Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Population Ethics: Bringing More People Into the World

Last week, I posted several articles on population ethics - the question of "How many people should there be?"

Before moving on, I want to post an article that addresses this question more directly. It does not give an answer, but it gives directions for finding an answer that works better than the traditional approach.

That traditional approach is based on a false absumption that, in turn, leads to absurd results. The false assumption is that value exists as an intrinsic property with an assignable value, and that morality demands that we make this intrinsic value as big as possible. Applied to population ethics, it says that a life with fulfilled desires has intrinsic value, and we need to maximize the lives that are worth living. This, in turn, leads to what philosophers call the "repugnant conclusion." We should create the maximum number of barely tolerable lives because a small number of large values (higher quality lives) will, at some point, inevitably be exceeded by a sufficiently large number of very small values. That is, unless the large values can grow to infinity. In this case, the idea that the quality of life can approach infinity seems false.

As Derik Parfit wrote:

For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living.

This argument requires the assumption that each life us assigned an intrinsic value independent of interests or desires (though the intrinsic value of a life at depend on how many of the person's desires are fulfilled). Or job - our moral duty - is to make this number as big as possible.

Desirism rejects that model.

It asks a different question. "What reasons for action do we have to bring additional people into the world?"

Where populations are small, additional people contribute to the greater fulfillment of desires. Those who exist in such a world have many and strong reasons to promote interests that increase the population.

To see this, imagine one person living utterly alone, and the benefits of adding just one more person. Where there are two, add a third. Each new person provides significant improvements to everybody's quality of life. Yet, in all but extreme circumstances such as on a lifeboat, they place little additional strain on available resources.

However, at some point adding new people produces less of a benefit; the law of diminishing returns applies. Additional people compete for resources - driving up prices or contributing to scarcity. Yet, the diminishing returns of this additional person is quite small. At some point, people have more and stronger reasons to promote interests that maintain this population - that motivate people to pursue options other than bringing more people into the world.

Note that a tribe living on a small island or a small oasis in a hostile desert will reach this point sooner than a global community capable of efficient global trade.

I would like to stress that what desirism suggests to look at is is not interests TO bring more or fewer people into the world but interests THAT bring more or fewer people into the world. What reason do we have to encourage women to become interested in science, medicine, politics, consulting, and ends that would be thwarted by having children, thus motivating them not to select that option? What reasons do we have to promote interests in non-procreative sex over procreative sex - such as is provided through the use of birth control?

Where bringing more people into the world thwarts more and stronger of our desires, where we have reason to avoid greater competition for scarce goods and services, we have more and stronger reason to promote alternative interests.

It is arguably the case that we have passed this point. The next billion people will put heavy demands on the environment and resources such as food, clean water, and energy. Yet, they will not likely contribute more than the current seven billion people can contribute. We have passed the point where we have reason to promote interests in having more children.

Should we be having more people? The answer is found by looking at the reasons for action that exist for promoting interests that will increase the population over promoting interests that will maintain or reduce it.

I think it is important that desirism, unlike the traditional model, matches the way that population ethics is actually discussed by people who are concerned with population policy. The traditional view has created a great deal of philosophical literature. Yet, to the public at large, this is "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" philosophy. Some people find it interesting to try to anwer it, but it yields no substantive and useful conclusions.

Desirism, on the other hand, focuses attention on the very types of issues that people interested in population policy are interested in. Specifically, how much strain will additional people put on the environment, and on resources such as water, land, and energy? What are the possibilities that population pressures will lead to conflict? At the same time, what are the chances that an increased population can take advantages of economies of scale and specialization and trade to produce an overall increase in the standard of living?

The "repugnant conclusion" - and all arguments in that family - should be taken as reductio-ad-absurdum arguments against the idea that there are intrinsic values in the world to be maximized. If a set of premises leads to an absurd conclusion, it is time to question those premises. In this case, it is time to discard the belief that lives have intrinsic value.

Value is real - but it is not an intrinsic value. It is a relational value. A true value claim relates a state of affairs to a set of desires. Desires provide the only real-world reason for action.

