Friday, September 23, 2016

"Dieting" and Evaluating Desires in Context

339 days until classes start.

This morning, I listened to the nautical philosopher Jimmy Buffett - a collection of works on The Good Life of beach-combing, sailing, and the drinking of margaritas.

Actually, I was celebrating the fact that, after months of hard work, I got my BMI number from 31.6 (Obese) to 24.9 (Normal).

That took work.

It also provides a case study concerning reasons for intentional action.

I have long had many and strong reasons to lose weight. My weight thwarted many current desires (mostly regarding appearance to others). However, it mostly threatened to thwart future desires. Unfortunately, a future desire (a desire that does not currently exist) cannot motivate current action. Current action depends on the desire that my future desires not be thwarted. This desire and the desire to look better could not outweigh the current desire for another slice of chocolate cake.

What tipped the balance was that somebody gave me a Fitbit Blaze activity tracker.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my interest in computer games - an interest I called a vice because it motivated me to waste time in unproductive activity such as talking my avatar Hedgerow Shrewburrow (former clerk to the mayor of Michel Delving in the Shire - Lord of the Rings Online) and accompanying a group into The Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu - only to suffer defeat at the hands of the troll boss Barz.

Well, the activity tracker turned weight management into a computer game. The rules are easy. I needed to record everything that I ate (at least its calorie value). The object of the game was to burn more calories than I consumed. I could accomplish this objective in one of two ways - by reducing the number of calories I consumed, or by increasing the number of calories burned, or (ideally) a combination of both. Every day in which I win, I lose a little fat. The high my score (the higher the difference between calories burned and calories consumed), the more fat I lost.

There are a few other technicalities to consider to maintain good health - see your doctor for details.

I have played this game every day since I got it, and I have won this game every day for 143 days in a row now (except on my birthday). Currently, I have a string of victories where my score has been greater than 1000. Last night, my score was I win with a score of at least 1000. Yesterday, my score was 2683 - but that required spending nearly 3 hours on an elliptical. (There are reasons not to recommend keeping such a high score for an extended period of time.)

This brings up something about the value of desires that perhaps does not get the attention that it should. Desires are not good or bad in themselves. They are good or bad in terms of their tendency to fulfill other desires. Their tendency to fulfill other desires depends on their context - the situations that occur in which they are relevant. We cannot simply say that a desire is good or bad. We have to look at the situations that the agent will likely find herself in, and the way that the desire will manifest itself in those situations.

This stands at the root of my objections to Trolley problems. They take the sentiments that are engineered to work in situations where people are likely to find themselves, and puts them into a highly unusual (in fact, an impossible but imaginable) situation, and looks at the results. Whenever I hear a trolley problem, I simply roll my eyes and wait for the topic to turn to something relevant.

This fact is also relevant to the many counter-examples to act-utilitarian theories. Desires that produce good consequences in the normal situations in which we find ourselves will not produce good consequences in all situations imaginable. Counter-examples to act utilitarianism almost always (always?) involve cases where sentiments that produce good consequences in everyday situations produce anti-utilitarian consequences in some unusual situation. These are effective arguments against act-utilitarianism, but they are explained by the fact that we cannot completely divorce any act from the motives that caused it, and we have to look at what consequences those motives will produce in normal circumstances.

In an earlier post, I argued that my interest in computer games counts as a bad desire, because it motivates me to waste my time. However, by modifying the context, I have changed the consequences of this desire to produce a personal benefit - weight loss. There is probably a consequence in which this same desire could produce good consequences - something that is generally useful for others. If this is the case, others may not have as much reason to condemn the desire as they would to alter the circumstances in which the desire operated.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Blood Oil" and the Real-World Implications of Moral Philosophy

339 days until I am sitting in my first class.

I am down to eight (8) Philosophy Bites podcast.

One of the recent set of podcasts that I listened to, Leif Wenar on Trade and Tyranny discussed changing international law to prohibit the purchasing of raw material from sources where the resource was not controlled by the people.

Wenar identified four criteria for determining if the people controlled the resource.

(1) Were the people able to discover what is happening with the resource?
(2) Were the people able to talk freely among themselves about what is happening with the resource?
(3) Were the people able to petition those who controlled the resource to change what is happening?
(4) When the people petitioned those who controlled the resource for change, were those wishes carried out?

Wenar's proposal was that, where these conditions were not met, trade with that entity would be prohibited.

He compared this to the project of ending the slave trade and ending colonization. In both of these cases, entrenched instances were up to their neck in an activity that was determined to be immoral and unjust. A difficult political struggle resulted. However, the result of that struggle was finally to change international law and to end the immoral activity.

