lauantaina, elokuuta 13, 2005

Moral Philosophy

Some of you may already know that moral philosophy is one of my hobbies. Currently I find a rule based utilitarianism quite attractive for several reasons.

About a month ago I had a short discussion with a friend of mine about contraception. To be precise, we talked about who should pay for them and how the cost should be divided when two people are in a relationship. She thought that the right division would be fifty-fifty. I agreed that it sounds like a rational choice, but that there are some considerations that might suggest a greater share for the man.

I had already passed from discussion of what I believe to be right into trying to understand the thought I had just had at that moment and trying to find out whether it was right or not. I had also in my mind jumped from the specific the pills scenario to a general scenario in a relationship where the other party needs to constantly do something for the relationship that might cause harm, or pain, or any other thing usually considered negative.

As my friends may have found out, I am usually more interested in talking about things I am not sure about than those that I've already tested for many and many times. The reason is that I think by talking. Active criticism and new ideas while talking create new ideas within me and my mind races through them finding lots and lots of interesting things.

But back to the problem at hand. My first idea was that if the other person does somehow suffer from doing the thing for the relationship, he should be compensated for that and that the compensation could be such that the other person pays more of the monetary cost.

My friend, of course, was appalled, not quite understanding that I had jumped from the world of actuals to the world of hypotheticals. [Mental note: Remember to try to make the jump from actuals to hypotheticals more clear to conversation participants.] She said she will not be a victim and also mentioned that nowadays there are no such bad consequences from using pills, at least if you find the right pills for yourself (so maybe pills are a bad example for what I was thinking about). Our discussion abruptly ended and I got back to thinking about it in the evening and had a long discussion with another friend of mine.

From simple utilitarian perspective it would seem that it is fair that the other person compensates the negative things the other one has to go through. The simplest way of compensating this kind of thing would be to shift the monetary burden the other way around. But for some reason this idea was appalling to the person next to me. And since I had a vague feeling that there's something right that it does I wanted to find out what's going on.

From my perspective, it comes down to incentives. Now this is surely not the only avenue to look at this, but its the one easiest and closest to my heart. The rule based utilitarianism states that we should have moral rules that create incentives for people to do right. In a family, we want to maximise the well being of the whole family and secondarily to be fair in how the well being is distributed. If we want to be able to make good decisions about how to make the family happy, we need to know truthfully what people feel about different issues.

So we need a truth revealing mechanism as part of the moral rule set, i.e. everybody should have an incentive of telling truthfully how they feel about things. (This idea is one of the reasons why I'm not monogamous, but that's a topic for another post.) To see why this is important, we only need to look at some specific situation with several options. If people truthfully tell what they want we are in much better position to start searching for the best possible solution than if the attitude of each person is to try to push the solution to their current most preferred solution. The other one creates a starting point, where the couple can start searching for a good answer and the other a situation where they struggle for power.

Now the problem of compensating another person from their internal suffering is that it breaks the truth revealing principle. It creates an incentive to lie. We people are not that noble animals that we are never tempted to do something that makes us better off at the expense of others. So we should not adopt a principle, where the man pays more for the the pills, if the woman suffers from taking them (again just a hypothetical).

Now that we've ruled this kind of solution out, we can next ask what should we do? First of all, I would state that I don't think 50/50 splitting of the cost is the only right answer. Rather the right answer is something both are truly happy with and in some cases it might be the woman paying everything and in some cases the man paying everything or something in between (for example, if the other person was poor enough not to be able to afford them at all, it would make sense for a rich person to pay more of them, perhaps even all of it. After all, the rich person would profit more from them having those pills than them not having them).

Then to continue, if indeed there was a situation where the other person was constantly doing something that caused him suffering and this was something needed for the relationship, what should they do?

My thoughts on this are far from finished, but at least they should search for solutions that did not require the suffering. Possibly the other person should take into account the suffering the other person was going through, but how exactly, I do not yet know. Whenever possible, I would strive for the option of getting rid of the suffering, though.

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