Monday, June 27, 2011


It is often said,

how small is Man

but a mere grain of sand

of no significance

next to the planets,

the stars in the dark expanse

the heavens, the galaxies

a million, billion, trillion

light years across

a million, billion, trillion

moments of time

front and back

But enough evil

has thus stained

the entire cosmos

across space and time

sullying the spacetime fabric

by man's small

and deficient soul

a black hole

both finite and transfinite

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Slurs again

In a previous post, I talked about the article in The Stone about the offensiveness of slurs. Additionally against the prohibitionist, I offer the following suggestive counter examples. Recently, I saw a movie about the standup comic Louie CK. In one of his comic routines, he talks about the word 'Jew'. He claims that it is the only word that is both the commonly accepted word for a group and its slur. It only becomes a slur depending on both context and how it is pronounced, he claims (I think Woody Allen also has a similar routine about the word). Now that is pretty funny but it has some insight to it. Consider:

"Johnny is a Jew," said in a casual, informative tone and "Johnny is a Jew" said in a suspicious, derisive tone with emphasis on the last vowel.

If 'Jew' in the last instance is offensive because it is prohibited, then 'Jew' said in the first instance also should be offensive because they are the same word. On the other hand, the same word can have very different meanings (that is, have different semantic contents) depending on context which would explain why it is not offensive but informative in the first instance but used as a slur and thus offensive in the second.

Also consider that many slurs also have non offensive meanings and are commonly used to mean other things than the slur. Consider 'chink', 'cracker', [in British English meaning cigarettes] 'fag' and so forth. Now 'fag' is becoming obsolete partly because of its association with the slur for homosexuals much like "niggardly' is mostly obsolete because its superficial similarity in sound and spelling with 'nigger'. But there still are plenty of examples of the same word being used non offensively to mean something common and its being very offensive at the same time because it is also used in other contexts to mean a slur for some group and this would seem to counter the prohibitionist view. I also think there is a "cart before the horse" issue that can be raised against the prohibitionist. They cannot explain why some words are prohibited rather than others.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dumb luck (pt. 2)

In the previous post, I posted arguments from Jennifer Lackey critical of the current views on luck. Now I will offer a positive sketch of my own view which is inspired by a contrastive account of causation by Jonathan Schaffer.

In Jonathan Schaffer's work on causation, Schaffer uses a contrastive approach which he claims to solve many of the paradoxes involved with causation. Causal relations are fundamentally quartenary composed of a quadrouple where c is a cause and C* is a non empty set of possible alternative causes, e is an effect and E* is a non empty set of alternative possible effects. Both causes and effects are "within a field" the contents of that field is determined by the causal inquiry.

There's many causes to any effect. Likewise, for any cause, there will be many effects "down the line." It's not informative to point out some of them. Saying that the plane crashed because of gravity is not normally informative though surely gravity played a crucial causal role. Context, (whether as a function of the semantics or pragmatics Schaffer is agnostic) determines what the relata are in any causal scheme. Thus, when we say that the short-circuit caused the house to burn down, we actually say something like: The short circuit (as opposed to the match, or the lightening, or the flamethrower, etc) caused the house to burn down (as opposed to remain intact). As you can see, this has the quartenary causal relation structure.

Many problematic issues common to the work on causation are solved or dissolved by this contrastive causal framework. Schaffer's solution seem convincing to me. Consider the problem of absences:

Are absences causal? To ascend semantically, can negative nominals such as ‘the gardener’s not watering my flowers’ denote causes and/or effects?

(1) (pro) Absence causation is intuitive: intuition accepts some

absences as causal.

(2) (pro) Absences play the predictive and explanatory roles of

causes and effects.CONTRASTIVE CAUSATION


(3) (pro) Absences play the moral and legal roles of causes and


(4) (con) Absences mediate causation by disconnection.

(5) (con) Absence causation is counterintuitive: intuition rejects

some absences as causal.

(6) (con) Absence causation is theoretically problematic.

(7) (con) Absence causation is metaphysically abhorrent.


