Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Relative absolutism

Are you an absolutist or a relativist when it comes to defining contentment and happiness (or telos, if you prefer)? Is there one definitional formula, or are there countless possible combinations leading to the same answer?

I'd describe myself as a relative absolutist. That is, there is one specific optimal formula for realizing happiness for each person, but there as many exact formulas as there are people. Nature presumably matters a lot, and nurture plays a part, too. Gardening works for one guy while spelunking does it for another guy. But exploring caves can't work for the first guy just as cultivating cucumbers won't do it for the other one.

Basically, Curly was on the money.

Jokah Macpherson said...

I tend to agree with you and Curly, although to make sure I am clear on this, I have to ask: When you say there is an optimal formula for each person's happiness/telos, do you mean in a general sense or a specific set of activities?

To use a mathematical metaphor, if 1 is considered perfect contentment and your optimal formula for happiness is f(x) = x^4; 1, -1 and i would all be acceptable solutions. Someone like this could still pursue the 1 path if they were constrained by being born before imaginary or negative numbers had been invented.

I guess what I am saying is that I could see how a person could have multiple outlets that would maximize their satisfaction based on their natural abilities and preferences; I don't think this puts me firmly in the blank slatist or absolutist camps.

Audacious Epigone said...

In a general sense approximately, with time allowing for ever greater precision. Re: imaginary numbers, whether the happiness is relative or absolute comes into question.

This ignores the question of free will, though I find the answer to that question to be meaningless in practical terms--sort of akin to Pascal's Wager, you're better living as if you have free will than if you don't, irrespective of the probability of one outlook being more accurate than the other.

TGGP said...

Eliezer Yudkowsky uses the phrases "subjectively objective".