I have been thinking of reductios ad absurdum* of Utilitarian ethics.
If pleasure and pain are to be put on a single axis, can an entity experience more of one than the other? If pain outweighs pleasure, then we should destroy everything, as painlessly as possible. If pleasure outweighs pain, then one would think that the more things that can experience pleasure, the better. We should thus convert the entire universe into the smallest entities possible that can live their lives in continual ecstasy. I thought of a silly story about a Utilitarian alien invasion, where the Earth is converted into grey ‘happygoo’ of cheerful nanobots, but in such a way that everyone is wildly happy about it all stages of the process. Maybe something like this has already happened, and all the fundamental particles of our universe are really, really, happy.
It seems to me also that if either ‘pleasure’ or ‘fulfilling your potential’ are really seen as ‘good’ by secular humanists, they should be as down on birth control as any Mormon. Unless, pleasure is not seen as additive good: our pleasure will be *better* than that of those other people, if they are not here. Maybe, it is the *quality* of the pleasure that is important, and they are working towards a future where there is only one being, but that one is capable of a Godlike degree of happiness and has harnessed all the energies of the universe towards achieving it. Hmm, this is also the conclusion given- with no argument for it, just a kind of a sermon- by the mad ex-clergyman Straik in ‘That Hideous Strength.’
This utilitarian idea has clarified something for me that never made sense before. Harlan Ellison et al.'s theory that we need to have evil so we can know what good is makes absolutely no sense in a Judaeo-Christian-Islamic way, but if we have ‘good’ equated with ‘pleasure’ and ‘evil’ with ‘pain’ it is self-evident. We all know that the best pleasure is frequently the stopping of pain. The first sitting down, after a long walk in inappropriate shoes: the first drink of icy lemonade, after ditto...
*Hmm, is there any plural of ‘reductio ad absurdum’?