Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Peter Railton's Naturalistic Reductionism - Part 3 - Hume's Knave

Twice in my recent philosophical wanderings a I have bumped into David Hume's sensible knave.

Hume's sensible knave is a person who realizes the benefits of living in a community of just and moral individuals - people who do not lie or take the property of others without consent, who keep promises and repay debts, who refrain from violence except in defense of the innocent, who prefer true beliefs to harmful fictions, and the like.

At the same time the sensible knave recognizes that, if he lies just this once, or takes some available property without consent, the whole institution of justice and morality will not collapse. He can obtain the benefits of this immoral act and still preserve the benefits of living in a just and moral society.

Is he ignoring some reason to be moral? If so, what is it?

Hume says that perhaps he is not missing anything - that his reasoning may be functioning perfectly. What he lacks are the correct sentiments - the correct interests.

I must confess that, if a man think that this reasoning much requires an answer, it would be a little difficult to find any which will to him appear satisfactory and convincing. If his heart rebel not against such pernicious maxims, if he feel no reluctance to the thoughts of villainy or baseness, he has indeed lost a considerable motive to virtue; and we may expect that this practice will be answerable to his speculation.
Desirism recognizes this as the distinction between the desires an agent has and the desires that people generally have reason to cause agent's to have. Insofar as knave's "heart not rebel against such pernicious doctrine," the knave has not acquired the desires people generally have reason to promote. Those desires would prevent an agent from wanting to engage in the immoral actions.

There is, for the knave, a gap between the desires the agent has the desires the agent should have. The size of that gap determines the quality of a person's moral character.

Perhaps to try to prevent tempting people towards this option, Hume claims that his knave is at risk of slipping up and making a mistake that will cost him more than he has gained. Furthermore, according to Hume:
Inward peace of mind, consciousness of integrity, a satisfactory review of our own conduct; these are circumstances, very requisite to happiness, and will be cherished and cultivated by every honest man, who feels the importance of them.
However, he might not get caught, and he also need not suffer any pains of self-condemnation. These are contingent facts the knave may avoid. If this is his situation, then, why be moral?

Note that knavery will not tempt the moral person. The moral person - just like the knave - does what he wants and avoids what he dislikes. However, he includes among his wants some desires like the desire to help others in need. Among his dislikes, he includes such things as an aversion to lying and taking the property of others without their consent. These likes and dislikes direct his behavior in the same way that liking chocolate and disliking liver and onions would direct his behavior.

Christine Korsgaard referred to Hume's knave in her book "Normativity" to explain her theory of reflective endorsement to justify moral claims.

For Korsgaard, the knave, recognizing the virtues of honesty and generosity, will recognize himself as lacking these virtues. This means that he recognizes himself as lacking qualities which he has reason to praise and promote in others. Similarly, he recognizes himself as having qualities he would condemn in others. Such a person must also see himself as somebody who is undeserving of praise and deserving of condemnation. The principles of morality are justified, according to Korsgaard, because they survive not only as the sources of evaluation but as the objects of evaluation.

On the other hand, Peter Railton argues that the knave need to suffer these types of problems ("Moral Realism", The Philosophical Review, Vol. 95, No. 2 (Apr., 1986), pp 163-207).
Yet Knave himself could say, perhaps because he accepts Hume's analysis of justice, "Yes, my attitude is unjust." And by Hume's own account of the relation of reason and passion, Knave could add "But what is that to me?" without failing to grasp the content of his previous assertion.
The fact that an individual does not have the desires that people generally have reason to support does not imply that he lacks the capacity to judge whether an action is one that would be done by somebody who has those interests. This is no more a problem then the fact that a person has no fear of flying makes it impossible for her to predict the behavior of somebody who has such a fear.
We therefore must distinguish the business of saying what an individual values from the business of saying what it is for him to make measurements against the criteria of a species of evaluation that he recognizes to be genuine.
When there is a gap between what a person desires and what they "should desire", you cannot use reason to convince that person to behave morally. In the short term, you need to appeal to his desires directly. You need to offer to reward him (to fulfill an existing desire) for behaving morally or punish him (thwart an existing desire) if he should fail. In the long term, one can use rewards (such as praise) and punishments (such as condemnation) to actually change those desires - to give the agent a desire to keep promises, repay debts, and help those in need. But this requires rewards and punishment - not reason.

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Conservative Plan for Getting Money out of Government

I know that it is a lot of fun to imagine that one's political opponents are nothing but a bunch of villainous monsters - utterly lacking in both moral and intellectual virtues. However, in fact, there is a conservative plan for getting money out of government and some of it makes a lot more sense than what we hear from liberals.

The idea is to keep money out of government by keeping government small. Consequently, (1) there is nothing to buy, and (2) the influence of money is easier to notice and easier to control.

Here is the problem from a conservative perspective.

You set up an agency to regulate some industry . . . energy, medicine, prescription drugs, banking, insurance, law, transportation, education, whatever.

As soon as you do this, you create an incentive for the people in that industry to start to spend a great deal of money determining the nature of that regulation.

This influence takes a number of forms - and these forms show how the liberal plan of merely reducing political contributions is, at best, naive.

Of course, those seeking to control the regulation have the option to make direct political contributions to the candidates who support their industry.

This need not take the form of bribery and other forms of corruption. It's simply a matter of, "Candidate A says that he favors legislation that would create Regulation R, which will benefit our business by making it harder for others to enter the industry and compete against us," or similar effects. There is no "corruption" in contributing to help the politician whose promises align with your interests. Everybody does it. If you are contributing money to a politician who promises to do less to help others and more to help you - then you are engaged in the same practice.

However, we are going to assume that we will restrict this. Certain people with what we may call 'undesirable' political interests are going to be barred from directly contributing to the poltiical process. We will, in effect, pass laws requiring that they remain silent while we negotiate policies that have a direct impact on their welfare.

Those with the money still have a great many options at their disposal.

Here's an example. Unless you are an employee in the energy industry, or you work for the regulatory agencies, you have absolutely no idea what specific regulations have been enacted or how they are applied. You are completely in the dark. Consequently, you cannot protest those regulations or interpretations that conflict with your interests, nor can you lobby for regulations or interpretations that would be in your interest.

On the other hand, somebody in the regulated industry has an incentive to set up a set of offices and hire a staff whose job it is to know exactly what those regulations are. In fact, businesses have to do this - they cannot comply with regulations unless they know what they are.

(NOTE: This is actually one reason why businesses like regulations even though they protest against them. The cost of compliance - the cost of merely figuring out what the regulations are - is so great that it prevents others from coming along and entering the industry. Thus, it frees them from competition.)

Anyway, the relevant business has an office that knows what the regulations are.

Not only that, they have an incentive to establish relationships between their business and the people regulators. They are dealing with the regulators on a regular basis. This is more than enough opportunity to establish personal relationships. They know the regulations - their birthdays, their marital status, the status of their children, the charities that the regulator supports.

Do you even know the name of the Secretary of the Department of Energy? (NOTE: It's Dr. Ernest Moniz, but I had to look it up.)

In fact, if somebody leaves the Department of Energy (for example), these companies have an incentive to hire them. This is due substantially to the fact that they have personal relationships with people who are in the industry - people who are creating and interpreting the regulations.

There are two ways in which this business can influence regulation. One is by petitioning the regulatory agency itself. They can ask for decisions on how to decide this or that ambiguous case. Or, if they are held in violation of some regulation, they can send their experts in to appeal the decision. Of course, they have an incentive to invest a great deal of effort, and put top minds, into promoting the interpretation of the rule that best serves their interests.

Again, unless you are in a special position with respect to the energy industry or its regulations, or you have a very strange hobby, you do not even know that any of this is happening - and you are not paying anybody anything to represent your interests.

The second option is to introduce laws that will alter the regulations.

Here, too, note that most of these alterations enter into law through channels that are completely dark to you. This is not because you cannot see what they are doing if you looked. It is because it takes so much effort to look that, for virtually the whole population, it is not worth the effort.

Employees in the industry will write up the law and have a legislator introduce it as an amendment to some bill.

Remember, we are assuming that we have blocked direct contributions to politicians.

In many cases, large contributions will not be necessary. It will still be obvious that the business and its employees will favor the change, and the general public will never know what happened. The general public is, by necessity, too uninformed.

Independent of this, the business also has the resources they need to produce "research" that will establish the benefits of this law. This need not be a case of a legislator consciously abandoning the public interest in order to serve the interest of some industry. In many cases, this will involve a legislator trying to serve the public interest, but only being presented with one side of the argument regarding any particular decision. At the legislative hearings, the representatives of the industry, or the experts they fund, will show up with the relevant data, while those speaking on the other side will not be nearly so well funded.

Another avenue that the business has to promote these interests is to introduce these arguments into the press. They will keep a contact list of bloggers, pundits, sympathetic reporters, and writers who will repeat the research that they provide. They business will fund a think-tank whose purpose it will be to take this information and get it out into the public.

