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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

The problem with Liberal Utilitarianism

"At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." - Friedrich Nietzsche

***

Sam Harris's reinvention of Utilitarianism/Consequentialism has charmed many, and in my efforts to show people how pure Utilitarianism/Consequentialism fails (in the process encountering people who seem never to have read anything Harris has written or read on the subject, since I have been challenged to show where Harris has proposed Science as the foundation of our moral system, or that one can derive moral facts from facts about the world), "liberal utilitarianism" has been thrown at me as a way to resolve the problems with pure Utilitarianism/Consequentialism.

Liberal utilitarianism is not a position that one often encounters. I suspect this is because most philosophers recognise that unless one bites some big bullets, it is incoherent, being beholden to two separate moral theories, which brings many problems when they clash. It is much easier to stick to one foundation of morality.

From Riley's Mill on liberty:

"Ten has argued powerfully that absolute liberty in self-regarding matters cannot be grounded on utilitarianism as usually defined. As he points out, utilitarians typically must claim that ‘the value of liberty. .. is wholly dependent on its contribution to utility. But if that is the case’, he asks, ‘how can the “right” to liberty be absolute and indefeasible when the consequences of exercising the right will surely vary with changing social circumstances?’ (1991, p. 213). His answer is that it cannot be, unless external moral considerations are imported into pure maximizing utilitarianism to guarantee the desired Millian result. In his view, the absolute barrier that Mill extcts against all forms of coercion really seems to require a non-utilitarian justification, even if ‘utilitarianism’ might somehow be defined or enlarged to subsume the requisite form of reasoning. Thus, ‘Mill is a consistent liberal’, he says, ‘whose view is inconsistent with hedonistic or preference utilitarianism’ (ibid., p. 236)...

‘Mill’s defence of liberty is not utilitarian’ because it ignores the dislike, disgust and so-called ‘moral’ disapproval which others feel as a result of self-regarding conduct. ‘A utilitarian cannot disregard any of the effects of my conduct since they are all part of its consequences, and help to determine whether the suppression of my conduct or leaving me free will maximize happiness’ (1980, p. 6). Why doesn’ t the liberal utilitarian count the mere pain and dislike, which the vast majority might well feel at the individual’s self-regarding acts? Surely if that is counted, it may outweigh the value of the individual’s self-regarding liberty, in which case utilitarianism prescribes interference. What sort of utilitarianism is it that restricts itself to counting harmful consequences, with harm as defined?...

Why doesn’t liberal utilitarianism consider the possibility that aggregate dislike of the individual’s self-regarding conduct might outweigh the value of his liberty, and justify suppression of his conduct? As we have seen, Mill devotes considerable effort to answering this question (111.1 , 10—1 9, IV.8— 12, pp. 260—1, 26 7—75, 280—4). Among other things, liberty in self-regarding matters is essential to the cultivation of individual character, he says, and is not incompatible with similar cultivation by others, because they remain free to think and do as they please, having directly suffered no perceptible damage against their wishes. When all is said and done, his implicit answer is that a person’s liberty in self-regarding matters is infinitely more valuable than any satisfaction the rest of us might take at suppression of his conduct. The utility of self-regarding liberty is of a higher kind than the utility of suppression based on mere dislike (no perceptible damages to others against their wishes is implicated), in that any amount (however small) of the higher kind outweighs any quantity (however large) of the lower.

Is this a contestable judgment? It is to people who do not value liberty as much as he values it... By counting others’ mere dislike and distress as part of the general utility of complete liberty of self-regarding conduct, and by insisting that the utility of such liberty is ofa higher kind than the utility of stamping out what is harmless to others, he shows that rule utilitarianism can consistently recognize equal rights to absolute liberty of self-regarding conduct"


The problem is that if you are using (implicitly or otherwise) mathematics to sum up the expected utility of different choices, you canot plug infinity into any expression, or you will get incoherent results as the expression in question will no longer be well-behaved.

For example, if both freedom of publicly-expressed thought and freedom of life have infinite value, when it comes to a case where we must choose between one or the other (e.g. If Person A is threatened with the death of Person B unless he ditches Belief C for Belief D - aka "Convert to our religion, or we kill your friend"), we will be stumped.

France 2010 - Day 1, Part 3 - Paris: Sainte-Chapelle, Castrati Aria Concert

"As for me, except for an occasional heart attack, I feel as young as I ever did." - Robert Benchley

***

France 2010
Day 1 - 3rd October - Paris: Sainte-Chapelle, Castrati Aria Concert
(Part 3)

Earlier, by the banks of the Seine, I saw a kid on a unicycle behind 2-3 adults on skate scooters. And behind them was a woman on roller skates (she turned in another direction, so she wasn't part of the same group). I had thought that it was a tourist thing. Then after I exited the museum of the Middle Ages, a 20+ year old boy rode a unicycle by me on the road (not the pavement). Looks like "j'y vais en roller" is not a joke. I'm going to j'y vais en monocycle next time.

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"Vogue: 90 ans d'excès" (90 years of excess - and covering breasts)

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Crêpes

I headed to Sainte-Chapelle - the only ticketed place I wanted to revisit.

