosopher both experienced higher pleasures himself and provided resources for allowing countless people after him to experience higher pleasures as well. My worry about efficiency is that unaided markets, because they cannot insure adequate distribution of wealth to everyone, will thus leave some who would efficiently pursue higher pleasures unable to do so.

And I'm not sure what you want me to say about Adams' quote. I can offer quotes from utilitarians (i.e., Bentham: talk of rights is nonsense and talk of natural rights just nonsense upon stilts) that dispute the intrinsic value of autonomy. We have different intuitions here. Of two options, I would choose happiness with slightly less freedom over misery and total freedom. I don't think that's irrational, though you might differ here. Incidentally, I'm not arguing for wealth per se over liberty, but for certain kinds of pleasures over liberty.

You claim to be a

You claim to be a utilitarian but you seem overly concerned with the idea that every last person be guarunteed a minimum amount of resources. The need for a guaruntee is a need of the designer of a hypothetical society to not feel like he's leaving someone out, but I dont think it has any reflection on what is actually better for the people that would actually live in such a society.

More importantly, I see no reason why we should prefer "higher" pleasures of any other pleasure, and if we did why everyone should have a positive right to those pleasures. You describe higher pleasures as the enjoyment of some aesthetic materiel goods as if the goods themselves had any intrinsic meaning. What about family, friendship, love, sex, belief, comraderie, purpose, adventure, challenge, achievement, satisfaction, security, autonomy, understanding, peace, etc.? What do those have to do with having a certain amount of X-Box or Foie Gras? And for that matter government provided health care or education?

Bascially your argument boils down to:
1) Some things called X are really good
2) Wouldnt it be nice if everyone had X?
3) To have X, people generally need some amount of Y too.
4) Therefore we should have a coercive entity to take wealth from some and provide Y to others.

I think your central problem is that you use "right of recipience" as shorthand for some utilitarian principle but you dont actual do any kind of utilitarian calculation. You assume that some "really good stuff" multiplied by "alot of people" created by pure capitalism is less than the "good stuff" multiplied by the "even more people" in your welfare state example. Hardly convincing.

- I don’t see how anything

- I don’t see how anything that I’ve written constitutes a defense of equality of outcome, and I certainly don’t see this as a defense of communism.

I concede that "communism" was the wrong word there - I meant something more general, like "collectivism" maybe. And of course you're advocating guaranteed equality of outcome, though you may not realize it: if the government providing things to people in proportions that are independent of what each individual actually earned for himself, you've left the realm of simple equal opportunity and are supplying a bare minimum outcome. This can be construed as giving "opportunities" only is a loose, appeal-to-emotion way.

- The argument that you give is, basically, many governments are evil, so we should get rid of all of them.

No. The argument is that no government, over the course of its existence, provides a net benefit to its subjects that outweighs what the subjects could have accomplished without it.

- As for the playstation comment, well, there is an is/ought gap in there. The fact that something is one way doesn’t at all undermine the claim that it ought to be some different way.

I think you might be reading something into my statement that wasn't there - I was just questioning your reading of the motives and behavior of government. Perhaps I was too indirect; what I meant to say is that the idea of a government actually behaving as you advocate is not plausible given the evidence available to us of how governments behave concerning the confiscation and redistribution of their subjects' assets.

- Mill claims that the former are better types than the latter. How do we know this? Well, we ask people who experience both kinds of pleasures whether they would be willing to exchange their capacities for the former for an unlimited quantity of the latter. In other words, would you be willing to give up all of the abilities of Socrates in exchange for living the life of the world’s most contented pig? Mill claims that few who know both kinds of pleasures would make the trade. I think he’s right. Much turns on the empirical question, but I think, given the way human beings happen to be designed, that few people really will choose the contented pig.

Do you or Mill have anything objective, any hard (not anecdotal) evidence or rigorous proofs, to back this up with? Even the way you (plural) ask the preference question is loaded.

- Suppose, for example, that

- Suppose, for example, that instead of being born a member of the gentry, John Locke had been born a peasant. Instead of studying medicine, Locke would have farmed, probably been illiterate, and almost certainly wouldn’t have produced the Second Treatise. That would have been a tremendous loss; Locke the philosopher both experienced higher pleasures himself and provided resources for allowing countless people after him to experience higher pleasures as well.

Oh, good lord! Are you seriously advocating that we ought to confiscate individually-earned wealth and give everybody a free ride on the unlikely chance that we'll turn up an otherwise-undiscovered genius?? How many free-riders and despoiled self-supporters are worth one good thinker (speaking of utilitarian calculations)?

Joe, Is a functioning kidney

Joe,

Is a functioning kidney among the minimal necessities for achieving higher pleasures?

Does your theory lead us to the conclusion that if a person cannot find a willing donor, then we must have a coercive institution redistribute kidneys from some who can achieve higher pleasures without a kidney to those who can't?

Do you see any problem with this?

On what basis can you distinguish between taking people's time and effort against their wills, and taking their kidneys against their wills?

Excellent writing. Too bad

Excellent writing. Too bad its all wrong. Rationalizations of socialism and the use force always fall flat on thier face. Its too bad people waste thier time trying to save communism and socialism via intellectual leaps which always fail, like long shot bets on losing horses.:neutral:

Joe: your "circularity

Joe: your "circularity problem" arises only if what people can afford has little or nothing to do with what they or those close to them have done-- i.e. if markets drop varying amounts of wealth on people at random, like manna from heaven. But this isn't true.

Of course luck and initial endowments do play a significant role in determining what people get on the market-- which is why I said "not anywhere close to perfect correlation". But these factors are not the only important ones, nor even necessarily the most important. The market does capture *some* information, however imperfect, about the extent to which people make an effort to enjoy its fruits.