He gave a specific example in which this was actually done concerning blood diamonds. Blood diamonds were diamonds from mines that criminal warlords controlled in Africa. Their purchase was being used to finance these criminal overlords. Through public pressure, companies that market diamonds developed a system for registering diamonds and to restrict their purchase from places that these criminal organizations controlled. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme has been criticized for its failure to guarantee that diamonds do not come from a prohibited source, but it does increase the costs and difficulties of selling those resources.

Wenar wants to apply the same system to "blood oil". "Blood oil" refers to oil resources controlled by warlords or terrorist organizations, as well as by tyrannical governments. Each oil well has a unique chemical fingerprint that can be used to determine the source of oil, allowing us to set up barriers to the sale of oil by organizations such as ISIS, which are using it to fund violent and oppressive regimes. Wenar would also include the government of Saudi Arabia in his list of sources of "blood oil", since it fails to satisfy the four crtieria for a legitimate source of oil outlined above.

Interviewer Nigel Warburton asked about how this is a philosophical topic. Wenar answered by identifying many political philosophers in history who took on important political institutions of their time; Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau. He could have added Socrates and Aristotle - both of whom antagonized the government of Athens to the point that they had reason to fear for their lives. Socrates was executed. Aristotle fled Athens to avoid the same fate several years later.

That part of the interview has made me wonder about the degree to which I have applied my political philosophy to the issues of the day - and what it would look like if I took on a more activist role.

I have used it to criticize the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both campaigns were built on a foundation of hate-mongering bigotry, identifying a social group as "them" who are the source of "all of our problems" and, thus, legitimately made the object of hatred. Trump targeted Muslims and immigrants, while Sanders targeted billionaires, but the logic of their arguments was identical.

I have also spoken repeatedly against the derogatory overgeneralizations of atheists who fail to distinguish between "criticizing an idea" versus "promoting hatred of a people". These are atheists whose tribal instincts are such that it blinds them to the difference, so that they convince even themselves that their instances of promoting hatred of a people is actually criticism of an idea.

If I were to identify an issue that I think I should devote more time and effort to, it would be the issue of intellectual recklessness. It is a meta-issue that has implications to everything from climate change to the shooting of unarmed black men because they are "perceived" to be dangerous. We live in a society that allows Republican nominee Donald Trump to lie repeatedly with impunity while unfounded accusations against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are embraced with the flimsiest of evidence. It supports "alternative medicine" and other forms of pseudo-science that do more harm than good, and is the foundation for the types of derogatory overgeneralizations that I mentioned above.

Intellectual recklessness, of course, is not, "You disagree with me; therefore, you are guilty of intellectual recklessness." It is an evaluation of whether the conclusion actually follows from the given premises. Donald Trump lied when he said that the Clinton campaign was responsible for the Birther movement. It was a false claim, and Donald Trump had to have known that it false because he, in fact, made his reputation as the spearhead of the Birther movement. This actually goes beyond intellectual recklessness - this is intentional wrongdoing.

Yet, it does not draw near the condemnation it deserves.

If we can build up some degree of intellectual responsibility in our communities, we may be able to get a better handle on some of the other issues that we confront.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Desirism and the Duty to Keep a Promise

One of the recent Philosophy Bites podcasts that I listened to interviewed David Owens on Duty..

Desirism has some specific things to day about duty. Namely, that duties have to do with aversions that people generally have many and strong reasons to create, using the tools of praise and condemnation. Specifically, the duty to keep promises means that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to breaking promises by praising those who keep promises and condemning - perhaps even punishing - those who break promises.

Near the beginning of the episode, Owens mentions the two dominant theories for the justification of duty. The first is the intrinsic value theory - it is "just wrong" to break a promise. The second is an instrumental account that holds that the institution of promise keeping provides certain benefits, and the benefits justify the institution.

I hold that there is no such thing as intrinsic value. I understand intrinsic value to imply intrinsic end-reasons for intentional action, and no such entity exists. Desires exist, and can be expressed in the form "agent desires that P". In this case, the desire gives the agent a reason to realize any state of affairs in which "P" is true. Those states of affairs have no intrinsic merit, they just happen to be something that the agent has come to value.

This leaves us with an instrumentalist account of promise keeping. However, we are not talking about the instrumental value of an institution. We are talking about the instrumental value of promoting a particular desire or aversion. In this case, it is an aversion to breaking promises.

We can see some of the importance of looking at desires and aversions rather than institutions by looking at objections that Owens raises to traditional defenses of the duty to keep promises.

First, Owens examines the idea that there is a duty to create promises because other people build expectations on our promises - they make plans expecting us to act in certain ways (keeping our promises). Consequently, when we break our promises, we harm others. Harming others is a bad thing to do. Consequently, breaking promises is a bad thing to do.

