Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Desirism: Simple Conflicting Desires

What happens if two desires come into conflict? Which should win?

Let us assume that Person 1 has a desire to kill Person 2. At the same time, Person 2 wants to work in his garden. These are the only two beings in the universe. Can desirism tell us the moral value of Person 1 killing Person 2?

The question is ambiguous. Because of this ambiguity, we have two potential answers.

In one sense, there is no answer. Moral concepts do not apply to this situation.

In another sense, it us wrong for Person 1 to kill Person 2.

In the first sense, given that Person 1 has a desire to kill Person 2. He will act to objectively satisfy the most and strongest of his desires, given his beliefs. So, he will be trying to kill Person 2. That's just a simple fact of the matter.

Person 2 wants to work in his garden. He cannot work in his garden if he is dead. Therefore, he has a motivating reason to avoid a state of being dead. His desire is in conflict with Person 1's desire to kill him. He will be looking for ways to avoid being killed.

These two are locked in conflict. They have no way out.

Even if both desires are malleable, they have no way out.

Person 1will set to work getting rid of Person 2's desire to garden (so that Person 2 will quit trying to protect himself). He has no reason to do anything else. Person 2 will start to work on eliminating Person 1's desire to kill him. One of the options that Person 2 has is to kill Person 1 first. Killing a person has been proven to be an effective way of altering their desires.

In this sense, no moral argument can be made against Person 1's desire to kill Person 2. It is not even permissible in the moral sense - moral terms do not apply.

However, when we look into that universe, we are not within that environment. We look in from an environment with seven billion people who may or may not kill us. We have reason to worry - consciously or conconsciously - about the implications to our own survival of different attitudes towards this situation among that seven billion.

We have good reason to prefer to be surrounded by people who look into this world and find the person with the desire to kill repulsive. We have reason to encourage that attitude - to promote an aversion to those with a desire to kill. We can do this by praising those with an averse reaction to killing and condemning the person who is indifferent to the two desires.

The language we set up for promoting some desires through praise and condemnation is moral language. Calling something permissible tells people to have an attitude of indifference to the two options. However, in our world, this means telling them to be indifferent to a desire to kill. We have many and strong reasons NOT to say such a thing to people we have to interact with on a daily basis.

Instead, we have many and strong reasons to tell others, "Have an aversion to the desire to kill. Be repulsed by it." We do this by saying that the person with the desire to kill is evil. We do this by saying he deserves to be stopped, and the person with the desire to garden should be left to enjoy his simple pleasures.

In this sense, we look in on this imaginary world and say that it is wrong for Person 1 to kill Person 2.

It is true that, within that universe, moral terms do not apply. However, our moral terms are not within that universe. We do not speak within that universe. Our moral language is not heard by ears and interpreted (or affected) by brains within that universe. We speak in this universe, and our words have real-world implications. In this universe, moral terms have implications for the attitudes that the people around us adopt. They have real-world implications affecting how likely it is that that real people will be killed. We have real-world reasons to tell others in our community to have an aversion to the person with the desire to kill.

Calling Person 1's desire to kill Person 2 "wrong" is not a mistake. It is mot an illusion caused by the way we have trained our attitudes in this world. It is a fact. The person who calls the attitude "wrong" is making a true statement. However, that true statement is not, "There are properties in that universe that make the desire to kill another wrong." The true statement is, "People in this universe have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to the desire to kill - which we can do by morally condemning those who have that desire."

All of this is consistent with the fact that within that universe Person 2 cannot come up with a moral argument worth anything against Person 1's killing. Person 2 needs to plan his actions with the knowledge that Person 1 will hunt him down and kill him. That is what Person 1 will do as a matter of fact. No "moral arguments" about who deserves to live or die has any practical implications. They are not even worth discussing.

At the same time, Person 1 will be doing nothing but try to kill Person 2. Everything else he does - even eating and drinking - is done in pursuit of the end of killing Person 2.

And we, in the real-world surrounded by people who might kill us have reason to tell others, "Be repulsed by Person 1. Hate his desire to kill. Do nothing to promote or even dismiss that attitude in the real world. Condemn it, and encourage others to condemn it. Do not make the mistake of telling others to be indifferent to the desire to kill. There are lives at stake - real lives."

1 comment:

Iqbal Selvan said...

Wow ! Amazing post .. Thanks for sharing friend ..