On the value of autonomy, I think you're missing my point. I'm not talking about natural rights, but on the value that real human beings place on autonomy per se. And I completely agree that wealth with slightly less than total freedom is preferable to misery with total freedom. My claim is not that the intrinsic value of autonomy is infinite, but that it is nonzero.

This is important because it implies that you cannot fully account for the value of autonomy to people by considering only the instrumental effect of autonomy on the pursuit of the "higher pleasures". Taxing people for redistributive purposes has a cost to their autonomy that is real and important to them, and ought not be accounted at zero. You might still believe that the benefit outweighs that cost (and we'll still disagree about the interpersonal comparability of such costs and benefits), but as it stands your accounting is just incomplete.

Nelziq, "More importantly, I

Nelziq,

"More importantly, I see no reason why we should prefer “higher” pleasures of any other pleasure, and if we did why everyone should have a positive right to those pleasures. You describe higher pleasures as the enjoyment of some aesthetic materiel goods as if the goods themselves had any intrinsic meaning."

As I've argued both in the piece itself and in the comments, we should prefer higher pleasures because they are better pleasures. How do we know? Well, ask people who have experienced both. I've yet to hear anyone volunteer to live the life of the contented pig while giving up their capacities for autonomy and for individuality. Are you gonna take up the offer?

I don't intend to imply that material goods themselves have intrinsic meaning. They don't. Indeed, simply reading a book is not itself a guarantee of a higher pleasure. One must read while simultaneously exercising choices in a way that expresses individuality. Skimming Grisham isn't going to cut it here. It's the pleasure itself that has intrinsic value. Don't confuse the product with the mechanism.

"What about family, friendship, love, sex, belief, comraderie, purpose, adventure, challenge, achievement, satisfaction, security, autonomy, understanding, peace, etc.?"

These are values exactly insofar as they lead to increases in pleasure. None of the things that you describe above are intrisic values. Here I don't differ from any utilitarian. To the extent that something leads to an increase in pleasure, it's a good thing.

"Bascially your argument boils down to:
1) Some things called X are really good
2) Wouldnt it be nice if everyone had X?
3) To have X, people generally need some amount of Y too.
4) Therefore we should have a coercive entity to take wealth from some and provide Y to others."

Actually, I don't think that's the argument at all. To put it formally, it would be something like:
1) Some things called X are the qualitatively best form of the only thing that has intrinsic value.
2) If something has intrinsic value, then more of it is better than less.
3) People can attain the qualitatively best form of the thing that his intrinsic value only when (a) they are able to exercise their autonomy, and (b) they have all of their lower needs met.
4) I don't have any way to know which people will best maximize the qualitatively best form of the only thing that has intrinsic value.
5) Thus, the best that I can do in maximizing the higher pleasures is to provide everyone with the necessary conditions for attaining the higher pleasures.

The argument is about maximizing, but it recognizes that there are certain limitations on maximizing. I cannot maximize directly (many utilitarian accounts adopt this strategy), so I have to adopt a different sort of strategy. It's not failure to maximize; it's a recognition that a utilitarian can, for utilitarian reasons, choose to employ a strategy that doesn't rely on direct maximization. See Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons on this.

I think this is a fine

I think this is a fine demonstration of why utilitarianism is such a load of garbage.

- Josh

1) Some things called X are

1) Some things called X are the qualitatively best form of the only thing that has intrinsic value.

This is sounding loopier and loopier. Isn't pleasure itself a relative, individual thing? Where do you and Mill get off saying that some pleasures are "higher" than others, much less that all people have a basic "right" to these higher pleasures, and that "no one" would choose other pleasures over your preferred higher pleasures. Sounds like social engineering, frankly...

Alex, I guess that I'm not

Alex,

I guess that I'm not explaining this clearly enough. First, I've not ever argued that anyone has a right to higher pleasures. I have said that people have rights to those things that are necessary conditions for pursuing higher pleasures. There is a pretty significant difference between these two things. It would be impossible to have a right to higher pleasures, because attaining the higher pleasures requires the exercise of one's own autonomy. There is thus no way that I can provide you with a higher pleasure.

Second, pleasure is not relative to individuals. Your pleasure is just like mine (at least as far as we can tell; brain research marches on.) What differs from person to person is the source of pleasure. I take pleasure from one kind of activity whereas you find that particular activity to be painful. I see no reason that that shouldn't be the same. As it happens, I don't get all that much out of looking at artwork. I do, however, like doing logic proofs. There is no reason to think that everyone should get pleasure from logic proofs or from artwork.

The point I'm making is that the kinds of pleasures that come from certain types of activities (i.e., those that require exercising choice in a way that expresses our individuality) yield a different kind of pleasure and that that kind of pleasure is better than the kind of pleasure that we get from activities that don't require the exercise of those faculties. And those who have experienced both kinds of pleasures all prefer the ones that require the exercise of those faculties. Don't blame me. I didn't design humans. That's just a fact about humans as currently built. These are the kinds of things that we find better.

And the Millian claim I'm endorsing is not that "no one" will choose lower pleasures over higher ones; it's that no one who is acquainted with both will do so regularly. I might decide to watch I,Robot tonight rather than, say, PBS's latest remake of Vanity Fair (note: the example is meant as a joke. See http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/abstracts/a93.htm#miller.) But I won't always do so, and neither will anyone else who has experienced both higher and lower pleasures.

If you want to call it "social engineering" to note that people who have been educated develop different preferences than those who have not been educated, then okay, I'm endorsing social engineering. But I'm not sure why this version of 'social engineering' should be thought of as problematic--unless of course you just favor anti-intellectualism generally. But I doubt that's true; the anti-intellectuals don't seem to hang out here...they're too busy reading Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly.

Nicholas, "Another,

Nicholas,

"Another, higher-level implicit premise here is the idea that it’s even OK in the first place to measure the goodness of a society by a single collective metric, rather than acknowledging the existence of a large set of mutually incomparable metrics."