To determine whether we should bring more people into the world, we need to be asking, "What reasons for action do we have for promoting interests that increase the number of people, and what reasons for action do we have for promoting interests that would lower this number?"

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Nonidentity Problem

There is a problem in the philosophy of morality called The Nonidentity Problem. A member of the studio audience, Evan Dawson-Baglien, asked that I discuss it in the context of future desires. that a member of the studio audience put as follows:

The Nonidentity Problem postulates a woman who is considering becoming pregnant, but has some sort of temporary illness that somehow injures a baby in utero so that its life would be more difficult (but not so horrible that it would prefer to have never been born). The question is; would it be morally good for the woman to wait until she recovers from the illness before becoming pregnant?

Our moral intuitions, as this commenter states, seems to be that the mother should wait and conceive a healthier baby after she recovers from her illness. She has done something wrong if she does not do so.

However, one cannot argue that she harms or in anyway wrongs the baby she does not have by waiting. She would be saying, "You - the near-term baby with the less satisfying life. You're out of here. A different person with a happier life, you're in." Unless that baby suffers so badly that death would be preferable (and we are assuming it is not the case), she is better off alive than dead, and is still being given the best life she could possibly have.

If it were the same child - if her choice would be to refrain from taking alcohol and have a healthy child or to take alcohol and have a sickly child - we say she harms the child that exists. However, since - in the case we imagine, a particular child is not being made sick. Rather, a sickly child is being replaced - in a sense - by a healthier future child.

The commenter also suggested a potential answer to come from desirism.

2. Most people would feel sorry for the injured baby and feel a desire to help it. They have good reason to praise and condemn the woman for her actions.

The first part of this suggestion is accurate, but incomplete.

People have more than just sympathy and a desire to help at stake. They have many other strong reasons to promote in others a preference for healthy children over sickly children.

Imagine a small, primative community - a small family tribe - faced with this same question. A fertile woman in this tribe knows that getting pregnant during "the sickness season" tends to result in sickly children. The tribe has lived through the sickness season enough times to learn this relationship. If she puts off pregnancy until the sickness season is over, she has a better chance of having a healthier child.

We can more easily see in this case the reasons that exist in this tribe for preferring a healthy child over a sickly child. It is not just that tribe members will feel sorry for the child and want to help. It is also the case that a healthy child can make more of a contribution to the community - helping to fulfill desires for food, shelter, transportation, and caring for others who are sick or injured or getting old.

It is still true today that we have many and strong reasons to promote interests that will result in productive contributors to society than interests that produce needy dependant people. We have many and strong reasons to condemn the woman who would choose a sickly child now over a healthy child later.

This, by the way, suggests that there are reasons for establishing preferences that put off procreative sex until one has established a home environment best suited to raising children who will be net contributors to society (i.e., after marriage). Condemning the people who conceive a child they are not ready to care for follows the same reasoning as condemning people who conceive a child during "the sickness season" rather than waiting for the sickness season to pass.

In the original comment, Evan Dawson-Baglien then wrote:

This sounds workable at first, but it implies that if the woman was alone on another planet or something she would have done nothing wrong.

Actipually, it does not have that implication.

It implies that, in a world where the woman is alone, there are no reasons for action that exist on that world to condemn her actions. If desires are the only reasons for action that exist, and the woman is the only being with desires, then it follows that the only reasons for action that exist belong to the woman. Furthermore, ex hypothesi, her reasons for having a sickly child now outweigh her reasons for having a healthy child later.

We want to condemn that choice. One way to do so is to postulate that there is some reason for action that exists to be found in the "healthy child later" - a type of reason that exists independent of desire. However, what is this alternative reason for action? How does it work? How do we find out about it?

There is a better explanation for what is going on that does not require inventing these mysterious desire-independent "reasons for action that exist".

When we use the words "permissible" and "wrong", we are speaking in this world - in the here and now. The woman may be alone on the planet. However, we, here, on present-day earth, surrounded by billions of other people, are not on that planet with her. And the people we are talking to are other humans in the here and now as well.

One of the major uses of moral language is to mold the desires of those around us. To say that something is wrong is not only to report that people have many and strong reasons to condemn it. The phrase itself carries that condemnation that it says people are justified in delivering. To say that something is wrong is to say that those who have an attitude of condemnation and aversion towards that state are better people than those who are indifferent to or like such a state.

