Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Carroll v. Harris: Quantifying Value - Part II

(See Sean Carroll: You Can't Derive 'Ought' from 'Is')

Sean Carroll told us that morality-as-science is impossible until we can assign a number to different amounts of value. In my last post I argued that this criterion is bogus - the inability to assign numbers reflects our current state of ignorance, not what is true of the world. However, as it turns out, we can measure value scientifically.

Now, moral value is a species of value.

I am going to talk about value-as-science first, then focus more specifically on moral-value-as-science, which will be a specific case of the generic theory.

What we are looking for is a way of quantifying 'better than' and 'worse than'.

I would like to note how we quantified temperature. We noted a relationship between temperature and volume and we quantified volume. We put liquid in a vacuum tube and measured temperature by recording the volume of the liquid - the distance that the liquid in its current volume was pushed up a long thin tube.

Since desires are reasons for action - since there is a relationship between the number and strength of relevant desires and intentional action - we can use intentional action as a measure of desire just as we can use volume as a proxy for temperature.

The value of something is the maximum amount that a person would pay against a competing bidder of equal wealth under conditions of true and complete relevant beliefs.

So, if Person1 with true relevant beliefs is willing to pay $1634.987 to realize a particular state of affairs, then this is the quantity of value that Person1 finds in that state. And if Person2 is willing to pay $995.356 then this is the quantity of value she finds in that state. The aggregate value is 2630.342.

If Carroll is reading this, I suspect he would respond by thinking, "There's no need to go any further. This is flawed from the start. I can just as easily assert that value is related to some other quantity - say, serotonin levels, and there is no experiment that we can imagine that would prove your measurement correct and mine to be incorrect."

My answer to Carroll is: Go ahead. Choose something else to measure. If your measurements are correct, and you limit yourself to making only those claims that can be demonstrated to be objectively relevant to what you are measuring, then nothing you would say as a result would conflict with anything I talk about with respect to the measurement I have provided.

If you start making claims about what you are measuring – and making them even though there is no experiment that we can imagine that can prove that you are wrong (or right), then I am going to accuse you of making things up.

See, there is a reason why there is no experiment we can imagine that will prove whether a person making a Carrollian 'ought' claim is wrong. It is because Carrollian 'oughts' are fictitious entities. They are make-believe from the realm as the angels pushing the planets around or ghosts. Is there an experiment I can imagine that would prove that there are no ghosts? No, there is not.

However, the very fact that there is no experiment that I can imagine that can prove ghosts are real tells us something about ghosts. Or, at least, it tells us something useful about the ghost-hypothesis. It has no practical importance. The ‘best explanation’ behind something where there is no experiment that can show us it is real is that it is imaginary.

Yet, I would like to remind the reader that these imaginary Carrollian ‘oughts’ that exist outside of the realm of evidence and proof are being used to ‘justify’ claims about who deserves to live and who deserves to die, who deserves prison time and who should go free, who shall be comforted and who shall be made to suffer. Carrollian ‘oughts’ place these in a realm without reason or evidence – in the same realm as God, ghosts, and garden fairies.

If we remove the myth Carrollian ‘ought’ – the ‘that for which there is no imaginable experiment’ – from our claims about serotonin levels, we are left with the objective facts about those measurements and the objective implications of those facts. None of this is going to create any problem for the measurement of "the most a person with true and complete relevant beliefs would bid to realize a state of affairs."

The next accusation to face is that I, too, am guilty of adding a Carrollian ‘ought’ to what I am measuring.

Well, if that is the objection, then tell me one conclusion that I am defending that would require such a premise. What conclusion am I claiming that I can get to that I cannot get to without the assumption of a evidence-free Carrollian ‘ought’?

The final objection will be that, “Without this evidence-free Carrollian ‘ought’ you are not permitted to call what you are talking about value (generically) or moral value (specifically). Value requires evidence-free Carrollian ‘ought’.”

That’s fine. Let’s call it something else and be rid of these fictitious, mythical, magical Carrollian ‘oughts’ once and for all. Or you need to explain to me what you insist on making claims, as if they are relevant in the real world, when you cannot even imagine any evidence that you can offer to support them.