We may have reached an impasse here. I just can't help but find the sort of particularist intuitionism of "mutually incomparable metrics" to be even remotely appealing or particularly plausible. Our intutions are messy and imprecise; that's precisely why moral theory is necessary. Indeed, often our intuitions actually conflict with one another. Without some sort of higher-order principle, we can never make sense of these conflicts. I think that utilitarianism is the most plausible higher-order principle. I have a great deal of respect for Kantians who use autonomy and/or universalization as that principle. I like the idea of eudiamonea as a higher-order principle, but I think that it ultimately falls back into mushy intuitionism. I don't quite know what to make of simply giving up on higher-order principles a la Maggie Little or Cora Diamond. If you aren't convinced of the deep problems inherent in simply relying on intuitions to guide between incompatible values, then I don't know that I can say anything to so convince you.

Scott and qwest, I'll take

Scott and qwest,

I'll take interesting and well written but wrong. That describes most of the philosophical canon, no? Still fun, though.

Absolutely.

Absolutely.

Alex, "Oh, good lord! Are

Alex,

"Oh, good lord! Are you seriously advocating that we ought to confiscate individually-earned wealth and give everybody a free ride on the unlikely chance that we’ll turn up an otherwise-undiscovered genius?? How many free-riders and despoiled self-supporters are worth one good thinker (speaking of utilitarian calculations)?"

Yep, that about sums it up. :razz: Look, it's not about discovering the genius. It's about maximizing higher pleasures and doing so from a position of not having full information available. This is a parallel of the argument that Mill makes for free speech in OL. We can't know ahead of time which speech will turn out to be true, so we protect all of it so as not to miss out on the true stuff. Similarly, we can't know in advance who will be good at producing higher pleasures. So we give everyone the necessary conditions for attaining the higher pleasures so as not to miss out on those who are good at it.

The answer to your (I think sarcastically intended) question about trade-offs: honestly, there isn't an abstract answer to such a vague question. Tell me how serious the free-riding is, how despoiled the self-supporters are and how good and influential the thinker, and I'll answer. Are we talking 1% free riders, everyone giving up 1% of income and producing Shakespeare? Yeah, that's worth it. Are we talking 50% free riders, 50% tax rates to produce me? Probably not.

Nicholas, "On the value of

Nicholas,

"On the value of autonomy, I think you’re missing my point. I’m not talking about natural rights, but on the value that real human beings place on autonomy per se...Taxing people for redistributive purposes has a cost to their autonomy that is real and important to them, and ought not be accounted at zero. You might still believe that the benefit outweighs that cost (and we’ll still disagree about the interpersonal comparability of such costs and benefits), but as it stands your accounting is just incomplete."

You're right, and I need to be clearer here. There is a trade-off in giving up autonomy. That will be true even if we continue to disagree about the intrinsic value of autonomy. That is, even if autonomy is purely instrumental, there is still a utility cost in sacrificing it. One needn't even be a qualitative hedonist (Millian of the sort I describe here) to agree that sacrificing autonomy has a nonzero value. I have been too cavalier in some of my responses. In truth, I agree with you. There is only so far that we can trade autonomy for redistributive purposes, something that Alex's point about the kidney makes clear. (Thanks, too, Alex.) My point is that autonomy is exchangeable for material gain, particularly when that material gain is necessary for attaining what I'm really interested, namely, higher pleasures. Thanks for keeping me honest.

In truth, I agree with you.

In truth, I agree with you. There is only so far that we can trade autonomy for redistributive purposes, something that Alex’s point about the kidney makes clear. (Thanks, too, Alex.) My point is that autonomy is exchangeable for material gain, particularly when that material gain is necessary for attaining what I’m really interested, namely, higher pleasures.

What is, and who decides, the acceptable level of autonomy? For some individuals, trading a kidney would not be a big problem, specifically if, for example, they knew who the kidney was going to and were willing to make that trade. Likewise, the level of autonomous giving of my salary that I am willing to endure may be higher or lower than that the government chooses to force out of me.

I think where libertarians and utilitarians have their main problem is not in the goal. I think we all have a desire to see everyone's basic needs fulfilled. But where we differ is that utilitarians are willing to disregard autonomy in the effort to support such things, where libertarians would like everyone to exercise their autonomy volutarily to support such things.

I am willing to give up a certain amount of my autonomy (measured in annual salary) for certain things like charitable giving and supporting the disadvantaged members of society. I am willing to do so, because I am exercising my autonomy for something that I think is good. But I don't support other people forcing me to do so, especially when I disagree with their ability to efficiently provide a service. And I don't support forcing others to give up their autonomy to support my idea of a "good thing".

Perhaps if utilitarians can get enough people to believe that supporting their idea of a "good thing" is preferable, they will voluntarily do so?

Joe, It was me, Gil, with

Joe,

It was me, Gil, with the kidney question.

I take it from your last response that you wouldn't redistribute kidneys but you would redistribute money.

I ask again, what is the principle you use to distinguish these cases? It doesn't seem to be the one you have claimed to be using; since you don't really seem to believe that others have an obligation to provide the unfortunate with the necessities for the pursuit of higher pleasures. You should admit that sometimes the price is too high. And that there's a question of what that price is.

I think you already know the main reason that many here will not agree with your methodology: You are too quick trade-off autonomy for the wants of strangers.

I think there's a good case for those of us who value human flourishing to want to help provide others with the bare necessities, and often more. The stronger you think this case is, the easier it should be for you to raise the resources voluntarily.

But, I don't think there's a good case for establishing a coercive institution to force this support. In my opinion, promoting such a thing reveals an insufficient regard for autonomy, and an insufficient understanding of what institutions actually end up doing.

