Biological Survival and The Hedonic Response
Ethics is the study of the nature of proper choice and conduct, specifically as choice and conduct affects sentient beings; it is sometimes referred to as moral philosophy. It tries to identify methods for properly choosing actions which are the “best,” “optimum,” most “ethical,” or most “moral” out of the available possible choices; to put this in prescriptive terms, it tries to describe that which one “should” or “ought to” do.
It would be pointless, however, to attempt to prescribe how human beings should make choices in the absence of understanding how they actually do make choices; to ignore how humans actually do make choices is to ignore reality and thus embrace mysticism. The only empiricorational approach is to first understand how humans actually do make choices (including the goal or goals of these choices) and then to examine the possibility of uncovering methods for optimizing this process.
The activities of all sentient beings, i.e., all beings which experience pleasure and pain, are guided by the experience of pleasure and pain, in such a manner that they are driven toward pleasure and away from pain. This fundamental, inescapable drive may be referred to as the “pleasure/pain response” or the “hedonic response.” The hedonic response may be defined as the drive to maximize hedonic value, i.e., to maximize pleasure and minimize suffering.
All biological organisms which can feel pleasure and pain are driven toward pleasure and away from pain. Due to biological evolution via natural selection, those things which tend to enhance survival tend to be biologically associated with pleasure, and those things which tend to hinder survival tend to be biologically associated with pain. Creatures which would find pleasure in contra-survival things, or pain in pro-survival things, would tend to live shorter and have less opportunities to replicate those genetic variations which would give rise to contra-survival pleasure/pain associations. Creatures finding pleasure in pro-survival things and pain in contra-survival things, however, would tend to live longer and therefore have more opportunities to replicate their genetic variations which give rise to pro-survival pleasure/pain associations. It would not take many generations at all before a pro-survival hedonic response was essentially universally present amongst all descendants; there have been billions of years of biological evolution on Earth, so a pro-survival hedonic response is deeply ingrained in essentially all creatures.
It is important to note, however, that immediate sensory pleasures and pains are not and can not be the ultimate criteria of the survival value of an activity or thing. A drug, for example, may induce a great amount of immediate pleasure – even euphoria – but the same drug taken to excess may also lead to overdose and death. Furthermore, there are some individuals who take a sort of “masochistic pleasure” from the experience of certain forms of pain. It can therefore be seen that, while the hedonic response originated as an essentially automatic survival mechanism, there are many situations where survival criteria go beyond the mere reaction to immediate sensory pleasures or pains, to entail evaluations of expected hedonic value over a longer period. In this sense, long-term survival criteria are essentially equivalent to long-term hedonic considerations.
If immediate sensory pleasure and pain were the ultimate criteria of survival, it would never have been necessary for life to evolve beyond the level of the simplest of sensory organisms, for whom survival activities are a result of essentially automatic hedonic response. For conceptually conscious human beings, however, survival activities involve behaviors which are far too complex to be determined merely by automatic hedonic response. Human beings are responsible for optimizing their choices via the intentional conceptual evaluation of options in terms of their long-term survival (or hedonic) value. It is important to recognize that the effective conceptual evaluation of options does not come automatically, but requires the honest, integrated effort of empiricorational thinking.
Free Will, Determinism, and Punishment
The nature and very existence of human free will has long been a topic of philosophical inquiry and debate. In order to coherently discuss this issue, however, it is first necessary to have a solid definition of exactly what one is being referred to by the term. This is important, because free will is commonly used in two very different ways: (1) to indicate will or choice which operates outside of determinism, and (2) to indicate will or choice which is uncoerced. We will demonstrate that, while (1) non-deterministic will is impossible, illogical, non-existent, (2) uncoerced will can and does exist, to some degree at some times.
Determinism is the view that all events occur as a direct result of previously existing causes or conditions. In other words, things don't “just happen,” but always have some cause. A logical corollary to this is the view that, if one knows all relevant facts about the state of a system at one point in time, one could extrapolate the state of that system at any other time, either in the past or in the future.
