Sunday, June 10, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 34: The Logic of Ought and Good

Olivier Massin sought to show that logic of desire was like the logic of ought, rather than the logic of good. To do this, he first needed to explain the differences between the logic of ought and the logic of good.

(Massin, Olivier, (2017), “Desires, Values, and Norms” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

I want to look at what Massin said about the logic of ought and good and see of the assignment of value thesis is consistent with these claims.

First, ought and good are both tri-part concepts

In the case of "ought" we have "obligation," "option," and "prohibition".

In the case of "good" we have "good," "indifferent," and "bad"

Each of these sets of concepts contain polar opposites. There is a positive, a negative, and a zero position between them.

Also, each category is the contradiction of the union of the other two. If something is "not good" it may be bad or indifferent. If something is not obligatory it may be either optional or impermissible.

So, what are the differences between the two sets?

Massin identified four tautologies in the "ought" set that are not tautologies in the "good" set.

First, "X is prohibited if and only if not-X is obligatory". (Example, theft is prohibited if and only if not stealing is obligatory.)

"X is not good if and only if not-X is bad." This is false, because the category of "not good" also includes the category of indifferent. Let us assume that no life existed, no creatures with desires existed, and consequently nothing has value to anybody. The whole universe would be filled with things that are "not good." But there would also be no badness since there are no desires that would be thwarted.

Second, "'X is obligatory' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is optional'. (Example, telling the truth under oath implies that lying under oath is not an option.)

Third, "'X is prohibited' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is optional'. (Example: Theft is prohibited implies that not-stealing is not an option; not-stealing is required.)

These two cases are presented together because they are parallel cases; one saying that a refusal to do what is obligatory is not an option, while the other says doing what is prohibited is not an option.

"'X is good' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is neutral." This is false. X can be assigned a positive value. However, the value assigned to not-X can be negative or zero. My eating a chocolate cake right now would be good. However, the fact that I am not eating a chocolate cake is not bad - it is neutral. It has a negative value. I have no aversion to not eating chocolate cake.

Similarly, "'X is bad' implies 'it is not the case that not-X is neutral," is false for the same reason. The fact that X has been assigned a negative value (being in pain) does not imply that a state without pain is good. It is neutral. A tree feels no pain, but the state of a tree not feeling pain is not good.

Fourth: "'X is optional' implies 'it is not the case that X is obligatory' and 'it is not the case that not-x is obligatory'". For example, my working on this blog posting is optional. It is not the case that my working on this blog post is obligatory - I can put it aside if I choose. That is a part of what it means to be optional. Nor is it under the case that I am obligated not to work on this blog post - that it is forbidden. That would make it non-optional as well.

However,"'X is neutral' implies 'It is not the case that X is good' and 'It is not the case that not-X is good' is false. So, I could be in a neutral state at the moment. However, it is not true that both (1) the state that I am in is not good, and (2) there is no alternative state that I could be in that would be good. Massin's example is, "Not experiencing pleasure is neutral. But experiencing pleasure is good." To put this in the terms of desirism, I may assign a value of 0 to P. However, this does not imply that I cannot assign a positive (or a negative) value to not-P.

So, this is a part of the logic of "ought" and "good". And desirism is consistent with this. What desirism says about obligation, option, and prohibition on the one hand and about good, bad, and indifference on the other, is consistent with the logic of ought statements and good statements. So, that's a plus for desirism.

Massin will go on to argue that the logic of desire is like the logic of ought, and not the logic of good.

I think that I am going to disagree with this. It appears to me that Massin confuses "desire" with "preference". "Preference" fits the logic of "ought," while "desire" fits the logic of "good". I will be exploring that issue in the next post.

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