Saturday, July 30, 2016

“Trumpian Ethics” – Lies and Intellectual Recklessness

As a writer, I recognize an obligation to make certain that what I write is true.

This does not only mean writing what I believe – refusing to include claims I know to be false. It also means going through the effort to make certain what I write is not false. I have to check my claims and make certain that I have the evidence to support them.

There have been too many times where I have written a brilliant post filled with tight logic and insight, where I then went online to make certain that I could support an essential claim on which I built that argument, only to fail to find what I thought I had once found, or to discover that I was wrong. My brilliant post ends up in the trash bin - because it would be fundamentally dishonest to post it.

In spite of these efforts, I know there are false claims in this blog. Sometimes, I misread a source, or I misinterpret it. Sometimes I fail to appreciate some of the context. I swear I looked up those numbers on the Nebraska primary. I have no idea where those numbers came from. I was framed! (Okay, I wasn’t actually framed.)

Sometimes a reader will point out my mistake.

That's embarrassing. I kick myself for whatever oversight resulted in the error. It shouldn’t happen.

There are many and strong reasons to have and promote these values - not only among obscure blog posters in the dark corners of the internet, but in society as a whole. Many may consider these reasons as too obvious to mention. However, it seems that they need to be mentioned since there seems to be a lot of people who currently do not care about either honesty or intellectual integrity. They shrug these off as unimportant - and that threatens to cost us a great deal.

The value of true beliefs is found in the fact that they are useful in reaching our goals.

Let us assume that you wish to drive from Los Angeles to Miami. True beliefs about the route are essential to making a successful trip. False beliefs could put you in Anchorage. When you ask for directions, you want that person to provide you with a set of true statements. This means that you want him to know what he is taking about, or admit that he does not know. If he does know, you want him to report what he believes, rather than report what he knows to be false.

Let us assume, instead, you are trying to get your child to a hospital. She has been stung by a bee and is having trouble breathing. You ask for directions - and the person who sees your child lies to you and sends you into the wrong direction. Or, he gives you directions even though he has no idea where the hospital is at. At this point, the failure becomes nearly - if not actually - criminal. Such a person deserves our contempt.

Republican nominee Donald Trump is clearly this type of person.

These reasons to condemn the dishonest and intellectually reckless become stronger - not weaker - when we get to the realm where people are making policy decisions and making decisions on whether or not to go to war. Here, lies and intellectual recklessness do not just cause you to drive to the small town. They cost the lives, health, and destroy the well-being of innocent people - lots of innocent people - sometimes for generations to come. They result in commanding soldiers (and the police) to kill people who they have no good reason to kill, and being killed by the people we have wrongly attacked.

On policy issues such as infrastructure improvements, health care, minimum wage, and prescription drug regulations, there are lives and well-being at stake. When we get these wrong, people suffer.

On the scientific issues of climate change, nuclear energy, vaccines, GMO foods, and the like intellectual recklessness kills people - or gets in the way of preventing disease, feeding the hungry, and saving lives.

Honesty and intellectual responsibility should be among our highest values.

We have reason to condemn - harshly - those who habitually lie or who are intellectually reckless. We have reason to praise and to hold in high regard those who are honest and who put the effort into making sure that the claims they make are true.

It is particularly foolish to take somebody who shows a total disregard for truth and praise and make him President where he can serve as a role model for the next generation, teaching them to show the same disregard for truth as he does. It is one thing to fail to condemn the liar and the intellectually lazy. It is quite another to praise him, cheer him, and reward him. The latter can only be expected to promote lying and intellectual laziness the standard of the community - and that will cost us a great deal.

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump is one of the greatest liars and most intellectually reckless people in politics.

There are measures for these. I am an evidence-based person. If we look at the claims that Trump has made that PolitiFact identified as “Pants On Fire” it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Trump simply does not care whether the claims he makes are true or false - or even consistent with what he has said only days before.

Lying is harder to prove than intellectual recklessness. A person lies when a person asserts something that they believe to be false. In order to prove lying, we have to know what a person believes – and that is sometimes hard to discover. A charge of lying requires providing evidence that the agent believed that what he said was false but said it anyway. A charge of intellectual recklessness requires only showing that he doesn't care whether it is true or false.

However, there is one type of lie that is built into intellectual recklessness. A person who makes an assertion and says, "Believe me" or "Trust me" is saying that he has put the effort into making sure that the claim is true. When the phrase "Believe me" or "Trust me" accompanies what anybody who put the slightest effort into it would have discovered is false, then he is a liar. He has not put the effort into verifying what he tells us to believe and trust that he claims to have done.

This willingness to cheer and promote one of the most intellectually dishonest and reckless people of the age, let alone try to make him President of the United States, is not only insanely foolish, it is morally bankrupt. The whole nation will pay for this disinterest in honesty and intellectual carefulness. If we give such a person four years not only to recklessly guide national policy and determine whether there will be war or peace, but to promote these values of dishonesty and intellectual laziness across the community, we will suffer for it.

As a final remark, I suspect that a reader cannot read this without thinking, "What about Hillary Clinton's lies? What about her dishonesty?"

This raises two questions.

First, even if it is the case that Hillary Clinton is also basically dishonest, that is not relevant to the discussion. We do not - and we should not - excuse a rapist or a murderer because he is not the only person who commits rape or murder. Instead, the existence of a second rapist or a second murderer implies that we should hold them both in equal contempt.

If we fail to condemn both equally for equal wrongs - if we say one rapist that his rapes do not matter, while we harshly condemn the other, we are saying that rape is not what matters to us. We could not care less about rape itself. We are simply trying to use our condemnation of rape for some other end - to serve some other interest. There must be some other difference between the two that we are reacting to - something that makes one person different from the other. It is not the rape, which they have in common.

Similarly, if we discover a group of people condemning one liar in the harshest terms, and utterly ignoring the lies of another, we can conclude that they really do not care about lying. If they really cared about lying, they would condemn both liars equally. If they do not condemn them equally, then there must be something true of one person and not true of the other that is the true source of their hostility. Perhaps, it is the fact that one is a man seeking political power, and the other is a woman, that they don't like, and claiming that they do not like the woman's lies is just something they tell themselves.

Second, is it the case that the accusation of being a liar accurate, or is the accusation that she is a liar also, itself, a lie (or, at best, an intellectually reckless belief)? On this matter, I will refer the reader to Clinton's Politifact record and this article: Why Can't You Believe Hillary Clinton Is Inherently Honest?" This could be another example where the lies of other people about Hillary, and the intellectual laziness of those who believe those lies, risks causing people to do things that an intellectually careful person presented with the truth would not do (and potentially suffer for the errors).

It is widely claimed that civilizations fail when the people living in them lose their sense of morality – of right and wrong. This is one of the ways in which that happens. When lying and intellectual laziness become acceptable, when people quit caring about truth, they lose their ability to create successful plans. Good intentions lead to disasters. Ultimately, a civilization can be brought down.

Those who care to avoid these consequences are people to condemn liars and the intellectually reckless - and we are particularly careful not to hand them political power where their lies and intellectually reckless attitudes can cause a great deal of harm.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Trumpian" Ethics - Bigotry

People object to many of Donald Trump's policies, but seldom offer more than grunts of disapproval.

This is an ethics blog, and I want to look at the reasons why Trump deserves these grunts of disapproval.

Imagine that you are walking down the street on a warm sunny day wearing a green shirt when some other pedestrian hits you over the head with a broom handle.


He answers, "When I was driving down here this guy in a green shirt cut me off and nearly made me wreck my car."

"It wasn't me," you protest. "I took the bus."

"I know that," the assailant says. "The guy who cut me off was bald. But he was wearing a green shirt, just like you are."

My guess is that you would feel angry. You would judge the assault to be entirely unfair, vicious, and malevolent individual. You would certainly not be inclined to vote that person into public office. You would feel justified in having your assailant punished for his unjust assault.

If your assailant had a red shirt, how would you feel about the legitimacy of finding somebody else in a red shirt and assaulting him?

These are emotional reactions, and the mere fact that one has a particular emotional reaction does not justify the action. We can identify a number of emotional reactions people have had, and still question whether those reactions are legitimate or appropriate. We can include disgust at interracial relationships, anger at disobedient slaves and improperly servile royal subjects, offense at somebody who said something one disagreed with. We cannot point to the fact that a particular emotional reaction exists and say that it is sufficient to justify the action. We need something more.

In fact, the person who struck you over the head with a broom handle acted was having an emotional response - one that gave him satisfaction by hitting anybody with a green shirt. If having an emotional reaction justified an action, then his hitting you with a broom handle was justified. That is an absurd conclusion that fully discredits this method of proof.

Here's the test: Take that emotional reaction and ask if people generally would be better off - whether they have reason - to promote that attitude so that it is common within the community. Imagine living in a society in which people generally found satisfaction in assaulting anybody wearing the same colored shirt as somebody who committed a perceived wrong. Compare that to a community where people were averse to harming the innocent - who felt that it is important that only the guilty are to be punished.

I am going to assert that we have more and stronger reason to prefer the latter type of community over the former.

Donald Trump, however, is a champion of the former option. He is an advocate of striking back at anybody wearing a "Mexican" shirt regardless of the guilt or innocence of the wearer. He advocates attacking anybody wearing a "Muslim" shirt, without regard to who they are as individuals - even if they are children.

"The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don't kid yourself. When they say they don't care about their lives, you have to take out their families," Trump said.

