Friday, January 29, 2016

Williams on Internal and External Reasons - Part 1

If we are going to discuss internal and external reasons, then we must tackle Bernard Williams'  "Internal and External Reasons" (Williams, B., 1979. “Internal and External Reasons,” reprinted in Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, 101–13.)

My first question as I started the article was, "Did Williams see a distinction between ‘A has a reason to do φ’ and ‘There is a reason for A to do φ’?

According to Williams:
A has a reason to φ iff A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing.
I was wondering if Williams recognized a distinction between this and:
There is a reason for A to φ iff there is some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing.
It seems that he saw the distinction. He acknowledged it. And then he dismissed it, all in one quick parenthetical remark.

Sentences of the forms 'A has a reason to φ' or 'There is a reason for A to φ' (where ‘φ’ stands in for some verb of action) seem on the face of it to have two different sorts of interpretation. On the first, the truth of the sentence implies, very roughly, that A has some motive which will be served or furthered by his φ-ing . . . On the second interpretation, there is no such condition, and the reason-sentence will not be falsified by the absence of an appropriate motive. I shall call the first the 'internal', the second the 'external', interpretation. (Given two such interpretations, and the two forms of sentence quoted, it is reasonable to suppose that the first sentence more naturally collects the internal interpretation, and the second the external, but it would be wrong to suggest that either form of words admits only one of the interpretations.)

What he says is correct if one is concerned only with the conceptual analysis of the terms. Philosophers, at least, seem to be using “has a reason” and “there is a reason” almost interchangeably.

However, I am a fan of what I will call the "plutonization" of language. I am inventing this word. This looks at what astronomers did when they discovered objects in the Kuiper belt the size of Pluto. They did not perform a conceptual analysis to determine if the term “planet” applied to these objects. In fact, they could not deny that, given the fact that Pluto was so readily called a planet, that a conceptual analysis would conclude that these other things are planets as well. However, the conclusion they drew from this is that this tradition had outlived its purpose and was now muddling something Astronomers wanted to discuss more clearly. They wanted a language where like things were classified with like and different things were put in different groups. Consequently, they abandoned the original definition of “planet” and Pluto became a Kuiper belt object instead.

The important lesson to draw from this is that it had no effect on the objective nature of astronomy. It was not at all relevant to the conclusions of astronomy, it was merely a change in the language they would use to discuss those conclusions.

The proposed plutonization of reasons language says, “So that we can have a less muddled language when we investigate reasons, we will use the phrase ‘has a reason’ to refer to internal reasons and ‘there is a reason’ to refer to both internal and external reasons – basically – all reasons that exist. This would make sense in the same way that ‘has a car’ refers to the car the agent owns and ‘there is a car’ refers to all of the cars that exist, including the car that the agent owns.”

Williams will argue that there are no external reasons. We may be able to interpret this as saying that Williams is simply going to want to get rid of the more ambiguous “There is a reason”, leaving us solely with “A has a reason”. He does argue that there are no external reasons. And he says at one point that external reasons have only been introduced in terms of “there is a reason for A to . . .”

However, Williams cannot deny the existence of external desires – desires other than those that the agent has. He must be taken as wanting to say that external desires do not count as reasons.

Why not?

The answer is:
If something can be a reason for action, then it could be someone’s reason for acting on a particular occasion, and it would then figure in an explanation for that action.
External desires cannot figure into an explanation for somebody’s action – unless the agent had a desire that considers the desires of another person. Because of this, Williams would reject, “There is a reason for A to φ iff there is some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing.

my response to this is to say that this is a condition for “has a reason”, but is not a condition for “there is a reason” – thus making the distinction between the two a little sharper. To qualify as a reason that the agent has, it must be a reason that it must be at least possible for the agent to act for that reason in some circumstances. To qualify as a reason that exist, it must be the case that an agent exists where it is at least possible for the agent to act for that reason in some circumstances.

These reasons that exist that are other than those that the agent has, that motivate people other than the agent, and that satisfy desires that exist, are the reasons that people refer to (or among the reasons that people refer to) when they ask why an action morally ought or ought not to be done. They are not reasons that the agent has or what the agent ought, in a practical sense, to do. However, they are reasons that are relevant to what the agent morally ought to do.

Nothing I have written actually disagrees substantively with what Williams has written – at least so far. I am using a slightly different language, but so far I am not using it to say that anything is true that Williams says is false. I am, as I mentioned above, plutonizing reasons language to try to get a language that makes more intuitive sense and is easier to use.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ditching the Word 'Hypocrite'

Rob Bensinger wants us to "Ditch the word 'hypocrite'"

He has a well organized post listing reasons to do so which can well seem compelling. Yet, I am not convinced.

The first thing we should do is define the term ‘hypocrite’.

Bensinger seems to think that a hypocrite is a person whose actions do not conform to his stated principles. It is, then, applicable to a person who condemns drinking while he continues to drink, or who asserts an obligation to public service while she avoids public service. We see this definition used in one of Bensinger's arguments:

"Ambitious goal-setting and self-improvement can look like behavioral hypocrisy. Accusing someone of hypocrisy because their deeds don’t live up to the moral principles they endorse encourages people to have low, easily-met standards."

This is not how I would define the term. A hypocrite is a person who holds two (or more) moral standards – a strict moral standard that applies to other people, and a less strict moral standard that applies to himself and his tribe. The two examples above do not count as hypocrisy unless we assume the first agent does not condemn himself for drinking and make efforts to stop, or that the second agent has no sense of guilt and does not judge herself immoral for her lack of public service.

It may be true that ambitious goal setting can "look like" hypocrisy only to those who do not understand the term. To ditch a term because it is sometimes misused is somewhat drastic.

Another of Bensinger's objections is, “It’s obviously a personal attack, and personal attacks obviously make people defensive, and defensiveness is obviously boring and terrible.”

This is true, the term is used to condemn and criticize others. Other terms used in making personal attacks are ‘thief’, ‘embezzler’, ‘liar’, ‘rapist’, ‘child molester’, ‘murderer’ and ‘terrorist’. All of these terms are used in making personal attacks. That, alone, provides no reason to quit using them. However, there are reasons to object to attributing them to people unjustly or rashly

A call to quit using any of these terms would invite the additional implication that whichever term is being dropped applies to an activity that is not wrong in fact. If we were to drop the term “rapist”, this would have the unfortunately implication that rape is not wrong and that people who commit rape are not to be condemned. Similarly, by dropping the term ‘hypocrite’ some would understand this to mean that having a double standard is legitimate and not to be criticized.

