Thursday, August 03, 2006

What I Believe (about Value)

A recent email exchange gave me reason to create a list of some of the propositions regarding ethics that I hold to be true. I have decided to present them here.

(1) Beliefs and desires exist.

(2) Beliefs and desires are propositional attitudes -- mental attitudes towards a proposition.

(3) A "belief that 'P' for some proposition 'P' (e.g., 'P' = 'God exists') is a mental attitude that the proposition 'P' is true.

(4) Phrases such as 'knows that P', 'suspects that P', 'is suspicious that P', and the like all represents different types of belief.

(5) A 'desire that 'P' (e.g., P = 'My child is safe') is a mental state that motivates an agent to act so as to make or keep 'P' true.

(6) Terms such as 'wants p', 'hopes that P', 'hates that P', and the like all represent different types of desire.

(8) An aversion is a negative desire. A person who is adverse to 'P' has a desire that not-'P'.

(9) Definition "fulfills": If an agent desires that P, and P is true in state of affairs S, then S is such as to fulfill agent's desire that P. S fulfills a 'desire that P' if and only if 'P' is true in S.

(10) Definition "thwarts": If an agent desires that P, and state of affairs S is one that makes or keeps P from being true, then S is such as to thwart agent's desire that P. S thwarts a 'desire tht P' if and only if S prevents or keeps P from being true.

(11) In common language, the term 'desire' is ambiguous. It has two meanings: (1) 'desires-as-end' (likes, wants), and (2) 'desires-as-means' (useful).

(12) 'Desires-as-an-end' refers to desires that make no reference to anything further end. A person who purchases a painting simply because he likes it is expressing a desires-as-end.

(13) 'Desires-as-a-means' refers to the usefulness of a an object. The object is not liked or wanted for its own sake, but for its ability to bring about something else that is liked or wanted for its own sake (or as an end). A person who purchases a painting to impress visitors desires the painting as a means.

(14) The same thing can both, at the same time, have value as an end and as a means.

(15) 'Desires-as-means' are collections of 'desires as ends' and 'beliefs.' The person who purchased the painting to impress visitors has a 'desires-as-end' to be the object of a favorable opinion or he seeks to use the visitors in some other project (to collect business) for which a favorable opinion would be a useful means.

(16) Desires-as-means can be mistaken if an agent has false beliefs. A person who falsely believes that a glass contains no poison can incorrectly 'desires-as-means' to drink out of the glass.

(17) Desires-as-ends are a-rational. They are neither rational nor irrational. Instead, concepts of rationality do not apply to desires as ends.

(18) All agents always act so as to fulfill the more and the stronger of their own desires, given their beliefs.

(19) Proposition (18) does not say that people are 'selfish'. Proposition (18) is compatible with agents having other-regarding desires such as a desire that no child goes hungry. Where P = 'no child goes hungry', an agent can conceivably have a desire that P stronger than any self-regarding desire.

(20) Proposition (18) recognizes the fact that for an action to be mine, then my own desires must be the proximate cause of that action. If my muscles are hooked up in such a way that somebody else's desires are the proximate cause of the movement of the muscles in my body then those actions are her actions, not mine.

(21) Proposition (18) suggests that people with false or missing beliefs may be prevented from fulfilling the more and the stronger of their desires. An agent with the false belief that a food is poisonous might be thwarted in his attempt to eat a healthy meal.

(22) All 'ought' or 'should' statements prescribe (or recommend) a course of action or an alternative.

(23) All prescription assumes one or more reasons for action. That is to say, they are reports that take the form, "There are reasons for action such that . . .," If there are no reasons for action for performing a particular action, then it is nonsense to recommend or prescribe that action.

(24) Desires are the only reasons for action that actually exist.

(25) Intrinsic values do not exist. Intrinsic values are desire-independent reasons for action that adhere directly to certain objects or states. There is no such entity. All claims that there is an 'intrinsic' reason for action to perform some task are false.

(26) God does not exist. All claims that say that God provides a reason-for-action for performing or abstaining from some activity or other are false.

(27) Proposition (23) says that there is a gap over the is-ought bridge. 'Ought' <-> 'Are reasons for action such that…'. All 'ought' statements are 'is' statements about reasons for action.

(28) Desires-as-ends have effects. Desires are real states-of-affairs that have real effects on the real world. It is through their effects that we know that desires exist.

(29) That which has effects can be more or less useful. That which has the effect of fulfilling desires is useful; that which has the effect of thwarting desires is harmful.

(30) Some desires-as-ends are more useful than others. That is to say, some desires tend toward the fulfillment of more and the stronger desires than others.

(31) The desires that are fulfilled or thwarted by any given desires-as-ends are reasons-that-exist-for-actions for promoting those desires that fulfill other desires or demoting those desires that thwart other desires.

(32) The tools that we have for promoting and demoting desires-as-ends include praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. Reasons for action exist for using the tools of social conditioning to use praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to promote desire-fulfilling desires and demote desire-thwarting desires.

(33) It is irrational to use the tools of social conditioning where they can have no effect. Therefore, the tools of social conditioning can only sensibly be used in molding those desires that can be molded and only insofar as they can be molded. Anything outside of these limits is beyond the legitimate scope of morality.

(34) A bad desire, or a vice, is a desire-as-end that there are more and stronger reasons-for-action to demote than to promote. It is a desire-as-end that tends to thwart other desires.

(35) A good desire, or a virtue, is a desire-as-end that there is more and stronger reasons-for-action to promote than demote. It is a desire-as-end that tends to fulfill other desires.


Anonymous said...

If I understand your book correctly, there are also desires that are neither very good nor very bad, but merely morally permissable. Having a moral reasoning process that can end in three states instead of two is an important distinction and I suspect it is not safe to assume that others hold it as well. (Cue criticisms of intellectual sloths who strictly 'think in black and white')

If that's still one of your beliefs you may want to list it as well.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Jason Powers

Yes, there are some desires that are neither 'good' (or at least not 'bad') that some people have them, but not that everybody have them; such as a desire to be an engineer or a desire to study astronomy. Moral permissibility (neither obligatory nor prohibited) comes out of this set of desires.