If you are a consequentialist, it's the exact same calculation you would use if happiness were your goal. Just with different criteria to determine what constitute "good" and "bad" world states.

I think you're missing the thrust of my question.

I'm asking something more like "What if mental states are mostly a means of achieving worthwhile consequences, rather than being mostly the consequences that should be cared about in and for themselves?"

It is "consequences" either way.

But what might be called intrinsic hedonism would then be a consequentialism that puts the causal and moral stop sign at "how an action makes people feel" (mostly ignoring the results of the feelings (except to the degree that the feelings might c... (read more)

We need a better theory of happiness and suffering

by toonalfrink 1 min read4th Jul 201739 comments

2


We rationalists know a lot about winning, but we don't know what our terminal goals really are. Such things are handwaved away, as we just mumble something like "QALYs" and make a few guesses about what a five year old would like.

I'd like to dispel the myth that a 5 year old knows what they like. Have you ever seen a kid with a sack of candy? I don't think they really wanted to get nauseous.

"But hold up", you say. "Maybe that's true for special cases involving competing subagents, but most cases are actually pretty straightforward, like blindness and death and captivity."

Well, you may have a point with death, but what if blind people and inmates are actually as happy as the next guy? What's the point of curing blindness, then?

A special case where we need to check our assumptions is animal welfare. What if the substrate of suffering is something in higher-order cognition, something that all but mammals lack?

One could hold that it is impossible to make inferences about another being's qualia, but we can come quite far with introspection plus assuming that similar brains yield similar qualia. We can even correlate happiness with brain scans.

The former is why I've moved to a Buddhist monastery. If (whatever really causes) happiness is your goal, it seems to me that the claim that one can permanently attain a state of bliss is worth investigating.

So, to sum up, if we want to fix suffering, let's find out it's proximal cause first. Spoiler: it's not pain.

(To be continued)