Monday, June 25, 2012

A Desirism Wiki

I need to get started on a project that I have been putting off for far too long - a site that summarizes desirism and the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

I have started this project before - but it is difficult to do both that project and this blog at the same time. I always end up putting my time into the latter and neglecting the former.

Therefore, my new strategy will be to not have these two projects compete. I will write and post here what I will add to the wiki site the next few days.

Your comments here will be useful. If you know of some useful information - some research to consider or some objection to be weighed, or some question to be answered, please include it.

Of course, the best start to (re)building that desirism wiki is with an overall summary of desirism - what would be its opening page.


Desirism - The Basics

Desirism is a moral theory that holds that desires are the fundamental object of moral evaluation.

Actions are evaluated according to whether or not they are the actions that a person with good desires would perform. Note that the moral value of an action does not depend on the desires that actually motivated it - but on whether a person with good desires would have done the same thing.

Specifically, there are three moral categories for intentional action:
  1. Obligatory: That which a person must do.
  2. Prohibited: That which a person must not do.
  3. Non-obligatory permission: That which a person may or may not do as suits their interest.
Desirism accounts for these three moral categories as follows:
  1. Obligatory: That act which a person with good desires would perform under those circumstances. A person has a moral obligation to repay debts or tell the truth under conditions where a person with good desires would repay debts or tell the truth.
  2. Prohibited: That act which a person with good desires would not perform under those circumstances. Taking the property of another without consent is prohibited where a person with good desires would not take the property.
  3. Non-obligatory permission: An act that a person with good desires may or may not perform. There is a variety of shows that a person with good desires may decide to watch, and a variety of foods one may decide to eat. With some exceptions, having good desires does not dictate a specific show to watch or specific food to eat.
A good desire, in this sense, is a desire that people generally have reason to promote.

Desires themselves are the only reasons for intentional action that exist. That is to say, they are the only entities in the world that identify an objective or goal and direct intentional action towards that goal.

Some desires are malleable. They are not hard-wired into the brain. They are acquired - learned - through experience. That is to say, it is possible for one person to alter the desires of others by using the mechamisms through which desires are learned, strengthened, or weakened.

To "have reason to promote" a desire is to have a desire that the desire being promoted would objectively satisfy.

Some desires are desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote. That is to say, there are many and strong desires out there that the desire in question can objectively satisfy. These are the "good desires" referred to above.

That people generally have many and strong reasons to promote a particular desire is a knowable fact - one that is substantially independent of the feelings, wishes, beliefs, or attitudes of any one person.

The relevant mechanism for learning desires - acquiring new desires or strengthening or weakening existing desires - is through the reward system. When an action creates a reward, the malleable desires that motivate that action are strengthened. Punishment, on the other hand, modifies desires to motivate agents to avoid that which brought the punishment. Actions that may, at one time, be taken as a means for acquiring a reward or avoiding a punishment may come to be valued for their own sake, independent of the original reward or punishment.

So, when people generally have many and strong reasons to promote a malleable desire, they have many and strong reasons to use the tools of social conditioning - praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment - to strengthen that desire.

Desirism, then, concerns identifying malleable desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote, and directing the social tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to promoting those desires. Those who perform the actions of a person with good desires draw praise and are reward, while those who do not perform the actions of a person with good desires draw condemnation and punishment.

4 comments:

Juno Walker said...

So, is "Desirism" basically "operant conditioning" as first defined by Skinner?

I'm a dog trainer, so I am aware of the four main quadrants of operant conditioning: 1) positive reinforcement 2) negative reinforcement 3) positive punishment 4) negative punishment.

Under operant conditioning, behavior is determined by its consequences: an action followed by a positive consequence (praise = reward) is reinforced; i.e., it will become stronger and/or more frequent; whereas an action followed by a negative consequence (condemnation = punishment) is weakened and/or reduced in frequency.

We dog trainers use these 4 quadrants to shape the behavior *we* want. Humans use these same quadrants against other humans to shape the behavior *they* want.

Wrestling Enkidu said...

I think Luke Muehlhauser's "Ultimate Desirism F.A.Q." was a great outline of some of the most difficult or pressing questions regarding desirism. I would love to see that F.A.Q filled out at some point.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Juno Walker

Operant conditioning will be a part of desirism as you described. We have the ability to mold the behavior of others (by molding their desires through reward and punishment), we have a reason to do so, and so . . . we do so.

However, false or incomplete beliefs may get in the way of us doing this well. We may end up promoting behavior we have no real reason to promote (e.g., faith-based thinking), or condemn behavior we have no real reason to condemn (homosexual acts).

All of this will come out as the wiki grows.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Wrestling Knkidu

Thank you. I do plan on using that as a guide for future posts.