More about utilitarianism… perspective…

upside down?

This, is — kind of exactly, the problem. 

Think about things you really enjoy, that some other people HATE — For example, I love winter for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I love the look of snow, I love the fact that my allergies stop, I love not having to run the air conditioner and fans (so my apartment is quiet), I love cozy nights and fireplaces — all that. 

Other people HATE winter — for reasons they tell me, like it’s cold and snowy…

So, in this situation, who is upside down?  I’d say the winter haters are — they’d say I am.  It’s all about perspective.  In this case, it’s pretty easy to see that there are reasonable folks on both sides, and the winter debate. Maybe we can’t use that kind of experience to point out the problems…

So — think about people who enjoy BDSM (think 50 Shades of Gray) — I’m NOT explaining more than the general idea that some people get sexual fulfillment from pain/being dominated or whatever.  If you go look it up, be prepared — there’s a lot of explicit stuff out there.

So — Mr. BDSM may enjoy something like having his private parts hurt.  For him, pain IS pleasure.  That’s all fine and dandy if he can make that work for him, but what if Mr. BDSM were to adopt utilitarianism as his working ethical theory?  

The problem is really that Mr. BDSM would have to assume that what gives him pleasure also gives other people pleasure.  If he’s a gay man, that would mean hurting the private parts of other men — men, who perhaps didn’t expect or ask for that — 

And there’s the problem, what we find pleasing may not be pleasing for others — but, since we aren’t others, how can we know that?  I suppose it’s rather simple for Mr. BDSM to figure out that most guys don’t like having their private parts hurt — but how about less extreme examples?  How can we, in general, know that our action is going to help or hurt someone?  We don’t know their particular situation.  We don’t know their likes and dislikes, and we don’t know what the end-result of our actions will be until they happen.

We see this in laws all the time — take student loan rules as a prime example.  It used to be that there was a very high lifetime cap on what students could borrow — and they could take it in small or large chunks over a large number of semesters.

BUT — then it came to be that many students had enormous student loan debt — SO, the lawmakers decided to put in lifetime limits for a 4-year degree, as well as a cap on how many semesters students could get any loans.. It seems like having students with less debt, finishing faster would be a good thing, right?  Sure, if your sample size is the kids of Congress… (mostly wealthy, upper-middle class, white kids going to college the traditional way) — 

BUT — what Congress saw as a an overall good thing (thus OK by utilitarianism with their data set) actually hurts many other kinds of college students — the non-traditional ones get stuck without loans to finish their education if they take a class or two at a time… the students who need courses to get up to college-level in math, English or reading can find themselves out of money… the students who choose to change majors etc.  

Congress couldn’t predict that kind of impact, but the law has those effects — is it ACTUALLY a good law?  Depends on the perspective… 

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