Joe,you have to ask

Joe,you have to ask yourself: Why doesn't the world work that way now then? And why will it never work that way? Why did forcing people to do things they don't want to do not work in the past? its just diet socialism joe.
Professional verbosity does not change the fact that in the past human beings have always objected to being forced and will,in all probability, continue to do so into the forseeable future.

Joe, You are right that

Joe,

You are right that rejecting interpersonal comparability is very problematic. But so is choosing a single mass objective function, like the total amount of "higher pleasures" experienced. I find the former less problematic.

One reason is that, as I think I said in another similar thread, incomparable does not have to mean incompatible. Even if you totally reject all interpersonal utility comparisons, a transaction that benefits all parties to it-- each according to his/her own conception of "benefit"-- is unambiguously good. So in my view a skeptical and humble ethicist should seek to maximize the incidence of such transactions, which everyone be they utilitarian or Kantian or whatever ought to endorse as good, while minimizing the incidence of transactions that take from some to benefit others, as these require much shakier moral theorizing to justify.

And market transactions are (in principle, and with some exceptions) transactions of the former type, while political transactions are (in principle, etc) of the latter type. So maximizing the role of markets and minimizing the role of politics in society is a good overarching goal.

A note in passing about

A note in passing about "higher" vs. "lower" pleasures. I doubt that the experience of those of us who like to argue philosophy and ethics can really be universalized so blithely. Sure, everyone we can think of prefers the "higher" to the "lower" pleasures. But we're all philosophy-and-ethics-types and so are the people we know! The sample of people whose preferences we're familiar with is not representative of humanity at large.

And isn't Dostoevsky's "Grand Inquisitor", for example, an argument against universalizing the pleasure hierarchy? A key theme in that work, IIRC, is that most people really would rather be contented pigs than experience the "higher" pleasures, since those pleasures come with the terrifying responsibility to decide what you want and figure out how you may legitimately get it.

Now Dostoevsky (being a Christian and all) plumps for responsibility and freedom anyway. But from his own point of view this is an anti-utilitarian conclusion. I think he was exaggerating quite a bit, but he clearly was working from some real experience of other people. And I don't know how we can confidently conclude that his view of human preferences was completely divorced from reality-- as we'd have to to accept the Millian pleasure hierarchy.

While you folks are debating

While you folks are debating the endless permutations of
liberty and self, I think I'll just help myself.

Give it a go.

Whadyasay?

I don't want to maximize

I don't want to maximize higher pleasures. I want to maximize lower pleasures. They are obviously the qualitatively better sorts of pleasures.

Joe, I don't see any

Joe,

I don't see any tactical dichotomy between higher and lower pleasures. If something gives us "pleasure," then it's a good. A utilitarian system that attempts to define an intrinsic sense of pleasure is dangerous. Obviously, the crowd here mostly rejects your premise.

I do see that you're relegating liberty to the status of a tool for gaining access to pleasures that are deemed worthy by one or several individuals out of many. For one who intends to help those who "fall through the cracks," you seem to be missing the fact that any system that groups people together, such as your utilitarianism, must inherently hurt some individuals. Even if we accepted the notion that one can add up peoples' utilities, I don't see how your system would make society as a whole happier than were people to be free.

By the way- microbreweries have decreased in prominence, especially in the US, as wealth has increased.

Gil, Sorry for the

Gil,

Sorry for the misattribution. I'm getting too overloaded with responses. I'll try to do better.

I don't know that this will help with the problem, but I actually argued that a commitment to maximizing the higher pleasures requires giving everyone a right to health care. Your kidney example assumes that everyone has a right to health. Those are different claims. It's not possible that we can all have a right to health, since many sick people simply can't be fixed with our current knowledge and resources. So at best, we can have a right to health care. Maybe this is splitting hairs here.

Perhaps the stronger response is going to lie in my argument that positive rights of recipience attach to society rather than to specific individuals. Money is something that I can take from society (or some part of it) collectively. Kidneys aren't that sort of thing. To require Y to give up her kidney for X is to say that Y now has an obligation to fulfill X's right. But, for the reasons that I sketched above, I don't think that natural rights of recipience attach to individuals.

You might again think that this is just a quibble. It seems to me that there is an important distinction here, though I'm not wedded to this as an answer.

Brad, "I think where

Brad,

"I think where libertarians and utilitarians have their main problem is not in the goal. I think we all have a desire to see everyone’s basic needs fulfilled. But where we differ is that utilitarians are willing to disregard autonomy in the effort to support such things, where libertarians would like everyone to exercise their autonomy volutarily to support such things."

I agree with this to a certain extent, but I think that you might overstate (as I was guilty of doing, too) the quickness of the utilitarian to dump autonomy. It's not that a utilitarian disregards autonomy. Even a straightforward act-utilitarian like Bentham or Singer holds that autonomy has some (instrumental) value. The difference really is that, at best, utilitarians would hold that autonomy is a prima facie right; that is, the fact that action A would violate X's autonomy counts as a reason for not doing A, but that reason can be overridden by other more pressing reasons. If your point is just that utilitarians are more willing than libertarians to say that autonomy can be overridden, then yes, I agree.

OK, Joe. Then, don't take

OK, Joe.

Then, don't take any money from individuals, and you're being consistent.

Otherwise, not.

Qwest, Yes, in the past and

Qwest,

Yes, in the past and for the forseeable future, people have (and will) continue to object to being forced to do things. But in the past people have also objected to living under laissez faire capitalism. There are places in the world where communists were actually pretty popular. (Don't get me wrong: I'm not a Marxist by any means.) People object to lots of things, but the mere fact of those objections isn't itself sufficient reason for thinking those things are bad. As far as calling my position socialism lite, well, okay. I suppose that on that account anything short of libertarianism is socialism of some sort? I worry that you are using terms in a rather unusual way, though, simply for the sake of attaching the emotive connotations of 'socialism' to something that really isn't socialism at all, but if that's the definition you want to go with, I can live with that.

