Friday, April 29, 2011

Concerning Sam Harris and the Science of Morality

In my discussion of the possibility of a science of morality, I have been asked to compare and contrast my views with those of Sam Harris.

I cannot do this justice in one post, but I can provide a brief (superficial) outline of the similarities and differences.

Sam Harris starts out with a simple observation. He will put a picture of a mother playing happily with her child side by side with one who is grieving over a dead child that is the victim of violence or illness. Then he states that it is absurd to claim that there is no fact of the matter that distinguishes the quality of these two states of affairs.

Harris says that there is clearly a difference, and there is no reason to believe that science cannot identify that fact of the matter accounting for this difference in quality.

On this, I agree.

I have come to express my own objection to the claim that values cannot be facts as follows:

There’s no distinction between what is and what ought.
There’s only a gap between is and is not.
So if there’s no room in what is for what ought.
Then ought must find its home in ‘is not’.

In other words, rather than a fact/value distinction, I recognize a fact/fiction distinction. Moral claims are either facts, or they are fictions. Moral claims refer to something in the real world, or they belong in the realm of make-believe.

This rules out any mysterious third realm - a realm of value that is not fact and not fiction.

People have accepted as unquestioned truth for the last 250 years at least that there is this mysterious third realm. I don't think they have given serious thought to how utterly strange this claim is. That there is this realm called 'value' that sits outside of this realm called 'fact'. Even though 'ought' is not a part of what 'is', it can and does move matter around in the real world. The atoms in our body can be sent into motion - somehow - by these 'ought' properties sitting outside the realm of what 'is'.

Or, if 'ought' doesn't move matter around in the real world, why are we talking about it as if it is relevant to what happens in the real world?

All of this leaves open the possibility of denying the existence of 'ought' and claiming that all 'ought' statements are fictions. That option doesn't do the least bit of damage to the proposal I advance. Desires will still exist. Desires will remain the only reasons for action that exist. Some desires will continue to remain malleable - subject to social forces such as praise and condemnation. People will continue to have reason to bring these social forces to bear - promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibiting desires that tend to thwart other desires.

Say that morality does not exist if you wish, the facts that I emply will remain a part of the real world. I will use the word 'better' to describe states that there is more and stronger reason to pursue, but somebody else can use a different word if they wish.

So, Harris and I agree that there is some fact of the matter distinguishing various states of affairs, whereby the mother playing happily with her child is a better state than the one with the mother wailing over the body of a child lost to violence, injury, or illness.

The next question, then, is, “What is this 'fact of the matter'?”

Harris says that it is “the well-being of conscious creatures”. From this he derives a rather standard form of act-utilitarian ethics; the right act is the act that maximizes the well-being of conscious creatures.

Unfortunately, this type of move is 200 years old and in those 200 years moral philosophers have come up with a huge set of arguments against it.

First, it is an empty thesis. It states, in effect, that goodness is found in states of being that are good. That's not a big help. What is the quality of a state of being that is good?

Second, it does not provide any answer to the question of how "the well-being of conscious creatures" acquires this property of goodness. Why is it the case that the well-being of conscious creatures is good and not, say, the preservation of a natural wilderness that has no conscious creatures? Ultimately, some critics will argue, Harris simply likes the well-being of conscious creatures. Somebody else might like the preservation of pristine nature and pick that as their ultimate good. How would we go about showing that one was right and another wrong?

Harris' thesis runs agound on philosophical rocks that have been well charted over the past two centuries. His clear failure to address these challenges invites two responses.

The most common form is, "See, there is no such thing as value-facts. Yet another attempt to describe a value-fact has failed, for exactly the same reasons that all past attempts have failed, and for the same reasons that all future attempts will fail."

The second possible objection – Harris' route does not work. The response above is correct in stating that this route will never work. The response above is incorrect in assuming that no other route is available. Let's try a different route.

Now, let's contrast the route that I suggest to the one that Harris used.

Desires are propositional attitudes where a desire that P gives an agent a motivating reason to choose those actions that will realize states of affairs where the proposition P is true.

Let us assume that an agent has a desire for the preservation of pristine nature. For example, a creature, Alph, has a desire that the something like the moon Pandora from Avatar – this one consisting only of a garden without conscious creatures - continue to exist. This is Alph's only motivating reason for action, and it motivates him to choose those actions that will realize states of affairs in which the garden moon Pandora continues to exist.

