Sunday, June 17, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 43: Doing What One Ought

Here, I am considering Gregory's third argument in defense of the thesis, which he calls "DAB",: "To desire to Φ is to believe that you have normative reason to Φ."

If DAB is true, this amounts to the claim that what we ought to do depends on our beliefs about what we have reason to do. It is very plausible that this claim is ambiguous between something true and something false. It is false in the sense that one’s beliefs might be false. But it is true in the sense that what we rationally ought to do does depend on our beliefs about what we have reason to do. So DAB resolves the controversy regarding whether what we ought to do depends on our desires.

(Gregory, Alex, (2017), “Might Desires Be Beliefs about Normative Reasons for Action?” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

I am not certain what controversy Gregory is referring to.

I suspect that the controversy he is referring to has to do with cases such as: Jim believes that taking a pill will cure his cancer. Given that he desires to cure his cancer, does he have reason to take the pill? What if the pill is a placebo? Does he still have reason to take it?

Gregory says, "It is false in the sense that one's belief might be false." But what belief is he talking about? A desire, according to Gregory, is a belief about what has reason to do. The agent desires to take the pill, because he believes he has reason to take the pill. He believes that it will cure his cancer. So, he has a desire to take the pill. The belief that the pill will cure his cancer is false. But his belief that he has a reason to take the pill (according to Gregory) is true.

From this, we can say that it is false that he ought to take the pill because it will not cure is cancer. However, it is true that he ought to take the pill because the rational thing for a person with cancer to do if he has a pill that he believes will cure it is to take the pill. To refuse to do so under these circumstances is irrational. The "ought" term is ambiguous.

If this is analysis is correct, then it is relevant to note that we can get the same conclusion without DAB.

Gregory is referring to the so-called desire to take the pill. Taking the pill is desired as a means, not as an end. The end - the final desire - is the desire to cure the cancer. Desires as means, as I have argued in the previous post, is a combination of beliefs and desires-as-ends. It is the beliefs, not the ends, that are sensitive to evidence.

Now, we can have the same ambiguity of ought without Gregory's DAB. The actual desire in this case, the desire to cure the cancer, is not sensitive to evidence. However, the belief that the pill will cure the cancer is subject to evidence. We have the same distinction between what the agent believes will cure the cancer and what will cure the cancer. We have the same two senses of "ought" - the one that relates the action to the desire through the belief, and the one that relates the action to the desire directly - independent of the belief. We have an objective "ought" and a subjective "ought". The objective "ought" says "You ought not take the pill; it will do no good." The subjective "ought" says "You ought to take the pill. It is what a person with a desire to cure cancer and a belief that taking the pill will cure cancer would do."

However, we have gotten this conclusion without interpreting desire - in this case, the desire to cure the cancer - as any type of belief about one has a normative reason to do. The desire is still nothing more than the assignment of a value to a state of affair - an assignment that is not sensitive to evidence.

The summary of these last three posts is that Gregory has given us no reason to favor the idea that a desire is a belief about a normative reason. Where this thesis seems to make sense, Gregory has confused what is desired as a means with what is desired as an end. What is desired as a means is sensitive to evidence and prone to the objective/subjective distinction because it contains a belief within it. That belief is sensitive to evidence and subject to the objective/subjective distinction. The desire-as-end that also makes up the desire-as-means is not. We cannot reduce the desire-as-end to a belief about what one has a normative reason to do unless we can come up with a theory of normative reasons that does not, in turn, refer back to that same desire.

On Desire 2018. Part 41: Susceptibility to Evidence

Concerning Alex Gregory's defense of his thesis that "To desire to Φ is to believe that you have normative reason to Φ," Gregory's second argument in defense of this thesis is as follows:

Second, DAB explains why desires are sensitive to evidence about what we have reason to do (cf. Fernández 2007; Byrne 2011; Moran 2001: 119). If you want to vote Conservative, I might get you to rationally abandon this desire by presenting you with evidence that there are no good reasons to vote Conservative. Or, for another example, if I ask you whether you want my spare plane ticket to China, you will respond by considering the reasons for and against taking this choice: the sights, the food, the weather, etc. DAB explains why desires are sensitive to evidence about reasons: because they are beliefs about reasons.

(Gregory, Alex, (2017), “Might Desires Be Beliefs about Normative Reasons for Action?” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

I discussed his first defense in the previous post. There, he wrote that normative beliefs have the power to motivate us to act, which I countered by suggesting that normative beliefs are beliefs about relationships between states of affairs and desires where desires provide the motivation to act.

The problem in this second defense is that, as a matter of fact, the desires-as-ends (that which we desire for their own sake) are immune to evidence. More complex forms of desire are subject to evidence because they are mixtures of beliefs and desires, and beliefs are sensitive to evidence.

As evidence that basic desires are immune to evidence, try reasoning a person out of extreme pain, out of their love for their child, out of an addiction, or out of their sexual orientation. What syllogism can you provide a person who prefers the taste of butterscotch topping to the taste of chocolate that will alter his preference so that he comes to refer the taste of chocolate? How do you persuade a child that she likes broccoli when they do not like broccoli?

Indeed, if basic desires are susceptible to reason, I would like to see the structure of the argument that has a change of taste or preference as its conclusion. Generally, if a person claims to have a belief that P, we can at least make some sense of what it takes to prove that "P" is true. So, if P is, "I have a normative reason to Φ," please provide an example of how such an argument can be constructed without making a viciously circular reference back to the agent's own desires.

This is not to say that desires are not subject to change. Of course desires can change. However, they do not change as a consequence of evidence. The most common way for a desire to change is by experience. If a particular action produces a reward - whether in the form of pleasure, or a drug-induced high, or praise from others; or if it produces pain, the agent at first may value (or disvalue) the action as a way of obtaining pleasure or avoiding pain. However, it comes to be valued for its own sake - one of the rules of behavior that the agent adopts. But the relationship between experience and desire is nothing like that of evidence and belief. There is no "valid inference" between experience and desire as there is between evidence and belief. There is merely cause and effect.

When Gregory claims to see desires susceptible to evidence, what he actually sees are cases of complex mixtures of beliefs and desires being subject to evidence. However, this is because beliefs are a part of the complex structure.

For example, we should consider the distinction between means and ends. A person "wants" a half-inch wrench to tighten a bolt, then discovers that it is a 9/16 inch bolt. He no longer "wants" the wrench. It seems that his desire is “sensitive to evidence.” However, this is only because we are using a shorthand way of speaking. The agent never did want a half-inch wrench. Instead, he wanted to tighten the bolt and he believed that, with a half-inch wrench, he could tighten the bolt. His belief is sensitive to evidence. But his desire to tighten the bolt is not. The belief that the bolt was a half-inch bolt provided none of the motivating force. That came from the desire to tighten the bolt. The desire is not susceptible to reason (unless, of course, tightening the bolt is a means to some further end, and there is evidence that tightening the bolt will not, in fact, serve that end).