Please note we have assumed limits on direct contributions to politicians. Such a restriction will have a minimum impact on any of this. Direct contributions to politicians is a small fraction of the political industry that uses government power to direct wealth and power away from the masses who are substantially uninformed about what is going on and into the pockets of those within a particular regulated industry.

What is the conservative plan to reduce these impacts?

Quite simply. . . reduce regulation.

If regulations were few and simple, then there will be little use for massive expenditures that businesses put into manipulating this regulation.

Many of the regulations do not serve the public good anyway - they have been distorted and manipulated by those who are being regulated and who have the potential to realize substantial profits through this manipulation. Meanwhile, you and the other regular citizens you know are not even aware of what they are doing or the costs that they create.

Now, this battle cry of "reduce regulation" can go too far and in the wrong direction. After all, prohibitions on murder, theft, and the destruction of property are "regulations" - but not regulations that we would want to eliminate. Restrictions placed on a business that it cannot kill people or steal or destroy their property are not the types of regulations we have reason to do without.

Yet, in the current mess of massive regulatory confusion - bought and paid for by the industries being regulated - businesses have actually been successful in writing into the regulations legal immunity causing death or otherwise harming individuals and destroying the property of others. They sometimes obtain government aid in taking the property or wealth of others for their own use, directly or indirectly.

This leaves us with a regulatory system that, in many cases, does the opposite of what we would want a regulatory system to do - precisely because it is so large and so complex that it provides successful cover for such schemes. Reduce regulation, and limit it's impact to preventing businesses from killing, destroying the property of, or taking without consent the property of others, and this will reduce the power and influence of money in politics.

Just try to actually reduce regulations and focus those that remain on the legitimate objectives of a regulatory system and see who screams the loudest. It will be the industries who have spend years and countless dollars manipulating the regulatory environment to their benefit - the people with the money.

Peter Railton's Naturalistic Reductionism - Part 2 - The Values of Science and Morality

In my first post in this series, I wrote about how desirism handles an issue that Peter Railton brought up in his article, Moral Realism, (The Philosophical Review, Vol. 95, No. 2 (Apr., 1986), pp 163-207.) This being the assertion that two people can be in agreement on all of the facts of the matter and still make different value judgments.

I handled this by saying that two people who agree on all of the facts of the matter will agree about the relationships that exists between objects of evaluation of desires, yet can still be expected to have different desires. This is true in the same way that two people who agree on all of the facts of the matter will know the locations of things, but will not necessarily share the same location.

Railton reports this fact by saying"

This claim is defended in part by appeal to the instrumental (hypothetical) character of reason, which prevents reason from dictating ultimate values.
This should be taken as another way of saying that knowledge of facts does not change an agent's desires any more than it would change an agent's age or height.

Here, we do have to remember the distinction between desires-as-ends and desires-as-means. Because desires-as-means contain beliefs about how the means relate to ends, knowledge of facts are relevant to desires-as-means.

However, in this discussion, we are talking about desires-as-ends, or what Railton calls "ultimate desires". This term, "ultimate values" has an important ambiguity in that it does not actually distinguish between an agent's desires-as-ends as I use the term and "value judgments" (or beliefs about relationships between states of affairs and desires). This ambiguity creates a risk of confusion later on.

This is said to generate a problem in that a debate on matters of morality would seem to require starting with some agreement about ultimate values. Since ultimate values cannot be determined by reason, then agreement on matters of morality cannot be determined by reason.

Again, I want to stress the distinction between value-judgments (statements about relationships between objects of evaluation and desires) and an agent's desires-as-ends. The objection above requires equivocating between these two concepts.

Railton's first response to this, however, brings up the fact that even the most objective of empirical claims depends to a substantial degree on shared values.
The long-running debate over inductive logic well illustrates that rational choice among competing hypotheses requires much richer and more controversial criteria of theory choice than can be squeezed from instrumental reason alone. Unfortunately for the contrast Ayer wished to make, we find that argument is possible on scientific questions only if some system of values is presupposed.
Indeed, scientists do share a common set of values. The value of science itself and its methods is one that cannot be defended by a laboratory experiment without, at best, begging the question regarding the value of conclusions drawn from laboratory experiments. Given the fact that even science is not as value-free as many believe, the claim that debates on morality also requires shared values seems less significant.

I think that it is still important to determine whether the shared values necessary for debates on morality to be the same shared values required by scientific debates, or if morality requires its own unique shared values. Reducing morality to a science would seem to require the former, and that has not, as of yet, been established.

As it turns out, agreement on matters of the form, "Agent has a desire that P" and "P is true in S" are, in fact, matters where agreement requires the same values shared by science. Where value-claims are taken to be claims about these types of relationships, then the only values that the agents need to agree upon to reach the same moral conclusions are the values that guide scientific research.

Desirism Book - Part 0016 - Realism about Values

We have a problem when it comes to talking about whether or not values are real.

The standard definition of "realism" on a subject holds that "propositions made within that subject are literally true."

But what does it mean for a proposition to be literally true?

This account holds that values are real. Desires exist as propositional attitudes that can be expressed in the form of "Agent desires that P". In our sample universe, "Alph desires that he is gathering stones." For any given state of affairs S, P is true in S, or it is false. While Alph is actually gathering stones, "Alph is gathering stones" is true in S. When he is scattering stones so that he may return to gathering them later, P is false in S.

In this example, Alph values gathering stones as an end in itself, and values scattering stones as a means to an end.

Everything in this example is real. The desires are real. It is really the case that P is true in S - or it is not the case that P is true in S - as the case may be. Nothing is left up to opinion. Alph values gathering stones as a matter of fact.

However, when one talks about "realism" with respect to values, one is often assumed to be talking about value as intrinsic mind-independent properties. If one does not think that values are mind-independent entities - if one thinks that they are in any way dependent on desires - then this is taken to be an anti-realist position about values.

However, this attitude contains an assumption that I think we need to reject. It is the assumption that the literal meaning of value terms are that they refer to mind-independent, intrinsic value properties. Thus, the only way that a value claim can be "literally" true is if claims referring to mind-independent, intrinsic-value properties are literally true.

I think all such claims are false. Yet, at the same time, to hold that the claim that values are dependent on desires is an anti-realist position is highly misleading. In effect, it suggests that relationships between states of affairs and desires are not real when, in fact, they are.

To clarify our language, I wish to propose first that the "literal meaning" of value-laden terms does not, in fact, refer to mind-independent intrinsic values. It refers to reasons for action. Those reasons may spring from mind-independent intrinsic values (if they exist). However, at the same time, it is possible for desires to provide reasons for action. Consequently, relating an object of evaluation to one or more desires is a perfectly legitimate given the literal meaning of value-laden terms.

Given that desires are the only things that provide reasons for action, it turns out that value claims that relate objects of evaluation to desires are the only ones that are literally true. These are the only real values. None of the others - those that refer to divine commands, intrinsic values, categorical imperatives, and the like - are true. None of these refer to anything that is real.

Yet, it would be a mistake to think that the only true value claims one can make are those that relate objects of evaluation to their own desires. People have the capacity to know the desires of others, and they have the capacity to know whether an object of evaluation fulfills the desires of others. Thus, they can make true statements about the relationships between objects of evaluation and the desires of others. In fact, they can make true statements about the relationships between objects of evaluation and the desires of whole populations.

These relationships between states of affairs and desires other than those of the agent are as objective, as mind-independent (that is, as independent of the beliefs and desires of the person making the claim) as any claim in science. When the agent is making a true statement, he is making a statement whose truth is entirely independent of what the agent believes or desires. There is a fact of the matter, and that fact describes something that exists in the real world.

This should be enough to say that the agent is a realist about value.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Peter Railton's Naturalistic Reductionism - Part 1 - Beliefs and Values

A member of the studio audience has asked for my opinion on Peter Railton's Naturalistic Reductionism.

The thesis that I defend in these posts is . . . exactly . . . naturalistic reductionism. I argue that all true value terms can be reduced to claims about relationships between states of affairs and desires. Technically, value terms have to do with reasons to act - whatever those reasons are. However, since only desires provide reasons to act, true value claims refer to desires, while all claims that refer to things other than desires (God, intrinsic value, social contracts, categorical imperatives, etc.) are false.

Since Peter Railton defends naturalistic reductionism, I have been asked to compare and contrast the views defended here and Railton's.

I haven't actually read Railton's views before the reader made me aware of them, so I do not actually have an idea, at the start of this project, what the answer will be. But, it sounds like an interesting adventure.

I will be referencing Railton's article, Moral Realism, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 95, No. 2 (Apr., 1986), pp 163-207.

The first thing I would like to discuss is a statement that Railton makes about the relationship between belief and value. This is supposed to provide an argument against any type of reductive materialism.
Perhaps the most frequently heard argument for the fact/value distinction is epistemic: it is claimed that disputes over questions of value can persist even after all rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed, hence, value judgments cannot be cognitive in the sense that factual or logical judgments are. 
This argument, at best, seems to be begging the question. The only way that one can embrace the conclusion is if one already accepts it as true.

As a reductive materialist, naturally, I deny that disputes over questions of value can persist even after all rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed.

