Monday, May 02, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0012 - The Reader's Point of View

I suspect that there are a number of readers who look at this life we are imagining in which Alph gathers stones, scatters them, and gathers them again with dread. It is absurd to say that there is any value here - to say that Alph has a life worth living. The best des that this says something about value will be taken as absolutely bizarre.

In fact, the philosophical literature discusses an imagined case of a fully informed agent with a desire to count blades of grass - not unlike Alph's desire to gather stones. In imagining this student sitting in the field counting the grass, day after day, it is difficult to imagine that this is a very good life.

What I suspect is happening in this case is that the reader is taking her own desires in examining the imagined world. Each of her own desires has their own proposition. She sees none of those propositions as being true in the state of affairs she imagines. Consequently, she has no motivating reason to realize such a state of affairs. From this she judges that it has no value.

However, we are not concerned at this point as to whether the reader has any reason at all to realize a state of affairs in which Alph, with his one desire to gather stones, exists.

If I were to ask the reader to imagine Charlie, living in New York, I would say that he is near the Atlantic ocean. In saying this, I certainly do not mean to imply that the reader is near the Atlantic ocean. Nor do I need to reader to approve of the fact that Charlie is near the Atlantic ocean. I am only describing a relationship that exists in fact between the Atlantic Ocean and Charley. The reader is only being asked to acknowledge that this relationship exists.

Consequently, when I say that Alph has one desire - to gather stones, then I am saying that states of affairs in which Alph is gathering stones are states of affairs that Alph has reason to bring about. I am saying that scattering stones, to Alph, would have instrumental value once all the stones are gathered. I am saying that having a large pile of stones is an unintended consequent (like getting pregnant is often an unintended consequent of having sex). I am saying that an outside observer cannot have reason to choose one world over another until that outside observer has desires, in which case he would choose the world where the propositions that are the objects of those desires are true.

These are all relationships that exist - no different from the proposed relationship between the location of the Atlantic Ocean to Charlie.

Everything said here would remain just as true if I were to say that Alph had one desire - to count blades of grass. Then counting blades of grass would be the only end-reason for any of Alph's actions. Alph would eat only insofar as eating was necessary to help him to continue to count blades of grass. If asked to choose between being in a world where there was no grass and a different world existing where somebody else (Betty) with a desire to count grass lived on a planet filled with grass, Alph would be indifferent between the two. This is because neither world is a world where "I am counting blades of grass" is true.

The fact that the reader has more than one desire and none of them include counting blades of grass, and has no desire with propositions that would be true in the imagined world with the imagined grass counter, and would not want to be that person is irrelevant. It is as irrelevant as her aversion to living in New York or near the ocean is to the fact that Charlie, who lives in New York, is near the ocean.

So, I ask the reader to set those feelings and those judgments aside. We are looking only at the relationships that exist in this imagined world - a world in which there is one person (Alph) with one desire (a desire to gather stones).

Friday, April 29, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0011 - Socrates, the Pig, and the Unbiased Observer

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question. (John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism)


As I continue to examine what is true in a universe with one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones), I want to turn my attention to another famous example from the history of philosophy. This is John Stuart Mill's quote provided above.


In the full context of this quote, Mill was arguing that some pleasures were better than others - intrinsically better.


To determine this, we need to only ask those who can experience both which they would prefer. This is how he came to the conclusion that poetry is better than pushpin as discussed in an earlier post.


Here, the question is asked of somebody capable of experiencing a life as Socrates dissatisfied and imagining the life of the fool which he would prefer. Clearly, such a person would select the life of Socrates dissatisfied over the life of the happy fool, suggesting that the happiness of the fool is of a lower quality.


The account we are looking at here will deny this claim in a particular sense. I am not going to argue that the life of the fool is to be selected. I am not going to argue that it is a tie. I am going to argue that the question is incomplete - like asking if Jim is taller. Taller than whom?


I am going to start by comparing a world that contains Alph, where Alph has a desire to gather stones, and Alph is gathering stones to a world containing Alph with his desire and no stones. Which world has the greater value?