Contrastivity resolves the paradox of absences, by reconciling (1)–(7). The reconciliation strategy is as follows: (i) treat negative nominals as denoting actual events, and (ii) treat absence-talk as tending to setthe associated contrast to the possible event said to be absent. Forinstance, given that the gardener napped and my flowers wilted, ‘The gardener’s not watering my flowers caused my flowers not to blossom’, is to be interpreted as: the gardener’s napping rather than watering my flowers caused my flowers to wilt rather than blossom.

Many other causal paradoxes once plagued the literature are shown resolved or solved.

Now consider luck. I claim that there is something similar going on and that luck is actually a contrastive ordered pair where s is either a fact about someone or an event that happens to her and S* is a non empty set of non actual possible alternative facts or events (what I'll call "scenarios") that may have happened to her or S* may be actual scenarios occurring to other people. s is more beneficial in some way than the scenarios in S*.

What determines the kinds of scenarios in s and S* is also a function of context and inquiry. It's a context relative matter what that criteria will be; she might be richer in s than all the scenarios in S*, she may have found a treasure in s and not have done so in S*, she may have been better looking than the possible scenarios she is in S*, etc. In the first case, the criteria of evaluation is wealth (more versus less), in the second, it is some fortunate event happening to her (as contrastied with it not happening), and the last case it is her appearance (more attractive versus less so). She might be happier, have more stuff, friends, a better spouse, etc etc, it doesn't matter so long as s is evaluated at some criteria that is the same as those in S*. What we choose to be evaluated is dependent on what the context suggest is appropriate for an evaluation of luckiness (or unluckiness as the case may be).

However, the choices for the different alternative scenarios in S* are not completely arbitrary. They should be "live options," likely or contingent alternative scenarios based on the kind of criteria we are evaluating her luck on; they are possibilities that may have occurred to her or she may be reasonably compared based on some relevant reference class in which she belongs. It should be a live option that some person might have been happy or sad within a range or rich or poor to a various range or have so many number of good friends, etc. Her relevant reference class may be her set of friends, some possible scenario other than the one she finds herself, all actual people, all possible people, etc.

But unlike what is determined to be evaluated in s and S*, it's an objective matter how she actually fares relative to the other scenarios in S*. For example, say she has more of x (money, good friends, happiness, etc) than she does in S*, she is correctly said to be lucky. I think this will solve all the problem limned in Lackey's paper.

Take a look at her example of the DEMOLITION WORKER. The context of evaluation is types of events. In the actual event, the explosion occurred because her coworker hanged his coat in the right place, at the right time, etc. Now S* may be some possible event nominal such as his hanging his coat in a slightly different place not resulting in the causal chain culminating in the explosion, or at some different time also not resulting in the causal chain culminating in the explosion, etc. All the events in S* are live options; they may easily have occurred were it not for chance. We can even specify that the scenarios in S* be more counterfactually robust than s, that is, that s is less likely than those scenarios in S*.

In the case of BURIED TREASURE, there is likewise, several ways to evaluate Vincent's luck. We may construe s as Sophie burying her treasure in the spot she did with some alternative scenario in S* in which she chose some other area of the island. We may also construe s as Sophie's choice of flowers. She in fact chose roses which resulted in her choice of area to bury her treasure. But if she had wanted to plant some other plant which resulted in another area more suitable for that plant, another area would have been chosen. In that case, we would have her choice of roses be an event s and S* maybe alternative possible choices such as s_1=her choice to plant tulips, s_2=her choice to plant daisies, s_3=her choice to plant orchids, s_4=her choice not to plant anything at all, and so on. Had she chosen to act on any of those alternative choices, Vincent would not have found her buried treasure and thus not have been so lucky. Alternatively, we may evaluate Vincent's luck by construing s as his mother favoring roses. If she had favored some other plant he would not have gone to the spot and found the treasure. Thus S* would be his mother favoring, say, daisies. The point in this schema is we hold all the other facts fixed in s while choosing alternative scenarios in S* (the field of possible alternative outcomes not as lucky) that would not have been as favorable on some chosen criteria as in s.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dumb luck (pt. 1)

There are two main competing views on luck. The Lack of Control account and the Modal account. As this paper by Jennifer Lackey shows, they are both inadequate; neither are necessary nor sufficient for an analysis of our concept of luck. The concept of luck has recently been held to high import for discussions in epistemology and ethics. Thus a coherent and well-fitting definition is highly desirable.

