Tag Archives: utilitarianism

Your Utility Function Does Not Compute

Last week, I wrote about some of the ways that we show that we don’t truly value everyone equally, despite the prevalence of such principles in popular discourse and the Declaration of Independence that we celebrated on Tuesday.

This week, I’d like to take a look at a couple more aspects of modern life that don’t make any sense to me from this perspective. Read more of this post

What if we actually valued everyone equally?

I’ve previously written about the less commonly examined consequences of believing the life, with all of its dignity and worth, begins at conception. This week, I’d like to examine another common belief that tends to be voiced on the other side of the political spectrum: that we should value everyone, not just people we know or who are similar to us in some way. If I didn’t know better, I’d summarize this by saying “all lives matter,” but somehow that phrase has come to mean something closer to the opposite notion.

Without a convenient handle, I don’t have a relevant survey statistic to cite. Instead, we find this notion in how our country’s first revolutionaries justified their actions:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. (Preamble to the Declaration of Independence)

Beautiful language, which would form the basis of the grand experiment of the US. At the same time, I know some of you are thinking: “Just men? What about women?” Or perhaps you readily think of the already-widespread pattern of slavery and marvel that it took at least another 80 years and a civil war to overcome what some have called America’s original sin. But if your mind is drawn in those directions, it probably means that you think you believe in the equality of humanity even more than the Declaration signatories did.

The only problem is, you don’t act like it. How would we all behave if we actually valued everyone equally? Read more of this post

First and Second Order Motivations

How do you decide what to do in life? How do you weigh different options? We all make small decisions every day: Do I take the stairs or the elevator? Walk, drive, take public transportation, or Uber? Cook, eat out, grab fast food, or drink Soylent? Attend class or skip? Go to bed early or get some more work done? Read a book or watch TV or Netflix in my free time?

We also make some decisions that have bigger implications for our lives: Where do I go for college? After college, do I get a job or go to grad school? Take a job with higher pay and longer hours or less pay and shorter hours? Work, volunteer, or pick up a hobby on the side? Date casually, seriously, or not at all? Have a child or focus on career? Move to another city or country or stay where I’m at? These problems are harder, but we all know they matter a lot. Read more of this post