Saturday, July 24, 2010


I'm an unabashed utilitarian--of sorts. I think that all there really is to life is having a happy life, and I'm partial to definition of happy that focus on moment to moment feelings, as opposed to satisfaction when you reflect on memories. (More on the two types in this old post.)

One tradeoff that can comes up for utilitarians is between length and life and happiness during it. Is a better life one with more total happiness? More average happiness? We see this trade-off come up with sinful goods, like drugs, alcohol, and high-fat foods. Suppose you really would be happier if you drank 5 drinks every night. Would you be willing to trade ten years of your life (live to 67 instead of 77) so you could be 1 unit happier on a ten point scale?

That is a bad example because it rests on a mistaken premise. Becoming an alcoholic almost certainly isn't a road to bliss, nor are drug abuse or gratuitous gluttony.

But are there any good, relevant examples of a tradeoff where your risking your health for a clear gain in happiness?

The one that got me thinking about this is not fit for print.

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