Friday, August 10, 2007

Desires, Beliefs, Moral Values, and Condemnation

Yesterday’s post about the relationship between beliefs and desires came up in part because of my views on how one should treat evil people. It relates to the attitude that one should take to those whose religion promotes attitudes that tend to be harmful to others.

On the latter subject, I reject the view that one should be nice or respect those whose religious views promote actions that are harmful to others. The greater the degree of harm, the less respect one should give to those who hold that opinion. Near the bottom of the respect category in America are those fighting to inhibit research on embryonic stem cells, deny homosexuals the opportunity to live a life in compliance with their nature, and promote the idea that atheists are some lesser form of human life.

Defects in belief should be met with reason and respect. Defects in desire are immune to reason. Condemnation and ridicule are the appropriate response to these types of attitudes.

Yesterday, I wrote that no belief entails a desire. There is an exception to that. Humans quite often believe what they wish to be true. So, if we have evidence that a person believes something, and we know that there is no sound reason for that belief, we have reason to ask, “Of all of the infinite number of things that this person could have believed without reason, why did he pick that one?” In some cases, the best explanation for a person’s irrational belief is because he wanted to believe it. If he wanted to believe something that a person with good desires would not want to believe, we have reason to bring out the social tools of condemnation and ridicule.

Please note that this is clearly not a case of logical implication. This is a case of causal implication. A strong desire can cause a false belief.

This feature dovetails into the moral crime of epistemic negligence. I have described this as a condition similar to physical negligence. My example of a physically negligent person is a driver who fails to properly secure a load. He ends up putting other people at risk that the road will shift during transport and injure or kill other people. Somebody with a proper level of concern that others not get hurt would have made sure that the load was properly secured. Lack of care in securing the road shows evidence of a lack of concern for those who might get hurt.

The same is true of those who fail to secure their beliefs – particularly beliefs that put others at risk of harm. A person with a proper level of concern that his actions not harm others will make sure that his beliefs are well secured before he acts on them in ways that might harm others. A person who acts on beliefs without making sure that they are well secured demonstrate that they are people who are not concerned about the welfare of others. They have shown themselves to be intellectually reckless. Their failing also makes them an appropriate target of condemnation and ridicule.

In these types of cases, it is important to join in on the chorus of condemnation and ridicule. If these people are coddled and favored, then this will encourage others to adopt the same apathy to the victims of intellectually recklessness.

If we were to say nothing to condemn drunk drivers, if we were to ‘respect’ their choice to drive their cars while impaired, we can expect that this will only increase the numbers of drunk drivers. This, in turn, puts us and those we love at greater risk of harm. The same is true of we coddle and refuse to condemn reckless thinkers because they, too, put us and those we care about at risk of harm.

In fact, each year, if we hold the unjustified harms inflicted on others due to reckless thinking beside the harms done to others as a result of drunk driving, the latter is almost insignificant compared to the former. Look at any child whose well-being you care about. That child is orders of magnitude more likely to suffer harm as a result of a reckless thinker than a drunk driver. And, if that child should grow up to be a reckless thinker, this could well harm her as much as if she had become an alcoholic, given the poor choices that reckless thinking can inspire.

Any who say that we should silently respect those whose reckless thinking promote death, disease, injury, and destruction, are simply wrong. The only way to promote a greater love of wisdom and contempt for intellectual recklessness is by putting the tools of praise and reward to work on the former, and to greet the latter with condemnation and ridicule.

In fact, I will confess that this has been one of my greater disappointments in writing this blog. I have wanted to inspire more condemnation and ridicule. I have wanted to take those people who hold that there is something noble in showing silent respect to people whose recklessness puts others at risk and wake them from their stupor.

Against this, some may argue that I have a strange way of showing my devotion to the practice of condemnation and ridicule since I make comments critical of the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and PZ Myers. However, my criticism of these authors has never been an objection to the fact that they use condemnation and ridicule. My objection is that they sometimes pick undeserving targets. They over-generalize, and condemn the guilty aline side the innocent. I am all in favor of condemnation, but condemnation should be tightly focused on those who are actually guilty.

This is quite consistent with believing that, against those who are guilty of intellectual recklessness, the morally concerned individual will not hesitate to express contempt, condemnation, and ridicule.

