Tuesday, May 29, 2007


It appears that the Wikipedia people want to delete the newly created site on Desire Utilitarianism. The reason is because it is not notorious enough. There are not enough people talking about it to give it the type of ‘star power’ that makes it worthy of a Wikipedia entry.

The alternative view, used by those who are defending the page, is that it should be included because the theory is well-developed and defensible.

One implication that I would like to note is that, if the criteria for including the page is notoriety, then I would correct the default by engaging in some sort of publicity stunt that would get me and the ideas that I present into the news. Whereas if the criterion for including the page is the quality of the position and the arguments offered in its defense I would correct the default by seeking to do a better job developing the theory.

However, I did not bring this up to protest about how I am being unfairly treated, that Wikipedia is seeking to impose censorship on ideas that they consider unworthy of including, or any other nonsense. I object to the habit that some people have of stomping their feet and crying, “I’m being oppressed!” simply because others did not put them on a pedestal.

The reason that I bring this up is to discuss a topic that has been rattling around in my skull for the past couple of decades which I do not know how to resolve – the issue of marketing.

Package and Product

I want to make sure that I fit in here a note that I am humbled and honored by those who have made an effort to put this page on Wikipedia. They have put a surprising amount of effort into defending their actions. In a sense, I am concerned that I may not have done what I should to be worthy of these efforts, by giving them what it would have taken to make their work easier.

Seriously, take a look at this site. Take a look at the length of my posts and the way that I write. It should be obvious that, among my various desires and aversions, that I do not have a particularly strong interest in packaging. I create essays, and I throw them up onto a rather traditional page, then I start working on the next article.

However, it is packaging that sells product. At least, it is an extremely important factor.

Those who created the Creation Museum understood this fact. Much of the harm that the Museum and those who built it will have is due to the fact that they have put nonsense in a pretty package, and packaging will sell the idea.

All major religions use the principle that the packaging sells the product, whether they acknowledge it or not. The package comes in the form of religious architecture, art, music, and ceremonies.

Moral Issues

The intellectual part of my brain (regarding beliefs) is well aware of the importance of packaging. I am not so foolish that I think that, “If you build it, they will come,” is a good business plan.

At the same time, affective part of my brain (regarding desires) does not care about these facts. In fact, I have an aversion to using packaging to sell my product. Again, look around at this web site. Isn’t it obvious?

I reject the very practice of using packaging to sell an idea. “Proposition P was presented to me in a pretty package; therefore, P is true.” This is nonsense. However, this nonsense is a fact about how the real world works. Could I, in good conscience, use a method of selling product that I find not only distasteful but morally objectionable? I want to present my arguments, and have people accept or reject my position on those standards.

Wikipedia’s concern with notoriety, however, exposes a flip side of this coin. Just as there are people who think, “The proposition that P was presented to me in a pretty packages; therefore, P is true,” there are people who think, “Proposition P was presented to me in an ugly passage, so P is false.” If I know that people are going to do this, then is there not some principle of morality, or at least of prudence, to put that product in a package that is at least good enough to get past the doorman?

Quality of Content

Of course, when it comes to selling my own product, one of the things that I constantly worry about is whether it is worth buying.

This is another problem that I have with trying to sell product by putting it in a better package. What if it is not good enough to buy? I have seen far too many people sell ideas that are simply too stupid to be worth a presentation – such as the Creation Museum. I certainly have no interest in taking people such as those as my role model.

I have mentioned in earlier posts that, to deal with the issue of quality, the best option that I see is to simply put my ideas out into the public and to see if anybody raises objections to them. However, in doing this, I want people to accept or reject the ideas that I propose based on the quality of the defense that I can put up. I do not want them accepting the position on the basis of a pretty package. Then again, I do not want then ignoring the position on the basis of an ugly package.

Yes, I think that the positions that I defend are correct – though I am more confident of some than of others. However, a decent respect for others as thinking beings is not to assume that I am correct and use whatever methods will ‘work’ to convince others to accept what I claim. A decent respect for others requires limiting myself to presenting my reasons, and letting those with reasons against my view a chance to speak to those reasons.


Quite often, I think to myself, “Alonzo, it is time for you to start to put some effort into marketing your ideas. Just writing them up and putting them on a web site is not going to do you any good.”

After all, what I would really like to be doing with my time is working on these projects full-time. I could easily spend a day, where I get up and start work at 4:30 in the morning, and turn my laptop off and go to sleep at midnight, working on the type of subjects that I write about here. I am envious that some people get to do this. However, I notice that the job tends to go more to people who are showmen first, more interested in ratings than in the accuracy and sensibility of what they say.