A third of Bensinger's arguments is that the term is simply not needed. If a person is guilty of performing an action that the person has condemned others for performing, we do not need to focus on his inconsistency. We could accomplish the same end by focusing on the wrongness of the action.

However, a charge of hypocrisy, when it is true, provides a particularly efficient way of explaining the wrongness of the action. Rather than going through the reasons for condemning the action and getting the agent to understand and accept those reasons, a charge of ‘hypocrisy’ points out, “You already know the reasons for condemning this activity and you already accept that they are good reasons to do so. All that is left is for you to condemn the act when it comes from you for those same reasons.”

On the other hand, there are always two ways in which an inconsistency can be resolved. An agent can conclude, “I am wrong not to condemn myself as harshly as I condemn others”; or the agent can conclude, “I am wrong to condemn others more harshly than I condemn myself.” By focusing on the actual wrongness rather than the inconsistency, we can direct this resolution in the right direction. However, if we know (or at least have strong reason to believe) that the agent will resolve the conflict in the right direction, then we have reason to present the arguments quickly and efficiently - by noting that the agent is already aware of and accepts those arguments.

Finally, I want to address Bensinger's point that hypocrisy is used to dismiss whole groups based on the errant behavior of one individual.

Even if your community is a standard deviation above most groups in the virtue of Temperance, the mere fact that you’ve endorsed Temperance means that any small misstep by anyone in your group can be used to charge you with hypocrisy or hubris. And hypocrisy and hubris are approximately people’s favorite things to accuse each other of.

This tendency to blame whole groups for the misdeeds of an individual is bigotry. Bigotry hardly depends on the fact that the term "hypocrite" exists on our language, such that abolishing the term ends bigotry. These evils need to be confronted directly - by condemning those who engage in and promote bigoted judgments, not by shifting the blame to those who speak truthfully about hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy exists. It is real. We do no good by setting up a social norm saying that there exists something that is a part of the real world that we are not permitted to talk about or to point to where it exists. It does even less good to say that this is something that must not even be named.

Williams vs. Darwall on Practical Reasons

The following quote comes from Darwall, S. 2001. "Because I want it." Social Philosophy and Policy 18: 129–153.

What we should say is that the imperatives or prescriptions that follow from instrumental reasoning are imperatives of practical consistency. They tell the agent either to take the means or to give up the end or the belief that the means in question is the only means. They do not tell the agent, If A is your end, and B the only means, then you should do B.

Dave Phillips quoted it in his defense of the thesis that J.L Mackie provides a better theory of practical reason than Bernard Williams in "Mackie on Practical Reason" in  Philosophical Studies Series, A World Without Values , Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin (eds.)).

One of the alleged advantages is that Williams gives reasons generated by desires too much authority. Darwall's account, which matches Mackie's in this regard makes reasons grounded on desires provisional, as described above.

This does not strike me as being at all practical.

"Either pull your hand out of the fire or give up the end of avoiding pain and charred flesh or the belief that pulling your hand out of the fire is the only way to avoid pain and charged flesh."

The recommendation treats desires as if there is a mental switch somewhere that simply turns the desire off. As anybody with an addiction or some other bad desire, as anybody mourning the loss of someone they truly and deeply loved such as a parent has for their child, as anybody with a fear or a love that they wish not to have will testify, there is no such switch.

Altering ends takes work.

The accurate account is, in fact, "Given that A (avoiding severe pain) is an end, and B is the only means, then you should do B." Or, at least, "you have a reason to do B". The agent certainly has a reason to pull his hand out of the fire, even if there are other ends providing more and stronger reasons to endure the pain. Sometimes "should" refers to all of the reasons an agent has; sometimes to a subset. In the statement above, "should" refers only to the aversions to pain and charred flesh.

Even if it were possible to switch off one's desires/ends, this suggestion still has a significant problem - as least as it is presented.

The agent has been given a choice among three options; take the means, give up the end, or find another means.

How are we supposed to make this choice? Where do we find the reasons that we can apply to picking one of the three? Whatever reason we find, it is going to come with its own three options; to accept those means, reject the ends, or find a new means. This choice, in turn will come from reasons having the same three options to chose from.

We do not seem to be making any progress here.

I am going to stick with Bernard Williams' account of practical reasons for now - with one amendment.

A has a reason to φ if and only if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"The Constitution is Not Negotiable"

Recently I have noticed several people use the slogan, “The Constitution is Not Negotiable” in defense of their position on particular issues.

I saw it in an article where the quote was attributed to Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, who was killed in Oregon as FBI agents attempted to arrest the leaders of a group of protesters occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. A Google search shows a number of instances in which this has been used, becoming something of a rallying cry in some circles.

There are two ways in which this can be interpreted.

In one sense, the slogan effectively translates to, “My interpretation of The Constitution is not negotiable.” For all practical purposes, the agent is saying, “I am the ultimate authority of what the Constitution says and I will not tolerate any disagreement from anybody else.” This means that everybody else must either submit to the agent’s authority on matters of Constitutional interpretation or violence will ensue. In other words, violence will ensue.

As soon as two people who are already in perfect agreement internalize this principle, they have given themselves no option but for one to kill, imprison, or otherwise disempower the other. If a whole society were to adopt this position, then that whole society will have no choice but to break up into violent factions in a perpetual state of war until only those who are in perfect agreement survive.

A reasonable and rational alternative to this war of all against all is to resolve to negotiate among different constitutional interpretations. Within this alternative, we will have debates and discussions, we will assign a body of experts as the authority in these matters (the Supreme Court), and we voluntarily agree to submit to the decisions made by this body. We do not have to agree with their decisions, but we do agree not to respond violently to the decisions we disagree with. This allows us to maintain a peaceful society.

However, it requires the assumption that The Constitution is, in fact, negotiable.

This is how civilized people behave in order to avoid violent conflict. They set up a system where individuals can present their cases to an impartial tribunal, agreeing to accept the verdict of the judge or panel rather than going to battle. The uncivilized person, in contrast, refuses non-violent arbitration of disputes in favor of violence. In Robert Finicum’s case, when the violent confrontation came, he lost – there shall be no appeal.

