I am still getting a swarm of questions about the morality that sits at the foundation of this blog. Some of those questions come as comments to previous blog postings. Many more are coming through direct contact.
I want to answer one of the questions that I got as a comment, because it has important implications for the question of how morality is taught – with what one should do with moral facts. I answered the question in the comments section when it came in, but I want to give a more thorough answer.
Wait - so does your theory differentiate between desires based on true beliefs and desires based on false beliefs.
The answer: Desires are not based on beliefs. (Or, more precisely, desires-as-ends, which ultimately are the only reasons for action that exist, are not based on beliefs.)
Take, for example, the aversion to pain. The discomfort that one feels on having one’s hand in a bed of red-hot coals (at least so long as the flesh survives) is not grounded on any beliefs one might have about fire. It simply hurts.
Desires and beliefs are both propositional attitudes – line of computer code written into the brain. Beliefs are attitudes about how the world is. Desires are attitudes about how one wants the world to be.
We tend to want to avoid the sensation one gets when one's hand is badly burned. Beliefs help us to do so, but our aversion to those sensations are independent of our beliefs.
To confuse things, we do use the term 'desire' or 'want' loosely. We use it to refer to things that we desire as an end (aversion to pain) for no reason other than the fact we like or do not like it. We also use the term to refer to that which we desire as a means or as a tool for bringing about what we do not want. We want a smoke detector installed in our house to avoid being burned in a fire.
What we desire as a means is belief-dependent. We want smoke detectors because we believe that they can save us from a fire. However, every "desire-as-a-means" that we have is really just a bundle of beliefs and "desires-as-an-end". It is still the case that all of the motivation – all of the reasons for action – come from the "desires-as-ends" that are incorporated into this bundle.
One of the questions that I was asked concerns how we know whether we are dealing with a desire-as-means versus a desires-as-ends. One of the ways we can do this is by looking at the role of beliefs.
Somebody says that he favors capital punishment because it is a deterrence against crime. He is provided with evidence that disproves this belief. However, he dismisses the evidence without good reason (he "grasps at straws" for anything that appears to give the deterrence claim legitimacy regardless of how little sense it makes), or he accepts the evidence but still favors capital punishment.
Either of these reactions suggests that he does not value capital punishment as a means to reducing the killing of innocent people.
After all, if reducing the murders of innocent people were his goal, he would be seeking out the most efficient way to realize that goal. It would be important to him to have good evidence for what works (and what doesn't work) and to go with the option that has the best chance of working. The fact that he is willing to lie to himself about the effectiveness of capital punishment, or to disregard evidence, suggests that he values capital punishment for its own sake, and not just as a means for reducing the number of murders.
Whenever we see people grasping clearly flawed arguments, we have good reason to believe that the "desires-as-means" that he claims are the reasons for his action are not his real reasons. His real reasons are some desires-as-ends that we have reason to condemn or to criticize. To avoid this condemnation or criticism, he gives is whatever desires-as-means reasons that shows the slightest hope of tying his actions to a more legitimate end.
He denies that he has an aversion to homosexual relationships themselves and claims that opposition to homosexual marriage is necessary to promote morality and the traditional family, because societies that ignore morality and the traditional family collapse into a heap. "So, see, my end is not opposition to homosexual marriage. My end is to prevent the collapse of society. This is a perfectly good end."
Except, there is no evidence that society is actually put at stake by allowing homosexual marriage. There is only a desire to believe that society will collapse.
Now we can ask, "What desires are motivating you to WANT to believe such nonsense?"