The Creation Museum can collect $27 million for nonsense. One would think that sense could generate a bit more income.

With these particular concerns, I was actually saddened to read that one concern being voiced in favor of deleting the entry on desire utilitarianism is because I have focused my attention on the quality of my arguments rather than the quality of my marketing.

Even now, I call to mind (once again) a list of things that I could do to market my ideas better. And I simply do not wish to do so.

Yet, it costs me.


Anonymous said...

I don't know why you put a negative spin on marketing/packaging. It is often used to promote false ideas/associations with a brand or product, but just because something is used for ill ends, doesn't make it bad in of itself. It's should be thought of as a tool.

But you may actually have more interest in accessability. How your site is recieved by different people? Are there more ways in which you could be aiding your reader?

With packaging, I think you should be thinking in terms of form follows function. There's no reason why critical analysis of your ideas can't be a part of the function. Compelling critiques can be placed a long side. You do this already, but there are ways of formating which can make it more clear. This makes it obvious that you aren't just trying to push a static set of ideas.

I have found this blog extremely illuminating, most especially in changing my approach to the way i look at moral dilemmas. I think you would welcome someone who refuted your theories, if a more effective theory was born out of it.

besides, you have a negative affect via not being more visible. you have to be louder just to break out even....it's how the law of advertising works, which is why it's becoming more and more pervasive/intrusive! the hateful voices in every subject are the ones rising up, as conflict draws interest. i believe your approach, even if your conclusions are dead wrong are important to promote.

Pat Robertson was on TV annoyed at the u.s. government not taking the threat of astroids more seriously. And the joke that is the waste of money of the Star Wars Program. When we begin to listen to each other we can forge ahead and I think that's worthy of promoting!

Unknown said...

Hi Alonzo,

This sort of debate goes on all the time on Wikipedia, and is one of its strengths. It is what prevents every half-baked theory from having its own article.

The fundamental issue is that Wikipedia doesn't identify notable ideas, it merely documents ideas that others already consider to be notable. In order to do this there needs to be evidence - the "secondary source" that has been the focus of much discussion.

What some Wikipedians are arguing is that they are unable to verify that anyone apart from yourself considers desire utilitarianism to be notable. This is not the same as arguing that no-one considers desire utilitarianism to be notable, just that it can't be verified.

Martin Freedman said...

And following borofkin's point, and as the other contributor to the wikipedia article, it would help us if you could provide us with any secondary sources that have reported, commented, argued for or against DU. such as awards (or nominations), newspaper articles or anything.

We regard DU as a notable idea and the process going on at wikipedia is a perfectly legitimate one, a request to show existing notability and one I agree with.

olvlzl said...

Disillusioned with Wiki even as I use it. I’ve noticed in several of the areas I’ve consulted there seems to be what I have to conclude is a concerted effort to bend the coverage in a particular direction. In two of those cases there is good reason to believe it might be a funded effort to influence the ideological effects of the web through the very influential Wiki. Even as you use it in unfamiliar areas, especially those with definite “schools” of thought you should take it with caution.

While I disagree with the basic premise of your system, it should get a fair hearing. All ideas should get a fair hearing, including testing against alternative viewpoints, creationism has and has failed that test but it has wealthy backers who can distort the collective reasoning. I’ve had to conclude that the distorting effects of the non-editing process are even greater than those of competent and relatively objective editing. Unfortunately editing and compiling are expensive whereas Wiki isn’t. Price also has a distorting effect and laziness does too. In all, your life of the mind is still in your own hands, too bad students aren’t educated in those realities.

Anonymous said...

Alonzo, you've said several times that no one has the time to deal with their daily lives and also go about inspecting every single one of their beliefs to make sure they're as solid as they can be. That a type of "belief triage" is used by most people to simply accept that which they already believe that doesn't hurt anyone, and only inspect those beliefs that which could do harm to others, generally when informed of this potential harm by possible victems.

It is unfortunate, but attention has the same problem (I've heard it said more and more lately that attention is the new currency). There's more things demanding our attention than it's physically possible to pay attention to, so an attention-triage is used. And one of the first-line screens in the attention triage is appearance. A government official will almost never meet with a badly smelling man dressed in rags, because the vast majority of the time that man will have nothing of consequence to say.

