Archive for category The Question

Choosing a Goal

People who want to help the world fall into a common trap which I shall call the “Jesus complex.” This is the desire to solve every problem, and be a great savior who ushers in a new paradise. Doing this is obviously an unrealistic goal; we are very unlikely to be able as individuals to solve every problem.

There is obviously some excessive self-importance in the desire to do this. There is not to say that the end is bad. If I could save the world by myself, I would certainly not hesitate to do so out of fear of being megalomaniacal. Thinking that it would be good to save the world is not self-important. But setting this as one’s goal usually is self-important, because it’s unrealistic.

However, we can as individuals solve some problems. A healthy attitude, I think, is to realize that the world needs many, many things, and giving the world just one of the things it needs could be the work of a lifetime. So we should find a subset of the problem space to work on.

At the same time, it is useful to do this against a backdrop of a general picture of what the world needs, and think of oneself as part of a larger effort to save the world currently being carried out by everybody who cares about the world.

So we wish both to have a general picture of the goal space, and pick a subset of the goal space as the one which we will work on. Finding that subset is not something to do one evening over coffee; it is something to find over many years of work, thought, and experimentation.

There are a few considerations to be balanced in finding this subset. One consideration is the value to be had from each subset of the goal space. Ending hunger in Africa would be more useful than writing the world’s most addictive Flash game.

Another consideration is what one can do. Unless I can imagine a plausible chain of causality from where I am now, to achieving my goal, it’s not a good goal. Almost every goal, unfortunately, would seem to involve a bit of luck. We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where our work was all for naught because of some trivial and stupid accident. So robust goals are preferable.

A third consideration is what one would have fun doing. It’s not healthy to sacrifice one’s happiness for the sake of the world. Furthermore, having fun tends to be correlated with doing a good job, and being able to persist in one’s efforts.

Some parts of the possibility space will interest us more than others. Maybe a given goal isn’t the most valuable goal, but it’s a goal that’s really interesting to us. That could be a good goal. There are a lot of people in the world; we don’t have to worry about the things we leave undone, because other people will do them.

So in choosing a goal, it seems that we should let ourselves be biased. It’s better to have a goal that fits like a glove than to have a theoretically optimal goal that we ourselves can’t comfortably live.

Consider, for example, how these principles apply to me.

I think that radically reducing international wealth stratification would be one of the most worthwhile things that could happen right now.

We have enough technology and resources to provide a comfortable physical existence to every person. But many people do not have this. This is obviously wrong. The reason things are this way is that the money is unfairly distributed. If the money were fairly distributed, then a large portion of the world’s worst problems would disappear.

Alternatively, the problem might be with money and capitalism itself. Capitalism is certainly an improvement over feudalism; but it still creates the problem we just noticed. Another problem that capitalism creates has to do with work.

Right now, the amount of work needed to maintain the human race is far less than the working capacity of the human race. A good fraction of the jobs in America are not necessary for anybody’s existence, and there are still not enough jobs for all of the people.

The problem is that under capitalism, people need to work a full-time job in order to live. We can imagine a system in which this wasn’t the case, in which everybody did a little bit of work and had much more free time than we have now. There would be less work being done than is being done now, and no problem of unemployment.

So there are a lot of serious problems that could be solved by changing our social structure — radically reducing wealth stratification, and/or moving to a system which has a different relationship between work and money, or which does away with money.

Though these are things which would be good, it’s hard to see how I could make them happen. I could go into politics; but I’m not attractive enough, I’m not rich enough, my social skills aren’t good enough, I’m too averse to lying, etc. I could do activism; but it’s not clear to me that these people make a big impact, so unless I’m convinced that it’s worth the opportunity costs (i.e. I have nothing better to do), I won’t be an activist.

One area which might be good for me is political theory. I am good at thinking about complex and abstract issues. I’m also under the impression that we don’t currently have an adequate political theory. If a really good political theory came into existence, it could happen that it gained a following and people chose to implement it. So this is one possibility.