From the time of Issac Newton until the early 20th century, determinism was the prevailing scientific viewpoint. This view was challenged, however, with the advent of quantum mechanics and its uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states that as certain physical aspects of a thing are known with greater certainty, other aspects a necessarily and inescapably known with less certainty. The classic example of this would be the momentum and position of a particle: if the momentum of a particle is known with great certainty, its position becomes more uncertain, and vice versa. Another manifestation of the uncertainty principle is that certain aspects of a thing are necessarily and fundamentally unknown and are in an actual indeterminate state until that aspect is actually measured, at which point its physical state immediately becomes determinate.
The findings of quantum mechanics therefore lead most scientists to hold that the apparent determinism of the physical universe breaks down at the quantum level. It should be noted, however, that there is much scientific disagreement regarding the proper interpretation of quantum mechanics, i.e., there is much disagreement about what is going on “behind the scenes,” so to speak, which causes quantum phenomena to behave as they do. Because of this, it is entirely possible that there are factors which are not observable but which do precisely determine quantum events.
In 1:3 Metaphysics and Ontology the concept of mathematical psychogenesis was introduced, whereby the mathematical nature of raw consciousness itself causes it to exist as an infinite eternal psychonic plenum. The mathematical and hedonic nature of the psychonic plenum causes it to spontaneously individuate into an infinite and eternal network of individuated nodes of raw consciousness, the psychonic network, which serves as the matrix from which the physical universe emerges. Each of these nodes, or psychons, manifests as an individual Planck unit, the smallest meaningful unit of space-time.
All physical phenomena, including all quantum phenomena, is ultimately the result of the collective activity of all of the psychons which comprise the psychonic network, which operate according to their own mathematical and hedonic nature. The apparent uncertainty of quantum phenomena would vanish if it were possible to know all of the non-local psychonic influences which operate throughout the infinite and eternal psychonic network. This is impossible for many reasons, one of which is simply that there are non-local influences which originate outside of the observable universe, which make them, by definition, unobservable but real. Another reason is that the number of non-local influences is infinite, and it is impossible to calculate the cumulative result of each of these infinite influences in a finite time, using finite brains or computers.
Quantum phenomena will therefore always seem to be effectively uncertain and undetermined, while remaining actually determined by the totality of influences across the infinite and eternal psychonic network. Nothing is undetermined – every effect proceeds from its cause. It could not be otherwise.
Even the process of conscious choice proceeds in a manner which is ultimately deterministic in nature. The pleasure/pain response, i.e., the hedonic response, guides the activities of all organisms which are capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, although it does operate differently depending upon the mental complexity of the organism. Organisms which operate on a very simple purely sensory basis merely react in automatic response to the sensory pleasure or pain of the immediate moment. Perceptually and conceptually conscious entities, on the other hand, make all choices by selecting, from the recognized available options, that option which is mentally associated with pleasure or pain in such a manner that the thought of choosing it provides the chooser with greater hedonic value (greater immediate pleasure or less immediate pain) than the thought of choosing any other option; this is the hedonic response, as applied to both perceptual and conceptual entities.
Perceptually conscious entities (including very young humans) are unable to modify their own mental associations, except in relatively rudimentary ways, and thus their thoughts and activities are automatically determined by biological instinct and social conditioning. At the level of conceptual consciousness, however, it becomes possible for human being to intentionally examine and even modify their own mental integrations and associations, thus potentiating choices and behaviors which are far more complex than those available to lower levels of consciousness. This allows human beings to think and behave beyond both their inherent, inborn biological instincts and their learned, social conditioning.
While human thinking is much more open-ended and complex than that of merely perceptually conscious organisms, this does not mean that it violates the principle of determinism. The human brain, and the mind which it engenders and is precisely correlated with, are subject to all of the same deterministic laws as everything else in the universe. Human will and human choices are inescapably deterministic, as is everything in existence. We do not have non-deterministic free will; non-deterministic free will does not exist. The very concept of any non-deterministic event is ultimately illogical and non-coherent.
There is, of course, the other definition of free will: uncoerced will or choice. In this definition, a choice is considered to be free if one is able to make that choice in the absence of any outside influence which would compel one's choice. A trivial example of such choice might be something like choosing whether to order either chocolate or vanilla ice cream in a restaurant, where all else is equal other than one's own preference for one flavor over the other.
