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    (Original post by rahmara)
    yh i think the uni resuklts come out tomorrow

    :confused:
    It depends on the uni, its not a single system like with GCSEs/A levels.
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    (Original post by wanderer)
    It depends on the uni, its not a single system like with GCSEs/A levels.
    yep

    just asked my brother

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    And on the year, and on the subject, and on the paper, and whether you did coursework or not...

    'There just isn't an emoticon to express what I'm feeling' - Comic Book Guy
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    “ Firstly, there's a lot of experimental evidence that preferences are not transitive in the real world. Partly that's because of probability. It's easy to make decisions under certainty, but decisions under risk are more problematic. Nobody wants to get AIDS and it's relatively easy for most people to avoid catching it (blood transfusions & needle-sticks aside). However a large number of people still contract the disease every year. Likewise, it's easy to avoid car accidents by not driving beyond your abilities, but again many people fail to express their preferences in this matter.”
    In what manner could there possibly be experimental evidence that the weight of preferences is not transitive?
    In referring to probability you have clearly moved from a discussion of preferences to a statement about the relation between speculations based on finite knowledge, which is clearly insignificant. You’ve noted it is ‘easy’ to make decisions when one is certain, and harder when probability is a consideration, but this fact is of course wholly irrelevant to the question of preferences. One would, prefer certain things relative to others to a greater or lesser extent. That one may have to consider the probability of these various outcomes makes no difference to the relative preferentiality of the outcomes themselves.
    At best your argument based on the complexity and subsequent difficulty of decision-making can render certain choices impossible. The most extreme case being all preferences counting on the result of a single coin toss, within such a situation clearly probability would render the choice impossible and irrelevant, but would not impact upon the ethical worth of the fulfillment of preferences at all.
    Your example of AIDS doesn’t suggest for a second that preferences are not transitive. The relation your example seems to argue for might be counter-intuitive, but it is still transitive. The relation proposed by the above argument would be that persons prefer the continuance of risky behaviour, prefer avoiding the possible outcome thereof, and prefer behaving riskily and suffering the consequences more than they prefer avoiding abstaining from risk and avoiding its consequences. Such a relation is troubling but still perfectly transitive and coherent. Of course it is unnecessary to go so far as accepting that people hold these positions regarding AIDS and car crashes, if we take into account that people can act irrationally for any number of reasons, especially when their information is limited- as demonstrated by the oft-cited ‘children wanting to skip school and not go to bed’ example. The above examples therefore offer no reason to suggest that preferences are not transitive.
    “So a system which relies on maximally fulfilling preferences must first establish that it can identify those preferences. Since we can't necessarily derive them from induction of observed behaviour because of the problems cited above, it leaves your system in a mess. You end up having to invent 'higher' principles of your own to justify the system. So you might argue that people 'really' want to avoid AIDS, even if the empirical evidence is that they indulge in behaviour contrary to that.”
    As noted before the applicability of the utilitarian principle rests on the possibility of being able to reasonably speculate as to preferences, not the ability to be able to absolute establish or identify preferences.
    It is clearly possible to establish preferences in at least some situations, which is all that need be established. Indeed you have already stated that you “believe that happiness should be maximised… believe that suffering should be minimised.” Unless you’re stating that it is always impossible to act according to this principle then your criticism is one of delineating boundaries of utilitarianism, not a criticism of the practical application in itself.
    Your example by no means renders speculation based on observed behaviour problematic. There is ample basis to argue that AIDS victims in actuality do “really” prefer to avoid AIDS, regardless of the fact that they have in some way put themselves at risk of developing it. Throughout your life you invariably risk your life every time you cross the road, for example. It is clearly possible to speculate that one prefers not suffering a road-accident to a very significant extent, even if one risks it regularly.
    There is clearly no reason whatsoever to suppose that any ‘higher principles’ have been invented, or need to be invented. There is ample empirical evidence that persons suffer significantly from AIDS or car crashes even if they put themselves at risk, I fail to see where the “higher principles” come into it. It’s already been established that persons can act contrary to their best interests when acting under imperfect information, so the fact that persons choose to put themselves at risk on a daily basis poses no problems to speculating as to what people actually prefer. If you sincerely told me that you believe that, based on the evidence, you think people prefer the convenience of unsafe sex more than they prefer avoiding AIDS, I would certainly be surprised, but your proposition would still not be counter-utilitarian.
    Any difficulties in such speculation do not render utilitarianism problematic. If one believes that people likely hold preferences, then the question of whether these have ethical worth is clearly separate to the question of the extent to which one can meaningfully speculate about these preferences.
    “If your system is to be more than a platitude ("do your best") then it must have a concrete basis for making decisions. So far, you've retreated to the platitude on every occasion when you've been challenged to provide some sort of useful system that might guide actions.”
    The system is clearly not merely a platitude and clearly differs from “do your best.” Under utilitarianism the “best” is clearly defined as acting so as to maximize preferences, so clearly utilitarianism is reducible to “do (act so as to best maximise preferences).” Acting so as to maximise preferences is clearly a basis for action, and you yourself have noted that you “believe that happiness should be maximised…believe that suffering should be minimised.” I haven’t retreated to “the platitude,” I’ve pointed out (in line with Bentham and Mill notably) that the utilitarian principle in itself, is the sole utilitarian basis for ethics, and that any “system” offered thereafter would either be identical to the utilitarian principle or an aberration from utilitarianism.
    “Let's be clear, no despot in history has seen themselves as a bad guy. They all justify what they do as being in the best interests of everyone. So, for Hitler, it was in the best interests of Germany that it should conquer the world, since German culture was clearly superior to the alternatives. He doubtless felt that everybody would want to be German, if only they knew enough about German culture. He also felt that the Jews were dragging down Germany and that it would be in everyone's best interests (i.e maximise net utility) if they were eradicated. He may have been insane, but there's actually a logic within those arguments which is hard to refute from a utilitarian approach. If you genuinely believed that Jews were evil, then all sorts of things becaome justified. They were declared non-people, so their views did not count equally with non-Jews. That's a point which you've argued for on a per-species basis, so why not on a per-race basis? After all, there's a difference in DNA between Jews and Gentiles, isn't there?”
    Obviously the same applies to any sincerely held insanely wrong idea. If one was of the opinion that group X, be that one man about to detonate some awful bomb, or any other grouping were going to destroy the world unless they were first destroyed, then the destruction of X would be justified, as you justified it in your own ethical system.
    To be honest it seems unlikely that Hitler did really think that the systematic slaughter of the Jews, Slavs, gypsies, Communists and indeed any-one who he didn’t agree with, was going to maximise preferences, but it clearly wouldn’t matter in the slightest if he did. One can’t indict an ethical theory based on the fact that a madman might sincerely misinterpret it, a madman might consider themselves the son of God on a divine mission to undertake any atrocity you care to imagine, the distinction between this sincere ethical mistake and a sincere correct ethical action under the same system, is exclusively the fact that one person is insane and incorrect and the other not.
    The species distinction has ethical significance only insofar as it reflects preferences, it has no importance in itself. If one sincerely believed that only Jews suffer, feel joy and prefer what occurs to them, then one would have to act accordingly, as one would if one sincerely believed in solipsism. Obviously the only objection to treating all other persons as though they are ethically insignificant because they don’t really exist, is from the standpoint of assuming that they do actually exist and have ethical significance.
    “Do I therefore support the Holocaust? No, it was a terrible atrocity and an awful warning about what happens when a people's morals are defined solely by their current preferences.”
    Your own quote rather astutely demonstrates the problem, the Holocaust resulted from people defining morality “solely by their current preferences,” obviously utilitarianism would judge the Holocaust to be a terrible occurrence, unless one is of the opinion that it was bringing about as little suffering as possible.
    “How? You simply haven't got the faintest idea how we'll establish these preferences in order to make decisions which maximise their fulfillment. It's only actions which we can observe - speech and writing are both actions.”
    That too, clearly isn’t what I’m saying. “The quoted paragraph simply states that preferences must be compared relative to each other, not actions.” The point of the paragraph- in reply to your own question- was about the transitivity of preferences and specifically not about the transitivity of actions.