Against this argument, Owens brings up the fact that not all cases of promise keeping harm others. It may be the case that the other person has forgotten the promise and, consequently, has made no plans based on that expectation. Alternatively, it may be the case that the other person never believed that one would make good on the promise and made no plans on that account. This defense for promise keeping says that if others do not believe that one would keep a promise, then one has no obligation to keep a promise. This odd result raises flags for the "harm" argument.

Next, Owens mentions an argument that states that the institution of promise keeping produces good benefits. Thus, there are reasons to bind ourselves to and obey the requirements of this institution. Failure to keep a promise damages the institution - which, in turn, would deprive society of the benefits that the institution would otherwise bring about.

However, it is clearly not the case that every act of breaking a promise causes the institution of promise keeping to utterly collapse. Breaking a promise to meet somebody for lunch, for example, will not imply that every contract and agreement currently in force will become worthless.

Owens says that we should see promise keeping as good for its own sake - and not for its instrumental value. He also links the moral value of promise keeping to desire by saying that it is something we care about for its own sake. It matters to us that others keep their promises. Because we care about our duties, we have reason to care about controlling our duties. The institution of promise keeping gives us this control. We decide what duties we have by deciding what to promise and what not to promise. We decide what duties others have by deciding whether to keep others bound to a promise or to release them from their promise.

In linking the morality of promise keeping to "reasons to care", Owens says something that desirism would certainly agree with. What we are after is making people care about keeping their promise - promoting desires in people to keep their promises and aversions to breaking them.

Owens does not mention the fact that this interest in creating certain desires and aversions to others explains why we praise and, in extreme cases, reward those who keep their promises while we condemn and sometimes punish those who break promises. These rewards and punishments reinforce the desire to keep promises and the aversion to breaking promises respectively. They work not only on those rewarded or punished, but on the community generally - even where the story of the reward or punishment does not even describe a real event.

To say that people have an obligation to keep their promises - even where it would do no harm to the person who was given the promise, or to the institution of promise keeping - is to say that people have many and strong reasons to condemn those who break promises, even under these circumstances. They have many and strong reasons to condemn the breaking of promises because they have many and strong reasons to establish a general aversion to breaking promises - an aversion that will motivate agents to keep promises even when they have other reasons that would motivate them not to, and when they could get away with it.

However, people generally have no reason to motivate others to keep promises under conditions where changed circumstances or new information means that the person to whom the promise was made does not want it kept. That is to say, we want our aversion to breaking promises to dissipate when the promisee releases the promise. Owens is correct to argue that we have reason to seek this level of control. Consequently, we have reason to build it into the desires and aversions we create through praise and condemnation - refusing to condemn the person who fails to keep a promise that he was released from.

This, then, is how desirism handles the institution of promise keeping.

341 Days Until Classes

341 days until the start of classes.

I am assuming, of course, that I will have a class on the first day of classes. This is certainly not guaranteed, but it does admit to an error bar in my calculations.

The latest London School of Economics public lecture broadcast was a waste of time. in Signals and Social Consequences from Shrinkflation to Fighter Jets, Dr. Pippa Malmgren argued for using "narrative" and "signals" in economic analysis, as opposed to math-driven economic models and more empirical evidence. She draws significant conclusions from the price of fish or a shipment of olive oil. All of this predicts the end of civilization as we know it.

The problem is - as is always the problem with this type of evidence, one can always find the signals that one wants to find. I have endured advice to prepare for the coming economic collapse for over 40 years. There is no way to remove confirmation bias, cherry picking, and "just-so" stories from this type of work.

To top it all off, she adds a layer of conspiracy theory - of the form, "Officials are hiding the truth from you but you can figure it out for yourself if you just know how to read the signals." Yet, she accompanies this with self-promoting claims about how she seems to be the only person on the planet looking at the right signals and drawing the right conclusions. She literally said at one point that the number of people in the world watching one of her signals and drawing the relevant conclusions is, "just me".

It is true that economic modelling is a seriously flawed business. When it comes to people making predictions as to whether the stock market will continue to go up, go down, or flatten, I substantially ignore all of them as being nothing more than throwing darts at a distant dart board. However, we know how cognitive biases corrupt less rigidly defined evidence, and we have know reason to believe that an amateur looking at "the signals" can do a better job than an expert looking at hard numbers - even if the expert cannot do very well.

On the Philosophy Bites front, a new episode showed up. I am now down to 12 episodes left.

There are several episodes recently that I would like to comment on. There is an episode on epistemic responsibility, an episode on duty (using an example the duty to keep promises), and episodes on Buddhism and stoic philosophy. Each one of these raises an interesting subject of discussion, so I intend to devote a separate post to each.

I also ventured into the Philosophy department site for the University of Colorado at Boulder and found some class materials for the graduate level Ethics Proseminar. The department has a requirement that all incoming PhD students take certain general classes in ethics and metaphysics that will give them a common history regarding these subjects. The ethics courses involved taking some classical readings in ethics and discussing them.

