Thursday, August 16, 2007

Intrinsic (Objective) Values

So, is all of this philosophizing about the nature of value just another example of debating the relationships between dancing angels and heads of pins? Or can it have real-world significance?

I want to expand on a response that I wrote to yesterday’s post about the nature of intrinsic value mostly because of its real-world implications. I would argue that the doctrine of intrinsic value, like the doctrine of God-given value, is not only mistaken. It is a pernicious doctrine used to seduce good people into doing bad things.

Intrinsic vs Objective Value

What I am going to be calling ‘intrinsic value’ is what others (confusingly) call ‘objective value’. Typically, when I am asked whether I think that values are objective, I think that the questioner is actually asking me if values are intrinsic.

Do I think that intrinsic values exist? The answer is, “No.”

Do I think that objective values exist? The answer is, “Yes, but they exist as relationships between states of affairs and desires, not as intrinsic properties.”

This post concerns intrinsic values, and I do not want anybody to make the mistake of thinking that I deny objective values.

What Are Intrinsic Values

More specifically, I want to deal with the view that there are properties in the word that are intrinsic to objects (works of art, wine), states of affairs (distribution of income), or actions (stabbing somebody with a knife) that determines their value as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Specifically, intrinsic value theory holds that there are properties where the mere apprehension of them motivates an agent to pursue that object, state, or action (or to prevent that object, state, or action in the case of intrinsic badness).

As I wrote to Richard yesterday, there is something incoherent in saying, “X has an intrinsic property whereby those who apprehend it are motivated to pursue X, I apprehend this property in X, but I am not motivated to pursue it.”

Consequently, people cannot sensibly assign intrinsic value to things they are not motivated to bring about.

However, desires are the only reasons for action (motivational force) that exists.

So, in practice, what we are going to get from the concept of intrinsic value is people applying it to things that they are already desire-motivated to bring about. If they are under no motivation to bring something about, they will find it incomprehensible to assign intrinsic value to that thing.

Intrinsic Value and Personal Preferences

In this sense, “X has intrinsic value” is similar to the statement, “I like X”. It is incomprehensible for a person to say that he likes something that he has absolutely no interest in bringing about, because “I like X” means “I have reasons to bring about X.” However, while ‘like’ statements explicitly tie the motivation to bring something about to the desires of the agent, “X has intrinsic values” deny that there is any such relationship.

In fact, the agent is only assigning intrinsic value to things that he is desire-motivated to bring about. However, by using the term ‘intrinsic value’ he is making a false claim about the nature of that relationship, assigning the motivation to a property in the object, rather than his own desires.

Additional Implications from Intrinsic Value Claims

Now, there is also an important difference between “I like X” and “X has intrinsic value.” In saying, “I like X” I do not imply anything about what others should like. It is as coherent for me to say, “I like X, but my friend Mike does not,” as it is for me to say, “I am over 6’ tall, but my friend Mike is not.”

However, when we attribute intrinsic value to things, we are drawing implications about how others should regard that thing. If I say that something has intrinsic value, then I am saying not only that I am motivated to pursue it, but that all people who appreciate the properties of that thing would be motivated to pursue it. In other words, those who do not feel the motivation to pursue that state of affairs is somehow defective.

Here, the issue gets complicated, because I argue that we can get something very close to this through desire utilitarianism. Desires have the capacity to fulfill or thwart other desires. So, people generally have reason to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires. So, if it is a ‘good thing’ in a desire-utilitarian sense that people value X, then there is reason to condemn those who do not value X. However, desire utilitarianism does not base this on any type of ‘intrinsic proprty’ of X. These reasons to condemn those who do not desire X are, themselves, entirely desire-driven.

The difference between these two accounts is that, under intrinsic value theory, nobody can say that something is morally good unless they are motivated to bring it about. In other words, if an agent feels no particular motivation to repay a debt, then all claims that he is under an obligation to repay a debt fall on deaf ears. “How can you say that I have an obligation to do something when I have no motivation to do it?”

On the other hand, desire utilitarianism holds that repaying has value in virtue of the fact that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote a desire to repay debts. It is perfectly coherent for a person to say, “Repaying debts is morally good; however, I feel no motivation to repay debts.” It is not coherent for a person to say, “Repaying debts is intrinsically good; however, I feel no motivation to repay debts.”