After all, value is a relationship between states of affairs and desires. Desires are propositional attitudes that take the form, "Agent desires that P". Whether or not a state of affairs S has value depends on whether or not P is true in S. If it is, then the agent has a motivating reason to realize that state of affairs.

Once all of the rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed, there is nothing else left. Once all of the rational and scientific means of adjudication have been deployed, we will know whether the agent desires that P, and whether P is true in S. Thus, we will know whether the agent has a motivating reason to realize S.

Now, one thing that is true is that, once all of the rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed, two agents can still desire different things. One of them can still prefer butterscotch to chocolate while the other still prefers chocolate to butterscotch. However, these are not matters of belief. They are matters of desire.

The fact that different desires can persist even after all rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed should be seen as no more surprising as the fact that differences in age, height, or handedness will persist as well. Nobody argues that, once all of the rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed, two agents will come to have the same age. Similarly, if we take two agents, one with an appendix and one without, and subject them to rational and scientific adjudication, one will still have an appendix and the other still will not.

Desires are like handedness or having an appendix. A statement that agent has a "desire that P" is a statement about the physical organization of the agent's body - just like the statement that the agent has an appendix. And, also like the appendix, it is not a structure that is under the influence of beliefs. Rational or scientific means of adjudication are irrelevant.

Yet, I suspect that those who believe that differences in value judgments persist even after all rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed are making precisely this mistake. They note that, after all rational scientific means of adjudication have been deployed, agents have different desires, and that consequently "value judgments" (which they equate with desires) cannot be cognitive. They fail to properly distinguish between a value judgment and a desire.

A value judgment - or, at least, a true value judgment - is a belief about the relationships that exist between an object of evaluation and a set of desires. (Actually, as I said above, it is a belief about relationships that exist between an object of evaluation and a set of reasons for action, but only desires provide reasons for action, so true value judgments relate objects of evaluation to desires.)

A desire is not a belief about a relationship between an object of evaluation and desires. Consequently, the fact that different desires persist in the face of all rational or scientific adjudication is not proof that different value judgments persist.

This is an account of the view that I have been defending on an issue that Railton brings up in his article. I guess I really should take a look at how Dr. Railton addresses this issue.

Friday, May 27, 2016

"A Good Life" Vs "The Life of a Good Person"

Is "Living the life of a good person" compatible with "Having a good life?"

Well, not directly. And it doesn't really matter all that much. But, indirectly, yes.

I am understanding a good life as a life that sees the fulfillment of one's self-regarding desires. The life of a good person is a life lived by a person who has those desires that people generally have reason to promote and lacks those desires that people generally have reason to inhibit.

The desires that people generally have reason to promote are generally going to be desires that tend to fulfill the desires of other people. A desire does not have to be other-regarding to fulfill the desires of other people; it can be a self-regarding desire that tends to fulfill the desires of others as a side effect. However, it is not unreasonable to expect that other-regarding desires are going to have a big advantage in this calculation.

Similarly, the desires that people generally have reason to inhibit are self-regarding desires - particularly those that thwart the desires of others.

Inhibiting self-regarding desires is not the same as thwarting self-regarding desires. There is a difference between the case in which an agent has a desire the P and P is false (the desire is thwarted) and one in which an agent has no interest in P and P is false. Since a good life is a life in which one's self-regarding desires are fulfilled, causing people to lack certain self-regarding interests, or weakening those self-regarding interests to the point that the agent cares little about them, will subtract nothing to little from "a good life".

Yet, in some cases, the other-regarding desires of morality will be set to override and force the thwarting of the agent's stronger self-regarding desires. This implies self-sacrifice in the name of being a good person.

So, why be moral?

There are two important things to note about the actions of a good person.

First, the good person still gets what matters most to him.

A person has $20000 to spend. He could spend it on a luxurious vacation, or he can donate it to an organization that is working to protect children from malaria.

Let's look at the vacation options. Our agent would really like a South Seas Island vacation, but would like a European vacation even more. She sacrifices the South Sea vacation for the European vacation, but she still gets that which she wants most.

Now, we give this agent an other-regarding interest in the health and well-being of children. We make this desire stronger than the desire for a vacation. The agent now sacrifices the European vacation for the sake of protecting the health and welfare of several children.

This agent is still doing what he wants most. He is, in effect, buying the thing that it is most important for him to buy with his money - the health and well-being of a number of children. In a sense, for the good person, acting to protect children rather than go on vacation is the same type of decision as the decision to go to Europe rather than the South Seas.

This still counts as an act of self- sacrifice. The agent is sacrificing self-regarding desires in order to fulfill other-regarding desires. However, for the good person, the sacrifice is still made for the sake of something he wants more than a European vacation.

Second, that which is other-person-regarding for the agent serves the self-regarding interests of others.

When the person contributes $20,000 to protect children from malaria, he is serving the self-regarding interests of those children.

If our agent is a part of a generally moral community then, at the same time she is acting on her other-regarding desires, so are others. She will be living in a community where others generally tell the truth, try to help those in dire need, keep promises, repay debts, refuse to take the property of others without consent, and refrain from acts of violence except in the defense of the innocent and helpless.

Living in this type of society will make it easier for the agent to actually fulfill more of even her self-regarding desires than living in a community of selfish, lying, violent, thieving murderers.

Consequently, by forming a community whose members take part in institutions that successfully promote other-regarding desires generally, many of her self-regarding interests (and, of these, particularly the strongest of those interests - the interests that people generally would want to secure) are protected.

As an added benefit, our agent will also be better able to fulfill her other-regarding interests in such a society.

So, back to our original question.

Is living the life of a good person compatible with living a good life?

Not directly. A good person has a number of other-regarding desires that will sometimes outweigh and thwart the self-regarding desires, the fulfillment of which makes up a good life.

But it doesn't matter. The good person who is fulfilling other-regarding desires is still doing what she wants most to do. What she is sacrificing is simply of less importance to her than what she is accomplishing.

And, indirectly, yes it is. One's self-regarding desires (particularly one's strongest self-regarding desires) have a greater chance of fulfillment in a community filled with people having other-regarding interests than it is in a community of selfish, lying, thieving murderers.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Heathwood's Theory of Well-Being - Part 5 - Mental State Theories

Some philosophers do not like mental state theories, often for these two reasons: (i) a person can be radically deceived about his situation and still lead a good life according to such theories; and (ii) a life filled with only ‘‘base pleasures’’ is still a good one (at least according the mental state theory currently under consideration). ("Desire Satisfactionism and Hedonism" (Philosophical Studies, 2006, 128:539-563). 
I do not like mental state theories.

However, I think that only the first of these objections gives good reason to reject mental state theories.

The second objection does not work. There is no standard by which we can judge a desire to actually be "base" - other than the fact that somebody has an aversion to it. However, if this is the case, we have the thwarting of the second-order desire to use to evaluate it. Doing so any other way seems to require a claim of intrinsic value or external reasons - an appeal to value entities that do not exist.

However, the first objection has some bite.

As I expressed in the Part 4 of this series, brain-state theories fall victim to Robert Nozick's experience machine objection. It implies that the best life one can hope for is to have the molecules in one's brain organized in a particular way. Once the brain is placed in a proper configuration, that is it. Nothing else matters.

Heathwood responds to this objection as follows:
The deceived life and the base life still rank high in terms of welfare, but we are inclined to judge them unfavorably because they rank poorly on other scales on which a life can be measured, such as the scales that measure dignity, or virtue, or achievement.
I allow that a person can sacrifice a "good life" for the sake of something else. However, these are cases where a person chooses to thwart self-regarding desires for the sake of fulfilling other-regarding desires. These are acts of self-sacrifice - sacrificing oneself for another person, for one's children, for one's country, or for the sake of scientific advancement or in the production of some aesthetic value. It would be odd to conceive of choosing to live an undeceived life as an act of self-sacrifice.

Choosing against the experience machine is, by definition, a sacrifice of pleasure and freedom from pain. If one stipulates that welfare consists of having the most pleasure and least pain then, by definition, the experience machine provides the most welfare. But is this sense of welfare the same sense that people generally use when they talk about human well-being?

I have given one reason to think that it is not - this being the fact that we do not consider refusing to enter the experience machine an act of self-sacrifice.

Another reason to believe that it is not is because it would be true by definition that a life inside of an experience machine is "the best possible life that I can have for myself - the life in which I am as well off as I can possibly be." Any disagreement with this point would constitute a failure to understand what "well-being" means.

Third, let's assume that I grab somebody off of the street and throw her into a Nozickian experience machine against her will. Under this conception, we would have to consider this to be a case of providing somebody with a forced benefit. It would have to be thought of in the same way we might think of injecting a person with a cure to a painful disease against his will. Such an action may violate a person's autonomy, but it does no harm. In fact, I should be able to use - without question - the defense that I did it for his own good, like pushing him out of the way of a runaway trolley car.

Indeed, debating a law that required everybody to enter an experience machine would have to be conceived of in the same way as a law that forced everybody to get immunized against a disease. It can be defended in virtue of being "for the public good". It would make everybody in the community as well off as they could possibly be.