I had a thought of adding a project of reading some of these assignments in advance. However, I do not have any reason to believe that the course I am required to take will be taught the same way by the same people, and there is far too much potentially relevant literature for me to have any hope of getting through it all. Therefore, I will wait until the course descriptions are posted next spring and spend the summer months trying to get a head start on those materials.

A specific note of disappointment was that the readings on Henry Sidgwick did not include Book III, Chapter XII of the Methods of Ethics, "Motives or Springs of Action as Subjects of Moral Judgment". This, clearly, would be a chapter that I would like to write a paper on. If, per chance, when I take this course it involves the same reading assignments, I wonder if I will be able to get away with petitioning to include this chapter so that I can give a presentation on it. Chapters II, III, VIII, and IX are also not on the reading list. Being chapters devoted to virtue, they would certainly be ways of entering into a discussion of motives (desires) as subjects of moral judgment.

Perhaps I will write a separate paper and turn it in anyway.

Too much to do. Too little time. I think I have said that before.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Adam Smith on Moral Approval and Disapproval

342 days until the start of class.

I am continuing my reading of Adam Smith’s A Theory of Moral Sentiments..

Part II of the book concerned "Merit and demerit: The objects of reward and punishment" - or, in other words, praise and condemnation.

Smith's view, as I wrote yesterday, is substantially intersubjective. What is praiseworth is what impartial judges in a community are disposed to praise, and what is worthy of condemnation is what people in a community are disposed to punish. This means that if a community of individuals are disposed to execute somebody like you, then you deserve to die. In fact, he discusses self-hatred and remorse as a sentiment that comes from the recognition of how others are disposed to see the person.

However, his account continues and, for a time, it runs along a track parallel to desirism.

For example, what people are disposed to condemn are actions that cause harm - or, as desirism would understand it, the thwarting of desires. This is what arouses our sense of sympathy for those harmed and, in turn, gives rise to the sentiment of resentment (the foundation for condemnation and punishment) of those who caused the harm.

However, this is only a part of the story. We must also look at the motives of those who caused the harm. If the motives are bad, then the resentment that the harms inflicted on others finds a proper object. However, if the motives are good, then there is resentment for the harms done. Thus, the harms inflicted by the judicial punisher under the direction of the courts acting to preserve the public order gives rise to no resentment.

In short, as Smith tells us, we must look to two measures to determine if condemnation is warranted. First, there must be a harm done - something that would give rise to our sympathy. Second, the harm done must not come from a good motive. If both of these conditions are met, the proper response that all of mankind would have is resentment for - an impulse to condemn or even to punish - the transgressor.

Technically, there is one more element we need to look at in our judgment. Smith acknowledges that it is possible for a person to perform the right action, but to do so from the wrong motives. He acknowledges that a person can go through the motions of gratitude, for example, without feeling any gratitude. When this happens - when a person performs a right action from a wrong motive - so long as they go through the right actions - they deserve no punishment. They deserve no great praise, either, but they are not to be punished.

I did not see in Smith's treatment how to evaluate actions that cause no harm but which are of a type that would tend to cause harm. He does not describe how attempted murder relates to murder. However, I suspect that Smith would have no problem qualifying his judgment to be of actions of a type that tend to cause harm, rather than those that actually cause harm.

Then, desirism and Smith's theory diverge again on the question of how we determine whether the motive is a good motive or a bad motive. According to Smith, we evaluate a desire according to whether people generally are disposed to approve of or disapprove of the motive. According to desirism, we evaluate a motive according to whether it tends to bring about the fulfillment or thwarting of other desires if universalized.

At this point, what Smith's account of reward and punishment is missing - what all of moral philosophy seems to be missing and what may count as one of my contributions to the discussion once I get to graduate school - is the idea that praise and condemnation are not mere reflex reactions to a good or bad act. Praise and condemnation exist for a reason. They serve a purpose. On the basis of this, we can evaluate their use according to how well or how poorly they serve that purpose.

That purpose is not merely to provide incentives and deterrence. Incentives and deterrence exist well outside of morality. I can provide an incentive for my neighbor's child to rake the leaves in my yard by offering to pay her. Yet, this transaction exists far outside of the realm of morality. Similarly, I may refuse to pay for half of the gas when my co-traveller asks for a detour to see a historic site without suggesting that there is anything morally objectionable in wanting to see this historic site.

Rewards and punishments only take on a moral dimension when they include an element of praise and condemnation. The soldier who is given a medal at a public ceremony that consists, not only of the medal, but a heaping dose of praise for the actions that prompted the award, is being provided with a moral assessment of his actions. The cost - the fine or imprisonment - that comes with condemnation (a claim that the punishment is deserved) makes a statement that the action was wrong.