I am such a creature of theory, that I know that whatever goals I pursue will involve theorizing. I enjoy it and I am good at it, so my goals should involve it. Consider, for instance, what I am doing right now. I am trying to get clear on the meaning of life, so that I can live according to it and help other people to live according to it. This is a useful thing to do; if I can jump-start other people’s thinking on the meaning of life, then they won’t have to spend as much time thinking about it, and they’ll have more time to do all sorts of good that I didn’t get around to doing. So this is a useful goal which fits my biases and gives the world one of the many things it needs.

Leave a comment

Positive and Negative Values

We want to answer the ethical question: “how should we live our lives?” This question is equivalent to many other differently formulated questions: “what is goodness?”, “what is the meaning of life?”, “what does it mean for something to be valuable?”, etc. The question presupposes that ethics is objective: i.e., that there is a single answer to this question.

It is obvious from the beginning that many different things are valuable: survival; social progress; art; science; love; the ability of every human to freely determine their lives; etc. So to solve the ethical question, we need to find a theory of value which synthesizes all of these things.

We should be suspicious of theories which leave anything out. For instance, a simple theory of value (widely held in Eastern mysticism) would say that becoming enlightened is the only valuable thing. But this theory results in us thinking that art, science, love, etc., are not valuable. This counts against the theory, because these are things that clearly seem valuable.

We are looking for an ethical theory which is parsimonious, but which when we unroll its implications, ends up ascribing value to almost everything that we already think is valuable. It is plausible to think that there are many valuable things whose value we don’t currently recognize; so if the values of an ethical theory are a superset of widely held values, that does not necessarily count against it. But the theory is less likely to be right if it fails to give value to a lot of things that we consider valuable.

To draw an analogy, if a scientific theory postulates many new facts beyond currently accepted ones, that is more likely to be acceptable than if it denies many currently accepted facts. There is not an absolute rule against denying accepted facts, and theories do not have free license to postulate new facts. So we are discussing a general heuristic rather than a hard rule.

So this is our first challenge for an ethical theory: to place value on almost all of the things we currently consider valuable.

Now let us analyze the space of values a bit. Some values have to do with solving problems: ending hunger, disease, and poverty; resolving inconsistencies in our knowledge; ending unhappiness and suffering; etc. Let us call these “negative” values. Other values have to do with creating things that are good: having fun; making beautiful art; discovering new knowledge; etc. Let us call these “positive” values.

In the space of negative values, we already have a pretty good idea of what the values are; the question is mainly one of how to achieve them. We can see the problems; the main challenge is seeing the solutions.

There is also, to an extent, a problem of seeing the problems. Consider, for instance, a rich person who does not realize on a gut level that the world is full of poor people who are suffering and do not deserve to be poor. Consider a person who is caught in a false belief system and does not realize that they are wrong. Consider a person who is so sexually repressed that they do not realize that they are sexually repressed.

A similar case is the one where we perceive a problem only dimly. We have some kind of hardship, but we do not see the full magnitude of the problem. For instance, consider a person who sometimes feels a slight chest pain, and does not realize that they have lung cancer. Consider also a scientist who occasionally gets unexpected results in their experiments, but does not yet realize that the unexpected results mean that their theories are fundamentally mistaken and they require a paradigm shift.

So sometimes we have problems and fail to see them. But this is not the main-line case. Mainly we see problems and fail to solve them. We know what our negative values are, and the challenge is achieving them.

In the space of positive values, we have the same problem of figuring out how to achieve them. But we have a more serious problem of figuring out what they are. Our problems, at any given time, are finite. But our potential for creating goodness is infinite.

To make this idea clearer, imagine an Earth in which all of the major problems have been solved. There is no hunger, no poverty, and no disease. There are no social ills, no emotional problems, and no interpersonal problems. People do not have to work. Imagine, furthermore, that the people on this planet will live forever, and their task is simply to enjoy eternity as much as they can. What should these people do?

One answer would be, “this Earth would be boring, and the best way to make it more interesting would be to reintroduce those problems.” But this is a poor answer. Surely we can make this Earth interesting in a more palatable way?