If there is anybody in the community who would prefer to live their life helping others, then this, too, would have to consider the fact that the best thing one can do for others is to get them into an experience machine. They cannot be made any better off.

I am not ignoring the fact that Heathwood says that these other standards exist. However, to the degree that these other standards realize something of value, it is not in virtue of their contribution to well-being. Indeed, they must be things, for the sake of which, well-being is sacrificed.

So, it is not just the case that there are other scales that we use to evaluate a life. These are scales that we use to judge whether or not others are well-off. The common conception of welfare seems to be tied more to getting what people want for themselves. Of course, this includes experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain, However, these are just two of a long list of things that people want for themselves.

To be more explicit: there is no reason to base welfare purely on the desire to experience pleasure and avoid pain. There is nothing special about these desires that would justify including them and excluding others.

It was one thing to make the argument that these are the only desires that matter under the (false) belief that there are no desires but those for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. However, Heathwood himself has identified other things that people want: his "other measures": dignity, virtue, and
achievement. Heathwood, it seems would either have to argue that these things have intrinsic value, or that they are things that have value in virtue of being desired. Intrinsic values do not exist. Consequently, these must be other things that people desire. Furthermore, they desire these things for themselves and not just for others.

I think the experience machine adquately rules out any brain-state theory. Every brain-state theory says, "Organize the molecules in the brain in a particular configuration, and that is all that matters." Clearly, that is not all that matters. Our "desires that P" includes propositions "P" that have nothing to do with the state of the brain of the person with the desire.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Heathwood's Theory of Well-Being - Part 4 - Heathwood's Subjective Desire Satisfaction Theory of Well-Being

Chris Heathwood seeks to defend a theory of well-being that he calls "Subjective a Desire Satisfactionism" ("Desire Satisfactionism and Hedonism" (Philosophical Studies, 2006, 128:539-563). It's main elements are:

(i) Every instance of subjective desire satisfaction is intrinsically good for its subject.
(ii) Every instance of subjective desire frustration is intrinsically bad for its subject.
(iii) The intrinsic value for its subject of an instance of subjective desire satisfaction = the intensity of the desire subjectively satisfied.
(iv) The intrinsic value for its subject of an instance of subjective desire frustration = minus (the intensity of the desire subjectively frustrated).
(v) The intrinsic value of a life for the one who lives it = the sum of the values of all the instances of subjective desire subjectively satisfaction and frustration contained therein.
I will admit that well-being has not been a core interest of mine. However, a part of my reason for dismissing it has been on the grounds that well-being is only a portion of what matters. What matters, for a person with a desire that P, is the realization of a state of affairs where P is true. There are many "states of affairs where P is true" that do not translate into improved well-being even for the person with the desire that P.

Take the case of Alph. He has only one desire - a desire that the planet Pandora B exist. He has before him a button. Pressing the button will bring Pandra B into existence, but slay the person who pushed it. Alph, in this example, has no reason to continue living.

I am using Bernard Williams' account of what it means to "have a reason".
A has a reason to φ iff A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing.
Alph, in this example, has no reason to continue living - it does not serve his one and only desire. However, he has a reason to push the button, which will realize a state of affairs in which P, "Pandora B exists" is true. He presses the button - bringing Pandora B into existence, and ending his life.

Alph got what he wanted, but got nothing in the way of well-being.

With this in mind, I divided desires up into self-regarding desires and other-regarding desires.

Self-regarding desires take the subject (the agent with the desire) as the object of the desire. "I desire that I am not in pain" is a self-regarding desire.

Other-regarding desires take other persons and other things as a desire. Alph's desire that the planet Pandora B exist is an other-thing-regarding desire.

Well-being is the objective fulfillment of self-regarding desires.

Because well-being is only one of several things that can matter to a person, I did not give it much more thought than this. I have been concerned with people getting what they want - and arguing that morality is grounded on this - and not with various subsets of those wants.

However, now that I have been drawn into the discussion, I think I can say a few things about it.

I agree with Heathwood on the matter of defective desires. Namely, a desire is not defective unless it is instrumentally bad and, if this is the case, the reduction of well-being is attributed to the desires instrumentally thwarted by the fulfillment of the intrinsic desire.

I like the way that Heathwood handles now-for-then desires. Specifically, he argued that what matters for well-being is the subjective satisfaction of a desire when the agent has it. For me, this would translate into the fulfillment of a self-regarding desire when the agent has it.

I also like the way that Heathwood handles harm-to-self desires, which are self-regarding desires that diminish overall well-being when satisfied. Namely, the satisfaction of the specific desire contributes to well-being but implies the thwarting of a number of other desires that result in an overall reduction in well-being.

However, I have problems linking well-being to the subjective satisfaction of a desire as opposed to the objective satisfaction of a self-regarding desire.

The difference between the two has to do with truth value. A "desire that P" is subjectively satisfied if the agent believes that P. A "desire that P" is objectively fulfilled if P is true.

I would argue that, when a desire is subjectively satisfied, this often leads to the objective fulfillment of other self-regarding desires. Specifically, it generally results in an experience of pleasure, and thus objectively fulfills the self-regarding desire that "I feel pleasure". Similarly, the subjective frustration of a desire (e.g., the false belief that one's child has been killed in an accident) would objectively thwart the self-regarding aversion to pain.

(NOTE: Later in this article, Heathwood equates the subjective satisfaction of a desire with pleasure. That is a further complication that I cannot fit into this post - so I will be ignoring it for now.)

Anyway, what I can say is that the subjective satisfaction or subjective frustration of a desire does contribute something to well-being. They bring about either objectively fulfill a self-regarding desire to experience pleasure objectively thwart a self-regarding desires to avoid pain. However, that does not make them the be-all and end-all of well-being.

The objection that I have to Heathwood's account goes back to Nozick's experience machine.

If Heathwood is right, then no life goes better than the life of a person who is hoooked up to a Nozickian experience machine. The experience machine will feed the agent signals that will generate beliefs that her desires (self-regarding and other-regarding) are fulfilled. If she desires to be a beloved President of the United States, the experience machine will give her that experience. But, in fact, she will live and die as a body laying in a pool of goo, doing nothing.

I find it odd to say that the best possible life that a person can hope for is a life that many people (including me) would run away from.

On the other hand, the "objective fulfillment of self-regarding desires" answers the experience machine example accurately.

It says that if a person's self-regarding desires consist solely of, "that I experience pleasure" and "that I not be in pain", then the experience machine is a good option.

However, a person who has self-regarding desires that cannot be fulfilled within the machine - e.g., "that I contribute to well-being of others" or "that I become President of the United States," the experience machine fails to provide a tempting offer.

Let me repeat, I have not given a lot of thought to theories of well-being. Specifically, I have not spent much time searching for objections to the "objective fulfillment of self-regarding desires" theory. It does seem to have one advantage of Heathwood's subjective desire satisfaction theory. However, the world is a large and complex place filled with landmines that can still blow this alternative to pieces.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0015 - The "Location" Analogy

In the previous posting, I address the question of whether values are objective.

They clearly are not objective in one sense. Values exist as relationships between states of affairs and desires. There are no values without desires; thus no "objective values" in this first sense.

However, values are completely objective in another sense. Claims about the relationships between states of affairs and desires are as objectively true (or false) as any claim in science.

If an agent has a desire that P, and there is a state of affairs S where P is true in S, then S has value to that agent. The agent has a motivating reason to realize S as a matter of fact.

In such a universe, this relationship exists as an objective fact. A person does not know these things lacks some knowledge about the universe. A person who denies any of these things is, quite simply, wrong.

To understand how this works, think of the property of location.

Nothing has an absolute, intrinsic location. Absolute, intrinsic location does not exist.

In fact, you cannot give the location of anything other than by giving its position relative to something else. Denver is in Colorado. The earth orbits the sun. The keys are in my coat pocket. The land mine is seven meters ahead of you and one meter to your right.

All location claims are relational - describing relationships between one thing and another.

Furthermore, there is no law of nature that dictates which item must be used as a reference point. When it comes to choosing a reference point (Colorado, the sun, my coat pocket, you), we choose what is conventional and convenient under the circumstances given the context.

There is an infinite number of ways in which I can describe the location of Denver. It is in Colorado, in the United States, on planet earth, about 30 miles southeast of Boulder, and where Brian lives (assuming the speaker and listener both know who Brian is). All of these are legitimate location claims.

We do have standards - such as latitude and longitude - that we use in making location claims. We choose to use the equator as one axis, and a line going through the north and south poles and Greenwich, England as the other axis. Why Greenwich, England? There's a historical reason for it - but nothing that justifies the claim that it is the one true and correct base reference point for longitude. We just . . . decided.

If philosophers were to debate the one right and true reference point for all location claims, they would be wasting a lot of time.

However, in spite of these facts, nobody has any trouble including location claims in scientific publications. Location claims are taken to be as true (or false) as any claim made in science.

