Dear Intelligent Advice,
I have been having an affair with a married man. He says he loves me and will leave his wife for me however he is dragging his feet. He says it is because he is scared of upsetting his wife, especially since she is going through some things at the moment. They have been married for 10 years, we have been dating for 3 months. What shall I do? Shall I press him to leave his wife, or shall I end the relationship?
Unlucky in Love
Response:[adviser logged in JerBenth]
Dear Unlucky in Love,
As we all know, the greatest good for the greatest number is the best philosophy by which to live your life. As such, my advice to you is that utility is the measure of virtue, and quantitatively we can take steps to resolve your romantic crisis.
Let us take your struggle as a thought experiment and assign numerical values to the different courses of action.
We will hypothesise that, on a scale of pleasure which runs from 0 – 10, your relationship with this man gives you a positive value of +5. His pleasure is also +5, but the pain brought about due to the anxiety of his wife finding out and the potential upheaval and loss of their relationship causes him a -4 on the pain scale. Both of your pleasures are also hampered by the fact that you cannot wholly be together. Nevertheless, you enjoy each others company and the freshness of the relationship significantly improves your chemistry.
His wife, contrastingly, has built her life around this man, and after having spent 10 years with him, would have her existence significantly uprooted and disrupted by the impact of his leaving her, especially for another woman. Let us therefore assign this action a hefty -8 on her pain scale. (You did not mention children, but if there were any, then their individual unhappiness brought about by parental divorce would account for -2 each).
Therefore, if we take the summation of these measures you end up with +5 happiness, him, 1 and her negative 8.
Action 1: He leaves his wife
The aggregate pleasure for all involved is a -2, so let us assess the opposite course of action.
If you choose to back away from the situation you are left with -3 on the scale of your personal pain, for your relationship has not lasted for as many years, and you will surely find another. His wife keeps her husband and is none the wiser to your affair, giving her a steady instance of +4 pleasure. His unhappiness at losing you is counteracted by his lack of emotional turmoil at ending the relationship with his wife, leaving him at a neutral 0.
Action 2: He stays with his wife
The resulting aggregate pleasure, is a +1, and, in accordance with the hedonic calculus, the action you should take.
I hope this has been helpful.
Response: [adviser logged in JonStu]
Dear Unlucky in Love,
Who is the superior person? Surely a game of pushpin cannot be equal to poetry, and thus not all pleasures equal? Who has the purer love?
Response: [adviser logged in JerBenth]
Shut up Jon!