It is worth mentioning, also, that these people are not bored, not paralyzed by their freedom, and not in existential angst about the meaning of their lives. They do not have any major existential problems. So there are no problems that would be solved by reintroducing hardship.

I do think that an interesting existence necessarily involves problems. A problem-free existence would be lacking in the kind of drama which can make us passionate about life. But the proper reaction to this is not to introduce problems for their own sake. Instead, we should introduce problems whose resolution has the potential to yield good things. The problems should be sub-problems of, “how do we make the world more fun?” rather than problems for the sake of having problems.

So the one question facing these people is how to maximize the positive value of their world. What should they do?

Obviously they would go to parties, make art, love each other, engage in religious activities, do math and science, and in general do every cool thing that one can think of. But mightn’t there be better things they could do with their time? Maybe things that are many orders of magnitude better?

If we are serious about the problem of positive value, we will ask ourselves for a general theory of value, which is correct, and which tells us what would be the best thing for these people to do.

The problem I have posed may seem impractical, since we do not live in the world that these people live in. But it is not impractical. Particularly in the first world, each of us sometimes finds ourselves in the situation these people are in. We find ourselves, at a given time, not hungry or sick, in a good mood, without any work we have to do. What do we do then?

“We should solve the problems that Earth has” seems like an inadequate answer. Certainly this is one of the things we should do in this situation, but it is not the only thing. To see why, imagine a world in which everybody did this. Quickly our problems would be solved. But once they were, we would find ourselves in a problem-free existence with no art, no music, no movies, no philosophy, no religion, etc. We would be alive and well, but we would have nothing to live for. So the general problem of positive value reappears as relevant to us.

The problem of positive value is part of the general problem of value. We would be wrong to pursue only it. I have gone to pains to point it out because it is a bit harder to notice than the problem of negative value. If you ask a person to think of a general theory of what needs to happen, they would quickly think that starving children in Africa need to be fed, and depressed people in America need to become happy; but it would probably take them longer to think that there is a limitless possibility for goodness which we do not know how to actualize.

Leave a comment

Experiences Are What Is of Value

Previously I asked, “what is of value?”

I suggest that this question can be approached from the perspective of a research program. Everybody seems to value different things, and so a good starting point is to figure out for oneself what one values. This can be done through a process of progressive abstraction. For instance:

1. I value learning things.
2. I value eating Taco Bell.
3. I value meditating.
4. I value sex.
5. I value convincing people of my point of view.
6. I value making friends.

Given enough such data points, one can then ask, what is common to all of these things that I value? Do they fall into categories? Do those categories themselves bear meaningful relations to each other, such that a further level of abstraction is possible?

To avoid deceiving ourselves, I suggest that the initial data points are to be gathered by an examination of our actions. Whether or not I consciously value something, if I act in a way that gets me that thing when I could have chosen to act in a different way, this suggests that I do in fact value it.

I wish to present a hypothesis which, if true, will narrow the domain of inquiry:

(H.1) Everything that we value is an experience or something we value for its ability to lead to experiences.

Under this hypothesis, for instance, sex could be valued for its ability to produce pleasure; power could be valued for the feeling of being powerful; human relationships could be valued for the feeling of love.

We can give a similar account of the negative value ascribed to things. Under this hypothesis, being unattractive could be negatively valued for its ability to produce the feeling of self-disgust, and being injured could be negatively valued for its ability to produce pain.

Under (H.1) we can draw a directed graph containing everything that a person values. This graph will have terminal nodes (not pointing towards any further nodes) which are experiences that are valued intrinsically. The other nodes in the graph will be other things that are valued extrinsically.

The nodes of the value graph will be points in value schemas that can be assigned to solutions to situations in the previous post.

Now I wish to present a stronger hypothesis which, if true, will further narrow the domain of inquiry:

(H.2) Everything that we value, we value for its ability to bring us closer to God/enlightenment.