But why is it that we meet some actions with praise and others with condemnation?

The answer is because these things do work. They act on the brain, not only on the person praised or condemned, but on others who may even contemplate being praised or condemned, to mold their characters along certain lines. Dispositions to approve of that which is praised are reinforced, and aversions to that which is condemned are weakened.

This, then, gives us reason to ask, "What should we praise?" and "What should we condemn?" - which is the same as asking, "What do we generally have the most and strongest reasons to praise?" and "What do we generally have the most and strongest reasons to condemn?"

Smith, as is the habit of moral philosophers generally, treat praise and condemnation as a mere reflex action. It is simply that which marks its object as morally good or morally bad - and nothing more.

In short, I am finding many of the elements of desirism in Smith - or, at least, accounts that are quite similar to those of desirism. Actions are evaluated according to their disposition to cause harm (thwart desires). Even here, we must also look at whether the action is motivated by a good sentiment (desire) or a bad sentiment (desire). A right action is still a right action (in the sense of not deserving punishment) if it is something that a person with good motives would do, even if the agent is not acting from the same motives.

However, insofar as Smith does not recognize the work that praise and condemnation are meant to do, he has us evaluating motives on whether impartial judges would unanimously approve or disapprove of them, rather than evaluating them on whether people generally have many and strong reasons to strengthen or weaken them.

Monday, September 19, 2016

David Hume and Adam Smith

343 days until the start of class.

I am down to 17 Philosophy Bites podcast episodes. There has not been an episode posted since early August so I think this may be the end of it. It has given me a good overview of current philosophical concerns - and enough information to know that (1) there is a lot I do not know, but (2) I can make a useful contribution to the discussion.

Over at iTunes U, I am finishing up a course on Hume. I actually only have one lecture left.

And through my LibreVox app, I am going through Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Yes, that Adam Smith - the author of The Wealth of Nations.

[Note: One advantage of studying philosophy is that a lot of the material one might want to draw upon is in the public domain.]

For somebody who thinks that desires (sentiments) are the proper object of moral evaluation, and that they are to be evaluated according to their consequences, this is a useful resource.

And he was a good friend of David Hume's - which makes the study of Hume's theory of knowledge and of morality along side Smith's theory of moral sentiments particularly interesting.

Smith substantially has been giving me - at least so far - a guide to English culture in the late 1700s. I cannot read it without imagining a 17th century English court, or a 18th century street in working-class London, depending on what part of society Smith is writing about at the moment. If I were going to create a movie - a period piece set in the 1700s in England - I would require all of the actors to read Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Of course, I have no comparison with which to judge its accuracy. It is not as if I have lived in 18th century England and could see by observation that Smith's descriptions correspond to reality. However, it does provide fodder for the imagination and it is interesting enough to note that Smith (and others) at least respected this account as an accurate description of the moral sentiments of the time.

I wonder how much of David Hume's philosophy I see in Smith - who certainly knew Hume and had read Hume's earlier works during the writing of this book. And I imagine how much of Smith appears in Hume. That is to say (or to ask), "Can we gain some understanding of Hume's moral theory through Smith's interpretation and application?"

It may just be an idle question.

When it comes to evaluating the sentiments, there are elements in Smith's writing that I find necessary to reject.

According to Smith, we judge whether a sentiment properly fits its object or its cause by judging whether it would agree with our own sentiment in relevantly similar circumstances. Another's anger is proper if it would arouse a similar anger in us. Their grief is proper if a similar event would grieve us as much.

This may be descriptively true, but it does not answer the question of what emotional response and to what degree an agent should have. It is also descriptively true that we judge another person's belief true if we, also, believe it - and false if we do not. Yet, this psychological fact is distinct and separate from the question of whose belief is true in fact. Accordingly, we may judge the emotional response of another unfit or inappropriate if it does not agree with our own under similar circumstances, but the question of what is, in fact, the appropriate response is a different question entirely.

And Smith does allow that individuals can judge their own moral sentiments to be inappropriate. He writes about how envy can get in the way of our experiencing joy at the success of another person - that we may secretly harbor resentment while we give the outward appearance of support and applause. And that we may judge ourselves harshly if we cannot be as happy for our friends as their good fortune would warrant. So, we cannot say that Smith holds that we judge ourselves infallible in our emotional responses - that we are not subject to correction.

Relevant to this blog is the question of the degree to which Smith is willing to evaluate the molding of a sentiment according to its consequences - that the strength and the object of a sentiment can be judge by the degree to which a sentiment of that strength and with that object is socially useful. I have seen hints, but no strong evidence of this yet - though I am only a quarter of the way through the book.

Oh, and for those who may want to know, Smith is no great fan of the pride and arrogance of the wealthy, or of selfishness.

