Monday, June 03, 2013

Using People

I have been provided with another set of questions to answer regarding desirism. I will start with this one:

A guy drugs a girl. She passes out. He rapes her in her sleep because he desired to. She is passed out during the entire ordeal and wake up without ever knowing about it. In other words she suffered no trauma. Was what he did still wrong? He got his desire fuifilled while she was in a state of no desires, so if desirism is correct, did anything immoral occur here?

This represents the most common misinterpretation of desirism – one that I suspect will persist for a long time. It confuses desirism with a related but significantly different theory best identified as “desire fulfillment act utilitarianism”.

This alternative theory holds that desire fulfillment is the only thing that has value, and that the right act is the act that maximizes desire fulfillment. Desirism holds a different view of right acts – the right act is the act that a person with good desires would perform. Within desirism, moral praise and blame are attached to the desires that motivated an action, depending on whether those desires are those that people generally have reason to promote or discourage.

Desire-fulfillment act utilitarian theories have the same problems that all act-utilitarian theories have. One of the biggest problems is that they assume beings whose motivation is solely associated with the “good” that the act utilitarian theory proposes?

Why did this guy drug and have sex with the girl? It could not be because he had a desire to maximize desire fulfillment. A person with this desire has no interest in sex. If he engages in sex at all it is only as a tool – an instrument – for maximizing desire fulfillment. He has no aversion to pain, to food preferences, no friends – because friendship motivates a person to weigh the desires of friends above those of non-friends. He has no likes or dislikes other than “desire maximization”.

If he has any like at all – any preference other than a preference for maximizing desire fulfillment – then there will be circumstances in which this second desire are going to outweigh the first desire and result in the agent sacrificing the first good for the second. Under circumstances where a person likes chocolate ice cream, there are circumstances where this like will “tilt the balance” in what is otherwise a close call, motivating the agent to make a choice that he would not have made in the absence of a preference for chocolate. If his only other desire is for maximum desire fulfillment, then a love of chocolate will motivate him in some circumstances to sacrifice maximum desire fulfillment for a lesser option that includes him eating chocolate.

In the real world, people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to having sex with somebody without their consent. We have reason to condemn those who use others without consent – in fact, we have reason to bring to bear some of the harshest condemnation available, including physical punishment. This is what it takes to make having sex with somebody without consent “wrong”. It has to be something motivated by desires that people generally have reason to stomp out – or by the absence of desires that people have reason to promote. In this case, the aversion to having sex without consent is absent, and that makes the agent a legitimate target for condemnation.

The question, then, “did anything wrong happen?” asks if people generally have any reason to condemn the types of desires that would motivate such an act. In this case, they most certainly do. The fears of unwanted pregnancy or disease . . . the reasons people have not to be surrounded by others who think of them as mere things to be used . . . these all provide many and strong reasons for the most serious objections.

Desires are the only reasons for action that exist. They are the only things that give other things value. However, in giving value to things, they also give value to other desires. They give a very high value to the aversion to treating others as mere things and, in particular, to an aversion to having sex with somebody without consent. It is a value that is realized by using moral condemnation against those who demonstrate that they lack a proper respect for the consideration of others and a willingness to treat them as mere objects.

1 comment:

Evan said...

While I agree with you that desirism handles the case described adequately, I don't think you used the strongest arguments desirism can bring forth.

You've previously said that a desire can be any proposition that someone wishes to become true. The fact that the woman is not conscious during the rape is unimportant. She desires that the preposition "no one has intercourse with me without my permission" be true. She does not care whether she is conscious or not when the rape occurs.

The woman, and the many other people who have this desire, have good reason to use praise and condemnation against people who would violate it.

This question also makes a serious error which I've heard made many times before, and which it might be nice for you to address if you haven't already. It assumes unconscious people do not have desires.

This is obviously false, if we lost all our desires every time we lost consciousness, why is it that the desires we have when we awaken are so similar to the ones we had before we went to sleep? Obviously our desires are stored somewhere in the brain while we are unconscious. Otherwise we'd awaken with no desires, or with a new, random set.