Under (H.2), God/enlightenment is not necessarily an experience, but the things that bring us closer to it are. This is a concept that is recognized by many religions.

In Catholicism, it is held that obeying the Catholic Church is the path to becoming closer to God.

In Protestantism, religious experience is held to be central to becoming closer to God.

In Islam, it is held that obeying the tenets of Islam is the path to becoming closer to God.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, one gets closer to enlightenment (Nirvana or moksha) by meditating and obtaining “samadhi” (union with God) or “jhana” (meditative absorption).

There are thus two main hypotheses about the path to becoming God/enlightenment:

(H.3) One becomes closer to God/enlightenment by obtaining spiritual experiences.

(H.4) One becomes closer to God/enlightenment by obeying a particular authority.

I suggest that there is sufficient reason to reject (H.4). The first reason is that all claims of the form of (H.4) are mutually contradictory and therefore cancel each other out. The second reason has to do with speculations about the motivations for holding/espousing (H.4).

A belief can be held/espoused intrinsically or extrinsically. A belief that is held/espoused intrinsically is held/espoused because it is true. A belief that is held/espoused extrinsically is held/espoused for some reason other than the reason that it is true. It is clear that a person who holds/espouses a belief cannot tell for sure whether they are doing so intrinsically or extrinsically.

I suggest that there is reason to believe that (H.4) is held/espoused extrinsically. It is easy to imagine extrinsic motivations for holding/espousing (H.4). It may be that (H.4) was first espoused by authorities who wished to have power over others.

Because claims of the form of (H.4) are mutually contradictory, there is reason to believe that (H.4) is not true and therefore that it is not held intrinsically. Because it is easy to imagine extrinsic motivations for originating (H.4), there is reason to believe that it is held extrinsically. Therefore I suggest that it is rational to reject (H.4).

Since all of the world’s major religions espouse either (H.3) or (H.4), or often a mixture of the two, and there is reason to believe that (H.4) is false and held/espoused extrinsically, I suggest that it is rational to accept (H.3) as the correct answer to the question, “how do I obtain God/enlightenment?” if this question has any answer at all.

(H.1) states that experiences are what we value. (H.2) states that we value things because of their ability to bring us closer to God/enlightenment. (H.3) states that experiences are what bring us closer to God/enlightenment.

We might then imagine a scale of valuable experiences, from the most insignificant experiences (such as brushing one’s teeth in the morning) to the most significant experiences (such as great joy or great sorrow). Then we can suppose that the label “spiritual experiences” applies to those experiences which are on the high end of the scale.

Here we gain a picture of the purpose of life that emerges if we accept (H.1), (H.2), and (H.3). This is that the purpose of life is to obtain experiences of the greatest possible significance in order to become closer to God/enlightenment. Experiences are what is of value, and spiritual experiences are the most valuable experiences.

Leave a comment

Making Choices, and Value

Earlier I discussed The Question, identifying this question as “what will I do?” I wish to present a systematic way of exploring this question, in order to motivate an exploration of the concept of value. I will begin, however, with value and a continuation of an attempt to place value in a mathematical context, an attempt which was begun by Jeremy Bentham with Utilitarianism.

Value Quantifiers

A value quantifier is an amount of value which something may have. It says, in effect, “x has this much value.”

Value quantifiers have an ordering relation. Over value quantifiers there will be defined operators > and = which say that one value quantifier describes value greater than, or value equal to, the value described by another value quantifier. In addition there will be a value quantifier 0, which indicates no value.

We will stipulate that the ordering relation is a strict weak ordering: that is, for any two value quantifiers v and w, either v > w, w > v, or v = w. Having defined these operators it will be possible to place value quantifiers on a number line.

There are two types of value quantifier which a theory of value may include: positive value quantifiers (greater than zero), and negative value quantifiers (less than zero). Positive value quantifiers indicate something desirable, such as pleasure, happiness, or moral virtue. Negative value quantifiers indicate something undesirable, such as pain, sorrow, or moral vice.

