Last one for today, but I really thought this one would be appreciated here because I know that a lot of you admire Hitchens as I do, but I am no longer a devout "apostate" and follower as I was in the 90s when I thought the gravest danger to our Republic was the separation of church and state...wow has that notion changed. When there is very little church even left and where religiousity is equated with Neanderthalism or domestic terrorism in mainstream society it kinda deflates the danger in that now, innit? And mind you this comes from someone who has never been a part of any religion in my entire life, agnostic wire to wire. Anyway the intellectual giant; Sir Christopher Hitchens:
Towards the end of a conversation dwelling on some of the deepest metaphysical puzzles regarding the nature of human existence, the philosopher Galen Strawson paused, then asked me: âHave you spoken to anyone else yet whoâs received weird email?â He navigated to a file on his computer and began reading from the alarming messages he and several other scholars had received over the past few years. Some were plaintive, others abusive, but all were fiercely accusatory. âLast year you all played a part in destroying my life,â one person wrote. âI lost everything because of you â my son, my partner, my job, my home, my mental health. All because of you, you told me I had no control, how I was not responsible for anything I do, how my beautiful six-year-old son was not responsible for what he did â¦ Goodbye, and good luck with the rest of your cancerous, evil, pathetic existence.â âRot in your own shit Galen,â read another note, sent in early 2015. âYour wife, your kids your friends, you have smeared all there [sic] achievements you utter fucking prick,â wrote the same person, who subsequently warned: âIâm going to fuck you up.â And then, days later, under the subject line âHelloâ: âIâm coming for you.â âThis was one where we had to involve the police,â Strawson said. Thereafter, the violent threats ceased.
It isnât unheard of for philosophers to receive death threats. The Australian ethicist Peter Singer, for example, has received many, in response to his argument that, in highly exceptional circumstances, it might be morally justifiable to kill newborn babies with severe disabilities. But Strawson, like others on the receiving end of this particular wave of abuse, had merely expressed a longstanding position in an ancient debate that strikes many as the ultimate in âarmchair philosophyâ, wholly detached from the emotive entanglements of real life. They all deny that human beings possess free will. They argue that our choices are determined by forces beyond our ultimate control â perhaps even predetermined all the way back to the big bang â and that therefore nobody is ever wholly responsible for their actions. Reading back over the emails, Strawson, who gives the impression of someone far more forgiving of other peopleâs flaws than of his own, found himself empathising with his harassersâ distress. âI think for these people itâs just an existential catastrophe,â he said. âAnd I think I can see why.â (...)
I'm surprised people still take utilitarianism so seriously. I spent about two hours looking for a quote I remember from university (it was a while ago), where J.S. Mill had the revelation that you can't measure the depth, gravity, salience or whatever of one person's happiness or pain against that of another. IMO, the best you can do is take some kind of political agreement about "what is best" (green new deal anyone?) and further that but the idea that there is one single benchmark is nonsense. This lady's mathematical endeavours fail on principle because they are based on the axiom that you can somehow quantify the degree of happiness of a certain number of people against the relative happiness of another number of people. That is patently absurd.
The mathematical approach isn't absurd, it's rigorousâbut it does point out the absurdity of the idea of maximizing some aggregate happiness. The fact that you have to measure happiness is the problem, not the math you could do with it if you could.
There are alternative attempts at defining a utilitarian approach (how happy are the least happy people? How large is the disparity between the least and most happy? Does making somebody miserable part of the time offset them being too happy?) but they all break down at some point.