Here is how I described the place in 2006:

"Pictures truly cannot do Sainte Chapelle justice. It must be the most elaborately decorated place of worship I've ever seen, with gold gilt everywhere, thanks to its use as a royal chapel. The stained glass is beautiful (and the sunlight that day didn't hurt)."

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Roast chickens

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Wallace fountain opposite Sainte-Chapelle

Wikipedia: "Wallace fountains are public drinking fountains designed by Charles-Auguste Lebourg that appear in the form of small cast-iron sculptures scattered throughout the city of Paris, France, mainly along the most-frequented sidewalks. They are named after the Englishman Richard Wallace, who financed their construction. A great aesthetic success, they are recognized worldwide as one of the symbols of Paris."

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"CAFE AMERICAIN. AMERICAN COFFEE"
Quite why the owner thought this would attract customers is beyond me.

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Evidently there is something very wrong with the Spanish and Italians - the warnings not to bring sharp objects into the Sainte-Chapelle complex are only in Spanish and Italian. This is not because they are the most spoken by tourists - English and Spanish seem to fit this bill.


Sainte-Chapelle facade

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This Japanese guy was wearing an eccentric hat made by his friend, a Japanese artist - one of 50 here for an event.

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The event

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The Lower Chapel, for commoners

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Side of Lower Chapel

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Saint Louis (reproduction), aka King Louis IX of France - sponsor of the building.

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Above and beside St Louis

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Side of Lower Chapel again

Next was the Upper Chapel, for the nobility.


Sainte-Chapelle panorama


Sainte-Chapelle panorama 2

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HDR didn't work for the stained glass

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Back of Upper Chapel

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More stained glass

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Roof of Chapel

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What Sainte-Chapelle is supposed to look like when it's not under renovation. Renovation notwithstanding it was still amazing.

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I took the longest time to figure out what this was for. At first I thought it was an ambulance bed, then a coffin. In the end I figured out that it was a harpsichord for the concerts held in Sainte-Chapelle.

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Side of Upper Chapel

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Rose window and back of Upper Chapel

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Rose Window

I then had fun annoying the people in the gift shop.

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"Reproductions des Vitraux de La Sainte Chapelle, Paris. Traitée comme un vitrail traditionnel elle a été entourée de plombe et soudée à la main. Peintes à la main."
("Reproductions of the Stained Glass of Sainte Chapelle, Paris. Handled like traditional stained glass, it has been lined with lead and soldered by hand. Handpainted")

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"Vitrail Fleur de Lys. Chaque pièce est réalisée dans l'atelier d'un maître verrier du Val d'Oise, France."
("Stained Glass: Fleur de Lys. Each piece is made in a workshop of a master glassmaker in Val d'Oise, in France")

The natural question about the former, which I asked: "C'est construit (sic) en France ?" ("Is it made in France?) The counter staff said no. I then asked if it was made in China. She checked - and it was made in Scotland. Evidently being hand-made in the EU doesn't warrant a mention - unless it's made in France.

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Justice Ministry. I was tempted to strike a pose at the top of the steps, but the gendarmes were nearby and would've caught me.

One staff member (who looked like a member of the security staff) was bisous-ing and au revoir-ing a girl. Maybe he'd sneaked her in for free.

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More French heroics: "Ici fut reçu le 24 août 1944 d'un avion léger de la 29 division blindée. Le message du Général Leclerc aux Parisiens combattants 'Tenez Bon Nous Arrivons' lance par le Capitaine Jean Caller et par le Lieutenant Etienne Mantoux mort au champ d'honneur"
("Here, on 24th August 1944, a light aircraft of the 29th armoured division was received. The message of General Leclerc to the fighters of Paris was: 'Hold on, we're coming' - delivered by Captain Jean Caller and Lieutenant Etienne Mantoux, who died in the Fields of Flanders")

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Notre Dame

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Apparently there's a way to erase tourists with multiple shots

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Charlemagne and his pigeons

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I'm trying to figure out why I took this picture. Something I scribbed around this time elaborates as: "first time I've seen a motor wheelchair - on the road", but this doesn't look like one. So maybe it's just her leopard prints.

Next I went for my first (and only, for this trip) concert - a Castrati aria concert by Nguyen Duy-Thông. Tickets were selling for €18, and "first class" tickets for €23. Turns out most seats were "first class", and the €18 tickets were restricted view tickets. Frankly €18 was already quite expensive, but considering St-Julien-le-Pauvre was the self-proclaimed oldest church in Paris (which has been an Eastern Church for the last century), they probably needed to replenish the roof replacement fund. In any case, after the intermission everyone in the cheap seats ran to occupy the "first class" seats.


Broschi - Idaspe - Ombra fedele anch'io - Air De Dario (Nguyen Duy-Thông)

He was not bad, but for the lower notes he sneakily dipped into the Tenor voice. For one piece he blasted in his tenor voice for 2 seconds. Ugh. The singing was very dramatic - but he was performing opera arias after all. Oh well - novelty value (most of the other concerts I saw advertised would've been of relatively common pieces).


Castrati aria by Nguyen Duy-Thông

Despite the concert flyer, there were instrumental pieces also: the pianist played a Beethoven sonata and a Chopin piece (probably a nocturne).

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Concert end

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Rue Galande

Since I had breakfast on the plane, the only nourishment I'd had the whole day was a Fanta Orange. This is what the pain and joy of travel does to [my] hunger.
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