Prima facie, a theory of value may include only negative value, or only positive value. For instance, in a pessimistic philosophy such as Buddhism we might have only negative value. However, if negative value exists then positive value also exists, because if negative value exists, then anything which gets rid of negative value will by virtue of this fact have positive value. Similarly, if only positive value exists, then anything which gets rid of positive value will by virtue of this fact have negative value. Therefore, to posit value at all will necessarily posit both positive and negative value.

Possibility Spaces

A possibility space is a directed graph which represents some set of possible futures. Each node represents a possible state of affairs. When two nodes are joined by an arrow x -> y, this means, “y is a possible outcome of x.”

One node is called the “starting node,” and one or more nodes are called “ending nodes.” The starting node represents the initial or current state of affairs; the ending nodes represent final outcomes. The following rules apply, formalizing the notions of starting and ending:

1. There must exist exactly one node s such that there exist no arrows n -> s for all n. s is called the starting node.
2. There must exist at least one node e such that there exist no arrows e -> n for all n. Any such node e is called an ending node.

It follows that for every node n that is neither the starting node nor an ending node, there exists some node m such that m -> n, and some node o such that n -> o. Such nodes are called intermediate nodes.

A “solution” of a possibility space represents a single possible future. It is a sequence of nodes such that:

1. The first node is the starting node.
2. The last node is an ending node.
3. For all nodes n and m which are adjacent in the sequence with n preceding m, there is an arrow n -> m.

Choice Space

A choice space is an extension of a possibility space. It captures the notion that possibilities are determined by various actors.

An actor is either an individual or a factor. An individual is a person making decisions. A factor is something else which contributes unpredictability to the possibility space.

A choice space consists of a possibility space, a set of actors, and a “choice map.”

A choice map gives, for every node n:

1. A set of pairs (a, C) where a is an actor and C is the set of choices for that actor.
2. A map which takes a set of pairs (a, c) as input (where a is an actor and c is a choice) and produces as output a node of the possibility space. The input must give one choice for every actor which acts at this node. The output must be some node m such that n -> m: other words, the output node must be a possible outcome of the current node.

The map must map every permutation of actor-choices onto exactly one possible outcome. This means that the total number of actor-choices must be equal to the total number of possible outcomes of this node.

A choice space is equivalent to a game in game theory.

A solution to a choice space is the same as a solution to a possibility space.

Value Schema

A value schema ascribes value to the solutions of a possibility space. It is a function from possibility space solutions to value quantifiers.

The constructs just given — possibility spaces, choice spaces, and value schemas — are sufficient to formalize most human reasoning about decision making, and also most moral dilemmas. Let us take a few examples.

First consider Sartre’s dilemma. “Sartre [1957] tells of a student whose brother had been killed in the German offensive of 1940. The student wanted to avenge his brother and to fight forces that he regarded as evil. But the student’s mother was living with him, and he was her one consolation in life. The student believed that he had conflicting obligations.”

Here the choice space can be drawn as follows:

There are two actors here: the student, and the external factors which determine whether or not he succeeds in avenging his brother and fighting evil in the war. The choice points are the student’s decision to care for his mother or to fight, and in the latter case the external factors determining whether he succeeds or fails. There are three solutions to this choice space. He cares for his mother, he fights and succeeds, and he fights and fails.

These solutions are both evaluated under two independent value schemas. One value schema is the student’s desire to care for his mother. The other value schema is his desire to avenge his brother and fight evil in the war. Each of these value schemas gives a value quantifier for each solution. The value quantifiers for the first value schema are given in blue, and the value quantifiers for the second value schema are given in red.

+A means the value the student’s mother derives from having him stay. -A means the loss of this value. +B means the value created by the student avenging his brother and fighting evil in the war. -B means the loss of this value.

If the student stays with his mother, then he gains the value of consoling his mother and loses the value he would have gained from vengeance and fighting evil. If the student fights and suceeds, then he loses the value of consoling his mother and gains the value of vengeance and fighting evil. If the student fights and fails, then he still loses the value of consoling his mother, and within the value schema of vengeance and fighting evil, nothing is gained or lost.