In my next post, I am going to look at this measure of value a little more closely. I want to remind you that this is a measure of generic value, not moral value. Moral value will be shown to be a species of generic value (the generic value of malleable desires that can be molded through social forces such as praise and condemnation.)

And, like I said, if you do not like calling “the generic value of malleable desires that can be molded through social forces such as praise and condemnation” morality, then don’t. Nothing will be changed by giving it a different name.

One really does not understand desirism until one can understand why the desirist can respond to a claim like, "I am going to define 'morality' as this thing over here," or "I hereby declare that X is the root of all value," with a shrug of indifference. The desirist has no reason to get into long and loud debates over these types of claims. The loud and long debate itself would be grounded on false assumptions.

There are only two options available to the person who declares that they are going to define morality in terms of X or declare X to be the root of all value. Either the agent is going to limit himself to making objectively true of X - in which case none of his statements are going to conflict with what the desirist claims. Or the agent is going to assign to X these properties where "no experiment we can imagine can prove that I am wrong," in which case the desirist will answer, "Then you are just making things up."

And when the other person asserts that the desirist is just making something up, the desirist answers by saying, "Show me any conclusion that I claim to be able to reach that requires making something up."

In the off chance that the person raising the objection actually identifies something that requires a make-believe premise that cannot be proved wrong, then the desirist eliminates it and says, "That you for helping me to recognize and rid the theory of that garbage."

Perhaps this response will be easier to understand with an analogy.

Assume we have a scientist who is busy studying and reporting on the properties of six-proton atoms (carbon). This is the focus of his study and his writings. Then another scientist comes along and says, "I am going to look at 8-proton atoms (oxygen) instead."

The first scientist says, "Fine. Go ahead. If you limit yourself to making true claims about 8-proton atoms, then nothing you say about them is going to contradict or conflict with what I say about 6-proton atoms. And if you start making claims about 8-proton atoms where 'no experiment we can imagine can prove that I am wrong (or right)', then I am going to accuse you of making things up. I am not particularly concerned about objections that come out of the realm of make-believe."

The same thing is true about value. If you say you want to measure something other than what I propose, then go ahead and do so. If you limit yourself to objectively true facts about what you measure, and I limit myself to objectively true facts about what I measure, we are not going to have any problems. We are not going to run into problems until one of us starts to make up things about what we are measuring - making claims that no experiment we can imagine can prove wrong (or right), but making them anyway.

But, the person who does that has left reality behind and entered the realm of imaginative fiction.

In my next post I will say more about the quantification of value and start to get into the quantification of moral value. While I do so there will be readers tempted to say, "Well, I'm going to measure that thing over there instead." In response to that, one should understand the desirist shrug. "Go ahead, if you like. It does not matter. If you think it matters, it is because you are living in a world of fiction, not fact."

3 comments:

Kip said...

> One really does not understand desirism until one can understand why the desirist can respond to a claim like, "I am going to define 'morality' as this thing over here," or "I hereby declare that X is the root of all value," with a shrug of indifference.


The problem I see, though, is that if a lot of people do this, then the part of moral claims that act as praise & condemnation (what you go into here: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2010/05/what-emotivisits-get-right.html ) will be "noisy" for the desirists trying to use the same moral tools (praise & condemnation) to change desires. It will make the desirists' moral tools less effective.

For this reason, I'd think the desirist has reason to make sure that the moral tools are "sharp", and one of those ways is to make sure that people are "on the same page" in regards to what our focus should be.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Kip

If, in doing this, they are making claims that there are reasons that exist to praise or condemn various states that do not exist, then they have fallen into the camp of making things up.

As long as they stick to objectively true claims (praising and condemning that which there are real-world reasons to praise and condemn), we should end up on the same page.

Recall, this assertion that "I am going to measure something else" does not imply legitimacy for claiming reasons to praise or condemn that are not, themselves, real.

Kip said...

Alonzo,

It seems to me, though, that most of the time when people claim they are going to be "measuring something else", they are going to be making things up (talking about things that don't exist). This "noise" then makes the moral tools that refer to things that do exist less effective. For this reason, the desirist, rather than shrugging in indifference, has a reason to make sure that the moral tools are referring to things that do exist (even if different language is being used in doing so).

Am I still missing something, though?