So, a member of the studio audience writes:
So, desires are the only reason for action that exist. And "good" is 'that for which there are reasons for action that exist to realize'. So, "good" is that for which there are desires to realize. Hmmm... interesting.
Well, yep, that’s the crux of it. Would you mind if I added a couple of details just for flavor?
For example, this is an account of generic goodness – not moral goodness. It applies not only to the case of the person who rescues a child from a raging river at the risk to his own live, but to the man who climbs out of the basement after torturing and killing his most recent victim, collapses on the couch, and explains, "Now, that was good!" There are reasons for action that exist for realizing the state in which he was torturing the victim in the basement. However, we would be hard pressed to say that torturing the victim was morally good (obligatory) or even permissible.
So, once we have a generic account of goodness we need to start splitting it up into the different species of goodness. One of those species would be the species of moral goodness.
Whereas goodness is that for which there are desires to realize, moral goodness are malleable desires for which there are more and stronger desires to realize.
The time-honored test of a moral theory is to test the theory against our moral intuitions. The degree to which a theory calls moral that which people generally call moral, and calls immoral that which people generally call immoral, is widely used as the definitive test to determine whether one has a good moral theory or not.
I reject that test. Our moral intuitions tell us nothing but the prejudices and concerns we have at the moment. A moral intuitions test in Georgia in 1800s could only be passed by a theory that defended slavery, and a moral intuitions test in France in the 1500s would require a defense of the divine right of kings.
The proper test for a moral theory is not a moral intuitions test, but a moral practices test. It must make sense of the elements of morality, not its conclusions.
Why are praise and condemnation such an integral part of our moral practices?
Answer: Because praise and condemnation are two of the greatest social tools available for molding desires.
Why are there three moral categories for action – obligations, prohibitions and non-obligatory permissions?
Answer: Because there are desires that people generally have reason to promote universally (e.g., charity, honesty), desires that people generally have reason to inhibit universally (e.g., rape, killing), and desires that people have reason to promote in some people but not in everybody (e.g., the desires associated with being a teacher, engineer, writer, or doctor). Also, in some areas such as food preferences and mate preferences diversity reduces competition and helps to ensure that more individuals are able to fulfill their desires.
What accounts for the moral category of negligence?
Answer: Negligent acts are acts that that show evidence of the absence of a desire that people generally have reason to promote – namely, a concern for the welfare of other people. A person who cares about what happens to the clock her father made for her will take steps to ensure that it is not damaged. If she throws the clock around, she shows that she lacks a concern for what happens to the clock. A negligent person shows that he lacks a concern for the effects that his actions might have on other. This absence of a desire that people generally have reason to promote is what makes negligent acts deserving of condemnation.
What is an excuse and how do you account for its role in moral claims?
An excuse is a statement that breaks the link between an action that looks wrong on its surface and the desires of the agent apparently responsible. A car crashes through a crowd of pedestrians. A person would good desires would take pains to avoid such a state. The agent offers the excuse that a vehicle malfunction is responsible for the accident. This means that even a person with good desires could not have prevented the state in which the car plowed into a group of pedestrians. Yet, we can still ask whether a person with good desires would have done a better job maintaining the car.
These are some examples of areas in which desire utilitarianism explains, no our moral intuitions but our moral practices. It does so without inventing exotic entities such as such as divine commands, intrinsic values, categorical imperatives, social contracts, or impartial observers.
The list of moral practices that desire utilitarianism can account for is actually quite lengthy. Other examples can be found in Luke Muehlhauser's Desire Utilitarianism FAQ.