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Axestopper Pete

Means vs. Ends

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Axestopper Pete

I'm not talking about the whole "the ends justify the means" claim here, but rather a somewhat more psychological view on goals.

Suppose that the utilitarian claim - happiness is the sole/greatest good, and the maximisation of such should thus be the intended goal of all our actions - is correct, and everybody knows it. Could this belief in utilitarianism potentially result in furthering the state of society from maximal happiness? Because I have noticed that often when we consider consequences of actions we tend only to think of the immediate or (as I would phrase it) 'direct' consequences, rather than 'indirect' consequences that are not so closely linked to the action.

An example occurred in one of my philosophy tutorials. We were given the decision of how to justly (the topic at the time was Rawls but we were drawing on Mill a lot at the time as well) distribute pieces of the 'pie of happiness' (quantity of pie = quantity of happiness) to various people in different examples. One such example was serving it out to a mentally disabled person and a murderer. I initially suggested less pie should go to the murderer and, so as to ensure all the pie was served (thus no happiness wasted) more goes to the mentally disabled person (who probably has a lower quality of life anyway).

My reasoning was the same as why I think punishment is necessary in a just society: negative consequences for criminals are the only way of (or are minimum sufficiency for) enforcing laws, since if there are no negative consequences for somebody considering breaking set laws they have no reason not to do so. Thus if you murder somebody and you are given just as much happiness if you hadn't murdered them, then there is absolutely no reason why you should not break the law and murder people if you want to.

However somebody else in the tutorial suggested that half the pie of happiness should go to the mentally disabled person and half to the murderer, for the sake of fairness. For the reason given above I disagree with this distribution.

But what I think is the key difference between the way I was thinking and the way the other person was thinking was that whereas the other person was thinking specifically in terms of the situation, I was thinking in a broader, more societal context. Though it's a bit ambiguous as to which way we were supposed to be thinking, given that the overarching topic was social justice I thought the broader context, including the nature of punishment and incentives, should be considered. So personally I think the other person was making an error of judgment by not considering the wider context which would have much more significant (and more negative) consequences in terms of happiness and pain.

Earlier in the course, it was noted that John Stuart Mill writes in his book Utilitarianism that rights do not exist (I think?). Yet he also wrote in On Liberty how personal liberty was the sole right (or something to that effect). Thus it appears he is being inconsistent. In an essay I wrote I suggested that Mill perhaps considers liberty to be the means to acquiring happiness (the end). Thus, when he says we are obliged to do the thing that maximises liberty, he is assuming that is sufficient to maximise happiness: for all intents and purposes we may as well consider liberty and happiness the same thing.

But there are significant ways in which we regard happiness and liberty in different ways. I wonder if, perhaps, were we distributing the 'pie of liberty' in the tutorial, the other person would have instead gone with my suggestion and proposed we give more pie to the mentally disabled person (who probably doesn't get much freedom) and less to the murderer (whom we would consider a danger to the public), purely because they would have been thinking about it in a different way.

Since it seems somewhat absurd to suggest that we apply philosophical rigour in most/all of our moral decisions (given that we may not be able to in some situations, not to mention required skill - not everybody studies moral philosophy :P), perhaps it is more pragmatic that a society should value a certain 'means' value (such as liberty as Mill seems to see it) over an 'end' value (like happiness as Mill and other utilitarians see it) with the goal of actually promoting the latter more than we would otherwise?

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borrissimo

do you know everything about the murderer and the handicapped person? could the handicapped person be a criminal? could the murderer be handicapped?

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Zerο

In the case of the pie example, people need to understand that there's a line between practicality and fairness. Using a similar example, assuming the mentally handicapped person is so at a severe level, should they be allowed to vote like a normal person? That'd be the fair option, but it's not practical at all since it's unlikely they understand what stances their choices stand for (not that I'm implying most voters are well informed - they aren't). Likewise, I'd agree with you in the case of the criminal/handicap scenario.