The Lack of Control Account of Luck (henceforth LCAL) is defined as:

LCAL: An event is lucky for a given agent, S, if and only [if] the occurrence of such an event is beyond—or at least significantly beyond—S’s control.

However, it is susceptible to these kinds of counterexamples showing first that the sufficiency criteria is not met:

[s]uppose that I walk into my kitchen, toast a bagel, and eat it with cream cheese. When my husband comes home ten minutes later, my eating a toasted bagel with cream cheese ten minutes earlier is an event that he neither had control over (he wasn’t home) nor was sufficiently responsible for (he had nothing to do with my eating the bagel in question). But is it lucky for him that I ate a toasted bagel with cream cheese? If so, it is clearly not in any interesting sense of luck. Countless cases of this sort abound: my neighbor’s playing a computer game right now, my cat’s sleeping this afternoon, a chef’s making eggplant parmesan in Florence today, and numerous other ordinary or mundane events are out of my control at this moment. Yet to regard all of these events as lucky, as proponents of the LCAL must do, is surely to miss something important to the concept of luck.

As Lackey shows, by adding a 'significance' criteria stipulating that the events be not only out of one's control but somehow beneficial or significant will not rescue such a definition. Additionally, such scenarios as described above are general. They are not odd or "iffy" non decisive examples. They show quite clearly the deficiency of such a definition.

To show that LCAL is not necessary, consider:

DEMOLITION WORKER: Ramona is a demolition worker, about to press a button that will blow up an old abandoned warehouse, thereby completing a project that she and her coworkers have been working on for several weeks. Unbeknownst to her, however, a mouse had chewed through the relevant wires in the construction office an hour earlier, severing the connection between the button and the explosives. But as Ramona is about to press the button, her co-worker hangs his jacket on a nail in the precise location of the severed wires, which radically deviates from his usual routine of hanging his clothes in the office closet. As it happens, the hanger on which the jacket is hanging is made of metal, and it enables the electrical current to pass through the damaged wires just as Ramona presses the button and demolishes the warehouse.

The demolition worker had control in setting off the explosion and yet was very lucky that all the conditions resulting in the explosion were just right to produce the condition giving her the means to set off the explosion. Again, as Lackey points out, scenarios such as this can be generalized and seem quite decisive in refuting the necessity condition.

The other view of luck is the Modal Account of Luck (henceforth, MAL). Lackey uses Duncan Pritchard's version of the MAL:

(L1) If an event is lucky, then it is an event that occurs in the actual world but which
does not occur in a wide class of the nearest possible worlds where the relevant
initial conditions for that event are the same as in the actual world [Pritchard 2005:

(L2) If an event is lucky, then it is an event that is significant to the agent concerned
(or would be significant, were the agent to be availed of the relevant facts) [Pritchard
2005: 132].

But Lackey gives decisive counter examples to this view as well showing that it is both insufficient and unnecessary for luck. She argues convincingly that no such version of MAL can be sufficient and necessary for an analysis of luck. This example shows that it is not necessary for luck.

BURIED TREASURE: Sophie, knowing that she had very little time left to live, wanted to bury a chest filled with all of her earthly treasures on the island she inhabited. As she walked around trying to determine the best site for proper burial, her central criteria were, first, that a suitable location must be on the northwest corner of the island—where she had spent many of her fondest moments in life—and, second, that it had to be a spot where rose bushes could flourish—since these were her favorite flowers. As it happens, there was only one particular patch of land on the northwest corner of the island where the soil was rich enough for roses to thrive. Sophie, being excellent at detecting such soil, immediately located this patch of land and buried her treasure, along with seeds for future roses to bloom, in the one and only spot that fulfilled her two criteria.

