As I mentioned at the end of last week, I am going to leave on an extended vacation at the end of this week, leaving those of you who are interested free to talk amongst yourselves. A recent post on desirism seem to have started something of a discussion.
Chris responded to my statement, If nobody had a desire to torture children, then no child would need to fear being tortured, and nobody would have reason to regret this fact, by saying:
It seems trivially true that if no one desires X, then no one would regret the fact that we do not have X.
It is trivially true. However, the fact that it is a premise in the argument warrants saying it in spite of the fact that it is trivially true.
This point was made with respect to the badness of a desire to torture children. Chris was making the point that if we eliminated the desire for homosexual acts, or the “desire for socialized medicine” then nobody would regret the fact that we did not have these things either.
One important difference to note is that, with respect to a desire to torture children, it is necessarily the case that if somebody has this desire than desires will be thwarted. Either the desires of the person who wants to torture children will be thwarted, or the desires of the children tortured (and those who torture children) will be thwarted. This is not true of either of these alternatives.
If, by some act of magic, we could create a child who enjoys pain, this will not allow us to fulfill the desires of those who seek to torture children. If the child likes pain, than inflicting pain on the child would not be torture. By the very definition of the word, a person is not being tortured unless he or she has a particularly strong desire (e.g., an aversion to pain, an aversion to the sensation of drowning) that is being thwarted.
Where two desires appear to come into conflict, the next question to ask is whether it is true that two desires have come into conflict. In the case of homosexual acts, these acts can and often do fulfill the desires of homosexuals. However, many of the claims that these acts also thwart desires are suspect.
Some people claim that God condemns homosexual acts and that one’s aversion to homosexual acts is really an aversion to that which goes against God. Because there is no God, there is no way for a homosexual act to thwart a desire that God’s will be obeyed.
The same argument applies to the claim that homosexual acts are intrinsically bad. There is no such thing as intrinsic badness, so a desire to reduce as much as possible the amount of intrinsic badness in the world is a desire that no act can fulfill or thwart.
So, people who engage in homosexual acts are not, in fact, thwarting the desires of others in many cases. The claims that people make about having a reason for action to condemn homosexual acts are simply mistaken.
Yet, if there were a true aversion to homosexual acts, an Eneasz pointed out, our next question to ask would concern the question of which desire is most easily changed.
Let us assume that, whenever a couple engages in homosexual acts, it causes extreme discomfort (pain) to a certain segment of the population. For example, let us assume that homosexual acts released a certain type of radiation that had the effect of causing extreme pain on others – a type of radiation that could go through walls.
In this case, there would be real reasons to condemn homosexual acts, even if people only engaged in such acts in private. Yet, even here, those reasons would only give us reason to restrict those acts to particular resorts whose boundaries were clearly marked – unless the range of this radiation was too great even for this.
Even here, it would be reasonable to put restrictions on homosexual acts only to the degree that this was the best way to deal with the pain that those who had such an unpleasant reaction to the radiation emitted from those homosexual acts. If, instead, the effects of the radiation could be prevented with a simple arm patch on an extremely small subset of the population that had this reaction, then that would be the preferred option.
These are the types of things that desire utilitarianism (or desirism, if you prefer) would invite us to look at.