In this post I wish to continue to consider some points that Richard Carrier made with respect to desire utilitarianism.
I presented the case of a person asked to choose among two options:
Option 1: The person is made to falsely believe that their child is healthy and happy while the child is, in fact, being tortured.
Option 2: The person is made to falsely believe that their child is being tortured while the child is, in fact, healthy and happy.
I suggested that the fact that many people report that they would choose Option 2 suggests that people do not care about happiness as much as they care about realizing states of affairs in which that which they desire (the health and happiness of their children) is made true.
I have already raised the objection that the person who claims that happiness is the only value needs to provide us with an account as to how a person can be constituted so as to pursue happiness but cannot be constituted so as to pursue anything else, such as the health and happiness of their children.
Carrier also suggestion that a person who values only happiness or satisfaction would have reason to choose Option 2 because he cared about what type of person he was.
The problem with this option is addressed in the question, "What is he?"
A person who acts out of a concern to be a particular type of person can never actually be that type of person. The best he can hope for is to go through the motions – to play the part – of somebody who is a particular type of person.
Let us say that he is concerned with being the type of person who loves his children. If all of his actions are motivated by a desire to be a particular type of person, and none of them are grounded in a selfless concern for the well-being of his children, then he is simply is not the type of person who loves his children. Instead, he is somebody who has no love for his children who is playing the part . . . pretending . . . to be somebody who loves his children.
Instead, he is merely somebody who loves his own happiness, and who can (fortunately) harvest happiness by caring for his children. The children are still a mere means to the agent’s own happiness – to be discarded as irrelevant the instant they should cease to serve their purpose.
Desire utilitarianism can make sense of the desire to be a particular type of person. It says that, through praise and reward and simple repetition, a person can change their desires so that they can actually come to value something he does not yet value. He does so by first acting like he is somebody with a particular desire (pretending). Through repetition and self-gratification he can acquire the desire he seeks. As he acquires the desire, he becomes the person he wants to be. As he acquires an interest in his own children’s welfare (rather than an interest in his own happiness for which the welfare of the children is a means).
There is one way in which a happiness theorist can make sense of the idea of somebody being a particular type of person. Somebody can have an interest, for example, in being the type of person who is made happy by the welfare of children. However, this option presents two different questions.
How is it the case that “being a particular type of person” has value? To a happiness theorist, this can only mean that being a certain type of person makes the agent happy. It can only be for the sake of the agent’s own happiness that he is motivated to be a particular type of person.
How can it be that being somebody who has an interest in being a particular type of person have value? It can only be because the thought of being somebody who wants to be a particular kind of person makes the person happy.
Are we getting any closer to the nature of value?
The other problem is more serious.
By hypothesis, our agent wants to be a particular type of person – a person who finds happiness in the welfare of children. However, this drive does not give him any incentive at all to choose Option 2.
In this case, being the type of person who finds happiness from the welfare of children is simply cannot be realized. The route to happiness is the route to the belief that the child is healthy and happy. The agent may wish that the route to happiness was through the other route. Furthermore, he may value the type of person who wished that the route to happiness was the route that brought about the welfare of the child. However, his wishes, in this case, do not count for anything. Reality has simply conspired to make it the case that happiness, in fact, is found in the option that brings about the torture of the child.
The desire utilitarian does not face this problem. The desire utilitarian, who desires that the child is healthy and happy, seeks to realize a state of affairs in which the proposition, "The child is healthy and happy," is true. That state is realized in Option 2.
If we think that an agent can rationally choose Option 2, then we have to hold that something other than (or, more recisely, in addition to) happiness has value.