There are other cases, however, where one's choices are not quite so free. Imagine, instead, a situation where one is choosing between a small, simple, and inexpensive ice cream cone, or a large, varied, and very expensive ice cream sundae. In this case, the consideration are more complex. One may really want the more larger and more varied sundae, with nuts, and whipped cream, hot fudge, and “the works,” but may feel that the price is too prohibitive, and therefore a bit coerced financially into ordering the less expensive cone.
There can obviously be more extreme restrictions upon one's uncoerced choice. If one is being ordered to hand over one's money by a mugger while under the very real threat of extreme violence, then one's choice to do anything other than handing over the money is severely limited by the threat. The threat of physical injury or death is a very significant form of coercion.
As the level of coercion or duress in the above cases increases, one experiences a sense of decreasing freedom of choice and a decreasing sense of agency. The fact remains, however, that one does still have the ability to choose from among the various options. In all of these cases the choices are still ultimately determined by the hedonic principle, as it applies to perceptual and conceptual beings. In all the the above cases, then, one still ultimately chooses that option the thought of which is mentally associated with the greatest hedonic value, at the time when one is making the choice.
There can be situations, however, where all possibility of choice is removed. One could be physically imprisoned, for example, forced to live in a cell, wanting desperately to leave, but unable to exercise any choice to do so. The option to leave would simply not exist. Will can only be exercised when options exist. Where there are no options, there is no free will, so with regard to leaving or staying in one's cell, there would be no free will. One might have the option to stand in this or that portion of one's cell, and would therefore still be able to exercise free will regarding that small thing, but would have no free will regarding one's imprisonment.
We do not possess non-deterministic will, but we do possess will itself. The more that one is restricted in the exercise of one's will, the less that one experiences a sense of personal agency, the less one is free to act in accordance with one’s values and goals, and the generally unhappier that one is; conversely, the more that one is free to exercise one's will, the more that one experiences a sense of personal agency, the more one is free to act in accordance with one’s values and goals, and the generally happier that one is. Human happiness therefore depends, at least in part, on the freedom to exercise one's will.
Human will is, at its most free, uncoerced but still strictly deterministic. That very determinism means that, in a very real sense, when one has acted in a certain way in a certain situation, one could not have done otherwise in that exact situation. To give an example, if someone stole something, then it can be rightfully argued that, because our choices are deterministic in nature, they could not have done otherwise in that exact situation. Assuming that this decision to steal was not made under some external threat, but simply because they “wanted to,” this decision was made via free will (in the sense of being uncoerced) while still being made deterministically.
This obviously has implications for punishment: after all, if one's choices are deterministic, and one could not act differently in a situation where one commits some wrong, how could it be just to punish someone for something they could not help but doing? Would it not then be proper, in light of the deterministic nature of choice, to simply forgive wrongs?
The knowledge that some act may be met with a punishment is actually one of the factors which may affect one's deterministic choice. In other words, while one's choices are deterministic, the awareness of the possibility of punishment may very well serve as a factor to deterministically deter one from committing some wrong. This is the sole justifiable purpose for punishment and the threat thereof.
Much preferable to simply threatening and carrying out punishments, however, would be to actually minimize the tendency for individuals to commit punishable wrongs in the first place. This will be dealt with in detail in 1.7 Politics, but we can briefly touch upon it here.
It is first necessary to restrict classifying “crimes” to those things which truly are wrongs which should be punished. Victimless crimes, including but not limited to such things as drug or alcohol use, production, or sale should not in themselves be criminalized. Things which might be collateral to these, however, such as human trafficking or driving while impaired, for example, should be criminalized because of the actual harm they cause or are very likely to cause for others. (There is a great deal of evidence in the very specific case of driving while under the influence of marijuana that there is no significant increase in risk of accident, and hence no real sense in which one could be said to be impaired. While more study needs to be done, if this does prove to be the case, then it seems that this too, should be decriminalized. Driving while under the influence of alcohol, on the other hand, does impair one’s ability to drive and therefore should be criminalized.)
It is also the case that punishment should fit the crime. So-called “white collar” crime, while not violent, often directly affects the lives of hundreds or thousands of victims, whereas stealing from one person directly affects the life of just that one victim. Such things need to be taken into account. There have been far too many cases of rather petty crimes against a single individual being punished quite harshly, including jail time, whereas large-scale white-collar crimes committed from within corporations are met with fines against the corporations with no legal consequences at all against the individuals within the corporation who are actually responsible for the crimes. This is a disparity which must end.