If we look a little more closely at Trump's "ethics", we see that it harms - even kills - a lot of innocent people.

Imagine a community who accepts Trump's ethics where it is permissible - even obligatory - to retaliate against anybody wearing the same color shirt as somebody who is perceived to have committed some wrong.

In this community, somebody with a blue shirt unjustly kills somebody with a black shirt.

As a result, somebody with a black shirt adopts the attitude that anybody wearing a blue shirt is "fair game". He takes a weapon and kills a number of people wearing blue shirts.

As a result of this attitude, everybody wearing a blue shirt feels threatened any time they have to interact with somebody wearing a black shirt. Consequently, when they interact with people wearing black shirts, they are far too quick to use deadly force. Some of them, if they accept Trump's ethics, will use deadly force precisely because they are using it against somebody wearing a black shirt - and anybody with a black shirt is "fair game".

Nobody is safe in this environment.

To create a safe environment we condemn anybody who argues that they may legitimately retaliate against anybody wearing a blue or a black shirt. In its place, we promote an attitude that only those individuals who commit the aggression deserve punishment, and the innocent shall be left to live their lives in peace.

Of course, we also can't have it be the case that people get away with their crimes - and are given support and protection - just because they are wearing either a blue shirt or a black shirt. We will actually have to hold the guilty accountable for their wrongs.

This is not likely to happen if the leader of the community is somebody who holds, defends, and asserts "Trumpian" ethics (i.e., the leader of the community is Trump himself). Instead, we can expect the violence to continue, and a lot of innocent people to suffer the consequences.

You do not need to know a lot of history to know of far too many instances where "Trumpian" ethics has lead to violence.

We see it in small cases such as the Hatfields and McCoys - where McCoys targeted anybody wearing a "Hatfield" shirt and the Hatfields felt justified in retaliating against anybody wearing a "McCoy" shirt. We see it in conflicts between gang, where every person wearing the opposing gang's colors is considered a legitimate target.

We see it in larger cases where "Protestant" shirt-wearers target anybody who wears a "Catholic" shirt, and "Catholic" shirt-wearers feel comfortable killing anybody wearing a "Protestant" shirt. Similar, we see it in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Shiite and Suni Muslims.

The Nazis took out their aggression against anybody wearing a "Jew" shirt, and many Europeans in America adopted the slogan that, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian".

These are all historic examples of "Trumpian" ethics - Trump's way of conceiving and organizing the world - being put into practice.

Do you think that more of this - do you think that this way of thinking - is going to make you feel safer?

In fact, "Trumpian" ethics is the ethics behind terrorism. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by people who think that everybody wearing an "American" shirt deserves to die. A person who sets off a bomb in a bus, or enters a club and opens fire indiscriminately, is somebody who is killing others based on the shirt that they wear, rather than punishing people specifically because of wrongs for which they, individually, have been convicted by an impartial jury.

This leads to another question.

What happens when Trump fails?

Trump has promised to end terrorism and to end crime. Yet, as I have argued above, Trump's harming of the innocent is going to generate the very types of resentment and anger - as well as provide the moral foundation - for retaliation against innocent people. When this retaliation takes place, people are going to turn to Trump and say, "But you promised!"

How is Trump likely to respond to this failure - to these terrorist attacks that he failed to stop after he promised the he is the only one who can stop it?

If he follows historical tradition, he is going to respond by claiming that we have not gone far enough. He is going to argue that harsher steps be taken against the target population, that more burdens and costs be placed on the innocent, that those wearing the "Muslim" or "Mexican" shirts be subject to even harsher treatment.

This is where authoritarians tend to adopt principles such as, "If you kill one of my people I will round up and kill 10 of your people," or "That village has been aiding the enemy so let us kill everybody in that village - man, woman, and child - and utterly destroy it." This is where Authoritarian leaders tell the people, "I do not like concentration camps, but peace requires that we round 'them' up and put them into camps. That is the only way we can have peace."

Or we just kill them all outright, and when they are all dead then we do not need to worry about their attacks anymore. Then we can have peace. This is actually the only way to bring their attacks to a full stop, so Trumpian ethics cannot end until it ends here. Trump cannot actually keep his promise with anything short of this final solution.

Nothing Trump has said has suggested that he is unwilling to take that road. In fact, many of the things that Trump has said suggest that he would not be willing to entertain taking any alternative road - a more conciliatory road. He may not like these solutions today. However, when his original plans fail, when America faces further terrorist attacks in spite of his original actions, history shows that under people who think like Trump - people who embrace "Trumpian" ethics - the inconceivable becomes conceivable, and then becomes actual.

A lot of people are responding to Trump's claims with grunts of disapproval. However, there is more behind this then just a set of dislikes and grumblings. Trump is the type of person, and "Trumpian" ethics is the type of ethics, that has brought about the worst atrocities in human history. There are a lot of many and strong reasons to grunt in disapproval.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Conservatives, Libertarians, and Bigoted Values in the Market

Is "conservatism" compatible with civil rights?

This question arises from an article I read that argued that, in 1964, a branch of the Republican party began to oppose civil rights legislation - not because they were racist, but because it was incompatible with their ideology. This had the unintended consequence of making the Republican party the party of the "white nationalist".

Zack Beaucham reported in A Republican intellectual explains why the Republican Party is going to die, on Republican scholar Avik Roy's argument that the problem in the Republican party began in a branch of the Republican Party that felt that a small, conservative government ought not be in the business of forcing desegregation. According to their ideology, this was not a proper role of government.

The consequence, according to Roy, is that the Republicans became the party of segregation and the Democrats became the party of civil rights.

This had a double effect, Roy says. First, it forced black voters out of the GOP. Second, it invited in white racists who had previously been Democrats. Even though many Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act in Congress, the post-Goldwater party became the party of aggrieved whites.

This has raised the question in my mind of whether there can be a conservative argument for civil rights or if, instead, this is an area within which "conservatism" is fundamentally flawed.

To assess this problem, we need to focus more precisely on where the problem exists. It would be wrong to attribute the problem to "conservatives" since this term is far too broad, and it is objectionable to attribute this view to all conservatives when many would disagree with it.

More precisely, it is a problem with the libertarian political philosophy.

Libertarian argues that the only thing that is immoral are "acts of aggression", where "aggression" is understood as the first use of violence.

There are two major arguments for this philosophy.

One, the natural rights argument, claims that people simply have a natural right to be free of aggression. Any act of aggression effectively enslaves its victim - turning him or her into an unwilling servant of the ends or goals of the aggressor. That is intrinsically wrong.

The other, a utilitarian argument, argues that to permit aggression leaves everybody worse off. If we allow acts of aggression, we create a situation where individuals pursue their self-interest through aggression against others rather than through production and trade. As more and more people demand that wealth be forcefully redistributed, less and less wealth gets created. Consequently, people get into more and more violent fights over less and less overall wealth.

[NOTE: I know it is tradition to spew bile at any opposing philosophy and hatred of anybody who holds it - to assert that it has no redeeming characteristics. In spite of its popularity, there are reasons to object to such a way of proceeding. I favor an option that begins by trying to understand how a decent person may be tempted to adopt the view one is criticizing, and then pointing out something that such a person may have overlooked.)

Libertarianism supports a form of equal rights in that it condemns acts of aggression on anybody regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other property. It doesn't even matter if the agent has a choice - no choice that an agent makes him or her a legitimate object of aggression. The prohibition on aggression is absolute.

However, one must remember that the prohibition on aggression is a prohibition on the first use of violence. If somebody violates this principle, nobody is prohibited from using violence in response, either in self-defense, the defense of another, or to inflict punishment.

An argument can be made that a libertarian society would abandon discrimination because it is not profitable. A business wants the best employees - regardless of whether they are black, white, male, or female. Consequently, they would blind themselves to these irrelevant factors and focus only on the potential employee's ability to do the job.

Again, libertarians see their philosophy as inherently non-discriminatory.

However, we must ask, "What is the job of a business?"

Answer: To give the customers what they want, of course.

What if it is the case that what the customer wants - what those And, in doing so, those potential customers with the most money are more influential - more

Businesses do not just provide customers with "that which the customers can use to make money". Business provide customers with that which satisfies entertainment, social, aesthetic, and cultural values.

What if the cultural values of those with the most wealth - the most economic power and, thus, the ability to influence the nature of the economic goods - are bigoted? What if, for example, the vast majority of economic value is in the bank accounts of white males who value an environment where they can avoid interacting with blacks and women, for example, except as servants?

Libertarianism would still prohibit acts of aggression, but libertarianism would create an economy that serves these bigoted market values. It would have to do so - as long as this is what those with economic power wish to purchase.

There is a parallel argument that applies to hiring itself. In hiring, a company offers the perspective employee a basket of goods that suits the employee finds valuable enough to agree to take in exchange for labor. What if the best employees are willing to take less salary in exchange for working conditions that excludes interacting with people of a certain race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and the like? Then, within a free market, a business can and should offer this value - a "whites only" work environment - to its employees in place of salary.

The argument that a business will be blind to race and gender because their only interest is in hiring the best employees ignores the possibility that their customers and their employees may not be blind to race and gender and are building those values into their purchase and employment negotiations.

This form of discrimination would be self-perpetuating. The system would deny the victims of discrimination the economic power they need to change the situation, while the bigots themselves take control of more economic power. This increased economic power then turns into an increased ability to express their bigoted sentiments in the market, and push businesses into adopting and serving those interests.