David, I agree that most

David,

I agree that most folks here reject my initial premises. Most liberals reject my premises, too. Many utilitarians reject my premises, too. There aren't many qualitative hedonists among utilitarians, and utilitarians in general aren't too popular in philosophical circles these days. I expected that many libertarians would likewise reject the basic assumptions of utilitarianism. And I will freely confess that I am inadequate to the task of convincing a non-utilitarian to be a utilitarian. At some point, we have to argue from first principles. If we don't accept the same set, then we're pretty much just stuck. Mill himself didn't think that the principle of utility could be proven (and his subsequent attempt to try it anyway is a disaster).

I didn't know that microbreweries were becoming less popular. My horrible confession here: I don't actually like beer, so I know very little about it. Lots of my friends in grad school were beer snobs who found it appalling that I found watery American beer preferable to "good" European beers. Wines I'm better with, scotch a bit better, and bourbons better still. But I was looking for a non-snobbish sounding example. I'll pick a different one.

Joe, We have different moral

Joe,

We have different moral intuitions about negative rights vs rights of recipience, and I don't think the differences are completely resolvable. Yet, they are not so far apart that we cannot still find common ground in politics. I think my major point of disagreement with your essay is you appear to be defining utilitarianism as certain outcomes you would like to see come about. I doubt most of us disagree in a major way with those goals. Many of the contributors here call themselves consequentialists - Micha, Patri, Scott. It's the means we disagree on. Specifically, I view the political redistribution of assets from poor to rich (or at least lack of political redistribution from rich to poor) as an essential systematic feature of democracies that cannot be removed. Thus, to best meet our largely overlapping goals - the poor having a minimal safety net - state redistribution can only make things worse.

I know you believe that history shows otherwise, but I also disagree with that. :razz:

Nicholas, "A note in passing

Nicholas,

"A note in passing about “higher” vs. “lower” pleasures. I doubt that the experience of those of us who like to argue philosophy and ethics can really be universalized so blithely. Sure, everyone we can think of prefers the “higher” to the “lower” pleasures. But we’re all philosophy-and-ethics-types and so are the people we know! The sample of people whose preferences we’re familiar with is not representative of humanity at large."

Ah, but remember that it's only the preferences of those who have experienced both kinds of pleasures that can really count. Let me give a silly example. I think that I have watched Survivor maybe twice in my life. Neither time did I really have any idea what was going on; I was hanging out with friends when it came on, so I stuck around and watched. I thought it was pretty silly. But I know a lot of very smart people watch the show and enjoy it. I don't think that they are all irrational; many of them have told me that if I really spent some time watching it, got a better understanding of the game and how it works and so on, then I would appreciate the pleasure of watching it. I think that they are probably right.

Now, if you were to try to figure out whether watching Survivor is pleasurable, there is a very real sense in which it doesn't make any sense to ask me whether it is pleasurable. I'm going to say no, but I'm going to do so because I haven't bothered to do the stuff that is necessary for enjoying the show.

Well the same will be true of reading Mill, say. My students will, largely, say that they hated reading Mill. But most of my students don't actually know how to read. I'm not saying that they are illiterate; they know what all (well, most) of the words mean. But they don't read in the way that you or I would read a philosophy text. They read it the way that they read IM. So of course they won't find it to be pleasurable. Those who actually take the time to learn how to read philosophy, though, do invariably find pleasure in it.

And again, it's not that I'm expecting every person to endorse every higher pleasure. If you're tone deaf, you'll never appreciate Bach or Fitzgerald or U2. But we can only coherently ask about preferences when we ask people who have really experienced both things in question.

Jonathan, "Yet, they are not

Jonathan,

"Yet, they are not so far apart that we cannot still find common ground in politics."

Agreed. I suspect that on many political issues, I have much in common with a great many people here: Iraq war immoral; drug war immoral; gay marriage bans immoral; corporate welfare immoral; agricultural subsidies immoral...I could probably go on for a while here.

It does seem that mostly my disagreements with the many people I've conversed with here does lie in method. I dearly wish that libertarians were right that private charity would be sufficient to keep people from falling through the cracks. It would make me feel much better about the world to believe that this would happen. I just doubt that it is true. It seems to me that if people really were that generous, then there would be far fewer starving people in the world. After all, nothing is preventing Americans from giving lots of money to various world-wide charities now. Even after paying taxes, many of us still have plenty of disposable income.

My own, admittedly anecdotal, experience lead me to think it unlikely that private charity will suffice. First, every semester, I begin my intro classes with Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality." A great many students (close to a majority every time), when faced with Singer's argument, immediately move to blame poor people for being poor. This pattern has held at each school I've used the article (VT, UVa, West Point, and UNCP). I think that this is just too tempting a response. That it was also generally the response of charities in (pre-welfare) industrial revolution GB and (pre New Deal) industrial revolution US leads me to think that this response is likely to hold true universally. I think that Micha, in his post on Sachs, warns against this reaction in libertarians. So if you could show some evidence that this isn't the likely response to poverty and that in reality plenty of people will give freely, I'd be much relieved.

The trouble, of course, is that evidence one way or another is hard to come by. No society has ever (as far as I know) really been a libertarian anarchy. A few have come close to laissez faire capitalism (18th to mid-19th C Britain came close). There laissez faire capitalism pretty clearly was not meeting the needs of the desperately poor. By the mid-19th C, government began to intervene. But this isn't a pure case either, since poverty was exacerbated by Corn Laws that kept food prices artificially high and by an aristocracy that contrived to keep rents high. So until Patri finishes his ocean colony, we aren't going to have a real example from which to draw empirical conclusions. (Even then we might have worries about fairly small, fairly rich, self-selected communities and whether their lessons can be compared to bigger, more diverse places. It's Scott's (?) complaint about comparisons to Sweeden in reverse.)