We can't answer the question without answering "to whom?"


The first Alph prefers his universe - the universe within which Alph has is gathering stones. It is a universe within which the proposition, "I (Alph1) am gathering stones" is true.


The second Alph is indifferent between the two worlds. In neither world is, "I am gathering stones" true, so he has no reason to choose one over the other.


What about some impartial observer? If an impartial observer truly was impartial, she would have no reason to choose one world over the other. If, instead, we give this impartial observer some desires, then we look for the world within which the propositions that are the objects of those desires are true.


Now let us look at two world where one contains a human dissatisfied and the other contains a pig satisfied.


Here, too, we need to identify the desires the agent has, the strengths of those desires, the propositions that are the objects of those desires, and whether those propositions are true in either world. we will identify the universe she has the most and strongest reason to choose by identifying the one that fulfills the most and strongest of those desires.


The same procedure applies to determining if it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied or a fool satisfied. I think it is safe to assume that if we take the desires of Socrates as our starting point, such a person would have many and strong reasons to choose against being the lucky fool. Even the fool may have more or stronger reasons to be Socrates dissatisfied, but, being a fool, incapable of figuring this out.


Once again, the decisions of an impartial observer will depend on the desires we give this imaginary person, in which case the world to choose in the world in which the propositions P of the most and strongest desires will be made true.


This, then, is how these comparisons among possible worlds are to be made. What matters are the desires of the person making the choice. The desires that the being the chooser becomes are relevant only to the degree that they directly or indirectly make true the propositions that are the objects of the chooser's desires.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Well-Being and the Resonance Constraint

I have been doing some homework recently . . . some advanced reading.

Tomorrow (Friday, April 29) I intend to go to the University of Colorado and attend a lecture by Chris Heathwood on "The Resonance Constraint". I'm using this as an excuse to scout out the philosophy department where I hope to be studying as of August of next year.

In preparation for the lecture, I have been doing some reading.

"The Resonance Constraint" is one of three main arguments against the idea that well-being involves meeting some set of objective criteria. It is used to argue that well-being is subjective in some sense - depending on the likes and dislikes of the individual.

We will start with a basic fact that some lives go better than others. Each of our lives could have gone better than it did. For my part, simply being handed $50,000 would be the difference between possibly going to graduate school and definitely going - with a clear impact on my well-being.

But what is well-being exactly?

A hedonist account of well-being says that the quality of a life is determined by the amount of pleasure one experiences and the pain one avoids. We can evaluate lives by making a simple hedonistic calculation.

Here, right at the start, I often make a mistake, and I want to warn readers to watch out for it. I slip into the assumption that all value can be reduced to well-being - as if well-being is the only thing that matters. I am not the only one who makes this mistake. Sam Harris bases all of morality on "the well-being of conscious creatures" as if nothing else could matter, or at least have moral significance.

When I step back and think of it, that is not true.

Because I make this mistake, when I read about a hedonistic theory of well-being my first instinct is to reject it. After all, I reject a hedonistic (and any brain-state) theory of value. If all value reduces to claims about well-being, and I reject a brain-state theory of value, I would have to reject a brain-state theory of well-being, right?

Then I remind myself that it is a mistake to reduce all value to well-being. If it were true that well-being is the only thing that matters, then a person would never be able to sacrifice their well-being for some other good. A scientist could never sacrifice her health to acquire new scientific knowledge. A parent could not make himself worse off in order to benefit his children, and a soldier could never sacrifice his well-being for the benefit of his fellow soldiers.

One could say that all value involves well-being for somebody. After all, when a person sacrifices their own well-being, they do so for the well-being of others.

There's two arguments against this response.

The first is that it is not the case that all sacrifice is for well-being. Consider the case of the scientist who sacrifices her well-being to acquire knowledge. The knowledge need not be useful - though still valued for its own sake.

The second is that, when a person sacrifices their well-being for another, in many cases the sacrifice is greater than the benefit of the other, and yet still done willingly. Many parents would not hesitate to make a sacrifice for their child even where the benefit to the child is less than that which is sacrificed.