According to the libertarian philosophy, the proper way to bring about desegregation and to end bigotry is for customers to pressure businesses to abandon bigoted practices in their roll as customers. However, the effects of bigotry is to make it the case that economic power is concentrated in the hands and bank accounts of the bigots, and that its victims are left lacking economic power. A person can use their economic power to purchase desegregation and racial and gender equality only to the degree that they have economic power.

Now, let us turn to the two arguments offered in defense of libertarianism.

First, there was the intrinsic value argument - that the use of aggression involves enslaving a person to serve somebody else's values. In this case, we are talking about enslaving the wealthy white bigot to serve the values of the egalitarian.

In response, there are no intrinsic values. The libertarian is summoning a learned emotional response to a situation and using "intrinsic value" as a reason to impose their personal likes and dislikes on others.

This many be a sentiment that it is good to have - that it is good to want everybody to have. After all, to the degree that this sentiment exists in a community, to that degree the people in the community suffers less from aggression. However, this takes us out of the intrinsic value defense of libertarianism and into the utilitarian defense.

Second, the arguments given above are arguments against the claim that this sentiment produces the best overall public good. It allows and makes possible a great deal of disutility brought about when prejudice and discrimination become market values for those who have the bulk of the economic power. Those arguments provide utilitarian reasons for a different set of sentiments.

The original argument is effectively built on the claim that once aggression is permitted there is no principled position on which to stand to prevent that aggression from getting out of hand. It is a slippery slope argument.

However, that assumption is false. We can draw a line based on the very same principle that was used to defend the libertarian non-aggression principle - a line determined by overall social utility. What we have here is an argument that suggests that the bigoted use of economic power - in hiring, and in other market transactions such as home-buying and in who may shop in a store and how they are treated - represent a type of economic aggression that people generally have little reason to tolerate. Drawing a line here is no less arbitrary and prone to slippage than drawing the line at the point originally suggested under libertarianism.

Before closing, I would like to make a brief call out to the desirism theory on which this blog is based. That theory admits that bigoted actions can and do fulfill bigoted desires or values - that is beyond question. However, desirism does not look for the action that fulfills the most desires. It looks at the desires that people generally have reason to promote or inhibit. There are few reasons to promote or even permit bigoted sentiments, and many and strong reasons to condemn them. The reasons that exist to condemn them are reasons that exist against respecting and building those values into their market transactions.

Strict libertarianism gives free reign for the expression of bigoted values in the market. Whatever those with economic power want, that is what those with economic power shall have. This is a problem. This problem does not spring from a misunderstanding of libertarianism. And libertarianism can correctly claim to be entirely non-bigoted in its restriction on the use of aggression. However, insofar as libertarianism permits the expression of bigoted values in the market place, it still does a great deal of harm. The flaw exists in libertarianism itself - in its willingness to see bigoted values expressed in the market, not in our failure to properly understand it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Third Parties and Voting on Principle

Some people make the false claim that those who reject voting for third parties in a winner-take-all political system such as the United States are against voting on principle - or favor abandoning principle in order to obtain some non-moral good.

This straw-man put-down of those who disagree with them may be psychologically comforting to those who present it, but it has little relationship to the fact of the matter.

First, a caveat. The comments that follow are applicable to political systems like those of the United States where the winner takes all and the loser gets nothing. They would not be applicable in a country where minority parties are still allowed to have representation in Parliament.

With that caveat in mind, the main argument against voting for a major party candidate instead of a third party is based on the idea that, among the principles that guide one's vote, producing the best consequences for the people at large also matters. This is one of the things that a principled voter should consider.

If we follow the claim that people should ignore the consequences of one's vote and vote only for the person who "most closely represents my views and interests" - and we take this principle to its logical conclusion - it implies that nobody should vote for anybody but themselves. Anybody that a person votes for other than themselves is somebody whose for whom the claim, "This person represents my views better than any other" is false. In other words, anybody who votes for a person other than oneself votes for a candidate other than the one who best represents her views.

To avoid this absurd conclusion, we must allow that it is permissible, at least to some degree, to vote for somebody who does not perfectly represent the views of the voter - that "perfectly representing my views" is a value that can be sacrificed for the same of some other good - such as "has the education and skill to be an effective administrator," and "will most likely produce the best results for the community as a whole."

The person who argues against voting for a third-party candidate, even where that candidate represents an overall set of values, typically argues from the moral principle that one of the things that matters in casting a vote is the well-being of the community as a whole. On this respect, supporting a third-party candidate may lead to the election of a candidate who will not, in fact, be the best thing for the community as a whole. One gets to express one's preference, but at a cost of realizing a significant loss in well-being for a number of people other than oneself.

In the 2000 election, many of the voters in Florida, claiming to value the environment, corporate responsibility for the quality of their products, and concern for the poor, performed an action that proved highly destructive of these ends. Florida ended up in a near tie between George Bush and Al Gore in a state whose electoral votes would determine the outcome of the election.

If those who had voted for a third party had voted for a major candidate party candidate who best represented their views, there is reason to believe that Al Gore would have carried the state and won the Presidency. In this situation, it is reasonable to ask of those who voted for third parties, "Did your principles include a principle for producing the best consequences for the people of the country generally?" It seems that they did not, because such a principle would not support such a vote.

Now, those who hold to this principle that consequences matter must acknowledge that this principle is only relevant to the degree that one's vote has potential consequences. In Washington DC, for example, the Democratic candidate will reliably get 85% of the vote and is all but guaranteed to get the region's three electoral votes (which themselves are so few that they will not likely sway any given election. Consequently, the principle of consequences does not apply to the DC citizen who wishes to support a third-party candidate.

Nor does it apply to any voter in a district where the opposition party will almost certainly win that district. Here, too, one cannot make a rational argument to the effect that such a vote risks bad consequences.

In fact, these same points actually argue in favor of supporting a minor party candidate where (1) one's preferred major party candidate is almost certain to win the district, or the major party candidate that least represents one's views is almost certain to win, and (2) a minor party candidate represents one's views more closely than the opposing leading party candidate. The odds of ill consequences are extremely low, and there are benefits to indicating the direction one would like the major parties to go.

I would like to repeat, these principles are only applicable in a winner-take-all political system as found in the United States. In counties that allow political representation of minority views - such as a parliamentary system where a party that has 5% of the vote still gets representation - it is generally less costly to support the party that best represents you.

IT is simply false - in fact, it counts as a type of hate-mongering - to argue that those who argue against voting for a third-party candidate under conditions where the vote has potential serious consequences have abandoned principle. They are, in fact, operating on a very important principle.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Aristotle: Challenges in Interpretation

Aristotle's theory of well-being, as Richard Kraut presented it, is a tangled mess.

I am reading through the Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Bing, trying to prepare for graduate school. The second article in this anthology, "Aristotle on Well-Being" is proving to be a slog.

The problem begins with the fact that Kraut's term for that which constitutes well-being is "advantage". That which constitutes the ultimate end of human action is supposed to be that which is valued for its own sake and not for the sake of someone else. Yet, "advantage", as I understand the term, refers to an instrumental good - as something that is useful.

For example, in a battle, one side may have a height advantage or an advantage of interior lines of communication. A chess player may have a positional advantage, or a runner may have an advantage in virtue of having trained at higher altitudes. In each of these cases, what gives a person an advantage is something that is useful - something that serves some other end (typically, winning).

This might simply be an idiosyncrasy on my part having no impact on the argument. However, when Kraut argues for this in part by pointing out that Aristotle uses the term to refer to several crafts - all of which happen to be useful.

To read him in this way, we need only observe that every activity Aristotle mentions, after his opening line, can plausibly be understood as an endeavor that seeks some goal on the assumption that it brings some advantage to someone. He is, in other words, implicitly offering an inductive argument for a narrower and stronger claim than the one with which his treatise begins. “Health is the end of medicine, a boat of boat building, victory of generalship, and wealth of household management” (1094a8–9). In each case, it is advantageousness that motivates a pursuit. Similarly for all of his remaining examples: bridle making, horsemanship, generalship. The doctor is not aiming at pleasure (his own or that of his patient) or at something beautiful, fine, and noble. He is trying to benefit a sick individual. Similarly, each of the other activities mentioned is obviously designed to bring about some beneficial consequence.

Boats and bridles are both useful. Medicine concerns such things as the absence of pain or discomfort (the counterpart to pleasure) or with restoring mobility, the use of a limb, or other biological functions that an agent finds useful. Victory in military matters - the concern of the general - similarly serves whatever ends that motivated the battle to start with. These are not things valued only for their own sake.

There is an additional problem in that we are looking at things written long ago in a different language. Perhaps "advantage" is not the best translation. Or, perhaps, it is my understanding of "advantage" that is flawed. The meanings of words change over time, and within certain communities. Perhaps there is a linguistic community that uses "advantage" to refer to something that is an end rather than a means - that uses the term as I may use the term "privilege" or "status", for example.

These are the complications of language - and they are always with us.

This is not a posting about Aristotle as much as it is a posting about difficulties in communication. Some people read as if a phase wears its meaning on its surface. Instead, every phrase comes with a huge context that is relevant to its meaning. Sometimes, it takes real effort to figure out what somebody is saying. An individual unwilling to put in the effort ends up swatting at air.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

States' Rights

I agree with Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx) on something.