Even though the desire utilitarian statement is a coherent statement, there is practically no reason for a person to actually say it. Because to say that repaying debt is morally good is to acknowledge that others have reason to promote a desire to repay debts, in part by using condemnation and punishment against those who do not repay debts. People typically have little reason to invite condemnation and punishment.

The Harm of Intrinsic Value Theories

The dangerous part of intrinsic value theory in that, by linking the value of something to the agent’s motivation to pursue it, intrinsic value theory in practice tells agent to elevate their own desires to god-like status. “It is not my desire for X that motivates me to pursue it; it is X’s intrinsic value. Which means that those who do not value X must be defective. Their ailment must be treated or cured. At the very least, we certainly have reason to look down upon those poor, pathetic, handicapped individuals who are not capable of perceiving the true value of things.”

Effectively, intrinsic value doctrine tells each person to do what they want to do (since there is only ‘intrinsic value’ in that which they are already motivated to do), and to consider the well-being of others only to the degree that they are motivated to do so.

Technically, intrinsic value does not imply these conclusions. After all, it is still coherent to go to the agent and say, “No, you are the poor, pathetic individual who cannot appreciate true value. We, on the other hand, do appreciate value and recognize the intrinsic badness which you are pursuing merely as a matter of personal desire.”

There is no intrinsic value, so there is no way for either of these two agents to prove to the other that they are right and the other is wrong. They are both mistaken.

Yet, the belief in intrinsic value – that somebody gets to honestly claim that they have an appreciation of the true value of things simply by looking at what they are motivated to pursue (what, in practice, is such as to fulfill their desires given their beliefs), invites this kind of conflict.

Intrinsic value theory, like religion, is a set of false beliefs that invite conflict and encourage people to divide the world into ‘us’ who can appreciate the true value of things and ‘them’ who are defective in this regard.

23 comments:

Atheist Observer said...

Doesn’t this force you into saying either “fulfilling desires has intrinsic value,” or fulfilling desires has value because it is fulfilling desires, which is circular?

ADHR said...

Alonzo,

You didn't quite go where I thought you might go with this. The notion of intrinsic value is weird, I agree. However, that's not quite what you're arguing against. You're arguing against a kind of motivational internalism about normative reasons, and they aren't quite the same thing. It's not incoherent to insist that some x is intrinsically valuable (people should want to pursue or promote x) and yet people may not want to pursue or promote x. The simplest case of this is when people fail to recognize that x is intrinsically valuable; more complex cases may involve some sort of akrasia (weakness of the will).

I think this line of argument would have more punch if you turned it squarely against the internalism, arguing that there's something strange about the idea that normative reasons must motivate us to act.

Eneasz said...

AO: I think Alonzo has touched on your question before, although you're probably looking for a deep probing of the issue. However, for reference:

The 1000 Sadists Problem
http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2007/05/1000-sadists-problem.html

The Incommensurability of Value
http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2007/05/incommensurability-of-value.html

"Here is a mistake that a lot of people make when I talk about desire fulfillment. They think that I say that where a person desires that P (for some proposition P), where there is a state of affairs S, and P is true in S, a special property emerges that is called ‘desire fulfillment”, and it is this special property that holds all of the value intrinsic to that state of affairs.

There is no ‘special property’ that holds the value in these states of affairs. There is nothing in this state other than the desires, the state of affairs, and the relationship between them"

Richard said...

Alonzo, I want to raise two main issues:

(1) On self-motivating (evaluative) beliefs: You suggest that an evaluative belief that "X is worth doing" only ever follows from a prior desire to do X. This just seems false to me. It could just as easily happen the other way around: first you convince me that X is worth doing, and only then do I find myself motivated ("desiring") to do X.

(2) On "inviting conflict": we're getting into pot/kettle territory. You complain that intrinsic value divides the world between 'us' and 'them'. But of course any moral objectivist does that. There will always be 'them' (Nazis, etc.) who don't care about others' wellbeing, in contrast to 'us' who do.

The relevant difference in our theories here is not in their metaphysics, but their epistemologies. What do we do when faced with a person who has (what we take to be) immoral desires? You turn straight to manipulation: the arational pressures of "praise and blame," to reshape their desires more to your liking. They will presumably do the same to you. Normative disputes thus become a mere battle of the wills. You're not bound by any rational ideals that transcend your own present desires, so you have nothing to learn from one who disagrees with you: they are simply an obstacle to be overcome.

