Causing pain or depriving someone of happiness is morally bad in all conceivable hypothetical scenarios. The utilitarian position should never be misrepresented as being “OK” with something like pushing a man in front of a runaway trolley in order to save 5 passengers even if this is the best decision someone could make under those circumstances. Hedonistic utilitarianism would not actually favor killing the 1 to save the 5 simply because more people benefit. The ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number of people’ is a double maxim because maximizing happiness and maximizing the number of happy people are two different goals. There are factors involved that could make killing the 1 worse than letting the 5 die. This could be the case if the 1 was a single mother in her 30s and the 5 were terminally ill senior citizens or if the 1 was kind and compassionate and the 5 were sadistic and cruel (I believe that everyone’s happiness has equal inherent value but people who are kind and compassionate are more instrumentally valuable because they are necessarily more likely to maximize happiness generally and never mind their actually being happier) or even if the 1 had social, political and economic influence that could help many people that the 5 lacked. All other factors being equal the death of 5 people would be even worse than the death of 1. We should be completely demoralized by the idea of killing 1 to save 5 but there’s no valid reason to make a distinction between harming or killing people and allowing them to suffer or die. We should be just as demoralized by the idea of allowing people to suffer or die. Allowing people to die may not be ‘unjust’ since no one is entitled to help but it has the same consequence and when it isn’t reluctantly deemed necessary for the greater good it involves the same lack of empathy. The badness of killing the 1 should be weighed against the badness of allowing the 5 to die. It’s the ultimatum that is cold and harsh, not utilitarian reasoning. The hedonistic utilitarian wants all 6 individuals involved and all sentient beings generally to be free from pain and to experience happiness. The utilitarian would not sacrifice the 1 out of a lack of empathy for him or her or their loved ones who will mourn their death but because (s)he empathizes just as much with the 5 passengers and their loved ones. Sacrificing the interests of some is sometimes necessary for the same reason it’s bad to begin with. If it’s an option and if all other factors are equal the best thing for the utilitarian to do would probably be to sacrifice him or herself instead of anyone else which would let people know that sincere utilitarians are serious about egalitarianism (read : impartiality).
Without arguing specifically for pan-psychism I think I can show that phenomenal consciousness is eternal and written into the very fabric of reality rather than an epiphenomenal consequence of mindless brain activity. For a thing to come into existence, the potential for it’s existence must have existed prior to it’s actuality. That potential can’t exist in ‘nothingness’, the absence of anything can’t produce something because it doesn’t exist. The potential for a table exists in the elements that are rearranged to form a table, a table cannot be created out of nothing. A thing would have to exist in order to produce itself. Matter-energy has always existed in some form or another (contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang is not a theory about the origin of matter-energy, just as evolution is not a theory about the origin of life, and virtual particles do not literally pop into and out of existence. Virtual particles pop into and out of quantum ‘vacuums’ that are filled with fluctuating energy). If subjective experience is numerically identical to objective brain activity, phenomenal consciousness can come into and out of existence because it is only a particular arrangement of preexisting matter and there is no problem of radical emergence. The problem is that unless you deny the very existence of what ‘appears’ to be consciousness, in claiming that subjective experience is really corresponding objective brain activity materialism defies the law of identity. A rock is a rock and a chair is a chair. Even an illusion would be proof of consciousness since an illusion is an experience. I agree with materialists that consciousness is a process, just not a physical one. Internal mental states are not extended in space, they have no mass and can’t be converted into anything that does, and they cannot be observed through sensory perception but clearly they exist. Even if we define ‘physical’ in a way that includes the mental, the latter is a different ‘dimension’ of nature, or reality, than the external world of spatial objects. Since nothing comes from nothing, every moment of experience must come from a preceding moment of experience in an infinite continuum, the past became the present and the present is becoming the future. Consciousness cannot be created or destroyed, it only changes.