The concept of well-being represents a subset of that which is important. So, I remind myself, why can it not represent the amount of pleasure experienced and pain avoided in a person's life? This is clearly something the scientist, the parent, and the soldier can give up for the sake of others when they sacrifice their well-being.

The Resonance Constraint is said to provide an argument against this thesis.

What is intrinsically valuable for a person must have a connection with what he would find in some degree compelling or attractive, at least if he were rational and aware. It would be an intolerably alienated conception of someone's good to image that it might fail in any such way to engage him. (Railton, P. (2003). ‘Facts and values’, in facts, values, and norms: Essays toward a morality of consequence (pp. 43–84). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)

In this light, we are invited to ask whether we can sensibly talk about the well-being of a person who has no interest in pleasure - but who does have interests in other things (e.g., in raising his children or building water purification plants in poor parts of the world).

Chris Heathwood - the person who will be speaking at the lecture tomorrow - argues that a hedonist can handle the Resonance Constraint by adopting an attitude-based theory of pleasure. The attitude-theory (or propositional-attitude theory) identifies pleasure with a propositional attitude rather than a sensation. Thus, according to Healthwood, "the life of the desirer of peace and quiet over sensory pleasure very well may be filled with pleasure, though none of it sensory." In other words, there is a type of pleasure inherent in the fulfillment of all desire - or, at least, in the desires that are relevant to well-being, whichever they may be.

How about this. Instead of equating well-being with pleasure (and the absence of pain), we equate it with the fulfillment of self-regarding desires. A person can still sacrifice well-being for others (the fulfillment of other-regarding desires). A person who cares noting about pleasure can still have a good life. It is still true that some people are better off than others, even though what makes one person better off may not make somebody else better off.

Please excuse me for a while - I have some reading to do.

Desirism Book - Part 0010 - GE Moore's Beautiful World

Let us imagine one world exceedingly beautiful....And then imagine the ugliest world you can possibly conceive. Imagine it simply one heap of filth, containing everything that is most disgusting to us, for whatever reason, and the whole, as far as may be, without one redeeming feature. The only thing we are not entitled to imagine is that any human being ever has or ever, by any possibility, can, live in either, can ever see and enjoy the beauty of the one or hate the foulness of the other.... [S]till, is it irrational to hold that it is better that the beautiful world should exist than the one which is ugly? Would it not be well, in any case, to do what we could to produce it rather than the other? Certainly I cannot help thinking that it would; and I hope that some may agree with me in this extreme instance. G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica

I sped past imaginings of this sort in an earlier post. Here, I want to pause and spend some more time with them. It will help us with an understanding what is true in our universe in which there is one person (Alph) and one desire (to gather stones).

These imaginings can serve a couple of purposes.

In one purpose, this serve as an argument against the idea that the only thing humans seek is the establishment of a particular brain state - be it happiness, satisfaction, or a surplus of pleasure over pain. It shows us that there are things that humans will choose - such as the realization of a beautiful planet rather than an ugly planet - even were the options do not include changes in brain states.

We see this interpretation particularly when we focus on the phrase, "Would it not be well to do what we could to produce it rather than the other?" Moore is asking about what we have reason to do.

On this measure, Moore's example describes something real, and the account that I am presenting here can make sense of it.

In a previous post I gave Alph a desire that the planet Pandora B exists - a planet that may well fit Moore's description of an exceedingly beautiful world. This desire is fulfilled in any universe where the proposition "Pandora B exists" is true - even a universe where the propositions "Alph is experiencing Pandora B" can never be true.

In fact, we imagined a case in which Alph could bring the planet into existence only by destroying himself. Yet, given our initial assumptions, he had reason to bring the planet into existence, and no reason not to.

All of this matches one interpretation of Moore's famous example.

However, there is another interpretation of the argument. It may be interpreted to mean that the value of the beautiful planet exists within the planet itself. In a universe where no being capable of experiencing it even exists, it would still be better - in some impersonal observer sense - that the universe with the beautiful planet exist rather than the universe with the ugly planet.