The other interpretation, which can make some sense, applies in cases where there is no difference in interpretations of the Constitution. It is a case in which, “You know that the Constitution prohibits X, and I know that the Constitution prohibits X, but I will allow you to get away with X as long as you do something for me.” Or, perhaps, it could mean, "You do not have to do anything for me; I simply resolve not to object."

Even here, resolving to do something still, first, requires asking if some sort of system exists for resolving the dispute non-violently. If such a system exists, the civilized response is still to use this system. Consequently, before violence becomes a legitimate response, we must also conclude that no non-violent arbitration is available.

Yet, even here, we will need to ask: If the Constitution prohibits some action which, in a given circumstance, is necessary for the survival of the country or the well-being of its citizens, and there is no time to go through the amendment process, would it not be better to negotiate a violation to the Constitution then to face destruction? Possible examples include a potential economic collapse that requires that some emergency measures that the Constitution does not permit, or an existential threat that requires a response within minutes that the Constitution does not permit. At the very least it is not a foregone conclusion that it would be wrong to violate the Constitution to save the economy or the nation (or some significant portion of it).

Rational people realize that individuals will always disagree and come into conflict. Citizens must make a decision whether they are going to resolve their disputes through negotiation and violence. For all practical purposes, the only time when negotiation is not a viable option is when one of the participants in the conflict decide that their position is non-negotiable. A person who holds that their position is non-negotiable (in a community where institutions for non-violent arbitration exists) has left himself no option other than violence.

Condemnation of the Intellectually Reckless

If a community descends into immorality, then it will suffer the consequences.

Coming from me, that should be nearly axiomatic since morality is substantially concerned with what benefits and avoiding what harms people generally within a community. Consequently, a community that abandons morality, by definition, is a community that foregoes certain benefits and suffers harms.

In other words, this is not a rant that says that we must condemn homosexuality because of the harms that come from abandoning morality. Homosexuality is not immoral – it is of no threat to the well-being of a community.

On the other hand, dishonesty, deception, and intellectual recklessness are immoral. To the degree that a community abandons its love of truth and standards of intellectual integrity and responsibility, it will suffer the consequences.

It is in the abandonment of the love of truth and standards of intellectual integrity that I see the greatest causes of future harm. A politician who sends a naked picture of himself to an intern is out on the street by the end of the week. A politician who gets caught in a “pants on fire” lie goes on with business as usual. A news organization can be caught asserting blatant falsehoods without the least sanction or embarrassment. Many posters on social media scarcely ask themselves, “Is this true?” and pass on and fill the public airways with misinformation and false beliefs.

This will come with a cost.

It is not at all difficult to understand the importance of accurate information.

You are thirsty. You are going to want to know what is in the water. You are going to want to know the consequences of drinking out of the glass. There is a cost associated with wrongly believing that glass contains clean water when, in fact, it is poisoned. On the other hand, in the absence of some other source of water that you know to be clean, there is a cost associated with thinking that a specific source is poisoned when, in fact, it is not.

Ignorance over the fact of climate change will either destroy whole cities and whole countries, or it will impose huge costs on populations that they have many reasons to avoid.

A mistake in thinking that a black teenager is a threat can result in a tragic death.

The belief that you can protect a city from hurricanes or terrorist attacks by outlawing abortion and implementing prayer in school, or that you can cure a disease with prayer and have no need for an immunization, or that by making sex particularly dangerous is an effective way of preventing teenagers from having sex, are all ideas that get people killed.

When one’s beliefs impact actions that have an effect on others, that is where the concept of epistemic responsibility comes in. A doctor’s mistake of removing the right leg when the left leg was the one with the cancer cannot be dismissed by saying, “Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” or “You have no right to criticize my belief that the cancer was in the right leg.” Similarly, an engineer cannot dismiss the moral responsibility of underestimating the type of wiring that would be needed to handle the electric current in the kitchen of a highrise apartment building.

Clearly, the importance of true belief and, thus, the moral importance of epistemic responsibility is hard to underestimate.

Yet, culture today seems to have entered an era where “everybody has a right to their opinion” and where nobody is permitted to criticize the beliefs of another – even beliefs that have implications on who will live, who will die, and how much suffering they may have to endure.

We are scarcely permitted to say, “You are wrong” – let alone saying, “Not only are you wrong but no morally responsible person with a proper care for the lives and well-being of others would have reasoned as you did; you should be ashamed of yourself.”

It's the latter that needs to be said, and much more often, to build the aversion to deception and intellectual recklessness on which the lives and well-being of many actually depends.

Or, in terms that are applicable in the world today:

“No news program that values truth would have reported what your news organization reported or, if they did, would have been significantly embarrassed by the fact, retracted the error, and taken steps to avoid similar mistakes in the future.”

Or, “No responsible user of social media would have “shared” or “retreated” this particular pack of lies and deceptions; people who behave irresponsibility in that way deserve not only to be corrected, but condemned.”

Everybody makes mistakes, of course. However, there is a difference between, “I made a mistake. I am sorry. I will try not to do it again,” and “I was wrong, but I don’t care – because the truth is not what matters. Social and political success is what matters even if it is built on epistemic recklessness and even deliberate deception.” It is this latter attitude that is far more common that it should be, and we will suffer for it.

Of course . . . and this is important. Intellectual recklessness should be condemned where it exists in fact, not when charges of intellectual recklessness are themselves reckless or deliberately false, because they serve a political agenda. Anybody who takes this article as providing moral permission for the reckless condemnation of the beliefs of others did not understand what was written.

Evil: The Gap Between Practical and Moral Reasons

Evil is measured by the distance between practical "ought" and moral "ought".

I have written extensively (and in some technical detail) about reasons for intentional action - and about what it means to say that a person ought to do something.

Ultimately, I argued for a distinction in the way we talk about reasons.

"Practical ought" uses the language "has a reason". This pretty much reduces to "has a desire" and comes close to the formula that Bernard Williams defended:

A has a reason to φ if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing.

I would want to say, "if and only if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing" since desires provide the only end reasons for intentional action. There is nothing else that generates or creates end-reasons or goals. However, I would reject the claim that this is build into the meaning of the phrase. "Has a reason" refers to any type of reason - it just so happens that the only type of reason that exists come from desires.

A has a reason to φ if and only if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing.