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`Silver

I think of it this way:

Equality_Justice.jpg

I'm in favour of justice over equality. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, I'm more inclined to grant more happiness to a disabled person who never hurt anyone than a murderer. Of course, things might change depending on the circumstances. For example, if the murderer has killed for self-defense, I'd likely give them both half of the pie. Other circumstances may also bring me to want to give more pie to the murderer than the disabled person.

Plus, the main problem I have with utilitarianism is that there's the implied supposition that happiness is the best thing anyone could hope for. It's not true. Some people care more about things in life other than happiness. I care more about emotional stability and balance myself, even if it means missing out on part of the positives, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

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Woodworker1968

When I read the title of this thread, I immediately thought of the way some people seek out "fun" as if it was a destination rather than a journey.

Or as Butt-head would say to Beavis, "huh huh, we're there, dude".

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Zerο

I think of it this way:

Equality_Justice.jpg

I'm in favour of justice over equality. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, I'm more inclined to grant more happiness to a disabled person who never hurt anyone than a murderer. Of course, things might change depending on the circumstances. For example, if the murderer has killed for self-defense, I'd likely give them both half of the pie. Other circumstances may also bring me to want to give more pie to the murderer than the disabled person.

Plus, the main problem I have with utilitarianism is that there's the implied supposition that happiness is the best thing anyone could hope for. It's not true. Some people care more about things in life other than happiness. I care more about emotional stability and balance myself, even if it means missing out on part of the positives, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

See, this is that practicality thing I was referring to.

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Axestopper Pete

I think you all may have misunderstood my post :P Though I can't blame you, so much of it focused on the examples, and I wrote it at about 1 am and was feeling very excited at the time. I'm not advocating utilitarianism nor the choice I made for the pie example (though I still stand by my choice there), but was rather discussing those to clarify my point (which I think I may have failed at).

The real question I wanted answers for was this little bit right at the end:

Since it seems somewhat absurd to suggest that we apply philosophical rigour in most/all of our moral decisions (given that we may not be able to in some situations, not to mention required skill - not everybody studies moral philosophy :P), perhaps it is more pragmatic that a society should value a certain 'means' value (such as liberty as Mill seems to see it) over an 'end' value (like happiness as Mill and other utilitarians see it) with the goal of actually promoting the latter more than we would otherwise?

Basically, the argument I want to investigate is:

In-depth (and I know that's subjective) philosophical consideration of significant moral issues on a regular basis for a society is unfeasible,

and

Thinking in terms of primary or 'end' values (the example presented being happiness from the utilitarian perspective, though it could really be anything) in a depth-lacking way leads to failing to validate that value unacceptably often,

therefore

Certain secondary or 'means' values (the example presented being liberty as I suggested Mill sees it) should be pursued instead for the sake of better validating the primary or 'end' value (in this example happiness) without depth of thought.

In other words, the hypothesis is that by believing wrongly in what is good, we are better at getting what is actually good than by believing rightly in what is good.

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`Silver

I'm confused. What's your point, Axe?

I believe both the ends and the means should be considered equally. On a general level, I think intention matters more than the result, but if a righteous end is pursued with malicious means, it's not a given that I will support it and deem it rightful. Two simple examples: I think of Robin Hood as a hero, and of Light Yagami as a megalomaniac serial killer.

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Axestopper Pete
I'm confused. What's your point, Axe?

In terms of means and ends, I'm not talking about actions in situations (by which I mean the more common usage of the terms 'means and ends'), I'm talking about general values (like happiness, liberty, equality, etc) that we prioritise (or not) when forming decisions as to what action to take. The topic is not so much "what's the right thing to do", but rather "what's the right way to figure out the right thing to do".

Does that help?

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`Silver

Yes it does, thanks. :)

Priority-wise... I doubt there's a way to establish an absolute, universal order even for people who prefer one thing over the other. I do value freedom and respect the most, though. I guess justice is also, if not on top, quite close to getting there.

It's difficult for me to talk about it in abstract terms though. I tend to evaluate and judge both my and other people's actions on a case-by-case basis, since my opinions may vary greatly given certain circumstances.