The issue I agree with him on is the issue of states' rights. This is the idea that certain policies should be decided on a state level rather than a federal level.

Take, for example, the minimum wage.

Minimum wages should be determined by the state - not by the federal government.

One of the reasons for this is because there are disputes, even among academic economists, regarding the effects of legislated minimum wages. This dispute not only concerns the effect on overall employment, but the effect of who has jobs.

For example, one possible effect of raising the minimum wage is that more highly-qualified native English-speaking workers seek these jobs - as a way of supplementing their household income to acquire more luxuries - and crowd out less-skilled, non-English speaking, minority job seekers. There may be more jobs, but those jobs help the middle class at the expense of those who truly need the money.

The purpose of this post is not to argue whether or not this is the case. It is to argue that one of the ways we can find out whether and to what degree this is the case is to allow states to determine their own minimum wage laws.

Much of most fruitful research done on minimum wage laws recently has involved comparing the effects on two demographically similar states - one of which changed its minimum wage while the other kept its minimum wage the same. This gives us a "study state" where the independent variable has been altered, and a "control state" where the independent variable has been held constant. This allows us to then better determine the effect on the dependent variables.

We can obtain these benefits on a number of policies where there is reason to dispute the effects of the policies - on health care, on education, on drug legalization or prohibition, on capital punishment, on the regulation of pornography or gambling or prostitution, and the like. By allowing states to adopt different policies we gain a way of gaining insight into the effects of those policies.

Furthermore, we can offer a moral argument for allowing people with different beliefs to create a political and social climate consistent with those beliefs.

There is a great deal of arrogance behind the idea that one's own attitudes and values are so perfect - are so certainly the one and only right way to live and organize a society - that one may legitimately impose those attitudes on all people, many of whom have different opinions.

A less arrogant person would say, "You live the way you want to live, and let us live the way we want to live." Allowing states to set up different laws according to different cultural norms is consistent with this more tolerant - less arrogant - attitude.

Of course, there has to be limits.

The paradigm case of states rights in American history was the state's right to slavery. There are certain things that are clearly wrong and that ought not to be allowed in any state. States' rights should not be so broadly interpreted that it grants states a legal permission to institute racial segregation and other forms of discrimination.

We can expect that there will continue to be disputes - not on whether states should have the legal permission to establish their own rules, but on where to draw the line between what states should be permitted to choose and what shall be prohibited.

One of the things that states should not be permitted to regulate, for example, is migration into or out of the state. The morality of "states rights" in part depends on a person's freedom to move to a different state if they do not like the political or cultural environment being created. This entails also prohibiting a state from passing restrictions on who may migrate into their state from another state.

Having a variety of states with a variety of cultural norms, and a liberty to move to the state of one's choosing, is one way in which we can give people the freedom to find and join a community that corresponds to their interests. This grants a type of freedom that is not available in a "one size fits all" establishment.

Similarly, there are reasons to have federal controls regarding air and water pollution and water use. For example, California cannot give a "states' rights" argument for air pollution that drifts into Nevada or for causing acid rain that kills fish and forests in Virginia. Greenhouse gas emissions legitimately demands not just a federal but a global solution.

Still, there is a realm within which "states rights" makes a good deal of sense. We could, perhaps, use a presumption in favor of state determination unless evidence is provided - beyond a reasonable doubt - that a broader solution imposed on all states is required.

"Imagining That" - Imagining as a Propositional Attitude

What are imaginings?

This blog posting is actually a description of my thinking as I came across what I found to be an interesting philosophical question.

The story began yesterday, when I wrote on the difference between beliefs and desires.

Beliefs, I said, had truth-makers but failed to motivate. Desires, on the other hand, do not have truth-makers and do motivate.

On the issue of truth-makers, if somebody says "I believe that P" a reasonable response is, "It is a mistake to believe that P, since 'P' is false."

On the other hand, if somebody says "I desire that P" it makes no sense to say "It is a mistake to desire that P because P is false." It makes no sense, in other words, to say, "It is a mistake for you to desire to be free of pain since, for you, 'I am free of pain' is currently false."

On the other hand, the belief that one is in pain provides no reason to get rid of it. It is the aversion to pain that provides the motivation. Similarly, the belief that there is chocolate cake in the kitchen provides no reason to go eat it - it is the desire to eat chocolate cake that provides motivation.

I argued in that post that a mental state that has a truth-maker and which motivates is problematic. Trying to make sense of an attitude that both motivates and has a truth-maker (other than a belief that something stands in a particular relationship to a desire that provides motivation) simply raises far more questions than it answers. I assert that such things do not exist.

I then began to wonder if there are mental attitudes that both lack an intrinsic motivation and lack an intrinsic motivation.

Let us imagine a purple dog with yellow spots.

This does not have a truth-maker. In other words, there is no sense in saying, "It is wrong to imagine a purple dog with yellow spots because there is no purple dog with yellow spots."

This also does not provide any intrinsic motivation. Once a person imagines a purple dog with yellow spots, the next question is, "Now what?" There is no call to do anything.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that, while I pay a great deal of attention to beliefs and desires, I agree that there are other mental states - other than beliefs and desires - that influence intentional actions. I have included in this set "habit" and "memory".

Another mental state that seems necessary to explain human behavior is "imaginings" or "let's pretend" - propositional attitudes that lack both a truth marker and a motivation.

Now, being the curious person that I am, I next wanted to see if anybody has written anything on the idea of imaginings as propositional attitudes. Towards that end, I consult Google.

My search brings up a 2014 PHD thesis, A Pluralistic Account of Propositional Imagination" by Michael Joseph Ferreira.

The thesis begins with what Ferreira called, "default cognitive account of propositional imagination". Ferreira reports that his intention is to argue against a simple propositional account of imaginings because, "...recent efforts to provide a unified cognitive theory of propositional imagination have failed ... because there is no unified phenomenon of which to give an account."

Apparently, there is a literature on propositional imaginings that introduce some complexity to the issue.

Some of that complexity can be found in my original account of imaginings. I mentioned both imagining that a purple dog with yellow spots exists, and "let's pretend" that a purple dog with yellow spots exists. These are not precisely the same thing. "Let's pretend" is an invitation to act as if one is in a world where the proposition "there is a purple dog with yellow spots" is true. Stage acting, for example, involves more than just imagining. It falls more into the real of "let's pretend."

Yet, I think we can define a general category of imaginings - a category under which a number of more specific types (such as "let's pretend") live. What this general category has in common is that they lack truth-makers and they fail to provide motivation.

Now that we know what imaginings do not do, what is it that they do?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Motivational Beliefs

I got into a discussion recently that included the topic of beliefs that can motivate.

I deny that such things exist.

Or, if they do exist, it us because "beliefs that can motivate" is simply an alternative way of saying "desires", and desires do exist. (Actually, more than 2 - but see note below.)

More specifically, I accept David Hume's theory of motivation - updated to include some advances in our understanding of intentional action in the last 250 years.

This modernized version of Hume's theory holds that there are two types of mental states:

Beliefs - which can be expressed in the form "agent believes that P", where P is a proposition capable of being true or false. To believe that P is to believe that the proposition "P" is true. In other words, to believe that there is a mouse in the kitchen is to believe that the proposition "there is a mouse in the kitchen" is true.

Desires - which can be expressed in the form, "agent desires that Q", where Q is a proposition capable of being true or false. Desires lack truth-makers. If an agent has a desire that P, he cannot be wrong in the way that he can have a belief that P and be wrong. However, desires motivate. To desire that P is to be motivated to make Q true if Q is false, or to keep Q true if Q is already true.

It follows from this that if an agent has a belief that P, and P is false, he should change his beliefs - they fail to describe the world accurately. On the other hand, if he has a desire that P and P is false, then he is moved to change the world. His desire cannot be mistaken the way a belief can be mistaken.

Motivational beliefs are typically understood to be beliefs about the value of things. If an agent believes that P is good, then the agent will be motivated to make it the case that P is true.

If this is an actual belief, then it needs a truth-maker. Recall, to believe that P is to believe that the proposition "P" is true. To believe that P is good is to believe that the proposition "P is good" is true. This brings up the question: What does it mean to say that the proposition, "P is good" is true? What are the truth conditions for "P is good?"

I have a suggestion here. "P is good" means "P is such as to fulfill the desires in question." In other words, let us assume that the desire in question is a "desire that Q". Then, to say that P is good is to say that P is such that it can make or keep Q true. Q can either be a part of P, or P can be useful in realizing a state S where Q is true in S.

However, if this is an accurate account of "P is good", then these beliefs do not motivate. To say that a state of affairs is such as to fulfill the desires in question is to say that the people with those desires would be motivated to realize P if they knew about its relationship to their desires. It is the desires that provide the motivation, not the belief.

Just to quickly fend off the most common objections to this account - something can be "such as to fulfill the desires in question" when the objects of evaluation or the desires in question change. A hot cup of coffee may be good when drank by a person who likes coffee and terrible when drank by a person who hates coffee. Wearing a ski mask may be a good way to avoid being identified when one rubs a convenience store, but that is not to say that robbing a convenience store is a good thing to do.

Back to the topic of this post, this account of what it means for "P is good" to be true ties goodness to motivation - but only because it ties goodness to desires and desires provide motivation. What the "motivational belief" theorist needs to do is to provide an account of what it means for "P is good" to be true that somehow brings about reasons to act independent of desires.

An alternative is to deny that "P is good" (as in, "Agent believes that P is good") has a truth-maker.