    Actions are indeed observed, as noted before, as behaviourism and scientific theorisation forms the basis upon which one can speculate as to what persons prefer. Speculation of this sort is clearly possible and clearly commonplace. Our social engagement relies upon a capacity to speculate as to what persons will prefer in different situations, a process which is necessarily imperfect but which has a reasonable basis. Are you maintaining that we cannot in fact take into account preferences? Your previous statements would suggest not. Consequently what point are you trying to establish? If a certain limit to our potential to speculate as to preferences then what, and what is the significance of this limit? Once such a limit has been established it would not refute utilitarianism anyway, merely mark off a point beyond which we cannot reasonably speculate as to preferences. Unless one is to then proffer a distinct basis for ethics, even a demonstration of the absolute impossibility of taking into account other people would not refute utilitarianism, merely demonstrate that acting on an ethical basis was impossible, not touch on the question of whether preferences have ethical significance.

    “OK, you agree with me - you can only get at preferences through actions, but that's a bit too late, isn't it? If actions in one scenario do not give a reliable guide as to actions in another, then the underlying preferences become veiled in mystery.”
    This too was quoted from a reply to your question about transitivity, in fact pointing out that the previous quote was itself only a reference to your previous point about transitivity.

    Actions in one scenario clearly do not give an absolute guide as to actions in another. Clearly it is appropriate for you to challenge me in a certain way when I make a philosophical proposition but the same action is inappropriate when the situation is one of your children making a point. As the paragraph you quoted states, the relation between actions and situations is only absolute when the actions, situations and consequences are identical- otherwise they’re different actions.

    Preferences are not veiled in mystery to the extent that judging them is impossible however. Clearly if one can discern a difference in the situation, then one has a basis to speculate as to what consequences will unfold, as everyday life serves to demonstrate.

    “A revelatory faith (like Islam) does believe exactly that. I've already raised the fact that there are problems with that approach, which I admitted in my posting, didn't I? If only you could step back and view your pet dogma in the same impartial light.”
    None of that is significant in the least. As the paragraph of mine you quoted asserted, for you to state that “it's OK, if you're having an external referent, like God's will, since that gives a baseline,” you have to demonstrate how your contrary system evades the criticisms which you level at utilitarianism, because unless you are proposing access to a referent “that can be known directly and absolutely,” and which thus transcends human existence as temporal beings, then it is subject to your own criticism that “each situation and the criteria to judge it will apply solely to that situation and will vary from case to case.” That “God’s will” is external doesn’t evade the criticism if it necessarily has to be applied by humans in “real world situations [that] can ever be exactly like another.”

    “A belief in a deity who both sets the standard for morality and informs us as to its application is a reasonable foundation. Christianity goes on to explain why our pereception of this morality is less than perfect and why there are problems in our grasp of it. You may not accept those reasons, but they are at least coherent. The moral code also allows for decision making. Coupled with abiding divine guidance it deals with a very wide range of scenarios with confidence.”
    Whether “a deity who sets the standard for morality and informs us as to its application” is a reasonable foundation per se, is irrelevant, that foundation could just as easily in itself found a belief in utilitarian morality, if you’re going to offer a contrary view you have to argue based on the specific morality that you are informed about.

    That Christianity asserts that one holds an imperfect perception of morality is insignificant, as is the question of whether these views are coherent, the only point of significance is how this “less than perfect” perception differs from the imperfect perception of preferences that you criticised utilitarianism for.

    As stated in the paragraph to which your quote replies, one needs to establish in what manner your system is distinct from utilitarianism, and thus why you claim that “the moral code allows for decision making. Coupled with abiding divine guidance it deals with a very wide range of scenarios with confidence.”

    “What has 'thinking' got to do with preferences? Woodlice prefer to be in damp, dark places, they don't have to think about it. Why do you prefer not to be in pain? I'm betting there's little conscious thought when you pull your hand off a hot stove. Anyway, why should thought be privileged over action? You've already admitted that you determine preferences by observed actions.”
    Holding a preference is a question of thought, one must necessarily be sentient and self-conscious to prefer a thing occurring or to suffer from it occurring. An ant or a woodlouse, or more controversially some higher animals, can be argued not to be conscious of themselves and thus not suffering or benefiting from things occurring. An ant, like a bacteria might do something, but not because it holds a conscious preference to do so, any more than a plant ‘prefers to grow toward the sun’ or a table prefers to be stationary, or a corpse prefers to be dead. That one pulls one’s hand off a stove is only significant insofar as it denotes that the person is conscious of suffering from the heat, if one felt no pain and was undamaged by heat, then the possession of a reflex response would be irrelevant, just as it would be irrelevant if an automaton that jerked away from heat were constructed.

    “OK, so you now have a moral code which allows torture of chimpanzees (or mice, if you prefer), the metally handicapped and children under the age of one. Well done. All you need is to tweak it a little to define a particular ethnic grouping into that class and you're well on your way to the natural consequences of utilitarianism.”
    It only “allows torture” of these groups if it is assumed that these groups don’t suffer from torture. This is clearly of no ethical significance whatsoever, the only way it can be argued that there’s an ethical problem is if it is simultaneously assumed that chimpanzees or certain ethnic groups both “suffer” and “don’t suffer.” Since the term “torture” assumes that the object of torture actually suffers as a result and can prefer not to be tortured, utilitarianism would invariably not support torture- if some-one actually didn’t care whether they were “tortured” or not, then by definition their being tortured would have no significance to them.

    “Why is science privileged in this respect? They've been wrong about pretty much everything for most of the last ten thousand years. Just as an aside, you're digging a hole for yourself here. Nazi scientists did advance evidence for why Jews, homosexuals etc. were not true people.”
    Science isn’t privileged, science clearly can offer a basis upon which one can decide whether something can hold preferences where no other basis can offer any valid insight.

    I would only be digging myself a hole were it possible to validly argue that Jews actually didn’t possess the capacity to suffer, which it isn’t. Even then it wouldn’t be a particularly significant problem, were it demonstrated that a certain group were in fact, merely robots, with no preferences, then they would be ethically insignificant. The Nazi evidence is very insignificant, for one thing because it offers a perfect example of monstrously incorrect science, and secondly because the Nazi argument was typically not that Jews and communists were non-persons, in that they didn’t suffer, but simply that their suffering was perfectly acceptable, a near perfect example of non-utilitarian ethics.
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    “Yeah, yeah. That's what you always say. the only problem is that you've failed to establish what preference is, who holds valid preferences and how we calculate the net value. Apart from those minor flaws, it's impregnable.”
    Your oft-repeated criticisms aren’t flaws at all. Preference, it has already been established, is what persons prefer. Given that you are a person you doubtless hold preferences yourself.

    Who holds valid preferences is of course impossible to prove absolutely, since ultimately one cannot prove the existence of any sentient beings besides yourself. Nevertheless reasonable speculation and debate is clearly possible. I assume that you hold preferences for example, since you seem to possess similar faculties to feel suffering or happiness to myself and thus are equally capable of holding preferences. A person who is dead or brain-dead, conversely, even though they are equally human, it is reasonable to assume, does not hold preferences. The same factors can be extended to lower animals, although the question is more fraught, because while we have access to ‘being a human’ we do not have access to ‘being a rat’ etc.

    The calculation of preferences cannot be done absolutely, as noted before, for the same reasons, as we cannot access directly what another person prefers. Indeed we cannot determine what consequences will serve ourselves absolutely, as we cannot know when we walk across the road whether we will survive, even if we are fairly sure that we prefer to. Nevertheless preferences can easily be speculated about, in the same way that I assume you probably hold preferences, I assume that you would, like myself, prefer not to be tortured and so on.

    Since you undoubtedly, know what preferences are, take account of who holds them and what they prefer, it is difficult to discern what actual flaws you are trying to draw attention to.

