Monday, August 06, 2018

Praise and Condemnation 06: Side Constraints

In the pursuit of that which is good, there are certain things you are not supposed to do.

The classic example discussed in the philosophical literature is that of a doctor who has an option to carve up a healthy patient and use his organs to save five other patients who would otherwise die. Five lives for one. It sounds like a utilitarian good deal. Yet, it is considered morally impermissible.

This impressibility is found in the "side constraint" against killing - the idea that it is wrong to kill even if killing one person will save five lives. It is wrong to tell a lie even if telling this one lie will prevent five future lies.

Arpaly and Schroeder discuss the moral status of side constraints in Chapter 7 of their book In Praise of Desire. They wish to know whether it is possible for a desire-based morality can account for this phenomenon.

Before discussing their answer, I want to explain how a previous objection that I have made to their theory comes into effect here. I have claimed that the authors were mistaken to use the term "desire" to that which can serve as a reward or punishment. Instead, I have argued that a "desire that p" refers to the importance that p being true has for an agent. As it turns out, what is important to an agent can usually be used as a reward or punishment, but it need not be. Furthermore, malleable desires are desires that can be altered through the use of rewards and punishment.

Anyway, to get to the point, the authors use the term "desire" to refer to that which can serve as a reward or desire, whereas I argue that a desire is the importance of a proposition being true - something that rewards and punishments can change.

However, this distinction is not going to be relevant in this discussion. Instead, this discussion will illustrate that the claims that the authors make about intrinsic morality can survive a shift in reference from that which can be used in rewards or punishments to that which is influenced by rewards and punishments.

In ancient chemistry, when "atom" changed its meaning from "that which cannot be further divided" to "that which is the smallest piece of an element recognized as such", many of the old claims made about atoms in the original definition could still be used under the new definition. We did not need to throw out everything written under the old definition.

(Similarly, many of the scientific claims made about Pluto remained true even though we quit calling it a planet, and many of our claims about malaria remained true even after we recognized it was not "bad air".)

A desire to maximize happiness or to minimize deaths produces no side constraints. What must a desire look like to produce side constraints?

On the accounts I have been arguing for, I have defended the idea that morality is concerned with promoting, for example, an aversion to killing. This translates into an aversion "that I kill" - a desire that the proposition "I am killing" be made or kept false - preferably kept false.

Arpaly and Schroeder express this as an intrinsic desire that "I not kill now". Or, in the case of lying:

A better approach would be to include the present moment in the sense (conceptualization…) of Lucien’s desire. Suppose Lucien intrinsically desires that he NOT LIE RIGHT NOW, meaning that his concept NOW is deployed in desiring what he does. Then his desire can motivate him in the future even if he tells a lie in the present, and his desire will never motivate him to tell one lie to prevent more lies from being told by others or by himself on other occasions.

The authors argue that my conception would not prevent a person from killing one person now to avoid killing 5 people in the future. It is for this reason that they argue that the aversion to killing be understood as an aversion to not killing now.

The relationship that exists between the aversion to killing and the aversion to letting five people die is different than the relationship between the aversion to killing one person now and the aversion to killing five people later. I would argue that our aversion to letting people die must be weaker since there are so many people dying each minute. We would be an emotional wreck if we considered each and every death from any cause as comparable to us killing that person. It is for this reason that we promote a particularly strong aversion to killing.

In contrast, the idea of trading off a lie now for five future lies, or a killing now in exchange for 5 future killings, seems odd. In any real-life situation, my natural response would be to not lie now or in the future - to not kill now or in the future. There may be some bizarre circumstance that one can imagine which would make the future lies or killings unavoidable. However, we did not handle morality to deal with bizarre circumstances, but with the types of circumstances we deal with every day. In the every day world, we have many and strong reasons to promote a universal aversion to lying or killing, and that is it.

Because Arpaly and Schroeder are dealing with this odd concept of "good will" or "ill will", they see another type of problem. If I have an aversion to killing, this gives me no reason to be concerned about the fact that other people kill. On their account, my "good will" requires another intrinsic desire - an aversion to killing - that gives me reason to prevent other people from committing murder.

However, we do not need that.

Take, for example, the type of case that I have been using as illustrative of desirism. This is a community in which each individual has an aversion to their own pain, and each person has a reward system whereby each individual can promote in others an aversion to causing pain. One does not need an intrinsic desire that others not cause pain in this case. Each person's aversion to their own pain gives them reason to use praise and condemnation to promote in others an aversion to causing pain. A second, intrinsic desire that others not cause pain would be redundant.

This, further, feeds in to the question of what counts as a good or bad desire. The aversion to causing pain to others is a good desire BECAUSE people generally have reason to promote such an aversion (and the means to do so - through praise and condemnation). The aversion to causing pain to others is not a good desire BECAUSE people have an intrinsic desire that others not cause pain. We can completely eliminate this intrinsic desire that others not cause pain, and people would still have reason to condemn those who cause pain to others.

Again, we see that we can do without Arpaly and Schroeder's "epicycles" of good will and bad will.

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