Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Journeys and Destinations

In response to my claim that the value of a means is determined entirely by the value of the ends that the means realizes, a member of the studio audience wrote:

I fundamentally disagree with that, because it seems tantamount to claiming the journey is only meaningful if one reaches the destination.

Actually, this is not true.

What an agent desires-as-ends may well be the journey itself.

I am very much a person who tends to find more value in journeys than in destinations. For me, it does not really matter much where I am going as much as it matters that I realize particular values on my way there.

I prefer to walk. I hate being rushed. I like to have enough time to experience what is going on around me at more than a superficial level. I want time to look and to become more familiar what the territory I pass through on my way to a destination, more than I want to get to the destination itself.

At least, this is often true.

In fact, I view this as a good attitude to take towards life in general. You might as well enjoy the journey; there is not a lot that you can say in favor of the destination.

However, in saying this what I am really saying is that I have more than a desire-as-end to reach the destination. I have other desires-as-ends as well. Specifically, I have a desire-as-end to experience what I pass through on the way to that destination in greater detail - to become more familiar with that which I encounter along the way. This is a goal - but it is a goal that describes a state in which the journey takes place. It is not a goal that describes a state that what I value in a journey, not a goal that describes a state that exists only when the journey ends.

The mistake found in this concern is the mistake of relating "journey" to "means". Journeys are often means to an end, but they can also be ends in themselves.

There is probably nothing in the universe that counts as a pure end or a pure means. Something valued as an end (e.g., a good night's sleep) is also a means to functioning well the next day. Something valued as a means (a new car) can also be valued for its beauty or some other quality that is desired as an end.

In fact, desirism is built on the fact that ends are, at the same time, also means. It says that there is no such thing as intrinsic value, so a desire-as-end that P cannot be said to map correctly or incorrectly to some type of intrinsic value property. However, every desire-as-end is also a means to fulfilling or thwarting other desires. Desires are tools that make the fulfillment of other desires easier or harder.

Because of this, we can take desires-as-ends and aversions-as-ends - such as an aversion to lying or a desire to help those who are in a desperate state - and evaluate those desires-as-ends according to their usefulness as a means. A desire-as-end to provide charitable help is a desire-as-means for bringing about the fulfillment of a great many other desires on the part of those who receive the charity. With this desire being widespread, giving to charity not only fulfills the desires of those who receive charity, but it fulfills a desire of those who desire-as-end to provide charity.

This idea that ends are also, at the same time, means plays a significant role in desirism to answer a common objection to desire fulfillment theories.

The objection states, "You are telling me that all value depends on desire. Does this mean that you are telling me that all desire generates value? If a person likes torturing young children and listening to them scream then you are going to tell me that this is good? If one person desires to play pushpin, and another desires to read poetry, that there is nothing but these desires on which to evaluate pushpin versus poetry?"

The answer, according to desirism, is that there is no basis on which to evaluate 'desires-as-ends' as ends. There are no intrinsic values that allow us to say that some desires are 'correct' and others are 'incorrect'. However, we still have the ability to evaluate 'desires-as-ends' as means, and see that some desires tend to fulfill other desires while some desires tend to thwart other desires.

This, in turn, gives us reason to promote certain desires and to argue for making them more common and stronger through praise and commendation. At the same time, it gives us reason to condemn certain desires and seek to make them less common or weaker through punishment and condemnation.

In short, the distinction between means and ends - between journey and destination - is not that sharp.

Sometimes the journey IS the destination.

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