    “Try writing that out as a mathematical equation - you are the spokeman for scientists, after all. Put some units in it as you go. Note that the units for "killing myself" and "killing someone else" are not the same (unless you can propose a common denominator).”
    As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, a mathematical equation cannot ever possibly serve any purpose; without (impossible) direct access to preferences and consequences, any equation would simply represent one’s speculation approximately.

    That killing oneself and killing some-one else are distinct is irrelevant, since we’re dealing with your own hypothetical scenario, we have no basis to attribute different weightings to the lives of either person, therefore they have to be assumed to be equal.

    I still don’t consider it controversial to assert that most scientists do not hold bacteria to be sentient, self-conscious beings with a capacity to suffer.

    “The problem is that its axioms don't work without appeal to other axiomatic systems. So you end up adding 'higher' goals and qualifiers which get smuggled in under the hood of 'utility' or 'preferences'. For example, you've appealed to an axiom of personhood as giving legitimacy to preferences.”
    Those axioms aren’t distinct, no new axioms are smuggled in. Personhood is defined precisely as “being able to hold preferences,” a tautological axiom, it doesn’t add anything to the system.

    “This is a classic word game where you mutate 'preferences' into whatever point you want to make at the time. So, if I show that peoples preferences are not capable of being ascertained, you'll mutate it to talk about their 'real' preferences, or require that preferences can only be held by people (moreover, only people who have certain minimum criteria for acceptance). You seem completely unaware that it's what you're doing.”
    In fact all I’ve done is repeat the fact that by preferences I mean preferences, not the various distinct usages which you’ve endeavoured to apply. There isn’t a single instance throughout this argument where I’ve used a different definition.

    The “minimum criteria for acceptance (as being capable of holding a preference)” is exclusively “being capable of holding a preference,” as stated above.

    “So, for the avoidance of doubt - I do not believe that you can establish preferences well enough for them to form any sort of useful ethical system. Even if you could, such preferences, would simply be a reflection of the social milieu in which they arose. they would be the zeitgeist without any power to bind any other culture or time. It's just moral relativism.”
    One clearly can establish preferences to a significant extent. In any case even if one couldn’t speculate as to preferences at all, it wouldn’t problematise the ethical system, it would merely mean that one believed that it was always impossible to act ethically. For utilitarianism to be rendered invalid you would have to actually verify the belief that preferences are not ethically significant, a notion which you’ve already refuted, or demonstrate something other than persons as holding ethical significance- another question altogether clearly.

    That what one prefers reflects a social situation is insignificant, the preference itself would have real existence- whether or not what causes a person to suffer or find satisfaction is determined by a specific situation, the person would actually suffer or benefit from the denial/satisfaction of the preference

    Utilitarianism is demonstrably not moral relativism at all, preferences have absolute ethical value.

    “I agree. My children did not want to be vaccinated and they protested at their MMR jabs. Now there's a measles & mumps epidemic, they feel differently. That's because purely because I ignored their preferences. So sadly, your a priori statement falls flat on its face.”
    The statement “it is better that a person’s preference is satisfied than not, a priori” is not touched upon at all by your statements. You refer to a number of distinct, changing preferences, not to a single preference. It is surely undeniable that you think it is regrettable that your children suffered from having their MMR jab, that it served a greater good is insignificant, you would prefer a priori that they had not suffered.

    You surely didn’t ignore your children’s preferences. You let them to have the MMR jab on the basis that they would prefer not catching measles and mumps. If the jab was not to bring them a benefit relative to the alternative then what was the purpose of the jab? The only preference which you ignored, is the type which you keep returning to ‘what a person chooses at a given time.’ As demonstrated before, there is a difference between a person’s desire at a given point- wanting to not go to school, not work, not go to bed- and what will actually fulfil their preferences. Giving your children jabs, making them eat relatively healthily and making them go to bed at a sensible time and do your homework might well frustrate their ‘current preferences’ but such behaviour clearly best serves the maximisation of their preferences.
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    Has anybody here read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence by Robert M. Pirsig? He's also done a sequel called Lila which I really want to read but apparantly it's out of print so I have to wait till the 30th September for it to be re-released- grr- oh well. Anybody read it?
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    (Original post by Calvin)
    And on the year, and on the subject, and on the paper, and whether you did coursework or not...

    'There just isn't an emoticon to express what I'm feeling' - Comic Book Guy
    But its still likely to be considerably before August, right?

    :mad:
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    (Original post by TCovenant)
    In what manner could there possibly be experimental evidence that the weight of preferences is not transitive?
    How about Lichtenstein & Slovic ("Reversal of Preferences between Bids and Choices in Gambling Decisions" J. Experimental Psych. 89 pp 46-55, 1971) on preference reversal or maybe Looms & Sugden "Non-transitive Preferences over gains and Losses" (Economic J. 102 pp 29-59, 1983). Both showed a violation of transitivity. The Allais paradoxes (go Google) are another well known example of where people don't make choices based upon some calculation of expected value.
    You’ve noted it is ‘easy’ to make decisions when one is certain, and harder when probability is a consideration, but this fact is of course wholly irrelevant to the question of preferences.
    Perhaps you might usefully read some more on the subject before advancing such sweeping dogma. To be honest, I'm getting fed up with your hyperbole. If you carry this style into university essays, you're in for a rude awakening. The thing is, I don't believe you know what transitivity means. It would help if you gave concrete examples (ideally in mathematical form) of what you mean by it.
    That one may have to consider the probability of these various outcomes makes no difference to the relative preferentiality of the outcomes themselves.
    Except that it most certainly does in the real world. Now, if you want a set of ethics which exist in vacuo then that probably doesn't matter.
    It is clearly possible to establish preferences in at least some situations, which is all that need be established.
    Huh? So you'd be satisfied with ethics which work 'sometimes'? That sounds like watered-down pragmatism to me.
    It’s already been established that persons can act contrary to their best interests when acting under imperfect information,
    But you want to define "best interests" solely in terms of preferences which you derive in turn from observed actions. Either it's circular, or it's trying to smuggle in some other ideals. Which is it?
    To be honest it seems unlikely that Hitler did really think that the systematic slaughter of the Jews, Slavs, gypsies, Communists and indeed any-one who he didn’t agree with, was going to maximise preferences, but it clearly wouldn’t matter in the slightest if he did. One can’t indict an ethical theory based on the fact that a madman might sincerely misinterpret it,
    But he hasn't misinterpreted it. The system exactly allows the genocide of a race just to improve the condition of another. The only way you can counter it, is to appeal to some notion that the murdering group aren't actually better off, because they've lowered themselves in some way as to commit murder. While I'd agree that they do (because of a Christian ethic) it's still an appeal ouside utilitarianism.
    Your own quote rather astutely demonstrates the problem, the Holocaust resulted from people defining morality “solely by their current preferences,”
    So in what way is that not the system you're supporting? You want a net preference, you got one. That justifies atrocities, as long as the books balance.
    not about the transitivity of actions.
    The what? How can actions be transitive? You clearly aren't using the word in its normal sense (despite the fact that I've defines it before). Are you confusing it with 'comparable' or 'transferable'?

    you have to demonstrate how your contrary system evades the criticisms which you level at utilitarianism, because unless you are proposing access to a referent “that can be known directly and absolutely,” and which thus transcends human existence as temporal beings, then it is subject to your own criticism that “each situation and the criteria to judge it will apply solely to that situation and will vary from case to case.” That “God’s will” is external doesn’t evade the criticism if it necessarily has to be applied by humans in “real world situations [that] can ever be exactly like another.”
    By way of reply, let me use an analogy. If my wife wants to know whether I'd like a cup of tea, she has two main approaches. She could develop a system which tries to model all the occasions when I have wanted a cup of tea and balance it against the times when I haven't. Then she can build a complex model and try to gauge all the current factors which might apply and their relative weight based upon previous experience. Or she could ask me.

    Christianity strikes a balance between these two. It has a set of general guidelines which are to govern our day to day behaviour. I don't pray about whether I should take another breath, for example. However, I might pray if I were considering a new job, or getting married etc.