Rationalism provides a much more attractive picture, I think. Given the supposition that all rational agents would ultimately converge on the same evaluative judgments, people who disagree with us are not mere obstacles, but genuine opportunities for learning. Perhaps they can reveal to me evaluations that are rationally superior to my current set! Or maybe I will convince them that my evaluations are in fact the more reasonable ones. Either way, the dispute can be approached in a spirit of co-operation: we have the same ultimate goal in mind (namely, discovering and doing what is really worthwhile), so there is no need for underhanded manipulation (well, unless they turn out to be unreasonable dogmatists).

martino said...

@Alonzo "Intrinsic value theory, like religion, is a set of false beliefs that invite conflict and encourage people to divide the world into ‘us’ who can appreciate the true value of things and ‘them’ who are defective in this regard."

@Richard"Rationalism provides a much more attractive picture, I think.... Either way, the dispute can be approached in a spirit of co-operation: we have the same ultimate goal in mind (namely, discovering and doing what is really worthwhile), so there is no need for underhanded manipulation (well, unless they turn out to be unreasonable dogmatists)."

Just an observation that Alonzo's point over the negative implication of intrinsic value theory - 'us' vs 'them' conflict - is not a reason to accept DU or reject intrinsic value theory. Similarly Richard's argument for the appeal of rationalism over the alternatives offered by DU in terms of conflict resolution, is also not a reason to accept rationalism or reject DU.

We need to know what is the case and not be swayed by what we would like to be the case.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

martino

Your observation is correct. In the section that you were referring to, my intent was to draw a distinction between a harmful mistake and a harmless (trivial) mistake. In both cases, the 'mistake' element needs to be established separately.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Richard

I do not think that I would phrase it as a "belief that 'X is worth doing' only follows from a prior desire to do X.'

It begs the question as to whether motivation is tied to 'worth doing'. I say that it is possible to convince you that something is 'worth doing' and for you to simply shrug your shoulders in indifference, or even take this as a reason not to do it.

There is, of course, one sense of worth doing where, "X is worth doing in the sense that X will better fulfill your desires." In this case, if I convince you that X is worth doing then I have also convinced you to do X.

However, there are other senses of 'worth doing'. X could be 'worth doing' in the sense that X is something that a person with good desires would do. However, in convincing you that X is worth doing in this sense I need not have convinced you to do X - that depends on how closely your desires are aligned with those of a person with good desires. You might shrug your shoulders and say, "So? If this something that a person with good desires would do, then get yourself a person with good desires to do it." In order to convince you to do this act I must either convince you that it will also fulfill your desires as is (that it is also worth doing in the first sense), or change your desires so that you will come to find the act as worth doing in the first sense, or to threaten something to thwart some of your stronger desires so that you can see X as worth doing in the first sense.

In all cases, the only way I am going to get you to do X is to find some way to get you into a position where X is worth doing in the first sense.

Another option is that there is another type of 'worth doing' that does not relate states of affairs and desires. I am saying that no such 'worth doing' exists. Nature does not contain such entities. So, if I am able to convince you that X is worth doing in this sense, I have convinced you of something that is not true.

Perhaps, even thought this type of 'worth doing' is a fiction, it still motivates. It can motivate, I argue, if the agent has been given a desire to do that which is 'worth doing' - just as a statement that something pleases God can motivate a person with a desire to 'please God'.

But, then, this is now getting redundant. Mostly, when it comes to motivating beliefs whose object is a fiction, my question is, "Why should I go there?" Is it because 'it sometimes seems to be the case that this happens?' I am not persuaded by those arguments, any more than I am persuaded by claims that it sometimes seems as if the universe was intelligently designed and that we are being watched over by a divine entity.

Richard said...

Alonzo, I do not think the term "worth doing" is ambiguous. Presumably the amoralist simply doesn't believe that acting "morally" is something that's really worthwhile - something they have any normative reason to do. (They reject your evaluation, denying that so-called "good" desires really are so.)

If you don't like value-talk, we can use reason-talk instead. My claim is that a belief that "I have normative reason to X" rationally necessitates some motivation to X. And the judgment that "all things considered, I have most normative reason to X", i.e. "I ought to X", necessitates that I intend to X. There is something incoherent about refusing to do what you ought, by your own lights, to do.

"Perhaps, even thought this type of 'worth doing' is a fiction, it still motivates. It can motivate, I argue, if the agent has been given a desire to do that which is 'worth doing' - just as a statement that something pleases God can motivate a person with a desire to 'please God'."