Joe, If you realize that

Joe,

If you realize that most people reject your premise, is it not so far a leap to conclude that maybe a utilitarianism based upon it would not make people, on net, better off? In other words, isn't it necessary to the sucess of your plan for people to accept your views of higher pleasures being as important as you describe them?

A simplistic example of how I view the nature of your plan: me claiming that the world would be asthetically a better place if everyone listened to jazz music, despite the fact that most of the world would disagree with my premise that jazz music is more valuable than many other forms.

Regarding the microbreweries: they are enjoying a minor resurgence, but if I recall correctly, in the last half a century the number of microbreweries in the US shrank below how many one could find in say,
Munich. As with food in general, Americans (in general) seem to prefer fast, easy, and homogenous beer that is cheap, as compared with Europeans, who in general) prefer diverse and localized versions of their beer, with more character, to what we have here in the states. As shipping technology in the US improved and the national beer companies could provide beer nearly as fresh as could the local bar or pub, most microbreweries didn't stand a chance against Bud, Miller, and Coors.

Joe, i'm certainly not an

Joe, i'm certainly not an educated libertarian, as anyone who has read my posts in the past can attest to, but I understand the arguments.I like to simplify things Joe, and force is force whatever you want call it. In any case, you seem like a good individual and it is refreshing to read a reply free of the usual 'i know you are but what am i' retorts that a lot of blogs degenerate into. Keep posting, i like your style.:smile:

Joe, I'd heartily recommend

Joe,

I'd heartily recommend David Beito's book _From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State_, about the fraternal societies that provided various sorts of mutual insurance to millions of mostly lower-status people (including recent immigrants and blacks) in the late-19th and early-20th century English-speaking world. They were not charitable organizations and would have objected fiercely if you called them such; but they provided a lot of help to a lot of people in need, and the vastly greater wealth we have now would enable the creation of many more and better such organizations.

Also, I'm very glad to see you mention the Corn Laws and the rentier aristocracy. It's rare to see a redistributionist acknowledge how much state interventions have contributed to making people poor in the first place, in what are oversimplified as "laissez-faire" places and times. One libertarian who has a lot more on such interventions (the Enclosures, regulatory capture, legal restrictions on mutual banking, etc) is Kevin Carson, whose stuff you can find at

http://mutualist.blogspot.com

Now Kevin is a Tuckerite with Georgist sympathies, which means most libertarians will disagree with at least some of what he says, and I certainly do. But his basic anti-statist and pro-market credentials are impeccable, and he's done a bunch of interesting thinking about the sources of poverty and what non-state solutions could look like.

Joe, Your responses were

Joe,

Your responses were completely inadequate.

Kidney transplants are health care; not a guarantee of health. The procedures I described are simply medical care with unwilling donors; which is precisely the policy you advocate.

And, it does no good to hide behind the abstraction of society to pretend that you're not taking from individuals and giving to individuals. It doesn't change the morality to mix the money up and then redistribute it. We could play three-card-monty with the kidneys, too, if that would help you see that obscuring who's donating to whom doesn't change the fact that you are commanding (under threats of violence and confinement) some individuals to sacrifice for others.

I think the bottom-line is that you're trying to construct an argument to support your pre-conceived intuitions about fairness. You don't think taking some of people's money is a big deal. Well, it is a big deal. It represents a part of people's lives, their creativity, their dreams, and their ability to support their own chosen values. If you assigned appropriate weight to this, perhaps your calculus would lead you to better conclusions.

I have not yet read this

I have not yet read this thread or Joe's original post, although I plan to do so when I get a chance. However, I noticed some sort of debate going on with Gil about coercive kidney transplants, and that reminds me of Nozick's "eyeball argument" (page 206, ASC) and G.A. Cohen's egalitarian response to it. Now, I know Cohen is probably much more of a statist and much less of a liberal than Joe is, so this may not have much relevance to this particular argument, but for those who are interested, David Gordon has a book review that discusses this argument in depth.

Cohen's response to the eyeball argument is to first reject the principle of self-ownership and then offer this hypothetical in response:

He asks us to imagine that everyone is born with empty eye sockets. The state implants two eyes in everyone at birth, using an eye bank it owns. If someone lost both eyes, would we not oppose an eye lottery to remove forcibly one eye from a sighted person to help the blind person? But in the example the state owns all the eyes. Cohen concludes that our real objection to an eye lottery in the actual world is not that it violates self-ownership but that people have a right to bodily integrity.

The "suggestion arises that our resistance to a lottery for natural eyes shows not belief in self-ownership but hostility to severe interference in someones's life. For the state need never vest ownership of the eyes in persons" (p. 244).

Gordon goes on to claim that Cohen's argument is "pitifully weak," but I think it is interesting nonetheless. I'm a fool for strange hypotheticals.

Gil, "Kidney transplants are

Gil,

"Kidney transplants are health care; not a guarantee of health."

Yes. But you are talking about guaranteeing a right to kidneys. I am advocating guaranteed payment for kidney transplants. Those are different animals. You are right that there is no principled difference between redistributing kidneys and money. But that's a point that, in some ways, is trivially true for a utilitarian. There are not principled differences between anything for utilitarians. That's Nicholas' worry about incomensurable goods.

That said, it doesn't follow that a utilitarian will advocate forced exchanges of any kind of good. It might well be that X would benefit from sex with supermodels, but I wouldn't advocate a social policy that forces supermodels to have sex with strangers. There are utilitarian reasons for thinking that some policies have an overall net negative effect on utility even though implementing such a policy in some particular case would be utility maximizing. It's this intuition that underlies the move from act- to indirect- or rule-utilitarianism.

You would have to show me that a society with a policy of forced redistribution of kidneys really would be one that maximizes utility before I am committed to doing so. I'm pretty sure that you don't think that would be utility maximizing; I don't see why I should either.

