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Maximizing good for all feels good

Joshua Greene, Tribal Wisdom in Modern Times
Joshua Greene, Tribal Wisdom in Modern Times

Joshua Greene, a cognitive psychology professor and the director of Harvard’s Moral Cognition Laboratory, is featured in the American, the online magazine of the American Enterprise Institute. He wrote a book titled “Tribal Wisdom in Modern Times” that discusses the merit of utilitarianism.

Joshua Greene, author and scholar

“Utilitarianism -- ‘the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.’”

google: define: utilitarianism

The American Enterprise Institute is an attractive source for information that helps explain economic behavior and political behavior because its contributors are high quality scholars. That doesn’t mean that one must believe everything that they publish or advocate. It does imply that they might stimulate a person to think.

While I am struggling to write a book about sustainable economics, it is useful to research AEI sources that related to the topic. Sustainable economics is about aiming society to adopt an economic model that will produce a good life for all citizens. “Good life for all” means in the absence of poverty and with optimal opportunity for people to maximize application of their abilities while continuously improving skill and knowledge. It is about providing a system that stimulates personal growth and prosperity while discouraging less productive behavior. That requires balancing the consequences for personal performance in a free society.

Capitalism is one way to achieve that, however, some believe that capitalism is entropic as wealth has skewed into the hands of a few, and economic incentive from addressable opportunity has shrunk below what is required and desired. Capitalism has resulted in social and environmental disparity that is harming the planet and its inhabitants.

As capitalism comes under attack, AEI explores the philosophy and behavior behind ways of thinking about how we live, work, and manage in a free society. Here is part of a review and a link to a complete reference about Joshua Greene’s book.

“Tribal Wisdom in Modern Times
By Michael M. RosenWednesday, March 19, 2014

An ambitious new book grapples with some of the thorniest socio-moral questions ever to have bedeviled political philosophers, falling short when it attempts to apply its meta-morality to a practical issue.”

“Utilitarianism, Green contends, requires that we maximize aggregate long-term happiness.”

“This serves as a helpful segue into Greene’s preferred avenue of philosophical thought: utilitarianism, which the author describes as “the most underrated and misunderstood idea in all of moral and political philosophy.” Utilitarianism, Green contends, requires that we maximize aggregate long-term happiness: the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people over the longest period of time.

Greene adroitly defends utilitarianism against its most potent and popular Kantian and Rawlsian challenges, explicating why his philosophical approach would never condone slavery, is not utterly impracticable, and does not sanction inflicting punishment upon the innocent.
His slavery analysis is the cleverest of the three. This seminal objection to utilitarianism suggests that Greene’s dogma would tolerate forcible servitude if it resulted in higher aggregate utility. But while Greene acknowledges this theoretical possibility, he retorts that, as a matter of practical necessity, slavery would never maximize societal happiness.

How so? Imagine a society divided more or less in half between slaves and slave-owners such that each free person owns one slave. “For slavery to maximize happiness” in this situation, Greene contends, “each slaveholder must, on average, gain more happiness from having a slave than his slave loses by being a slave.”

He elucidates why this would never be the case, as the modest benefits accruing to a slave-owner would never outweigh the suffering endured by the slave. In essence, this explanation boils down to the simple fact that no person in their right mind would choose to live half their life as a slave in order to live the other half as a slave-owner.

In addition, Greene nicely rebuts the objection that utilitarianism turns its practitioners into “happiness pumps,” or unfettered givers who contribute to others virtually all of their time, money, and energy.”

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