Like I've already said, the difference is that the pleasing-God desire is contingent; someone could coherently lack this desire. But it makes no sense to not desire what is truly worth desiring. That's as absurd as believing what you think is not worth believing. Remember my Moore-paradoxical sentences?

(1) I believe that P, but I have no epistemic reason to believe that P.

(2) I intend to phi, but I have no practical reason to phi.

Equally irrational.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Richard

Yes, Richard, both of Moore's statements are equally paradoxical in my view as well.

Because intentions are for acts that best fulfill an agent's desires given his beliefs, and 'practical reasoning' is what is used to generate those intentions.

However, this says nothing about morality. It is quite possible for an agent to intend, and to find it very practical, to do something that is wholly immoral.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

atheist observer

Marino's attempt to answer your question is basically correct.

The relationship between "value" and "relationships between states of affairs and desires" is like the relationship between "water" and "H2O".

It is hardly a criticiam of the claim that water is H2O that it is circular.

Nor can we say that it is a priori because the concept of water was invented long before the concept of H2O.

Yet, this identity is now a part of our best understanding of the universe.

These types of claims are called 'reductionist'.

(Note: I actually equate value with reasons for action, yet this gets combined with the fact that desires are the only reasons for action that exist, and desires motivate an agent to make or keep true the propositions that are the objects of those desires. Thus, of all of the things that values can be, relationships between states of affairs and desires are the only ones that are real.)

Richard said...

Alonzo, I'm not talking about "morality", so that's fine. What matters is that you agree with me that there are motivating beliefs: the belief that 'I have most practical reason to phi' itself necessitates my intending to phi, and the belief that 'I have no practical reason to phi' is incoherent with my intention to phi.

This means that my behaviour can be shaped through reason alone. Convince me that I have no practical reason to phi, and this belief alone will prevent me from phi-ing (on pain of irrationality).

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Richard

A belief that one has reason to do phi is, in no sense, a motivating belief. That belief, when true, states only that one has desires that would be fulfilled by doing phi, in which case it is the desires that motivate the action, not the belief.

The fact that beliefs + desires -> intentions means that it is impossible for a person to intend something without having the requisite desires. If it is true that he has the intention, then it is true that he has the desires that motivate the intention, just as if it is true that an object is accelerating, that the object has a set of forces acting on it that yield a vector sum of the appropriate direction and magnitude.

The belief merely reports the presence of motivating desires and, since we are to assume ex hypthesi that there is an intention, then there must, in fact, be motivating desires.

Richard said...

You don't seem to be responding to what I said. (You're just repeating the fact that your old theory has trouble accommodating the points I raise. But I'm already well aware of that.)

Do you agree with the following claim or not: Convince me that I have no practical reason to phi, and this suffices to prevent me from phi-ing (on pain of irrationality).

In other words, it is incoherent to assert: "I have no normative reason to phi, but I fully intend to phi nonetheless." True?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Richard

What state am I in before you start to convince me that I have no practical reason to phi?

Do I start with a practical reason to phi?

If I do, then how do you convince me that I do not have a reason to phi? What is the form of that argument? How do the premises support the conclusion?


Do I start without a practical reason to phi, but an intention to phi nonetheless?

In which case, how does this happen? I hold that it happens if I have a desire that P, and a (false) belief that phi-ing would bring about a state where P is true. By convincing me that phi-ing would not bring about P, you can prevent me from phi-ing. However, this is all a part of traditional means-ends rationality. Desires pick the ends, beliefs pick the means, and you have shown me that my beliefs have done a poor job of picking the means. The ends - my 'desire that P' - remain untouched.

I suspect that you are interpreting the claim that beliefs are non-motivational to be a claim that beliefs lack even the power to choose the means by which ends are reached (desires are fulfilled). If this were the case, then beliefs would have no role at all in behavior.

This would be a thesis that claimed that two people with identical desires would behave in exactly identical ways regardless of what they believed. It would be a theory that said that if two equally thirsty people walked into a room, where one believed that a pitcher in the center of the room contained clean water while the other believed it contained poison, their beliefs would not affect their actions. They would either both drink, or both refuse to drink.

Yet, clearly, this is an absurd theory, and it is not the type of claim that I am defending.