I would argue that this immediately disqualifies the attitude in question from being a belief. Beliefs have truth-makers.

In fact, if the proposition, "P is good" lacks a truth maker, yet motivates the agent to realize a state in which P is true, then "X believes that P is good" and "X desires that P" become indistinguishable. If you were to examine an agent, there would be no way to distinguish whether the agent has a "belief that P is good" in this sense, or a "desire that P".

This, then, is the dilemma for anybody who believes that a "belief that P is good" can motivate action.

For the agent who believes that P is good, either "P is good" has a truth-maker that explains motivation independent of desire or it does not. I suggest that the agent will be incapable of coming up with a sensible theory for a truth-maker for "P is good" that explains motivation independent of desire. And if the claim is that "P is good" lacks a truth-maker then "Agent believes that P is good" is simply another way of saying, "Agent desires that P."

Anyway, motivational beliefs are make-believe. They don't exist. There is no set of observations that requires that we use such things in order to explain any intentional action. Updated Humean beliefs and desires are sufficient.

(NOTE: As I argued elsewhere, we will ultimately need to also include such things as habits and memory to explain intentional action. However, none of these things provide end-reasons for intentional action and can be left out of the discussion at this level, the way physicists talk about massless strings and frictionless surfaces.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Historical Significance and Practical Irrelevance of Plato

For the past week, I have been focusing on Plato – and, in particular, The Republic.


This is actually a question I ask myself. Plato’s Republic is of great historical significance. It is the first lengthy treatise on moral and political philosophy – about how to be a good person and how to create a good state.

However, the relevance of his ideas to today’s political systems is little different from the relevance of Hippocrates to today’s medicine.

Hippocrates, too, is a significant historical figure. One of his major accomplishments was to establish a set of practices that effectively started the science of medicine. Practitioners were to record symptoms, the steps they took to try to deal with those symptoms, and the results. This way they had a chance of identifying options that were not effective, discover options that were effective, and promulgate that knowledge.

However, there were some significant problems with this system.

One set of problems revolved around coming up with an accurate theory of biology – a way of explaining what was effective and why. Greek and Roman physicians had become fixated on the idea that health had to do with balancing four bodily fluids to the point that they could scarcely consider options outside of this model. This caused them to interpret all of their observations in terms of effects on these liquids – grounding all of medicine on a set of false premises.

Another set of problems concerned the objectivity of those observations. Researchers today recognize that humans have an amazing capacity to see what they want to see. Researchers who have a particular theory in mind will “see with her own eyes” that they theory is either confirmed. People inherently focus on those things that support a favored belief and dismiss those things that would falsify the favored belief. Science did not actually make much progress until scientists recognized this innate human failing and began to design research and take measurements that circumvented these biases.

Anybody who is suffering from a physical ailment may pay Hippocrates her respects regarding his historical significance, but is well advised against seeking a cure in ancient Greek medicine.

Similarly, somebody who is interested in creating a healthy political system may pay Plato his respects regarding the fact that he introduced the habit of thinking about these issues and was one of the first to address many of the relevant questions. However, he founded his idea of the best state on assumptions regarding human psychology and “the forms” that are as fictitious as the relevance of Hippocrates’ four bodily fluids. Consequently, he is a poor authority to appeal to if one is more interested in the practical problem of improving an existing political system.

Accordingly, looking at Plato’s political philosophy can be interesting in the same way that looking at ancient Greek medicine can be interesting. Some people simply have an interest in ancient theories – in the ways in which different cultures have seen things.

There is, however, another – more practical – reason for somebody in political philosophy to become familiar with these ancient theories. For some reason, political philosophers are expected to have a working knowledge of Plato’s ideas, whereas physicians are not expected to have a working knowledge of ancient Greek “humours”. It buys a political writer some “street credit” if the philosopher can write or speak knowingly about what Plato wrote. Where, in contrast, a physician who spoke knowingly, and perhaps even reverently, about ancient ideas in medicine might actually generate a little bit of worry.

Of course, that “street credit” likely gets taken away from any such writer who then writes a blog posting where he questions Plato’s importance. This may happen even if that writer acknowledges Plato’s historical significance, and merely denies that a 2500 year old political theory created at a time of primitive understanding has much relevance in a quest to improve modern political systems.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Irrationality of Third Parties

If we lived in a community where a political party can get representation even though it gets only five percent of the vote, then it makes sense to vote for a candidate that will likely only get five percent of the vote.

However, we, in the United States, do not live in that type of community. We live in a community where representation requires getting a plurality of votes - more votes than any other candidate.

This fact of our political system explains why we have two parties and can only have two parties. In a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" system the rational thing to do is to form a coalition that can get a majority of the vote. A losing coalition is politically impotent and practically worthless. There is room for two near-majority coalitions. That is all.

In a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system, third parties have two effects.

First, they provide a political advantage to the major coalition that least represent their views by weakening their opposition. By giving the opposite side such an advantage, it permits them to adopt more radical positions - there is less of a chance that a more radical position will be politically costly.

Second, they give the major coalition closest to their views motivation to abandon the positions they share with the third party and adopt, in its place, some of the positions of the opposing major coalition. They need to replace the votes that the third party takes from them, and the most fruitful source of votes are people from the opposing major coalition.

The closer coalition could try to get votes back from the third party. However, this requires that two conditions be met.

(1) Members of the third party have to be willing to defect back to the major coalition. If they are not willing to do so, they are telling the major coalition that pursuing their vote is a waste of effort.

(2) The major coalition has to be able to attract members of the third party without losing an even larger number of members of their coalition to the other major coalition.

And what is this for anyway?

If the third party wants to actually win elections (rather than throw elections to the major coalition furthest from their views), then they have to becoma a major coalition themselves - able to win elections. To do this, it has to form a coalition that is potentially attractive to the majority of voters.

How can they do this?

The third party fantasy - and it really is a fantasy - is that the voters will see the third party's superior wisdom and immediately swarm to them in worshipful frenzy in numbers large enough to win elections, thus creating a revolution that will sweep aside opposing coalitions.

This option denies the reality that many people are rather fixed in their beliefs, preferences and interests. Societies are not made up of 51% empty-minded idiots looking for somebody to give them the first good idea they have ever heard.

The alternative option is to try to attract additional voters by appealing to their existing beliefs, preferences, and interests. However, this makes the third party indistinguishable from major coalition that is nearest to their views - an organization trying to appeal to enough people to be able to win elections.

In a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system, third party activities are completely irrational.

This may be taken as an argument against having a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system. It may be taken as an argument for adopting a system whereby representatives of local minorities have representation in the legislature. In fact, that is one of its implications. However, UNTIL we replace the "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system it is irrational to pretend that it did not exist.

This also feeds into my argument that, if one lives in a region where one political party dominates, then, regardless of one's political views, one should join the dominate party. This way, one can actually have influence on elections. It is as irrational to remain in a political coalition that, locally, can never muster a majority as it is to support a third party. One simply renders oneself politically impotent and allows the dominant party to become move further away from one's own views.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0028 - Against Evolved Moral Sentiment Theories

The problem with moral theories that ground morality on sentiment that I discussed in my last posting also applies to theories that try to explain morality in terms of an evolved moral sense.

Our proto-moral community is made up of individuals with an aversion to pain, who have the opportunity to use condemnation to promote in others an aversion to that which causes pain in others. They use the verbal habit of saying, "causing pain to others is wrong" to both report the fact that this is something that people generally have reason to condemn, and as a statement of condemnation of anybody who causes pain to others.

The "wrongness" of causing pain to others does not depend on any particular sentiment on the part of the person making the judgment. Nor does it require, in any way, that the beings in this community have an evolved moral sense that causing pain to others is wrong. The widespread aversion to pain, combined with the ability to use condemnation to promote an aversion to doing that which causes pain in others, is sufficient.

The evolved moral sense theory is actually quite similar to sentiment theories in that they base the wrongness of an action on the sentiment of the person making the assessment. The evolved moral sense theory merely adds that these sentiments are the product of evolution, and their existence can be explained in terms of the evolutionary benefit they provide.

However, we can ask, can these sentiments - whether evolved or otherwise acquired - be wrong?

In other words, is X wrong because we have a (possibly evolved) disposition to sense that it is wrong? Or is X wrong for some other reason?

If it is wrong because we have a disposition to sense that it is wrong, then whatever we acquire a disposition to sense is wrong, is wrong in fact.

But nature tells us that there are few limits to what we may sense to be wrong or permissible or obligatory - even when we write evolution into the equation.

We are lead to believe that evolution favors cooperation. This is not true. Every predator and parasite found in nature has survived the evolutionary test. Evolution not only created these entities, it perfected them. It has made lions and killer whales ever more efficient at killing. It has selected bacteria and insects that are ever more efficient at living off of others (without their consent). The lion's relationship with the antelope is not one of cooperation for mutual benefit, it is one of predator and prey.

We can well imagine that evolution has not only given the lion the physical qualities that make it a successful hunter, but the psychological qualities as well. It has given lions a desire to hunt - as well as other likes and dislikes that make it more efficient at hunting. The stalking behavior of cats gives us a window into its mind - it's beliefs and desires that control its behavior. Cats and killer whales like to do that which would count as torture if done by humans.