For another example, consider the person who wants to own a Picasso painting. He believes that the painting up for auction is a Picasso, so he "wants" that painting. Then he is given reason to believe that the painting is a reproduction and not an original Picasso. This, too, looks like evidence that his desire is susceptible to evidence. Yet, evidence did not alter his desire to own a Picasso painting. Rather, the evidence altered his belief that the painting up for action is a Picasso. There is no mystery behind the fact that beliefs are susceptible to evidence. But the belief that the the painting was a Picasso did not provide any motivating force. That required the desire to own the Picasso.

The examples that Gregory gives us of desires being sensitive to evidence - the case of "wanting to voting Conservative" or "wanting a ticket to China," these "wantings" are packed with beliefs sensitive to evidence. They are like "wanting" the half-inch wrench, or the painting that is up for auction. There is no mystery behind the fact that evidence regarding the relationships between voting Conservative or travelling to China and the agent's desires might alter the agent's opinions about those relationships.

Indeed, rather than sensitivity to evidence providing a reason to look at "desire as belief" theories, the invulnerability of ends to reason suggests an argument against "desire as belief" theories.

Friday, June 15, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 40: What Are Normative Reasons?

Alex Gregory seeks to provide us with a defense of the following thesis - which he calls DAB:

To desire to Φ is to believe that you have normative reason to Φ.

Gregory, Alex, (2017), “Might Desires Be Beliefs about Normative Reasons for Action?” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

I gave my general objections to theories that attempt to reduce desires to beliefs in the previous posting. This being that Gregory now owes us a theory of what "you have a normative reason to Φ" means and what it takes for this proposition to be true. Without a theory of normative reasons, his theory of desires is empty.

Gregory provides us with no theory of normative reasons.

Still, he tries to say a few things in defense of his thesis.

His first argument is:

Because DAB identifies desires and beliefs about reasons, we do not have to see these two as competitors in our motivational system. That allows us to solve a certain puzzle about moral motivation: DAB entitles us to agree that normative judgments are beliefs and to agree that such judgments have the power to motivate us to act, while also allowing us to accept the Humean claim that only desires have the power to motivate us to act. It is only if we accept DAB that these three plausible claims are consistent.

The three "plausible" claims are:

(1) Normative judgments are beliefs.

(2) Normative judgments have the power to motivate us to act.

(3) Only desires have the power to motivate us to act.

DAB allows these three claims to be consistent because desires are normative judgments (beliefs) that motivate us to act.

Here, my general objection to these types of theories steps up to the front. What does it take for a normative judgment to be true? How can this truth motivate us to act?

What does it take for the normative judgment to be true? Insofar as I have this belief that I have reasons to purchase my wife a present for a birthday. What is it that I believe, and am I right to believe it? Or do I have a false belief?

Well, I believe that buying her a present for her birthday will make her happy, and that she would be disappointed if I did not.

So what? What does it matter that buying her a present would make her happy and that she would be disappointed if I did not? What makes that important to me? That alone does not provide me with a reason to act. There must be something else - something that makes it important.

I would answer that what makes it important to me is my desire to make her happy and my aversion to disappointing her.

Question: What is this "desire to make her happy?" What is this "aversion to disappointing her?"

Answer: According to Gregory, it is a belief that I have a normative reason to make her happy and a normative reason to avoid disappointing her.

Question: What does it mean to say that I have a normative reason to make her happy? How can this be true? Do I actually have this reason, or do I just believe it? How do I check this reason out to determine if it is real or just imagined? What will I be looking for when I try to find out whether I actually have this normative reason? What would show me that my belief that I have this normative reason is false?

The answer to the question, "What does it take to have a normative reason" matters.

I hold that I have a normative reason to Φ if and only if Φ-ing would serve one or more of my "desires that P". Φ-ing serves a "desire that P" by creating or preserving a state of affairs where P is true. My desire that P makes it Φ-ing important because the desire specifically assigns an importance-value to P being true.

Gregory can't use this theory of normative reasons. This is because it explains normative reasons in terms of desires. If he uses this theory, then he has a theory of desires that reduces desires to normative reasons, and a theory of normative reasons that reduces normative reasons to desires. That would be viciously circular. So, if Gregory is going to reduce desires to beliefs about normative reasons, then he needs a non-circular theory of normative reasons, or his theory is empty.

There is simply no reason to adopt an empty theory. Tell me what a "normative reason" is and how I can truthfully believe that I can have one, and then I can tell whether "believing that I have a normative reason" can be a reasonable analysis of desire.

On Desire 2018. Part 39: Desires As Beliefs

I now move on to Chapter 7 of The Nature of Desire: Gregory, Alex, (2017), “Might Desires Be Beliefs about Normative Reasons for Action?” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

The answer is "No."

Before I look at Gregory's arguments in any detail, I want to say some things about why I generally reject the idea that desires can be reduced to beliefs.

We have a lot of examples of this. The most common form that this type of claim takes is to say that a desire that P is a belief that P is good. This is the guise of the good thesis that has shown up repeatedly in the comments already made. The belief that P is good explains why the agent tries to realize P - that is what we do to good things.

Another form that we have seen in this series says that the desire that P is a belief that P is better. This one has, so far, been mentioned only in passing.

There is the thesis that took up the previous two articles that states that a desire that P is a belief that P ought to be the case.

Now, we are going to look at the thesis that a desire that P is a belief that the agent has a normative reason to bring about P. Specifically, Gregory's thesis is that

To desire to Φ is to believe that you have normative reason to Φ

Each one of these thesis has a perceptual or "seems that" alternative. That is to say, to desire that P is to perceive that P is good, or that it seem to be the case P ought to be, or that it appears that one has a normative reason to realize P.

My standard objection to all of these rests on the question, "What is it for the object of these claims to be true?"

To believe that P is to believe that "P" is true. That is to say, to believe that a god exist is to believe that, "A god exist" is true. We can now launch an investigation into what it means to say, "A god exist" is true. When we do this, we leave our beliefs behind.

The same is true of the person who believes that Charlie is in New York. If we look at this belief, we now have reason to ask about what "Charlie is in New York" means and what it takes for this to be true.

Comparably, if we are going to analyze "Agent desires that P" in terms of "Agent believes that P is good," then it seems to follow that the agent must also believe that 'P is good" is true.

Now, please tell me, what does it mean to say that "P is good" and what it takes for the proposition, "P is good" to be true.

Please note that you cannot legitimately answer the question by referring back to desires. If you answer the question about what it is for P to be good by saying, "This is what the agent believes when the agent desires that P," then one's theory is viciously circular - empty, for all practical purposes.

We can ask the same questions about the belief that P ought to be the case, or the belief that the agent has a normative reason to realize P. We now need a theory about what it means to say, "P ought to be the case," or "The agent has a normative reason to realize P." This account cannot refer back to desire - that would be viciously circular.

It would take far more time and effort than I have available to demonstrate that nobody who has proposed a "belief" theory of desire in any form has produced a respectable account of what it is for the thing believed to be true. However, I will offer it as something to look for. If somebody should come up to you and say, "A desire that P is a belief that Q," then be prepared to ask (and expect a non-circular answer to) the question, "What is Q and what does it take for Q to be true?"

