PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, June 06, 2013

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Do we get what we deserve?

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Do we get what we deserve?
Ruel has written an essay for us on the subject and I have penned some ideas as well.
In the meantime David is organising this month visits to the British cemetery. If you haven't been there you are missing out on some of the fascinating history of Madrid.
Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote re Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic. 
Thanks and hasta luego.
Programme of Visits, British Cemetery, Madrid
Redacto el presente mensaje tanto en español como en inglés con el objeto de comunicarles el programa de visitas guiadas al Cementerio Británico, los sábados por la mañana a las 11.00 horas - el punto de encuentro es la entrada del Cementerio
sábado, día 15 de junio cuando daré las explicaciones en español
sábado, día 22 de junio cuando daré las explicaciones en inglés
Si prefiere hacer la visita en una fecha no programada y siempre que formen un grupo de un mínimo de 8 personas, avíseme a <>
TOMEN NOTA DE NUESTRA PÁGINA WEB < www.british> donde se pone la dirección.
I am writing this note in both Spanish and in English to provide the programme of Saturday morning guided visits to the British Cemetery, all of which take place at 11.00 a.m - we meet at the Cemetery entrance
Saturday, 15th June : the visit will be in Spanish
Saturday, 22nd June : the visit will be in English
If you would like a visit on a different date and you can form a group of 8 persons or more, let me know at <
PLEASE TAKE NOTE OF OUR WEBSITE< > for details of location.

Best Lawrence

Lawrence: 606081813
PhiloMadrid Meeting  -  Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14 - 28010 Madrid
914457935  - Metro: Bilbao

Thursday's Open Tertulia in English
Important Notice: From December 1st, the Tertulia will take place at O'Donnells (ex-Moore's) Irish
Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)


Do we get what we deserve?
Under the Christian-Judeo cultural dogma we are basically told that if we work hard, follow the rules and are good we will be rewarded; and if not in this world certainly in the hereafter.

There are two issues with this dogma; which I will also call the expected reward argument. The first is that it is dogma and dogmas are not sound philosophy, not necessarily because they are inherently false or bad, but rather because they do not follow sound philosophical methodologies. For example, an appeal to authority is not in itself a valid philosophical argument. The second issue with this particular dogma, and maybe other dogma, is that this relies on the fallacy of affirming the consequent (if P, then Q; Q, therefore P). In propositional logic, Q can be true and yet P is false. Thus we can be rewarded with (or punished for) something even though we have not done what we think is required.

What is interesting for us is not that this dogma is based on philosophical invalid arguments, which has sustained western society for many centuries, but rather this dogma, despite the intentions of the original proponents, betrays the deep seated mind set of human beings to the principles of causality. Basically, the argument is that our actions cause us to have rewards; or what we think we deserve, maybe even been told what to expect. We can even go a step further and claim that dogma even betray our deep seated instinct of short term pain (work) with long term pleasure (reward; or what we deserve). 

Thus although dogma rely heavily on the fallacy of argument from authority, they betray the human understanding of causality and human emotions.

For us there are three issues: 
1) Upon what grounds can we claim that if we do what is required, we will be get our just rewards?
2) Getting what we deserve does not only apply to rewards but also to negative effects. Hence, we also associate a causal effect with punishment; another word for pain.
3) And the third issue is the getting rewards we don't deserve and punishments we don't deserve.

The worst important aspect of dogma or the expected reward argument is to assume that only our efforts matter in getting what we deserve. However, there are many factors in the causal history of an event or outcome. At the very least, our efforts are quite limited in scope. For example, today the educational system has been changed so much from the ideals of social justice that what matters more is not our efforts to study, but rather whether we have enough financial resources to actually afford to study. Never mind the dynamics of relations between educators and pupils, health factors and access to the tools of learning, these only matter if one can afford to enter the education system. But the causal history does not stop there, we need a roof over us, we need to eat, and meet other needs. So when we get our degree at the end, who really deserves the reward, us who, admittedly, had to study, our parents who maybe provided the finances, or the financial intuition that lent us the money for the fees, etc. It is doubtful that our efforts alone can seal the deal, or any deal for which we are rewarded.