My claim is that desires identify the ends of human action, and beliefs identify the means. So, if you can convince a thirsty person that a glass in the middle of the room is poisonous, then certainly you can prevent him from drinking from it (assuming that the agent had an aversion to dying or desires that, given his beliefs, he could not fulfill by killing himself).

So, yes, if you convince me that phi-ing is not such to fulfill the more and stronger of my desires than this would be sufficient to prevent me from phi-ing. But only because phi-ing is not such as to fulfill the more and stronger of my desires.

That is the only form of 'convincing me' that would work.

Richard said...

Goodness, it's harder to get a straight answer out of you than a politician! Again, you have not addressed the question I asked. To convince someone that "phi-ing is not such to fulfill the more and stronger of my desires" is not the same thing as to convince them that "I have no practical reason to phi". It is possible for someone to believe one without the other, since it is possible for someone to have a different view from you about what normative reasons exist (even if it's a false view).

I would be interested to hear your direct answer to the precise question I asked. If you do not wish to answer my question, then there's no point continuing this farce.

So, last try. True or false: it is (necessarily) incoherent for someone to intend to phi while they believe that they have no normative reason to phi. [And conversely: it is irrational to believe that I have most reason to phi and yet fail to intend to phi.]

(Period. That is, regardless of what other beliefs or desires they may have, and in particular whether they believe your theory that desires are the only normative reasons that exist. My question is whether the precise belief stated is by itself incoherent with the precise intention stated. Yes or no?)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Richard

Goodness, it's harder to get a straight answer out of you than a politician!

An attendee at a town-hall style debate holds up a red piece of paper and asks, "Candidate A, is this paper black or white?"

"White," says Candidate A.

"Candidate B, is this paper black or white?"

Candidate B answers, "Neither, it is red."

After the meeting a reporter asked this attendee which candidate he likes best. The attendee answered, "Candidate A because, even though this paper is black, at least Candidate A showed me enough respect to answer my question."

Again, you have not addressed the question I asked. To convince someone that "phi-ing is not such to fulfill the more and stronger of my desires" is not the same thing as to convince them that "I have no practical reason to phi".

No, it is not. However, the proposition "phi-ing is not such as to fulfill the more and stronger of my desires" is true if and only if "I have no practical reason for phi-ing" is true.

And if you convince somebody that "I have no practical for phi-ing" is true, and it is true, then the agent has no practical preason for phi-ing. And if you convince the agent that he has no practical reason for phi-ing is true, and it is false, then he has no practical reason for phi-ing, because, by definition, "I have a practical reason for phi-ing" is false.

And, yes, it is true that you will not be able to convince an agent that he has a practical reason for phi-ing unless he is motivated to phi. However, this simply means that he will not accept your conclusion that he has practical reason for phi-ing unless it is true that phi-ing best fulfills his desires, given his beliefs.

The irrationality you speak of is the irrationality of being convinced that one has a practical reason for phi-ing when phi-ing does not pass the test of being something the agent is (desire-)motivated to do.


It is possible for someone to believe one without the other, since it is possible for someone to have a different view from you about what normative reasons exist (even if it's a false view).

This is not a legitimate test for identity. The fact that a person can believe that the evening star is a different thing from the morning star does not prove that both are not the same planet Venus.

Yes, it is possible for somebody to believe in the existence of normative reasons that do not exist in fact. However, it is not possible for a person to have a type of reason that does not exist. So, if you are asking me about what reasons a person has for phi-ing, as opposed to what reasons he believes he has in phi-ing, then my answer is going to be in terms of desire-fulfillment, the only types of reasons that people can actually have.


I would be interested to hear your direct answer to the precise question I asked. If you do not wish to answer my question, then there's no point continuing this farce.

Actually, I have answered your question.


So, last try. True or false: it is (necessarily) incoherent for someone to intend to phi while they believe that they have no normative reason to phi. [And conversely: it is irrational to believe that I have most reason to phi and yet fail to intend to phi.]

It is necessarily incoherent because a person does not intend to phi unless phi-ing best fulfills the more and stronger of a person's desires given his beliefs, which means that phi-ing is something that the agent at least believes he has practical reason to do.

I do not need to postulate motivating beliefs to draw this equation.

Richard said...

