A has a reason to φ iff A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing.
Monday, April 25, 2016
This is Bernard Williams’ theory of reasons, and it fits quite snugly in the current account. (Williams, B., 1979. “Internal and External Reasons,” reprinted in Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, 101–13.)
We have created one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones). In order for a reason to exist, it is going to have to be in service to satisfying this one desire – the only desire that exists. There is no reason to do anything else.
As a reminder, serving this desire is to be understood to mean making the proposition “I am gathering stones” spoken by Alph true. It is not to be equated with generating any type of psychological sensation such as pleasure or happiness.
On the question of pleasure, happiness, or the psychological sensation of being satisfied, in this imaginary universe either these things do not exist, or they exist without there being a reason to bring them about. The question of existence turns on whether a desire for pleasure, happiness, or satisfaction is built into the meaning of the term. If what we call pleasure is a physical sensation that, by definition, people desire for its own sake then there is no pleasure in this hypothetical universe. This is because there is nothing that agents desire for their own sake other than Alph’s desire that he be gathering stones.
Later in this series I will be giving Alph more desires. I will also be adding more people, each with their own desires. Consequently, more reasons will come into existence. Yet, they will be coming into existence only because there will be more desires. They will not emerge from nothing.
If Alph has gathered all of his stones together, he will then have a reason to scatter stones. Having all of the stones gathered means that the proposition, “I am gathering stones” is now false. The only way to change that from “false” to “true” would be to scatter the stones. Then, they can be gathered again. That is the reason for scattering stones – to restore a state in which “I am gathering stones” spoken by Alph can once again be made true.
Alph also has a reason to preserve his own life. He cannot make or keep the proposition, “I am gathering stones” true if he should die. So, he has a reason to avoid walking off of a cliff as he gathers stones. If he needs food and water in order to survive, he has reason to eat and to drink – and to grow food and discover water. However, he has no motivating hunger or thirst. These would require the addition of new desires. He eats and drinks only insofar as these are essential to making or keeping the proposition, “I am gathering stones” true.
Alph may or may not have reason to look in the next valley for more rocks to gather. He has a reason to look in the next valley just in case there are rocks in the next valley to gather. If there are no rocks to gather, he has no reason to look into the next valley. We may assume that he does not know whether there are rocks in the next valley. This means that he does not know whether he has reason to go into the next valley for rocks. He knows that there is a possibility that there are rocks in the next valley to gather. This means that he knows that there is a possibility that he has a reason to the next valley. The possibility of rocks generates a possibility of a reason. It does not generate an actual reason.
Consequently, a person who knows that there are no rocks in the next valley can honestly report, “You are wasting your time looking for rocks in the next valley. There are none.”
We can illustrate this another way by looking at an example where a thirsty person reaches for a glass that contains what she thinks is clean water, though it is in fact poison. An observer can tell her, “You don’t want to do that.” When she asks why, he reports that it is poison. The point here is that his original statement, “You don’t want to do that,” is true. The agent may not know that she does not want to do that, and may think that she does want to do that insofar as she is thirsty and thinks that the glass contains clean water. However, in fact, she does not want to drink from the glass. She has no reason to drink from the glass.
Let us assume that we give Alph a choice. He may choose that a beautiful planet exists, or that an ugly planet exists. He has no reason to choose one or the other. There exists, in this simple universe, no reason to choose one over the other. There is nothing about the nature of the planets that creates a reason – a demand – that it be chosen.
In fact, in our simple universe, there is nothing in either planet that generates a reason to call it beautiful – unless it turns out that one contains a number of rocks to be gathered and the other contains no rocks. Now, if we assume that Alph can get to the planet with rocks in order to gather them, now he has a reason to choose one planet over the other. But insofar as choosing that a planet continue to exist does not serve his desire to be gathering stones, he has no reason to choose that planet, or any planet.
I will have more to say on beauty in a future posting. My purpose here is to discuss reasons for intentional action. In our imaginary universe which consists of Alph with his desire to gather stones, there is only one reason for intentional action that exists. Alph has an end-reason to gather stones – and has an instrumental reason, and means-reasons to do those things that will help to make or keep the proposition “I am gathering stones” true. No other reasons for intentional action exist.
Posted by Alonzo Fyfe at 9:18 AM