Thursday, October 01, 2009

Smith on Parfit: 6 of 15: Two Types of Rationality

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.

As a general thought that came up in reading this article – one not linked to any specific passage from the article, I want to ask:

Would it not make more sense to simply distinguish two different senses of practical rationality?

Value consists of relationships between objects of evaluation and desires. We have the ability to describe many such relationships – and all of then are true.

When it comes to evaluating actions, we can evaluate an action's relationship to the desires that the agent has at the moment. We can also evaluate an action relative to all of the desires that an agnt has and will have. We can evaluate an action relative to the desires that an agent would have if he had 'good desires' relative to the other desires he has or will have. We can evaluate an action relative to the desires of an agent relative to those malleable desires that people generally have the most and strongest reason to promote in others.

There is no need to artificially restrict our language to one relationship and ignore all others.

We can see the same with respect to location. I can make all sorts of statements about the location of letter 'e' on the keyboard of my laptop at this specific time. For starters, it is on my laptop. The letter is between 'w' and 'r'. It is in Germany. It is on the third planet from the sun, it is under the middle finger of my left hand whenever I am typing the letter 'e'. All of these statements would be true. It would be senseless to demand that limit ourselves to one description of the location of the letter 'e' and refuse to talk about any other relationship.

Of the relationships I mentioned above, the relationship between an action and a combination of desires that people generally have reason to promote and the absence of desires that people generally have reason to inhibit is what I have called moral value. I have tended to equate practical value to the relationship between an action and the desires an individual has at the moment.

This means that it is possible for an agent to be in a situation where what the agent practically-ought to do is different from what an agent morally-ought to do. Even if fully informed, an agent does not necessary have sufficient practical-ought reason to do what she morally ought to do.

Another relationship that exists is between an action and all of the desires an agent has and will have – and not just the desires of the moment. People still have reason to be concerned with and to talk about this relationship. People still only do that act that fulfills the most and strongest of their current desires given his beliefs. However, those current desires almost certainly contains some interest in the fulfillment of future desires. As a result, they will almost certainly contain some interest in the relationship between actions and desires that will exist.

I'm going to stop here for now. In the near future, I will explain how an interest in the fulfillment of current desires can generate an interest in the relationships between actions and all of an agent's desires that exist. In the course of doing so, I am going to argue that the accusation of being irrational works like the accusation of being immoral in molding desires so as to fulfill other desires. The difference between the two is that the former is concerned with molding desires so that they fulfill other desires regardless of whose they are. The latter is concerned with molding desires so as to better fulfill other desires of the agent that do not yet exist.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Some days I am tempted to turn my blog into a "summarize and comment on what Alonzo Fyfe wrote today" blog.