This means that even if we had a moral sense, there is a chance that evolution could attach that moral sense to any type of behavior - including parasitical and predatory behavior - that promoted genetic replication. Rape could be permissible, as well as a disposition to have sex with one's (fertile) step children. Similarly, we may have become disposed to kill our step children if it would cause the adult partner to want to have replacement children with the new spouse. We could be disposed to form small bands with strong sentiments of internal loyalty and sentiments of hostility to neighboring tribes that motivate us to kill them and take their resources for our genetic offspring.

Evolved moral sense and sentiment theories would have to conclude that these behaviors were, then, permissible or even obligatory, depending on the (evolved) sentiment attached to them. Neither slavery nor genocide would be wrong if we evolved to approve of either enslaving or wiping out those who were less genetically related to us.

The alternative, then, is that the rightness or wrongness of an action consists in "something else". Consequently, such things as genocide or slavery will remain wrong regardless of our sentiments or "evolved moral sense". This would allow us to determine if our sentiments or "evolved moral sense" has gotten morality right.

The "wrongness" in our hypothetical proto-moral community does not depend on sentiment or an evolved moral sense. It is found in the simple fact that people generally have reasons to use condemnation to promote an aversion to causing pain to others. A sentiment of approval in causing pain to others - whether it came about through evolution or some other means - would not change this fact. In fact, it is specifically the case that the aversion to pain and ability to bring about an aversion to causing pain through condemnation provides reasons to create a sentiment of moral disapproval of any action that causes pain.

Another way of expressing the same problem rests in the claim that a discovery of evolved altruism equates with a discovery of the foundation of morality. However, even where it is the case that we can come up with a story of the evolution of altruism, what is the story of the goodness of altruism? The fact that we evolved to be altruistic in some areas - to sacrifice ourselves for our genetic offspring and other kin, for example - does not make altruism good any more than the fact that we evolved to be racially prejudiced or to coerce others into having sex would make them good.

The beings in our proto-moral society have not evolved a disposition to refrain from causing pain to others. They do not even have such an aversion. They have an aversion to pain and an ability to create an aversion to causing pain through condemnation. That is all they need.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0027 - Against Moral Sentiment Theories

David Hume was mistaken to claim that moral facts depend on our moral sentiments.

We have built a proto-moral community based substantially on David Hume's theory of action. It is a community built by agents where desires alone provide the ends or goals of intentional action, and where reason "is the slave of the passions". That is to say, the job of reason is to find the most effective ways to serve those desires.

However, when Hume went from this to his theory of morality he made a mistake.

Recall that our proto-moral community consists of Alphs (who desire to gather stones) and Betts (who desire to scatter stones). Alphs and Betts both have an aversion to pain, and a capacity to acquire new desires as a consequence of praise and condemnation. The universal aversion to pain gives people reason to use condemnation to promote a universal aversion to that which will cause pain in others.

I have also given this community the verbal tradition of using the phrase, "causing harm to others is wrong" both to identify that which people generally have reason to condemn, and as a statement of condemnation.

There is a fact of the matter as to whether people generally have reason to condemn those who cause pain to others which is independent of anybody's beliefs or sentiments about that fact. A person who does not know that condemnation will create in others an aversion to causing pain may not do so. However, this is a case of the agent not being aware of the fact that he has a reason to do something - a mistake of fact, not a case in which causing pain to others becomes permissible.

Hume bases his theory of morality on the sentiments.

Specifically, to know whether something is permissible or impermissible the agent must make himself aware of all of the relevant facts, then use his imagination to remove any personal harm or benefit and any harm or benefit to others with whom she may have a relationship. They then apply their sentiment to this imagined state of affairs, where a sentiment of approval means that the act is permissible or obligatory, and a sentiment of disapproval means that the act is prohibited.

If an agent in our proto-moral system were to go through this exercise they would be indifferent to any pain inflicted on people other than themselves. All they have is a desire to gather or scatter stones and an aversion to their own pain. Neither of these give them a reason to be concerned with a state in which somebody else is made to experience pain. Given their sentiments, they would react to such news with total indifference.

However, even without this sentiment, the agents in this proto-moral world have a reason to condemn those who cause pain. They have reason to promote a universal aversion to causing pain to others. This fact does not spring from any appeal to sentiment. It springs from the propositions that the agent has an aversion to pain, the agent has an ability to promote an aversion to causing pain to others through condemnation, and those who have an aversion to causing pain to others are less likely to act in ways that would cause the agent to experience pain.

Please note that, even though the moral fact of the matter can be discovered through reason alone, it is a fact that relates states of affairs to desires. Or, more precisely, it is a fact that relates a state of affairs where people generally have an aversion to causing pain to agents' aversion to pain. There can be no value without desires. However, the value that comes from desires is a value that reason alone can discover.

Morality does not require any type of moral sentiment.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0026 - Against Moral Absolutes

My previous post concerned a significant problem with basic act-utilitarianism.

Actions do not come out of nowhere. They have causes - beliefs and desires. If an agent is supposed to always act so as to maximize utility, then an agent can only desire to maximize utility. One cannot talk rationally about what an agent should do without including implications about the causes of those actions. To claim that a person ought to have done something else, but insist on holding all of the causes of intentional action constant - is to talk nonsense.

Consequently, to say that an agent should always perform that act that maximizes utility is to say that the causes of one's actions should be those that will always cause an agent to choose to maximize utility, and nothing else. This means that the agent can have only one concern - one goal - which is to maximize utility.

This account has important implications for the free will debate which we will get to in a future post.

If the agent has any concern other than a concern with maximizing utility, then there will be circumstances where that other concern will override the concern to maximize utility, motivating the agent to do something other than maximize utility. It may motivate the agent to gather stones or avoid personal pain.

In other words, in a classical act-utilitarian, all other desires (e.g., the aversion to pain), desire for sex, preferences for having the environment within a particular temperature range, concern for their child) are temptations to do what ought not to be done.

This problem turns out to be a problem with all absolutist moral theories.

For the purposes of this discussion, I understand an absolutist moral theory to be any theory that takes any principle and claims it to be inviolable. It is a rule never to be broken. For example, anybody who holds the view that lying is always wrong, or that one must always repay their debts, or one must always perform that act which maximizes utility, are all absolutist moral theories.

In practice, the only way in which a principle can be absolute is if the desire (or aversion, for that which must always be avoided) respecting that act-type is so strong that no other desire can ever compete against it. The only way that one can always obey a prohibition on lying is if there is nothing else - absolutely nothing - that the agent can value more strongly than the aversion to lying.

As I mentioned earlier, if the agent has any desire other in addition to this desire to perform the that which is absolutely required or prohibited, then there will be some set of circumstances where the second desire will motivate the agent to violate the moral principle.

For example, imagine an agent who has an aversion to lying which is taken as a moral absolute - lying is never to be done. Assume the agent also has an aversion to pain. Then there will be some situation where the lie is so insignificant and the pain so severe that an agent will lie.

Moral absolutism in any form does not permit agents to have an effective second desire.

The situation is worse for any form of absolutism that has more than one absolute principle. If there are two or more principles, then there are potential situations where the desires that would motivate the agent to respect each principle would conflict with each other. In cases where they conflict, the agent will have to thwart one of the desires (that is to say, violate one of the principles) in order to fulfill the other. In other words, the agent will be required to violate a principle that the moral absolutist says can never legitimately be violated.

The proto-moral community we have created in these postings is a community where there are no moral absolutes. Moral principles are treated as preferences, which give way when they are outweighed by stronger concerns. In the same way that an agent will sometimes endure pain to either gather or scatter stones, or (if the pain is to severe) give up gathering or scattering stones because it is too painful, there are cases where the moral prohibition against causing pain to others will be overridden by other concerns.

In our community, for example, people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to causing pain. However, this aversion to causing pain will be one desire among many. Consequently there will be potential situations where the pain is sufficiently small and the potential for either gathering and scattering stones is so great or the threat of personal pain is so great that the agent will violate the prohibition on causing pain to others in order to gather or scatter those stones or avoid that pain.

Society can regulate the strength of this prohibition - making it weaker or stronger depending on the degree to which it is condemned. However, society is powerless to make it an absolute prohibition - something that will always outweigh all other concerns.

Moral absolutism, in other words, is not an option.

Desirism Book - Part 0025 - Insufficient Reasons for Act-Utilitarian Morality

In the previous post, I looked at the proto-moral system we have constructed through the lens of basic act-utilitarianism.

Our proto-moral community has a number of people called Alphs, each with a desire to gather stones. It has other people, Betts, with a desire to scatter stones. Both have an aversion to pain and all have the capacity to promote in others an aversion to causing pain by condemning those who cause pain. Our proto-moral community uses the phrase "It is wrong to cause pain to others" both to report the fact that people generally have reason to condemn causing pain to others (in order to create the aversion), and as a statement of condemnation itself.

Technically, the linguistic habit of saying that causing pain to others is wrong reports the belief that people generally have reason to condemn that which causes pain to others. However, in these examples, the belief is taken to be true. Please not that there is an objective fact of the matter - people can be mistaken about what people have reason to condemn. However, for the moment, we are assuming that the belief is true. We will discuss false beliefs in the future.

Basic act utilitarianism holds that the right act is the act that produces the most utility. The best act is obligatory - and all others are prohibited. It makes no sense, in basic act-utilitarian terms, to say that one should perform an action other than the action that creates the most good.

However, basic act-utilitarianism applies to everything we do. It applies to deciding what cereal to buy, what clothes to wear, who to marry, whether to visit a sick friend in the hospital. In all things, the overriding moral question is whether the act will maximize utility.