Morality is the branch of philosophy that deals with ‘proper behavior, manners, character’. Hedonism as a meta-ethical theory of value implies that hedonistic utilitarianism (which doesn’t require the former) is the desirable normative ethical theory of decision making but good behavior and good character are two separate but related moral concerns. If happiness is inherently good then morally good behavior is behavior that helps to maximize the greatest possible ratio of happiness to suffering in the world, morally good character is an unconditional concern for the experience of pleasure and pain itself regardless of whose pleasure or pain is in question. It would not necessarily be harmful (to anyone other than the sadist, considering the connection between stable, long-term happiness and compassion) to take pleasure in or even just consciously disregard the pain and misfortune of others but it would show morally bad character. A common charge against hedonistic utilitarianism is that it views persons as ‘vessels’ for pleasure and pain but this seems meaningless to me if an experience necessarily involves an experiencer and vice versa and it’s the experiencer who benefits from or is harmed by their happiness or suffering. Happiness is a mental state of being and a being can’t be a ‘vessel’ for their own internal state. I think that (affective) empathy/sympathy/compassion (which I distinguish from emotional attachment) necessarily involves a basic respect for others as equals, at least in terms of viewing them as being equally ‘deserving’ of happiness, which I think value hedonism implies, not in the sense that anyone has rightfully earned happiness or is entitled to it but in the sense that their felt well-being is worth promoting which makes them worthy of unconditional moral concern. If compassion being a form of love and necessarily involving respect is just one interpretation (experience only tells me that pleasure and pain are intrinsically good and bad) and you can genuinely want someone you seriously dislike to experience happiness and to be free from pain then I wouldn’t see anything morally wrong with disliking them, I just think a person would necessarily be happier if they loved and respected all beings. Either way, I don’t think compassion/sympathy can be impersonal. Utilitarians are no more ‘obligated’ to desire or pursue the happiness of others than they are their own, ‘duty’ would not be someone’s basis for doing so if they recognized the objective value of all pleasurable and painful states of mind which would require their using their own personal experience of happiness or suffering as a reference.
I disagree with virtue ethics as a theory of decision making (intellectually, I don’t consider myself to be an ethical person) because I view it as egocentric, in considering the rightness or wrongness of a decision to be based on the agent’s motives or intentions you disregard the needs of the patient which, in my view, is paradoxically not virtuous (sympathetic). Compassionate people aren’t concerned with their being compassionate, what makes them compassionate is their relating to and wanting to alleviate the suffering of *other* people. Nobody would want credit for caring about their own welfare, they do so because they regard it as desirable, I don’t think there is any more moral value in caring about anyone else than there is in caring about yourself. I don’t think harming anyone else is morally worse than harming yourself.
I think something can be known to be true through direct experience or false if it contradicts direct experience or is internally self-contradictory. I think evidence justifies our believing something to be probable or improbable even if it can’t be known. The basic premise of classical logic is the law of non-contradiction. A proposition is logically incoherent if one premise contradicts another. We can know a belief is false apriori if it’s logically incoherent. Logic is the proper use of language and we use it to consistently organize ideas and concepts but being logically coherent doesn’t make a proposition true. With the exception of subjective experience (which I think is an inherent property of the indivisible particles of matter/energy), I literally cannot imagine a non-physical entity or non-physical phenomenon. I have no point of reference as to what non-mental, non-spatial phenomenon could be but that doesn’t rule out possible evidence for the ‘paranormal’. I don’t think an unchanging god who exists beyond time is possible because ‘existing’ is a process and time is a measurement of the duration of processes. I also don’t believe a god who created the universe out of nothing is possible because something can’t be derived from a non-existent absence of anything.
I don’t believe a belief is necessarily worth criticizing just because it is unwarranted or untrue. Beliefs are only worth criticizing to the extent that they cause or justify causing unnecessary suffering or unnecessarily deprive people of happiness. The only thing I believe to be inherently morally criticisable is a conscious disregard for happiness and suffering (qua happiness and suffering).
Marx criticized religion as the opiate of the masses but I don’t see anything wrong with a belief in a compassionate, loving god being a source of comfort and support. Religion has it’s pros and cons but a belief in a god is a good thing to the extent that people are happier or kinder because of it. I do think basing moral decisions on a god’s authority is wrong. I don’t think being an all powerful god would legitimize someone’s commandments or validate their authority. I believe in objective moral truths but I don’t think they’re rooted in a god’s demands or personal desires anymore than in a parent’s, government’s or any other authority figure’s. If there is a god, or gods, I don’t think that humans are morally obligated to obey them. I think the infliction of unnecessary pain, or a conscious disregard for the happiness and suffering of others, is morally wrong because of the nature of happiness and suffering itself and not because it contradicts a god’s will, opinion or nature.