Friday, 13 January 2012

Is Wellbeing Good

Why is wellbeing good?
On the surface it sounds an odd, almost bizarre question, doesn’t it? Yet enter any discussion on morality with a believer and eventually you’ll be greeted with this challenge. You can expect to be asked why, without divine guidance, we should simply assume that wellbeing is good? Without God, how can we possibly know?
It’s an objection I’ve always found a bit creepy, but for the believer a lot rests upon its somewhat fragile shoulders. Let me explain.
Wellbeing is contingent on two things; events in the world and the existence of minds to act upon these events. Without one or the other the whole question is rendered mute. So then, with this in mind try the following thought experiment, because it will clear up a lot of unnecessary philosophical nonsense.
Imagine a world in which everyone is subject to the most intense suffering possible. Imagine what that kind of world might look like. Done? Ok, now try to imagine a world where there was even the slightest improvement for even one
person, no matter how tiny the change in their circumstance. If you can do this, what you’ve done is identified a continuum. You have admitted that from the worst conceivable suffering there exists a range of experience stretching from one end of this spectrum to the other. Assuming you are prepared to admit this, and let’s face it you can’t very well not, what you’re left with is what our brains do when faced with events in the world.
The rest as they say, is up for grabs. Moral uncertainties abound, and there may be numerous better or worse ways you can influence human wellbeing. What you can no longer say is that you’re ignorant of what wellbeing is, or why we should prefer it, because the second you acknowledge that a continuum exists and accept that our brains can act upon real world events you admit that there is something to be known about this. Yes, people can still make awful moral choices, but nobody can deploy the objection that we lack the ability to know at least something about the nature of wellbeing itself.

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