A member of the studio audience asks Why are desires the primary object of moral evaluation?
[M]aking desires the objects of evaluation seems like an arbitrary "trick" to make your normative theory "come out right," rather than a solid inference from what we observe in the real world. Making desires the objects of evaluation solves lots of problems that plague act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism, but why should we think that desires are the CORRECT objects of moral evaluation, rather than the most CONVENIENT?
This question repeats a common mistake in the field of ethics – the mistake of confusing questions about the meanings of terms with questions about the things the terms refer to.
When we are concerned with the meanings of terms, there is no law of nature that dictates what any term should mean. It is a mere accident that we call the color of ripe McIntosh apple 'red' and a four-legged domesticated feline 'cat'. Nobody can give any answer as to why this must be the case. Nor can they give us a reason as to why we cannot reverse these, if it pleases us to do so.
Yet, once we set a definition, the real questions of an objective science are questions about what is true of this thing we call 'red', or these entities we call 'cats'.
I cannot give an answer to the question of why relationships between malleable desires and other desires are to be called 'morality'. This is simply an arbitrary choice that we seem to have made as we mutually work to help to create the English language.
The questions that I can answer are questions about what is objectively true of these relationships – that desires are the only reasons for action that exist, that some desires are malleable, that people generally have reason to promote malleable desires that tend to fulfill other desires and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.
I can point out the coincidence between many of the implications of this set of claims and what is true of that institution that we call 'morality'. I can say that, among these relationships and their implications we can find an account of what an 'excuse' is and distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate excuses, can understand the claim that 'ought' implies 'can', and can handle the concepts of negligence and moral dilemmas.
However, I cannot give an objective answer to the language question, "Why call these complex relationships between malleable desires and other desires 'morality'?"
It is not a mere convenience that we have reasons to use social tools such as praise and condemnation to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, or inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires. This is a natural fact.
Nor is it a mere coincidence that any claim that breaks the inference between an agent’ desires and some prima facie appearance of wrongdoing is a claim that says that applying the social forces of blame or reward makes no sense. There is no sign, in these cases where an agent has a legitimate excuse, that there are bad malleable desires out there to be molded.
These facts remain no matter what people decide to do with the term 'morality',
This is true in just the same way that the physical properties of Pluto remain the same regardless of what the astronomers decide to do with the concept 'planet'.
So, why are relationships between desires and other desires the correct references for the term 'morality'? The answer is – they are not. The assignment of meanings to terms is arbitrary and wholly guided by human convention.
But it also isn't important. The real-world facts of the matter regarding the relationships between malleable desires and other desires remain the same, regardless of what we decide to call them.,/p>