In particular, the fact that a reference point is selected by custom and convenience is never used to question whether the relationship claim is true or false - or to challenge the claim that, if it is true, then it is true as a matter of fact and not as a matter of opinion.

All of these are true of relationships between states of affairs and desires as well.

We cannot tell the value of a state of affairs without describing its relationship to one or more desires. When we describe such a relationship, we describe what a particular set of people has reason to realize or prevent. It is only in virtue of having the requisite desires that one has the reasons to realize or prevent such a state of affairs. However, they have those reasons as a matter of fact.

There is no law of nature that dictates which desires are relevant in making such a claim. We can describe how a state of affairs stands in relationship to the desires of Uncle Joe, to the people of Atlanta, my pet rabbit Fluffy, or to those living near the coast.

When we choose a reference point, we choose it as a matter of convenience and convention - not because some law of nature dictates that particular use. It is because, "This is the relationship that we have decided to talk about. Other relationships exist, but we are talking about this relationship - in the same way that other rabbits exist, but we are talking about Fluffy."

There are some relationships that people have many and strong reasons to make a part of our conversation.

Take 'health' for example. This is a term used to describe changes in the functioning of the body or mind relative to the desires of the person whose body or mind is being evaluated. People, having reasons to avoid illness and injury, have many and strong reasons to make these relationships a topic of conversation. For convenience sake, we use the term 'health', 'illness', and 'injury' to describe these relationships.

Where these relationships exist, they exist as a matter of fact.

I will be arguing that the best use of moral terms uses them to describe relationships between malleable end-desires (or intrinsic desires) and the other end-desires of those they interact with. To make this case, I will need a universe with many people, with malleable desires, and with an ability to mold those desires through the use of tools such as reward, praise, condemnation, and punishment.

However, as far as this book goes, we are not yet in that universe. All we have at this point is a universe with one agent (Alph) and one desire (to gather stones).

Our universe so far is one in which Alph, as a matter of fact, has a motivating reason to realize a state of affairs where "Alph is gathering stones" is true. It is a world where Alph sometimes has a reason to scatter stones (though not an intrinsic reason), just as he has a reason to know where the stones are, to avoid falling off of a cliff, and to eat or drink that which allows him to realize a state in which he is gathering stones.

Gathering stones has value for Alph.

And that - within this hypothetical universe - is a fact.

Reading Notes: Korsgaard on Hume and Moral Justification

If we find upon reflecting on the true moral theory that we still are inclined to endorse the claims that morality makes on us, then morality will be normative. I call this way of establishing normativity the ‘reflective endorsement’ method.
(Christine Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity, Cambridge University Press, 1996)

After Christine Korsgaard presented her "reflective endorsement" standard of normativity, she attempted to argue that David Hume (among others) used this method to justify his moral theory.

According to Korsgaard, Hume recognized a distinction between the work of the theoretical philosopher - which was to explain morality, and the practical philosopher - which was to promote moral behavior. Neither actually justifies moral claims. In the first case, it is quite possible that once we can fully explain morality we may discover that it is a field whose claims we cannot justify (e.g., they are divine commands where there is no God). In the second case, it is possible to promote something that lacks justification.

So, how do we get moral justification?

However, Korsgaard shows that, for Hume, once we explain morality we find it to be something that people have reason to embrace.

As a side note, Korsgaard represents the work of the "sentimentalists" such as Hume as being in contrast to that of the "realists". I dislike these terms since they implies that sentiments are not real - or that they are distinct from that which is real. I hold that statements about sentiments - and the relationships between objects of evaluation and sentiments - describe reality. They are real. A morality that talks about relationships between objects of evaluation and sentiments (or, actually, desires) is a part of the real world.

However, I don't believe that one can read the morality of something directly from one's own sentiments. Morality has to do with the sentiments that people generally have reason to promote - not necessarily the sentiments an agent has.

According to Koorsgaard, Hume may agree with this.

According to Hume, moral judgments are based on sentiments of approval and disapproval which we feel when we contemplate a person’s character from what he calls ‘a general point of view’.

The degree that these two accounts can be reconciled depends on the degree to which we can match up contemplating a character from a general point of view and desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote. For one thing, the latter does not require contemplation or a point of view - it describes a relationship that exists in the real world. On the other hand, both approaches may still yield the same conclusions.

There is a feature in Korsgaard's account of Hume's ethics that I have long thought to be a mistake in philosophy. This is the struggle to find something in an agent's motivational set that gives the agent reason to do the right thing or be the right sort of person - always. In fact, some philosophers seem to take it that a moral claim cannot be justified if somebody, somewhere, lacks a reason to do what she "ought" to do.

In this article, we find Korsgaard discussing Hume's attempt to argue that everybody has a reason to be moral because - apparently - everybody has an aversion to others thinking poorly of them. This is not just a reason to do the right thing, but a reason to be the right sort of person - the type of person that others can admire and respect.

We can wonder whether everybody indeed has such a desire and, even if they do, the strength of that desire.

Ultimately, Hume argues that, even where people lack this aversion at the start, they are disposed to acquire it. The attitude that others have towards an individual (or the attitude that one knows that others would have "if they only knew") is an attitude one eventually adopts towards oneself. Everybody has a reason to be the type of person others can respect because that is the only way they can respect themselves.

Even where this is true, these interests would still be a small set of the interests a person may have. In some people they may be the weaker concern - potentially too weak to support the conclusion that an agent must act in a particular way.

We can also wonder what it would mean for morality if somebody lacked that desire. Would it no longer be wrong to do what society disapproved of?

More importantly, we need to worry about how this would work in the case in which a person lives in an immoral society. We can imagine a person being condemned because she is working to free the slaves or hide Jews from the Nazis in a society where a great many people have adopted the Nazi's attitudes towards Jews (the way many in America today share Trump's attitudes towards Muslims).

In another type of case, there are people with desires that others condemn without having a good reason to do so. We must consider the case of homosexuals seeking to live in accordance with their interests in a society that condemns homosexuality.

In short, what people may condemn and what is immoral are often not the same thing.

Desirism holds that there may be a gap between the desires that a person has (and, thus, what the agent has a reason to do) and the desires an agent should have (the desires that people generally have reason to promote). This gap is the distinction between a good person and an evil person. The possibility of a person not having the desires or interests she should have is not a problem - it is a fact. Indeed, it is the presence of this gap (and the reasons that exist to promote certain desires) that justifies condemnation and punishment.

Similarly, there can be a gap between what a society does condemn and what it has reason to condemn. A society can condemn homosexuality while lacking any good reason to do so. Similarly, people generally may have good reason to abolish slavery even where a few manage to convince the majority of non-slaves that this is not the case. A person can want to be the type of person others can respect. However, a person can also recognize that, even though others would likely condemn the individual if they knew some relevant fact (she was freeing slaves, hiding Nazis, or in a homosexual relationship) she can say that the fault is in society, and not in her.

If normativity requires that each and every individual have compelling reason to do what is right - then morality lacks normativity. This gap between what an agent desires and what an agent should desire guarantees that we cannot always persuade people to "do the right thing" by showing that it fulfills her current desires. Sometimes, we have to reward, praise, condemn, and punish in order to create the desires that would then motivate an agent to do the right thing (and not do the wrong thing). If morality cannot tolerate such a gap, then there is no such thing as morality.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Morality Without Free Will

Well, I got a response to my email to Dr. Johnson.

He seemed to raise no objection to the claim that people can still have reason to reward, praise, condemn, and punish even if there was no free will - if these tools worked to rewire the brain. It is a legitimate alternative to "brain surgery", provided that it is effective.

Dr. Johnson raised doubts as to how effective it is. However, that is a different (and empirical) question.

Still, Dr. Johnson did argue that removing free will from the equation and thereby removing the fact that people are punished because they "deserve" it would imply the end of morality. Punishing people for deterrance or rehabilitative reasons is something other than morality.

I am not so certain that this is the case.

I don't think that free will ever played much of a role in morality. Consequently, I think we can eliminate free will from the equation and what we call morality will be substantially unchanged.

One of my reasons for believing this is because, if this thesis is correct, morality emerged a long time before any human even had the capacity to think of "free will".

We see the roots of morality as I have described it - the use of reward, praise, condemnation, and punishment to alter intentional mental states and, thereby, to alter behavior - even among animals. It is particularly common among social primates.

A snarl or a snap, the showing of teeth, a swipe of the paw, beating one's chest - these all display a primitive form of disapproval or condemnation. Grooming, the sharing of food, a smile, and a caress are rewards - they show approval or praise. Yet, these animals know nothing of free will. They simply know the effectiveness of such displays on behavior. They use these as simple tools - as they use sticks and rocks.

As humans became more intelligent, we can expect a number of changes to occur.

First, they will become more efficient at the use of these tools to control behavior in a number of ways. They will be able to better determine not only the immediate but the long-term effects of actions on the fulfillment of other desires. They will be able to better discriminate when something is the result of an agent's malleable intentional states and when they have some other cause - thus better able to determine when to apply the tools of reward, praise, condemnation and punishment and when they are not called for.