With Philosophy Bites and the Hume lectures coming to an end, I will have an opportunity to turn to new projects. One object will be to find papers written by the professors at the University of Colorado in Boulder and make comments on them before classes start. I wish to understand their interests and their philosophical positions before class starts.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Declawing a Cat

Earlier, I wrote about the intrinsic value of an animal's life.

Here, I want to apply those ideas.

Let me take the moral issue of whether it is permissible to declaw a cat.

The declawing of a cat involves the amputation of each "finger" at the first knuckle. If somebody did that to you, you would lose your claws.

Is it wrong to do this to a cat?

Well, we need to look at the reasons that exist for declawing a cat - and the reasons that exist against it - and the quality of those reasons.

We also need to set aside reasons that do not exist.

For example, there is the "unnatural" argument. It is natural for a cat to have claws and removing the claws is unnatural - it is simply wrong. There is an intrinsic "ought not to be doneness" in the act that us the reason not to do it.

These types of reasons do not exist. It is like saying that it is wrong to declaw a cat because doing so would cause extraterrestrial aliens to destroy the earth. Because the claim is untrue, it does not provide a reason for action. A person who believes it may believe that he has a reason for action, and he may choose to act. However, he would be mistaken, and acting for no good (of real) reason.

Consider spaying or neutering a cat. This, too, is a painful medical procedure that utterly destroys a natural function of some part of a cat's biology. An "unnatural" argument would be just as applicable here as well. Yet, we see sufficient reason to have the cat "fixed" to create a harmonious home environmentnn

The cat's interest in avoiding pain certainly provides a real reason for the cat to avoid being declawed. This is a reason that exists. Any human with an aversion to thwarting the desires of others - such as avoiding a cat's desire not to be in pain - has a reason to avoid declawing a cat.

At the same time, an owner's aversion to pain and potential infection - particularly the pain and infection that may come from being clawed by a cat - are also real reasons for action. They are reasons for the human to have the cat declawed.

With respect to the aversion to thwarting the desires of others - the aversion to causing a cat pain - this reason enters into the realm of morality. This is a reason - an aversion - that people generally have reasons to promote. Each of us is safer in a community of others averse to causing pain then we are in a community of individuals indifferent to the pain of others. This gives us many and strong reasons to promote this aversion - specifically by condemning/punishing those who demonstrate indifference to the suffering of others and praising/rewarding those who demonstrate an interest in helping others avoid pain.

Of course, this compassion should also extend to the owners seeking to avoid the pain and possible infections that could result from cat scratches. On this matter, the person with an aversion to others being in pain would be torn between the pain of the cat and the pain of the human.

At the same time, the human's aversion to pain stands outside of morality. Praise and condemnation cannot alter this aversion. Therefore, an assertion to the effect that agents (morally) ought not to be averse to personal pain would be absurd.

Owners also have reasons to be concerned with the well-being of their furniture, clothes, and other things that may be damaged. These are reasons - they are real. To say that such reasons do not exist is to ignore reality. To say that such reasons should not exist - that individuals concerned with the condition of their furniture and clothes deserve condemnation and perhaps punishment - would be a difficult case to make.

Another set of reasons that both the cats and humans have is in a harmonious relationship.

The state of affairs between a cat and its owners is inherently one of conflict. The cat, acting on its natural desires, engages in behavior that thwarts the desires of the owner. The owner, seeking fulfillment of her desires, has reason to act in ways that thwart the desires of the cat. The best way to resolve the conflict is by creating a state of affairs within which each can act on their own desires without disturbing the other. Once the cat is declawed, such a state of affairs obtains.

Cats are going to naturally seek to sharpen their claws. A declawed cat can go through the motions without any reason for stress or interference from the adult. A cat with claws is in a position where acting on this natural desire creates conflict with the owner, requiring discipline, which the cat cannot understand. Similarly, the destructive behavior creates anger, which puts the cat at risk of physical harm.

Now, the aversion to pain is reason to look for less painful alternatives that serve the same wants. Capping the claws seems to be an alternative to declawing. There ought to be reasons to prefer claw caps to declawing - thus fulfilling the desire that others not be harmed.

The Intrinsic Value of an Animal Life

Classes start in 346 days.

I am nearing the end of my project of going through all of the Philosophy Bites podcasts - about 25 to go. I still think that I can make a contribution. I find philosophers saying things that I take to be mistaken.

Let's consider Christine Korsgaard on the Status of Animals.

Korsgaard holds a Kantian theory of value. This is an intrinsic value theory that holds that some acts or states of affairs are good in themselves - independent of desires.

