A member of the studio audience invited philosopher Richard Carrier to look over some of my work and to provide comment.
I thought I owed my readers a response to what a professional philosopher might say with respect to the ideas that I present here.
The first thing to note is that there are two types of responses to any theory.
Now, this is going to take a bit of effort, I'm afraid. However, the effort is worth it in establishing a more solid foundation for a morality without gods.
One type of response is to propose an alternative theory. An alternative theory suggests that there are some differences in what would be predicted by the theory being proposed and the theory being criticized. Specifically, it offers some alternative set of predictions. In many cases, we can then go out and see which theory makes the most accurate predictions. That will tell us which theory to adopt.
Another type of response proposes what amounts to a different version of the same theory. In this case, the two theories produce exactly the same results. There is no experiment that can be performed or observation to be made that would show a difference between them. Yet, we can still judge the merits of each theory by their complexity, and we have reason to go with whichever theory is the simpler.
An example of the latter distinction is the distinction between Ptolemy’s earth-centered theory of the solar system versus the Copernican sun-centered theory. Actually, the two theories do not give different predictions as the observed motions of the planets. The difference is that the former required epicycles upon epicycles to get the same results. It was judged best, in this case, to go with the easiest theory.
I do not see anywhere in Carrier’s response where he identifies a place where the two theories might deviate, allowing us to adopt the better of the two predictors. We have only the option of looking over the two theories to determine which is the simpler.
The focus of Carrier’s response concerns a case where I hold that happiness theory and desire fulfillment theory produce different results:
Ask individuals what they will do under the following circumstances:
Option 1: "You will be made to believe that your child is living a healthy and successful life while, in fact, your child is being tortured mercilessly."
Option 2: "You will be made to believe that your child is being tortured mercilessly while, in fact, your child is living a healthy and successful life."
For the parent with a desire that P, where P = "my child is living a healthy and successful life", Option 2 is the option that fulfills that desire. It creates a state of affairs S in which P is true. Whereas, if happiness were the goal, then Option 1 would be the better choice because Option 1 will produce the most happiness for the agent. Many people asked this question would choose Option 2 – the desire fulfillment option. Thus, we have a result that demonstrates that desire fulfillment is the better of the two theories.
Against this, Carrier wishes to deny the assertion that happiness theory requires that the agent choose Option 1 – thus denying that the two theories yield different predictions. This means that the two theories are thrown into a competition of which of the two is simpler. Which of the two theories actually answers questions, and which of the two theories seems to add epicycles upon epicycles in order to continue to get results that accurately match real-world observations?
If it gave the decider no happiness to "make or keep the proposition true," then by definition they wouldn't have the desire to "make or keep the proposition true" (indeed I suspect it is physiological impossible to possess a desire the fulfillment of which produces no satisfaction).
My first question is: Why would he suspect that? There is no argument here as to why satisfaction is necessary – merely an assertion that it is necessary. Carrier, for all practical purposes, is simply declaring that he has trouble imagining a person seeking the fulfillment of a desire that brings no satisfaction.
Yet, the answer to this is merely to assert that the fault does not lie with the theory, it lies instead with Carrier's imagination. What Carrier needs to provide is an account of what satisfaction is, and why satisfaction and only satisfaction – nothing else has the power to motivate action.
As for the possibility of motivating action through systems other than satisfaction, we are surrounded by examples in which this is possible. Many computer programs use a method where the computer is programmed with the ability to evaluate particular end states, and then evaluate options according to which is most likely to bring about the most highly valued end states. In creating these programs, we do not tend to believe that we are programming computers with a sense of satisfaction over various results. It is simply programmed to give each end state a value.
What is it about happiness and only happiness that gives it the power to motivate actions?
Consider the claim being made here.
There is a state of affairs called "satisfaction" (S) and we are motivated to pursue S. However, for all other states of affairs T that are not equal to S, not only is it the case that we have no motivation to pursue T, but we cannot have any motivation to pursue T, according to Carrier.
This is actually a remarkable claim. It is possible for the mother in the above case to be motivated to bring about some state of personal satisfaction, but it is not possible for the mother to be motivated by the state of her child being healthy and successful except insofar as the child's wellbeing is a means (a tool, an instrument) for bringing about a state of satisfaction.
I think we need an account of what satisfaction is and how it is that such a thing can motivate us to action, when nothing else in the universe can even possibly motivate us to action.
Without such an account, I would suggest that the desire fulfillment theory leaves fewer mysteries then the satisfaction theories. If it is true that both theories yield the same predictions, the fact that the desire fulfillment theory does not leave these types of questions unanswered gives it an advantage.
To be continued . . .