That is the tactic to use here. With Gregory telling us:

To desire to Φ is to believe that you have normative reason to Φ

My question becomes, "What does it mean to say that I have normative reason to Φ?" and "Please instruct me on the criteria that must be met for the claim that I have normative reason to Φ to be true?"

Gregory is not going to have an answer to that question, which means that his thesis is empty.

Revisiting Reasons: Part 2

I have received a response from my (potential) thesis adviser regarding my initial presentation of ideas.

I addressed her concerns in a return email which is partially reproduced below:


Greetings.

In my last email I sought to establish that what The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls “the Humean Theory of Reasons” is inconsistent with other things that a Humean says about reasons. If this is essential to the Humean Theory of Reasons, then that theory is self-contradictory. But, we can remove the contradiction, preserving almost everything else that Hume says about reasons, by adopting the proposed alternative:

If there is a reason for someone to do something, then there must be some desire that would be served by her doing it, which is the source of that reason; and if she has a reason to do something, then she must have a desire that would be served by doing it, which is the source of that reason.

Recall, my argument was that “if there is a reason, then Sally has a desire” is false - and false under assumptions that a Humean would accept. When we looked at Jim's aversion to pain, we have an instance where the antecedent is true (there is a reason), but the consequent is false (Sally has a desire). The best alternative is: "There is a reason" implies "there is a desire" and "Sally has a reason" implies "Sally has a desire."

Now, as to your responses:

You wrote:

The view that "there is a reason" implies "somebody has a desire" is a version of utilitarianism.

I see two ways to respond to this:

Response 1: If it is true that this is a version of utilitarianism, then so be it. It is better to have a version of utilitarianism than the false conditional.

Response 2: This isn't actually a version of utilitarianism. It appears to be - and, for a long time, I thought it was. However, it is not. When we combine this with the Humean Theory of Motivation, we don't get utilitarianism, we get substantially what Hume defends in the Enquiry into the Principles of Morals.

You wrote:

On the so-called "Humean Theory," Jim's desire to avoid pain is, by itself, no reason for Sara to do anything unless Sara cares about Jim or something to that effect.

Yes, this is true.

On the account given so far, where Jim and Sally each only have an aversion to their own pain, Sally has no reason to avoid any action that causes Jim pain. Sally only has an aversion to her own pain. So, if Sally can avoid the slightest scratch on her finger with an action that would cause Jim to suffer excruciating pain, Sally has reason to (and no reason not to) perform that action.

But, Jim - if he can find a way - has a reason to cause Sally to “care about Jim or something to that effect.” Jim knows that if he can pull this off, he can cause Sally to avoid actions that would cause him excruciating pain, and his own aversion to excruciating pain means that he has a reason to try to pull this off.

Let us assume that Jim discovers a drug that will cause Sally to acquire an aversion to causing pain. Jim has a reason (his own aversion to pain) to cause Sally to take the drug. For example, he has a reason to sneak it into her tea. Once Sally has taken the drug, if she is faced with a situation where she must choose between a scratch on her finger or Jim’s excruciating pain, she now has a reason to prefer the scratch on her finger and save Jim from excruciating pain.

Comparably, Sally has a reason to sneak the drug into Jim’s tea. Indeed, they both have a reason to add it to the community water supply. It means that each might experience slight pains whenever the alternative is to cause excruciating pain to others, but each would be surrounded by people who would choose a slight pain for themselves over excruciating pain for others, with the agent being the one potentially saved from excruciating pain.

The Reward System

Now, let's throw away the drugs.

Instead of drugs, let us assume that the beings in this example have something like a reward system. The way this system works is that one can create an aversion to causing pain in others by rewarding/praising those who choose options that avoid causing pain to others, and punishing/condemning those who choose options that cause pain to others. In the same way that Jim had a reason to slip the drug into Sally's tea, Jim has a reason to use rewards and punishments in the ways described. So does Sally. In fact, in a community of beings of this type, we can say that everybody has a reason to use rewards and punishments to promote, universally (in everybody else) an aversion to causing pain to others.

Please note that rewards and punishments can also be used to provide incentives and deterrence. However, this is not the effect that I am concerned with here. I am interested in the ways in which rewards (including praise) and punishments (including condemnation) change behavior through their influence on character.

One key difference between, for example, threats of punishments to control behavior and altering character is on its effects when the agent can get away with performing the action. Jim's threat to punish Sally (e.g., "If you cause me pain, I will cause you even more pain in return.") only provides Sally with a reason not to cause Jim pain insofar as Jim might catch her and insofar as Jim has the power to make good on his threat. However, if Jim can create in Sally an aversion to causing pain to others, then Sally has a reason not to cause pain even when she could avoid punishment.

Of course, what I say here about Jim with respect to Sally is also true of Sally with respect to Jim. Indeed, it is true of everybody in this community with respect to everybody else. One of the things we can say about this aversion to pain is that people generally in this community have strong reasons to (and weak reasons not to) promote universally an aversion to pain by rewarding/praising those who choose options that do not cause pain, and rewarding/punishing those who choose options that do cause pain.

When it comes to these malleable character traits, one of the questions we can ask is, "What reasons are there for promoting this particular trait - for praising those who have it and condemning those who do not?" Referring to the alternative account of "reasons there are" that I defended above, "there is a reason to promote this trait" implies "there is a desire that would be served by promoting this trait."

We could, if we so choose, divide the desires that would be served by promoting this trait into four categories. (1) The agent's own desires that would be directly served by promoting this trait. (2) The agent's own desires that would be indirectly served by promoting this trait. (3) The desires of others that would be directly served by promoting this trait. (4) The desires of others that would be indirectly served by promoting this trait.

This, in Hume's language, would be (1) pleasing to self, (2) useful to self, (3) pleasing to others, and (4) useful to others.

This, in turn, is consistent with, "There is a reason to promote this character trait" implies "There is a desire that would be served by promoting this character trait."

This is still consistent with the claim that an agent has a reason to promote a character trait only if he has a desire that would be served. But, if he does not have such a desire, other people have reasons to give him one.

Not Utilitarianism

In closing, I would like to note that this is not a utilitarian system. The idea that maximizing utility is a reason for action - that it is a goal worthy of pursuing - never occurs. If utility is maximized as a result, it is an unintended side effect, never valued for its own sake.

It may be that people generally have reasons to promote, universally, a desire to maximize utility, and to employ their tools of rewards and punishments accordingly. But even if they promote this desire, it will be one desire among many. It will find itself in constant conflict with hunger and aversion to pain, concern for one's family, an aversion to lying and to breaking promises, a desire for sex, a love of reading and writing about issues in philosophy.

Consider, for example, what this has to say about Robert Nozick's Utility Monster. His utility monster is a creature that gets huge amounts of utility from actions that reduce others to misery. Still, the monster's utility greatly exceeds that of the suffering caused. That creature may have a reason to reduce others to misery. However, people generally have no reason to create such a monster through their use of praise and condemnation, and many and strong reasons to prevent its creation. Once created, people generally have no reason to serve its interests.

