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Happiness and Suffering

(Text as at 21/08/2007 09:44:38)

(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)


There are several interesting points here. Firstly, do we have a right to the achievement of happiness? Secondly, is there anything wrong with a world full of suffering?

Personally, I don’t think we have a right to anything, except in a legal sense where something is promised and delivery can be enforced. It seems silly to suggest that one has a right to something that no-one can deliver and that no-one has even promised to provide. I’d prefer it that people have duties, and that these duties are rationally incumbent on one by principles of reciprocity and a realisation that things will work better for all (and hence oneself) if we all make some effort to fulfil them. But this is a complex matter which I won’t pursue further here. Anyway, I agree with you that we (and not just our children) have unrealistic expectations of life, because our experience of it has been (despite various difficulties) unreasonably positive by historical standards and our inductive reasoning makes us expect these things to continue. There are always drawbacks to growing up and finding your own feet in the world, whatever base you start from. But there are likely to be more requests for help if it is obvious that help is available.

I think so much suffering is unnecessary and fixable, that it is good to have a view that suffering is in some sense “wrong”. But it’s also clearly an inescapable part of the natural order, so railing against all instances of it is irrational. Also, while any one thing might be fixable if it were the only problem, the fact that there are so many instances of suffering, but the whole resources of the state can’t be devoted to each of them, means that there needs to be a lot of realism about what is practically achievable. While many complaints about “the government’s not doing enough about X” may be true, many such complaints are irrational because the full consequences of what would be required were the government to act in this way are not considered.



Previous Version of this Note:

Date Length Title
16/08/2007 14:44:10 24 Happiness and Suffering



Note last updated Reference for this Topic Parent Topic
21/08/2007 09:44:38 532 (Happiness and Suffering) Simon - T1S1



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