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Buster Benson

No advice column.

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The pragmatic maxim
bird poops on plum branch
I've been trying to come up with this definition for a while. It's a very subtle form of circular logic.

When considering the truthfulness of a statement, consider the consequences that would result if the statement were true. These consequences must be practical in order for the statement to be true.

For example:

Consider the statement that there is no afterlife, no karma, and that life is unfair. Some people think that the consequences of this statement imply that, if this were true, there would be no reason to be kind to others, no reason to be accountable, and that anarchy, chaos, and selfishness would rule. Because these consequences are unacceptable, there must be an afterlife, karma, or fairness embedded in the universe.

I hear it on the radio all the time in the context of treating depression. They say: "Are you feeling depressed? Unable to get up in the morning? Feel that the world is going into a downward spiral? It's possible that you're one of two million other Americans who have the symptoms of chronic depression. There is help. Etc." The underlying assumption is that the world is a happy place to be. If you see it differently, the consequences are depression, and that's a treatable problem. The undesirable consequences become the proof that life must be a happy, productive, upwardly spiraling environment.

Things must be practical. They must, at their core, be livable, workable, healthy things. Or whatever. Therefore, anything that results in unlivable, unworkable, unhealthy things must be false. That's the pragmatic maxim.

I'm not saying that things aren't livable, workable, healthy things. I'm just saying that you shouldn't start with that assumption. You should hopefully arrive at that conclusion. But you might not.

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I don't like the construction that "depression = not happy". Real depression is different from unhappiness, and you can be a cynic or a pessimist or a goth kid without being depressed or even unhappy -- a depressed person often can't function properly, even if they think the world is a happy place. This one lept out at me because I'm the goth kid in my family, and my perfectly-normal sister is the one with the life-long fight against depression on her hands. I don't quite know what this does to your example, and I want my lunch, so I don't have time to figure it out for you...

People, by which I think I mean Americans, love simple solutions to problems. Especially in pill form. They also love the American Dream, which (I think) states that the world (by which it means America) is fundamentally a happy place, and if you can afford a two car garage and a spouse, you will love life.
It seems simpler to me to believe that a pill will make you happy then to consider the need to change your lifestyle, find a new job, get out of abusive relationships, etc.
My personal fav is "If terrorists want it, we must hate it". I don't understand how my desires could possibly be exactly 100% the opposite of every terrorist group.

What if there is no afterlife, no karma, and life is unfair, but you should do good things because it's the moral thing to do? Morality doesn't need an afterlife or karma, because it's about decisions you make for here-and-now. Not for a later life, or to be rewarded by some cosmic bank account.

Nor does morality require the impossibility of a "fair" world. What does "a fair world" even mean? It's going to be irreconcilably different for each of us.

Anarchy, chaos, and selfishness do currently rule...all the more reason to be nice to people and make moral choices.

Re: Not mutually exclusive

I agree with you that morality and kindness don't need to be coupled with afterlife, karma, and pay-it-forward fairness. But when people are challenged in their beliefs of the eternal and absolute, I find that they often use the logic of "what would life be like if nobody believed in the afterlife and there was no reason to be kind, etc" as proof that even if we do turn to worms after we die that it's better to believe that you don't for that reason alone.

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