Many crimes are committed by individuals with underlying psychological issues. It is far more just that those with psychological problems should be treated as such, and be given the proper treatment for their condition. This serves to eliminate the cause of the negative behavior, and to change an unhealthy individual into a healthy individual who can be a real value to society, rather than a burden. This is almost always far less costly in both financial and social terms than punishment would be.
Poverty is another factor which is associated with higher rates of crime. This can be addressed in many ways, including structuring society in ways designed to eliminate systemic or structural inequalities, so that opportunities are actually more fairly distributed, instead of being unfairly skewed in favor of those who are already in a position of advantage. This would provide the greatest number of individuals with the greatest access to opportunity, while also creating the largest possible pool of individuals with the greatest possible potential to innovate and advance science, technology, the arts, and society as a whole.
Value Standards and Conscience
Scionics recognizes pleasure, happiness and positive feelings and emotions as the only things of positive intrinsic hedonic value; likewise, pain, unhappiness and negative feelings and emotions are the only things of negative intrinsic hedonic value. Those things which are not of intrinsic hedonic value but which lead to an increase of intrinsic hedonic value are called instrumental values. An instrumental value can often become mentally associated with pleasure over time, such that it becomes pleasurable in its own right.
Value standards are the standards by which one evaluates the degree to which various things can help or hinder the acquisition of intrinsic and instrumental (hedonic) values. One's conscience is the emotional reflection of one's value standards, in relation to one's choices. Conscience is the psychological mechanism which provides the immediate emotional pleasure or pain that is associated with the thought of choosing some option.
Whereas lower-consciousness beings have an essentially automatic standard of value, conceptually conscious beings have the ability to examine and modify their value standards and therefore their conscience. Such examination and modification can proceed essentially non-volitionally, unconsciously, mystically, or unintentionally, or it can be carried out volitionally, intentionally and empiricorationally. It should be obvious that a volitionally, intentionally directed empiricorational approach will be most effective in guiding one in the pursuit and acquisition of hedonic value.
In some ways, the human conscience shares characteristics with the human ability to speak. One is not born with either grammatical language or a conscience, but one is born with the potential for acquiring and developing these over time as one's conceptual mind develops. Human infants can vocalize and communicate such simple things as pleasure and displeasure, just as lower animals can, but they also possess the nascent conceptual faculties and linguistic abilities necessary to eventually acquire any human language as they mature. In a similar fashion, one is not born with a conscience, but eventually develops one in conjunction with, and as a result of, one’s conceptual faculties.
As one develops as a child, one must learn to obey any number of commands or rules, frequently with the promise of some reward or the threat of some punishment. The child desires the reward or fears the punishment, but resents having to bend to the will of an external authority. In other words, children do not like being told what to do, but want to do what they want to do. In order to resolve the psychological conflict between the child’s resentment of the external commands, on the one hand, and the need to comply with them, on the other, the child begins to internalize these commands, i.e., to psychologically integrate them into their conscience as though they actually originated as their own internal desires, rather than from some external authority.
This process of internalization has the psychological effect of causing increasing acceptance of these commands, as they become increasingly experienced as a reflection of one’s own inner will, rather than that of some external authority. When a child is young (assuming the adults around the child are benevolent towards the child) these commands are typically issued in the interest of the child’s safety and well-being. The less that such commands are resented and resisted, and the more they come to be internalized, the more readily will the child carry them out. Thus the child eventually comes to “automatically” carry out various beneficial actions without the need for constant supervision or external commands. Thus the value standards of those around the child become integrated into the child's own conscience.
There can also be a hidden, detrimental aspect to this process, however, due to its largely subconscious nature. In addition to internalizing those value standards which actually promote the child’s well-being, the child can also unknowingly come to internalize other value standards which do not. It is also possible for the child to develop the psychological habit of unquestioningly accepting the value standards of certain external authorities; this habit, if unchecked, may well be carried on into and throughout its adult life, and can be quite dangerous if the value standards of the external authority are not in one's best interest. The dangerous psychological habit of accepting external authority is unfortunately quite prevalent among human beings.