In contrast, our proto-moral society has both moral prohibitions (it is wrong to cause pain to others) and non-obligatory permissions (agents may either gather or scatter stones as they please).

I have not strictly established that the use of moral terms in this proto-moral world actually corresponds to our use of moral terms. However, we can still say that this describes a difference between the use of moral terms in this proto-moral world compared to a basic act-utilitarian world.

However, there is a deeper difference between our proto-moral community and a basic act-utilitarian community.

The difference comes to the surface when we ask, "Why perform the act that maximizes utility? What reason does any agent have to do that?"

In our proto-moral community, the answer is "none".

The Alphs gather stones because they have a desire to gather stones. The desire creates their reason to gather stones. Betts scatter stones because of their desire to scatter stones. Both Alphs and Betts avoid pain because of their aversion to pain. This aversion to pain, accompanied by their ability to promote an aversion to causing pain to others through acts of condemnation, and the fact that people with such an aversion would avoid causing pain to others, all argue for a condemnation of causing pain for others as a way of promoting a universal aversion.

They have no particular reason to do that act which produces the most utility.

They may perform the act that produces the most utility. However, when this happens, it is simply an unintended effect of doing other things for other reasons. Alphs end up creating piles of stone - but the piles of stone are the unintended consequence of them acting on the desire to gather stones.

So, when the basic act-utilitarianism tells them to "do that act that maximizes utility", the citizens in our proto-moral world have no reason to do anything but shrug. Instead, Alphs should (that is to say, they have reasons to) gather stones, avoid pain, and promote a universal aversion to causing pain to others by condemning such actions. Betts should scatter stones, avoid pain, and promote a universal aversion to causing pain to others by condemning such actions. Both Alphs and Betts who acquire this aversion to causing pain to others should avoid causing pain to others. Nobody has a reason to do that act that maximizes utility.

Let's take this proto-community more complex, with a set of desires comparable to our own.

In this case, there may be reason to promote a desire to "do that act that maximizes utility". One can do this by condemning acts that fall short of maximizing utility, and praising acts that succeed at maximizing utility.

However, even in this case, the desire to maximizing utility would still only be one desire among many - in constant competition with the other desires that agents have. There will be times when, in weighing the desire to maximizing utility to the aversion to causing pain to others, an aversion to lying, or even a desire for sex or thirst or hunger, the weight of other desires will outweigh the desire to maximize utility. Consequently, these other desires may motivate an agent to perform an act-utilitarian wrong action.

Let us imagine, for a moment, an Alph in a situation where the only way in which she can gather stones is by painful activity. Let us say she sprained her ankle, and gathering stones is now painful. She cannot make true both propositions, "I am not in pain," and "I am gathering stones". Any situation where one proposition is true is one where the other is false.

Here, the agent will weigh the two desires against each other. If the pain is mild, then the aversion is weak and not sufficient to outweigh the stronger desire to gather stones. The agent limps along gathering stones as best she can. However, if the pain is sufficiently strong, then she gives up gathering stones simply because it hurts too much.

If she had a desire to maximize utility, it would function in the same way. It would be weighed against the aversion to pain and the desire to gather stones. If there is a case where a great deal of utility can be brought about by temporarily forgoing some stone gathering and enduring some pain, then the agent may be expected to maximize utility. However, if the gain in utility is small, and the Alph is being asked to give up a significant amount of stone gathering or endure a great deal of pain, then the other desires would outweigh this interest in maximizing utility.

There is only one way to create a population that always acts so as to maximize utility. This is to create a population that has one and only one desire - a desire that utility be maximized. This creatures can have no aversion to pain, no preference for the taste of chocolate over vanilla, no desire for sex, no other interests at all.

If the agent had even one other interest, then situations will arise (at least theoretically) where the other interest will conflict with and override the desire to maximize utility - motivating the agent to do that which the utilitarian says is morally prohibited.

Ironically, a community where everybody had only one concern - to maximize utility - is a community where there is no utility to be had. There is nothing else that people want. Simply imagine a community where nobody wants to do anything but whatever other people want to do.

A basic act-utilitarian has nothing to say to our proto-moral community that the people in that community has any reason to listen to. A somewhat more complex society might have reason to promote a desire to maximize utility. Yet, even here, it will be one desire among many - constantly outweighed by other concerns.

There is, in short, insufficient reason to adopt basic act-utilitarianism.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0024 - Against Act-Consequentialist Thoeries

In the next few posts I am going to relate what we know about this proto-moral community to the claims within a number of prominent moral theories to see how they compare.

I recognize that I have not said enough about this community to justify the claim that it is an alternative moral theory. That is not my intention in the posts that follow. My intention is merely to look at what the various moral theories have to say about the simplified imaginary community we have developed so far. We can then keep these points in mind and see how they hold up as this proto-moral community develops.

I hope and expect to show, over time, that the moral terms used in this community are more like our contemporary use of moral terms than that provided by any other theory. That will emerge in the posts ahead. I cannot assume that it has already been shown.

The key components of this proto-moral community is that everybody - Alphs (who like to gather stones) and Betts (who like to scatter stones) alike - is an aversion to pain and an ability to create an aversion to causing pain by condemning those who do so. People generally have a reason (coming from their aversion to pain) to use condemnation to promote a universal aversion to causing pain. They have adopted the linguistic convention of saying that it is wrong to cause pain to others both to report the fact that people generally have reason to condemn causing pain to others and to act as a statement of condemnation against those who would cause pain to others.

With this, I have shown in my previous post that this community has something like two categories of action. There are the non-obligatory permissible actions of gathering or scattering stones, where each person does what they please. And there is the category of prohibited action - causing pain to others.

This is different, in a very important way, from what an act-utilitarian theory would demand of the people in our proto-moral community.

Act utilitarianism does not allow for morally permissible actions, except under very rare circumstances. The right act, according to the basic theory, is the act that maximizes utility. Every other act - because it produces less utility than the right act - is wrong. It is something the agent ought not to do.

The only time in which non-obligatory permissions exist is when, by chance, there are two or more actions that tie for first place when it comes to creating utility. Then, and only then, may an agent choose that option which he likes the most, since it produces at least as much utility as all of the other options.

If we look at our moral lives, we place a great many actions into the realm of non-obligatory permission. This not only applies to our choice of occupation - whether to be stone gatherers or stone scatterers. It also applies to our choice of friends and of a mate, to the decision to have children, to what to eat for supper, what to wear, and what to read or watch on television. We are conventionally permitted to base these decisions on our own tastes and preferences - not on what maximizes utility.

Utility may have something to say in extreme circumstances. The non-obligatory permission to have steamed carrots for supper would become prohibited if, for example, an alien race were to threaten to destroy Earth if the agent were to eat steamed carrots. However, in the realm of every-day life, this is something that agents are permitted, though not obligated, to do.

When it comes to non-obligatory permissions, the proto-moral community has more in common with our conventional moral lives than it does with basic act-utilitarianism. In our proto-moral community, agents get to choose whether to be rock-gatherers or rock-scatterers based on their own tastes and preferences. Alphs may gather stones as it pleases them to do, while Betts scatter stones.

If we were to give the citizens in our proto-moral community a wide variety of tastes in food, here, too, they would have a non-obligatory permission to eat what foods they liked. The people in the community have no reason to use condemnation to promote a universal reason to any type of food - except those foods which somehow prevented the gathering or scattering of stones or caused pain to others. In those cases, the desire to gather or scatter stones or to avoid pain provides reason to create the universal aversion through condemnation. However, in most cases, agents have a non-obligatory permission to eat what they liked.

In general, whenever it is the case that people do not have a reason to promote the same desire or aversion universally, we can find the realm of non-obligatory permission. This fits conveniently in with the set of categories described above - what to wear, what to eat, which occupation to take up, when to sleep, where to live, who to marry, what games to play, and who to play them with.

In this, the account being presented here already has one significant advantage over act-consequentialist moral theories.

There are other advantages.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0023 - Moral Prohibitions and Non-Obligatory Permissions

Now that we have created our proto-moral society, I want to take some time to understand what it is true about it and what is not.

Our society is made up of a number of people. Some of them are Alphs, each of which has a desire to gather stones. Some of its members are Betts, who desire to scatter stones. Both Alphs and Betts also have an aversion to pain.

The people in this world also have a capacity to learn desires through praise and condemnation. Consequently, the aversion to pain gives both Alphs and Betts reason to condemn those who cause pain to others. This creates an aversion to that which causes pain, which reduces the tendency to perform actions that cause pain. Nobody has a natural reason to avoid causing pain to others. However, through condemnation, people can acquire such a reason.

Our imaginary community has a language where they say that causing others pain is wrong. By this, what they mean is that people generally have reason to use condemnation to promote an aversion to doing that which causes pain to others. In addition, the statement "causing pain is wrong" is also a statement of condemnation.

In other words, the statement, "causing pain is wrong" has both descriptive and emotive content. It has a truth value - it is or is not the case the people have reason to condemn those who cause pain to others. At the same time, it has an emotive component. It is a statement of condemnation of those who cause pain. The condemnation, in turn, aims at promoting an aversion to that which causes pain. This, in turn, reduces the amount of pain being caused.

Using these moral terms creates a risk that I am about to introduce elements of our morality without explaining or justifying those practices. They will simply come in with the use of the term and seem natural merely because of our habitual use of the terms. To avoid this, I will shy away from (though I will not entirely avoid) the use of moral terms. I will tend instead to use the statement that people generally have reason to praise or condemn particular types of acts.

