20 August 2006


MEETING ----- 20th August 2006 -------
Dear friends,

Last Sunday we decided that we discuss satisfaction this coming Sunday.

Basically we thought that we should wait for those who were on holidays to come and tells about their satisfying experiences!! Actually there were only ten of us with everyone else on holidays.

See you Sunday and take care


SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
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<<<<<<Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004>>>>>
metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147



I won't be discussing satisfaction in the context of Anselm's theory of atonement nor Tarski's satisfaction as a notion of truth for languages containing quantifiers. The kind of satisfaction I wish to consider is the satisfaction of attending the 100th philosophy group meeting this Sunday. At least that's what my records show.

In other words, the satisfaction I wish to consider is the satisfaction we all feel in our daily life. What is satisfaction? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for satisfaction? And what is rational when it comes to satisfaction?

Satisfaction belongs to that class of feelings associated with pleasure and by pleasure I mean the opposite of pain. Maybe pleasure here might be close to meaning a positive experience. We can also say that when we experience satisfaction we feel good. For the time being I want to establish a neutral meaning of pleasure. Maybe even a neurological experience rather than a psychological or spiritual experience of pleasure.

Let's take two examples: a) person A derives a great deal of pleasure pulling legs off mosquitoes. b) person B derives a great deal of pleasure teaching English. Other things being equal, we are justified in assuming that both A and B feel positive, are not feeling pain and experience satisfaction. A moralist will question the pleasure experienced by A, but we don't want to go there yet. On the other hand, it is for the neurologist to tell us whether it is the same part of the brain that fires for A and B when they feel pleasure or are in a neurological state of satisfaction. But what matters is that, other things being equal, A and B do not feel pain when they tell us they derive pleasure. If you like, in a mathematical model of these examples, both pleasures would be put on the same side of the equation.

We can assume that satisfaction automatically implies pleasure. Can we also infer from satisfaction a feeling of enjoyment and a feeling of happiness?

If we are satisfied with something, does it also mean that we enjoy doing or experiencing this activity? I don't think that enjoyment is a necessary condition or component of satisfaction. For example, we can derive a great deal of satisfaction seeing justice being done, but we might not enjoy seeing people having to go to prison. It could, however, be that enjoyment is a sufficient condition for satisfaction. For example, we can enjoy eating an ice cream and get a lot of satisfaction from eating a very good ice cream. So, although enjoyment and satisfaction are closely related with each other that relationship is not a necessary one; satisfaction does not imply enjoyment, but maybe enjoyment does imply satisfaction.

If satisfaction is one step removed from being a necessary condition for enjoyment, how many steps is happiness removed. Deriving satisfaction from seeing justice being done in no way implies that we are happy. For example, the ideal situation would that the crime was not committed. The same with teaching English, maybe what would make us happy is writing books in English instead of teaching English. It seems that there are many factors that can affect our happiness, unlike the relationship between satisfaction, pleasure and enjoyment.

Gratification is very often regarded as a synonym for satisfaction. Gratification is the act of bringing about a desire or a need and so on. The end result is satisfaction. I would therefore say, gratification seems to focus on the act that realises the desire and satisfaction focuses on the fulfilment of the desire. Unless I specify otherwise, I will use desire to include also wants, needs and appetites. We say, "that was gratifying" to mean what we did and not the result; the result, of course, was satisfaction/satisfactory. From this we can say that there is an action component and fulfilment component to a desire. This is quite useful for us because we can understand such expressions as 'instant gratification,' or its close relative, 'impulse buying', and 'a job well done.' Of course, these expressions do not mean the same.

Instant gratification requires that the act and the pleasure are time critical. The time factor between the act and the pleasure is very short indeed. This is not to say that the time factor between the conception of the desire and the fulfilment of the desire needs to be instantaneous. This time factor is relative to what is being desired and the time it takes to achieve it. But I do think that this expression favours the shortest-time-possible interpretation of time critical. Of course, there are situations where this space-time relationship is or should be instantaneous. For example, passing in front of an ice cream parlour and deciding there and then to buy an ice cream. But 'instant gratification' is more useful as a term to suggest that we desire something without thinking about what we want nor how to get it, nor about the possible consequences. It certainly suggest that time is critical; time is of the essence, to use a legal analogy. Instant gratification is the
here and now sort of satisfaction that is well known to children, even though adults are not immune from it.

Instant gratification also affects our decision making process. Because we desire something now we might not put in the thinking that might be considered prudent for the case in question. Buying an ice cream on a whim is one thing, but maybe speeding down the motorway, just because we cannot be bothered to observe the speed limits, is an other. Furthermore, instant gratification might distort our cost benefit analysis or opportunity costs. Although I'm sure that we don't do these calculations the same way economists do them in a business setting.

We might feel that an expression like 'instant gratification' might only be used to describe people's desires; for example children, or selfish adults. Of course, there is no law that says we have to do this. We are free to use the expression as we like as long as it meets the necessary linguistic criteria. So I want to use this example in the context of businesses to show that instant gratification can affect businesses and does apply to a business.

One modern way for businesses to maximise profits has been to outsource some of their activities. Basically, this means selling off departments or divisions within the company and then hire the services back from the new company that used to be their old colleagues. Very common this involves IT centres, cleaning services, Customer services and so on. However, it has been known for sometime (see the Financial Times 12 December 2005, Life beyond outsourcing: customer service comes home,) that although there are short term saving to be made (hence bottom line profits meaning instant gratification) there are also limits to what can be outsourced. Or more importantly, what should be outsourced. The article refers as an example to the strike at British Airways when their outsourced catering services failed to deliver and as a result BA had to cancel many flights. This, in my opinion, is a basic example of how instant gratification can affect a business. Or to put it in
another, when a business purses a policy of instant gratification it might prejudice any cost-benefit analysis. What looked like more bang for the same bucks, might just simply back fire. (I know, too many metaphors!)