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averylongwalk

I think you all may have misunderstood my post :P Though I can't blame you, so much of it focused on the examples, and I wrote it at about 1 am and was feeling very excited at the time. I'm not advocating utilitarianism nor the choice I made for the pie example (though I still stand by my choice there), but was rather discussing those to clarify my point (which I think I may have failed at).

The real question I wanted answers for was this little bit right at the end:

Since it seems somewhat absurd to suggest that we apply philosophical rigour in most/all of our moral decisions (given that we may not be able to in some situations, not to mention required skill - not everybody studies moral philosophy :P), perhaps it is more pragmatic that a society should value a certain 'means' value (such as liberty as Mill seems to see it) over an 'end' value (like happiness as Mill and other utilitarians see it) with the goal of actually promoting the latter more than we would otherwise?

Basically, the argument I want to investigate is:

In-depth (and I know that's subjective) philosophical consideration of significant moral issues on a regular basis for a society is unfeasible,

and

Thinking in terms of primary or 'end' values (the example presented being happiness from the utilitarian perspective, though it could really be anything) in a depth-lacking way leads to failing to validate that value unacceptably often,

therefore

Certain secondary or 'means' values (the example presented being liberty as I suggested Mill sees it) should be pursued instead for the sake of better validating the primary or 'end' value (in this example happiness) without depth of thought.

In other words, the hypothesis is that by believing wrongly in what is good, we are better at getting what is actually good than by believing rightly in what is good.

I'm not so sure believing wrongly or rightly would actually be considerate to overall what is good in the first place. Personally I see no 'good' or 'evil' and certainly no 'right' or 'wrong'; all four can be said to be a product of justifying our actions, and really just a consensus opinion about actions at any point in history. However, to decide what is 'right' or 'wrong', those making the decision must be considerate to all the circumstances involved. The way I see it, picking a side already shapes the brain to see it only in a positive or negative light and will only construct or add weight to new information that shapes this (+/-) light.

The way I solve problems is gathering information at a neutral setting and if I lack enough understanding about one view point, I fake the opposite stance in a debate. By faking an opposition, and paying more attention to not what is said but how they say it, brings about the mechanics involved about how to understand it in a previously unknown way; while maintaining neutrality this is the best way to view ambiguous or broad topics, like 'right' and 'wrong' actions. This also distinguishes between (you and defender) biases and someone's translation errors between thoughts and words.

Judgements in decisions (whether easy/simple or hard/complex) have to weigh in on a scale with a neutral set point (accurate measurement). Understanding (complete measurement) needs translation scrutiny on sides lacking appropriate weight, in order to gather the necessary information for a complete accurate judgement. Otherwise the scale tips and misjudgment ensues based on incomplete clarity or biased opinions, which isn't fair at all and not actual justice (moral, self, social, etc.). We are only human and as such cannot completely understand anything, without weighed emotions, but we certainly can get close enough for today's sake (if we allow ourselves to).

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Axestopper Pete
I'm not so sure believing wrongly or rightly would actually be considerate to overall what is good in the first place. Personally I see no 'good' or 'evil' and certainly no 'right' or 'wrong'; all four can be said to be a product of justifying our actions, and really just a consensus opinion about actions at any point in history. However, to decide what is 'right' or 'wrong', those making the decision must be considerate to all the circumstances involved. The way I see it, picking a side already shapes the brain to see it only in a positive or negative light and will only construct or add weight to new information that shapes this (+/-) light.
The way I solve problems is gathering information at a neutral setting and if I lack enough understanding about one view point, I fake the opposite stance in a debate. By faking an opposition, and paying more attention to not what is said but how they say it, brings about the mechanics involved about how to understand it in a previously unknown way; while maintaining neutrality this is the best way to view ambiguous or broad topics, like 'right' and 'wrong' actions. This also distinguishes between (you and defender) biases and someone's translation errors between thoughts and words.
Judgements in decisions (whether easy/simple or hard/complex) have to weigh in on a scale with a neutral set point (accurate measurement). Understanding (complete measurement) needs translation scrutiny on sides lacking appropriate weight, in order to gather the necessary information for a complete accurate judgement. Otherwise the scale tips and misjudgment ensues based on incomplete clarity or biased opinions, which isn't fair at all and not actual justice (moral, self, social, etc.). We are only human and as such cannot completely understand anything, without weighed emotions, but we certainly can get close enough for today's sake (if we allow ourselves to).