This feeds into a deeper point, and that is one that I conceded earlier. Redistribution of anything does not have a cost of zero. So deciding what and how much to redistribute will be a matter of balancing utilities. Personally, I think that the redistribution required in society will be pretty low once we get rid of things like agricultural subsidies and the American Medical Association. But even if the number is somewhat higher, I think that the gain in higher pleasures will outweigh your loss of part of your income even when we add in the displeasure you feel from having that income forcibly redistributed. (And I think here that we might need to pause for an intuition check. Certainly libertarians will describe taxation as painful. And we will all complain. But I suspect that, for the average person, paying taxes isn't really that dreaded an invasion of personal liberty. After all, tax increases sometimes pass even via referendum. Clearly not everyone thinks that they are such a bad idea, even if we do all find it painful when we write the check to the IRS.)

"I think the bottom-line is that you’re trying to construct an argument to support your pre-conceived intuitions about fairness."

Well, yes, that's how moral philosophy works. You, on the other hand, construct an argument to support your pre-conceived intutions about liberty. I'm not a Rawlsian, but I think he is right that moral reasoning is a process of reflective equilibrium. Our intuitions serve as data points; we construct theories that mesh with as many of those intutions as we can and then we re-examine our intuitions based on our theory. Sometimes we further modify theories to mesh with intutions, and sometimes we discard intuitions in favor of theory.

When you and I argue, then, we each try to show that, given the intutions we have in common, a certain theoretical approach is better, and other intutions are best discarded as inconsistent with our more deeply held beliefs. So I do have intutions about fairness and my theory attempts to incorporate them. But at this point, I no longer have untutored intutions about fairness. My intutions have been reshaped by my theoretical commitments just as my theoretical commitments have been reshaped by my intuitions. This is how I think philosophy works. Not all philosophers will agree, and you might not either, but other than divine revelation, I'm not seeing any other good way for moral theory to work.

David, "If you realize that

David,

"If you realize that most people reject your premise, is it not so far a leap to conclude that maybe a utilitarianism based upon it would not make people, on net, better off?"

I don't see any non-question begging ways of making this objection stick. There isn't any logical connection between general acceptance of a thesis and its likelihood of working. The only way to get such a connection is to assume that 'better off' and 'freely chosen' are interchangeable. I think that's at least an implicit assumption of libertarianism, and it's a plausible claim. But your question, I think, assumes its truth, which is question begging.

"In other words, isn’t it necessary to the sucess of your plan for people to accept your views of higher pleasures being as important as you describe them?"

This formulation of the problem is better, but I think it still has problems. Here you assume that a moral theory must meet something like Rawls' publicity requirements. But as any number of utilitarians will point out, publicity requirements also beg the question against utilitarianism.

I worry that with your jazz example, that your'e getting too hung up on thinking that I'm advocating specific activities. I offered some examples of activities that lead to higher pleasures, and a number of people have pounced on them. These were just some examples. There is an enormous range of activity that can produce higher pleasures. I'm actually far more willing to grant a broad range of things than are most other qualitative hedonists. I don't see any reason to think that many of the things that people do every day wouldn't count as higher pleasures if done correctly. Practicing medicine, studying law, investment banking all clearly seem to count. But so might something like figuring out a fair work schedule for the 50 people who work in my grocery store.

The key to higher pleasures is that they all involve activities that require me to exercise my autonomy in a way that expresses my individuality. There are a lot of things that can be done in this way. I know I mentioned reading Grisham in passing somewhere as a lower pleasure, and the way that most people read Grisham probably does amount to a lower pleasure. But I attended a pop culture conference at which a very smart graduate student made connections between Grisham and popular perception of the legal system. It was a good paper. Clearly there are all sorts of activities that can lead to higher pleasures.

My point here is that I am not trying to impose my elitist preferences on everyone else. For the record, I do have some elitist preferences (I like pino noir, Beethoven and Brecht). But I also have plenty of non-elitist preferences (I use excerpts from The Simpsons and Philosophy, edited by a former colleague of mine, and sometimes show Liar, Liar in class to illustrate the importance of Aristotle's golden mean).

Many of the things that people already like could be higher pleasures if pursued in the proper way. I'm not asking people to give up beer and Spiderman. But I think that people who drink beer in the way that, say, my grad student friends did and who watch Spiderman in the way that, say, Dana Stevens (www.thehighsign.net) does, then they will get a pleasure from it that is much better than the one that they are currently getting. When I teach classes on philosophy and pop culture, I don't have any students at the end of the course who say, wow, I liked it better when I didn't know all these implications. People prefer activities that exercise their autonomy while expressing their individuality. Why? Because they yield a better kind of pleasure. It's just a fact of human nature. As a utilitarian, I have to be cognizant of that fact, and construct my moral theory accordingly.

Nicholas, Thanks for the

Nicholas,

Thanks for the referece. I'll take a look at Carson's stuff. I am a Mill scholar, so I spend quite a bit of time looking at political and economic history. Oversimplification is not particularly productive (though you're right that too many people indulge). Part of why I find conversation with libertarians constructive is that they raise a number of points that it's rather convenient for liberals to forget. I'd like to think that the reverse is true as well (like the fact that government took over for private charity in mid-19th C Britain because the latter wasn't proving effective).

Qwest,

Thanks for the nice comments. I'm deeply impressed by the level of civility here.

Oh, and I agree that force is force. I just think that some force is justified, namely when that force is being employed in defense of basic rights. That's why I'm not a pacifist. It's also the same reason that I'm not opposed to redistribution. Our disagreement, I think, lies in deciding just what rights people actually have.

I guess I am confused about

I guess I am confused about the forced autonomy of your plan. Can people, as Rousseau exclaimed, be forced to be free? And even if they can, would the number of higher pleasures truly increase, on net (once again assuming that we could even measure pleasure)?