    Of course, the communication between man and God is not perfect, a fact which is basic to Christian doctrine. However, our judgements about morality are always by reference to God. An atrocity is an atrocity if it is one in God's view.
    in what manner your system is distinct from utilitarianism,
    That's relatively easy.

    There is an absolute standard of ethical behaviour which is defined by God's opinion. It does not depend upon the preferences of any man or people group.
    Holding a preference is a question of thought, one must necessarily be sentient and self-conscious to prefer a thing occurring or to suffer from it occurring. An ant or a woodlouse, or more controversially some higher animals, can be argued not to be conscious of themselves and thus not suffering or benefiting from things occurring.
    I can argue that black is white, but it is not so. I don't accept that your argument is coherent.

    If the right to hold prefences is based upon sentience, then why may I not murder a sleeping or drunk person. How about the mentally handicapped?
    argument was typically not that Jews and communists were non-persons, in that they didn’t suffer, but simply that their suffering was perfectly acceptable, a near perfect example of non-utilitarian ethics.
    Err, no. It was an example of perfect utilitarian ethics, as you've so far derived it. The Nazis preferred the Jews to suffer and the Jews' preference was insignificant (to use one of your favourite words). I'm not sure why you can't see that.
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    (Original post by wanderer)
    But its still likely to be considerably before August, right?

    :mad:

    Yeah... but having got my results the other day I'd rather not have known...
    Got a 2.i which was a little disappointed by, had good predictions and coursework and exams had gone really well.

    But then when I got the total mark breakdown it was really dumb ass. Coursework which my supervisors had predicted me grades for were then examined and marked as being five grade boundaries lower! Five!
    There's no appeals process. Can't get feedback from examiners. All exam papers are burnt so I can't get them back. ...Rant Rant Rant... etc etc. :mad:
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    (Original post by Calvin)
    Yeah... but having got my results the other day I'd rather not have known...
    Got a 2.i which was a little disappointed by, had good predictions and coursework and exams had gone really well.

    But then when I got the total mark breakdown it was really dumb ass. Coursework which my supervisors had predicted me grades for were then examined and marked as being five grade boundaries lower! Five!
    There's no appeals process. Can't get feedback from examiners. All exam papers are burnt so I can't get them back. ...Rant Rant Rant... etc etc. :mad:
    Ouch. Sorry mate, that sounds fairly horrific.
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    (Original post by TCovenant)
    A person who is dead or brain-dead, conversely, even though they are equally human, it is reasonable to assume, does not hold preferences.
    Does that mean that they aren't entitled to any consideration, then? That rights only exist for the sentient? How sentient do you have to be to count? Someone versed in philosophy may well be more self-aware than another, does that mean that their preferences automatically carry more weight?
    Since you undoubtedly, know what preferences are, take account of who holds them and what they prefer, it is difficult to discern what actual flaws you are trying to draw attention to.
    I'm not sure what you find hard, as I've said it often enough. There are a few flaws which I consider obvious and which destroy the central thesis. If you can't say whose preferences count, or how you'd reliably establish what those preferences are, then your system is simply multiple layers of guessing. It's not a system as such, just a set of platitudes. It's no use for anything.
    As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, a mathematical equation cannot ever possibly serve any purpose; without (impossible) direct access to preferences and consequences, any equation would simply represent one’s speculation approximately.
    The fact that you can't/won't represent them is yet another flaw - probably in your understanding. Maybe you're just crap at maths, I don't know. However, anyone who bases an ethical system on the idea of a net value, must at least make some stab at propsing how the net value should be calculated. The word 'net' as used here is a mathematical concept.
    That killing oneself and killing some-one else are distinct is irrelevant, since we’re dealing with your own hypothetical scenario, we have no basis to attribute different weightings to the lives of either person, therefore they have to be assumed to be equal.
    OK, so if we have two people who want to kill one person, then it becomes ethically jsutified, since two lives outweigh one.
    I still don’t consider it controversial to assert that most scientists do not hold bacteria to be sentient, self-conscious beings with a capacity to suffer.
    It's not controversial, but it is incoherent with your thesis.
    Personhood is defined precisely as “being able to hold preferences,” a tautological axiom, it doesn’t add anything to the system.
    OK, if it's allowable to have such a thing as an axiom, then my chickens are people in your system. If a pride of lions prefer to eat you, then I'm sure you'll submit on utilitarian grounds. No, I'm afraid you're going to have to be a little more precise.
    For utilitarianism to be rendered invalid you would have to actually verify the belief that preferences are not ethically significant,
    err no. Your system isn't perfect until proven faulty - it's faulty until proven correct. So far your essay consists of a vague term defined in a circular fashion and consists entirely of a platitude which you've been unable to demonstrate on a worked example.

    Suppose I came to you with a mathematical theorem which states that three is blue and five is red. What would be the next question on most people's lips?

    :
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    I'm guessing that they'd ask "so what colour is four?". That is, they'd explore the axioms and try and work out a system that explains the relationship. However, it's pretty clear that this will get complex very quickly, after all, what colour is a thousand, or a million? Are there an infinite number of colours for example? (Hint: the answer is probably no because of quanta). There are an infinite number of integers.

    Your axiom makes no more sense. You can say that a preference is something (undefined) held by a person, and a person is someone who can hold a preference. But so what? Of itself, that allows bacteria or woodlice to have preferences which are as valid as your own. So it needs far more qualification, unless you are defending the thesis that you have no more right to your preferences than an amoeba.

    It's very wearing that you keep dismissing all these objections as "insignificant" as if you were the sole arbiter what what's right. If you want to be taken seriously you need to argue as if the other person needs to be persuaded, rather than simply ignored. So you need something which appeals to a common ground. that's why I use analogies - all analogies are flawed, but it allows us to explore neutral territory.
    The statement “it is better that a person’s preference is satisfied than not, a priori” is not touched upon at all by your statements.
    If so, it demonstrates that it's just a platitude.
    You refer to a number of distinct, changing preferences, not to a single preference. It is surely undeniable that you think it is regrettable that your children suffered from having their MMR jab, that it served a greater good is insignificant, you would prefer a priori that they had not suffered.
    In the real world, all preferences will necessarily be transient and ill-informed. Try reading some of the papers I've referenced, or other ways in which people's reasons behind decisions are ephemeral. It's far more complex than you'd like.
    As demonstrated before, there is a difference between a person’s desire at a given point- wanting to not go to school, not work, not go to bed- and what will actually fulfil their preferences. Giving your children jabs, making them eat relatively healthily and making them go to bed at a sensible time and do your homework might well frustrate their ‘current preferences’ but such behaviour clearly best serves the maximisation of their preferences.
    Now you're redefining preferences to mean something higher. Perhaps you're simply not aware if it. I've asked before how you'd establish preferences and you've said that it's by observing actions. I've continually argued that it's more than that and that actions are not a reliable guide. You seem to be trying to conflate 'real' preferences (i.e. what people would prefer if they were omniscient and omnipotent) with people's real-world, individual preferences. I don't think you can do that within utilitarianism without making 'preferences' so vague as to be useless.
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    (Original post by Calvin)
    There's no appeals process. Can't get feedback from examiners. All exam papers are burnt so I can't get them back.
    That sucks and I'm pretty sure it's illegal. You might be able to serve a Freedom of Information Act and/or Data Protection Act demand on the university. They have a duty of care to ensure that the marks are correct and appropriate and would be failing in that unless they could satisfy a court that there were no clerical errors etc. To do that, they'd need to produce the original papers etc. I doubt very much that they've burned them yet.
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    (Original post by grumballcake)
    Does that mean that they aren't entitled to any consideration, then? That rights only exist for the sentient? How sentient do you have to be to count? Someone versed in philosophy may well be more self-aware than another, does that mean that their preferences automatically carry more weight?
    :rofl: The arrogance of philosophers?