The guilty, once ore, are those who recklessly adopt a belief that puts others at risk of harm. The greater the risk and the greater the recklessness, the greater the ridicule and condemnation that they deserve.

If any protest this ‘meanness’, then the answer goes as follows:

Desires are immune to reason. They are, however, affected by praise and condemnation. The best way to promote an overall aversion to intellectual recklessness is to condemn, ridicule, embarrass, humiliate, or laugh at those who engage in intellectual recklessness. Refusing to do these things means tolerating the death, disease, injury, injustice, and other forms of harm that spring from reckless thinking – in the same way that tolerating drunk driving as just another lifestyle choice is to decide to accept the fatalities and injuries caused by drunk drivers.


Anonymous said...

Alonzo said:
“Desires are immune to reason. They are, however, affected by praise and condemnation. The best way to promote an overall aversion to intellectual recklessness is to condemn, ridicule, embarrass, humiliate, or laugh at those who engage in intellectual recklessness.”
-I must take issue with these statements. Not only is there no proof they are true, they are demonstrably false. I have a desire to be healthy. That desire is not malleable, but my desire to eat tomatoes to be healthy is a malleable desire. If by reason someone convinces me tomatoes will not improve my health, I will no longer desire to eat them.
However as long as I think they are healthy I will ignore condemnation and ridicule.
I desire to live a life without belief in God. I may be condemned and ridiculed for that desire, but I don’t intend to change it.
It may be true some desires are immune to reason, and that some may be affected by praise and condemnation, but individual instances do not make a blanket categorization true.
I generally consider the tools of condemnation, ridicule, and humiliation to be the resort of those without facts, reason, or sound justification for their position. These are not the only alternatives to silent respect for bad beliefs. I find those who calmly disagree with me and explain why they find an act or belief wrong or destructive are far more effective in changing both my beliefs and desires than those who condemn or ridicule me.

Unknown said...

You are mixing up desire and beliefs. You have a desire to be healthy and a belief that eating tomatoes will fulfill your desire to be healthy. You then have a desire-as-means (as Alonzo discussed yesterday) to eat tomatoes. Any condemntion or ridicule aimed at those who desire to eat tomatoes will mostly miss the mark with you because you desire eating tomatoes only to fulfill your desire to be healthy. This underlying desire is, of course, very strong to begin with.

Reason can only change beliefs. That change in beliefs may have affect one's desires-as-means. A desire-as-end cannot be affected by reason. Yesterday's post went over these disctinctions in detail.

Calvin said...

Some further reading for readers to decide just how harmful inhibiting embryonic stem cell research would be:

Anonymous said...


Actually Alonzo has given us no evidence that desire-as-ends can be changed by anything at all. I’m not sure he has even addressed a true desire-as-end. How could one have a desire for a Van Gogh painting without first having some beliefs about Van Gogh?
All praise and condemnation do is change the person’s beliefs about the outcome of a state of affairs. What they believed would be rewarding or punishing in one way now includes another set of outcomes whose effectiveness in rewarding or deterring the individual may or may not outweigh those he or she started with.
I ask you the same question I’ve asked Alonzo. How many times has condemnation without any supporting reasons or facts caused you to change your desires? In my experience condemnation elicits anger, resentment, and counter-attack far more often than changed desires.

Hume's Ghost said...

Michael Fumento is a hack for the industrial industry. He admitted (involuntarily) at Jon Swift's blog that if he didn't write article/books favorable to such industry that he wouldn't have enough salary to support his work.

Hume's Ghost said...

Here's a link.

Anonymous said...

So far, I've seen no particular reason to accept Alonzo's assertion that information and reasoning cannot change desires-as-ends. As far as I can tell, it just seems that way to Alonzo. I'm curious if there is any psychological research to back his claim.

Sheldon said...

"If by reason someone convinces me tomatoes will not improve my health, I will no longer desire to eat them."

Hmmm, I have been convinced that cheese burgers won't improve my health, but I still have a desire to eat them.

Do you really choose everything you eat based on its potential to improve your health?

Calvin said...

Hume's Ghost,

If true, then it should be easy to debunk the info he reports & the claims he makes.

I just wanted to offer some insight that may get lost in among the smear-mongering. Have at it, guys.