Or consider Derek Parfit's repugnant conclusion. This is the idea that a possible world with a huge number of people whose lives are barely worth living can be "better" in terms of overall utility than a smaller number with higher quality of life. On the model here, people generally have more reason not to create more people when it will make their lives worse off than to create such people. Indeed, they have reason to discourage others - to promote an aversion to - adding to the overall population.

Conclusion

I agree that, at first glance, it appears that "If there is a reason, then there is a desire" is going to lead to some form of utilitarianism. However, when we add Hume's theory of motivation, we don't get utilitarianism. We get (a version of) Hume's own moral theory as described in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. On this account, we look at the "reasons there are" for promoting certain character traits - reasons that serve not only the desires the agent has, but the desires that other agents have as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Klorn and the Bozos

A member of the studio audience asked the following question:

Let's imagine a planet, far far away, called Zongo. Zongo is inhabited by two forms of intelligent life: the Bozos, who have lived on Zongo for millions of years, and the Klorns, who landed on Zongo a couple thousand years ago.

They have roughly equal intelligence, but Bozos, which are the size of fleas, are at the hunter-gatherer stage of civilization, while Klorns, which are as tall as mountains, have the vastly sophisticated technology of an intergalactic civilization - they can replicate anything they need or desire, they are invulnerable from any attack a Bozo could muster, and they can literally destroy every living Bozo with a single thought.

Klorns and Bozos are by no means strangers: Klorns have mapped out every single molecule in the body of every single Bozo (along with all the other flora and fauna of Zongo) - they know absolutely everything there is to know about Bozos. Meanwhile, the Bozos are forced to closely keep track of every Klorn, because they live in terror of them, and want to stay out of their way.

It's not that the Klorns hate the Bozos, or want to kill them. It's simply that Klorns do not regard Bozos as people. They do not matter to the Klorns at all. Now: does a Klorn have any ethical responsibility towards a Bozo?

I am going to do what Randy calls “typical Alonzo” - over-explain my answer.

We need to establish some additional facts.

First, there is no intrinsic value. Philosophers often use stories like this so as to test our moral intuitions, thinking that this is a way to map the universe of “intrinsic ought” If the question is, “Are there any intrinsic oughts in the possible behaviors of the Bozos?” The answer is “No.”

Second, there is no free will. desirism is not only compatible with determinism. It requires determinism. If the question is, “How shall we utilize our freedom of will?” Desirism can do nothing but throw up its hands and run away.

But . . . There must be some sense to the phrase “could have done otherwise.” There must be some way to alter behavior.

Specifically, for moral terms to be relevant, we must assume that the Klorns and Bozos are intentional agents who act to fulfill their desires given their beliefs. Furthermore, they must have some malleable desires - this is where the “could have done otherwise” emerges.

Finally, they must have something like a reward system - a way of altering their behavioral rules (desires and aversions) through rewards and punishments. (There might be other ways of altering behavior, such as with pills or surgery, but this would fall under the rubric of “medicine”, not “morality”. Morality concerns the use of rewards and punishment.)

Without these, any use of moral terms would not make sense. It would be like asking about the mass of an idea or the color of height.

Here, the statement, “[the Klorn] are invulnerable from any attack a Bozo could muster” comes into play. If this means that there is no possibility of reward or punishment, then the game is over. If there is no way to reward or punish effectively, there is no sense to the question, “What should we reward and punish?”

However, the ability to reward or punish requires only the ability to fulfill or thwart desires. If the Klorn have a desire to be thought well of by others, the Bozos can thwart this desire by thinking ill of them. The Bozos do not need the ability to launch a military campaign, but they must have the capacity to make true (it false) some proposition P that the Klorn want to be false (or true, respectively).

So, now, do the Bozos have reason to use reward and punishment to alter the behavior of the Klorn, using these tools to promote behavior that contributes to the fulfillment of their desires?

Obviously, they do.

Do the Klorn have reason to promote among other Klorn concerns relevant to the well-being of the powerless?

Well, relevant to one of the comments above, Klorn have reason to promote among other Klorn a desire to be thought of well by others. Thus, they have reason to create in other Klorn the types of sentiments that the Bozos can use in influencing Klorn desires.

Similarly, we should assume that the Klorn have the ability to fulfill or thwart the interests of other Klorn. Under this assumption, Klorn have reasons to promote in others who CAN thwart the interests of others an aversion to doing so. This will generalize into an aversion to thwarting the interests of the Bozos as well. While we can imagine the Klorn promoting an aversion only to thwarting the interests of other Klorn, it is not, in fact, easy to hone desires so precisely. If you build exceptions into the sentiments, then you run the risk that at least some people will see you or somebody you care about as one of the exceptions.

Finally, I want to address a fact that is extremely relevant and almost always overlooked when addressing these types of questions:

You and I, and the people reading this argument, are not impartial observers. We are a part of a real world community and we have reasons to question the effects of our answers in the real world.

We have reasons to have people in the real world have an aversion to abusing power. We have reason to promote in others an aversion to taking advantage of us when we are vulnerable - when we sleep, if we are sick, when they have a weapon and we don't. This means that we have reason to promote an aversion to taking advantage of power among those who read these words. One way to promote such an aversion is to say that it would be wrong for the Klorn to harm the Bozos - that they would be deserving of condemnation - and to praise them if they concern themselves with the interests of the Bozos.

One might be tempted to see this as a lie that we tell in order to trick other people into having particular beliefs. We must "believe" that the Klorn have moral responsibilities towards the Bozos because if failure to believe or promote this fiction makes us a danger to each other. However, this interpretation is mistaken. If by saying that it would be wrong for the Klorn to ignore the interests of the Bozos I mean by this, "people in our community generally have many and strong reasons to promote a sentiment of aversion to the Klorn disregarding the interests of the Bozos," . . . if this is what "wrong" means, then the statement that the Klorn ought to consider the interests of the Bozos is a true statement.

Consider the fact that were are not impartial observers, that we use moral terms to promote useful desires and aversions among members of our own community, and the question of whether the Klorn ought to take the interests of the Bozos into consideration becomes a question of whether we have reasons to promote a sentiment of disapproval among fellow humans towards Klorn who disregard the interests of the Bozos.

The statement that "we humans discussing this hypothetical example have reason to promote among each other an aversion to the Klorn abuse of power" is a true statement.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 38: Desire To vs Desire That

It is generally accepted in the philosophy of desires that desires are propositional attitudes. Though many desires are expressed as "desires to" (e.g., I desire to live on a space station), every case of a "desire to" can be expressed as a "desire that" (e.g., I desire that I live on a space station).

This is important to the assignment theory of values I am defending. To say that a "desire that P" assigns a value representing the importance of "P" being true makes no sense if "p" cannot be true. The phrase, "I desire to live on a space station" presents us with no proposition P that can be true. However, the phrase, "I desire that I live on a space station" does present us with a proposition that can be true - the proposition "I live on a space station".