That's more or less my own view on judgment as well (though I tend to get excitable about it which hinders the process :P). It does, however, come into conflict with the first premise in the argument I presented:

In-depth (and I know that's subjective) philosophical consideration of significant moral issues on a regular basis for a society is unfeasible,

Assuming that premise is true (the description you provided of your judgment and problem solving seems pretty in-depth to me) it is probably implausible that most/all of society should use that method of judgment and solving problems. So perhaps we can circumvent this issue of complicated thought processing by establishing key values we strive for as a community. However as in the example I presented in my first post, I think people, holding certain values, may easily end up failing to get results that are 'good' in terms of that value, because they do not think their choices through by using a method such as the one you described. And so this thread is about trying to circumvent that issue :blink:

But admittedly, it is an insanely complicated issue, because we'd not only have to agree on what value(s) we're striving for as a community (and even using rigorous thought processes we could still be wrong about what value(s) is ideal for the community), but also what 'fake' value to make people value in order to better get the real value, and whether that would really work.

So continuing with the happiness example (even though SylveonKitsune expressed disagreement with that, for what I think are good reasons), what could we think about acquiring instead of happiness to better acquire happiness? Wisdom? A certain chemical reaction in our brains? Smiling? Good health? Good education? Generosity? Balance?

No wait, I have the solution: we must value clarity of meaning and rigorous thought processes! Okay that was kind of a joke, but it actually doesn't sound bad really...

To return to your first point which I kind of ignored initially, I am making an underlying assumption here that beliefs can affect thought (or lack of it :P) and action, and hence results. Though what is good is subjective, I think it can be concluded that some things are healthier for individuals or groups, or perhaps balance them or bring more happiness or whatever which I think can be justly thought of as things to strive for (and perhaps we could afford to make a bit of a leap in logic to calling that good?). I think it could be said that one may believe rightly or wrongly when trying to acquire these goals. At least, that's what I meant when I said it that way.

Yes it does, thanks. :)

Priority-wise... I doubt there's a way to establish an absolute, universal order even for people who prefer one thing over the other. I do value freedom and respect the most, though. I guess justice is also, if not on top, quite close to getting there.

It's difficult for me to talk about it in abstract terms though. I tend to evaluate and judge both my and other people's actions on a case-by-case basis, since my opinions may vary greatly given certain circumstances.

If you were to value freedom, respect, and to an extent justice, and consistently try to get these things through your actions, do you think that you could better acquire them by valuing other things entirely? :P

And I don't blame you about the abstract stuff; I'm finding this a confusing topic myself (especially considering that people can't understand my posts), and for all I know it's a completely bullshit idea, but I want to give a go at exploring it out of curiosity.

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`Silver

Don't get me wrong Axe, I still think it's fun to speculate about (otherwise I wouldn't be posting in the first place :P).

However, you do make a point here, although I'm not sure it was willful or not:

So continuing with the happiness example (even though SylveonKitsune expressed disagreement with that, for what I think are good reasons), what could we think about acquiring instead of happiness to better acquire happiness? Wisdom? A certain chemical reaction in our brains? Smiling? Good health? Good education? Generosity? Balance?

It's not just what we seek, it's also why we seek it. In a way, one could say that my pursuit of balance will make me happier, so I'm still seeking happiness, but in a different way. I don't feel like that. I feel like the state of elation and euphoria associated with the feeling of happiness is completely foreign, and in some ways even antithetic, compared to the balance I want to reach. You can't compare a neutron with a proton.