Our model of Alph and his one desire does not support this.

One point to be made against the example interpreted this way is to ask, "Which is the beautiful world, and which is the ugly world?"

Moore asked us to imagine a world "of filth, containing everything that is most disgusting to us".

Note the phrase, "to us".

Let us imagine another creature - one that evolved from the dung beetle. Imagine the ugly planet being a huge ball of dung. To us, certainly, we may have reason to bring about the world that is beautiful to us and not the dung world. However, the dung beetle creatures have reason to bring about world that is beautiful to them - the big ball of dung - rather than the clean world of our imaginings.

This creates a problem for the idea that we can completely remove the idea of some type of creature with desires and interests in determining what is beautiful. If we cannot make a judgment of which planet is beautiful without having a subject and knowing something about them, we cannot make a judgment as to which world should exist even if could never be visited or seen.

Now, let us return Alph to his original state - the one where he has one desire, a desire to gather stones.

Now, ask him which planet should exist.

At best, he would answer with a shrug, though he has no reason to do even that much. Both options have the same relevance to making or keeping the proposition, "I am gathering stones" true. Because they have no relevance, they give Alph no reason for action - not even a reason to choose to answer the question.

To choose a planet to continue to exist is an action - but not one that he has any reason to take.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0009 - Pushpin and Poetry

Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either - Jeremy Bentham (Jeremy Bentham, from The Rationale of Reward, excerpted and reprinted in: The Classical Utilitarians: Bentham and Mill, ed. John Troyer (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003), p. 94.)

I agree.

Not about the pleasure part, but about the relative merits of pushpin and poetry.

Pushpin is a game requiring two players, so it is not suitable for our imaginary world that contains just one person (Alph). However, we can make the same point by substituting the act of gathering stones for pushpin.

Prejudice apart, the act of gathering stones is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. What gives a state of affairs P any end-value is that it is the object of a "desire that P", which gives states of affairs in which P is true end- value to those who have it.

Please note that "pleasure" is not a part of the equation. Humans in the real world may have a desire to experience pleasure and the capacity to do so. Alph, in this model, may have the capacity to feel pleasure (depending on how pleasure is defined) but, under our assumptions, has no desire to experience pleasure - thus no reason to do so.

It does not matter whether P = "I am gathering stones" or P = "I am reading poetry", what gives P its value is that it stands in a particular relationship to a "desire that P". Those with a "desire that P" have a reason to realize such a state. There is no value to be given to gathering stones or to poetry - no reason to prefer one over the other - independent of their relationship to desires that exist.

In a more complex universe - ones with more people and more desires, there may be elements that give more value to one over the other. Poetry promotes the ability to read, which provides instrumental value by aiding communication. Poetry may also give people a better understanding of the emotional states or of other points of view. There may be a simple second order preference that the population have more people who desire to read poetry and fewer who value gathering stones. All of these would count as additional reasons to read poetry - and to promote a desire to read poetry.

These types of situations may alter our value judgment. However, none of these conditions exist in a world with one person and one desire. Nothing else exists in that world that can give poetry more value than gathering stones.

I also want to say something about the strength of a desire. An agent who has a weak desire to gather stones and a strong desire to read poetry has a stronger reason to read poetry. He would prefer reading poetry under conditions where he could do either. However, this also does not apply to our current situation where Alph has only one desire. In the future, I will introduce a second desire and examine some of its implications - but there is still more to say about a single agent with a single desire.

It is said that we have some sort of intuition that poetry is better than push-pin or gathering stones. However, that judgment comes from our own likes and dislikes. We are the ones who prefer that Alph spends his time reading poetry rather than gathering stones. Consequently, the world in which Alph is reading poetry has more value to us.

However, we – and our preferences - do not exist in this model, at least not yet. This model contains Alph and his one desire to gather stones. Alph has no reason to read poetry – not unless the poetry includes a clue as to where he might find some more stones to gather.