Olivier Massin does not like this distinction. (Massin, Olivier, (2017), “Desires, Values, and Norms” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

Recall that Massin is interested in explaining desires in terms of a "guise of the ought". That is to say, to desire that P is to hold that P ought to be the case. A desire to, in contrast, is not a presentation of something as "ought to be," it is a presentation of something as "ought to do". His interest in preserving the distinction between "desires that" and "desires to" is grounded on an interest in preserving the distinction between "ought to be" and "ought to do."

Yet, if one looks back on my discussion concerning the death of desire, I think that I can present an argument for the reduction of "desires to" to "desires that".

In the "death of desires" discussion, several authors have argued for the "death of desire" on the grounds that it makes no sense to talk about a "desire to" once that which is desired obtains. It makes no sense to talk about a desire to go to the park if you are at the park, or a desire to visit with your best friend if you are visiting with your best friend. They have used this to argue that the existence of a desire to P is incompatible with believing that P obtains - that the belief kills the desire. Thus, the death of desire.

I have argued against this view. Relevant to this discussion, I have argued against it precisely by reducing "desires to" to "desires that".

Let us take hunger, for example. I have a desire to eat. So, I go to the kitchen, I fix myself a large bowl of seasoned Brussel sprouts, and I take my first bite.

According to the "death of desire" doctrine, my desire to eat immediately ends the moment I start eating. In its place, an entirely different desire emerges - a desire to continue eating. It is this desire to continue eating that allows me to take the second, third, and thirty-sixth fork full of seasoned Brussel sprouts.

This, to me, is nonsense, particularly given what we know about the biology of desire. An empty stomach produces ghrelin. Ghrelin controls hunger. As the stomach expands, the amount of ghrelin produced decreases and hunger subsides. It is not the belief that P that causes the desire to P to die, it is a biological process that is triggered by P being the case.

This means that we have one desire that, first, drives the agent to go into the kitchen and fix seasoned Brussel sprouts, and then to continue eating them until the plate is empty.

The best way to understand this is as a "desire that" I eat. The phrase "desires to" is simply the phrase we use to talk about a desire in the context where the object of desire does not obtain. The "desire to eat" is a phrase we use to talk about the "desire that I am eating" when it is the case that I am not eating. If I am eating, the phrase we use is "desires to continue."

In short, I have one desire (a desire that I eat), and two phrases, one for talking about the desire when I am not eating and another for talking about the desire when I am eating.

In other words, there is only one desire - a "desire that". This desire motivates me to act so as to fulfill the desire, and to keep acting once I fulfill the desire at least for a while. "Desire to" statements are statements used to talk about this "desire that" in different context. Which means that "desires to" is fully reducible to a "desires that" plus that context that "desires to" is calling attention to.

This provides a little extra reason, contra Massin, for thinking that "desires to" can be reduced to "desires that"'

I should mention that there is one more article on the theories of desire for me to go through. Then, I will be able to look at some empirical evidence. That should be fun. Stay tuned.


On Desire 2018. Part 37: Comparitive vs Absolute Values

You know . . . I hate using the term "absolute values" in this title. I fear it will call to mind a doctrine of absolute moral values that are unchanging and without exception - a type of value whose existence I reject.

In this post, I need to distinguish between preference and desire.

The difference is that preference is a comparative value, while desire is an absolute value.

The point of this posting: I want to argue that the logic of "good" and "desire" is the logic of absolute or assigned values. The logic of "ought" and "preferences" is the logic of comparatives. Because the logic of desire is like the logic of good, this is at least consistent with associating "good" with "that which is such as to fulfill the desires in question".

Now, for the discussion.

A desire is an assignment of a value to the importance of a proposition being true (or false). This assignment is non-comparative. It simply says, "take proposition that I am eating pumpkin pie with whipped cream and assign it a value of 5." At this point we know only that this is a desire that P - that the agent wants P (where P = "I am eating pumpkin pie with whipped cream") to be true. It doesn't say anything about any other state of affairs.

"Preference", on the other hand, is a comparative. I prefer pumpkin pie with whipped cream over plain pumpkin pie. This is a way of saying that the value attached to the importance of the proposition "I am eating pumpkin pie with whipped cream" being true is higher than the value assigned to the importance of the proposition "I am eating pumpkin pie without whipped cream" being true.

Olivier Massin, in the article I have been criticizing, (Massin, Olivier, (2017), “Desires, Values, and Norms” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.) has argued that "desire" is in the "guise of the ought" rather than the "guise of the good" because the logic of desire is like that of "ought" and not "good".

Contra Massin, it is actually easy to both illustrate Massin's error and the logic of comparitives versus absolute (or assigned) values by looking at desires and preferences.

If A is better than B, then B is worse than A by the same amount. Another way to say the same thing is that if A is better than B, then it is not possible for the agent to be indifferent as to whether A or B obtains. There is no way for the preference of B over A to be zero. If the value of A over B is positive, then the value of B over A must be negative, and vise versa. This is the logic of comparative values.

Yet, as I have been arguing in the previous posts, the fact that an agent assigns a value to A does not imply that not-A has a negative value. Indeed, I have suggested that whenever the value assigned to a proposition being true is N, then the value assigned to a proposition being false must be 0. This is what the N stands for - the distance from 0 that represents the value of the proposition being true. I have illustrated by an example in which I assigned a state of affairs where I am in pain to be -8. I assigned a state of being in a little pain the value of -2. And I argued that the value of being in no pain at all is 0.

Notice the difference here. If the value of "A over B" is 8, then the value of "B over A" cannot be zero. But if the assigned value of A is 8, then the assigned value of not-A is 0. value of being in a little pain My aversion to a little pain is -2. And my aversion to no pain is 0.

Preferences, as described her, "prohibit indifference to the negation of their content". One cannot prefer A over B and be indifferent to B over A. However, desires do not prohibit indifference to the negation of their content. A person can have a strong aversion to a pain of -8, but be indifferent to a pain of 0. He must, necessarily prefer "no pain" to "pain", but this does not imply that "no pain" must be desired.

Massin notices this property of prohibited indifference to the negation of content is a property of comparatives when he examines the "guise of the better". He presents the "guise of the better" as an alternative to the "guise of the good" that would be immune to his objections. Specifically, "guise of the better" prohibits indifference to the negation of their content. A cannot be better than B without B being worse than A. Thus, "guise of the better" does not have the problems that Massin attributes to "guise of the good".

Notice, "better" is a comparative. It follows the logic of comparatives. He wrote, "betterness is naturally construed as the formal object of preferences, rather than of desires."

He did not see that "betterness" is to "good" what "preferences" are to "desire". In both pairs, the first term is the comparative version of the second term. A "guise of the better" thesis would match the logic of preferences, where a "guise of the good" thesis would match the logic of desires.

Betterness and preferences follow the logic of comparatives - prohibiting indifference to the negation of their content. If A is better than/preferred to B than the agent cannot be indifferent to B over A.