One month later, Vincent, a distant neighbor of Sophie’s, was driving in the
northwest corner of the island—which was also his most beloved place to visit—and was looking for a place to plant a rose bush in memory of his mother who had died ten years earlier—since these were her favorite flowers. Being excellent at detecting the proper soil for rose bushes to thrive, he immediately located the same patch of land that Sophie had found one month earlier. As he began digging a hole for the bush, he was astonished to discover a buried treasure in the ground.

Certainly, Vincent was lucky and yet it is an instance of counter factually robust instance of luck for Vincent would have searched the same spot in a "wide class of the nearest possible worlds where the relevant initial conditions for such an event are the same as in the actual world." In fact, we can make the class of the counterfactual possible worlds as arbitrarily robust as we like by making it ever so delicate and complex the initial conditions are for both Vincent and Sophie to insure that they will choose the same spot.

Lackey also shows that MAL is not sufficient for luck by giving "whimsical" scenarios showing that spontaneous or whimsical actions which are significant for agents thus satisfying MAL yet are not instances of luck.

In my next blog, I hope to give a definition of luck not susceptible to any of the counter examples offered using developments from an account of contrastive causation.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Slurs: prohibitionist vs. semanticist views

There are two main competing theories on why slurs (racial, ethnic, religious, gender, etc) are offensive. On one view, the offensiveness of a slur is a result of the semantic content of a slur. On the other view favored by Ernest Lepore, slurs are offensive not because of any semantic content but because they are violations of some social prohibition on speech. I favor the semantic account. Lepore defends his prohibition account here and here. But the arguments he uses to support his view seems to me to be deficient and very unconvincing. Here are two objections he raised against the semantic account:

First, how can some be more offensive than others (including those targeting the same group)? And second, why can some of us use slurs without being offensive while others of us cannot? The proposal that slurs are expressions whose occurrences are prohibited purports to explain these features better than views that invoke the content of the word, i.e. their meaning. In fact, appeals to meaning don’t seem to be capable of coherently accommodating either of these features.

To the first question, it has already been addressed rigorously, and, to my mind, convincingly here by Christopher Hom in his semantic account of slurs. Basically, slurs are masked conjunctions of associated properties attributed to members of groups in general according to this view. In fact, I think the problem to be more of a problem for the prohibition perspective to account for why some slurs are more offensive than others than it is for the semantic perspective.

The second point Lepore raises is also accounted for in Hom's paper rigorously and, again, convincingly so I will move on to my own counter arguments against some of the other points from the prohibitionist account.

Lepore says that his prohibitionist view of offense does not rely on the intentions of a speaker and suggests that this is a strength of his view for he says that we lack such power over words to change their meaning simply by intending it to have some arbitrary meaning. But this is clearly misleading. Slurs can often be created by fiat. These neologistic slurs will instantly have the semantic content of their cognates or synonyms by stipulation and hence their offensiveness. Consider if I were to announce publicly that from now on the word "mook" is to mean the racial slur "honkey." If I were to call white people "mooks," instead of using "honkey" in the usual derogatory way it is usually used, it most certainly would be offensive to white people. If they take offense to "honkey" no doubt they will then take offense to "mook." The prohibition view cannot account for this for no one or group informally nor formally prohibited "mook" for this word was a non word before my public stipulatory act bringing it into existence.

It's interesting that Lepore uses the example of Virginia senator George Allen when he called one of his aids "macaca" as an example purporting to support his view when it actually seem to counter his argument. Lepore says:

Recall his campaign for senator was derailed by his “playful” reference to an Indian American campaign worker for the opposition. His stated intention (sincere or not) wasn’t enough to change perceptions of his chosen expression’s significance
But "macaca" was not a word ergo it could not have been prohibited qua racial slur so Lepore's view cannot account for the reason it is offensive. The reason it is offensive is because of its semantic content: it seems to attribute certain properties to Indians (namely, that they are or resemble monkeys, or macaques). It attained its semantic content via the word "macaque."

I think that the semantic view can account for all of the objections Lepore raises and, moreover, and ironically, I don't think the prohibition view can account for them.