I also want to stress that I am talking exclusively about desires-as-ends and not desire-as-means. A person who is thirsty and who falsely believes that a glass contains clean water does not have a reason to drink from the glass. She falsely believes that she has a reason to drink from the glass when, in fact, she has no reason to do so.

I know that there are philosophers who would reject this out of hand. Some would argue that beliefs can motivate. I would argue that any true belief that appears to motivate (e.g., a belief that X is good) is a belief that accurately relates an object of evaluation to a desire and the motivation can actually be found in that desire. Some may argue that habits can motivate – which is true – but habits cannot provide reasons in the relevant sense. Out of habit, a person may get out of bed at 5:00 AM when he has no reason to do so.

I am going to have to save discussion of these types of objections for other posts. In this post, I am merely describing a relationship between practical reasons and moral reasons.

Internalism is true of practical ought. When it comes to practical ought, all of the relevant reasons are reasons that the agent has.

This identifies the reasons that the agent has. However, we can also evaluate these reasons themselves as good or bad. That is to say, we can ask whether the agent has any reason to have a particular reason, or has reason to eliminate a reason. An agent’s desire to smoke, for example, may give her a reason to smoke. However, because of health effects and costs, she has many and strong reasons to get rid of this desire to smoke – this reason to smoke. Similarly, she has many and strong reasons to avoid acquiring such a desire to start with, and to prevent having her children or others she care about acquiring such a desire.

A has a good (bad) reason to φ if and only if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing, and A has more reasons to have that desire than to not have it (to not have that desire than to have it).

The account given above of the reasons that an agent has also gives us an account of reasons that exist.

A has a good (bad) reason to φ if and only if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing, and there exists more reasons for the agent to have that desire than to not have it (to not have that desire than to have it).

However, these forms of goodness and badness are not the same. A reason can be good in the former sense even though it is bad in the latter sense, and vica versa.

As it turns out, if there exists a reason for Agent to have a desire, because B has a desire which would be satisfied, then B has a reason to cause A to have that desire.

Or, speaking more generally, if there exists many and strong reasons for people generally to have a desire, because of the other desires it would satisfy, then those others have many and strong reasons to cause agents to have such a desire.

The primary tools for causing A (and others) to have a desire are rewards (such as praise) and punishments (such as condemnation). Consequently, if there exists many and strong reasons to cause people generally to have a desire, then there exists many and strong reasons to praise people who have/display that desire and to punish/condemn those who do not.

A has a good (bad) reason to φ if and only if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing, and people generally have many and strong reasons to praise those who have such a reason and to punish/condemn those who do not.

This, I would argue, is the essence of moral ought.

Here, then, is the relationship between practical ought and moral ought.

Practical ought looks at the reasons that the agent has – which are all internal reasons and are all, in fact, grounded on desires. Moral ought has to do with the reasons that the agent “should have” in the sense that they are the reasons that people generally have many and strong reasons to cause agents to have generally, using the tools of reward (such as praise) and punishment (such as condemnation).

Good and evil, then, are measured by the size of the gap between what an agent has reason to do and what the agent should have reason to do. People who have the reasons they should have (and do not have the reasons they should not have) are good - and are the proper objects of reward and praise. People who have reasons they should not have, and who do not have reasons they should have, are evil - and are the proper objects of punishment and condemnation. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

HR 2262: Ownership of Space Resources

On November 25, 2015, something happened that almost nobody noticed but which, I expect, will prove to be an extremely important event for the future of humanity.
And not in a good way.

For all practical purposes, on that day, President Obama gave the richest people on earth complete and total ownership of every asteroid in the solar system. And they did not have to pay a dime to get it.

That seems like a bold,  “What the heck have you been smoking and will you share?” kind of statement.

But, actually . . . yeah . . . it happens to be true.

On that day, Obama signed H.R. 2262 into law. Known as the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. This states:

“A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”.

Asteroid resources are the most valuable resources in the solar system. The energy from the sun also has significant value. However, to harvest the energy from the sun in space one needs to build an energy collector in space. To build an energy collector, one needs asteroid resources. So, the only people who can harvest energy resources in space are those who have been given ownership of the asteroid resources in space.

Mars is, perhaps, the only other place in the solar system with resources of any value. However, these resources are found only at the bottom of a gravity well. This means that their usefulness (value) to anybody not on Mars is limited, and their value to people who are on Mars currently represents a very small market. Even when there are Martian colonists, we can expect that they will get most of their manufactured goods (and be paying money to) those who control the asteroid resources.

Now, the law states "a United States citizen" has the rights to this property.

However, in order to profit from this right, one needs to be able to afford the means to go to the asteroid and collect its resources. Consequently, the only people who actually have a right to these resources - for all practical purposes - are the wealthiest of the wealthy.
So, for all practical purposes, the law says that those American citizens having enough wealth whereby they can harvest space resources may possess, own, transport, use, and sell those resources - and that the rest of us can continue on with our lives as we have before.

There are very few people who actually have the wealth that would allow them to take advantage of this law.

It's like giving everybody the right to all the money in a vault and giving ten people the combination. The practical effect of this is that those 10 people have 100% control over what is in the vault - and can fight it out among themselves as to how they will exercise control. They can divide it up into 10 equal piles, if they please. But they don't have to give even an iota of thought to the rest of us who are locked out. The content of the vault is, for all practical purposes, theirs.

There were a lot of other options to consider.

One option that I have often dreamed would have been implemented would have called for auctioning off these resources in small lots over time. The highest bidder gets ownership of those resources. However, the money raised would go to providing health and education resources to the very poor.

Under this type of system, everybody would benefit - even the poorest of the poor. Yet, the wealthiest of the wealthy would still be able to harvest a profit for themselves (assuming that the highest bidder had a profitable use in mind for the resource).

But . . . you know . . . why share when you don't have to?

It will likely take a few decades before people start to recognize the significance of this law. At the time that those resources actually start to be harvested, we will see just how much wealthier the wealthiest of the wealthy have become, and how little the rest of us have gotten in the bargain.

For a while, people will be inclined to read this posting and shrug their shoulders. It does not change their lives in the near future. It would have changed the lives of some a few decades down the road if the wealthy was purchasing these rights from institutions that would use it for the public good, but it is not like something we are accustomed to has disappeared. Instead, something that we could have had has been lost.

Literally, people who own 50% of all of the wealth on Earth now also own - for all practical purposes - 100% of the wealth that is not on Earth. If you average out these two numbers, you are going to see the very wealthy become far wealthier and more powerful relative to the reast of us than they are now.