She accepts the idea that all good is good for some conscious creature. It seems that she would deny that a waterfall in a mountain valley surrounded by forest vegetation, but devoid of animals, has any value. It would have value for any animals that lived there, so long as the environment was compatible with their living a long and healthy life. For Korsgaard, an animal living a healthy life has intrinsic value - it is a good that provides all people with a reason for action. Thus, it is morally permitted to act in a way that denies an animal a healthy life - to do something that is not good for the animal, such as to kill it and eat it.

In other words, using Kant's model, it is wrong to treat an animal as a means only and not, at the same time, as an end in itself. One must always consider what is good for that animal. In other words, it is wrong to kill an animal and eat it.

Korsgaard provided a useful analogy between her view and Peter Singer's preference utilitarianism. The usefulness of this analogy is found in the fact that people often compare and confuse the theory that I defend with Peter Singer's preference utilitarianism. I received a question on that issue just a few weeks ago.

Korsgaard reported that Peter Singer expressed the view that there would be no moral difference if one animal (one's pet dog) died and another animal stepped in to replace him. There would be just as much doggie desire satisfaction in the world, and that is what determines moral value.

The view I defend is different from both of these. Desires provide the only end-reasons for intentional action and, only then, they are reasons only for the being that have the desires. They are reasons to use tools such as praise and condemnation to mold the desires of others - thus giving others different reasons to act and, thereby, causing them to behave differently. The desires of the cat living in the scene described above gives the cat reasons to act in particular ways - even if the cat does not know this.

Against Korsgaard, no end-reason for intentional action can be found that is intrinsic to a state of affairs in which an animal is living a healthy life. Against Singer, no end-reason for intentional action can be found merely in the fact of a satisfied preference. The animal has reason to seek its own healthy life; in fact, a "healthy life" is simply a life in which one's physical and mental functioning is such as to fulfill the desires of the creature living it. Similarly, the animal's desires provide the animal with reasons to act so as to fulfill those desires. That is as far as it goes.

Intrinsic values do not exist. Korsgaard and Singer are "making things up" - the way that one may make up the commands of a god that does not exist in order to get people to do what this imaginary god requires them to do. This is not to say that they are being deceptive - they sincerely believe that these entities exist, just as many people sincerely believe that a god exists. The fact is, they do not.

One of the ways to see that these types of entities do not exist is to look at the relationship between an animal predator and prey. The antelope's long and healthy life does not create any type of intrinsic reason for the lion to refrain from hunting the antelope. Nor does the antelope's preference satisfaction create such a reason. The lion's reasons for action have to do entirely with the lion's hunger and other interests, such as feeding and caring for her young.

The main point of this illustration is to point out that there is no reason to believe that

The standard respose to this is that lions are not moral agents - but that response is not applicable here. We are talking about the existence of a reason. When we observe what is happening in nature with respect to the lion or the antelope, we see no reason to believe that an "intrinsic value property" (what J.L. Mackie calls and intrinsic "ought to be doneness" or "ought not to be doneness") is anywhere in the picture. We can understand everything that happens without inventing such an entity.

Animals do have reason to cause us to behave in ways that are compatible with their interests. Unfortunately, they do not know how to do this. Evolution takes care of this to some extent by making them "cute" to us, or useful to us, but these poorly track their interests at this point. However, animals lack the capacity to intentionally take actions for the purpose of molding our desires in such a way that will consider their interests. Only other humans have the capacity to do that.

Humans do have reasons to cause other humans to be concerned with the interests of others - including others who cannot defend themselves. We want other humans to be concerned with our interests and the interests of those we care about, even when those people cannot defend their own interests. We have reason to consider cruelty to animals to manifest itself also as a lack of interest in the harms that other people may suffer - which gives us reason to morally condemn those who display a lack of interest in the well-being of animals (or even an actual interest in harming animals). Animals have many and strong reasons to morally condemn us, but they lack the capacity to do so.

It would be a mistake to consider this merely an instrumental account of a concern for the welfare of animals. A purely instrumental account says that the only reason we have for promoting a concern for animals in others is because it will tend to cause people to behave in ways that benefit us (or avoid behaving in ways that harm us). This would deny that we have any reason to be concerned for the welfare of animals themselves.

What we would be promoting is an aversion to that which causes suffering in others. Once a person has such an aversion, that person has a reason to avoid anything which causes suffering in others for its own sake - not as a means to some other end, but as an end in itself. This aversion is justified on account of its instrumental value (in virtue of the fact that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote such an interest). However, once established, the aversion provides a reason for action - not the desires and aversions that give reason to create such an aversion.