What we see is that here the dilemma is created by the conflict between two incommensurable value schemas.

Next let us consider Sophie’s choice. “In the novel Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron (Vintage Books, 1976 — the 1982 movie starred Meryl Streep & Kevin Kline), a Polish woman, Sophie Zawistowska, is arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. On arrival, she is ‘honored’ for not being a Jew by being allowed a choice: One of her children will be spared the gas chamber if she chooses which one. In an agony of indecision, as both children are being taken away, she suddenly does choose. They can take her daughter, who is younger and smaller. Sophie hopes that her older and stronger son will be better able to survive, but she loses track of him and never does learn of his fate. Did she do the right thing? Years later, haunted by the guilt of having chosen between her children, Sophie commits suicide. Should she have felt guilty?”

The following choice space illustrates this situation:

Here there are three value schemas.

+S/-S: The value obtained by having the son live, or lost by having the son die.
+D/-D: The value obtained by having the daughter live, or lost by having the daughter die.
-Ra/-Rb: The negative value of the responsibility that Sophie has for having daughter and/or son die. -Ra is the value of the responsibility she has for the death of her children in failing to choose. -Rb is the value of the responsibility she has for the death of the child whom she chooses to let die. It is perhaps not clear which of these values is greater.

Now let us consider Pascal’s wager:

Here there are two simultaneous actors. The first actor represents my decision to believe in God, or not to believe in God. The second actor represents the external factor that it is either the case or not the case that God exists. The interaction of these two actors produces four solutions. These solutions are evaluated under two value schemas. One value schema represents the value of my salvation or damnation. One value schema represents the positive value of my holding the true belief regarding God, versus the negative value of my holding the false belief regarding God.

If God exists and I believe in God, then I am saved (+S) and hold a true belief (+T).

If God does not exist and I believe in God, then I am not saved (0) and hold a false belief (-T)

If God exists and I do not believe in God, then I am damned (-S) and hold a false belief (-T).

If God does not exist and I do not believe in God, then I am not saved (0) and hold a true belief (+T).

Hopefully these examples are sufficient to suggest that this type of scheme can be applied to many situations, and perhaps every situation, in which it is necessary to make choices. These concepts line up in essence with those of game theory and decision theory, and so there is nothing particularly novel about them.

I have found this type of scheme to very useful in organizing my thinking on practical decisions that I have to make in my life.

A recurring characteristic of moral dilemmas, which distinguishes them from more mundane choice problems such as the problem of selecting chess moves, is that all moral dilemmas seem to involve multiple incommensurable value schemas. This may in fact be a characteristic of difficult choice problems in general. If a choice problem involves only one value schema, then we can solve it by estimating the probabilities of various external factors and finding ideal choices given the choices of any other actors in the situation. The problem will be one belonging to decision theory or game theory. If we have multiple value schemas, then not merely the difficulty but the very nature of the problem changes.

H1. The most difficult choices are those which involve conflicting value schemas.

In order to solve a choice problem with multiple value schemas in the kind of mathematical way that we are able to solve choice problems with single value schemas, what we require is some way to unify the value schemas.

Suppose that, given a choice problem with multiple value schemas, we could construct a value schema T and a function F to map from a set of pairs (S,v) with S a value schema and v a value quantifier under that schema, such that the set represents all of the value quantifiers of a given solution to the choice problem, to a new single pair (T,u) with T the unifying value schema and u the unified value quantifier.

One way to construct F would be to simply take the sum of all of the value quantifiers. This, however, would require that the value quantifiers be assigned fixed points on a number line, which would be difficult or even absurd in some cases. For instance, in Sartre’s dilemma we would be required to place numerical values on the student taking care of his mother or on his avenging his brother. We may regard this as absurd. Similarly with Sophie’s choice, we would have to place numerical values on the value of her son living or her daughter living, and it seems outrageous to put a numerical value on the value of a human life. It is for these reasons that I have used undefined variables for value quantifiers.