There is nothing in poetry that generates a reason or a natural command that it be read – by Alph, or by anybody else.

There is no good or bad, better or worse, best or worst, that does not relate an object of evaluation to a set of desires. In a world where only one desire exists (e.g., Alph’s desire to gather stones) then all of the goodness and badness that exists relates the object of evaluation to that desire. In that world, at least.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How Bigotry Works - Presidential Edition

There are people who say, "I will not vote for a black person" or "Women are not fit to be President."

However, this is not the way bigotry works in most cases.

Bigotry also and often works by making a person feel uncomfortable about certain things. When they feel uncomfortable, they look for a reason for the discomfort. Of course, they want a socially acceptable reason - a reason that they can use in front of others without being embarrassed. So, they don't want to explain their attitude in terms of race or gender. Instead, they seek something nebulous like, "I don't think he's smart enough to handle the job," or "I think she is scheming and dishonest."

These are perfectly legitimate reasons if true, but they are not always true.

This is not at all done consciously, by the way. A person gets the uneasy feeling, and immediately jumps to "she strikes me as a scheming liar" or "he's just not ambitious enough to do a good job." They are not consciously rejecting a racist explanation; they never admit to themselves that their brain works that way.

I have admitted to having my own prejudices. Intellectually - in the realm of belief - I know that they are not only unfounded, but they are wrong. However, I did not learn my prejudices simply as a set of beliefs. I learned them at an emotional level. I can change my beliefs by a careful evaluation of the facts. However, even a perfect understanding of the facts often has a limited impact on emotions.

I would like to be able to turn these emotions off. However, it is no more possible to turn off a gut-level prejudice than it is to turn off a fear of spiders or an aversion to the taste of liver and onions. One simply cannot reason a person either into or out of these types of attitudes.

Since I am aware of these dispositions, I can take steps to make sure that they do not cause me to act in ways harmful to others. When examining a perspective candidate, I know to ask whether I have solid evidence for any derogatory beliefs, or if I am going merely on "gut feeling" which may be tainted by an underlying learned emotional response based on race or gender.

(NOTE: This is one reason why I favor affirmative action and even quotas. In issues such as hiring and promotion there is a subjective element - an element based on feeling. This is a perfect opportunity for prejudice to appear, even from a person who - on the level of belief - condemns bigotry.)

In this election, there are certainly people who will not vote for Clinton because she is a woman - who will knowingly and openly declare that to be their reason.

However, there will be a much larger set of people who will simply feel uncomfortable at the thought of a woman in that position. The idea of a female President - a female leader - a woman exhibiting the characteristics of ambition and planning that are essential to enter such a position. A man can show those tendencies and characteristics without generating more than a shrug in response - but a woman? It's not proper for a woman.

Many of these people will look around for reasons for this discomfort. In doing so, they are going to rule out reasons that go against social convention or might even go against their own beliefs. They will not accept the idea that they are the type of person that they believe ought to be condemned for their bigotry. They will settle on reasons like, "She's dishonest," or "She's too ambitious and only interested in herself," or they will assume her guilt in this or that "scandal" because it feels right to think of her as guilty..

However, the next question to ask is, "Can I find actual, solid evidence in favor of these judgments? Or am I just basing them on a gut feeling that, itself, could be being fed by an underlying prejudice?"

Here is the time for anybody who thinks it is actually important to cast a vote that is warranted and not a vote based on bigotry to do some research. Here is the time when it is important to go to the effort to look at the facts and determine whether one's attitude is based on evidence, or just a feeling itself tainted by prejudices learned, not on the level of belief, but on the level of emotion.

And be careful . . . emotion also has the power to cause one to see evidence where not exists - to give extra emphasis to testimony that supports the prejudice and find some excuse to dismiss the evidence that challenges the prejudice. For anybody who takes this challenge seriously, it will involve some hard work. But it could be useful.

Desirism Book - Part 0008 - Desire (Preference) Satisfaction

In the model I am using, we have one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones). This means that there is only one reason for intentional action that exists (to realize a state in which Alph is gathering stones), and only one kind of state that has end-value (a state where "I am gathering stones" spoken by Alph is true.