Actually, the mere fact that "phi-ing best fulfills the more and stronger of a person's desires given his beliefs" does not entail anything about the agent's beliefs, and in particular it does not entail that "phi-ing is something that the agent at least believes he has practical reason to do." (After all, the agent might be unaware of his own desires, or he might not believe that desires constitute reasons.) Indeed, it is even logically possible that your psychological theory is false, such that an agent may intend to phi without believing it to fulfill his strongest drives at all.

So you do not have an adequate explanation of the logically necessary incoherence.

P.S. re: "This is not a legitimate test for identity." -- I never suggested it was. (See, this is why I was so pedantic in specifying the precise question I asked. Because every time I leave a comment, you go off and write half a page on some tangential elementary point that I never disputed.)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Actually, not only is it logically possible that a person can intend to phi without believing it to fulfill his strongest drives, it happens all the time. Animals intend to phi without having any such beliefs, and humans form intentions to phi while believing all sorts of strange things about their reasons for phi-ing that are not true - such as divine presence, intrinsic values, and motivational beliefs.

So, "An agent may intend to phi without believing it to fulfill his strongest drives" is certainly true. In fact, agents almost always intend to phi without believing it to fulfill his strongest desires.

They're wrong, but this is what they believe.

Indeed, I would argue, based on your earlier comments, that you are one of them.

Of course it is logically possible that 'my psychological theory' is false.

It is even metaphysically possible that 'my psychological theory' is false. Indeed, a theory is not much of a theory unless there is some possibility of falsification.

These are not the question. The question is whether the theory is false in fact.

That theory says:

A person who asserts that he has sufficient practical reason for phi-ing will intend to phi.

A person will not intend to phi unless phi-ing fulfills the more and stronger of his desires, given his beliefs.

It is not the case that a person will not intend to phi unless he believes that phi-ing fulfills the more and stronger of his desires, given his beliefs.

I have not been arguing that an intentional action requires the belief that the action best fulfills the more and stronger of a person's desires given his beliefs, only the fact that the action best fulfills the more and stronger of a person's desires.

There are stacks of psychological experiments showing that people's beliefs about their reasons for action are often false - that they confabulate explanations for their own behavior. Some of these experiments show confabulation in normal subjects. Researchers tell subjects to pick from among a set of identical items. They almost always pick the last item they are presented with. They say that this is because of texture, brightness, or some other feature. Yet, when the items are shuffled, the subjects cannot identify the one they picked the first time.

We do not have to take a person's reported reasons for action as necessarily true.

My dispute has not been whether a motivational belief would count as a reason for action if motivational beliefs existed. My dispute has been on whether they exist.

Richard said...

Yes, I thought about correcting that "believing it to fulfill..." line straight away, since of course I really meant to write "fulfill... given his beliefs", but I trusted that you would get the point, given that the difference is not relevant to the point at hand. I am too trusting.

Anyway, it is clear that to continue this discussion would require me to guide you through each painstaking step of my argument. I'm afraid I do not have the patience for this. So I will leave it at that.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Richard

It is sad to see you turn out this way.

In one instance you condemn me for answering the question that I thought you were trying to ask rather than the question you asked. In another instance you condemn me for answering the question you asked rather than the question I was supposed to divine that you had asked.

You are correct, the change is not relevant to your question. Even under this interpretation, the proposition you accuse me of denying is not one that I deny.

I would still say, "Of course it is logically possible that a person can act without that act being an attempt to fulfill his desires given his beliefs. It is even phyiscally possible (in that the theory could be wrong). However, what needs to be established it that the theory is wrong in fact, not that it is possibly wrong.

Of course, there is something less than noble about the attitude, "I am so amazingly brilliant that, if you are having trouble understanding me, the fault must certainly be your inferior intellect."

Alonzo Fyfe said...

So, Richard, if I may:

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that a person who believes that phi is worthwhile will necessarily be motivated to phi. (I agree with this statement, but hold that a person will not believe that phi-ing is worthwhile unless phi-ing best fulfills his beliefs given his desires.)

What you have not yet provided is an account of the truth conditions of "phi-ing is worthwhile." A believe that phi-ing is worth while is true if and only if . . . what, exactly?

Also, I believe you suggested that if you can convince a person that he has no practical reason to phi, that he will then not phi. (Again, I agree with this, but only because the definition of 'practical reason' is such that you will not convince him unless phi-ing will not best fulfill his beliefs given his desires.)

What you have not yet provided is an example of what such an argument looks like. What set of principles entail, "You do not have practical reason to phi?" How would you go about convincing such a person of this, rather than showing that phi-ing is a poor means to fulfilling his desires?