Under the assumption of no conscious creatures on Pandora, there is no connection at all between a state of affairs in which Pandora continues to exist and one concerning the well-being of conscious creatures. Yet, in this hypothetical universe, where Alph is the only creature, the continued existence of Pandora is the only thing anybody cares about.

Harris' account would have Alph abandon the preservation of Pandora in favor of his own "well-being" – whatever that is – even though the preservation of Pandora is his only interest. Harris would demand that Alph see to his own well-being even though the only thing Alph wants to do is to make sure that Pandora continue to exist.

When I claim that Harris cannot explain how the well-being of conscious creatures can have value, I am asking for an explanation of how the well-being of conscious creatures can have a demand on Alph's actions when he has no interest in that end. Indeed, I have to ask how "the well-being of conscious creatures" can even make sense. How can Alph even know what it is for Alph to be well off?

In this example, if you change the desires that exist – if you change what people care about – you change what they have reason to bring about. This means that you change what has value. The well-being of conscious creatures could have value if there are desires that P where P is true in states of affairs that contain the well-being of conscious creatures.

However, we are still dealing with the handicap that we do not have an account of what "the well-being of conscious creatures" is. How do we determine if one state of being is better than another?

On the account that I advance, where desires are the only reasons for action that exist, well-being consists of states of being in which the propositions that are the object of the agent's most and strongest self-referring desires are true.

For example, one of my self-referring desires is that I am not in pain. The fact that the word "I" appears in the proposition P ( P = "I am not in pain") makes the desire self-referring. States of affairs in which the proposition "I am not in pain" are true are states in which I am better off (my state of well-being is better) then states in which it is false - all else being equal.

However, many of my desires are NOT self-referring. In writing these posts, I have asserted that I would prefer that people see through the mistakes I make and reject these ideas if they are wrong, then for me to lead them into error. Like Alph, I value the preservation of pristine nature and would choose the preservation of a garden planet such as Pandora over minor setbacks to the well-being of conscious creatures - such as foregoing the benefits that might come from the destructive mining of resources there.

I have desires for my wife's wishes to come true. And though I refer to her by referencing her relationship to me, this is still not a self-referring desire. My wife is not myself. Nor is it a desire for her own well-being because, like me, she might value some things that are worth the loss of a little well-being.

Now, statements about whether particular agents have particular desires are objectively true or false - like statements about the eye color, blood pressure, age, and weight are objectively true or false. Statements about states of affairs are true or false. Statements about whether the proposition P that is the object of some desire is true in a given state of affairs are objectively true or false. An examination of these facts never needs to leave the realm of science.

At the same time, they provide a complete account of value.

So, I agree with Harris that value claims fit within the realm of science claims. He is wrong to say that value resides (entirely) in the well-being of conscious creatures. That theory leaves us to ask what "well-being" is and why it can have value while other states of affairs cannot. I argue instead that desires are the only reasons for action that exist, that they take the form of a propositional attitude, and they are motivating reasons for people to choose actions that realize states of affairs in which those propositions are true. Those propositions often are, but they need not be, self-referring and thus may have nothing at all to do with well-being. Yet, they identify ends that those with the desire have motivating reason to bring about. Moral value has to do with the malleable desires that people generally have the most and strongest motivating reasons to bring about – using social tools such as praise or condemnation. A desire for the destruction of the earth – while it gives the agent a motivating reason to bring about the destruction of the earth – is a desire that people generally have many and strong reasons to condemn.

We do, in fact, have a great many self-referring desires. As a result, a desire for the well-being of conscious creatures is a desire we have many and strong reasons to promote. But there is nothing magical in the well-being of conscious creatures that gives it this property, nor is it a property unique to the well-being of conscious creatures. Harris is wrong to suggest otherwise.

18 comments:

marcellus said...

Alonzo said:

Now, statements about whether particular agents have particular desires are objectively true or false - like statements about the eye color, blood pressure, age, and weight are objectively true or false. Statements about states of affairs are true or false. Statements about whether the proposition P that is the object of some desire is true in a given state of affairs are objectively true or false. An examination of these facts never needs to leave the realm of science.

At the same time, they provide a complete account of value.


No, they don't.

Alonzo, I can't tell you how disappointed I am with your last few postings - the ones since you started debating with Ken.