Goodness and desires follow the logic of non-comparatives. It is quite compatible with A being good/desired or bad/desired-not that the agent is indifferent to not-A.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Revisiting Reasons

In a separate communication, I have had an opportunity to restate my position regarding the Humean Theory of Reasons.

My position is that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy misstates the Humean Theory of Reasons. What SEP calls the Humean Theory of Reasons is false. But saying this does not imply rejecting the Humean Theory of Reasons. It is false because it misstates the Humean Theory of Reasons.

Reasons There Are

In addition to the distinction between internal vs external reasons, and objective vs subjective reasons, there's a third distinction being overlooked: a distinction between the reasons an agent has and the reasons there are.

To illustrate this distinction, please imagine an agent, Sara, with an aversion to being in pain. Sara, then, has a reason to avoid her own pain, on the Humean account. It is also consistent with the Humean account to imagine that the world also contains Jim, and Jim has a separate aversion to being in pain. Consequently, Jim also has a reason to avoid being in pain.

In this world, there are two reasons. There is Sara's reason to avoid being in pain, and there is Jim's reason to avoid being in pain. Of these, Sara has one reason. Jim has the other reason.

With this distinction in mind, please take a look at the Humean Theory of Reasons (HTR) as described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, "Reasons for Action: Internal vs External"

HTR (revised): If there is a reason for someone to do something, then she must have some desire that would be served by her doing it, which is the source of her reason.

When we take into consideration the distinction above, this is false. In this illustrative example above, consider Sara having the option of doing something that save Jim from experiencing pain. There is a reason for Sara to do this thing. This reason is Jim's reason to avoid being in pain. However, it is false that Sara must have some desire that would be served by her doing it. Unless we assume that Sara also will experience pain if she does not act, she has no reason to act. There is a reason for her to act, but it is not a reason Sara has. It is a reason that Jim has.

With a true antecedent and a false consequent, which makes this a false implication, even within a Humean account of reasons.

To express HTR accurately, it must say the following:

If there is a reason for someone to do something, then there must be some desire that would be served by her doing it, which is the source of that reason; and if she has a reason to do something, then she must have a desire that would be served by doing it, which is the source of that reason.

This conjunction matches "there are reasons" to "there are desires" and "she has a reason" to "she has a desire."

Now, the SEP says that the HTR leads to what they call "The Standard Problem". They describe the problem as follows:

If (as Moral Rationalism claims) an action (like ordering genocide) is morally wrong for an agent (like Hitler) only if there is a reason for him not to do it, and if (as [the Humean Theory of Reasons] claims) there is a reason for him not to do it only if he has some desire that would be served by his not doing it, then it follows that whether an action is morally wrong for an agent depends upon what he or she desires. But that seems incompatible with Moral Absolutism [some actions are morally wrong for any agent no matter what motivations and desires they have]. So it seems we must reject at least one of HTR, Moral Rationalism, and Moral Absolutism.

However, this expression of the "standard problem" includes the false inference from "there is a reason" to "he has some desire". Instead, the inference should be from "there is a reason" to "there is some desire".

If we correct the HTR so that "reasons there are" relates to "desires there are", and "reasons Hitler has" relates to "desires Hitler has" we get:

Moral Rationalism: "an action (like ordering genocide) is morally wrong for an agent (like Hitler) only if there is a reason for him not to do it."

I am simply going to accept this as written for the sake of the demonstration. In fact, I would raise some arguments against it. Correcting it would require other corrections throughout this description of the problem. However, that is not what I am trying to talk about here.

HTR: There is a reason for him not to do it only if there are some desires that would be served by his not doing it.

Here, I am using the "there are reasons" to "there are desires" conjunct. And, in fact, in the case of Hitler ordering genocide, "there are some desires that would be served by his not doing it" is true. These importantly include the desires that the Jews had.

Then we get:

Moral Absolutism: Some actions are morally wrong for any agent no matter what motivations and desires they have.

Once we correct HTR, this is consistent with the other two principles. The "reasons there are" for Hitler not to perform the action are not reasons Hitler has. They are reasons that other agents (the Jews) have. Those reasons still "are" - they exist. And for every reason that exists there is a desire that exists, and the person who has the reason also has the relevant desire.

Hume's Evaluation of Sentiments

In his Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume provided four criteria for the evaluation of a character traits. A character trait is good to the degree to which it is pleasing to self, useful to self, pleasing to others, and useful to others.

Here, let us look again at the distinction between "reasons he has" and "reasons there are".

"Reasons he has" are associated only with "pleasing to self" and "useful to self".

"Reasons there are," on the other hand, also includes "pleasing to others" and "useful to others". These criteria look not only at the reasons the agent has, but the reasons that others have.

The set of "reasons there are" is much larger than the set "reasons he has". In fact, each agent has only a small fraction of the reasons there are.

Referring back to the original illustrative example in which Sara and Jim each had an aversion to their own pain. For Sara's action, "reasons she has" refers to "pleasing to self" and "useful to self". "Reasons there are" includes "pleasing to others" and "useful to others." This means that "reasons there are" includes Jim's desires - Jim's reasons for being pleased or finding the object of evaluation useful. When we include the full set of reasons there are, then it is no longer the case that "there is a reason" implies "Sara has a desire." It may be the case that "there is a reason" implies "Jim has a desire".

NOTE: I think it is important to note that Hume was evaluating sentiments, not actions. That will become relevant in developing this argument further, but it is not relevant at this point.


Conclusion

That, then, is the position that I would like to defend in at least a part of the thesis. That the Humean Theory is not "there are reasons" implies "she has a desire". Instead, "there is a reason" implies "somebody has a desire" and whoever has the reason also must have a desire that would be served.

Do you think this has merit?

On Desire 2018. Part 36: The Negation of a Desire

After confessing to an error in my last posting, I want to get clear on what I now hold to be the case regarding desires.

First, it is true that a person cannot assign a positive value to a proposition being true and a zero or a negative value to that same proposition being true. The value assigned to a proposition being true is either positive, negative, or zero.

Second, it is true that a person can assign a positive value to a state of affairs S in virtue of having a desire that P and P being true in S. And, at the same time, that person can assign a negative value to a state of affairs S in virtue of having an aversion to Q and Q being true in S, so long as P and Q are not the same proposition. In this case, the agent would have mixed feelings about S. But P and Q each still only have one value.

Third, the fact that an agent assigns a value V to P being true tells us nothing about the value assigned to P being false. This value could be positive, negative, or zero. It is NOT the case that an aversion to P implies a desire that not-P or a desire that P implies an aversion to not-P.

To see this, simply recall the example of pain. A person assigns a value of -8 to severe pain, -2 to a mild headache, -0.2 to a barely noticeable poke, and 0 (neither desire nor aversion) to no pain. Assigning a value of -8 to pain does not imply assigning a positive value to no pain. The agent prefers no pain because 0 is greater than -8.