One can avoid the inherent dangers of subconscious value-acceptance and unquestioned authority-acceptance as one begins to mature and develop one’s conceptual faculties. This is not an automatic process, however. It requires one to exert the disciplined, honest effort necessary for the intentional empiricorational examination of the pronouncements and value standards of all external authorities, regardless of the source. It also requires one to do the same with one's own conceptualizations and the judgments of one’s own conscience. In this way, one’s conceptual faculties become fully engaged in the process of choice, potentiating the development of a mature, objective, reality-based conscience, rather than an immature, subjective, blind-faith-in-authority conscience.
The human capacity for free will (of the uncoerced variety, not the non-existent non-deterministic variety) thus extends far beyond the freedom to blindly follow the arbitrary feelings generated by a shadowy, nebulous consciousness and conscience, to the much greater freedom of actually authoring one’s own mind, and one’s own conscience. Thus the heart of Scionics Ethics – and the conscience of the Scion – are not based in the dark world of mysticism, but in the brightly illuminated world of empiricorationalism.
The Guiltless Empiricorational Pursuit of Maximum Hedonic Value
The hedonic response ultimately governs the choices and actions of all conscious, sentient beings, including humans. Hedonic value, in one form or another, is the ultimate and inescapable goal of all action. To deny this is to deny an aspect of human nature and reality itself; to act against this is to act against one's well-being, self-interest and survival.
It might seem to be impossible to act as though hedonic value is not the goal of all action since the hedonic response governs all action, since all choices are made according to the hedonic response. Anti-hedonic action is possible, however, when one has erroneous, mystical, and non-reality-based value standards, which are, in turn, based upon erroneous, mystical, non-empiricorational views of reality. This will lead one to erroneously mentally associate, via the misapplication of one's conceptual faculties, positive hedonic value with the thought of choosing things which are actually of negative hedonic value. This is how the hedonic response, which should normally be pro-survival and pro-hedonic, becomes subverted by mysticism.
One who firmly holds a non-mystical, empiricorational and reality-based view of reality and who holds a corresponding conscience and value standard will naturally and guiltlessly act in ways empiricorationally calculated to maximize one's well-being, survival, and self-interest; in other words, to maximize one's hedonic value. This leads to an important psychological and cognitive principle: the guiltless, empiricorational pursuit of maximum hedonic value. In the next section it will be seen how this is negotiated in the context of society, i.e., in situations where others are involved.
We are limited and fallible beings, and as such we are subject to making occasional errors in judgment. One may calculate some action as being instrumental to one's attainment of hedonic value, but whether because of unforeseen circumstances or simple miscalculation, the action may deliver disvalue instead. Such errors do not make a person “immoral” or “sinful,” but merely fallible; to the contrary, the intentional effort to increase hedonic value is always “moral” and “virtuous,” provided the effort was made in the honest belief that the result would be positive.
Many religions and other schools of thought often erroneously hold various forms of hedonic value to be “sinful” or “wrong.” There is, however, no empiricorational reason to assign a negative label to a positive hedonic. (A classic example of this might be masturbation. Religions often hold this solitary and pleasurable activity as sinful. In reality, however, this is a very natural and normal activity. In adolescents, besides the pleasure of the act itself, this also has the further benefit of providing a safe means for learning about one's sexuality.) In much the same way, many religions and other schools of thought often erroneously hold various forms of hedonic disvalue to be “virtuous” or “right.” There is no empiricorational reason, however, to assign a positive label to a negative hedonic value.
Honest errors in judgment do need to be dealt with and compensated for, but that applies in every aspect of human endeavor, ethics included. Honest effort is always virtuous, and the guiltless empiricorational pursuit of maximum hedonic value requires honest effort; this honest effort tends to be richly rewarded with happiness, success and well-being.
Social Rights and Duties: The Non-aggression Principle
Ethics is fairly simple when only one person is involved or affected by some choice. As multiple people are involved or affected, however, things become more complex. This is largely because the interests of different people are often in conflict. It is because of these conflicts of interest that it is important to identify and optimize empiricorationally valid interpersonal ethical principles.