The way you've spelled it out here, Desirism is a philosophy that says it is right for a patriarchal society to oppress women because the men's desires to do so are stronger than the women's desires not to be oppressed, and the men are willing to use force to get their way.

Desirism says that it was right to fly a jumbo into the Twins Towers because someone desired it enough to act on that desire.

Desirism says that it is right to tear things down if that's what you want.

Desirism just goes around in a loop saying, I want what I want and if I can get it then to hell with anyone else.

Desirism says that given propositions P and Q, there is no standard for deciding which to pursue other than desire.

Desirism is a recipe for promoting selfishness, and unenlightened, lowest-common-denominator selfishness at that.

Desirism says, this is how people work, but says nothing about the direction they should be working in.



Christ, I'm lost for words... I can't tell you how disappointed I am.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Marcellus

It sounds to me as if you started with a desire to claim that you were terribly disappointed, and then looked for an interpretation that would fulfill that desire.

Desirism is a philosophy that says it is right for a patriarchal society to oppress women because the men's desires to do so are stronger than the women's desires not to be oppressed, and the men are willing to use force to get their way.

Nope. It says that desires to oppress are desire that tend to thwart other desires, thus they generate reasons for action to use social tools such as moral condemnation to inhibit those desires.

Desirism says that it was right to fly a jumbo into the Twins Towers because someone desired it enough to act on that desire.

Nope. Desirism says that people generally have many and strong reasons to bring social forces to bear against any malleable desires that would cause people to crash airplanes into buildings.

Desirism says that it is right to tear things down if that's what you want.

Nope. Desirism says that there is a difference between what you want and what you should want - that the latter is the moral question. That what you should want are those things that people generally have many and strong reasons to cause you to want using social forces such as praise. It would include such things as wanting to help others when they are in need, wanting to avoid doing harm, aversions to lying, that kind of thing.

Desirism just goes around in a loop saying, I want what I want and if I can get it then to hell with anyone else.

While it is true that I want what I want it is also true that if the things that I want are things that would thwart the desires of others, then those others have reason to bring social forces to bear against that want - which they would do in part by the application of social forces such as condemnation. Their charge that I am evil - their charge that people generally have reason to bring social forces against such a desire - cannot be denied with the claim, "I want it."

Desirism says that given propositions P and Q, there is no standard for deciding which to pursue other than desire.

If you can demonstrate that some other type of reason for action exists, then I am willing to listen to your proof. But it is not a valid argument to say, "I do not like your conclusion; therefore, it must be false." Besides, desirism does have a way of evaluatign desires - the same way everything else is evaluated. Desires are evaluated according to the degree to which they would tend to fulfill or thwart other desires.

Desirism is a recipe for promoting selfishness, and unenlightened, lowest-common-denominator selfishness at that.

Nope. There are those who argue that selfishness is a virtue (because selfishness leads to a state of affairs in which innovation brings about a higher standard of living for everybody), but those implications would have to be true for the argument in defense of selfishness to actually work. Generally, selfishness represents a set of desires that people generally have reason to oppose with social forces such as condemnation, because selfish people tend to thwart the desires of others.

Desirism says, this is how people work, but says nothing about the direction they should be working in.

Actually, desirism says that to a large degree we do not work this way. We clutter our moral arguments with false claims such as claims about the existence of a God, intrinsic values, categorical imperatives, heaven, hell, natural moral laws, social contracts, the decisions of hypothetical impartial observers. It is very much a theory that describes how people would work if they could avoid these common mistakes found in the ways they do work.

But, if you really want to be able to claim to be disappointed badly enough, I'm certain that nothing I write will get in your way.

marcellus said...

It sounds to me as if you started with a desire to claim that you were terribly disappointed, and then looked for an interpretation that would fulfill that desire.

Ha, ha! A Desirist's response. Nice :)

No, I've experienced disappointment. I've been listening to the podcast and waiting for more episodes in the expectation that you'd get to a point where you'd start talking about how Desirism could contribute to a change for the better, as in:

When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to leave the world better off than it would have been if I had not existed.

I have waited for 9 posts to comment because I was hoping that you'd show that Desirism was something other than a mechanical explanation of how people influence each other.


But, if you really want to be able to claim to be disappointed badly enough, I'm certain that nothing I write will get in your way.