Third, you seem to suggest that the incoherence between, "I intend to phi" and "I have no practical reason to phi" entails that motivational beliefs exist. Whereas I take it to entail nothing more than that a an assertion of having practical reason requires motivation - and implies nothing about the biological facts underlying that motivation. You are trying to infer conclusions that your premises do not support.

These are the problems that I have had with your objections.

Richard said...

Okay, here's the basic challenge: we need an explanation of why it is conceptually incoherent to intend to phi whilst believing that there is no reason to phi. Appeal to merely contingent facts/theories will not do. They might at most explain why people don't (as things turn out) hold both attitudes at once. They cannot explain why it is logically necessary that no rational agent would hold both attitudes at once.

What the incoherence implies, then, is that certain (evaluative) beliefs entail certain intentions (on pain of irrationality). That is, I've shown that the nature of rationality requires that actions can be governed by beliefs in a way that is not contingent on any desire. A person could come to believe "I have most reason to phi" without having any antecedent desire to phi. (There is nothing in "the definition of 'practical reason'" that rules out such a possibility. Their belief is not self-contradictory, though you may think it false. Still, people can have false beliefs, and it's the having of the belief that matters for our purposes.) Such an agent is then rationally required to intend to phi. This fact about rational motivation is entailed by their beliefs alone, no matter what desires they turn out to have. This refutes your Humean theory of practical rationality.

Now, you're quite right that I haven't discussed what would make their normative belief true, nor how one might go about convincing someone to adopt the belief. Those are interesting questions in their own right (short answer: coherentism), but they are not relevant to the point at hand.

Finally, you write: "I take it to entail nothing more than that a an assertion of having practical reason requires motivation - and implies nothing about the biological facts underlying that motivation."

That's precisely what "motivational belief" means: a belief that entails motivation (whatever its biological underpinning). Note that "beliefs" and "desires" are not themselves biological entities in any case, but theoretical abstractions that could be physically instantiated in any number of ways. Belief-desire psychology enables us to predict human behaviour via the model of rational agency. But to treat beliefs and desires as wholly distinct spheres is, as I've shown, to misrepresent the nature of rational agency.

It's an empirical question how the neuronal mess of a human brain manages to implement rationality -- or even to what extent it actually manages to do so. But a theory of rational agency is not itself an empirical theory. (If some people are found to have contradictory beliefs, that doesn't make it any less irrational.) And the nature of rationality requires that normative judgments (beliefs) entail motivation (desire or intention).

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Richard

Thank you for your response.

What the incoherence implies, then, is that certain (evaluative) beliefs entail certain intentions (on pain of irrationality).

What you have demonstrated is a case of logical implication. (A logically implies B). You have not demonstrated material implication (A brings about or causes B).

You have shown is that there is a certain irrationality in intending to phi, while believing that one has no reason to phi. This means that as long as the intention to phi exists, the belief that there is no reason to phi is a belief that a rational person would reject. It would be irrational for me to be convinced that I have no reason to phi as long as I intend to phi.

However, this is fully compatible with saying that I will intend to phi so long as phi-ing best fulfills my desires given my beliefs. Which further entails that it is irrational for me to be convinced that I have no reason to phi, so long as phi-ing best fulfills my desires given my beliefs.

The reason that this is true is because, in the English language, we have adopted a custom that says, "If you accept the phrase 'I have no reason to phi', at a time when you intend to phi, you are using this English phrase incorrectly. Proper english speakers will not use the phrase 'I have no reason to phi' in any honest context in which they intend to phi."

That's precisely what "motivational belief" means: a belief that entails motivation (whatever its biological underpinning).

No.

A motivational belief is a belief that materially entails intention, not a belief that logically entails intention.

Logical implication allows you to say that if motivational beliefs exist then they are have motivational force - which I accept.

Logical implication also allows you to say that in English a person who asserts that he has no reason to phi while at the same time intending to phi speaks incoherently. This, I also accept.

Logical implication does not allow you to say that there exists an entity that motivates agents in the absence of desire. To make that claim, you need to demonstrate material implication. To demonstrate material implication you need to provide some account of the nature of desire-independent 'worthwhileness'.

I hold that, in spite of success in establishing logical implication, you will never establish material implication, because of the 'queerness' of desire-independent value and the fact that evolution will hijack those functions for the sake of genetic replication.