Individuals naturally strive for personal freedom and uncoerced self-determination; such freedom, for all practical purposes, is a prerequisite to the pursuit of essentially all of one's other goals, and to the maximization of one’s happiness. One can only enjoy freedom and uncoerced self-determination when other individuals refrain from infringing upon one's freedom and self-determination. There is a natural tendency for individuals to be reciprocal in refraining (or not) upon each other's freedom and self-determination, i.e., individuals tend not to aggress upon others who do not aggress upon them, and they do tend to aggress upon others who do aggress upon them. These are all empiricorational facts.
These facts lead to the recognition in Scionics philosophy that if individuals are to live in society and interact with one another, each individual must be accorded as much personal freedom as possible, while also according as much personal freedom as possible to others. This is such a fundamental social principle that we may speak of the “fundamental social right of freedom and self-determination,” and of the “fundamental social duty to refrain from infringing upon the freedom and self-determination of others.” Framed in terms of rights and duties, then, the most fundamental social ethical principle is that (1) one's most fundamental social right is the right of freedom and self-determination, and (2) one's most fundamental social duty is that of respecting (refraining from infringing upon) the freedom and self-determination of others. This specifically means that no individual or group of individuals may ethically initiate force, fraud or coercion against another. This may be expressed in a more colloquial fashion as “Live and let live.” It may also be referred to as the “non-aggression principle,” where “aggression” is defined as “the initiation of force, fraud or coercion against others;” this is the fundamental ethical principle of Scionics. All other rights and duties such as the right to own personal property, for example, spring from these fundamental ones.
It should also be noted that Scionics does not hold rights and duties to be inherent in human beings because some divine being somehow endowed us with them. What we call “rights” are fundamental freedoms, and what we call “duties” are fundamental obligations, which are necessary for the maximization of hedonic value, both for the individual and for society. After all, while rights and duties may be considered to be inalienable in theory, they are not inalienable (or not inviolable) in practice, i.e., social rights are often violated and social duties are often shirked. There is no law of the universe which prevents such violations or shirkings, but if one has the goal of maximizing individual and social hedonic value then this fundamentally requires individuals to be free to be self-determined and to refrain from infringing upon the self-determination of others. We refer to such fundamental requirements as “rights” and “duties.” These rights and duties are real inasmuch as they refer to these very real fundamental requirements.
While the effective or proper practice and relationship of these right and duties is expressed in the non-aggression principle, it is very important to understand that “non-aggression” in this sense is different from “pacifism.” Pacifism holds that one should never use force in any situation at all. The principle of non-aggression, however, does allow for the use of force as a means for self-defense, for example. It also allows for the use of preemptive force as a form of defense against an imminent attack; such preemptive force must be used as sparingly and judiciously as possible, however, due to the natural reciprocity of aggression.
The non-aggression principle and the principle of the guiltless, empiricorational pursuit of maximum hedonic value are non-contradictory and complementary principles. These two fundamental principles can be integrated into one “meta-principle” which encompasses psychological and cognitive aspects, as well as ethics – the “meta-principle” of Scionics ethics, which may be referred to as the “guiltless hedonic non-aggression principle”: “the guiltless, empiricorational and non-aggressive pursuit of maximum hedonic value.” The guiltless hedonic non-aggression principle integrates the optimum ethical framework for both the individual and society, with the proper psychological attitude regarding one's ethical actions.
It should be noted that violations of the rights of others are very infrequently perpetrated by individuals who are firmly committed to a disciplined, empiricorational approach to reality. One who has fully internalized the empiricorational value standard embodied in the non-aggression principle very rarely need to consider social repercussions in order to refrain themselves from violating the rights of others; such violations, whether perpetrated against others or against oneself, wold be anathema. A society of such individuals (a society of Scions) would therefore naturally be highly egalitarian and non-hierarchical in nature, and largely free of instances of exploitation or aggression; to be non-egalitarian and hierarchical would be to place some groups or individuals over others, enabling the abuse and exploitation of those who find themselves in the lower position, which would, again, be anathema among Scions.
Love and Compassion
It may at first seem that the pursuit of maximum hedonic value, i.e., self-interest, would lead one to pursue hedonic value exclusively for oneself. While this certainly can be the case at times, it is also quite common, however, for humans to make choices intended to provide hedonic value for others, simply because they want to or because it just feels good or right to do so. This leads directly to the concepts of love and compassion.
