There’s an interesting phenomena I’d like to examine. Namely that it seems that people by-enlarge value and yearn for happiness in generally speaking “good” people as opposed to un-good people. That is not to say that we cannot and do not wish universal happiness and lack of suffering for everyone; for this trait is found in the most enlightened and compassionate of beings. But we specifically wish good things for people who have certain traits, and these traits are the ones that we instinctually assign to the people who we assign as “good” – and in the process implicitly define what a good person is.
A good person is someone who is considerate of the welfare of others. There are many moral conceptions in ethical philosophy obviously, but generally speaking, ignoring the specifics of intellectual construction, people innately value those who consider other beings (human or non-human) in their deliberations and actions. A bad person than, or at-least an “un-good” or “non-good” person, is someone who pursues only his or her own wishes, and typically for the pursuit of their own sensual desires. They naturally pursue their own pleasure, for they can feel their own pleasure of their body when they cannot feel the pleasures and pains of other beings.
This could seemingly be a problem for Utilitarianism, for within Utilitarianism there is the implicit understanding that what matters is not the ethical “goodness” of a being, but simply how much pleasure and pain a being can feel. All creatures should suffer as little as possible; and feel as good as possible if such a thing; but because such things are not possible we should act within the realm of possibility to attain the best of all possible worlds. So is there a tension here? And if there is, which one is incorrect? I hold that there is in-fact no tension, or rather, no contradiction between the Utilitarian view that all suffering is intrinsically bad (though suffering that prevents greater suffering is ethically good) and all pleasure is intrinsically desirable (except in the sense that it will later produce pain or prevent greater pleasures from occurring for one’s self or others) and the view or innate tendency we have for “good” people in particular to be happy.
It is the good person who considers others as well as himself or herself and therefore is less likely to delight in the sensual pleasures. Because these are the things that people display and demonstrate as the barometer of success and happiness, people often perceive good people as less happy or enjoying life less than “non-good” people – the standard trope of “nice guys finishing last.” Though the case is that good people neither necessarily enjoy life less or more. Happiness comes from within. It is something that can be brought about from external delights and stimulation but ultimately the greatest joys and the deepest senses of fulfillment and satisfaction of being comes from one’s own temperament and demeanor as Schopenhauer points out in his Wisdom of Life. Good people, when they focus on the state-of-being of others can, though are not necessarily, made happy from their own goodness, and as good people who pursue the sensual realm of being less they are more likely to, though not necessarily do, enjoy the higher pleasures of art, science and philosophy. The two are in no way necessary, or indefinite links to the other but there is a trend in my mind of those who have moral concern for others and those who at-least recreationally enjoy the “nobler pleasures” as opposed to the purely sensual ones of the appetites.
Because we know that good people are concerned for others, and act in a way that makes others less likely to suffer, we value goodness. And we extrapolate that if everyone in the world were this way there would be far-less suffering, which is an intrinsically better position to be in; not only this, the decreasing of suffering is the only way to properly gauge any improvement in any situation, though pleasure is perhaps a secondary barometer. Because we want everyone in the world to be good, and we instinctually through our own experience realize the mechanism of human motivation and being (that people behave in a way that they find will bring them to happiness – if they are concerned with themselves – and that happiness is intrinsically valuable) we wish happiness for good people both for the reasons that we want the people who are good to enjoy life and be rewarded for their goodness, and because we want to see good people happy as both incentive for others to become good and for there to be some semblance of fairness or justice in life.
Now this may seem to be in contradiction with Utilitarianism, but I don’t think it necessarily is. As long as the Utilitarian acknowledges that good people are more likely to act in a way that they would ethically approve of, it is justifiable within their framework to emphasize or focus on the happiness or state of being of those people who are acting in a moral way as opposed to those who are not – once again, as long as it can be demonstrated consequentially that focusing on good people’s happiness will lead to a better world than focusing on everyone’s happiness equally. And this is only one’s happiness.