And in the professional context, success does not only depend on our efforts at work, but also on such things as the dynamics of the economy, our access to professional networks, our mentors and coaches who can show us the way to success or disaster. Or even mundane things such as the personality of our boss.

What seems to be happening here is that a number of people put in the causal effort that can create enough critical mass to result in us getting a degree, i.e. the reward. This suggests that an element of cooperation is required if anything we deserve is going to come our way. But does this also apply to punishments: i.e. for something we did wrong? When we do something dastardly, is it also the product of a cooperative endeavour?

So even without making any value judgments, the idea that we can actually cause the outcome we desire in an enterprise is, at best, a matter of our efforts being just another causal factor in the process. Of course, this does not mean that the part we play is not relevant; indeed it is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. On the other hand it is characteristic of human beings and indeed, maybe even human physiology, to be able to focus on an objective, and exclude secondary issues in an enterprise. Our brain's ability to filter out noise from meaningful sound is an important function of us or interpret meaningful patterns from visual stimuli is also an important survival function. Hence, maybe it is also natural for us to filter out the contributions of others in an enterprise we are personally involved in. Thus we can decide if we truly deserve something it is because we can psychologically exclude to factor in the part played by others in our success.

Most people can live with this state of affairs and don't have to feel guilty or anything. One can argue, of course, that there are too many factors that come to play for us to succeed and get what we deserve, but life is short and we cannot spend the rest of our time doing causal balance sheets. Never mind giving credit to everyone in our life like the credit line of a movie. But I would argue that it is a philosopher's task to investigate these causal balance sheets. And this matters because work matters to human beings and rewards, especially just rewards, matter even more.

But the real problem is not really in causal book keeping, but that the reward is a sufficient effect to meet the condition of making us happy and to balance the pain/pleasure balance sheet of human beings. Thus, we are in a situation where our efforts are necessary for a rewarding outcome, always assuming that this will really happen, but sufficient for us to be happy just by receiving any rewards. You will remember that the affirming the consequent fallacy (if P ->Q, Q therefore P) means that we can still get the reward without making any valid effort to get it.

However, being rewarded for something that we don't deserve (or punished) matters to human beings because we don't live by logic only. Indeed we don't even only live with balanced pain and pleasure balance sheets. We also live with an acute sense of justice and fairness. 

At the very basis of this instinct of justice and fairness is our ability to calculate the expected returns and rewards of our efforts and compare our results with those of others. We can do a basic cost benefit analysis of the risks we take and the accruing returns. More importantly, our sense of survival is sufficiently complex to help us judge whether someone is cheating us or getting their just rewards. The weakness of this ability is that in many cases we only have face value evidence of someone receiving a just reward or the opposite. We might not know all the details of a causal process to make an objective judgment; for all we know our neighbour might have spent many hour studying to get to the top of the class. 

Can we now go a step further and argue that it is not quite clear that our sense of justice or fairness come from a sense of morality and rationality but simply an effect of jealousy or envy when we feel others are better off than us, and selfishness when we want to be better off. 

When in real life we apply the issue of whether 'we get what we deserve', the most relevant situations for us would probably be in the sphere of work and politics. This should not come as a surprise since both are, in a way, the same human activity: the distribution of earthly resources.

To sum up, while our efforts are a necessary factor in bring about the fair outcome of rewards, they are not sufficient. There are limits to how much we can influence the causal process. Getting what we deserve is all part of the pain/pleasure process biological systems we employ in the survival game. Our sense of justice and fairness can easily be based on the natural instinct of survival, and can be valid independent of any moral fundamentals. For example, a sense of justice can be based on jealousy that can easily motivate us to address the question of whether we get what we deserve. 

What, however, seems to be incomprehensible is how can we trade physical effort that is required for survival to rewards that can neither be measured by the all encompassing formula E=MC2 nor inductively valid through experience. In other words, how can physical biological systems accept rewards purely based on language memes (rewarded in the hereafter) in exchange for present physical casual effort (do the work)? And a competing version of this would be to spend your money on the latest gadget so you can become the most fashionable kid on the block. But the consequences of dogma, that are in the end the creation of human beings, are of course totally irrational. And unfortunately, there is no rational law that compels human beings to be rational. 

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