    How about the traditional sci-fi scenario in which an alien race that is vastly more intelligent than us turns up and hunts us/farms us/enslaves us on the grounds that by their standards we're nowhere near sentient?
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    (Original post by grumballcake)
    That sucks and I'm pretty sure it's illegal. You might be able to serve a Freedom of Information Act and/or Data Protection Act demand on the university. They have a duty of care to ensure that the marks are correct and appropriate and would be failing in that unless they could satisfy a court that there were no clerical errors etc. To do that, they'd need to produce the original papers etc. I doubt very much that they've burned them yet.
    Clerical errors I did wonder about. I mean the marking process is pretty rigorous - it's a double blind mark process. If there is disagreement they have a meeting, though actually my paper doesn't go to this meeting, this is done based on notes and memory... :rolleyes: As if you could remember a 2000 word essay out of 60 odd you've read in enough detail!
    And then if there is still disagreement the paper is sent to an external moderator.
    That's all very well. But stuff does go wrong sometimes and results are crazy every now and again. There is no call to justify, and there is no way they could check back if it turned out there was a simple clerical error. What if somebody types it into the database wrong? How the hell would they find out!
    I don't know. I'm bummed, but there ain't a lot I can do. And tricky to learn from your mistakes when the examiner won't tell me what they are, and my director of studies - who sets the syllabus - is as baffled as I am! GA! Every time I talk about this I just get bitter again. I'm not. It's fine. Next year I'll show 'em (by doing something differently!)
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    “How about …Both showed a violation of transitivity. The Allais paradoxes (go Google) are another well known example of where people don't make choices based upon some calculation of expected value.”
    You’ve simply defined preference based on the choices taken by persons in given circumstances, which I’ve repeatedly stated isn’t the same as preferences.

    The Allais paradoxes, for example, refer to actors deciding between various choices under uncertainty, and while one might say “the person is showing a preference for X over Y” this does not constitute a preference, the choice of a course of action is distinct from net preference.

    These choices do not in any sense constitute preferences in the utilitarian sense. As I’ve detailed before, what a person chooses in a specific situation and what they assert they prefer offers evidence as to what their preferences are, but are by no means preferences themselves.

    As you say “people don't make choices based upon some calculation of expected value,” but this doesn’t touch upon the question of preference- what a person chooses and what a person expects are wholly distinct from what they prefer.

    “Me: You’ve noted it is ‘easy’ to make decisions when one is certain, and harder when probability is a consideration, but this fact is of course wholly irrelevant to the question of preferences.

    -Perhaps you might usefully read some more on the subject before advancing such sweeping dogma. To be honest, I'm getting fed up with your hyperbole. If you carry this style into university essays, you're in for a rude awakening. The thing is, I don't believe you know what transitivity means. It would help if you gave concrete examples (ideally in mathematical form) of what you mean by it.”
    The paragraph doesn’t constitute dogma, sweeping or otherwise and I’m markedly uninterested in the various snide comments to which you’ve made an unwelcome return. The suffering/benefit a person experiences in a given situation, and thus whether the experience is preferable, is separate to the question of how difficult it is for a person to make decisions about what will serve his preferences. It is undeniably easier for me to choose between action A and action B, where I know that action A leads to experience A (fiery death) and action B to experience B (a fantastic satisfaction of my wants and needs), than if I have a 50% chance of hitting either experience. The preferentiality of experience A and experience B are however the same regardless of how difficult the decision about action is, because choosing a preferred strategy of action is not the same as preferring an experience. It’s the difference between preferring an action and preferring a consequence, when someone says that they prefer ‘action A’ they mean that they suspect that it will lead to a fulfilment of preferences greater than the alternative.

    As I’ve stated before what a person chooses in a specific situation is entirely distinct from preference. As demonstrated before, it is entirely possible that a person’s choices or ‘preferred actions’ conflict entirely with their preferences.

    As for transitivity, I’m just using the definition you yourself supplied. I’ve also responded to your claim that this ought to be represented in “concrete examples (ideally in mathematical form)”. Mathematical representation of preferences cannot fail to be fruitless, since we can access preferences only as an internal mental phenomenon any mathematical representation is exclusively that- an artificial representation- and thus cannot make the process any more objective or “concrete.”

    I assume we can agree that you hold preferences- there are consequences and occurrences which you would hold to be more or less preferable. Thus let us say that that you prefer A to B, and B to C. Some small physical pain is bad- you’d prefer A (no pain) to B (some pain), but you’d prefer pain to some much worse occurrence. It would thus seem intuitively obvious that you prefer the most preferable A to the least preferable C. Notably I am as ever referring to actual preferences, if some-one finds out that actually A is disastrous where they suspected it would fulfil their preferences, then the relation is simply proven to be different, not non-transitive.

    “(That one may have to consider the probability of these various outcomes makes no difference to the relative preferentiality of the outcomes themselves.)
    -Except that it most certainly does in the real world. Now, if you want a set of ethics which exist in vacuo then that probably doesn't matter.”
    It makes a difference to deciding what persons probably prefer, but that is insignificant to your point about whether actual preferences are transitively related, which relies exclusively on whether preferences are transitively related.

    Whether one has to consider probability of outcomes occurring, in the real world, doesn’t make a difference to the relation between how preferable those outcomes are. If, the occurrence of X causes you to suffer, then X not occurring is preferable to X occurring, ceteris paribus. This preference itself is unaffected even if you are faced with a ‘russian roulette’ situation whereby X might occur with varying degrees of probability and severity, that which you prefer is still preferable to that which you prefer less. The question of probability, in the real world, doesn’t change that or the relation between things which you might prefer. Probability only changes ‘what course of action ought to be chosen, so as to bring about the most preferences.’ While this course of action might be called your ‘preferred’ one, it doesn’t denote what is actually preferable, merely the gamble you chose based on limited information.

    “Me:It is clearly possible to establish preferences in at least some situations, which is all that need be established.
    -Huh? So you'd be satisfied with ethics which work 'sometimes'? That sounds like watered-down pragmatism to me.”
    It’s surely not a controversial point to assert that under a consequentialist ethic, where one cannot determine the consequences absolutely the best ethical outcome cannot be determined absolutely?

    Similarly you’re surely not surprised that it’s not possible to establish all preferences, and thus one can only establish some preferences in some situations? I have no idea whether or not you prefer eating chocolate-chip or vanilla ice cream. Under a utilitarian system I would have no basis by which I could ethically determine the ethically preferable flavour, though I could determine that, were you starving ice cream would be preferable. I don’t think Bentham claimed that utilitarianism perfectly determined the most utility-bearing outcome in all situations, merely that it was possible to establish this to varying degrees in most situations, which was preferable to not endeavouring to maximise utility at all- this was not therefore “watered down pragmatism.

    “But you want to define "best interests" solely in terms of preferences which you derive in turn from observed actions. Either it's circular, or it's trying to smuggle in some other ideals. Which is it?”
    Best interests are defined solely in terms of preferences, because “best interests” is identical to “best fulfilment of preferences.” That which is best for a person’s interests is that which they would prefer the most. That’s not a circular argument because I’m not arguing from either of the above to the other, the two things are merely identical.

    It is clear, I suspect to both of us, that we hold preferences; we’ve established that persons can suffer or enjoy happiness and that these are best minimised/maximised respectively.

    That we speculate, in a real world situation of uncertain information, what precisely persons do prefer, on the basis of observed actions, doesn’t make any difference to the fact that these preferences are actually held. The holding of a preference by a person is clearly distinct from any action by which an observer would speculate that they prefer something.

    You would clearly prefer the avoidance of some suffering to you or your family. An outsider speculating as to what preferences you hold in this manner would indeed have to refer to various actions and indicators, what you say, what you choose in the specific situation, whether you grimace or smile at various options, and what has been observed in comparable persons regarding this matter of preference.

    Regardless, these actions, though they form the basis upon which an outsider speculates, do not constitute what preferences are actually held. Therefore in what manner is this either circular, or an other “ideal?”