When it comes to suffering, we don’t like witnessing, if we are moral, anyone suffering, but particularly good people. We hope that goodness will be, or rather that it should be, a shield from life’s misfortunes because just as we want the good person to be happy, so we want the good person to not suffer. However, even though we want the good person to be happy and not suffer more so than the bad person, that does not mean in every way we give more concern to good people than bad. In some ways for example, a person might be made bad by things that happen outside themselves, things that we may have more control over than they do. So it my, to the Utilitarian, be a better usage of one’s time to help the suffering of people in jail (some of whom are loosely speaking “bad people”) than the nobel-prize winning doctor who is good and has everything he needs in life. Just as it is the poor in life that are of need of capital and not the rich, so a good man who is happy has everything he needs while the yearning man who focuses on the appetites will never have enough and will always be unhappy. Though there are many ways we can help bad people, the form of suffering I mentioned is one that largely someone (whether good or bad) must change within themselves; just as we cannot pump the blood of another heart, so we cannot make the decision to act on impulse or focus on nobler things of another person.
Though I referenced that we should be focusing on suffering, so pains regardless of someone being good are bad, and because of what pain and poor conditions do to people those who are more-likely than otherwise to be bad, in some ways, focusing on a bad person’s happiness is unnecessary and in some ways it’s a waste of time. The bad person, having no concern for others, is already spending all of their time and efforts to be happy, while the good person is spending some of his or her time considering others, and is, if not helping others, at-least deviating from action which they find likely to bring pain or reduce the happiness of others. So it might seem that not only should we reinforce the behavior traits and choices of good people, but we should help those who spend some time or energy in consideration of others rather than themselves. Just as we should give money to those who are kind and giving over (all-other-things-being-equal) as opposed to someone who spends all of their money selfishly on themselves.
It also can be seen in some ways at-least futile or counter-productive to help a bad person to be happy. Because to the extent or in the way they are bad they naturally think of themselves and their own pleasures, rather than the forms of happiness that are based on higher and ethical impulses. They may be vane, and we may be able to help them to enjoy life by giving them praise or money for drink for example, but ultimately these pleasures based on the appetites and the ego are vicious and destructive. They are short-lived and create far-more pain through yearning and dissatisfaction than they create pleasure when or if the proper conditions of them are met. Like an addict, those who are vane are never satisfied with the admiration they receive, but are always burdened when their frail egos and sense of self-worth are bruised.
Also I would argue that the notion of justice I presented is consequentialist while still ignoring aspects of “moral retribution.” It is not that we want to see bad people suffer. Suffering tends to deteriorate rather than improve one’s condition. And no one deserves to suffer. But some, in some sense, deserve happiness or a more fulfilled state of being more so than others through their mental state and actions. Those creatures, who have a state that is likely to lead to actions that either helps, or at-least does not help suffering (evil), are those who should be happy both because happiness is intrinsically valuable, and because when good people are happier the world is likely to be in better shape than if the exact same amount of enjoyable mental-states were to exist on Earth, but they were either distributed randomly or given only to apathetic or vicious people.
As Hume points out in his moral philosophy, the fact that there is an ingrained human impulse between benevolence and gratitude and between compassion and love shows that we inherently value what we call goodness and prefer good things for good people as opposed to the same good for everyone. Now that is not to say that bad people are beyond help or that they should not be considered morally. But they are in one way beyond help to the extent they remain bad. Though they cannot choose what nature they are, they are their nature and cannot be helped as a good person might be as long as they continue making their choices. Though rehabilitation can be offered to drug addicts, ultimately it is up to them to make the choices that will help them be the people it is preferable to be, and to live the lives it is preferable to live.
We need to focus on goodness, because it is goodness that has concern for suffering, over individual pleasure, and it is suffering which is the only thing which has significance innately in this universe. Suffering is evil and the lack of evil is far-more important than the welfare of good. Good is only good because it can thwart evil; goodness thwarts evil (suffering) rather than mere pleasure, because while pleasure in the moment feels good it in no way individually or socially reliably creates the conditions necessary to thwart all the innumerable ways in which we and other creatures can feel the Evil of Existence which is pain. Something that abounds everywhere due-to lack of goodness and the general tragedy that is this existence.