Second, they are going to make these practices a topic of conversation. Responses that were in the form of snarls and smaps will be in the form of words, phrases, and sentences. They will invent a language that will allow them to debate when to snarl and snap at somebody and when praise and reward.

Even rudimentary language will arise long before any person ever thinks of a concept as complex as "free will" and applies this to the practice of morality.

For these reasons, I consider "free will" to be a part of a theory that was applied to try to explain and understand a set of practices that existed even when humans were prehisotoric social primates. It was applied to a set of practices that existed before the idea of free will was even thought of, and among beings who could not even have a notion of counter-causal free will.

It was a bad theory, and one we have since discovered many reasons to abandon.

Accordingly, I think that morality can easily survive the discovery that the "free will" hypothesis was just a bad idea to begin with. We still see the original purpose and function of morality in the ways people use it. In practice, people never lost track of the idea that intentional actions are caused by beliefs and desires, and that desires can be molded through the use of reward, praise, condemnation, and punishment.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Heathwood's Theory of Well-Being - Part 3 - The Desire to Be Worse Off

It is time to get back to Dr. Chris Heathwood's desire-satisfaction theory of personal well-being.

Heathwood is defending a thesis he calls Concurrent Intrinsic Desire Satisfactionism - a thesis that says that the quality of a life depends on the satisfaction of what he ultimately desires (desires as an end, rather than as a means) when the agent wants it.

But what happens when a person desires not to be well-off?

Heathwood illustrates this type of case as follows:

Imagine a man who, ridden with guilt for past crimes, wants (intrinsically) to be badly off. In order to satisfy this desire, the man takes an arduous, boring, and insignificant job. He’s pretty miserable. "Desire Satisfactionism and Hedonism" (Philosophical Studies, 2006, 128:539-563

The problem is that this agent is getting what he wants (to be miserable) when he wants. Consequently, Concurrent Intrinsic Desire Satisfactionism would say that this "getting what he wants (being miserable) when he wants it" is making for a good life.

So, the agent is having a good life by making himself miserable.

This sounds a bit odd.

Heathwood's proposed solution is to say that, yes, this agent is getting one of the things that he wants when he wants it. However, we have to weigh this against all of the things that make his life miserable.

It it is impossible (conceptually, metaphysically) to experience things like misery, boredom, arduousness, etc. without having desires frustrated.

However, Heathwood also claims that the satisfaction of the desire to be miserable must be outweighed by all of the frustrations of those desires that are being thwarted.

But the satisfaction of this desire to be badly off must, of necessity, count for less, in terms of welfare, than all the daily frustrations he racks up. If it were otherwise, then the man wouldn’t be badly off, and the desire to be badly off would no longer be satisfied. So Concurrent Intrinsic Desire Satisfactionism implies, correctly, that the man is not well off, that he has succeeded in becoming badly off.

For me, this raises another question. How is it that the agent chooses to make himself badly off?

If the desire to be badly off is so weak, and all of the frustrated desires combine to something so much greater, then it would have to be the case that the agent has far more reason to ignore and set aside this weak desire to be badly off than he has to act on it.

I am assuming that the amount of desire satisfaction we get from a desire depends substantially on its strength. The satisfaction of a weak desire counts less towards well-being than the satisfaction of a strong desire.

If this agent's desire to be badly off counts so little towards welfare, then it must be weak. If it counts for significantly less than the desires that are being frustrated, then it must be significantly weaker than the desires that are being frustrated. However, if it is significantly weaker than all of the other desires, then why (or how) is it the case that it can overpower all of those other desires?

The only way in which this desire to be badly off can overpower the other desires and be the desire the agent acts on is if it is stronger than the combined force of the other desires. However, if this is the case, then it seems we must give up the claim that this desire to be badly off counts for less (provides less desire satisfaction) than the desires being thwarted.

This is as much of a problem with the account of well-being I tend to defend as it is for Heathwood's. I argue that well-being depends on the objective fulfillment of self-regarding desires. The desire to be badly off is a self-regarding desire. Consequently, its fulfillment would contribute to the well-being of the agent. And, just as against Heathwood's theory, the strength of the desire (and, thus, its contribution to well-being) has to outweigh the combined strengths of the desires being thwarted in order for the agent to act on it. Otherwise, the other desires would overpower it and prevent the agent from acting to make himself badly off.

It would seem that an agent cannot - or, at least, cannot rationally - will himself to be worse off. It will always result in fulfilling a stronger desire than those that were thwarted.

However, there is a way in which a person can choose to make their life worse off. This method exploits the fact that desires do not have backwards causation. Consequently, future desires, no matter how strong they are, have no influence on current decision making. This is what makes addictions possible and explains part of the reason why diets are difficult. The agent knows that her actions will thwart future desires, but those future desires cannot weigh against the force of the current desire to eat, smoke a cigarette, drink alcohol, and the like. Consequently, the current desire causes the agent to act in ways that she knows will ultimately make her worse off.

An agent with a current desire to be worse off would be able to intentionally act in ways that would end up thwarting more and stronger future desires. When the future arrives, then the agent would experience the frustration of those desires when she had them, which would diminish the quality of the person's life. This type of case would fit in with Heathwood's Concurrent Intrinsic Desire Satisfactionism.

Morality in a Determined Universe

In preparation for going to graduate school, I have been reviewing some general philosophy. Specifically, I have been going through the lectures in, "The Big Questions in Philosophy" taught by King's College professor Dr. David K. Johnson.

It prompted another of these letters I have been writing as my studies have caused me to imagine that I might have something useful to say on some subject.

Lecture 18 in this series had to do with free will. Dr. Johnson ended the lecture by suggesting that admitting we do not have free will would imply replacing a system of moral responsibility and punishment with a system that viewed criminal behavior as a mental disorder to be cured.

I thought I would suggest to him that these might not be mutually exclusive options.

Dr. Johnson

I hope that you will pardon this intrusion.

I have been going through your lectures on "The Big Questions in Philosophy" from "The Great Courses" (which I find extremely valuable and interesting).

At the end of Episode 18, in which you discuss free will, you end the lecture imagining a future society in which neuroscience was so far advanced that the notion of free will is no longer defensible.

You suggested that, in such a case, we would no longer "punish" people who engaged in criminal behavior "because they deserved it". Instead, you said, "We would simply discover the way they were neurally miswired, and then correct it so that they no longer behaved that way."

I would like to suggest that morality itself is, and always has been, a tool for rewiring the brain in a manner substantially like what you have described above.

I am assuming that you do not intend to limit the list of acceptable procedures specifically to surgery - you were simply using this as an illustrative example. If the "rewiring" can be done by the use of chemicals - anti-psychotic drugs, lithium, or hormones - then this would also fit your model. Similarly, if we could rewire the brain through, for example, a non-invasive procedure such as sonic waves or magnetic fields, that would also count. What matters is not the method used, but the effect that method has on rewiring the brain and, thus, altering behavior.

Well, then, what if the rewiring were to be caused by subjecting a population to rewards and punishments?

I want to suggest that moral rewards and punishments - including moral praise and condemnation - actually works to rewire the brain in ways that tend to reduce dispositions to behave in ways harmful to others and increase dispositions to behave in ways helpful to others (or, at least, in ways that are harmless).

Rewards and punishments act to change behavior in two main ways.

One of these ways is not relevant to the idea that I would like to present here. Rewards provide incentives for engaging in certain behaviors ($25 million reward for information leading to the death or capture of a known terrorist leader) while punishments - or the threat of punishment - provide a deterrence ($500 fine for speeding in a school zone).

These functions do not involve rewiring the brain, and are not the functions that I am concerned with here.

The effect that I am interested in is the effect that rewards and punishments have in changing what an agent actually comes to like and dislike.

Punish a child who tells a lie and the child learns not only to tell the truth to avoid punishment, but acquires an aversion to lying for its own sake. The child then tells the truth, even when there is no chance if getting caught and punished, because the child has become averse to lying. She simply does not want to lie.

Note that the child is not punished because we consider her morally responsible in any robust way. The child is punished to "teach her a (moral) lesson" - a lesson that is learned as the punishment rewrites a portion of the child's pre-frontal cortex.

In your lecture, you spoke of Phineas Gage, the unfortunate railroad worker who had a tamping rod driven through his brain, destroying a large portion of his pre-frontal cortex. What he lost as a result of this brain damage was the ability to conform his behavior to social norms.

This illustrates the fact that the pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that interprets rewards and punishments, extrapolates from them a set of social norms, and then conforms behavior to fit those norms. By analogy, it seems to work in the same way that the auditory parts of the brain take sounds and extrapolates from them the meanings and grammar of language, allowing the agent to communicate with others.

If we are going to correct a person's wiring to prevent criminal behavior, it seems that we are going to be looking for a way to rewire the pre-frontal lobe, at least in many cases.

One way we have for rewiring the pre-frontal cortex is through rewards and punishments.

