Sunday, March 30, 2014

Philosophari sibi necesse esse, sed paucis.

Dad told me once that you can tell a consensus-based decision -- a democratic decision -- is the right one when none of the people involved is completely happy with the outcome.  If any one party is completely happy, then there hasn't been compromise.  I think about this a lot when watching the changes in Egypt.  I think about it a lot observing our own bureaucracy.

In the utilitarian model of ethics, there's an interesting tension between 'fairness' and maximizing happiness -- i.e., the goal of society is not just increasing the total amount of happiness, but also increasing it among the greatest number of people.  Otherwise, we'd all just devote ourselves to making one person so deliriously happy, her pleasure would outweigh everyone else's misery.

There's also a tension in this model between the immediate outcome of an action and the 'second order' effect of multiple such actions over time -- i.e., it might make you very happy to run a red light and get to your destination more quickly than if you had stopped, but the aggregate effect of people continually running red lights would eventually decrease overall happiness due to accidents, so forth.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all this.  But I do wonder if Utilitarianism is available in Arabic.