Additionally, Lepore's view cannot account for why dictionaries and hate literature differ in offensiveness as both contain racial slurs. Moreover, Lepore's own example of why slurs are not offensive when uttered by some groups but very offensive when used by others seems to counter his own view (whereas Hom's semantic view accounts for non offensiveness in usage among the "in group" members). His example is from the movie Rush Hour when Chan says "What's up, nigga!" to a black bartender after his buddy, Carter, who is black, says the same phrase to that bartender. Chan's utterance is offensive while Carter's is not despite the fact that they had said the same thing. Lepore also has an explanation but I think the semantic view accounts for it better than the prohibitionist's view.

I also disagree with Lepore when he claims that the mere mention of some slur is offensive. His prohibitionist view seem to have this as a consequence but it seems to be a consequence not desirable for such a view. He gives the example of the use of "The N-word" in popular usage to stand for the racial slur, "nigger" as support for that claim. But even if the actual word is used instead of the contorted "first-letter-stand-in," they are almost always far less offensive in such cases because they are merely mentioned as opposed to used in their common offensive manner. When people with tourrette's utter slurs (i.e., merely mention them instead of using them) due to their the coprolalia associated with the disorder, we also seem to see such utterances as far less offensive than when uttered by some bigot. What can account for the attenuation of that offensiveness other than its intent which is associated with a semantic content?

A prohibitionist view will have serious problems accounting for that attenuation because its the word that is prohibited but the word has different offensiveness uttered from the mouth of a tourette's sufferer than from a bigot.

Next, consider this objection from Lepore to the semantic view:

However, we should reject this view because it too fails to explain the relevant data. First, the view as stated claims the inference instituted by the slur says all members of the targeted group exhibit the negative property. But we can imagine a bigot who, after being presented with evidence that the victim of his slur does not exhibit the negative property associated with the term, still applies the word to his target. And secondly, for any given slur, what is the specific assumption one is licensed to infer? Here is a homework assignment: take a slur and try to figure out what everyone who hears it would infer. It is doubtful you will come up with a single idea that everyone who knows the term shares.

As Hom showed in his paper, a slur is often a paraphrase for the conjunction of many attributive assertions towards members of a group. The deeper the history of associations between some group and the pejorative stereotypes used to oppress them, the more assertions are in that conjunction. So it should not come as a surprise that a slur will still be offensive even when it is shown one member does not have one attributed property. That's because it still attributes other (offensive, derisive, etc) properties to the group in general.

Finally, Lepore says:

One final challenge for the advocate of a content-based explanation: paraphrases of what a slur supposedly means do not match in offense.
But this we can simply deny. Paraphrases (that is, assertions with the same semantic content) often are as offensive as the slurs they paraphrase. According to Hom's semantic view, slurs are basically paraphrases of a conjunction of assertions attributing negative properties to some group. Say that the word "hillbilly" is a paraphrase for the conjunction, "All members of this group are stupid, wife-beaters, alcoholics, inbred, poor, ignorant, and backward..." Hom's paper says that how the slur gets to have such a content is by a history of use via associating the word with institutions of harm and oppression. He calls this history of association via institutions of harm and oppression its semantic "loading" and when such a slur is used against someone purported to be a member of that group (such as Appalachians or other rural people), its contents are unloaded or "exploded."

Whether the offensiveness of a slur is its semantic content or its violation of some social prohibition is of serious social and legal consequence. This is not some obscure academic debate with no "real" import. As many issues in philosophy, it bears on us considerations in many ways not apparent at first. Consider issues on free speech. If the offensiveness of a slur is its content and its content attributes certain negative and false properties to those falling under its reference or its content is harmful in that attribution, then hate speech may not be protected under the Constitution as free speech when it can be shown that slurs were made with certain kinds of willful intent or negligence . Much as the Constitution protecting free speech does not protect slander and other forms of defamation against individuals when such defamation is shown demonstrably false and made under certain unjustifiable and legally liable circumstances, a bigot or organization may be shown to be making similar false assertions and hence liable to legal action.

[EDIT: I've included these comments and counter arguments that have recently occurred to me against Lepore's prohibitionist account.]

