Greatest Happiness

This government decision sounds like a classic use of the greatest happiness for the greatest number ethical argument. Was it the right thing to do?

It is worth noting that the dismissal was without prejudice. Of course, that begs the question whether the dismissal was really owing to the nature of the case itself or part of a decision not to reveal information that may be used for other purposes as well. It is also unknown who made the decision and, given its nature, it is very likely that it came from a relatively high level and was not a matter of discretion by the lawyers working the case.


One of the problems in assessing any governmental action is that in essence citizens have effectively abrogated the right to question individual "judgments" made by government officials unless there is evidence of wrongdoing.

A similar type of issue was reported by Bloomberg about a decision not to reveal cost overruns on Navy contracts. Here the argument is "security" is involved.

Overall, it is very hard to come to any informed view on these types of issue. If one looks at it in terms of the matters themselves then both of these decisions seem to be questionable. If one looks at in terms of the need to subordinate justice in a given case to some higher concept of "the needs of society" then there is no practical way to discuss these issues.

What is missing is a framework that defines "best practices" for government decisions. That would be difficult but not impossible to establish. It would not solve all problems but would make it easier to analyze these types of issue. The reason such a framework does not exist it that citizens do not demand one.

In my post, I wasn't quite clear, for I meant to ask if the "utilitarian" moral theory underlying the government's decision not to prosecute the one individual led to the correct course of action "and" will also lead to the best result? I believe the government logic is that letting one criminal off the hook to keep their hacking code secret will lead to the arrest of many more individuals who would cause far more harm and pain than just that one individual already had. Thus, the government would be bring about the greatest amount of happiness ( or least pain ) to the greatest number of people.

But is this moral theory, which is omnipresent in every aspect of individual and government actions throughout the world, and is often in conflict with other moral commandments and theories, the correct theory on which to act? The founding fathers of America, who were heavily influenced by thinkers such as Hume, Bentham, Locke, Mills, Berkeley, and others who advocated this theory, framed the constitution with these ideas at hand.

This theory has been sloppily expressed as "the end justifies the means", which is patently false. Like any moral code, it defies absolute confirmation. Yet it has been invoked when the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima was made, not to mention decisions concerning genocide, assassinations, the Holocaust, and on and on. And, of late, I would not be surprised if some otherwise rational people have entertained the notion that the assassination of a recently elected president would lead to the greatest happiness for the most people.

What's more, this morality conflicts with notions such as it always wrong to steal or wrong to kill another person, etc. Machiavelli thought of it as a means to an end. We have all told white lies to avoid inflicting pain or avoid decreasing another's happiness. And according to this theory honesty is not always the best policy. That said, can we always know the consequences of any given action? I think not. So what morality do we best act from?

I have had the opportunity to read some of the works of the writers you mention and within the confines of the frameworks, they construct the argumentation is both compelling and emotionally powerful. The same could be said for the notion of 'fair price" expounded by Aquinas (and interestingly resurrected in a modern form from time to time on the other forum). Similarly, Hegel's Theory of Triads makes sense on his terms.

The problem is these are statements of principle and none of these thinkers or anyone else for that matter has found a way to develop an operational model that would apply unambiguously in the real world.

I do not think there is an absolute morality that serves as a basis for action. For instance, it is generally considered "moral" to take human life under specific conditions specifically, self-defense, in a "just war", and the execution of a criminal. Societies codify this behavior but problems arise in practice. For instance is it truly self-defense if one party is armed and the other is not? Is it possible that two opposing armies could both be fighting "a just war?" Is the death penalty moral if data show it is applied in different ways depending on where an accused might be tried and the standards that apply in that jurisdiction?

Take an equally serious moral issue, the intergenerational differences in health care in the US. A wholly disproportionate amount of resources are devoted to providing medical care to elderly patients during the last months of life. None of the treatments can do anything other than briefly extend life. Palliative care would be dramatically less costly and in many cases would involve less suffering than the alternative. However, that group of voters is particularly vocal and no politician would propose these resources be used instead to provide medical care for a different cohort where indeed clinical outcomes could be positive.

Machiavelli may not have been an original thinker but he certainly understood how humans behave as opposed to how they might behave were their actions governed by a moral code. That is why he argued it is better for the prince to be feared than loved.

Even if an operational moral code could be elaborated, it is unlikely that human nature would change as a result. It is not the lack of such a code that is the problem, rather it is human nature itself.

ETA: SCOTUS just commented on how a given group's views (a jury) can impact morality in the way society treats an individual.

I'm certainly no expert on genetics or evolutionary theory, but I would surmise that you are correct in assuming that "mutations", change" and "variations" over" time" are at the core of evolution. Of course the theory itself has changed or evolved over time with revisions , additions, subtraction, etc.But the core of the theory has been continually confirmed no matter how other aspects of the theory have been interpreted.