Look, I'm sorry for venting my frustration, but what I want is more.

Desirism says that people act on their desires and seek to influence other's desires. Anyone who's raised children knows all about that. Desirism needs to increase its scope to include a number of other factors that effect desires (besides praise and condemnation from other people).

It says nothing (yet) about the issue of scope. We all practice local optimization at the expense of global sub-optimization, hence the need for governments, and how those governments need to be set up so that they can't be exploited for personal gain by the politicians or lobby groups. Praise and condemnation break down as control mechanisms once a community becomes large enough for individuals to have anonymity.

It says nothing (yet) about the role of force.

Nope. It says that desires to oppress are desire that tend to thwart other desires, thus they generate reasons for action to use social tools such as moral condemnation to inhibit those desires.

No amount of moral condemnation is going to stop armies of men in the Republic of Congo from systematically raping women. The women cannot defend themselves, and begging the men not to rape them or their daughters isn't going to make any difference to the outcome.

It says nothing (yet) about the role of advertising in creating desires, not through praise or condemnation, but through exploiting personal weaknesses and insecurity. The effect of advertising on women is especially pernicious. Girls are sexualized at a ridiculously young age, compared to 30 years ago, thanks to targeted advertising, while at the same time women terrible self-esteem issues because they can't match the airbrushed models in magazines.

It says nothing (yet) about the use of narrative in establishing desires through stories and TV programs. Night after night, millions of western civilization's people sit in front of a little box that programs them with unrealistic role models and expectations of a life filled with excitement and drama, and nobody seems to have connected the effect of these unachievable lifestyles to the explosion of anti-depressant usage in the west. Instead, people simply take their meds and sit in front of the box getting their desire fulfillment through the desires and actions of a bunch of TV characters. Then, when it comes time to experience real work and real relationships in the real world, their desires aren't fulfilled and they have to take the meds to cope with their real reality.

Both TV and advertising create desires that not only can't be fulfilled, but eventually destroy the desiree's sense of self worth.

---break---

marcellus said...

---break---

It says nothing (yet) about the way religions not only define desires through stories, but also actively turn off their victims critical faculties, thus preventing them from questioning their desires or forming new ones.

It says nothing (yet) about the incredible influence of knowledge on desires. Luke didn't quit the church because of praise or condemnation; he quit it because he gained knowledge that he couldn't integrate into the church's framework. Knowledge changed Luke's desires, and knowledge of how 'big picture' desires are formed (we're not talking a craving for ice cream here) and how that knowledge can be used to change the desires of suicide bombers, rape-oriented cultures and and other sundry evil people can definitely change the world for the better. As David Deutsch's Principle of Optimism says: all evils are the result of insufficient knowledge.


But, if you really want to be able to claim to be disappointed badly enough, I'm certain that nothing I write will get in your way.

Like I said, I'm sorry about venting my frustration, but there's scope for Desirism to have so much more reach if you look outside the explicit people-on-people manipulation of desire through praise and condemnation.

marcellus said...


Desirism says that there is a difference between what you want and what you should want - that the latter is the moral question. That what you should want are those things that people generally have many and strong reasons to cause you to want using social forces such as praise. It would include such things as wanting to help others when they are in need, wanting to avoid doing harm, aversions to lying, that kind of thing.


This is the crux of my problem with Desirism at the moment. First there's this bit:


Desirism says that there is a difference between what you want and what you should want - that the latter is the moral question. That what you should want are those things that people generally have many and strong reasons to cause you to want using social forces such as praise.


This leaves the door wide open for rule by majority, regardless of whether or not that majority is good or evil. Hence, if you're living in 1930s Germany and the bulk of the population decides to persecute the Jews and go to war with their neighbors, then that's what you should do because it conforms to the dominant social forces.

Then there's this bit:


It would include such things as wanting to help others when they are in need, wanting to avoid doing harm, aversions to lying, that kind of thing.


This does not necessarily follow from the first part. Yes, these attitudes would typically apply to people in our in-group, but there are always reasons to do exactly their opposite w.r.t. out-group members. Differences change desires; they're not universal. Hence, a prison guard at Dachau could be a loving husband and doting father to his children, for reasons that have nothing to do with praise or condemnation, while at the same time abusing and executing prisoners at work. He's doing good things for innate biological reasons and bad things for reasons of social praise/condemnation.