    “But he hasn't misinterpreted it. The system exactly allows the genocide of a race just to improve the condition of another. The only way you can counter it, is to appeal to some notion that the murdering group aren't actually better off, because they've lowered themselves in some way as to commit murder. While I'd agree that they do (because of a Christian ethic) it's still an appeal ouside utilitarianism.”
    Utilitarianism can only be said to “allow the genocide of a race to improve the condition of another” insofar as utilitarianism demands only the fulfilment of preferences to the greatest extent. The Holocaust did not maximise net preference to the greatest possible extent, therefore it was undeniably a mistake.

    It is obvious that the mass slaughter of the Jews caused a great amount of suffering, and did not in so doing, evade an even greater suffering- therefore it was non-utilitarian. Hitler, if he sincerely thought that Jews don’t suffer from being burnt alive, or some such, was surely mistaken. The Holocaust was not the correct thing to do unless one believes that the best outcome for humanity was served by the mass slaughter of Jews.

    “So in what way is that not the system you're supporting? You want a net preference, you got one. That justifies atrocities, as long as the books balance.”
    Because “net preference” has to be “net preference,” i.e. taking into account all preferences without bias. Nazi Germany arose from German Nazis deciding that what German Nazis wanted was important, and that what every-one else wanted didn’t matter. The “net preference” has to be of all preferences, not simply choosing some preferences and subtracting some others arbitrarily.

    It is clear that Nazi Germany did not fulfil the utilitarian principle, unless one is arguing that all the harms of the Holocaust were necessary to avoid greater harm occurring.

    “The what? How can actions be transitive? You clearly aren't using the word in its normal sense (despite the fact that I've defines it before). Are you confusing it with 'comparable' or 'transferable'?”
    I’m not claiming that actions are transitive, I’m stating precisely that they’re not, in response to your paragraph that stated “it’s only actions we can observe” I stated that “the point of the paragraph… was about the transitivity of preferences and specifically not about the transitivity of actions.”
    “By way of reply, let me use an analogy. If my wife wants to know whether I'd like a cup of tea… she can build a complex model and try to gauge all the current factors which might apply and their relative weight based upon previous experience. Or she could ask me… Christianity strikes a balance between these two. It has a set of general guidelines which are to govern our day to day behaviour…Of course, the communication between man and God is not perfect, a fact which is basic to Christian doctrine. However, our judgements about morality are always by reference to God. An atrocity is an atrocity if it is one in God's view.”
    The analogy is a bit misleading, since, in asking you whether you want a cup of tea she’s not really asking you but endeavouring to communicate with a metaphysical being so as to gain direct access to a transcendent truth.

    A perfect analogy would be your wife deciding whether you probably want a cup of tea based on her observation of prior trends and actions and whether you say that you’d like a cup of tea (the utilitarian way), or whether she endeavours to determine this based on the divine communication described above.

    Whether one believes that it is possible to communicate with Divine Knowledge and gain access to various truths about morality which are distinct from acting for the greatest satisfaction of mankind’s wants and needs with as little concomitant suffer as possible, is a distinct question.

    What we need to determine to consider the utilitarian process is whether it is possible for your wife to judge whether you would like a cup of tea and whether it is more preferable in itself that your want for tea is satisfied. Once this question has been established then we can debate the possibility of access to contrary divine commands.

    “[in what manner your system is distinct from utilitarianism?] That's relatively easy.
    There is an absolute standard of ethical behaviour which is defined by God's opinion. It does not depend upon the preferences of any man or people group.”
    Utilitarianism is still an absolute ethical standard. It “depends on the preferences” of persons, only to the extent that any ethical consideration of human suffering or benefit does. The question is obviously not the manner in which an ethical consideration of suffering depends on what makes persons suffer. The only pertinent question is whether suffering is ethically significant.

    “I can argue that black is white, but it is not so. I don't accept that your argument is coherent.”
    In what sense is it incoherent?
    I’m not arguing as to whether an ant is sentient or not. All that is pertinent to our discussion is whether a being which isn’t sentient can be considered to hold preferences- suffer or benefit, itself, based on differing consequences.

    “If the right to hold prefences is based upon sentience, then why may I not murder a sleeping or drunk person. How about the mentally handicapped?”
    There is no question of “right to hold preferences” the only question is whether a person holds preferences or not. We needn’t refer to persons at all, but for the fact that preferences don’t exist except for where something is preferred by something.

    Murdering a sleeping person wouldn’t be permissible if their preferences would be harmed by doing so. If you would, upon waking have a chance to speak to your children and enjoy some breakfast, then these preferences would be frustrated by your being murdered, even if you don’t suffer from the experience of being murdered itself.

    All other qualities or groups, such as being mentally disabled, are only significant insofar as they can or cannot hold preferences. If they can suffer or enjoy any aspect of living then they hold preferences to avoid or enjoy these things and thus have preferences.

    If one is handicapped to the extent that one isn’t aware of one’s existence and cannot experience suffering or benefit, then one doesn’t have any preferences that can be taken into account, any more than one can take into account the suffering of a corpse- if one is dead and thus cannot suffer, it is insignificant that one performs an autopsy on the corpse from the point of view of the corpse suffering. This is not the case because the dead are unfairly discriminated against and their suffering ignored, but because they are not capable of preferring to not be in pain.

    “Err, no. It was an example of perfect utilitarian ethics, as you've so far derived it. The Nazis preferred the Jews to suffer and the Jews' preference was insignificant (to use one of your favourite words). I'm not sure why you can't see that.”
    When the word insignificant is used it doesn’t mean one can arbitrarily state that something is insignificant and so pretend it doesn’t exist. Preferences are never insignificant because under utilitarianism ‘all preferences are considered without bias.’

    A preference can be described as insignificant, but only in the sense that: “air’s preference not to be breathed is insignificant” (because the preferences don’t exist), or “my preference to steal your food is insignificant” (compared to the preference it would have to frustrate).

    The preferences of the Jews not to be burnt in ovens, and buried alive were doubtless very strong, and so decidedly significant. A Nazi arguing that Jews suffer but that it doesn’t matter would not be utilitarian- preferences always matter, they can only be frustrated in order to evade a greater frustration of suffering. One arguing that Jews do suffer from the Holocaust but that the Jews were so annoying that the Nazi’s preference to get rid of them was going to cause less suffering, could be a sincere utilitarian argument, but would clearly be incorrect in the view of any-one who holds that the horrific slaughter of millions caused more suffering than did the existence of the Jews.

    “Does that mean that they aren't entitled to any consideration, then? That rights only exist for the sentient? How sentient do you have to be to count? Someone versed in philosophy may well be more self-aware than another, does that mean that their preferences automatically carry more weight?”
    No person is entitled to consideration in themselves, insofar that all is considered is preference. Or alternatively, but irrelevantly, you could phrase it that all persons, particles and things are always considered as to whether or not they have preferences. The result would be the same- the person who is dead does not have preferences considered because “a person who is dead…does not hold preferences.” If one wants to argue that they, or rocks or any other group I’ve excluded do hold preferences, then it’s a fair point of discussion; the point though is simply that under utilitarianism all preferences are always considered, they cannot be dismissed on any basis.

    Rights don’t exist for any-one, unless you choose to phrase utilitarianism as “the right to equal consideration of preferences” which would be identical to the utilitarian principle in all ways.

    Sentience, similarly, is irrelevant in itself, it (like all things) is important only insofar as it effects preferences. You (or more precisely, your preferences) “count” if you hold preferences (or- your preferences count if they exist).

    A person who has a higher level of sentience doesn’t gain more consideration. For example, a philosopher getting stabbed in the hand is equal to a less philosophical person suffering the same, if there is no reason to assume that one will suffer more or less.
    Obviously there may be differences. If one has to deny access to philosophical discussion to a philosopher or non-philosopher, the choice is obvious. Similarly, saving the life of Socrates over a slave might functionally be ethically necessary, if it seems likely that saving Socrates will latterly save many others from suffering to a greater extent. This is not because philosophers are treated as superior, simply because in practise Socrates being saved would bring better fulfilment of preferences, just as not throwing the genius with a cure for disease out of a hot air balloon would be preferable.