Often times marketing agents abuse this screen by dressing up crap in $27M clothes. And sometimes good ideas/people are rejected because they can't afford the clothing. But as a rule of thumb, appearance has traditionally been fairly effective. Thus - marketing. I don't think it's that terrible to dress up a good idea at least enough to get accepted past that first screen. One might even say it would be what a concerned and responsible party would do. A concerned parent wouldn't allow their child to go to an important job interview in torn jeans and an old T-shirt, regardless of the true quality of their child, because they know how important appearnce is in screening out things that just waste our time.

All that being said, you've also pointed out that no one can do everything. The division of labor exists to address this very problem, and to match those who are best at a certain task with the task they are most suited for. There's no actual reason you personally have to market DU. You can continue to develop it and leave the marketting to someone else.

Thesauros said...

I know that we who blog tend to take our thoughts pretty seriously. This borders on the farcical for those who actually copyright their posts. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see that.

It’s just as ridiculous when you ask a blogger, say for example an Atheist, something regarding ethics and morality and that person refers you to something that he wrote earlier, in order to explain his/her first principles of morality.

I recognise, Alonzo, that you're an intelligent, well read individual. Despite that, you seem to believe that you've presented for the world, the immutable laws of Alonzo Fyfe re: morality.

With all due respect, as far as authoritative value is concerned, your thoughts on morality are nothing more than the musing of Alonzo Fyfe, one man among billions.

Two decades is a long time to spend trying to articulate something just right. If you've said someting backwards and forwards and it isn't going anywhere, perhaps you should just give it a rest and move one to something more productive.

Anonymous said...

Well excuse me Makarios, but you seem to forget that every idea started out as the musings of one man among billions. There was a time when evolutionary theory was the musing of one man among billions. And when Hamlet was the musing of one man among billions. How much poorer would our world be if everyone simply said "Well, these are just the musings of one man among billions" and didn't share their musings with the rest of the world? Personally, I'm pretty happy that all the scientists and artists of the world have decided to share their musings, particularly in cases were this made their original ideas open to modification and refining to the betterment of all.

If there's something important to be said, it should be said aloud.

Hume's Ghost said...

Have you considered trying to submit articles to philosophical journals and what not?

If it makes you feel any better, Descartes spent most of his life struggling with trying to get his philosophical method to become standard teaching. Actually, that pursuit ended up costing him his life, as he died from a cold he caught while the Queen of Sweden was his patron.

Anonymous said...

Two decades is a long time to spend trying to articulate something just right. If you've said someting backwards and forwards and it isn't going anywhere, perhaps you should just give it a rest and move one to something more productive.

Alonzo: someone who asserts that "The highest sense of well-being possible > It is found only in an intimate, healed, forgiven relationship with Jesus the Christ" isn't your target audience anyway. In fact, he seems completely incapable of understanding what you're attempting.

Your desire to promulgate your moral theory furthers my desire to deepen my understanding of human morality.

Thanks, and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom."

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Thesauros said...

Actually I think that I do understand what Alonzo is trying to communicate. I just happen to believe that the world can carry on just fine without it.

Presenting one's thoughts to the world is fine. After all, what are blogs all about. On the other hand, forcing one's thoughts on the world requires, perhaps, more evidence of a need fulfilling product than is present here.

I'm not saying that Alonzo shouldn't keep preaching to the choir. I'm saying that what's being said is perhaps not worth getting into a funk about if it's rejected.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think that I do understand what Alonzo is trying to communicate.

Uh oh. Now we're going to hold you to that. And what do we see:

forcing one's thoughts on the world requires, perhaps, more evidence of a need fulfilling product than is present here.

Understand? "You keep using that word", etc.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Okay, I am not at all despondent over this blog. In fact, I am getting far more readers than I expected, and the quality of the response has been better than expected.

However, this still leaves open the question of what would happen with a proper concern over marketing.

Eneasz's comments are directly on the mark. I have, in fact, argued in favor of doing triage on beliefs, and packaging is a commonly used form of triage. I would not, in fact, go to a job interview without dressing appropriate. I should give the same type of concern to my presentation here.

However, it is also the case that I just don't like packaging. (This would be an example of my not having a desire that I otherwise have reasons to acquire.)

What I need is an agent - somebody who would arrange for me to get interviews, set up debates, find events for me to participate in, dress up my blog, edit my postings, and do all that 'packaging' stuff that I hate.

Anyway, Makarios, if I were attempting to become an artist and I was not having any luck in that department, your advice may have merit.

However, what I am interested in is presenting a theory. What defeats a theory is not acceptance or non-acceptance. What defeats a theory is evidence that the theory fails to account for phenomena it claims to be able to explain.