To say that the woman has done nothing wrong is to tell other people on this world to have and to promote a general attitude of indifference to what she has done.

However, we now need to ask, "What reasons for action do we have for promoting this attitude of indifference in the here and now?" That attitude of indifference will likely likely make similar behavior more common in this world. We actually have many and strong reasons to prevent that. We have many and strong reasons to reject the claim that there is "nothing wrong" with the woman's choice of having a sickly child now, even on a world where she is alone.

To state it directly, the claim that she "has done nothing wrong" is false. That statements means that the people of this world - here and now - the audience to whom the speaker of that statement is speaking - should have an attitude of indifference towards her actions. That is simply not true. Instead, we have any and strong reasons to promote an aversion to the woman's choice - to praise those who have such an aversion and to condemn those who do not - among fellow humans in the here and now. The statement that accurately makes that claim is the statement that that the choice she makes is wrong.

Again, this is consistent with saying that there is no reason for action that exists in her world for making a different choice. It happens to be true that no reason for action exists on her world for making a different choice. However, that does not imply that the people of this world would benefit from an attitude of indifference - which is what we would be saying if we said "she did nothing wrong".

The woman making the decision may be alone on her own world. However, we, who are judging her, did not follow her there. We are still here, surrounded by people whose desires and aversions have an impact on whether our current desires will be fulfilled or thwarted. Telling people to be indifferent towards the woman's choice creates attitudes in the here and now that puts the fulfillment of our desires in this world at risk. Consequently, we tell people - what is in fact true - to have an aversion to the option of having a sickly child over a healthy child. We do this by saying that she did, in fact, do something wrong

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Future Desires Do Not Count

Future desires do not count.

This is not to say that future desires do not matter. They matter to some people. In fact, they happen to matter to many of us.

When I say that future desires do not count, this is to be taken as reporting the real-world fact that a future desire is not a reason for action that exists. It is a reason for action that will exist - or not, depending on the choices we make. However, it is not a reason for action that exists at the time that an action is decided upon.

You, the reader, may want future desires to count. You may think that future people are people - or will be people - and their interests are as important as ours. You may want your fellow humans to act in ways that fulfill, rather than thwart, their future desires.

That "want" you have, if this is true, is a present desire. That "want" is a reason for action that exists. However, in the absence of such a want, future desires are impotent and irrelevant with respect to current action.

If you want people today to behave differently, in a way that fulfills rather than thwarts future desires, you must either find a current reason for action that exists, or create a current reason for action (desire) that will fulfill future desires.

To create a current reason for action that exists itself requires a current reason to act. It requires a current desire that give a person today reason to use social tools such as reward (which includes praise) and punishment (including condemnation) to mold the desires of others in ways that fulfill rather than thwart future desires. Whether the topic is climate change, overpopulation, or government deficits, one must find the reason to change in current reasons for action that exist.

As it turns out, people tend to have - and they have many and strong reasons to promote in others - a consideration of future desires.

We have the fulfillment of our own future desires to consider. However, even though we tend to have an interest in the fulfillment of our own future desires, it is one current desire among many. It often gets outweighed by other current desires. Thus, people eat what they should not, drink what they should not, enage in sexual behaviors that thwart future desires, choise entertainment over education, and generally sacrifice even their own future interests for the sake of current satisfaction.

Even here, our own future desires do not count in the absence of present desires that tend to fulfill future desires. The future desires alone will do no good.

In terms of an interest in fulfilling future desires, there are also those with children, who care about the fulfillment of their children's desires, who know that their children will be concerned with the interests of ther own children, and so on. Those who do not have children are friends with those who do. People generally have reason to promote an overall interest in the world those children will live in.

In all of these cases, we are talking about present desires that future desires be fulfilled. There is simply no sense to the claim that a future desire has any pull over present action by itself - in the absence of advocacy or mediation by a present desire that the future desire be fulfilled.