    Whether philosophers suffer or benefit more acutely is a separate debate- about the facts of reality not about the ethical theory per se. It is a debate more akin to whether children suffer more from some traumatic event than would a grown man, in which instance the child would be treated better, if faced with a choice between comforting/damaging one of the two. The preferences of the child are not treated as more significant arbitrarily, they are simply recognised as more acute because the child will suffer more than the grown man.
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    “…If you can't say whose preferences count, or how you'd reliably establish what those preferences are, then your system is simply multiple layers of guessing. It's not a system as such, just a set of platitudes. It's no use for anything.”
    There is no question at all of needing to say “whose preferences count,” considering all preferences without bias necessitates immediately that who hold a preference is utterly irrelevant. I’ll grant that one can’t identify preferences absolutely because clearly a preference isn’t a tangible object but a mental state, however for the purposes of ethical discussion it is worthwhile to note that both of us believe that the other human bodies which we observe denote the existence of living conscious persons like ourselves, with the same capacity to suffer or benefit as ourselves.

    What one means by “reliably” establish is still left vague by your argument. We concur that we do not have direct access to a person’s preferences, any more than we can access any other person’s experience. Even following your own assumption that one can access direct Godly knowledge as to morality, you do not argue that one’s knowledge of morality or other person’s experience is complete or wholly sure. Nevertheless you do state that you believe that happiness ought to be maximised and suffering minimised- this strongly implies that you believe that this assertion of yours significant.

    Obviously we can be wrong in these suppositions, but provisionally acting on such assumptions (persons suffer if we break their bones) is a seemingly reliable, and reasonable trend to follow if one wishes to satisfy preferences.

    As I’ve already addressed, consideration of preferences is not merely guesswork, a number of factors exist by which you can consider preferences. To take your own example, when your wife asks you whether you want a cup of tea there are a number of processes by which the decision can be taken. Neither of you can be sure about the underlying assumptions that inform your practise of making each other tea, nevertheless, acting so as to satisfy the other person’s preferences is clearly a significant and desirable mode of action.

    “The fact that you can't/won't represent them is yet another flaw - probably in your understanding. Maybe you're just crap at maths, I don't know. However, anyone who bases an ethical system on the idea of a net value, must at least make some stab at propsing how the net value should be calculated. The word 'net' as used here is a mathematical concept.”
    Yes it is a mathematic concept, meaning the final result after deduction. In utilitarianism the fulfilment of preferences minus the frustration of preferences. Obviously one could represent this, the utilitarian principle, I’m merely pointing out (again) that obviously any representation of this is either tautologically identical to the original formulation or else won’t be utilitarianism- as both Bentham and Mill pointed out extensively. Stating that the best fulfilment of preferences entails calculating “the preferences fulfilled minus the preferences frustrated” (me getting some tasty fruit minus the prior owner getting mugged” isn’t necessary as explanation of what a total value is. One can elaborate, and that that net utility necessitates calculating ‘the length of the utility, the strength of the utility, the extent of the utility” but this doesn’t add any explanatory power, it just reminds people who might otherwise forget how the net value should be calculated.

    “OK, so if we have two people who want to kill one person, then it becomes ethically jsutified, since two lives outweigh one.”
    If we’re just choosing between 1 life saved versus 2 such lives saved, then obviously the two lives outweigh the other. If you’re talking about a different situation, for example whereby there is one normal guy and two psychopaths who want to kill him, then very probably the life of the socially adjusted guy would be more worthwhile saving than the criminally insane. If you mean 1 person slaughtered in the street versus 2 people killed by the appropriate law-keeping authority, then the 2 dying is likely even more preferable, since the social effects will be even stronger (very bad for society for a murder to take place, much better for society that law and order is re-enforced), perhaps.

    Further you cannot simply assert that “killing 1 person is ethically justified because 2 people want to do it.” It might be, as noted above, that killing 1 person is better if it saves 2 people, but killing a person doesn’t thus become justified in itself- if you have 2 people who want to kill 1 person, but they could choose to not kill him with no concomitant loss of life, then not killing him would be preferable, ceteris paribus.

    “It's not controversial, but it is incoherent with your thesis.”
    Why is it incoherent? Further in what manner does my thesis, or could my thesis possibly touch upon whether or not bacteria are sentient? I have at no point asserted that “bacteria are sentient” therefore it is doubtless coherent to assert that “bacteria are not sentient.”

    “OK, if it's allowable to have such a thing as an axiom, then my chickens are people in your system. If a pride of lions prefer to eat you, then I'm sure you'll submit on utilitarian grounds. No, I'm afraid you're going to have to be a little more precise.”
    If you hold that your chickens possess preferences then they are doubtless persons- beings who hold preferences- a point on which Singer would agree. I’m not a zoologist so I have no interest in which animals do or do not hold preferences, but I will, for the sake of our argument assume that both chickens and lions do hold preferences. This does not, by any means suggest that I ought to allow myself to be eaten by lions. The lion/chicken’s preferences are doubtless very limited, they may experience hunger, thirst, physical pain etc, but the array of preferences a human can typically expect to experience exceed this both in extent and intensity, and typically also in fecundity longevity and purity. Feeding a starving Socrates a roast pork dinner would better serve preferences than feeding a starving Socrates to a pig, because Socrates would, if saved, have many preferences satisfied to a great extent and serve many preferences himself.

    “err no. Your system isn't perfect until proven faulty - it's faulty until proven correct.”
    The point (evident from the rest of the paragraph) was that you can’t dismiss utilitarianism on the basis that you “do not believe that you can establish preferences well enough for them to form any sort of useful ethical system.” If X is moral then the fact that we cannot determine X, would not change the ethical status of X.

    “So far your essay consists of a vague term defined in a circular fashion and consists entirely of a platitude which you've been unable to demonstrate on a worked example.”
    Preferences hasn’t been defined at all vaguely. It’s a very simple concept, given that you, as a person who experience suffering and positive experiences in various degrees, have immediate experience of it.

    Stating that one ought to take account of the preferences of others is clearly non-platitudinous, even the most incompetent ethical actor- an alien let us say- could follow it simply by enquiring of people how they would prefer he act. Obviously this indicator will be fairly unsophisticated, but it is entirely coherent and almost certain to bring preferable results to contrary action.

    I’ve given you so many examples of utilitarian reasoning that I lost count many posts ago. I don’t see what else you want from a worked example. You often demand a concrete, objective standard, nevertheless it is clear that it is impossible to offer a mathematical measure of a person’s internal mental states until such time as a person’s suffering can physically be measured on an objective scale.

    Nevertheless you are clearly of the opinion that other people, such as your family, have mental states and can be happy or suffer, and prefer to be more happy or suffer less to varying degrees- a fact that is by no means rendered problematic by the fact that you can’t put a preference-o-meter in their mouth and announce that they prefer chatting to their Dad over not, by a scale of 10 preference units. Stating that one ought to act so as to satisfy a person’s preference rather than cause them suffering by frustrating their preferences, is clearly not a platitude, decision-making in the real world might well be very difficult, but the goal is entirely possible.

    ”Suppose I came to you with a mathematical theorem which states that three is blue and five is red. …
    Your axiom makes no more sense. You can say that a preference is something (undefined) held by a person, and a person is someone who can hold a preference. But so what? Of itself, that allows bacteria or woodlice to have preferences which are as valid as your own. So it needs far more qualification, unless you are defending the thesis that you have no more right to your preferences than an amoeba.”
    That “theorem” is not analogous to utilitarianism. There’s only one factor (preferences) which persons need to understand, which is directly experienced by all persons. In fact preference is a far less slippery concept than colour; a person could conceivably be blind and so literally incapable of comprehending “red.” Almost all sentient beings however experience suffering, happiness or discomfort to some extent, any being which views any state, action or consequence as more desirable than another has direct experience of preference.

    Admittedly preference is more difficult to identify to a sceptic than a colour, simply because “red” can be shaken in from of some-one’s face ad nauseam, whereas any mental state such as happiness or pain cannot. One would be unable to point to a big bowl of suffering and thus communicate the concept that some experiences are more or less preferable.