However, I will violate this restriction here long enough to note that our proto-moral world already has a moral prohibition and a moral permission.

There is a moral prohibition against causing pain to others. I will have more to say about this prohibition in the next post.

At the same time, the members of our community have a non-obligatory permission to either scatter or gather stones.

One of the challenges of a moral theory is to explain why there are three moral categories for action - obligation (that which an agent morally must do), prohibition (that which an agent morally must not do), and non-obligatory permission (that which an agent may do but is not required to do).

Our proto-moral community says that causing pain to others is something that agents must not do. People generally have reason to condemn anybody who causes pain to others. But gathering stones and scattering stones are things that agent may do but is not morally required to do.

We will introduce accounts of moral obligation - things that an agent must do - in a future post. Suffice it to say at this point that an obligation is something that people generally have reason to praise when done or condemn when not done. This is in contrast to a moral prohibition which people may condemn when done and praise when not done.

If the reader is reluctant to use moral terms at this point, we can simply stick with the facts as they apply to this simplified world. Everybody in this world has a reason to promote a general aversion to that which causes pain by condemning those actions. People in this world have no reason to promote either a universal desire or aversion to gathering or scattering stones. These facts exist regardless of whether one wants to call the former a moral prohibition and the latter a non-obligatory permission.

We can continue on from here and see what else we can say about our community of Alphs and Betts.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Routledge Handbook on Well Being - Part 01 - Plato

I have a new project.

Given my plans to return to graduate school in Boulder, and given the fact that Chris Heathwood - a professor who deals most closely with the types of issues I am interested in - is focused on the philosophy of well-being, I figured that I should become better able to hold a conversation on that specific subject.

Towards that end, I have purchased Guy Fletcher (ed.). The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being (Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy (2016).

Article 1 in this book - Erin Brown, "Plato on Well-Being" - concerns (obviously enough) Plato's conception of well-being.

Egoistic Interpretations

She begins by claiming that, according to Plato, all human action either does or should aim at the individual's well-being.

Plato’s characters agree that everyone wants his or her life to go well and that, on reflection, at least, all our other goals are subordinate to this (Euthd. 278e, Symp. 204e– 205a).

Apparently, my reaction to this is the common reaction among contemporary philosophers - that this is selfish, egoist, and immoral. However, Brown responds that this misunderstands Plato's conception of a good life. A good life is a life of virtue, and this is not egoistic.

All of this seems to spin around the idea that virtuious activity - activity that considers the interests of people other than the agent - is also good for the agent. Virtue makes not only the lives of others better, it makes the virtuious person's life better as well.

It seems to me as if Plato could not distinguish between an admirable life - a life that people generally have reason to praise - and a life that is good for the person who lived it. His idea of a "good life" seemed to blur this distinction, equivocating between the two meanings.

This, I would have to say, is a problem for Plato, not for Ancient Greece. According to Brown, Plato includes in is dialogues those who thought understood a distinction between a politician doing that which is good for the community and a politician doing that which is good for the politician. The latter type of politician, if successful, can have a better life than the politician who sacrifices his own interests for the good of the community.

The possibility of genuine self-sacrifice seems to be missing from Plato's account - it is logically impossible. Any agent who sacrifices himself for others obtains a better life for himself by definition. It is logically impossible to perform some heroic act in which another person benefits that does not benefit oneself as well, simply in virtue of one's being the type of person who would perform such an action.

Imagine a father who is in the car with his son, with the son driving, when the son causes an accident. It is the son's fault. However, the father takes the blame, claiming to have been driving the car when the accident happened, so as to protect his son. This is an act of self-sacrifice. He may secure a good that matters to him - the well-being of his son. However, in doing so, his life is, by any conventional account, worse off than it would have been, now that he has this accident on his driving record.


Brown then goes on to discuss the Protagorean conception of well-being.

Protagoras was a "pre-Socratic" philosopher who held that "man is the measure of all things". For all practical purposes, all we can ever know is how things appear to us, and it is a mistake to try to talk about how things are in fact. This means that well-being, for Protagoras, is only "what appears to a person as well-being and nothing more". There is no objective well-being.

Plato objects against this extreme form of relativism that it cannot handle prediction. He uses the example of a person drinking an elixer that the agent believes will quench his thirst, but which will instead make him sick. A prediction of a future state is a matter of objective fact, not a matter of opinion. It is something about which an agent can be wrong.

This contradicts Protagorean relativism where we cannot be wrong in anything because all we ever have is "how things appear to us," which cannot be mistaken. In fact, we can be mistaken, and we often are.

This goes with a discussion of the role of wisdom in having a good life.

The discussion of wisdom focuses on a realm of well-being theories that are called "objective list" theories. What makes a life go well involves acquiring in sufficient quantity the items on a list. This includes such things as health, wealth, and power.

Plato answers that none of these things contribute to a good life unless they are used well. Furthermore, the instrument that allows us to use these things well is the instrument of wisdom. Wisdom is always good, whereas anything else the objective-list theorist puts on the list of goods is only contingently good. Thus, wisdom is the only thing that is needed for a good life.

Brown points out that Plato seems to be going "outside of common sense" here. We can characterize Plato's argument as saying that, since wisdom is a necessary condition for a good life (it tells us how to use everything else well), then it is a sufficient condition for a good life. This inference is invalid. The fact that wisdom tells us how to use these other things well does not imply that the other things are not needed. A person may need an oven to bake bread - but this does not imply that the person who only has an oven is capable of baking any bread.

Plato also seems to be claiming that wisdom is the only thing that is necessarily good - whereas everything else is only contingently good. However, there is another necessary good on this list - health. Health is always good. However, this is because health is a value-laden term; it literally means that one's physical or mental faculties are performing well. This is true in the same way that beauty is always good - if it did not have goodness, then it would not be called beauty. Wisdom is always good in this same way. It refers to thinking well (whereas not thinking well is "foolishness").


According to Brown, many people attribute something of a hedonistic conception of well-being, where well-being is the acquisition of pleasure and absence of pain.

She provides three reasons for this - and Brown provides reason to reject each of them.

First, in Protagoras, Socrates articulates hedonism in the Protagoras. Yet, Brown argues that the objective here is to describe a system in order to criticize it. Typically, Plato would have a character in the dialogue defend the position that he will have Socrates criticize. However, Protagoras "balks at endorsing hedonism", Plato has Socrates continue the conversation by attributing the view to "the many" instead. It is a mistake to think that his development of hedonism in this account is a defense of hedonism.

Second, in Republic, Plato's Socrates defends the claim that it is always better to be unjust by arguing that the just person is better able to satisfy his desires (and thus acquire pleasure) than the unjust. Brown argues that, in this case, Socrates is using a conditional argument - that given certain assumptions that Gloucon, in this case, would accept, we can get to the conclusion that it is always better to be just than unjust. However, this does not imply that Socrates (or Plato) accepts those assumptions.

Third, in Laws, Plato seems to assert that the best life is the most pleasant. Here, Brown argues that the fact that there is pleasure to be found in a good life does not imply that pleasure is what makes it a good life.

The main reason to reject the idea that Plato argues for hedonism is that he has Socrates directly attack the theory.

There is the problem that some pleasures are better than others, and some pleasure are completely shameful, suggesting that there must be a standard other than pleasure which we can use to determine better and worse pleasures.

He also argues that what is good for us makes us better - but that pleasure does not make us better "since pleasure occurs in foolish people just as readily as it occurs in intelligent people".

Plato also has Socrates argue that, while what is good for us is the opposite of what is bad for us, pleasure and pain are not opposites. Pleasure and pain are, instead, distinct sensations, which we can feel at the same time. Consequently, pleasure cannot be identified with what is good for us.

The fact that Plato explicitly rejects hedonism tells us that we should look for an alternative interpretation of those parts of his writings where he appears to endorse it.

The Socratic Conception

We are left with what Brown calls the Socratic Conception of well-being. On this account, as mentioned above, well-being is virtuous activity - which may also be understood as wise activity or activity in accordance with reason.

On this account, she says.
Plato’s dialogues offer two ways of identifying virtuous activity. The first is psychology. Virtue is the disposition that makes its possessor do what it essentially does well (Rep. 352d– 354d). To give an account of the virtues of the soul, then, one must first give an account of how the soul works. An account of healthy and unhealthy psychological functioning will identify the virtues as the dispositions of healthy functioning.

The second way of identifying virtue is wisdom. For Plato, virtue is or requires wisdom, and wisdom is or requires a coherent grasp of how things are. So virtue is determined not merely from the “scientific” point of view, working out an explanatory account of how, say, anger works, or love, or lust, but also from the agent’s point of view, working out how these feelings, and the values they implicate, do and do not hang together with each other and with all our other attitudes. Only if we can survive Socratic examination can we begin to think that we might be wise and virtuous, and this constrains what wise and virtuous activity could be.

However, I do not see how this answers the question.

It is like saying that the goal in making a trip is to travel wisely. This is an instruction about how to get from Point A to Point B, but it tells us nothing about what Point B is. In fact, we cannot even begin to "travel wisely" or "travel according to reason" until we first have a Point B.

Similarly, I do not see how we can live a good life according to wisdom or reason until we have an idea of what the good life is. Once we have our "Point B", then we can appeal to wisdom and reason to tell us how best to get there.