That is the future that HR 2262 will help to create for us.

Williams vs. Mackie on Practical Reason - A Correction

Upon reflection, I have reached my conclusion that my criticism of Phillips criticism of Williams' argument for internalism was not entirely fair.

Phillips placed his objections to Williams in the context of a dilemma.

Either Williams was offering a non-debunking theory of practical reasons, or a debunking theory of practical reason.

If it is a non-debunking theory, then the four problems discussed in the previous post obtain. Namely (1) the theory assigns an undefended authority to reasons grounded on arbitrary desire, (2) the theory suggests reasons exist where none exist in fact, (3) the theory suggests that no reason exists where a reason exists in fact, and (4) people tend to stop valuing things when they learn that the values are grounded on desire rather than that desire is grounded on value.

In responding to these criticisms of Williams' internalism, I ignored the part of the context that said, "Assume that Williams is offering a non-debunking theory." That is to say, let us begin with the assumption that Williams is attempting to explain and justify our intuitions regarding reasons, not discard them.

In the context of this dilemma, I do not have the option of saying, "Okay, Phillips may be right. People might, in fact, be doing these things, but they are wrong to do so. Williams' suggestion regarding how people should think of reasons is a better option."

I cannot claim that Williams is trying to discredit common practices if we are working under the assumption that Williams is trying to support - and not repeal - those practices.

Within the context of the discussion, I cannot legitimately respond to Phillips criticism by saying, "Okay, maybe people do treat reasons this way, but they are wrong to do so." A debunking theory would take that position that our practices need to be corrected. A non-debunking theory, on the other hand, must accept the practices as they are and not try to correct them.

When Williams is offered as a debunking theory about practical reason - one that tells us to correct our common practices or eliminate them entirely - Phillips argues that Mackie simply does a better job than Williams.

To be fair, few if any philosopher ever offers a fully non-debunking theory of anything. In all almost cases - and perhaps all - they suggest that their theory provides guidelines for improving our standard practices. Similarly, Mackie, in this case, does not offer a fully debunking theory either. He argues for eliminating the error of intrinsic prescriptivity, but we can continue to build on what is left after we correct this error.

At one point, Phillips takes his objections to be criticisms of Williams' theory independent of context.

There are two very different ways to develop the idea that hypothetical imperatives are unproblematic. One way is Williams' and Joyce's way. It is to take there to be genuine reasons grounded in agent's desires. The desires are the source, the only source, of genuine practical reasons. This line of thought faces the three problems we have already identified.
No, actually, it does not. The three problems Phillips identified disprove the thesis that this is a non-debunking way of talking about reasons. They do not prove that this is false. The three responses that I provide in my previous post aim to show that it fails here.

People make claims about all sorts of reasons other than those that are grounded on the desires - from categorical imperatives to divine commands to intrinsic prescriptivity.Williams can well be taken as saying that all of those claims are mistaken - that the only true reasons statements are those that find themselves relating action to desires.

Or, as Williams puts it:
"A has a reason to φ if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing." 
Again,I am going to pull out the distinction between "A has a reason to φ" and "there is a reason for A to φ," where the reasons an agent has relates to the desires that the agent has, and the reasons that exist relate to desires that exist. I need to make it a future project to read Williams on practical reasons to see if he recognizes this distinction, or of he, like many others, fails to recognize the distinction and, thus, treats the reasons an agent has as being all of the reasons that exist.

Then again, we also have to keep in mind the distinction between "practical ought" and "moral ought"  and the idea that practical ought is concerned with the reasons an agent has while moral ought concerns reasons that exist. If we are actually looking at a theory of practical ought, then we are looking at a theory where external reasons are irrelevant. It's not that external reasons do not exist. It's that external reasons sit in the sideline until we move from practical ought to moral ought.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Williams vs Mackie on Practical Reasons

J.L. Mackie has a better theory of practical reasons than Bernard Williams.

This is the claim that David Phillips attempts to support in "Mackie on Practical Reason" (in Philosophical Studies Series, A World Without Values, Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin (eds.))

Recall that, on the question of practical reasons, a person is looking for reasons to do or to refrain from doing some action.

What counts as a reason to perform an action and what doesn't?

Williams is an internalist. According to Williams, the only reasons you have for doing or refraining from some action come from some internal motivating state. There is no such thing as an external reason.

Or, as Williams puts it:

"A has a reason to φ if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing."

Insofar as we stick to "has a reason" as opposed to "there is a reason", I would agree with this. 

In drawing a distinction between Williams and Mackie, Phillips asserts:

For current purposes, the key feature of Williams' position is this: he gives a very special status to internal reasons claims. They can, he claims, be true or correct in a way that no other reasons claims can be.

By way of contrast, Mackie's theory of practical reasons (according to Phillips) does not give anything any special authority.

For Mackie, internal reasons claims have no such special status and in particular are not specially authoritative. The story about their authority is ultimately the same as the story about the authority of other normative claims: they are authoritative only when a certain background is presupposed; they lack the special authority that, Mackie the moral skeptic thinks, nothing in the world has.

As a part of the proof that Mackie provides a better theory of practical reasons than Williams, Phillips provides three arguments against Williams' theory.

Though I am sympathetic to Phillips' conclusion, I have problems with these three arguments.

Objection 1. Authority

Phillips asks, "What someone's desires are is, to a significant extent, an arbitrary, contingent fact about her. Why are her desires therefore a source, or the only source, of authority?"

In other words, Williams' theory fails because it provides desires with an authority that these arbitrary and contingent facts about a person cannot have.

My problem with this argument is that I do not know what "authority" is supposed to mean in this objection.

My best guess is that it has something to do with justifying the action. Phillips objects to the idea that "merely" having a desire that P - an arbitrary and contingent fact about a person - can give an act a genuine ought-to-be-doneness.

Ultimately, Phillips seems to argue that this type of authority actually does not exist. The merit he sees in Mackie's theory is that all ought claims are, in fact, contingent on some presupposition or another - on desires, on institutions, on standards. Nothing provides the type of authority that Williams gives to desires.

Objection 2a: Reasons, Good and Bad

In his second objection, Phillips argues that Williams' theory asserts that there are reasons where no reason exists, and denies the existence of reasons where reasons are present. He provides an example of each.