This post can mostly be taken as an instruction to those who do wish to see future desires fulfilled. Do you want people today to behave differently with respect to the fulfillment r thwarting of future desires? Then find or create (using reward and punshment) the reasons for action in the present. When somebody asks, "Why should I act differently?", if you do not give an answer in terms of a reason for action that exists (or create such a reason), it is a mistake to expect the answer given to have much of a real-world effect.

That's reality.

To tie this into the possible worlds questions we have been examining, one could say about a current action, "It will bring a person into the world whose desires will be largely fulfilled."

The respose is, "So? What current reason for action do I have for bringing a future person into existence whose desires will be largely fulfilled? You must relate that future state to a current reason for action that exists."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Value of More Possible Worlds

As a follow up to my last post, I gave been asked to compare another pair of possible worlds.

[B]etween the following [pair] of worlds, which would desirism recommend ("neutral" or "toss a coin" is also an option)?

(A-life = almost all desires fulfilled...)

* World_7: one A-lives
* World_8: zero lives

[Suppose] I have a weak desire to go for World_8 instead of World_7. Is it okay to go for World_8 then?

Once more, my answer is that there is not enough information to answer this question.

I also need to know the answer to the question, "Are you the only being that exists? Are you currently the only creature with desires and, thus, the only being that has reason to prefer one option over the other?"

If the answer is yes then, ex hypothesi, there is more and stronger reason to choose World_8 over World_7 and little or no reason to object. We are told to assume that you do not care enough about whether an A-life exists. Furthermore, given the answer to this second question, there is nobody around who has a reason to object to - to bring praise and condemnation to bear on - the fact that your preferences are for World_8.

Consequently, it is "okay" in a sense to go for World_8. There are more and stronger reasons to do so, and nobody has a reason to object.

But let us assume, instead, that you are asking as a human on Planet Earth surrounded by 7 billion other humans with common human interests.

As a matter of fact, most humans have many and strong reasons to promote in others a preference for the continuation of life.

We don't have much reason to train others to choose between World_7 and World_8. In fact, we do not expect the option to come up, and certainly will have little opportunity to condemn the person who makes the "wrong choice". However, people will have many opportunities to choose between a life continuing and a life ending. We have reason to care which option they prefer - particularly when they are making choices that affect the continuation of our own life or the lives of those we care about. We have reason to bring praise and condemnation to bear to mold preferences - to promote an interest in a world where a particular A-life exists over one in which no life exists.

That is to say, we have reason to condemn those who would choose World_8 over World_7. Real-world humans who would opt for World_8 give us reason to worry. We have reason to worry about the likelihood that they would have a preference for a world in which we or those we care about did not exist. We have reasons to praise and express a preference for those who would choose World_7 over those who would choose World_8 simply because we have to live with these people.

In making this judgement, people have an unfortunate and misguided tendency to explain the reasons for choosing World_7 in terms of its intrinsic value. Yet, nobody has ever been able to answer questions about this value such as "Where does it come from?" or "How does it work?" or "How do we acquire knowledge of it?"

In fact, World_7 has no intrinsic merit. Intrinsic value does not exist.

What does exist are the reasons for action that people have to promote an environment in which they are surrounded by others who prefer World_7 over World_8. We promote this world by promoting an aversion to those with an expressed preference for World_8, and by telling them that they ought to choose - that a good person would choose - World_7.

Desirism holds that moral statements themselves carry the emotional component of praise or condemnation that their factual component says that people have reason to deliver. To say to a human on Earth, "It is okay to choose World_8" would be to say, "It is okay for you, as a human on Earth, to be indifferent as to whether life continues or not." However, this is decidedly NOT true.

This means that it is decidedly NOT okay for an earthling surrounded by 7 billion other earthlings to have a preference for World_8 over World_7 - let alone actually choose (or be so constituted that one would choose) World_8 over World_7 if the option ever came up.

Yet, it remains true that if the universe were to be stripped of all beings but one, that one being has a preference for World_8, and he were to ask, "Is there sufficient reason for me to choose World_7 instead?" the answer - given the assumptions we are provided - is "No, not really."

What about that future being's desires. Do they count? Are they not reasons to choose World_7?