Some may see this as a desire-satisfaction theory. In one sense, it would be correct. However, in another sense - or a couple of other senses - this would be wrong. To prevent future confusion, I want to clarify the exact type f desire-satisfaction theory this is.

One popular form of desire satisfaction theory focuses on the felt sense of satisfaction. In this sense, satisfaction serves the same role that "pleasure" dies in traditional hedonism. "Pain" is replaced with the felt state of  "frustration".

However, on the theory being advanced here, the felt sense of satisfaction or frustration has no value. As we did with pleasure, pain, and unhappiness, we can look at satisfaction and frustration in two ways. Either (1) it is a felt sensation alone, where the agent can have an independent desire for or aversion to that sensation, or (2) the term refers to a type of sensation for which the individual has a built in desire or aversion.

If it is the former, then satisfaction and frustration can exist in this model, but the agent lacks the independent desire or aversion. Thus, the agent lacks an end-reason to seek satisfaction or avoid frustration.

If the latter, then satisfaction and frustration cannot exist within our model. We are assuming that out agent has only one desire - and that is a desire to gather stones. There is no desire for a felt sensation of satisfaction, and no aversion to a felt sensation of frustration.

Another popular form of desire satisfaction theory imagines that desire satisfaction is a thing in itself having intrinsic value. As such, it is that thing to be maximized in utilitarian theories. "The right act is the act that maximizes desire satisfaction."  Peter Singer's moral theory seems to follow this model.

An agent is to consider the preferences of a close family matter as being equal to those of a total stranger.

This is not that theory. Intrinsic value does not exist.

On this model, Alph seeks one thing - to be gathering stones. He is not seeking desire satisfaction. He is seeking a state in which he is gathering stones. Desire satisfaction, as something distinct from gathering stones, does not exist.

We can use the phrase, "desire satisfaction" to refer to the fact that Alph has a reason to realize a state in which he is gathering stones founded on a desire to gather stones. However, this phrase introduces nothing new. It is a description of what already exists.

In order to put some distance between this theory and theories that refer to the felt sense of satisfaction, I tend to use the term “desire fulfillment”. A desire that P sets up a set of condition to be realized. As soon as P is made or kept true, the condition has been met and the desire that P has been fulfilled. There is no need for a felt sensation of satisfaction. This does not imply that such a sensation cannot exist or that a person cannot desire “that I am experiencing a felt sense of satisfaction”. It simply is not necessary and is not a part of our model at this point.

It may help to see the difference between desire satisfaction and desire fulfillment if we imagine Alph with a different desire. Let us give Alph a desire that the planet Pandora B come into existence. The only way for Alph to bring Pandora B into existence is to press a red button labeled “Create Pandora B”. However, pressing the button will destroy Alph. He will cease to exist as Pandora B comes into existence.

For the sake of this example, Pandora B will come into existence without any form of life – without any creature capable of having desires and without the possibility that a desiring creature can evolve on Pandora B. We do not want to confuse the issue by adding additional desires.

If we look at the reasons for action that exists, Alph has a reason to press the button. Alph has a desire that P where P  = “The planet Pandora B exists”. Consequently, Alph has a reason to press the button.

Alph has no reason not to press the button. Certainly, doing so will end his existence, but Alph has no desire to continue to exist. Nor does he have a desire that requires his continued existence as a means. He has this one desire – that Pandora B come into existence – and the fulfillment of that desire requires that he live no longer than needed to press the button.

So, he presses the button.

He ceases to exist, and Pandora B springs into existence.

The desire has been fulfilled. That is to say, the check box “Pandora B exists” can now be checked – this has been made true.

However, there is no desire satisfaction. In fact, there is no desire at all. The one and only desire that did exist no longer exists. All that exists is Pandora B.

Some people may want to refer to this as a desire satisfaction theory, and streatch the definition of “satisfaction” to include cases in which the object of a desire has been realized even though it generates no felt sense of satisfaction. There are those who write about “objective desire satisfaction” that covers situations in which a desire is fulfilled or thwarted without the agent knowing about it.