His example of a case where Williams asserts that a reason exists when it does not concerns Alice, a smoker who gets no enjoyment from smoking and is well aware of the harmful side-effects. Because she has a desire that would be served by smoking, Williams would say that she has a reason to smoke.

However, according to Phillips:

But surely the mere fact that Alice has this desire, and that procedurally rational reflection would not cause her to lose the desire, does not show that she has a good reason to smoke cigarettes.

But please note that Williams theory says that Alice has a reason to smoke, whereas Phillips is objecting to the conclusion that Alice has a good reason to smoke - a conclusion that Williams does not defend.

If a person can identify a reason as being a "good reason", then this suggests that there are other reasons that are not "good reasons" and, perhaps, some reasons that are even "bad reasons". These other reasons exist. They are just not good.

We could agree with Williams that "A has a reason to φ if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing."

Then, we can add to this a set of standards such that whether A's reason is a good reason, a bad reason, or neutral is determine by the degree to which it fulfills other desires, thwarts other desires, or has no effect on the fulfillment or thwarting of other desires.

On this account, it is not the case that Alice has a good reason to smoke cigarettes. In fact, given the harm that cigarette smoking does, Alice's reason for smoking cigarettes would count as a bad reason. But it is still a reason, as Williams says.

Objection 2b: Future Desires

Phillips mentions a second example drawn from Derek Parfit's case of a person who is "future-Tuesday-indifferent". This person cares equally about pains and pleasures on any future day except Tuesday. The agent does not care about future pains that fall on a Tuesday.

In this case, Williams gives us an account that says that the agent does not have a reason to avoid pain on a future Tuesday. Specifically, the agent has no desire that would be served by taking an action that would avoid pain on a future Tuesday. Therefore, he has no reason to avoid this future pain.

To start with, I am concerned with the idea of saying that a person has (present tense) a reason to perform some action based on a desire that does not exist at present. It strikes me as a bit odd - like saying that a person has $1,000 that will be handed to him next week. In such a case, it is sensible to talk about the $1,000 that the agent will have next week, but it makes no sense to say that he has the money today. Similarly, we can talk about the reasons that the agent will have for avoiding future pain, but the reasons that the agent has today depends on the desires the agent has today.

In fact, to say that the agent has a reason to avoid future pain in this way is to say that something exists (a reason to avoid future pain) that has absolutely no capacity to influence anything in the universe today. The agent will not act to avoid this future pain until the agent acquires an interest to do so. Then, it would make sense to say that the agent has also acquired a reason to do so. Until then, no motivation, and no reason, exists. At least not yet.

Still, language is an invention and there is no law of nature that prohibits us from using a present-tense verb to talk about the fulfillment or thwarting of an agent's future desires.

It seems a bit confusing.

If this is how people speak, then perhaps what we need to do is to remove some of the confusion and ambiguity from our language by adopting a more consistent and useful set of terms.

When scientists discovered large objects in the Kuiper Belt of our solar system that are like Pluto, some argued for correcting our language so that like objects were lumped with like. Pluto has more in common with these Kuiper belt objects than it has with the other planets. Consequently, these astronomers argued, our language would be more efficient if we classified Pluto as a Kuiper Belt object and not as a planet. They took a vote, and they changed the language.

Similarly, when it comes to the relationship between having a reason and the fulfillment or thwarting of future desires, perhaps we should simply adopt a new language that pays attention to this distinction. We can say that a person has a reason to φ if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing, and that he will have a reason to φ if A has a future desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φing.

However, I can think of a reason for using the present tense even with respect to future desires. This is because, even though the agent has no reason to avoid future Tuesday pain, anybody with an ounce of compassion and concern has a reason to try to get the agent to adopt (to create in the agent) a reason to avoid future Tuesday concern. This is because having such a reason will motivate the agent to avoid the future pain that compassionate people want to see avoided.

So, in speaking in the present tense, we may be understood as saying that the agent should acquire an interest in avoiding future Tuesday pain. In fact, we may be seen as coaxing or urging the agent to have an interest. In fact, an argument can be made that assertions of this type actually have the power, under certain circumstances, to cause the agent to acquire such an interest. It is for these reasons that we urge, plead, and try to make it the case that the agent has a reason to be concerned about this future pain.

Objection 3: Phenomenology of Deliberation

Finally, Phillips argues that Williams' account "conflicts with the phenomenology of deliberation".

When we deliberate, we typically do not take the value of the options about which we deliberate to depend on our desires. Instead, we take the desires to be responses to the value.

As I see it, to the degree that people do this, they are simply mistaken. People may not take the value of the options about which they deliberate to depend on their desires, but it does. They make take the desires to be responses to value, but there is no "value" out there for desires to respond to.

Nature has given us desires for sex, to eat high-calorie foods, and to seek out a comfortable environment because, in having those desires, we have tended to act in ways that propagated the species.

Nature has given us plastic brains, so that experience will mold our desires to some extent. This gives us the capacity to adapt to a range of environments.

Likes and dislikes molded by evolution and experience exist. A value independent of desire does not.

It will turn out that there is one way in which we can like things because of their value. This is in the sense of liking things because they are useful, and usefulness is a type of value. Likes and dislikes themselves can be useful - can tend to fulfill other desires. Consequently, even likes and dislikes themselves can be liked (and encouraged, and promoted) because of their usefulness.

Yet, being useful also depends on being such as to fulfill certain (other) desires.

Actually, the problem, according to Phillips, is that, for many people, if they come to think that the value of something depends on the fact that the agent merely desires it, then the object loses its value.

The problem is . . . that . . . a serious commitment to deliberation cannot easily coexist, in many normal agents, with acceptance of Williams' view.

We are aware of the phonemenon whereby an agent, with a desire to buy a Picasso painting, comes across a painting he believes to have been painted by Picasso. Consequently, he values the painting. However, when he learns that the painting is a forgery, and was not painted by Picasso, he loses all interest.

Similarly, a person, in believing that a child is his, can have a great deal of interest in the welfare of that child. However, upon discovering that the child is not his, he may lose interest in the child.

Accordingly, a person may value something, believing it to have intrinsic worth or to be loved by the gods. Upon discovering that there is no such thing as intrinsic worth, or that there are no gods, they may lose their interest in that thing.