I will answer that question tomorrow. But the answer is - they cannot count - at least not directly and in themselves.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Value of Possible Worlds

As a follow up to yesterday’s post, I have been asked

[B]etween the following [pair] of worlds, which would desirism recommend ("neutral" or "toss a coin" is also an option)?
(A-life = almost all desires fulfilled; B-life = hardly any desires fulfilled)

• World_1: one billion B-lives, three billion A-lives
• World_2: one billion B-lives, six billion A-lives

Desirism cannot answer the question because an important piece of information has been left out.

Who are you asking?

Let's ask the people of World_1. "Assume you had the capacity to decide today which world will exist tomorrow. Your world, pretty much as it is now. Or a different world made up one billion B-lives, six billion A-lives?"

I bet you would have a hard time coming up with any argument providing the population of World_1 with any type of motivating reason to choose World_2. There might be some in the population who would say, "I'll give up my life so that more people can live happy lives." Yet, they would be few and far between. For the most part, they would choose World_1. They have more and stronger reasons to choose World_1. They would not be neutral, nor would they be inclined to toss a coin. "World_1" would be their choice.

Correspondingly, if you ask the population of World_2, they would almost certainly choose World_2. The question would be like asking the population of World_2 if they have many and strong reason to have 3 billion people with A-lives disappear overnight. Again, it seems most likely that the population of World_2 have many and strong reasons to prevent such an event. They, too, would not answer with a shrug, nor would they choose to flip a coin. "World_2" would be their answer.

You can ask which world an impartial observer would prefer. However, if he was truly impartial, he would be neutral as to which world exists. In order to get this observer to make a choice, the observer has to have some interests or "partialities" on which to base that decision. His decision will be grounded on those partialities.

If the observer has a desire that 4 billion people exists, then the observer would choose World_1. If the observer desires that 7 billion people exists, it will choose World_2. If the observer only cares that people exist and does not care how many, this observer would likely choose "flip a coin" assuming that the coin flip was a precipitating event that would bring the winning world into existence from nothing.

The idea that there is a right answer independent of the question, "Who do you ask?" is a false assumption.

Asking this question is very much like asking, "Which is closest; Baghdad or Osaka?"

Closest . . . to what?

Closest to Tokyo? Closest to Tehran?

Until you give me a reference point, I cannot answer the question. However, after you give me a reference point, there is an objective right answer to that question. It is simply not the same answer as you would get if you selected a different reference point.

In fact, the reason why people who ask questions like, "Which world is better" without talking about a reference point never find an answer that they like is precisely because it is like asking the question, "Which is closest" without answering the question, "Closest to what?" There simply is no answer to that question.

This analogy can goes even further.

Note that, when we talk about location, there is no privileged reference point. There is no one right reference point that reference questions must refer to. "Tokyo" is not in any absolute way a more correct reference point than "Tehran".

However, in spite of this fact nobody argues that statements about location are subjective, or that location represents an area of knowledge outside of science. Instead, we build into our scientific and objective understanding of location that we can only talk about location relative to something else and that there is no intrinsically privileged or correct reference point.

The same is true about questions of value. Questions of value need a reference point. No reference point is privileged. However, given a reference point (a set of desires), now we can talk about the value of states of affairs as they stand in relation to that reference point.

The objection is sometimes raised that I give a special status to the reference point "people generally". I hold that moral claims are ultimately claims about malleable desires that "people generally" have the most and strongest reason to promote using rewards (such as praise) and condemnation (such as punishment).

However, the only fact I note about these desires is that they are desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote. I do not draw any implications that are not sound implications that follow from this fact alone. The only privilege I give these malleable desires is the privilege that they draw from being, in fact, desires that people have many and strong reasons to promote.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

On Population Ethics

I have been asked the following question from the studio audience.

What's your view on it? Should we maximize fulfilled desires in the world; fulfilled desires minus unfulfilled ones; or should we minimize the number of unfulfilled ones? This population-ethical question has vast implications for many real-world questions.

Answer: None of the above.

This set of options is based on a false set of assumptions. They assume either that desire fulfillment is the only thing that is intrinsically good (thus, is to be maximized), desire unfulfillment is the only thing that is intrinsically bad and the only thing that is intrinsically bad (thus, is to be minimized), or both.