So far Desirism is relating people's desires only to other people's desires. I haven't seen any external, objective statement of what constitutes a 'good' desire vs. a 'bad' one other than 'good' is what the most people want. We have centuries of evidence that people can us other people's desires as the excuse for all sorts of appalling actions. Desirism needs to reference something besides other people's desires in its 'moral' part to become a force for good.

dankuck said...

I think the most important point is at the end. In The Moral Landscape Harris wasn't interested in an Ivory Tower discussion. He wanted to give a reason to believe in morality that was fact based. He starts from what he assumes is the strongest and most common desire we have as a species. He tries to shortcut his way there for practical reasons. He might buy desirism.

josef johann said...

Desirism just goes around in a loop saying, I want what I want and if I can get it then to hell with anyone else.

I don't see how anyone could look over the paragraphs and paragraphs where Alonzo talks ad naseum about the importance of not thwarting other people's desires and come away with an interpretation so point-blank, directly wrong.

Similarly, it doesn't say it's right to oppress women, it doesn't say it's right to fly a jumbo into the Twins Towers, it doesn't say it's right to tear things down if that's what you want.

Alonzo quite rightly lays this out. And then without blinking you just tiptoe past that colossal pile of wrongness with no acknowledgement and throw open new objections about practicality as if you were continuing the same line of argument. This looks like bad faith to me.

marcellus said...

Look, I'm getting all the personal, internal desire mechanisms for actions, and "Desire fulfillment has no intrinsic value" is proving itself valuable to me on a daily basis.

What I am not getting is the idea that morality can be defined as desiring other people's desires. To me it makes desirism's morality entirely contextual. If you are raised by fundamental muslims filled with an overwhelming desire to strike back at the west then you should have the desire to strike back at the west.

When suicide bombers are 'trained' they are separated from the 'herd' and surrounded by people who preach the glory of martyrdom to them day and night. They are surrounded by people who desire them to become suicide bombers, and so they come to desire to be suicide bombers. This is the morality of desirism in action.

For any given scope, desirism's morality will result in adoption of the most popular existing moral code because it has no independent grounding outside the given people-oriented scope.

Maybe this story will help get my point across.

thirdtruck said...

When suicide bombers are 'trained' they are separated from the 'herd' and surrounded by people who preach the glory of martyrdom to them day and night.

Doesn't that actually minimize the trainees' awareness of and appreciation for the majority of peoples' desires, which constitutes the exact opposite goal of Desirism?

marcellus, you also faulted Desirism for both this scenario and its inverse, majority rule. Hitting both ends of the problem spectrum implies a rather overgeneralized interpretation of the system:

For any given scope, desirism's morality will result in adoption of the most popular existing moral code because it has no independent grounding outside the given people-oriented scope.

I think you're the only one who added the "For any given scope" qualifier. Your example fails to account for the desires of those who would be bombed, not Desirism. Even if we removed them from the scenario entirely, it would leave the bombers with no one to bomb and thereby make that desire unfulfillable and moot. Did I calculate that correctly?

marcellus said...

Everyone has a local scope, trucker. I'm willing to bet that information about other's desires follows an inverse square rule w.r.t. a person's network of contacts.

In the suicide bomber case, the bomber's desire awareness is based on the majority of the contacts he encounters.

When Galileo discovered that the Earth orbits around the Sun, the 'moral majority' subjected him to the inquisition until he desired that the Earth was at the center of the Universe. Again, the majority effect prevailed.

There are some 6.5 billion people on the planet. One of them is my brother in San Rafael, CA. Can yo tell me whether he desires more tax money to be spent on i) education, ii) defense, or iii) health care?
Probably not, is my guess, but you might be able to guess when it came to your friends and family.

Given our limited ability as human beings to process information and the countless number of people we're sharing the planet with, everyone is subject to the local scope problem.

Given the variations in everyone's local environment, everyone is going to have locally specific needs.

Last year's flood victims in coastal Pakistan probably desire that the citizens of the USA and Europe would stop burning so much gas that they trash the weather systems over West Asia. Would you give up your car for them?

Moderator said...

