Saturday, November 21, 2009
Utilitarians and love
I have been thinking about how when you miss someone, I mean for real, it's not that you feel some generic emotion - missing - and that the person is the object thereof. No. When you really miss someone, what you experience is the absence of them, in their very own constitutive particularity. Missing a person you love is nothing at all like missing some other person you love; it just doesn't work that way. This gets us to utilitarianism because even Mill (J.S.), who wants to, can't - within the categories available to him given his ontological commitments - actually differentiate qualitatively between the pleasure of this and the pleasure of that. Why are the higher pleasures higher? Because they are more pleasurable. MacIntyre pointed out a long time ago that there is no pleasure-substratum; rather, pleasures are all different. (Though, for the record, we could have learnt this from Plato.) It is a failing of utilitarianism, it seems to me, that it can't make good on this. And it's an implication of not being able to make good on this, I think, that utilitarianism can't make sense of what it is to miss someone -- or, by extension, what it is to love someone. This seems a fatal flaw for an account of the moral, though I appreciate that the Kantians in the crowd will beg to differ. Don't get me started on them, though. No offense to my favorite K's.