Desirism holds that nothing has intrinsic value – not even desire fulfillment itself. A person with an aversion to pain does not need another aversion that the aversion to pain be fulfilled. The aversion to pain (the desire that “I not be in a state of pain”) all by itself is sufficient to motivate the agent to avoid states in which “I am in a state of pain” is true. What matters in this simple case is not “desire fulfillment” or “the reduction in desire thwarting”. What matters for the agent is “I am not in a state of pain” – and that’s as far as we can go.

Admittedly, the habit of looking for one intrinsic good to be maximized has a long history in moral philosophy. With Bentham it was pleasure and the freedom from pain. With Mill it was happiness. With Peter Singer it is preference satisfaction. Because of this tradition, many people interpret desirism as a theory that says to take desire fulfillment and maximize it.

However, this is not a correct interpretation. Desirism does not hold that desire fulfillment has some sort of special value property that warrants its maximization. It is simply a term used to describe the implications of the fact that a person with a desire that P has a motivating reason to realize states of affairs in which P is true. A person with an aversion to pain has a motivating reason to realize states of affairs in which, “I am not in pain” is true.

End of story.

Well, another part of the story is that a person with an aversion to pain has a motivating reason to mold the desires of others – using rewards (such as praise) and punishment (such as condemnation) – so that they are less likely to bring about states of affairs in which “I am in a state of pain” is true. And it is possible to look upon a whole population and see that people generally have many and strong reasons to use these tools to broadly mold the desires of people to make pain-causing behavior less common. For example, they have reason to praise those whose behavior makes it less likely that others are in pain and to condemn those whose behavior makes it more likely others are in pain.

However, please note, I still have not made any mention of “maximizing desire fulfillment” or “minimizing desire non-fulfillment.” I have only talked about people using social tools to mold malleable desires to avoid states in which “I am in a state of pain” is true.

With this, the next question is: How would desirism apply to population ethics?

We are going to look at the various reasons for action that people have and determine whether people generally have more and stronger reason to promote desires that bring about increased population. Some people may have an interest in maximizing desire fulfillment or minimizing non-fulfillment. However, this will be one interest among many – sitting side by side with their aversion to pain, desire for sex, desire for the health and happiness of their children, and the like.

Now, imagine a couple alone in the wilderness. Alone, they have many and strong desires that cannot be fulfilled as well as they could be if the couple had people around with whom they can trade and call on for help. There is nobody to take care of food gathering while they are sick or injured, nobody to set their bones or to help them with any task that requires more than four hands. They have a very limited capacity to take care of specialization and trade – allowing one person to spend all of their time making arrowheads so that their arrowhead production is most efficient and trading those arrowheads for food and hides. As they get older and less capable of doing things for themselves, they become more vulnerable to desire-thwarting events.

They have many and strong reasons to add to their population - and few reasons to promote desires that would inhibit population growth.

Yet, each additional person provides a smaller benefit. Yet, each additional person also consumes a share of available resources, some of which are finite. This greater competition for finite resources provides agents with reason to promote desires that limit population growth.

I take it to be a point in favor of desirism that it models the population debate as it actually exists. We see people bringing up reasons for action that exist for promoting desires that inhibit population growth. They are not talking about “maximizing desire fulfillment” or “minimizing desire thwarting”. They are talking about limiting competition as a way of avoiding wars, avoiding starvation and shortages of clean water, providing people with a comfortable living environment, and some measure of economic equality. Note: We have some reason to promote an interest in economic equality grounded on the fact that additional resources in the control of any one person provides diminishing marginal desire-fulfilling power. A poor person can fulfill more and stronger desires with a given $100 than a rich person.

Where desirism cannot account for the elements of the current debate in population ethics is where people bring fictions into that debate. Natural moral law (rich people have a natural moral right to keep all the property they can acquire), intrinsic values (including claims about the intrinsic value of desire fulfillment), divine commands (divine prohibitions on the use of birth control), impartial observers, social contracts, decisions made by committes behind a vail of ignorance, and other fictions that are a part of current debate are to be discarded.