However, defining happiness is hard, as it probably doesn't mean the same thing for everyone, nor does it come in the same form for all individuals. This is one of the main reasons why I think pursuing the generalised, catch-all form of happiness would, paradoxically, make a lot less people happy than envisioned.

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Axestopper Pete
It's not just what we seek, it's also why we seek it. In a way, one could say that my pursuit of balance will make me happier, so I'm still seeking happiness, but in a different way.

Isn't that basically what this whole thread is about? :P And, as you see it, it was indeed an accidental point.

I feel like the state of elation and euphoria associated with the feeling of happiness is completely foreign, and in some ways even antithetic, compared to the balance I want to reach.

Could you perhaps say you are looking for contentment, or some other form of 'quiet' happiness, through balance? I would be willing to suggest, at least, that if you were to acquire your goal that would be satisfying in at least some way, and I consider that a form of happiness.

Though in terms of the different forms of happiness (or 'positive emotion' I sometimes like to refer to it all as) I think satisfaction is an odd one out, because if one is trying to validate their own identity as a negative person (e.g. they are depressed or are excessively cynical) then it would bring them satisfaction to make themself unhappy, because that would validate their identity.

However, defining happiness is hard, as it probably doesn't mean the same thing for everyone, nor does it come in the same form for all individuals. This is one of the main reasons why I think pursuing the generalised, catch-all form of happiness would, paradoxically, make a lot less people happy than envisioned.

Good point. A certain sort of sadistic pleasure tends to be popular (e.g. ancient Roman circuses or my brother is amused by seeing other people stuck in traffic and failing at things). Not to mention there seems to be an increasing modern thing of getting amusement out of everything, including serious stuff (for example, Anthony Jeselnik parodying the death of a guy killed by a great white shark). And those are only the more extreme examples; if one person values active excitement and another placid contentment and it does not occur to one or both that the other person is happy with their own way then they could easily come into conflict through attempting to help one another (off topic, but this is a major reason why I really don't like the golden rule).

Actually, that brings up an interesting way of looking at this issue. Suppose understanding one another is an 'end' value; I can easily see it as being very important at the least. The golden rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you - could be considered a 'means' value (or rather rule) to get this end value, as it's basically saying "put yourself into their shoes". though it does manage to completely miss the idea that people can be different. So to me at least it's a failed attempt at using a means value to validate an end value.

Perhaps understanding others could be a means value? It doesn't seem like all that difficult a concept to me, perhaps difficult in practice, but if a whole community valued it, then it could well result in great harmony; possibly balance between community and individual needs.

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`Silver

See Axe, I can't prove you wrong when you say I am searching for "a form of happiness", although you also can't prove yourself right... because when it comes down to human feelings, definitions are extremely arbitrary. What is a state of happiness to me may be something entirely different to you. What I do want is live my life the way I see fit (as I guess everyone else wants!). On top of that, I want to manage my time on Earth in a way that makes me leave the planet with a sensation of satisfaction and accomplishment. This is what most people call happiness. I don't. I have experienced happiness before, and it was radically different from what I experience now, and what I could possibly experience in the future.

For what it's worth, I consider the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" supposed-to-be golden rule incorrect. It strikes me as selfish, as it 'objectivises' the individual's definition of what is right, in a way. Because that's basically what you do when you treat others the same way you want to be treated. Not everyone wants to be reserved the same treatment, there's no such archetype.

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Axestopper Pete
For what it's worth, I consider the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" supposed-to-be golden rule incorrect. It strikes me as selfish, as it 'objectivises' the individual's definition of what is right, in a way. Because that's basically what you do when you treat others the same way you want to be treated. Not everyone wants to be reserved the same treatment, there's no such archetype.

I think that's a really good way to put it, actually. I'll remember that.

