Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Holiday Message

I am not much into holidays.

Whatever joy and happiness is to be found in the holiday season I wish for people to have all year round. There is no reason why some random day out of the year . . .May 22nd, perhaps . . . should not be as good as December 25th.

So, I wish for you, my readers, a merry Everyday and a happy new tomorrow.

It has been my hope, through this blog, to give people better everydays than they would have otherwise had. With a commitment to try to be better people ourselves, and to promote the better nature of others while discouraging that coarser nature that tends to thwart the desires of others, we can all realize more of that which has value than we would have otherwise had.

One of the implications of desire utilitarianism (a.k.a., desirism) is that virtue does not require any sacrifice. The good person gets to do exactly what he wants to do while. This is because what the good person wants to do is that which will tend to fulfill the desires of others.

It is one thing to sacrifice and give one's money to charity to feed the poor to provide medical care to the sick. It is quite another to look at all of the things that one wants to do with the money, and finding more value in using it to feed the poor and provide medical care to the sick instead.

It is one thing to show up to do charity work out of a sense of duty while suppressing the desire to do other things. It is quite another to be there, helping other people, and knowing that you are where you want to be and you are doing what you want to do.

It is sometimes said that virtue is its own reward. In desire utilitarianism, this is true. A virtuous person does not lie (except to the proverbial NAZI coming door to door in search of the proverbial Jew in the attic). At the same time, he enjoys honesty. Deceit is a form of suffering. Being forced to lie is, to her, like being forced to eat that food which one most hates to eat. It is an unpleasant experience that one will avoid if at all person. A virtuous person is honest in part because he simply cherishes honesty.

A morally virtuous person is intellectually responsible in part because he has a desire to be intellectually responsible and an aversion to intellectual irresponsibility. Caught making a garbage argument on an issue like global climate change, the virtuous person is embarrassed and ashamed. He has slipped, and found himself in a situation that he hates and will struggle to avoid in the future. Having been caught delivering a garbage argument or making a clearly false assumption (as I did a few posts ago), he curses himself and resolves to redouble his efforts to make sure that something like that never does again.

Intellectual responsibility, to such a person, is not a burden, it is a pleasure. Going to the effort to double-check one's facts and to review one's arguments for soundness is not a burden that requires giving up other things that one enjoys. It is one of the things the agent treasures and, thus, one of the things he would hate to be forced to give up.

We are human and none of us is without fault. I can look at myself and list desires that are not those that a person with good desires would not have, and know that I lack certain concerns that a person with good desires would have. Each of us can do the same thing.

Yet, we can recognize them as flaws because we can recognize them as traits that people in general have little or no reason to encourage; or that they are the absence of traits that people generally have many and strong reason to promote in others. In fact, the agent himself can tell himself,

Sometimes, we can say of ourselves, This trait that I have is one that I have reason to condemn in others because of the desire-thwarting it tends to bring about. They have reason to condemn this quality in me. That is what defines it as a bad trait. That is what identifies it as a trait that I should, in a moral sense, try to exchange for one that people generally have reason to promote in others, and that I have reason to promote in them.

We have the power to make the world a better place than it would have otherwise been by putting these social tools to work. We can do so by condemning those attitudes people generally have reason to condemn when we find them in others - and when we find them in ourselves. And we can do so by praising those attitudes people generally have reason to praise when we find them in others - and when we find them in ourselves.

To the degree that we are successful at promoting virtue (the desire to do that which tends to fulfill the desires of others), and inhibit the vices (the desire to do that which tends to thwart the desires of others), we generally get to find more value in the one short and finite life we all have to live.

So, I wish to take this holiday season to try to encourage you, as I will encourage myself, to make the world a better place by promoting - in self and others - those desires that tend to fulfill other desires and in inhibiting - in self and others - those desires that tend to thwart other desires.

And to make an honest effort to learn which is which.

Together, next year, we can make the world a better place than it would have otherwise been if we had not gone through the effort, or if we had not existed so as to be able to put in the effort.

Have a merry Christmas, and make it a better 2010 than it would have otherwise been, for yourself, and for others.


Rex said...

Awesome message!

I always look at the holidays as a break point to recognize the events of the past year as well as an opportunity to focus on goals for the upcoming year. Additionally, as an atheist, the holidays provide me with an enhanced opportunity to recognize and celebrate loved ones, be they blood related or not.

It is a time of reflection and renewal, and of celebration.

Enjoy your holidays.

I love that saying. It is unassuming, and inclusive and if someone takes offense, they are just spoiling for an argument.

John Doe said...

Just wondering, but who made you the arbiter of what is virtuous? Virtue is in the eye of the beholder, when there is no one true God to set the standard. Perhaps the dude down the street enjoys stealing from others? Perhaps to his way of thinking, ruining the planet for his own pleasure is the path towards true happiness? Perhaps for him doing what others want is a pain in the ass, and he wants nothing to do with your idiotic (to him) notion of what is virtuous. Sure, you have your standards, and they appear to me to be "virtuous", too. But what do you say to that guy who doesn't agree?

And your definition of virtuous is kind of vague. "That which tends to fulfill the desires of others." That makes what you do dependent upon the desires of others. What if you have two people with diametrically opposing desires which can't be reconciled and which will defeat the other's purpose? (e.g., I want to buy that acre of land! NO! I want it!) Which one do you help fulfill, and which one do you ignore. Or do you help each one attempt to thwart the other?

Merry Christmas, from your pain in the ass.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

John Doe

First, I hold that there are moral facts to be discovered. I am no more an arbiter of what is virtuious than I am an arbitor of the properties of H2SO4.

Second, there are 1500 posts in this blog and several other sources where I present my theories of right and wrong - incuding a FAQ that is linked to on the left, a book you can pay for, and an online book you don't have to pay for. Among other things you will find answers to the kinds of concerns you raise in that material.

Christian Poppycock said...

A lovely sentiment, Alonso!

BTW, May 22 is "Rhinoceros Appreciation Day".


Anonymous said...


You do such good work on this blog. We're fortunate to have you.

Best wishes,

Scott M.

anton said...

Hey, Alonzo, I am impressed!

Particularly your wishes. I think you hit the nail on the head with:


I shall use it often, especially when someone extends their Christmas greeting!

Adolfus said...

I agree with John Doe.
Look, i started following your blog because i thought you free.You have proved yourself a pseudo-ethicist and a half- baked charading bigot.

Hume's Ghost said...

"Virtue is in the eye of the beholder, when there is no one true God to set the standard."

If the individual is not capable of reasoning the merit of an ethical system, then by what criteria is he to recognize the "virtue" of the moral precepts standardized by a or any deity? Without such a capacity, the foundational precept of one's ethics becomes "might makes right."

Hume's Ghost said...

That many people may not live ethicial lives does not change the point that if ethics are not held to be independent of the fiat of some being then there are no such things as ethics.

It's not as if "God" sets much of an example when it comes to not committing genocide, anyways. The Bible is replete with it.

Piero said...

First, a greeting to Alonzo for his blog and his ideas. They've really made me think in a wholly different way about ethics.

Now for the sad part: JohnDoe and Adolfus.

Adolfus is the kind of person who thinks that a critique is just any old disparaging comment. Persons of that kind are usually called "idiots", and no more needs to be said about them.

JohnDoe, on the other hand, is not an idiot, but a reckless ignoramus. He obviously has not read the required minimum in order to engage Alonzo's arguments sensibly, so he blathers on about "the real world" and other such trite banalities.