If this happens - if the agent does lose interest under these circumstances, this is hardly proof that the object in question, in fact, has intrinsic worth or is loved by the gods. This would be like arguing, in the first case, if the agent would lose interest in the painting on discovering that it is a forgery means that it is not a forgery. Similarly, it would be like arguing in the second case that if the agent would lose interest in the child upon discovering that it is not his child then it must be his child.

The second of these examples is particularly telling.

If the agent truly cares about the child as a person - loves the child for her own sake - then discovering that the child is not his would not diminish the quality of his feelings for that child. It is only insofar as he loves the child as his child that the discovery that the child is not his would threaten that relationship.

Similarly, whether an interest in P will disappear if the agent discovers that it is grounded on a desire that P depends on whether the agent has a genuine desire that P (in which case the interest would not be threatened), or the agent has a desire that Q and a false belief that Q is true of P (in which case, discovering the truth will destroy the agent's interest in P).


So, even though I have some sympathy for and interest in Phillips' conclusion, I do not judge that he has proved that conclusion. His objections to Williams' internalism leaves Williams' internalism intact. Phillips needs to provide a better account of "authority" that is supposed to be present in Williams' view and absent in Mackie's. He needs to distinguish properly between "having a reason" and "having a good reason". We can accommodate the practice of saying that a person has a reason to fulfill future desires. Finally, we can explain within Williams' view why people might lose interest in things upon discovering that its value (if it has any) is grounded on desires.

What we can say about Mackie's view is that it offers a "unified oughts theory" about a range of practical oughts - those that come from desires, those that come from institutions, and those that come from standards and practices. Williams, in contrast, only gives us a theory of desire-based oughts. Though we can say, in defense of Williams, that institutions and standards are not self-motivating. "A has a reason to enter into an institution or to adopt a set of standards if A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his entering that institution or adopting those standards."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What Should I Do? A Summary of Recent Postings on Internal and External Reasons

I just finished a fine digression discussing the article Reasons for Action: Internal and External Reasons in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - and made a number of comments.

I suppose that I should start with a matter on which I apparently currently disagree with most philosophers writing on the subject today. I hold that having a desire is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for having a reason. It is the "sufficient" condition that would be at odds with most philosophers seem to believe.

In other words, to have a reason to do A is to have a desire that will be fulfilled by doing A.

Of course, the agent might also have more and stronger reasons not to do A based on more and stronger desires that would be thwarted by doing A.

In "What Should I Do? Desires Sufficient for Reasons" I responded to the reasons why philosophers reject this idea.

The main argument identifies any of a substantial list of counter-examples where a person has a desire to do A but does not have a reason to do A. These generally involve desires for senseless things such as eating saucers of mud or counting blades of grass.

In the article, I show that the desire to eat mud from a saucer is no different from the desire to eat bagels or muffins past the point where it serves a biological need. Consequently, we must assert that such desires can provide reasons, or deny that the desire to eat a second muffin or bagel has such a value.

Effectively, philosophers are taking desires they do not wish to have and dismissing the interests of those who do (or would) have them. It is no different from a person with an aversion to being a homosexual dismissing the interests of homosexuals as failing to provide a reason for action.

It is important to note that I distinguish between "has a reason" and "there is a reason". See: "What Should I Do? Having a Reason vs. There Exists a Reason"

The reasons that a person has are associated with the desires a person has, and the reasons that exist are associated with the desires that exist. The desires that a person has is a small subset of the desires that exist.

So, it is important that I explicitly said that a having a desire is a necessary (and sufficient) condition for the agent having a reason. I would reject the idea that having a desire is a necessary condition for a reason existing. There are countless reasons that exist that are not drawn from the desires an agent has - namely, those that are drawn from the other desires that other people have.

If we take this and apply it to the question of internal vs. external reasons, it turns out to be the case that I am an "internalist" with respect to "have a reason" and an "externalist" with respect to "there is a reason".

To have a reason to perform an action is to have a desire that is served by performing that action. However, there are reasons that exist for or against perform that action that to not serve (or thwart) the agent's own desires.

This gives us a way to answer what the Stanford article calls "A Central Problem in Ethics". See: "What Should I Do? A Central Problem in Ethics"

Namely, a problem with resolving the conflict between:

(1) To have a reason to do X is to have a desire that is served by doing X.

(2) An action is morally wrong for an agent to do only if there is a reason for him not to do it.

(3) Some actions are morally wrong no matter what the agent desires.

Note the shift between "to have a reason" in (1) and "there is a reason" in (2).

This simply tells us that there are reasons that exist other than the reasons that the agent has, and moral value is determined by looking at the reasons that exist.

We can also see this if we look at the role of "blame" in morality. See: "What Should I Do? What Reactive Attitudes Tell Us About Reasons"

The Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy article says that blame implies that the agent has a reason not to do what was done.

I argue that blame tells us that the people generally - the people with those external reasons - have reasons to cause the agent to have a reason not to do what was done. These external reasons are, specifically, reasons to praise or condemn. The purpose of praise and condemnation, in turn, is to mold desires so that they come into harmony with the desires that motivate the praise and condemnation.

The claim that blame implies that the agent already has a reason fails to tell us why the appropriate response to doing what ought not to have been done is blame. In contrast, the instrumentalist account provided here tells us exactly why blame is the appropriate response - because of its power to mold and shape the desires (and, thus, the reasons) agents have.  

Another distinction that I found being blurred in the article is the distinction between desires-as-ends and desires-as-means. See: "What Should I Do? Rational Motivation" 

This is a dispute over whether what reasons are provided by the desires an agent has or the desires that the agent would have if fully informed or fully aware of the alternatives or some other conditional state that improves the agents' beliefs.

Desires-as-means are combinations of desires-as-ends and beliefs. Consequently, it is true that accurate beliefs will help select more efficient means towards their ends.

Still, what has value as a means - what an agent has reason to do - depends on what will service actual desires-as-ends. Desires-as-ends are immune to reason, so there is no type of belief-therapy that will have any effect on an agent's ends. Its only effect will be to help the agent choose the most efficient means towards those ends.

It is actual desires that give a person reasons to act. If a means serves an actual desire, then a person has a reason to perform it. If not, then the agent does not have such a reason. An agent may falsely believe that they have a reason to do something they do not have. Similarly, they can fail to recognize that they have a reason to do something that they actually have reason. In both of these examples, the reason exists or does not exist based on actual desires. Beliefs do not impact the reasons a person has but, literally, his beliefs about those reasons, which may be true or false.