See Axe, I can't prove you wrong when you say I am searching for "a form of happiness", although you also can't prove yourself right... because when it comes down to human feelings, definitions are extremely arbitrary. What is a state of happiness to me may be something entirely different to you. What I do want is live my life the way I see fit (as I guess everyone else wants!). On top of that, I want to manage my time on Earth in a way that makes me leave the planet with a sensation of satisfaction and accomplishment. This is what most people call happiness. I don't. I have experienced happiness before, and it was radically different from what I experience now, and what I could possibly experience in the future.

Do you think it is plausible that what would bring you a sensation of satisfaction and accomplishment is different from what would bring most/all other people a sensation of satisfaction and accomplishment? For the sake of not wasting posts, I'm going to hypothesise your answer is 'yes' here (I think it's plausible anyway), and bring up a new example.

Suppose an individual (whether or not it is you personally is irrelevant to our purposes) wanted a sensation of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of life. Suppose they will achieve this if they do some great deed, such as ending all poverty, and they know it. So they might go about the business of ending all poverty.

Suppose another individual will get a sensation of satisfaction and accomplishment once they know they have healthy grandchildren. So they might get a partner, have children, bring these children up in what they see as a healthy way, then make sure (or just hope) they get partners and have children and, because they brought them up right, these new children will be psychologically and physically healthy.

These two individuals seem to have very different values. Are there any similarities between them beyond "acquiring a sensation of satisfaction and accomplishment" that could also be acceptably generalised across other life goals?

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`Silver

:lol: Actually, my answer was more of a "no" than a "yes". Well, let me elaborate: what I take pleasure in is something most people find boring. For one thing, I love learning and, to an extent, even studying things (especially if I deliberately chose to). I love gathering data and information. I like being alone and minding my business. I love quiet better than the chatter-y mess of a hangout. There are many things that I enjoy which only a minority of individuals also enjoys. Of course, it's not just me, so there's still a community of individuals (however small it may be) that would answer "yes" to that question. I think the way I experience solace and satisfaction, however, is somewhat different compared to most others.

Ignoring that, and proceeding to examining your scenario: I don't think there's a difference between the two individuals mentioned. They are both satisfied with their lives. Those are perhaps two different kinds of satisfaction (or happiness, or accomplishment, or whatever they believe it is), as the former has a positive impact on the collectivity whilst the latter has a positive impact on a much smaller number of individuals. Yet, the positive sensation is still there.

Happiness and other positive emotions, in my opinion, depend entirely on the individual's expectations and the likelihood of them coming true in real life. If an individual won't get any rest unless they achieve world peace, they're set to be unhappy for most of their life, if not all of it. If all they want is a family, well, it goes without saying it's much easier for them.

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Axestopper Pete
:lol: Actually, my answer was more of a "no" than a "yes". Well, let me elaborate: what I take pleasure in is something most people find boring. For one thing, I love learning and, to an extent, even studying things (especially if I deliberately chose to). I love gathering data and information. I like being alone and minding my business. I love quiet better than the chatter-y mess of a hangout. There are many things that I enjoy which only a minority of individuals also enjoys. Of course, it's not just me, so there's still a community of individuals (however small it may be) that would answer "yes" to that question. I think the way I experience solace and satisfaction, however, is somewhat different compared to most others.

Your elaboration sounds rather more like something suiting a "yes" answer than a "no" answer :blink: Are you referring to the question that you are different from everybody, or that you are different from most people? Or have I completely misunderstood somehow?

Regardless of the specifics (though I have to thank you for posting them because I keep forgetting them when I'm trying to make connections between broad concepts), what we are looking for here is an acceptable generalisation. If there was a society that had sizable populations of individuals resembling both the first and second examples I put forward (and probably others), and they were looking for your advice on how to live their lives, what would you tell them?

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`Silver

Sorry, my bad. I had read "isn't different" instead of "is different". Please pretend I haven't made that gross mistake and carry on. :ph34r:

I'm reluctant to generalise in most situations, but if someone asked me for advice on how to live their life, I'd tell them to follow their heart and choose whatever they most want to do each time. That's what I do, at least.

(This is going a bit off topic and we seem to be the only two people discussing anymore, so if you want to continue, please PM me :))

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