However, I fear that the term will confuse some, so I will stick with the term “desire fulfillment”. A desire that P is fulfilled in any state of affairs where P is made or kept true.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0007 - Reasons

A has a reason to φ iff A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing.

This is Bernard Williams’ theory of reasons, and it fits quite snugly in the current account. (Williams, B., 1979. “Internal and External Reasons,” reprinted in Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, 101–13.)

We have created one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones). In order for a reason to exist, it is going to have to be in service to satisfying this one desire – the only desire that exists. There is no reason to do anything else.

As a reminder, serving this desire is to be understood to mean making the proposition “I am gathering stones” spoken by Alph true. It is not to be equated with generating any type of psychological sensation such as pleasure or happiness.

On the question of pleasure, happiness, or the psychological sensation of being satisfied, in this imaginary universe either these things do not exist, or they exist without there being a reason to bring them about. The question of existence turns on whether a desire for pleasure, happiness, or satisfaction is built into the meaning of the term. If what we call pleasure is a physical sensation that, by definition, people desire for its own sake then there is no pleasure in this hypothetical universe.  This is because there is nothing that agents desire for their own sake other than Alph’s desire that he be gathering stones.

Later in this series I will be giving Alph more desires. I will also be adding more people, each with their own desires. Consequently, more reasons will come into existence. Yet, they will be coming into existence only because there will be more desires. They will not emerge from nothing.

If Alph has gathered all of his stones together, he will then have a reason to scatter stones. Having all of the stones gathered means that the proposition, “I am gathering stones” is now false. The only way to change that from “false” to “true” would be to scatter the stones. Then, they can be gathered again. That is the reason for scattering stones – to restore a state in which “I am gathering stones” spoken by Alph can once again be made true.

Alph also has a reason to preserve his own life. He cannot make or keep the proposition, “I am gathering stones” true if he should die. So, he has a reason to avoid walking off of a cliff as he gathers stones. If he needs food and water in order to survive, he has reason to eat and to drink – and to grow food and discover water. However, he has no motivating hunger or thirst. These would require the addition of new desires. He eats and drinks only insofar as these are essential to making or keeping the proposition, “I am gathering stones” true.

Alph may or may not have reason to look in the next valley for more rocks to gather. He has a reason to look in the next valley just in case there are rocks in the next valley to gather. If there are no rocks to gather, he has no reason to look into the next valley. We may assume that he does not know whether there are rocks in the next valley. This means that he does not know whether he has reason to go into the next valley for rocks. He knows that there is a possibility that there are rocks in the next valley to gather. This means that he knows that there is a possibility that he has a reason to the next valley. The possibility of rocks generates a possibility of a reason. It does not generate an actual reason.

Consequently, a person who knows that there are no rocks in the next valley can honestly report, “You are wasting your time looking for rocks in the next valley. There are none.”

We can illustrate this another way by looking at an example where a thirsty person reaches for a glass that contains what she thinks is clean water, though it is in fact poison. An observer can tell her, “You don’t want to do that.” When she asks why, he reports that it is poison. The point here is that his original statement, “You don’t want to do that,” is true. The agent may not know that she does not want to do that, and may think that she does want to do that insofar as she is thirsty and thinks that the glass contains clean water. However, in fact, she does not want to drink from the glass. She has no reason to drink from the glass.

Let us assume that we give Alph a choice. He may choose that a beautiful planet exists, or that an ugly planet exists. He has no reason to choose one or the other. There exists, in this simple universe, no reason to choose one over the other. There is nothing about the nature of the planets that creates a reason – a demand – that it be chosen.

In fact, in our simple universe, there is nothing in either planet that generates a reason to call it beautiful – unless it turns out that one contains a number of rocks to be gathered and the other contains no rocks. Now, if we assume that Alph can get to the planet with rocks in order to gather them, now he has a reason to choose one planet over the other. But insofar as choosing that a planet continue to exist does not serve his desire to be gathering stones, he has no reason to choose that planet, or any planet.