I don't think you have understood Harris well. He says a future science of morality must be grounded in the principle that morality exists to further the wellbeing of conscious creatures. He doesn't claim to have arrived at a final definition of wellbeing, or to have done all the calculations for all the various inevitable moral trade-offs. That would be the work of the future science. He has, however, shown that the fuzziness of the concept should not preclude our using it as a guiding principle, and he uses the analogy of the concept of physical health. He also doesn't get into the particulars of group wellbeing over individual wellbeing...again, these precise calculations await further scrutiny. Harris' important contribution is to remind us that morality should be relevant to the wellbeing of real people instead of the needs and desires of an invisible God.

Gatogreensleeves said...

As to what Marcellus said about there being groups of people that encourage immoral desires, I think the answer is that we have to consider the world in the scope of time/history as well as proximity. In his debate w/ Bill Craig, Shelly Kagan said: “If the question is ‘what’s the explanation of the fact that so many societies have had so many morally appalling moral codes?’, the answer in part, is it takes a while for civilization to work its way up to recognize moral truth, just as it takes a while for civilization to work its way up to recognize truths in any other domain.”

Gatogreensleeves said...

Also, yes, I got the same impression as dankuck that Harris would be open to the details of ethical theories like desirism. Perhaps he is not familiar with it. It seemed more important for him to get the 'moral facts' issue on the table. Desirism just offers a better way to do it. I'd be curious to see what he thinks of it. Personally, I think it's really intriguing.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Moderator

I do not see anything in what you wrote that indicates that I misunderstood Harris' book.

I wrote that I agreed with Harris that there are moral facts, but that Harris got the moral facts wrong.

You wrote:

a future science of morality must be grounded in the principle that morality exists to further the wellbeing of conscious creatures.

Yes, Harris said this.

And he is mistaken.

The well-being of conscious creatures is only a fraction of that which can have value. Self-referring desires are only a fraction of the desires that exist, and they represent just a fraction of those things that can have value.

He has, however, shown that the fuzziness of the concept should not preclude our using it as a guiding principle, and he uses the analogy of the concept of physical health.

Here, again, I agree. One of the things that Harris has done is shown that many of the traditional arguments against the possibility of a science of morality are flawed. He is correct in this - though "human health" is a poor analogy. "Physical health" is a value-laden concept - it represents a body that "functions well", and he is still not giving us any type of concept of "wellness".

I can fill this gap. "Physical health" the way that desirism understands it concerns whether or not the functioning of the physical body is such as to fulfill, directly or indirectly, the desires of the person whose body it is. "Illness" and "Injury" are changes in the physical body that thwart the desires of the person whose body it is. The difference between the two is that "illness" has micro-causes (bacteria, poison) that primitive beings (the inventors of language) cannot perceive, and "injury" has a macro cause (falling off a building, getting trampled by a horse) that a primitive being can perceive.

Harris' important contribution is to remind us that morality should be relevant to the wellbeing of real people instead of the needs and desires of an invisible God.

And, again, this is a part of it, but not all of it. More importantly, Harris' argument for this position is an assertion of classical utilitarianism that philosophers have rejected long ago. This is like a scientist trying to revise the theory of aether or a geocentric model of the solar system.

Harris's "important contribution" here is simply indefensible and, actually, mistaken.

Gatogreensleeves

Also, yes, I got the same impression as dankuck that Harris would be open to the details of ethical theories like desirism.

Perhaps he would be. But it will require that he give up his classic utilitarianism and his thesis that morality is concerned fundamentally with the well-being of conscious creatures.

marcellus said...

The well-being of conscious creatures is only a fraction of that which can have value. Self-referring desires are only a fraction of the desires that exist, and they represent just a fraction of those things that can have value.

Can you provide some examples of value outside the scope of self-referential desires, please?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

marcellus

Can you provide some examples of value outside the scope of self-referential desires, please?

I thought I already did this in the posting itself.

marcellus said...

Do you mean something like this bit?

I have desires for my wife’s wishes come true. And though I refer to her by referencing her relationship to me, this is still not a self-referring desire. It is an other-referring desire. And it is not a desire for her own well-being because she may well wish for things other than her own well-being.

marcellus said...

How do you know that your desire for your wife's well-being isn't a rationalization of of a lower-level, self-referencing desire, such as this:

- I want to think of myself as a 'good man' (a self-referencing desire)

- according to my upbringing good men desire the well-being of others (regardless of their desires)

therefore

-desiring her well-being makes me a good man (satisfying my self-referencing desire).