In this series of posts I am commenting on an article sent to me by a member of the studio audience. These are, in a sense, notes written in the margin as it were as I highlight passages in the article and explain my agreement or disagreement.
I highlight the following quote:
According to another group of theories, reasons for acting are all provided by the facts that make certain things worth doing for their own sake, or make certain outcomes worth producing or preventing.
What are these so-called facts that make certain things worth doing for their own sake?
As I see it, if our interest is specifically on when an action is worth doing for its own sake, it is when an agent has a desire that P, and P is true in the state of affairs in which one is performing the action.
An outcome is worth producing for its own sake when an agent has a desire that P and P is true in that outcome.
According to Smith, this is not Parfit's view. Parfit has offered this account as an to desire-based theories of value. As an alternative to desire-based theories of value this must be a theory that holds that there are desire-independent reasons for action. These facts, which are not facts about a proposition being both the object of a desire that P and true (or false) in a state that P somehow still provide agents with a reason to act.
At times it seems as if Parfit is not actually providing desire-independent reasons for action. Ultimately, he argues that there are desire-independent reasons to want (or to desire) something. We can speculate that Parfit is concerned with reasons to want something as opposed to reasons to do something because wanting still plays a crucial role in motivating action. I do not know if this is the case with Parfit, I am merely exploring possibilities
Our reasons to have some desire are provided, I have claimed, by facts about this desire’s object, or the event that we want. We have such reasons when the event that we want would be in some way relevantly good. We can call such reasons object-given. (On What Matters, §3)
While this offers a hint of a suggestion that there is some way to hold that the ultimate concern is with desires (or wants), the theory still seems to require desire-independent reasons for action. Instead of arguing for a desire-independent reason to act so as to keep a promise to the dead, Parfit is arguing for a desire-independent reason to act so as to acquire a desire to keep a promise to the dead. These are two different types of desire-independent reasons for action, but they are both still desire-independent reasons for actions.
Against such a theory, my objection is still, What are they, exactly? How do they work?
A person can assert that the noises in the attic were made by ghosts. However, we would need an account of what ghosts are. This account would have to suggest a means by which ghosts could have caused the noises in the attic. In the absence of this information the ghost hypothesis is not telling us anything useful.