Though, I do question where you got the "two decades" figure for trying to articulate my views? I got married 2 decades ago, and I was just starting graduate school at the time. It was only 15 years ago that I learned about the idea that desires are propositional attitudes and came up with the idea of desire utilitarianism, and only 5 years ago that I started presenting them to others (on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board).

Until then, I kept my ideas to myself, wondering if they made as much sense as I thought they did.

It took a while for me to work up the nerve of facing the potential rejection that comes from putting one's ideas out there for others to laugh at.

As for my 'target audience' - I actually wrote my blog to target atheists, free-thinkers, and weak theists (who think that a God exists but also hold that science and reason are useful in revealing the facts of the real world).

Anybody in those groups who read my blog for long will note that I do not preach to the choir, because I put a fair amount of effort in telling members of this group that some of their more popular beliefs are mistaken - such as common moral subjectivism.

Which, by the way, is another thing that I do wrong from a marketing point of view. If I had a business manager, he would be doing surveys to find out what the people want me to say. I would then doctor my postings accordingly, and grow my popularity as a result. Instead, all too often I read something that some atheist says and a lot of other atheists are cheering, and I say, "Hold it. That makes no sense. Here's why."

Invariably after such a post about one fifth of my audience disappears - at least for a while.

Still, ARGHHHHHH! I hate marketing and packaging and all that other stuff. I hate getting dressed up for a job interview or to impress somebody. I still want to just put my product out there on the shelf and have people either buy it (or not) on its merits alone.

That's not going to happen.

Thesauros said...

"The reason that I bring this up is to discuss a topic that has been rattling around in my skull for the past couple of decades which I do not know how to resolve – the issue of marketing."

Sorry, I didn't read carefully enough. Actually, I shouldn't have entered the discussion, my mood this afternoon is flippant/sarcastic - not serious. I'll go insult my fish instead.
Have a good day.

olvlzl said...

I got married 2 decades ago, and I was just starting graduate school at the time.

How old are you in that picture? Does this mean I need to get my eyes checked out again?

Alonzo, you should do what you think is best. If you don't want sell your ideas you shouldn't. In that case the museum of superstition isn't the best comparison because that's all about salsmanship. It really is the reason that they're as successful selling lies, though. While most of the effort on the science side falls into two groups, refusing to talk to non-scientists in language they can understand and, most brilliant of all, mocking people who don't belive in evolution yet and telling them they're stupid trogs. And what do the creationists tell them meanwhile? That if they believe in Genesis as history and science that they will win divine love and eternal life. Which sales pitch do you think is more likely to succeed with those not already invested in evolution?

Anyone who believes that materialist invective, with decades of failure behind it, is a winning plan, they're idiots.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


That picture was taken about 2 years ago, a few months before I started the blog.

Martin Freedman said...

So I take it you are not interested in having a reference on the wikipedia as you are not concerned about "packaging" by at least providing notable secondary references to your material (if they exist at all). I do not understand that if you believe that your theory is the best available to date, that you do not want others to find out about it, which the wikipedia would make much easier than just through this persisting with this admittedly very illuminating blog.

What would a person with good desires do given the opportunity to disseminate a theory that might benefit others and so contribute to helping minimise harm to others?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


The blunt truth of the matter is that I would love to have Desire Utilitarianism represented on Wikipedia. I was quite proud of the fact that somebody considered it worthy enough to write up a page.

And I was hugely disappointed that the ultimate criterion for being judged was not the strength of the position or the coherence of its arguments, but on its notoriety.

Precisely because I have focused my attention on the former and not the latter, I have not generated much notoriety.

What will be acceptable as a "secondary source?"

I know of people who link to my site or who reference it through links. However, would somebody writing in a comment, "See this posting at Atheist Ethicist," count as a secondary source?

Some people are a bit more enthusiastic, such as Go Read the Atheist Ethicist"

Richard Chappell, who runs the philosophy blog "Philosophy et.cet." wrote about the theory a few times, such as a post on Desire Fulfillment

I know of a few references in articles such as Towards a Naturalistic Formation of Ethics: Bridging the "Is-Ought" Gap"

I have also been a featured speaker on a few webcasts, such as A Better Place on Faith and Freethought, and a couple of appearances on The Infidel Guy show (that I do not have time to try to locate this morning - I am late for work).

However, I am going to suspect that I will not be able to generate enough evidence of notoriety to satisfy your request.

That is what I regret.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I do not understand that if you believe that your theory is the best available to date, that you do not want others to find out about it, which the wikipedia would make much easier than just through this persisting with this admittedly very illuminating blog.

I don't want people to find about about it merely because I believe that it is the best theory in accounting for moral phenomena.