This is how desirism would approach population ethics.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

On Guns and Drugs

I have been asked,

What is the [desirism] perspective on gun control?

Which is a subject I have been thinking about recently along with . . .

What is the [desirism] perspective on marijuana legalization?

Because it strikes me that the two questions are similar. They concern what to criminalize and what to legalize.

The first thing to note is that desirism has no position on any specific issue. One person can hold that gun control is a good thing, and another that it is bad, and both appeal to desirism. This is true in the same sense that one paleontologist can argue that the T-Rex was a predator, and another that it was a scavenger, and both be scientists.

That is to say, the disputants will agree that there is only one right answer. They will agree on the types of evidence relevant to determining that answer. However, with the available evidence, they still may come to different conclusions. This will not disqualify either one from being a scientist.

Desirism has more to do with how one argues for a position than with the conclusions one comes up with. Desirism involves appealing to the malleable desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote. It makes no reference to intrinsic values, divine commands, natural moral law, disinterested observers, social contracts, decisions made behind a vail of ignorance, or any other fiction.

On this measure, I would start with a love of freedom.

We have many and strong reason to promote in others an affection for freedom such as to cause people generally have a motivating reason to oppose restrictions in freedom. As soon as somebody proposes a reduction in freedom, the good person is hesitant and doubtful. He may ultimately be forced by the weight of evidence to conclude that a reduction in freedom is necessary. However, a reduction in freedom is a regrettable necessity, not something to be cheered or celebrated.

Overriding this presumption of liberty requires a presentation of evidence, much like the presentation of evidence in a court of law. In a trial, one presumes that the accused is innocent - that the accused should walk out of the courtroom unharmed, and it is the duty of the prosecutor to provide sufficient evidence to override that presumption. The desire to do no harm to an innocent person - to make those who would do harm prove that it is necessary - provides the motivational foundation for this. However, this is consistent with the possibility that the prosecutor will succeed, and the jurist with an aversion to calling for somebody to be harmed reluctantly agrees that, in this case, the evidence is enough to support that regrettable choice.

The same attitude suggests a reluctance to bring harm to the owner of a handgun or the user of marijuana -but a reluctance that can be overridden with sufficient evidence.

Do we have sufficient evidence to override a presumption of liberty on either of these two issues?

To carry this analogy further, a person charged with rendering a verdict in a criminal case has an obligation to presume innocence, but also has an obligation to listen and carefully evaluate the case that the prosecutor presents. The jurist who presumes innocence, then blindly dismisses all evidence to the contrary and insists on innocence such that nothing could every persuade her to override that presumption, is in violation of one's civic responsibility. She is behaving in a way that a good person - a person with a strong desire to reach a responsible conclusion based on the evidence - would not behave.

In a democracy, where we all have a say on public policy, we are all members of the political jury. To express an opinion on this issue is to say to the world, "I have lived up to my responsibilities as a jurist. I have presumed liberty, responsibly considered the evidence presented against this presumption, and hereby render my verdict that those who use guns/smoke marijuana, reluctantly, deserve to be harmed and to escalate the level of threat against those who resist even to the point of death."

In fact, the vast majority of people who render a verdict on these issues have failed to live up to these responsibilities. They are not "good people", at least in this regard. They render opinions and are willing to inflict or unwilling to prevent harms based on weak and superficial arguments. The most common reason for one's verdict in either of these issues is not based on a presumption of liberty and a careful evaluation of the evidence against liberty. It is grounded on what will generate cheers or jeers among fellow members of whatever tribe that person self-identifies with. Bumper-sticker arguments and facebook memes are the "evidence" of contemporary debate.

If we were to do this right, we would begin with a presumption of liberty, and invite - without hostility or malice - the person who thinks that liberty is to be restricted in these cases to present their best evidence and to judge accordingly. In some cases, where we cannot find a person to defend or to oppose a particular proposition, then we would be wise to appoint one and to charge them with making the best case possible.

That is what we should do here.

I am wondering . . . on either of these issues . . . does anybody have evidence that they care to present? Recognizing the fact that, where no evidence is presented, a presumption of liberty determines our final verdict.