A job well done is, in a way, the opposite of instant gratification. A job well done derives satisfaction not only from the act or process of doing something, but that the fulfilment of the desire was done, so to speak, according to specifications. Here we have the ideas of taking the necessary time to do something and doing something in away that brings maximum satisfaction; the result is made up of what we wanted plus the satisfaction that our strategy and/or plans where were the right ones. Of course, the results will instantly tell us that we were successful in our endeavours. And presumably the satisfaction will follow instantly.

Furthermore, whether at work or life in general, people seem to experience a super duper type of satisfaction if others were to tell them well done or praise them for a job well done. For example, in a business setting, this sort of communication, between management and staff, can mean an employee does their best for the company or go to work for a competitor thus delivering all their experience and knowledge basically for free.

If instant gratification can negatively affect a person or a business, satisfaction of a job well done can equally affect a business or a person positively. What we are seeing here is that satisfaction whether the result of a whim or deliberation can have a causal effect beyond the results of the desire. Praising someone might mean that they perform even better on the next project.

I started by trying to limit the meaning of pleasure to a neutral meaning in the context of satisfaction. I did not want to introduce moral considerations or value judgements so early in the discussion. For example, in the case of the person deriving pleasure from pulling the legs of mosquitoes, the natural reaction is not: where is this pleasure firing in the person's brain, but rather, what kind of sick pleasure is that? But pleasure, desires and satisfaction are, I would suggest, value neutral by nature; we just experience these things because we were made like this.

What kind of sick pleasure is that? is pointing towards a value judgement; sick pleasure means here evil, bad unacceptable type of perverse pleasure. So how do we get to this value judgement when considering satisfaction? What are the criteria, rational or otherwise, that leads us to satisfaction?

One of the basic criteria for pleasure, and thus the feeling of satisfaction, is nature itself. The reason why we are interested in pleasure is that nature made us like this. As a consequence, any attempt, by whoever it may be, to stop people having pleasure type experiences is acting unnaturally. The issue therefore is not one of whether we ought to pursue pleasure, but the level and nature of the pleasure we pursue. Smiling should never be a sin.

Satisfaction, pleasure and gratification have been closely linked with utilitarianism and hedonism. Utilitarianism is the doctrine of maximising pleasure. This doctrine of utilitarianism can be taken as a moral code or a manner of behaving. Giving charity to the maximum number of poor people (i.e. making them happy) is utilitarianism as a moral code and I should really enjoy myself at the party is utilitarianism as a behaviour code. Hedonism, as we all know, is the doctrine of the pursuit of pleasure.

The thing about pleasure or satisfaction, unlike pain or boredom, is that they are justification enough to intentionally want to do something to experience them. If pleasure and satisfaction are a sufficient criteria to do something, does it mean that hedonism and utilitarianism are basically right in principle? And can we also say that hedonism is the more fundamental doctrine of the two whilst utilitarianism is just a matter of practicality? To use an analogy, utilitarianism is the servant of hedonism?

Can we accept that trying to maximise pleasure is a rational thing to do? I think we can, but not without a big health warning to go with it. For example, in dietary matters there are limits to how much we should try to maximise our pleasure from eating certain foods. We can take it that 'maximising' one's pleasure does not mean limitless pleasure. We can therefore re-interpret utilitarianism to mean we can go on maximising pleasure until the pleasure starts doing us more damage than good. This is very much linked to the law of diminishing returns.

Staying with the example of dietary pleasures, we can still derive a great deal of pleasure from eating certain foods long after that food has done irreversible damage to our health. I also think that we can reasonably assume that it is rational not to damage one's health. To put it more generally, it is a rational thing to do not to act in such a way as to have an adverse effect on ourselves. In other words, it is a rational thing to do not to shoot ourselves in the foot. This means that there are rational limits to what we should do for pleasure or what gives us great satisfaction when we do them.

This tells us how important information is. If we didn't know that certain types of foods (plus other factors) could seriously have an adverse effect on our health we wouldn't know when to stop eating them or how much we can indulge ourselves. Not only does information help us do a better assessment of a cost-benefit analysis, but also of our opportunity cost.

Basically, and in a non technical manner, opportunity costs are what we forego for doing or choosing one thing and not an other. Satisfaction is, as I said above, not time dependent; I'm prepared to work for months to make sure I do a good job. However, when taking into consideration opportunity costs we tend to apply a time limit to our deliberations: a time limit that's very context driven. For example, choosing a pension plan requires a certain type of time consideration than participating in high risk sport. If we decide to go skiing this winter we do not usually consider how this will affect our opportunity costs when we're 86. Compare this with not buying the ice cream now in the hope that another shop would have a better tasting ice cream. That other shop might be close and therefore no ice cream: QED. Hence, although satisfaction is not time dependent, when we use certain rational criteria, for example opportunity costs analysis, times becomes a de facto
critical factor for satisfaction.

If some people object to the idea that satisfaction and pleasure are purely neurological events, they need not despair. Our ability to rationalise some of our actions means that there are some checks and balances to our primeval instinct to experience and pursue pleasure or satisfaction.

To sum up, I have tried to argue that the experience of satisfaction is based on that fundamental feeling of pleasure. I have also argued that we also have a right to pleasure in the same way we have a right to life. And due to the way nature made us, it is a normal thing to experience a sense of satisfaction. However, it is only due to information and how we use that information that we can decide whether it would be a rational thing to do when pursuing a particular desire. Of course, although there is no law that says we have to be rational, there is a law that says every cause has an effect.

But the most beautiful and satisfying aspect of satisfaction is that we don't share it with anyone else. Enjoy!

Take care


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