    Clearly once we’ve established that we can prefer certain experiences or their avoidance, the question of what else is capable of the same is difficult. That other humans are sentient beings like ourselves, who while alive experience pain of the same sorts is normally uncontroversial. Even so it would be impossible to refute a solipsist who just reasserts endlessly that he doesn’t believe you’re real. Similarly it is commonplace to treat rocks as non-persons, who cannot have preferences and are not subject to the ethical rules of conduct regarding humans. Animals are obviously a more fraught and controversial example- with the same impossibility of absolute resolution applying- as are foetuses.

    No level of qualification will solve this problem, I assume we’re agreed that Socrates prefers various mental states and occurrences, enjoys what he devotes himself to and suffers more acutely than does a table. This view is a result of the view that we presumably share, that Socrates is capable of preferences in a way that a table isn’t; obviously were some-one to deny this and claim that lifeless wood feels joy and suffering as much as Socrates then the wood would indeed have to be afforded the same consideration as Socrates following this assumption. That an amoeba or a table has “equal right to consideration of preferences” as myself would indeed be problematic for me personally were I of the view that tables had the same preferences as myself is not a problem due to lack of “more qualification.” Adding “far more qualification” would be completely arbitrary, and could never be of any use, as a person who maintains that amoebas hold preferences to the same extent as a grown, sentient human would obviously object to arbitrarily saying “by the way, the suffering of amoebas is always ignored, even if they suffer more than full grown humans.”

    “It's very wearing that you keep dismissing all these objections as "insignificant" as if you were the sole arbiter what what's right. If you want to be taken seriously you need to argue as if the other person needs to be persuaded, rather than simply ignored. So you need something which appeals to a common ground. that's why I use analogies - all analogies are flawed, but it allows us to explore neutral territory.”
    Which objections have I dismissed as “insignificant?” I haven’t on any occasion ignored you, wherever I’ve stated that a point is insignificant I’ve offered (usually very extensive) elaboration as to why your assertion couldn’t possibly be relevant to the discussion. If there are actually any points through the discussion where I’ve not offered a reply then you can obviously just remind me of them, as I’ve already done several times.

    “If so, it demonstrates that it's just a platitude.”
    The reason that it isn’t touched upon by your statement, isn’t because it’s “a platitude”- as the unquoted sections of the paragraph explain. Clearly your story that your children had MMR jabs and you didn’t take account of their preferences, doesn’t change whether or not the satisfaction of preferences is desirable. Also as I stated in the next paragraph that you quoted, the MMR scenario didn’t represent a single preference to be judged in itself, but rather a host of different preferences, and mistaken opinions.

    “In the real world, all preferences will necessarily be transient and ill-informed. Try reading some of the papers I've referenced, or other ways in which people's reasons behind decisions are ephemeral. It's far more complex than you'd like.”
    I’ve already pointed out a number of times that I’m referring to preferences not decisions people make about specific action, the basis upon which persons make decisions is a distinct question. If something happens to you, but you’d prefer that it didn’t, then it obviously frustrates a real preference of yours. That you, in real life, don’t know objectively how much you’re suffering as a result of it, or whether the possible alternatives would have been better or worse or to what extent, or whether you trying to solve the problem will make it better or worse, doesn’t change the fact that you are actually suffering in real life. Perhaps your situation will be horrifically complex that you have no basis upon which to judge beyond the fact that you are suffering- the suffering is nevertheless real and you would prefer that it would stop. This preference isn’t ill informed. If you are faced with a very complex situation and can’t know whether the choice to try to ease your suffering will serve your preference or not, then your choice to ‘try to ease suffering in some way’ or ‘not try to ease suffering’ will be “ill-informed” but this isn’t a preference, that’s just a choice of action so as to try to maximise your preferences, not a preference.

    “Now you're redefining preferences to mean something higher. Perhaps you're simply not aware if it. I've asked before how you'd establish preferences and you've said that it's by observing actions. I've continually argued that it's more than that and that actions are not a reliable guide. You seem to be trying to conflate 'real' preferences (i.e. what people would prefer if they were omniscient and omnipotent) with people's real-world, individual preferences. I don't think you can do that within utilitarianism without making 'preferences' so vague as to be useless.”
    I’m not redefining preferences, I’ve repeatedly reasserted that I’m only referring to that definition. I fail to see how you suggest that I might not be aware of this- since the beginning I’ve been pre-emptively pointing out that by preferences I really do mean preferences, and specifically don’t mean the different definitions which you’ve subsequently referred to.

    One has to take into account a person’s actions in determining what they prefer, nevertheless these two things are still distinct- a person might act so as to get drunkenly into their car and try to drive, which gives a strong impression of their current preferences, but one which is doubtless very distinct from what will actually best fulfil their preferences. There is no conflation of concepts here at all. A person acting in manner X suggests that they prefer, at present, to act in such a manner, but clearly there is a distinction between this and what serves their preferences.

    Preference is still by no means useless. In deciding the manner in which you treat your family you surely consider what will actually serve their interests, not ‘what they profess to be their desire,’ where you suspect there’s a difference between what they choose and what will actually serve their preferences. Similarly while you have to speculate as to what a person’s preferences will be based on observation of behaviour and scientific theorisation this is not to say that the way a person acts and their preferences are in any way conflated. If one of your children touches some dangerous object you obviously intervene, because evidence suggests that their preferences won’t be served by their risk, even if their action suggests that at present they prefer to act in such a manner.

    Similarly you surely prefer that that which you prefer is satisfied, is satisfied, and so with your family. This statement is by no means vague, as you read this there are doubtless occurrences which you view to be more/less preferable than the current state- hence a preference. The fact that these preferences are potentially very complex does not render the preferentiality of them any less significant.

    Obviously there are a host of ways in which your suppositions as what you and others will prefer might be incorrect. You can’t pick up a glass of water without knowing that you won’t accidentally choke on it, nevertheless it is clear, non-platitudinous and significant that you prefer not to drown, prefer not to die of thirst, and can to varying degrees mediate your behaviour so as to satisfy these preferences; similarly with your family and other persons, but with decreasing certainty.
    -

    One therefore wonders on what basis you actually object to utilitarianism. You surely would prefer or not prefer various things which might occur to you or your family, or at least accept that they do hold these preferences. Similarly, you’ve stated that you believe that happiness should be maximised and suffering minimised, a position that is entirely identical to utilitarianism. You’ve criticised utilitarianism extensively on the basis that you think that practically it is too difficult or impossible, nevertheless it seems implausible that you do not, throughout your life, believe in the possibility of acting with a consideration of how “happiness should be maximised and suffering minimised.” Since you bother to act it seems likely that you have a sense of what causes you happiness or suffering, so you clearly have a basis, assuming you believe there is some parity between yourself and others, to mediate your action with a view to satisfying their preferences.

    Whether you believe that morality is in actuality exclusively derived from God’s will, and that he has made several commandments which explicitly require you to cause suffering where it could be avoided and not to help others where they could be aided, is a different question to our discussion of utilitarianism. We can discuss the significance of utilitarianism and of your view that ‘happiness ought to be maximised and suffering minimised,’ in themselves; if you also believe that God has offered contrary commands then it is a different question entirely.
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    :hello:

    i need help people

    im :confused:

    i know this is off the topic, but can someone please explain to me what the toronto blessing is?

    my teacher menitoned it today in our philosphy lesson

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    Hey toots
    I'm almost always :confused:
    Hum, well when I don't know something, I turn to the good people of Wiki who know even less, but often about different things. Sometimes they're right. So as long as is it isn't too important:Wiki it!
    Tada! :juggle:
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    :toofunny:

    toots???

    lol

    well, thanks for the help calvin

    i wikied it!

    :toofunny:
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    You're doing conversion already? We didn't start that till halfway through Year 13! The Toronto blessing is what you bring up when you're doing an essay on conversion and you want to give a concrete desciption of charismatic conversion.
 
 
 
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