Or, think of something that you would like to have but you have learned to live without, such as immorality, or fame, or good looks. Some of us have had more practice than others. Anyway, the desire for these things does not imply an aversion to not having them. The desire is perfectly compatible with a "well, life goes on" indifference to their absence.

Let us look at some of the examples that Olivier Massin brought up in defense of his thesis: (Massin, Olivier, (2017), “Desires, Values, and Norms” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

Paul is conatively indifferent to walking if and only if he neither desire to walk nor desires not to walk.

On the account given above, it is true that if Paul assigns a 0 value to the proposition "I am not walking" being true, he cannot, at the same time, attach a positive or a negative value to the proposition "I am not walking" being true. However, assigning a 0 value to "I am not walking" is compatible with assigning a positive value to "I am walking" in the same way that assigning a 0 value to "I am not in pain" is compatible with assigning a negative value to "I am in pain".

Speaking of pain, Massin has a pain example.

Nor can we be adverse to something and be indifferent to its negation: if Julie is averse to being in pain she cannot be indifferent to not being in pain.

Sure she can. This is the very case that I have been discussing. Assigning a value of -8 to extreme pain is quite compatible with assigning a -0.0002 value to an extremely (perhaps not consciously noticeable) pain and a 0 value to no pain.

There is a question that arises here that will require more thought. It may be the case that assigning a negative value to P being true might require assigning a 0 value to P being false. The way that I have written this so far, I have assumed that the value of P being false is independent of the value of P being true. However, I have not found it easy to come up with a case in which this is true.

It may well be that the value assigned to P being true is the preference value of P being true vs. P being false. In this case, one of the two options (P is true/P is false) must have a 0 value, and the preference/aversion value assigned to the other represents the deviation from this. So, an aversion to P of value V means: give "P is false" a value of 0, and V is the deviation in importance from "P is false" to "P is true".

This would imply that we are always indifferent to the negation of our desires and aversions.

I am, I think, beginning to lean in the direction of this option.

Though, remember the second truth above as you try to come up with counter-examples. Are you actually assigning one non-zero value to P being true and another non-zero value to P being false? Or are you assigning a non-zero value to S in virtue of a desire that P where P is true in S, and a different non-zero value to S in virtue of a desire that Q and Q is true in S?

So, is it, or is it not the case, that the negation of a desire or aversion is always indifference?

Monday, June 11, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 35: The Logic of Preference and Desire

I was wrong.

Remember when I said that an aversion was a negative desire? I am certain that, if you look around, you will find a number of instances in which I said that an aversion to P was the equivalent to a desire that not-P.

That is not entirely accurate.

Are you familiar with the “pain scale chart”? The most common version asks a patient to rank his pain on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (GOD, KILL ME! I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE!!).

I am going to use negative numbers in what follows because I fear that using positive numbers for pain will be confusing.

Let’s say that you have a pain of -8. This is pretty bad pain, but I am no sadist. I could go higher, but I won’t. I just need you to be in enough assumed pain to allow me to make a point.

If we apply “An aversion to P is equivalent to a desire that not-P”, this means that not being in pain has a value of 8. Right? If an aversion to a particular pain is at -8 then this is equivalent to saying that you have a desire for not-pain or no-pain of 8. You would likely go to a lot of effort to get to a state of no pain, and this amount of effort is equivalent to the effort you would go through to fulfill a desire that has 8 points of positive value.

But . . . look at that pain chart again. “No pain “ has a value of 0. The state of affairs in which you are not in pain has no value.

0 does not equal 8 - at least on the mathematical systems I am familiar with.

We have a contradiction.

Contradictions are bad.

This contradiction exists because we made a false assumption; the assumption that an aversion to P is equivalent to a desire that not-P.

"We" made this mistake because I am not taking the heat for this by myself. I am taking you with me.

To show that this assumption is a mistake, let us put you back in a state of pain. Now that you are in pain, I'll let you know that I can give you a shot. This shot will reduce the amount of pain you experience from -8 to -2. It won't get rid of the pain, but you will definitely be a lot more comfortable.

See, I told you that I was no sadist.

Do you want me to give you the shot?

I am going to guess that you will.

Does this mean that you desire a pain of -2?

No! Of course not! You have an aversion to a pain of -2 - though not so nearly as much of an aversion as you have to a pain of -8. A pain of -2 is preferable to a pain of -8, but it isn't good. It isn't desired. It's just preferred.

And therein lies the source of our problem.

The term "desire" is ambiguous. There is an absolute value sense of desire (the sense in which you assign of value of -2 to the pain that you experience after getting the shot), and there is a comparative sense of desire (how a pain of -2 stacks up when compared to a pain of -8).

The thing is that we have a different word for the comparative sense of desire. We call it a "preference".

"No pain" has a desire value of 0. However, when compared to a pain of -8, "no pain" has a preference value of 8.

Olivier Massin wrote that a person with a desire to smoke cannot be indifferent to not smoking. (Massin, Olivier, (2017), “Desires, Values, and Norms” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

When not smoking is compared to smoking, and the agent has a desire to smoke, this is true. When comparing the two, the person with a desire to smoke is going to prefer smoking to not smoking. But to prefer not smoking is not to say that not smoking has positive value. There are a great many not-smokers out there who assign no positive value to smoking whatsoever, and our agent might well long to be one of those people.

I might be tempted to say that the comparison sense of desire is the true and correct definition of desire, and thus I was right all along. Unfortunately, you can't have a comparison sense of some term unless there is something out there that you are comparing. We already have a perfectly good word for the comparison sense of desire. It is called a "preference". And, when one looks at the fact that it is nonsense to say that you would desire a pain level of -2 when, in fact, you would prefer it, we see evidence that we have a perfectly sensible term for the value assignment sense of desire as well. That is called "desire".

Now, we get to the point where I try to claim that I was actually right all the time. I was just misunderstood. There is a sense in which "an aversion is a negative desire" is true. That is to say, an aversion is a desire with a negative number - a desire that assigns a negative value to a proposition being true. In this sense, yes, an aversion is a negative desire - a desire that assigns a negative value.

If only I could honestly say that this is what I always meant every time I said that an aversion is a negative desire, I would be safe.

But, I don't think I can say that. I think that the fact is that I sometimes made the same mistake that Massin made in his article - a mistake in confusing the assignment sense of desire with the comparative sense of desire, and equivocating on some claims that I have said about desire.

Now that I cleared this up, I need to get back to Massin's article and explain what this implies about his "guise of the ought" thesis.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 34: The Logic of Ought and Good

Olivier Massin sought to show that logic of desire was like the logic of ought, rather than the logic of good. To do this, he first needed to explain the differences between the logic of ought and the logic of good.

(Massin, Olivier, (2017), “Desires, Values, and Norms” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

I want to look at what Massin said about the logic of ought and good and see of the assignment of value thesis is consistent with these claims.

First, ought and good are both tri-part concepts

In the case of "ought" we have "obligation," "option," and "prohibition".