Additionally against the prohibitionist, I offer the following suggestive counter examples. Recently, I saw a movie about the standup comic Louie CK. In one of his comic routines, he talks about the word 'Jew'. He claims that it is the only word that is both the commonly accepted word for a group and its slur. It only becomes a slur depending on both context and how it is pronounced, he claims (I think Woody Allen also has a similar routine about the word). Now that is pretty funny but it has some insight to it. Consider:

"Johnny is a Jew," said in a casual, informative tone and "Johnny is a Jew" said in a suspicious, derisive tone with emphasis on the last vowel.

If 'Jew' in the last instance is offensive because it is prohibited, then 'Jew' said in the first instance also should be offensive because they are the same word. On the other hand, the same word can have very different meanings (that is, have different semantic contents) depending on context which would explain why it is not offensive but informative in the first instance but used as a slur and thus offensive in the second.

I also think there is a "cart before the horse" issue that can be raised against the prohibitionist. They cannot explain why some words are prohibited rather than others.

My follow up comment to Boylan

I've been reading The Stone for a couple of weeks now and they do have a few very good articles but a few really bad ones as well. I felt that Boylan's article completely misrepresented Confucius and responded to those misrepresentations in the comments section to Boylan's article. Boylan has written a follow up article which responds to those criticisms. However, in the follow up article, not only does he continue to get Confucius wrong, now he manages to misrepresent Aristotle. Here's his follow up article and my response:

I made one of the comments regarding the Golden Rule and Confucius. It is true that the rule is not a "driving foundational force behind Confucian ethics" but neither is it a driving foundational force in almost all of western non virtue theoretic oriented approaches. The main point is that such a rule is not at all conflicting with a Confucian ethics, which if we are to agree with you that such a rule is not community relative, seriously undermines your interpretation of Confucian ethics as inherently community relative.

I think you have also managed to get Aristotle wrong alone with Confucius in this response. I'm no expert on Aristotle but I had always thought that for Aristotle, there is an ordering outside of the community. That ordering is the telos of mankind. The ideal virtues of a man is different than those for a dog. Likewise, some men, are more or less virtuous not because they more or less conform to the values of their community but because their virtues conform to their natural telos, their functional end. The more eudemonia or flourishing the ordering of virtues produce for that person, the more his hierarchy of virtues conforms to its natural order.

Confucius's conception of human nature as being essentially the same for people across societies is also very problematic for a community relative interpretation of his ethical ideas. As the Analects 17.2 says, men are by nature the same, only through practice and living different lives do they come apart. Confucius says elsewhere that if a Sage lived amongst barbarians, the barbarians would voluntarily adopt the Sages ways (and thus becoming virtuous) and not the other way around. See Analects 13:19 and 15:5 for example. There are many other passages that suggests Confucius and Confucians after him believed that the roles people played in society had a natural and non community relative grounding. Additionally Confucius repeatedly offered praise to past heroes for overthrowing the conventions and values of their time. See Analects 2;23, for example. This heavily suggests that he believed that societies' conventions should conform to the way human beings are in some natural way (The Way) and its associated roles (and the values conducive to those roles), not the other way around.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is life worth living?

is a provocative article arguing that it is not (at least for humans). I touched on similar topics (here, here, here and here) arguing that the premise David Benatar uses that the accounting of happiness and pleasure versus pain and suffering are the only things to consider in evaluating life is wrong. Benatar's conclusion is that we should stop producing successive generations and effectively end our species's time here on the planet. His argument is surprisingly Schopenhauerian (and even more pessimistic for at least Schopenhauer had a soteriological component to his philosophy!)

But even if we concede for argument sake with Benatar that that accounting is the only criteria for judging the value of life, I still have reservations about his specific supporting arguments in the article. He uses much empirical data from psychology and personal reflection to support his claim that there is bound to be far more bad than good in just about every human life. Consider this extended passage:

Consider pleasures and pains. Most lives contain both, to varying degrees, but there is an unfortunate asymmetry between these that seems to apply to even the best of lives. The upshot of this is that there is much more pain than pleasure. For example, while the most intense pleasures, such as sexual or gustatory ones, are short-lived, the worst pains have the capacity to be much more enduring. Indeed, pleasures in general tend to be shorter-lived than pains. Chronic pain is common, whereas there is no such thing as chronic pleasure.