Rewards and punishments are processed in the nucleus accumbens. The nucleus accumbens has a direct connection to the pre-frontal lobe. One of the effects of reward and punishment is to send signals to the pre-frontal robe, where it initiates this rewiring. As I mentioned above, the brain takes these rewards and punishments and extrapolates from them a set of behavioral rules to generate behavior that makes rewards more likely and punishments less likely.

Please note, I am using rewards and punishments in their biological sense - not their social sense. An animal is "punished" if an action results in an electrical shock (for example) - even though the animal is not being blamed for that action. In other words, the claims about rewards and punishments I made above are just as applicable to an animal living alone in the wild where natural rewards and punishments also generate rules of behavior.

For us social creatures, this process extrapolates and promotes conformity to the social rules that we teach through a system of rewards and punishments.

There are two more relevant claims to add to this hypothesis.

(1) Praise acts on the brain as a reward, and condemnation acts on the brain as punishment. Consequently, praise and condemnation can also be used to rewire the prefrontal cortex.

(2) Rewards/praise and punishment/condemnation work not only on those who are rewarded or punished, but on others who consider even the possibility of being rewarded or punished. Through the faculty of empathy, we can put ourselves in the position of those who are rewarded or punished and, in experiencing the reward or punishment this way, have our own pre-frontal cortex rewired without actually being the person rewarded or punished.

This "someone else" does not even have to be a real person. It could be a character in a story.

If this is correct, morality as a tool for rewiring the pre-frontal cortex of people within a community, to inhibit behavior that tends to cause harm and promote behavior that tends to produce benefits.

We could say that "ought to have done otherwise" implies "could have done otherwise" has to do with distinguishing that which reward/praise and punishment/condemnation can influence and that which is outside of its influence.

We do not condemn/punish the person who failed to teleport a child out of a burning building because no amount of condemnation or punishment can create in people an ability to teleport a child out of a burning building.

On the other hand, we praise/reward those who go into a burning building to rescue a child because praise/reward has the capacity to rewire the pre-frontal cortex, not only in the person doing the rescuing but in others as well, to promote generally a disposition to take risks to save others. Thus is something we each have reason to want others to be disposed to do if we should end up in such a dire situation.

In our day to day lives we use rewards (such as praise) and punishments (such as condemnation) to cause people to acquire (for example) an aversion to lying or to taking the property of others without their consent. We promote an interest in helping those in dire need and an interest in upholding and defending certain political and social institutions.

In other words, even in a determined world, people have reasons to reward, to praise, to condemn, and to punish. These are the scalpels we use to perform brain surgery - to rewire the pre-frontal cortex and, in doing so, generate behavior that conforms to social rules.

The future world you imagine, where neuroscience has reached such a state of advancement to show that there is no room for free will, may well continue to be a world where rewards and punishments are used because of their determined effects on rewiring the brain.

In fact, this is what morality has been doing all along.

Well, this is just an idea that I thought I would toss your way for your consideration. I do hope that you find some value in this and that it was worth a bit of your time.


Alonzo Fyfe

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Christine Korsgaard on Justifying Moral Justification

Christine Korsgaard has a theory for justifying justification.

It is difficult to justify justification without begging the question.

If you believe that a particular set of rules justifies a set of conclusions, how do you go about justifying the statement that "these rules justify those conclusions"? How do you prove the rules of logic without either using the rules of logic, or using something else which, then, needs its own justification?

When it comes to justifying moral claims, Korsgaard suggests testing whether the method of justification survives the act of revealing what they are. Once we know, "This is what provides the foundation for our moral claims," does the sense that moral claims are justified remain? Or does it (can it) vanish?

If we find upon reflecting on the true moral theory that we still are inclined to endorse the claims that morality makes on us, then morality will be normative. I call this way of establishing normativity the ‘reflective endorsement’ method. (Korsgaard, Christine (1996): The Sources of Normativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

She explains this system in one case by describing an account of morality in which it fails.

Evolutionary theory says that moral claims are justified through a moral sense that we have evolved to have because it promotes the survival of the species.

Now, we take an agent and put him in a situation where she needs to make a moral choice. She can delete an email and nobody will know that it ever existed, or she can turn it over to investigators. She ponders that moral sentiments are sentiments that evolved in order to promote the survival of the species. However, she can go from here to ask, "The fact that people have sentiments that I should turn this over to the investigators that came about through evolution - does that really tell me that I must turn this email over to investigators?"

The agent in this case may share this evolved sentiment - having an aversion to deleting the email and failing to do her duty, but she is still open to taking this as an unfortunate side-effect of evolution, rather than a moral requirement.

At this point, I do not have space to discuss the merits of this test. I hope to do that later.

However, would like to report that desirism seems to pass this test.

Desirism holds that the right act is the act that a person with good desires would perform, and good desires are desires that people generally have many and strong (desire-based) reasons to promote.

The reasons to promote a desire comes from the desires that would be fulfilled by the desire being promoted if it were universally adopted.

For example, people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to gaining an advantage through deception - by lying and by fraud. The reasons for promoting such an aversion come from the desires that would be fulfilled by a widespread aversion to these types of deception. An act of lying or of fraud is wrong, then, because it is something that a person with such an aversion would not do. It warrants condemnation and, perhaps, punishment because these tools promote the overall aversion to these types of deception.

Now, we apply Korsgaard's test. Would knowing that this is the case undercut the sense that the moral claims are justified?

Knowing these things will not change the fact that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to these types of deception. It will not change the fact that they can promote this aversion through the condemnation and punishment of those who engage in these types of acts. It does not change the fact that the person who does such an act has done something that people generally have many and strong reasons to condemn or to punish.

This ties into one of the arguments that I have used (though perhaps not stressed enough) for this whole project.

Let us say that I am entirely wrong in claiming that this is an account of morality. Let us say that I am totally confused about this. perhaps morality essentially involves divine commands or intrinsic values that do not exist.

It would still be the case that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to deception, that they can do so by punishing and condemning those who engage in the practice, and that a person who commits such an act is somebody that people generally have reason to condemn or to punish.

In other words, this is still a useful project to develop, even if we do not call it morality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0014 - The Truth About Value

Is value subjective, or objective?

From what I have said so far, many would conclude that this is a subjectivist account of value. After all, for our one agent, Alph, gathering stones has value because he desires it. It is not the case that he desires it because it has value. (Or, it may be more accurate to say that the claim that Alph values gathering stones and Alph desires to gather stones simply report the same thing.)

However, the terms "objective" and "subjective" are ambiguous. People often confuse these distinctions and, because of this, draw implications that are not accurate.

The two definitions of "objective" that cause the most problems are:

(1) Independent of mental states such as belief and desire.

(2) True, regardless of whether the agent wants or believes it to be true.

Reading quickly over these two claims - it is easy to think that they say the same thing. However, they are different. The nature of this difference makes it the case that value is subjective in the first sense (dependent on desire), but objective in the second sense (value propositions are true independent of whether agents believe or want them to be true).

If we look at our imaginary universe containing it's one agent (Alph) and his one desire (to gather stones), the value that Alph finds in gathering stones is fully dependent on his desire. If Alph were to desire to scatter stones instead, then scattering stones would have value to Alph.

However, none of the propositions that we have been using to talk about this world are true because Alph believes them to be true, or because Alph wants them to be true. Every proposition is objectively true or false - as objective as any claim in any science.

Specifically, The statement "Alph has a desire to gather stones" is objectively true (within this imaginary universe). It is as objective as the statement, "Alph has a scar on his left arm" or "Alph has a temperature of 99.1 degrees". While the first says something about the structure of Alph's wrist, and the second says something about Alph's body overall, the proposition "Alph has a desire to gather stones" reports a fact about the way his brain is structured.

It is not the case that "Alph is gathering stones has value to Alph" is true because Alph either believes or wants it to be true.

From our initial description of the world, it is simply not true that Alph has a desire that Alph values gathering stones. A desire that the proposition be true is not a part of the description. Yet, the proposition is true, and its truth is independent of Alph's desire that it be true.

Similarly, we made no claims about what Alph believes other than that he has those beliefs that allow him to make true the proposition, "I am gathering stones". There is no need for a belief that Alph values the gathering of stones. Alph need not have ever thought about the question of whether he values gathering stones. He simply goes about the chore.

Because people confuse these two concepts, they slip from the fact that values are subjective (depending on desires) to the fiction that value claims are subjective (true because the agent either believes or wants them to be true). They then use this second claim to argue that values are beyond debate or scientific inquiry - that an investigation into the facts of the world cannot tell us anything about what has value and what does not.

However, the former, though true, does not imply the latter. It no more rules out the objectivity of value than it rules out the objectivity of scars and body temperature.

What are we going to say, then, if we are asked the question of whether value is objective?

If we say that value is objective, we are likely to be taken as meaning that values exist independent of belief and desire, which is not the case.

If we say that value is subjective, we are likely to be taken as meaning that value claims are true or false depending on whether or not agents believe them or want them to be true or false - which is not the case either.