Love is a deep feeling of affection and attachment towards another, whereas compassion is a sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Both of these are tied to the hedonic response; like the hedonic response, they also originated from biological evolution via natural selection, and are coupled with and extended by our conceptual faculties. Both love and compassion cause one to derive hedonic value for oneself from the hedonic value experience by another.
We are finite, limited beings, with limited resources and abilities. Thus while in principle one might love or have compassion for all beings, and want to do that all one can for all beings, in practice one is limited as to where one can focus one’s resources and efforts. One may radiate universal love, but one's limited resources and abilities dictate that the application of one's love, i.e., one's resources and efforts, must not be indiscriminately distributed if they are to have the maximum beneficial effect; for this, one must judiciously allocate one's resources and efforts.
It should be noted that the non-aggression principle of “Live and let live,” i.e., the principle of refraining from the initiation of fraud, force or coercion, is the minimum requirement of ethics. While it may be considered “more ethical” to go beyond this principle to perform acts of altruism, charity and the like, this is not an ethical requirement, but an ethical option, albeit generally a very admirable option; such acts should be solely based upon voluntary personal choice and should never be forced by the compulsion of others. To compel such acts would itself be an ethical violation, although to encourage such acts would be ethically noble.
Social structures can be devised in which the interests of the individual tend to be largely in harmony with the interests of others. Ideally, this would be provide every individual with the greatest possible freedom to pursue their own interests, as well as the greatest possible opportunity to actually achieve them, with minimal conflict and maximum compatibility with the interests of others. Such ideas will be explored further in 1.7 Politics.
Hedonism, Stoicism, and Buddhism
Hedonism may be thought of as being a particular “hedonic orientation.” This orientation entails the recognition that the hedonic response is the ultimate driving force behind all choice, as well as the acceptance of the principle that one should strive to maximize hedonic value. Hedonism is often contrasted with the hedonic orientation of Stoicism, which entails embracing an attitude of indifference to pleasure and pain.
The naive, narrow-scope view of these two hedonic orientations is that they stand in opposition to one another. A more fully-informed, wide-scope view, however, reveals that while the primary focus of each of these orientations is different, their ultimate objectives are exactly the same.
One is not a Stoic because one dislikes pleasure or enjoys pain. One is a Stoic because the long-term result of practicing an attitude of indifference to pleasure and pain (as Stoicism prescribes) is to generally reduce one's suffering in those situations where some pain cannot be avoided or some pleasure cannot be attained. The un-Stoic mental habit of constantly reacting against unavoidable pains or discomforts, or constantly yearning for unattainable pleasures, only serves to increase one's overall suffering. Likewise, the mental habit of focusing on cultivating an acceptance of one's here-and-now experience (as also prescribed by Stoicism) serves to increase one's enjoyment of life in general.
In all these things, the Stoic approach actually has much in common with Buddhism, which likewise involves practicing an attitude of indifference to pleasure and pain, and focusing upon and accepting one’s here-and-now experience. Unlike Stoicism, however, a central feature of Buddhism is meditation, of various types. Over time, the regular practice of meditation can serve to teach one about the workings of one’s own mind and to subtly change the way that one’s mind functions in beneficial ways, including increasing one’s acceptance of here-and-now experience.
Both Stoicism and Buddhism can be interpreted, not as a negations of hedonism, but as pathways to a fuller or higher realization of the hedonistic goal of the maximization of hedonic value. Hedonism is the recognition of the reality of the hedonic response which lies behind all choice, and of the simple logic behind the goal of maximizing hedonic value. Stoicism and Buddhism may then be viewed as higher-order (or more “enlightened”) methods for pursuing and maximizing hedonic value by the seemingly paradoxical rejection of this pursuit as it is conventionally understood.
In 1.4 MODES OF CONSCIOUSNESS the various modes of conscious relation describe how one's experience is shaped by the manner in which one processes (roughly speaking) the relationship between self and other. The Scionics Institute has developed a Scio-Buddhist framework, in order to (among other things) facilitate the transition of one's mode of conscious relation from driven, to loving, to observational, and ultimately to unitary. This Scio-Buddhist framework draws very heavily from both Buddhism and Stoicism. The distinguishing feature of Scio-Buddhism, however, is that it accepts none of the mysticisms traditionally associated with Buddhism and Stoicism, instead replacing them with the pure empiricorationality of Scionics.