This is a one dimensional account of pleasures and pains, only looking at duration and not intensity. It is not clear that when intensity is taken into account, the shorter periods of pleasure will make up for the longer but less intense periods of desire/pain. Also, Benatar ignores the fact that people tend to relive (and relish) their sexual conquests and great meals. I've known people, several gourmands, who will go on and on in the most vivid detail about their best meals, reliving them in their minds and displaying with, no doubt to my mind, the highest satisfaction of those memories. The memories of a good meal or a good romp with a fine woman/man last for a life time for many people.

Now consider this passage from Benatar:

Moreover, the worst pains seem to be worse than the best pleasures are good. Anybody who doubts this should consider what choice they would make if they were offered the option of securing an hour of the most sublime pleasures possible in exchange for suffering an hour of the worst pain possible.

This seems positively false. Some drug addicts will endure long periods of intense misery (some have even sold their own children for example) for brief periods of intense pleasure. Also athletes also must endure a long period of pain, exhaustion and let-downs lasting for many years for the small opportunity to experience a relatively brief period of intense pleasure. I'd wager that the calculus of pleasure versus pain is made worthwhile because of the intensity of the pleasure of succeeding in athletic events at the highest level.

Now consider this passage:

Consider how an injury can be incurred in a split second and the effects felt for life. While it is true that we can also avoid an injury in an instant, we do not gain benefits that are comparable in their magnitude and longevity in a mere moment.

I think this passage ignores the psychological literature showing that even the worst injuries, the kinds that we normally think devastating for all those afflicted in regards to their quality of life such as paralysis and blindness are not as devastating as one may think. People who suffered those harms almost always recover their previous level of life satisfaction and happiness after 2-3 months. People are also remarkably resilient in the loss of their children or spouse or other loved ones recovering previous levels of happiness in only 2-3 months and this is common in all cultures. Here's a good paper detailing the research so far on this topic.

Next, Benatar says:

Second, even when desires are fulfilled, this usually occurs only after the exercise of effort. This means that there is a period of time in which the desire is not yet fulfilled. Finally, when desires are eventually fulfilled, the satisfaction is typically only transitory. Satisfied desires give way to new desires. (For example, one is hungry, eats to satiety, but then becomes hungry again.) Thus a relatively small proportion of life is spent satisfied.

I think the argument here ignores the fact that often, the effort and striving in obtaining a goal or object of desire is pleasurable. The details are complicated but it has been known that the act of willing and the active pursuit of a goal that is considered desrable produces the same neurochemicals as when the goal is achieved. These neurochemicals are similar to cocaine (especially dopamine). Consider a artist at work. The act of working towards the production of a piece of art itself produces pleasure independently of the end result. A child's play also produces pleasure in a similar neurochemical pathway. There is no end result here, just the act itself. Often when we desire and actively pursue a goal, the journey is more meaningful and produces far more pleasure than the end result of obtaining the goal. See this book which covers the dopamine mechanism of desire and desire satisfaction.

I also think that Benatar misses all the ambient pleasures of life most notably expressed by the insights of Nietzsche and Zen monks. When Nietzsche says that even the act of willing bodily muscle movements in doing many humdrum actions produces trace amounts of pleasure, he notices something subtle and truthful. There is a small amount of pleasure for example, even in dish washing and floor sweeping or talking before the experience of the pleasure of a job well done or the end satisfaction of a clean house as many house wives and even Zen Monks have noticed and attested to. These pleasures in performing bodily actions in some humdrum action and of speech add up and may cancel or even surpass the persistent ambient (but also mild) dissatisfaction in not getting most of the things one wants Benatar uses to argue his case.

Empirical psychological literature today also suggests that there are some events that give many people a consistent source of pleasure such as a happy marriage, a good education and good friends. It's the gifts that keeps on giving.

I think in the end, Benatar makes interesting points throughout despite my disagreement to the points he raised above. I only want to show that there are considerations that could be made to show that Benatar's accounting is off and that an accurate accounting may be far closer to break even or even on the positive side for many.