In the case of "good" we have "good," "indifferent," and "bad"

Each of these sets of concepts contain polar opposites. There is a positive, a negative, and a zero position between them.

Also, each category is the contradiction of the union of the other two. If something is "not good" it may be bad or indifferent. If something is not obligatory it may be either optional or impermissible.

So, what are the differences between the two sets?

Massin identified four tautologies in the "ought" set that are not tautologies in the "good" set.

First, "X is prohibited if and only if not-X is obligatory". (Example, theft is prohibited if and only if not stealing is obligatory.)

"X is not good if and only if not-X is bad." This is false, because the category of "not good" also includes the category of indifferent. Let us assume that no life existed, no creatures with desires existed, and consequently nothing has value to anybody. The whole universe would be filled with things that are "not good." But there would also be no badness since there are no desires that would be thwarted.

Second, "'X is obligatory' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is optional'. (Example, telling the truth under oath implies that lying under oath is not an option.)

Third, "'X is prohibited' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is optional'. (Example: Theft is prohibited implies that not-stealing is not an option; not-stealing is required.)

These two cases are presented together because they are parallel cases; one saying that a refusal to do what is obligatory is not an option, while the other says doing what is prohibited is not an option.

"'X is good' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is neutral." This is false. X can be assigned a positive value. However, the value assigned to not-X can be negative or zero. My eating a chocolate cake right now would be good. However, the fact that I am not eating a chocolate cake is not bad - it is neutral. It has a negative value. I have no aversion to not eating chocolate cake.

Similarly, "'X is bad' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is neutral," is false for the same reason. The fact that X has been assigned a negative value (being in pain) does not imply that a state without pain is good. It is neutral. A tree feels no pain, but the state of a tree not feeling pain is not good.

Fourth: "'X is optional' implies 'it is not the case that X is obligatory' and 'it is not the case that not-x is obligatory'". For example, my working on this blog posting is optional. It is not the case that my working on this blog post is obligatory - I can put it aside if I choose. That is a part of what it means to be optional. Nor is it under the case that I am obligated not to work on this blog post - that it is forbidden. That would make it non-optional as well.

However,"'X is neutral' implies 'It is not the case that X is good' and 'It is not the case that not-X is good' is false. So, I could be in a neutral state at the moment. However, it is not true that both (1) the state that I am in is not good, and (2) there is no alternative state that I could be in that would be good. Massin's example is, "Not experiencing pleasure is neutral. But experiencing pleasure is good." To put this in the terms of desirism, I may assign a value of 0 to P. However, this does not imply that I cannot assign a positive (or a negative) value to not-P.

So, this is a part of the logic of "ought" and "good". And desirism is consistent with this. What desirism says about obligation, option, and prohibition on the one hand and about good, bad, and indifference on the other, is consistent with the logic of ought statements and good statements. So, that's a plus for desirism.

Massin will go on to argue that the logic of desire is like the logic of ought, and not the logic of good.

I think that I am going to disagree with this. It appears to me that Massin confuses "desire" with "preference". "Preference" fits the logic of "ought," while "desire" fits the logic of "good". I will be exploring that issue in the next post.




On Desire 2018. Part 33: Ought, Good, and Desire

It is an ironic coincidence that, right after posting a summary of how the terms desire, ought, good, right, and normative reasons relate to each other, I read Olivier Massin's contribution to The Nature of Desire. (Massin, Olivier, (2017), “Desires, Values, and Norms” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

Massin is seeking to defend the "guise of the ought" thesis over the "guise of the good" thesis.

He will do this by showing that the logic of desire matches the logic of ought, not the logic of good. This, in turn, will require presenting us with a lot of information about the logic of desire, ought, and good. I intend to use his information to see if the relationships among terms that I provided in the previous post actually makes sense in light of this data.

Finding differences will not settle any questions. One of the problems with our value terms is that we still carry around the idea that our desires are responses to intrinsic prescriptivity - values that exist independent of desire. In fact, one form of the "guise of the good" thesis is that it is the perception of the intrinsic value of things. We may have build this assumption into our language. If this is the case, then it is our language that needs to change, not the theory.

This is still a restatement of the "atom principle" that I borrowed from J.L. Mackie. (Mackie, J.L., (1977), Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, Penguin Press). The word "atom" originally meant "without parts." When scientists started to speculate that atoms had parts, they changed the definition of "atom" so that it fit with the new discoveries. Sometimes, this is the easiest option.

However, I am going to reject the Massin's "guise of the ought" thesis for independent reasons. This is because of the implications that the guise of the ought thesis has for the possibility of mistaken desires and the implications that desiring something would have on one's attitude towards others.

Massin wrote:

[Guise of the ought] claims that because occurrent desires are what they are, it is immediately impossible to desire something without being under the impression that it ought to be.

What does it mean to say that something "ought to be"?

For one thing, it means that if somebody else should interfere with it being the case, then that other person is preventing what ought to be. That seems a blameworthy offense - something that is wrong and, thus, something that deserves condemnation and punishment. If Alph's desires sex with Betta, then, under the guise of the ought thesis, Alph sees having sex with Betta as something that ought to be. If Betta should refuse, then Betta is preventing the realization of something that ought to be. This at least suggests that Betta's refusal is, in some sense, wrong. She may have a right to refuse to bring about what ought to be, but she really shouldn't, under the guise of the ought.

Massin also wrote:

[Guise of the ought] will have it that a desire is correct if and only if its object ought to be (or if the desirer ought to do it).

Desires are never "correct" or "incorrect". A desire can be good or bad - or, more precisely, whether one or more people has a particular desire can be good or bad. This is based on whether people having such a desire will tend to fulfill or thwart other desires. However, there is no object or action that has a build in "ought to be desiredness". Such properties do not exist. The fact that "guise of the ought" implies that desires can be mistaken, when this is false, gives us reason to reject the "guise of the good" thesis.

The defender of a guise of the ought theory can agree that such properties do not exist and then still say that all perceptions of such a property - all desires - are illusions. We evolved to see things that are not there. Perhaps, evolution is well served by creating within us this perception of things that are not there. This "necessary illusion" may be the case, but it should not be our first option. A theory that does not require that we see things that are not there would be preferred.

I would argue that the assignment theory of desire is such a theory. We are not perceiving oughtness that does not exist. We are simply assigning an measure of importance to propositions being made or kept true. No assignments are mistaken. They just are. Evolution and environment strongly dictate some assignments. Other assignments are the consequence of experience. The fact that Alph assigns a measure of importance to having sex with Betta does not, in any way, imply that there is anything wrong with Betta assigning a different measure of importance. They simply do not want the same thing. Yet, it is still true that people generally have reasons to encourage people universally to adopt certain assignments - such as an aversion to having sex without consent.

So, I am going to reject the guise of the ought for metaphysical reasons. It postulates a property of ought to be desiredness that does not exist.

However, this gives us no good reason to throw out all of the data on the logic of "good", "ought", and "desire". We still have reason to study this logic carefully and see whether the account I provided in the previous posting actually makes sense of this logic, or whether it should make sense of this logic.