Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Fulfillment and Satisfaction

A member of the studio audience has sent in some more questions about desire utilitarianism that I wish to address. The first of these asked:

1. Why does good = "such as to fulfill the desires in question" instead of "such as to satisfy the desires in question"? If a desire is a brain state, shouldn't "good" mean that the brain state has been satisfied, not that something "out there", outside the brain state has been effected?

Answer: Because that is the way God did it and we mere mortals are incapable of understanding the infinite wisdom of a perfect being.

Um . . . okay . . . maybe not. However, I can see how pseudo-intellectuals can find this religion idea to be tempting. They have an easy out whenever it comes to addressing a serious but difficult question.

Actually, in answering this question, I have to ask what the question is really asking. There are two interpretations.

I could interpret this question as a question about language. "Alonzo, you have decided to use the set of squiggles that appear as 'fulfillment' to refer to the relationship between desires and states of affairs. I think that you should have used a different set of squiggles, 'satisfaction', instead."

In this interpretation, the second set of squiggles would replace the first set of squiggles in the theory without changing the theory at all. Instead of saying, "By 'fulfillment' I mean a situation in which there is a desire that P, a state of affairs S, and P is true in S," I would be saying," "By 'fulfillment' I mean a situation in which there is a desire that P, a state of affairs S, and P is true in S."

We could, for example, say that a desire that P establishes P as a condition for a state of affairs to have value. On this account, if P is true in S, we can say that the conditions established by the desire have been satisfied.

However, there is no particular justification for choosing one set of squiggles over another. I needed a set of squiggles to refer to such a relationship, grabbed a common term that was reasonably close, and commandeered it for my theory. A dispute over whether to call this relationship between states of affairs and desires one of 'fulfillment' rather than 'satisfaction' would be no different than the dispute over whether to call Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet.

I am going to stick with my original uses if for no other reason than I have a whole lot of writing that uses the first set of squiggles and to change squiggle sets when this does not imply a change in the theory would only cause confusion.

The second interpretation fixes the definitions of fulfillment and satisfaction the way that I have in this theory, but says that I have misidentified the nature of value. 'Satisfaction', in this case, refers to something like happiness or pleasure – a sense of contentment generated when a person believes that a desire has been fulfilled.

I reject this interpretation because it fails to adequately account for real-world observations.

First, it does not answer the question of how satisfaction comes to have value. What is the nature of goodness that it resides in satisfaction and that it motivates our actions? Recall that I do not need to answer the parallel question of why desire fulfillment has value, because it does not have value. For any state of affairs S, whether P is true in S has value to the person with a desire that P. However, ‘desire fulfillment’ is simply a term applied to a relationship in which there is a desire that P and P is true in S. Desire fulfillment itself need not have any value.

Second, such a theory fails to account for a set of observations in the real world. It does not account for the possibility that an agent would prefer to live a life outside of a machine where there is a good chance of desires not being satisfied, as opposed to living in a machine where his brain can be stimulated in such a ways that an agent has a desire that P and a (false) belief that P is true. This would generate satisfaction, but it would not generate something that agents find they have a reason to choose.

Nor would satisfaction theory be able to explain actions that a person with a desire that P would take to realize a state of affairs in which P is true, but the agent would not live long enough to see that state. It does not account, for example, in an agent’s interest in being remembered after he was dead – because he can get no satisfaction from that remembrance. However, it could still fulfill a desire.

Desire fulfillment theory simply does a better job of explaining and predicting intentional actions.

1 comment:

Luke said...

Gotcha. Makes perfect sense now.