Thursday, April 21, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0005 - Intrinsic, Instrumental, and End Values


Let me put some of my cards on the table so people can see where this is going.

We have one person, Alph, with one desire, to gather stones (or, expressed as a propositional attitude "a desire that I am gathering stones" (spoken by Alph).

When he has gathered all of the stones in one place, he can no longer make or keep the proposition, "I am gathering stones" true. So, he spends some time scattering stones, so he can once again make the proposition true.

Let me relate these states to some value terms.

"Good" is "is such as to fulfill the desires in question."

This is a reduction of a value property to a natural property - something that G.E. Moore argued cannot be done. When we add that what is good is what ought to be done - at least in some sense of 'ought' - we will then make possible the deriving of 'ought' from 'is'. This is something that the philosopher David Hume said cannot be done. We will get to these concerns in later postings.

To fulfill a desire is to make or keep true the proposition that is the object of the desire.

Thus, Alph's desire "that I am gathering stones" is fulfilled in any state where the proposition "I am gathering stones" is true.

Alph can say of the state in which he is gathering stones that it is good.

Let me set that aside for a moment and look at the state in which Alph is scattering stones.

That state is instrumentally good. It has no value for its own sake. It only has value as a means to an end - as a means to creating a state where the stones are scattered, where Alph can make the state, "I am gathering stones" true again.

What of the state of, "I am gathering stones"?

Our habit is to contrast instrumental good with intrinsic good. Alph does not gather stones for the sake of some other end. He does it for its own sake. It's value does not depend n something else. Many would say that this means that it is intrinsically good.

However, the concept "intrinsic value" is ambiguous.

The strongest meaning of the term - that is, the meaning most likely to arise in those who hear the term, is that "intrinsic value" means that the goodness of "I am gathering stones" is built into the state itself, and depends on nothing outside of it. If it is intrinsically good in this sense, then this means that if we were to change Alph's desires so that he now desired to scatter stones, the state in which Alph is gathering stones would still be good. We might even classify Alph's desire to scatter stones as a perversion - as a desire for that which lacks true value.

However, none of this is true. The state in which Alph is gathering stones has value - to Alph - precisely because Alph has a desire "that I am gathering stones". If Alph's desire changes to one in which he desires to scatter stones, then the state in which Alph gathers stones loses all value, and the state in which he scatters stones has value.

Still, with this change in desire, it will become true that he scatters stones for its own sake and not for any other reason. His final end, the ultimate purpose of his actions, is to be in a state of scattering stones.

These considerations will raise questions of whether value in general or moral value in particular are "objective" or "subjective". I will invite the reader not to make any snap judgments because what appears to be the case superficially may not be true once we look at the situation in detail. For now, it is best to just set those considerations aside and look at exactly what is being claimed

To avoid the problems raised by the term "intrinsic value," I tend to say that intrinsic value does not exist and that the type of value being mentioned here is end value or "value as an end." Gathering stones is good as an end, good for its own sake. But not intrinsically good.

There is also no moral goodness here. We will not see moral goodness until we have two or more people and at least one desire that can be molded - strengthened or weakened or have its changed - using rewards and punishment. As long as we are stuck in this universe with one person, we have no moral value.

However, we do have instrumental value, and we have value as an end of value for its own sake. This is a start.

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