It may be best to answer this question by saying that people are generally confused about the concepts of "objective" and "subjective" such that nobody can answer this question without spending a considerable amount of time explaining their answer. If one is pressed for an answer, the fact of the matter is that value claims can be investigated scientifically in the same way that claims about body temperature and scars can be investigated scientifically.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reasons to Abandon Old Desires and Acquire New Ones

A couple of posts ago, in an open letter to Dr. Heathwood, I argued for a way of defending a desire-fulfillment theory of well-being from one objection raised against it.

In that previous post, I addressed an objection that stated that a desire-fulfillment theory of well-being implied that a person should, if the option were available, get himself addicted to a potent drug as long as fixes were easily obtainable and the desire could be repeatedly and easily fulfilled.

In response, I argued that the objection confused the thesis that an agent's well-being depended on getting as much desire fulfillment as possible from the thesis that the agent was trying to fulfill the most and strongest of his desires. In order to judge whether an agent has a reason to acquire a new desire, we are not to ask whether it produces a lot of desire fulfillment. We are to ask whether her existing desires give her a reason to make the change.

Unless acquiring the addiction helps to fulfill the agent's other desires, the agent has no reason to acquire the addiction.

The same response applies to another potential objection that Heathwood mentioned.

When someone can’t get what he really wants, he may adapt his preferences to his predicament.  If he succeeds in doing this, he is now getting everything he wants.  This seems like an unfortunate situation, but the desire theory may be unable to accommodate this intuition. Desire Fulfillment Theory" (G. Fletcher (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Being, Routledge, 2016),

This is all he says on the matter.

I am not clear as to what Heathwood is calling "an unfortunate situation" or what intuition there is to accommodate. However, I do not need to clarify what Heathwood was after to explain how the case of changing one's desires would play out.

Let us take an agent, Alph, and give him a desire that P, a desire that Q, and a desire that R.

In this case, the desire that Q and the desire that R are being thwarted. However, since S and T are both true, if Alph were to replace the desires that Q and R for the desires that S and T, he will get a lot more desire fulfillment.

However, we need to ask, "What reason does Alph have to do this? Where does that reason come from?"

If we assume that desire fulfillment magically generates its own reasons, then it would be true that the agent would have a reason to change desires. But they do not generate their own reasons. Reasons for action come only from desires.

In other words, we are going to continue to use Bernard Williams' concept of having a reason, where "A has a reason to φ iff A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing."

In other words, Alph has a reason to change desires only if doing so would serve to fulfill his desires that P, Q, and R. These are the only things that can give him a reason to change to the desires that S and T. In other words, the agent has reasons to acquire a desire that S and a desire that T only if there is something about having those desires that makes P, Q, and R true.

We do, at times, instruct people to get different desires.

A person who is faced with the thwarting of an important desire - a politician who has lost an election or an actor who cannot get a role, or a musician who cannot get a recording contract - are often told to abandon that option (to give up their dream) and to find something else to do with their time.

Often, this advice can be understood in terms of, "You can't fulfill those desires, so choose the next best thing."

However, advice can also take the form of, "Find a new interest."

However, this advice follows the model given above. I wrote that a person with a desire that P, Q, and R, where Q and R are being thwarted would have a reason to acquire new desires S and T if doing so would fulfill their other desires. Since the thwarting of desires tends to generate frustration and unhappiness (which a person has reason to avoid), and the satisfying of a desire generates pleasure (which people generally desire), an agent usually does have reasons to acquire new desires in the face of constant frustration of existing desires.

Here, again, we have an account of how a potential objection to a desire-fulfillment theory of well-being can be answered by focusing on the desires that an agent has. What makes a person's life go well is not maximizing an agent's desire fulfillment, but maximizing the fulfillment of the agent's desires. The desires are taken as a given, and their fulfillment determines the quality of the life.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0013 - The Value of Truth

We are looking at a world in which there is one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones), asking what is true about such a person in such a state.

One question to answer is, "What is the value of truth?"

Or, more accurately, "What is the value of believing true propositions (having true beliefs)?"

In our imaginary world, believing true premises has no end-value. The only thing that has end value (for Alph) is gathering stones. Truth (or believing true propositions) only has value as a means.

There are some true propositions that Alph must believe in order to gather stones. He must know what a stone is, where the stones are, where the gathering spot is located, and how to transport the stones.

He will need to have true beliefs that will keep him safe. He has reason to avoid jumping off any large cliffs to get to the stones that he sees at the bottom. He would benefit from true beliefs regarding the building of a ladder for climbing up and down the cliff, and for building a rope and bucket to haul the rocks up the cliff.

Depending on what the facts of the matter are, he may need to know where he can find water to drink and food to eat. The latter in particular will require a number of additional beliefs about how to acquire food and what types of food are more useful.

Remember, Alph only desires to gather stones. He has no taste preferences. In our model, he eats only for utilitarian reasons - to stay alive. True beliefs will help him to avoid scurvy, rickets, and other diseases that would prevent him from gathering stones. However, this requires a great many true beliefs.

False beliefs, on the other hand, are seldom, if ever, useful. Some are harmful. A false belief that there are rocks to be gathered in the next valley may cause Alph to waste a considerable amount of time travelling to the next valley, only to discover that there are no rocks to gather.

A false belief that he can fly across a chasm may have him laying injured at the bottom of the chasm.

Unless there are false beliefs that are useful, Alph has no reason to acquire false beliefs, while he does have reason to avoid a list of false beliefs at least as long as the list of true beliefs he has reason to acquire.

There is no value other than that which serves the fulfillment of a desire. Where the only desire is Alph's desire to gather stones, nothing has value except insofar as it is Alph gathering stones (which Alph values for its own sake), or that which helps Alph to realize a state in which he is gathering stones (which Alph values as a means to the one and only end).

Truth (or true belief) has value only insofar as it is desired for its own sake, or to the degree that it helps to bring about states that are valued for their own sake.

However, true beliefs are very, very useful. Even in our own society, it is no exaggeration to say that a great many of the evils that we suffer come from agents acting on false beliefs.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Unwanted Desires

The following is an email that I intend to send to Dr. Heathwood at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Dr. Heathwood:

I beg your indulgence on this intrusion.

I have just read your article "Desire Fulfillment Theory" (forthcoming in G. Fletcher (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Being, Routledge, 2016), which I found here .

In reading the article, I had some thoughts on "unwanted desires" that I would like to present, if you don't mind.

As you state it, the objection seems to be directed particularly towards "summative" theories of well-being where the quality of a life is determined by the sum of its (subjective) desire satisfactions. You presented Derek Parfit's objection to this as follows:

I am about to make your life go better.  I shall inject you with an addictive drug.  From now on, you will wake each morning with an extremely strong desire to have another injection of this drug.  …  This is no cause for concern, since I shall give you ample supplies of this drug.  Every morning, you will be able at once to fulfill this desire.
I would like to suggest a possible response to this objection that I did not see in your article.

Let us take an agent, Alph, and give him a desire that P, a desire that Q, and a desire that R.

The summative thesis says that Alph's life goes better insofar as (he believes that) P, Q, and R are all true. In particular, his life goes better if (he believes) this than if he (believes) that P and Q are true and R is false. We can add additional considerations regarding the strength of the desires, but, for now, I would like to avoid those unnecessary complications. 

Parfit is introducing a new desire - a "desire that I" ("that I have another injection of this drug" where "I" refers to Alph).

Parfit argues that Alph has a reason to acquire this desire.

But how can this be the case?

Let us introduce Barnard Williams' account of having a reason, "A has a reason to φ iff A has some desire the satisfaction of which will be served by his φ-ing." I actually do not know if you accept this account but it seems to be a respected position among philosophers - and I think it has a great deal of merit.

In this case, Alph only has a reason to acquire a "desire that I" if that desire will in some way serve the satisfaction of one or more of the desires that P, Q, or R. However, depending on the specific content of these desires, this need not be the case. If P = "My spouse is happy," and Q = "I learn to speak Greek", and R = "I am not in pain" then none of these desires gives the agent a reason to acquire a desire "that I receive an injection every morning."

Now, it is the case that if a different agent, Betty, has a "desire that I" then her life would go better if she got the injection every day. Her desire gives her a reason to seek that injection. 

Parfit could be taken as saying that Alph has a reason to acquire this desire merely in virtue of the fact that it is a strong desire which will be constantly and repeatedly satisfied. This seems to presume that desire satisfaction itself has an intrinsic "ought to be acquiredness" built into it. As such, we should obtain as much of it as possible.

However, the summative theorist need not (and should not) accept this assumption. Such a property does not exist. (For the sake of brevity I will gloss over that discussion. Again, I will leave it that this is at least a respected position among some philosophers.)

What this implies is that the quality of an agent's life is determined by summing the (subjective) satisfactions of that agent's desires. Alph's life is evaluated according to the degree to which P, Q, and R all become true. The possibility of acquiring a "desire that I" that can be repeatedly fulfilled is irrelevant to the value of Alph's life, because it is unimportant to Alph.

In other words, Alph is not seeking as much desire fulfillment as possible. Alph is seeking the fulfillment of the most and strongest of his desires. These are not the same thing.

Anyway . . . it's just a thought. I hope you find it useful.

Alonzo Fyfe