These quantifiers can be discussed in a relative way, within a single value schema: e.g., two dollars are twice as valuable as one dollar. Or, if Sophie’s son living is worth N, then Sophie’s son dying is worth -N. But to relate the value quantifiers of one value schema to the value quantifiers of another unrelated schema is a task that appears in most cases to be impossible. For example, which is more valuable: two dollars or two seconds of inner peace? Or, which is more negatively valuable: Sophie’s guilt about choosing to let her daughter die, or Sartre’s student’s mother’s hopelessness when her son leaves to fight?

We say therefore that value quantifiers belonging to different value schemas are seemingly “incommensurable.” They seemingly cannot be compared to one another in any meaningful way. This forms a significant problem in making choices where conflicting value schemas are involved, and it is a problem that is deeper than merely logical.

If a choice problem does not involve multiple value schemas, then it can be solved by estimating probabilities and predicting the choices of other actors. If a choice problem does involve multiple value schemas, then it touches upon the almost profound problem of reconciling these value schemas.

The question becomes, “what is of value?” Furthermore, if we can answer this question, then answering the question “what will I do?” becomes “easy” in the sense of becoming merely a technical problem. Having now motivated it, I will explore the question “what is of value?” in the future.

1 Comment

The Question

The Question: What will I do?

I argue that this question is, in the general case, the most important question. That is, in particular circumstances in which any particular human may find themselves, other questions may prove to be more important than this question. But averaged over all human circumstances, this is the most important question. Hence, I call it not merely a question, but The Question.

A few arguments may be given for this question’s status as the most important question.

The first argument.

It is always necessary to answer The Question. One cannot avoid doing so. If one decides not to answer The Question, one must then do something other than answer The Question, and the question will arise of what that will be. Hence one will be brought back to it straight away. This is so unless one acts unconsciously, based on instinct or impulse, rather than making a conscious decision to do something. Therefore, at any given time:

1. one asks The Question; or,
2. one, having answered The Question, carries out this answer; or,
3. one acts unconsciously, based on instinct or impulse.

One cannot choose to do (3). To choose is to choose consciously. There is no such thing as unconsciously choosing to do something; in that case one is simply doing, not choosing. Therefore, to choose to act unconsciously is to choose consciously to act unconsciously. Therefore if one chooses to do (3), one is in fact doing (2). Thus, having first become conscious of one’s choice, one is committed to do either (1) or (2) until by accident and without trying to do so, one falls back into (3).

The second argument.

Eventually, we will die. We therefore have finite time in which to do things. By the things we do we will make our life more or less valuable, both for ourselves and for others. We will lead a life that is more or less meaningful to ourselves. We will either make a net positive impact on the world after our death, or make a net negative impact, or make little discernible impact. Presumably we want to lead a life that is as meaningful to ourselves as possible and makes the largest possible net positive impact on the world after our death.

The choices we make will partially determine the value of our lives. There is nothing we can desire that falls out of the sphere of increasing the value of our lives. Our choices are the only thing we can change to increase the value of our lives. The value of our lives, insofar as we can affect this value, will be determined by the quality of our choices. Therefore, the only way that we can obtain anything desirable that we are capable of obtaining, is by choosing well.

We can increase the quality of our choices by thinking about The Question. Hence, thinking about The Question and everything connected with it is an activity of basic importance. We all engage in this activity, because we are required to do so, and engaging in it more fully has the potential to increase the value of our lives, unless we have a satisfactory answer already in our possession, or little potential of improving our choices.

I wish in some future writing to analyze various answers to The Question that are popular in our society. For now, let us consider a variant form of The Question:

The Question. What do I will?

We may also phrase this as, “what do I want?” The two questions “what will I do?” and “what do I will?” are inextricably connected. We can only reasonably choose to do something with some goal in mind, and so in order to choose what to do we must first of all establish what we are after. I suggest that frequently we do not know what we are after, and that especially this must be the case if our desires contradict each other.

1 Comment