The linked postings contain more of the details - but I thought people could use something that sets forth in one place the ways in which the various ideas link to each other.

What Should I Do? Desires Sufficient for Reasons

Today I am going to argue against something that the bulk of philosophers who write on reasons for action seem to accept.

The claim is that "Desires are a necessary requirement for reasons; but they are not sufficient."

I will argue that having a desire is a sufficient condition for having a reason. If you are trying to answer the question, "What Should I Do?" every desire provides a reason proportional in strength to the strength of desire.

It does not necessarily provide a good reason. In order to determine the quality of the reason we are going to have to look at how well it fits in with other reasons for action - whether it will tend to fulfill other desires or thwart them. However, desires provide reasons - good reasons, bad reasons, and reasons of neutral value.

The aversion to pain is a sufficient reason to avoid pain - even in those circumstances where pain does not do any good. You know that physical therapy is going to be painful. The pain is doing nothing but giving you are reason to avoid physical therapy. However, it IS giving you a reason to avoid physical therapy. It may be outweighed by more and stronger reasons to have physical therapy but, in the absence of those other reasons, one would have a perfectly legitimate reason not to go to phyisical therapy.

Why do philosophers agree that having a desire is necessary, but not sufficient, for having a reason?

The arguments come from a huge set of apparent examples where we can imagine that a person has a desire but we judge that the agent does not have a reason to perform the action.

From the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Reasons: Internal and External

The literature is also full of extensional arguments against theories which resemble internalism, but on the grounds that they overgenerate, rather than undergenerate, reasons. Many famous and colorful examples—about people who want to eat saucers of mud, or count blades of grass, or who have a disposition to turn on radios—are offered to show that not every desire or motivation is of the right kind to generate practical reasons. Strictly speaking, however, such cases only create objections to views which postulate a sufficient condition for the existence of reasons, and internalism itself postulates only necessary conditions, and no such sufficient condition, as Bernard Williams makes clear (1989), for example.

Why do I object to this argument?

It is because I do not see a difference between these desires and other desires that people take to provide perfectly legitimate reasons for action.

Let us take, for example, the desire to "eat saucers of mud".

Earthworms eat mud . . . or, dirt, to be more precise, but mud is a form of dirt that earthworms will eat.

Noting this fact, I have no difficulty imagining an extraterrestrial race that has acquired a desire to eat mud. As we sit around the bargaining table in orbit above Saturn with them working out an interstellar trade ready, we sit with our bagels and muffins while they sit with their saucers of mud and we work out the details of the treaty.

One could argue that this is different. They have a reason to eat mud - because of its food value.

However, this alien race has something in common with humans. They tend to over-eat. They will eat their saucers of mud even when they are not eating it for its food value, just as we continue to consume more bagels and muffins than we need to maintain good health.

When it gets to the point that they are eating saucers of mud for no reason other than because they like to, they are no different than us when we get to the point that we are eating bagels and muffins for no reason other than because we like to.

Nature has given them a desire to eat mud as an end in itself - as a goal - not as means for maintaining health, and so they continue to eat mud even beyond the point that it provides good health. It is no different than the desire we have to eat bagels and muffins - not as a means to good health, but as an end in itself - which motivates us to eat bagels and muffins even when it does not support good health.

Sex works the same way. We evolved to have a desire for sex because it contributes to the procreation of the species. However, we evolved to have a desire for sex as an end in itself - not as a means for procreation. Thus, we engage in sex even in circumstances where we do not seek reproduction. In fact, it is almost certainly the case that the bulk of our sex acts take place in conditions where we know procreation to be impossible or are actively seeking to avoid procreation.

In order to be consistent and coherent, philosophers either have to admit that desires to eat saucers of mud, count blades of grass, and the like are sufficient to generate reasons for intentional action for those people who have them, or assert that our desires for food or sex beyond that which to maintain physical health and propagate the species fail just as badly to provide reasons for action.

By the way, there is nothing special about "maintaining good health" or "propagating the species". The role that having these desires has in propagating the species explains how we evolved to have them, but it does not give them value. Even maintaining good health and propagating the species has value (is something we have reason to do) in virtue of the fact that they fulfill desires and for no other reason. The reason why I looked at examples of eating saucers of mud or bagels beyond what was necessary for health was simply to avoid these complications.

Ultimately, there is nothing else in the universe - nothing that exists - that provides end-reasons for intentional action except desires so, if desires cannot provide reasons, reasons do not exist.

Why do philosophers think that these provide such good examples against the idea that desires are sufficient to provide reasons?

I think that it comes from a sort of prejudice. A philosopher - a human being - looks at the imaginary person with a desire to eat dirt as something that she does not wish to be. Her aversion to being that type of person (itself a desire) causes her to dismiss the interests (desires) of that imaginary person as illegitimate - as something incapable of providing actual reasons.

In a slightly different case, an individual can look upon a homosexual as something that he does not want to be. Because of his aversion to being a homosexual, he dismisses the homosexual interest as sick, perverse, as "failing to provide a reason to engage in homosexual acts." Consequently, the interests of the homosexual as a homosexual can be dismissed - it cannot provide a reason to adopt policies or practices that would respect those interests. 

But, in fact, there is nothing behind this judgment but the agent's own aversion to being that kind of person. There is no argument for this position - just the expressions of approval given to those who agree and expressions of disapproval given to those who disagree.

We tend to dismiss interests that are not our own. When we can get together with other people who also do not share a particular interest, we can usually agree with each other to dismiss it as irrelevant as providing "no reason" to act differently.

It is relevant at this point to remind the reader that this digression is taking place in a discussion of J.L. Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. Mackie argued that the distinction between the current (error-filled) moralizing and a new and improved error-free moralizing rests precisely in tossing out our tendency to dismiss interests that are not our own - precisely because the difference we imagine finding between these different types of interests do not exist in the real world.

I will repeat - desires do not necessarily provide good reasons for action. Whether those reasons are good or bad depends on their tendency to fulfill or thwart other desires. However, even bad reasons are still reasons (that are bad), in the same way that bad apples are still apples (that are bad). It would be great if bad reasons did not exist (just as it would be great if bad apples do not exist). But they do, and they are found in desires that tend to thwart other desire.

Still, I note that this is a minority position. It is not a position that is shared by many people who write on this subject.