You note that rich cultures and rich individuals have more higher pleasures, so by taking away the income of wealthy people how many pleasures are you thus prohibiting? Many wealthy people help to further the creation, collection, and participation in higher pleasures because their large resources enable them to do so(I'm thinking particularly of the arts, sciences, and philosophy). This is one way that society enables comparative advantage between individuals, because people have varying abilities to create or finance those kinds of higher pleasures.

You want to address the problem of scarcity, and overcome it so that everyone can participate in higher pleasures. This is fine to a small extent, yet ability is still a limitation and scarcity is a very hard barrier to overcome. I'm afraid that you would be converting productive resources into consumption resources. I'm also afraid that society loses every time a person who is best suited to structured work, or who prefers passive pleasures, is forced into a situation where he is expected to be autonomous for the sake of being autonomous.

Your pleasure is just like

Your pleasure is just like mine (at least as far as we can tell; brain research marches on.) What differs from person to person is the source of pleasure.

Aren't sources of pleasure what we're talking about? If not, who's to say that what gives you "high" pleasure doesn't merely give other people "low" pleasure and vice versa? Do we need a "pleasure police" and mandatory brain conditioning to make sure everyone is getting the kind of pleasure that utilitarians say they should be getting? This notion of passing judgement on different kinds of actual emotional responses is the sickest thing you have yet proposed. At least libertarians limit their judgement to things that people actually do to each other - I can think of few things more nightmarish than a state that concerns itself with things that go on purely inside my head.

And those who have experienced both kinds of pleasures all prefer the ones that require the exercise of those faculties. Don’t blame me. I didn’t design humans. That’s just a fact about humans as currently built.

Nobody, least of all you, has offered a shred of non-anecdotal evidence that this is the case. This premise is groundless and, based on the facts at our disposal, false - so please stop repeating it unless you have heretofore withheld data that can back it up!

Alex, I think you're getting

Alex,

I think you're getting a bit carried away here. First, actual pleasure is what hedonists are interested in. It's the qualia or 'what-it's-likeness' of pleasure that makes it valuable. I'm sorry if that comes as a great shock to you, but that's what hedonism is. If you find it implausible or distasteful, fine. You won't likely be convinced by anything that I can say otherwise. Mine is a utilitarian defense of natural rights of recipience, and it is moreover a hedonistic utilitarian defense. If you think that hedonism is 'sick' then okay, that's fine. I would suggest that there are perhaps better forms of argument than name-calling, but I've been called worse.

But look, I don't particularly care about sources of pleasure in and of themselves. As a hedonist, I care that they actually produce pleasure. As a qualitative hedonist, I care that they produce the right sorts of pleasure. And yes, that does mean that I'm concerned with what is going on in your head. And no it doesn't imply pleasure police. If you read carefully, you will see (lots of times) that I have characterized higher pleasures as those that stem from activities requiring the exercise of my autonomy in a way that expresses my individuality. I've said it often enough that I'm thinking of writing a macro key to insert the phrase so I can quite typing it out every time. If you can tell me why on earth a view that holds autonomy to be a necessary condition for attaining pleasure could also be committed to holding that we can force people to think in the right way, I'd be interested to hear it. It's not at all what I'm claiming, and I think that a careful reading will show that to be the case.

"Nobody, least of all you, has offered a shred of non-anecdotal evidence that this is the case. This premise is groundless and, based on the facts at our disposal, false"

I'm not seeing that. Indeed, the first and second sentences here are not entirely consistent. Anecdotal evidence does constitute a ground for believing something to be true, even if it's not always the best grounds. In fact, I'm not aware of any facts at our disposal that prove that human beings do not in fact prefer more complex activities (i.e., the sorts of activities I've described ad nauseum) to less complex activities. That those who have experienced both sorts of activities pretty much invariably prefer the former seems pretty good evidence for thinking that the claim might at least serve as a working assumption. This is by no means a unique or new claim. Rawls calls this idea that Aristotelian Principle (TOJ 426) and finds evidence of it in the Nicomachean Ethics (bk Vii, chs. 11-14 and bk X, chs. 1-5).

If you're looking for formal scientific studies, I don't have one. I also haven't seen any that disprove my claim. So right now, we have anecdote and arguments. If you're so sure my claim is false, you're welcome to submit some (non-anecdotal) evidence of your own. I haven't yet seen anything from you other than, "Oh yeah, prove it!" There are good reasons for thinking that people really do behave in the way that I've suggested. What are your reasons for thinking they don't?

David, "You note that rich

David,

"You note that rich cultures and rich individuals have more higher pleasures"

Careful. Rich cultures have more higher pleasures, yes. Rich individuals, maybe, maybe not. The sorts of activities that result in higher pleasures are luxuries, so only pretty rich cultures can afford to have individuals pursuing them. Rich individuals might actually indulge in lots of higher pleasures. They might also do nothing but mindlessly consume. Being rich is no guarantee of a life of higher pleasures.

"Many wealthy people help to further the creation, collection, and participation in higher pleasures because their large resources enable them to do so."

Yes, and they do so while already paying taxes and redistributing part of their income. Given that any system I would find fully justified would probably impose less redistribution than the system we have now, I'm hard pressed to see why you think that this point poses any particular problem for me. I'm not an egalitarian; I'm not looking to give everyone equal incomes. I'm just after a guaranteed minimum.

"I’m also afraid that society loses every time a person who is best suited to structured work, or who prefers passive pleasures, is forced into a situation where he is expected to be autonomous for the sake of being autonomous."

No, no, no. No one is forced to be autonomous. That's incoherent. If you don't want to pursue higher pleasures, don't. I'm providing the resources necessary for you to do so if you want. I'm also going to encourage you to do so. But I can hardly force you; since higher pleasures require the exercise of autonomy, I can't force you by definition.