Thoughts on negative utilitarianism

Imagine a world where everybody is happy (satisfied) and there are no negative experiences.

In this world, to be jealous will be impossible, because jealousy is a negative experience. In this world, some people will be happy, and others even happier, but nobody really cares how much. I think this is a good argument in favor of negative utilitarianism, that is, that reducing suffering is morally relevant, but increasing happiness is not morally relevant.

In this imaginary world, even if increasing happiness is a good thing, It’s not morally relevant. Because is not relevant at all.

Increasing happiness is not relevant by definition. To increase happiness is “good”, but is not “relevant”. Why? If someone is over the zero, really over the zero, with absolutely no negative experience (like being jealous of other’s happiness), by definition that being is already happy and for that being to be more happy is… well… yeah, is “good” but it’s not relevant at all. It’s very difficult for us to imagine it, maybe because we never have been in that status or even because we didn’t ever know anybody that has reached that status. But we can try to imagine someone very calmed, without fear, completely relaxed and satisfied with present, past and future. We can imagine that person receiving good news, one after another, or enjoying some pleasures, some good and other better. At any moment that person will be satisfied. Already happy, in a way that being happier is not a big deal.

If being happier is really a concern, we’re not being happy at all: we are being frustrated. Real happiness has to include some kind of “tranquility” in which we prefer to stay better, and probably we don’t have anything better to do than being happier, but we don’t really need to be better, so it’s good. But it’s not relevant.

Posted by Manu Herrán

Research associate at the Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS).