It was good …

So, in Jasper’s post, there was also this, which I didn’t comment on there:

As for the non-hedonists – then I’d disagree with them. People can suffer, and few people want to suffer. The goal of the average person is to minimize their suffering, and maximize their enjoyment of life. A visit to the nearest hospital (assuming you can wander the rooms) will make this readily apparent.
That’s what we want, so we consider it preferable and good.

One thing I’ve noted in many of the debates over morality is that there’s a bit of conflation going on over the term “good”. Sure, we consider suffering to be “bad” and enjoyment to be “good”, but the conflation is to then use the word “good” to mean “morally good” and then argue that, of course, since everyone agrees that this is good/desirable then that’s what morality should be based on. It’s just obvious, isn’t it? And it’s not just Jasper who does that; Russell Blackford’s car analogy relies heavily on the conflation of “good” with “morally good”.

The big issue is that “good” isn’t really a universal term. Instead, it’s defined relative to a domain. And you can’t directly translate one kind of good to another domain. For example, if I say that Spike was a good villain in Season 2 of Buffy, I clearly don’t mean that Spike was a moral villain in Season 2. In fact, it’s clear that he wasn’t morally good, and that if he had been morally good he wouldn’t have been a good villain. So you clearly can’t use the sort of things that make for a good villain to make a morally good person. The same thing holds for food; when we consider what makes food taste good, that’s also clearly not the sort of thing that makes for moral goodness. No one would ever try to argue that adding a pinch of cinnamon can make our actions morally good. And yet, that’s exactly what people like Jasper do when they insist that our practical desires can define what it means to be moral.

The big issue I have with this is that it leads to a very shallow definition of morality. In their minds, morality is supposed to reflect our desires and let us achieve them. But morality is supposed to shape our desires, not merely reflect them. Ultimately, we’re supposed to shape our desires to reflect the true and moral good, and subordinate our practical desires to that true moral good. Without that, morality is nothing more than practical desires, and moral reasoning becomes practical reasoning, and as we’ve already seen ends up with morality being pointless and useless.

In short, morality is not supposed to give me what I want. I’m supposed to want the moral good. And this conflation buries that.


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