As we know" interpretation"is a word and therefore cannot be absolutely defined, just like every other word because human language is still a mystery. So, to me, the entire "fact", if you will, that we exist or that anything at all exists is mystical,i.e., an unknowable mystery. So, for what it's worth, our ignorance frees us to interpret the mystery to our heart's content.

That said, I do believe that the scientific method is , no matter how limited in the face of a mystical world, the greatest tool that humans have ready to hand. I love my scientifically produced cell phone.:dry:

Thanks for the SCOTUS update. ---I thought it took much too long to select a jury as thing stand nowadays; but with this decision, which I applaud, prospective jurors will need to take a an overnight bag with them to the courthouse, given the amount of time required to investigate possible racists. Oops, now that I think about it, things will not change much if people do not overtly say anything racist.

Old folks and medicine-- Good point. The amount of money that society spends to allow seriously ill elderly people live a few more days is incredible and does need addressing. I might add that some other countries will not pay for $50,000 a year medicine that extends a person's life a few months.

Agreed: If the best thinkers have not solved or answered the serious questions about morality after thousands of years of trying to do so, then I guess we just have to soldier on scratching our heads.

Quite by chance, I started working my way through Darwin's great work last week--it is an extraordinary tome by a very erudite mind.

Of course like many "theories" is it not directly amenable to practical empirical testing. Even theories which are testable and seem to be confirmed by data are not necessarily "true." Newton has provided us with theories that seem to work well for many things including sending people to visit the Moon but do not seem to work so well when one looks at space/time issues or quantum mechanics.

In fact, the only thing that seems to work is probability. It is very useful in all those cases where it is applicable (the things actuaries play around with).

Probability would tell you that you must be crazy to buy a Powerball ticket. However, the few Powerball winners I have seen interviewed seemed pretty sane to me.: lol:

Of course, a philosopher would probably argue that a belief in probability is the same as an assertion that knowledge is a mirage. Then again there are not many modern smartphones that have been designed by philosophers.

"Of course, a philosopher would probably argue that a belief in probability is the same as an assertion that knowledge is a mirage. Then again there are not many modern smartphones that have been designed by philosophers."

To me, one of the most amazing things I've read was a passage by David Hume in his "Treatise on Human Understanding", where he was pointing out the flaws in the notions of cause and effect. In brief, he was saying there is no such things as causes and effects, but rather only "befores" and "afters", which are actually mental "habits" based on probability. Everyday during my life the Sun has always risen in the morning, so I assume that when I go to sleep tonight, the sun will come up in the morning. But I cannot really state with certainty that it will, because even if I knew all of the laws that governed the physical interaction of the planets, I would not be able to see any "cause" or "effect" in any of the happenings. I could only observe one event preceding another or one event following another. And it would follow that one could not say that there were some mysterious force in these events that connects them in a way that one could state that event A will "always" precede event B, for all we can say is that in our observations event A has always, in the past, preceded event B, and this will probably be the case next time. Hence, no certainty, only probability, empirically speaking. Only before and after connection. Hope this makes sense, for it has been 40+ years since I read the passage. I may have butchered it. "Then again there are not many modern smartphones that have been designed by philosophers." A good thing no doubt. Well, Steve Jobs was involved with Indian philosophy, but,fortunately I guess, he did not know how to program, or so I've heard.

"it has been 40+ years since I read the passage. I may have butchered it. "

It seems as if 40+ years is well within the range for completely accurate recall although some medical intervention may be needed to catalyze the process of retrieval.

" I could take the oldest person here, make a little hole right here on the side of the head,” Carson said, circling his left temple with a finger, “and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus and stimulate. And they would be able to recite back to you, verbatim, a book they read 60 years ago. It’s all there. It doesn’t go away. You just have to learn how to recall it.”"

Other experts are less certain.

Well, given that other experts in his field totally disagree with him, it could very well be that Dr. Carson is still suffering from the long term bad side effects from the inoculation or vaccination against "Drapetomania" that he received as a child, and it would not be wise for me or anyone else, given his current state, to allow him make holes in our heads. And some things I wish to forget.

While some of us contemplate the relative merits of invasive surgical procedures (craniotomy) versus less invasive procedures (risk of carpel tunnel syndrome from using Google search) as a means of "retrieving" the exact text of books read many years ago, the rest of the forum appears lost in the ludic loop of chasing CellNUVO credits.

Perhaps that is where, if the numbers do not lie, the Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Numbers is to be found.

Yes -- swiping one's way to free cell phone service, aka Happiness, does seem to have attracted the greatest number of people seeking Nirvana. What ever happened to the Protestant work ethic as the pathway to happiness.?