I will have more to say on beauty in a future posting. My purpose here is to discuss reasons for intentional action. In our imaginary universe which consists of Alph with his desire to gather stones, there is only one reason for intentional action that exists. Alph has an end-reason to gather stones – and has an instrumental reason, and means-reasons to do those things that will help to make or keep the proposition “I am gathering stones” true. No other reasons for intentional action exist. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Discovering" Morality in Personal Advanage

Because Bernie Sanders lost the primary election in New York on April 19, there are people declaring that independents have a moral right to vote in party primary elections.

The relationship between those two facts comes from the observation that independents who tend to support Sanders tend to vote in the Democratic primary where they are able. Consequently, Sanders would have been able to pick up a higher percentage of the vote if New York had an open primary than he received under the closed primary. From this it apparently follows that closed primaries violate a fundamental voting right of those who are not members of a political party.

This is clearly not a valid argument. However, it does illustrate how people often approach moral issues. What is asserted to be a fundamental right is something that the individual "became aware of" because it provides them with a personal advantage.

We can well imagine what those who are making this claim would have discovered about morality if it were the case that independents tended to vote for Clinton rather than Sanders. In this case, Sanders would have been collecting a higher percentage of the votes among Democrats. However, when independents were allowed to have a say, Sanders' share of the votes would have dropped.

In this case, it is not difficult to image that Sanders and his supporters would have "discovered" the moral principle that an organization has the right to choose its own leaders and representatives. Nowhere else - or almost nowhere else - are people who do not belong to an organization allowed to come in and help decide who the organization selects as its leaders and representatives. If an individual wants a voice is the decision of a group, a minimum requirement is to join the group.

In other words, the moral principles being embraced in this case are those of convenience, with no reliance on any type of impersonal standard.

Further evidence of this comes from Sanders' attitude towards the use of a caucus to select a candidate.

Sanders has tended to do well where states select their delegates during a caucus system.

To vote in a caucus, a voter must devote a considerable amount of time out of their day, on a specific day, to go to a common location with other caucus voters, to engage in a long discussion and debate and, from there, to select delegates.

This is an exceptional burden for many people. Those who have family and business commitments, those who are ill, and those who find it difficult to travel tend to be excluded from the caucus system. The decisions are made, instead, by those who are younger, healthier, and with fewer commitments to family or work.

In this election, the type of voter who could make it to a caucus tended to support Sanders, whereas the rules tended to provide excessive burdens on those who supported Clinton. Consequently, Sanders received more votes (and, thus, more delegates) in a caucus system than he would have received if the state had selected their delegates in a primary - whether open or closed.

Yet, Sanders failed to become aware of any moral problems with a caucus system that tended to prevent even registered Democrats from having a say in the selection of their group's representatives.

This suggests a highly selective sense of moral awareness, tuned quite closely to what provides the individual with a personal advantage.

In effect, the caucus system has the same practical effect as voter ID laws. Republicans claim to support voter ID laws because it limits voter fraud - even though there is almost no voter fraud to limit. As a matter of fact, Republicans tend to favor voter ID laws because it places an extra burden on certain types of voters, and those types of voters tend to vote for Democrats. In other words, they favor the law for its practical effect at preventing eligible voters who would otherwise have cast their votes for Democratic candidates from voting.

Democrats tend to object to voter ID laws - again, claiming that it interferes with a right to vote, though we would have to ask if they would find voter ID laws so objectionable if it were the case that such a law would tend to reduce the number of Republican voters from voting. A disposition to discover moral principles promoting acts and policies that provide the discoverer with a material advantage is clearly not confined to members of the Republican party.

Indeed, the practice of "discovering" moral principles that provide one with an personal advantage is very common. These simply provide some clear illustrations of the practice. Yet, the fact that it is common is not an argument in favor of continuing or even promoting the practice. It is a practice that ought to be uncommon - even rare. It is a practice that we have reason to criticize and condemn.