Friday, May 27, 2016

"A Good Life" Vs "The Life of a Good Person"

Is "Living the life of a good person" compatible with "Having a good life?"

Well, not directly. And it doesn't really matter all that much. But, indirectly, yes.

I am understanding a good life as a life that sees the fulfillment of one's self-regarding desires. The life of a good person is a life lived by a person who has those desires that people generally have reason to promote and lacks those desires that people generally have reason to inhibit.

The desires that people generally have reason to promote are generally going to be desires that tend to fulfill the desires of other people. A desire does not have to be other-regarding to fulfill the desires of other people; it can be a self-regarding desire that tends to fulfill the desires of others as a side effect. However, it is not unreasonable to expect that other-regarding desires are going to have a big advantage in this calculation.

Similarly, the desires that people generally have reason to inhibit are self-regarding desires - particularly those that thwart the desires of others.

Inhibiting self-regarding desires is not the same as thwarting self-regarding desires. There is a difference between the case in which an agent has a desire the P and P is false (the desire is thwarted) and one in which an agent has no interest in P and P is false. Since a good life is a life in which one's self-regarding desires are fulfilled, causing people to lack certain self-regarding interests, or weakening those self-regarding interests to the point that the agent cares little about them, will subtract nothing to little from "a good life".

Yet, in some cases, the other-regarding desires of morality will be set to override and force the thwarting of the agent's stronger self-regarding desires. This implies self-sacrifice in the name of being a good person.

So, why be moral?

There are two important things to note about the actions of a good person.

First, the good person still gets what matters most to him.

A person has $20000 to spend. He could spend it on a luxurious vacation, or he can donate it to an organization that is working to protect children from malaria.

Let's look at the vacation options. Our agent would really like a South Seas Island vacation, but would like a European vacation even more. She sacrifices the South Sea vacation for the European vacation, but she still gets that which she wants most.

Now, we give this agent an other-regarding interest in the health and well-being of children. We make this desire stronger than the desire for a vacation. The agent now sacrifices the European vacation for the sake of protecting the health and welfare of several children.

This agent is still doing what he wants most. He is, in effect, buying the thing that it is most important for him to buy with his money - the health and well-being of a number of children. In a sense, for the good person, acting to protect children rather than go on vacation is the same type of decision as the decision to go to Europe rather than the South Seas.

This still counts as an act of self- sacrifice. The agent is sacrificing self-regarding desires in order to fulfill other-regarding desires. However, for the good person, the sacrifice is still made for the sake of something he wants more than a European vacation.

Second, that which is other-person-regarding for the agent serves the self-regarding interests of others.

When the person contributes $20,000 to protect children from malaria, he is serving the self-regarding interests of those children.

If our agent is a part of a generally moral community then, at the same time she is acting on her other-regarding desires, so are others. She will be living in a community where others generally tell the truth, try to help those in dire need, keep promises, repay debts, refuse to take the property of others without consent, and refrain from acts of violence except in the defense of the innocent and helpless.

Living in this type of society will make it easier for the agent to actually fulfill more of even her self-regarding desires than living in a community of selfish, lying, violent, thieving murderers.

Consequently, by forming a community whose members take part in institutions that successfully promote other-regarding desires generally, many of her self-regarding interests (and, of these, particularly the strongest of those interests - the interests that people generally would want to secure) are protected.

As an added benefit, our agent will also be better able to fulfill her other-regarding interests in such a society.

So, back to our original question.

Is living the life of a good person compatible with living a good life?

Not directly. A good person has a number of other-regarding desires that will sometimes outweigh and thwart the self-regarding desires, the fulfillment of which makes up a good life.

But it doesn't matter. The good person who is fulfilling other-regarding desires is still doing what she wants most to do. What she is sacrificing is simply of less importance to her than what she is accomplishing.

And, indirectly, yes it is. One's self-regarding desires (particularly one's strongest self-regarding desires) have a greater chance of fulfillment in a community filled with people having other-regarding interests than it is in a community of selfish, lying, thieving murderers.

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