It is important that it actually be the best theory.

It ties in with the idea that a desire that 'P' is a motivating reason to bring about a state of affairs in which P is true. Not a motivating reason for bringing about a state of affairs in which 'P' is merely believed (falsely) to be true. That's not good enough.

Anyway, if you think that the types of things that I mentioned above would appease the wikipedians, I can come up with more. Only, my suspicion is that it is not what they are looking for.

Martin Freedman said...

It is not notoriety but notability they are looking for and this as a means to filter out half-baked theories generated all the time and spammed onto wikipedia.

The more links the merrier I will update the "see also" section on the page to see what they think.

Unknown said...

Hi Alonzo,

I picked up my copy of your book from the post office about an hour ago, and read the first chapter on the train to work, when I should have been writing an essay on modernity (or some such rubbish).

In the section "Two ways to influence the choice in others," the two ways are sanctions and moral training. Moral training involves using the tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. (p8)

When you are posting articles to your blog, or answering questions, or engaging in a debate, it seems to me that what you are doing is engaging in persuasion, an entirely valid form of moral training. How does persuasion fit in with the tools for influencing others?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Hmmmm . . . I may have to look that section over.

"Persuasion" applies to beliefs. If you give a person with bad desires true beliefs, the only thing you accomplish is to allow him to do evil more efficiently. There is nothing about persuasion that changes a person's desires.

If you have a person with good desires but false beliefs (e.g., a mother who cares for her child and falsely believes that what she is about to feed her child is good, healthy food), informing her that the food has gone bad may change her actions, but has not affected her desires. It has just kept her from making a mistake.

I may need to look this section over to see if I mis-stated something here. I do not have a copy of the book with me at the moment.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Okay, other references for desire utilitarianism:

Alan Lund and Dr. Ernie Prabhakar engaged in an extended diablogue concerning the relationship between God and morality, for which the authors made extensive use of desire utilitarianism.

Which reminds me . . . I still need to finish a post in which I answer Dr. Prabhakar's open questions on desire utilitarianism"

This morning I mentioned two invitations to speak on The Infidel Guy radio show; Ethics and God and Desire Utilitarianism.

(If these links do not work, you can go to the the show archive and search for "fyfe")

D.R.M. said...

I haven't read your post or any of the comments, excpet for the part informing me that some wikipedians wanted to delete the Desire Utilitarianism page. I just wish to say that a lot of good, fact rich, pages are deleted on Wikipedia because of the destructive habit of mind that only "notable" pages should be kept.

D.R.M. said...

martino said...
It is not notoriety but notability they are looking for and this as a means to filter out half-baked theories generated all the time and spammed onto wikipedia.

The more links the merrier I will update the "see also" section on the page to see what they think.

Wikipedia and their policy of notability have nothing to do with filtering out half-baked theories. If that were the case, they wouldn't have some many descriptive articles on scientology or Young Earth Creationism.

Wikipedia wants articles on "notable" topics simply because that's what they think an Encylopedia should be about. Validity has nothing to do with it.

By the way, notoriety is the easiest way to gain notability. Many Wikipedia article are on notorious topics.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I received an email from another wikipedia editor that gave me a different way to answer the question about other sources - people writing about 'desire utilitarianism'.

Of course, I did not develop this theory out of whole cloth. I spent a lot of time studying moral philosophy, and borrowed ideas from other thinkers. I have credited these other writers elsewhere.

If one wants to find out more about the core ideas behind desire utilitarianism, I would recommend the following:

David Hume. Hume argued that the primary focus of morality was 'character traits' (desires), and they were to be evaluated according to their 'agreeableness and usefulness to self and others' (whether they tend to fulfill other desires directly and indirectly).

J.S. Mill. Humans act so as to fulfill their desires. Those desires are maleable - what do as children to please our parents become things we value for their own sake as adults (sometimes). We cannot be expected to do anything other than what fulfills our desires, so utilitarianism demands that we desire those things that bring the most happiness to self and others.

R.M. Adams. Motive Utilitarianism, Journal of Philosophy, 1976. Motive utilitarianism fixes many of the problems with rule utilitarianism. Adams, however, argues that this is not a complete solution - we are still forced to adopt some form of 'motive and act utilitarianism'.

J.L. Mackie. Mackie argues that there are no objective values (meaning 'objective, intrinsic prescriptivity'). However, in the course of his book 'Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong' he argues that values relating states of affairs to 'interests' (desires) and evaluating interests on their ability to maximize utility would be a form of objective value. It is simply not the type of objective value Mackie is writing against.