The intrinsic reasons for intentional action that Korsgaard and Singer believe in simply do not exist. This is a metaphysical claim. It cannot be disproved by looking at our intuitions. Our intuitions will tell us what we wish to be true, not what is true in fact. We live in a universe that does not contain such entities and, to the degree that we want to live in the real world, these are the facts we have to live with. There is no intrinsic prescriptively dictating human behavior towards animals, there are only the reasons that people have in virtue of their desires, and the reasons they have reason to modify by promoting some desires and aversions and inhibiting others.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


347 days until my first class, and I sent the university my money to confirm that I will enroll in 2017. I seem to be committed.

Yet, there are Philosophy Bites podcasts that frighten me. They tell me not only how little I know, but how little I can know, even about subjects that are relevant to my main interests.

This morning, I listened to Lucy Allies on Forgiveness

It seems that I should be able to say something about forgiveness. To say something about forgiveness, I would need to find out what other people have said. There is a body of philosophical and psychological literature on the subject that I really should read before offering an opinion. Yet, that raises the question of how to fit my reading this body of literature into the set of other stuff I really should read. I will never be able to catch up.

I have offered opinions on some related issues.

I have written a series of posts on the subject of "excuses". Specifically, I have written on accidents, on false belief, on denying harm, on consent, on the greater good, and on deserved punishment. All of these things can - in certain circumstances - excuse an act that, at least on the surface, looks like a wrongdoing. They all show that what appears to be a wrongdoing deserving of condemnation is deceptive, and there was no wrongdoing deserving of condemnation.

I have written on apologies, which seem closely related to forgiveness since a common response to an apology is a forgiveness.

Forgiveness seems to have something to do with condemnation, and condemnation is a central focus of the theory that I use in these posts. Condemnation is a tool that is used to mold desires - most often to promote aversions (desires that not-P) that inhibit people from performing certain types of actions (e.g., lying, breaking promises). If I were to take a first guess on forgiveness, it is a decision to no longer condemn. However, if this is what forgiveness is, then forgiveness is a decision not to use the tool of condemnation to mold useful aversions. How can forgiveness ever be justified?

There are some other important things we can say about forgiveness.

First, forgiveness requires a wrongdoing. If you say, "I forgive you," then you are implying "You did something that a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would not have done." You are implying that the person you are talking to has done something wrong - something to be forgiven.

If a driver should strike your parked car legally parked in front of your house because he was excessively tired as a result of helping people who were victims of an accident up the street, you may forgive him. However, if the driver should strike your car because of a manufacturing defect that locked the steering wheel, then there is nothing to forgive. Or, at least, the driver of the car has done nothing to forgive, because even a person with good desires and lacking bad desires could not have turned the car at that moment.

Furthermore, only the victim of a wrongdoing can forgive a wrongdoer. I have no legitimate authority to forgive the person who hit your car. I can only forgive the driver if the driver has wronged me in some way, and only for those things where I was wronged. In fact, third-party forgiveness is an insult to the person who was wronged - a claim that they lack moral significance.

Can forgiveness be justified? If forgiveness requires a wrongdoing, a wrongdoing is an act that people generally have many and strong reasons to condemn, and forgiveness is a decision to stop condemnation, then it seems we have a contradiction.

Divine forgiveness is a forgiveness of wrongs done against God (assuming there was a God that one could wrong). However, even God cannot forgive the wrongs that a person inflicts on another person. After pummeling an individual in a bar, the claim "god forgives me" does not imply that the victim pummeled either does or should forgive the assailant.

Lucy Alles provides a paradigm example of a justified forgiveness. This happens in a case in which one person is in a long-term relationship with another; a family member or a friend. All of us are wronged in various ways by those around us. None of us are perfect, and each of us steps out of bounds from time to time with respect to others. Maintaining a state of condemnation against somebody for prior wrongs (holding a grudge) would poison those relationships over time. There comes a point at which a prudent thing to do is to "put the past behind us" and carry on.

In other words, forgiveness tells us that, even though morality is important, it is not the only thing that is important. Sometimes the concerns of morality have to give way to other concerns, such as our concern to have and maintain long-term relationships. Having and maintaining long-term relationships requires forgiveness. Yes, a wrongdoing was done. Yes, it was a type of thing that people generally have many and strong reasons to condemn.

However, people also have many and strong reasons to form long-term commitments and there are circumstances where this outweighs the concerns of morality and we are well advised to put aside our condemnation and carry on.

This account also has something to say about "asking for forgiveness".

Because forgiveness implies a wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness is, at least in part, an admission of wrongdoing. It is an admission of the fact that people generally have reason to condemn - even perhaps to punish - those who have done what the agent asking for forgiveness has done. One can only ask for forgiveness from the person wronged. And it is asking a lot. It is asking the person wronged to withhold condemnation when she is perfectly justified in that condemnation. However, in asking for forgiveness, one does signal that one is wanting a long-term relationship, without the corruption of perpetual condemnation. Forgiveness is essential in long-term relationships. However, some things cannot be forgiven.