Monday, May 02, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0012 - The Reader's Point of View

I suspect that there are a number of readers who look at this life we are imagining in which Alph gathers stones, scatters them, and gathers them again with dread. It is absurd to say that there is any value here - to say that Alph has a life worth living. The best des that this says something about value will be taken as absolutely bizarre.

In fact, the philosophical literature discusses an imagined case of a fully informed agent with a desire to count blades of grass - not unlike Alph's desire to gather stones. In imagining this student sitting in the field counting the grass, day after day, it is difficult to imagine that this is a very good life.

What I suspect is happening in this case is that the reader is taking her own desires in examining the imagined world. Each of her own desires has their own proposition. She sees none of those propositions as being true in the state of affairs she imagines. Consequently, she has no motivating reason to realize such a state of affairs. From this she judges that it has no value.

However, we are not concerned at this point as to whether the reader has any reason at all to realize a state of affairs in which Alph, with his one desire to gather stones, exists.

If I were to ask the reader to imagine Charlie, living in New York, I would say that he is near the Atlantic ocean. In saying this, I certainly do not mean to imply that the reader is near the Atlantic ocean. Nor do I need to reader to approve of the fact that Charlie is near the Atlantic ocean. I am only describing a relationship that exists in fact between the Atlantic Ocean and Charley. The reader is only being asked to acknowledge that this relationship exists.

Consequently, when I say that Alph has one desire - to gather stones, then I am saying that states of affairs in which Alph is gathering stones are states of affairs that Alph has reason to bring about. I am saying that scattering stones, to Alph, would have instrumental value once all the stones are gathered. I am saying that having a large pile of stones is an unintended consequent (like getting pregnant is often an unintended consequent of having sex). I am saying that an outside observer cannot have reason to choose one world over another until that outside observer has desires, in which case he would choose the world where the propositions that are the objects of those desires are true.

These are all relationships that exist - no different from the proposed relationship between the location of the Atlantic Ocean to Charlie.

Everything said here would remain just as true if I were to say that Alph had one desire - to count blades of grass. Then counting blades of grass would be the only end-reason for any of Alph's actions. Alph would eat only insofar as eating was necessary to help him to continue to count blades of grass. If asked to choose between being in a world where there was no grass and a different world existing where somebody else (Betty) with a desire to count grass lived on a planet filled with grass, Alph would be indifferent between the two. This is because neither world is a world where "I am counting blades of grass" is true.

The fact that the reader has more than one desire and none of them include counting blades of grass, and has no desire with propositions that would be true in the imagined world with the imagined grass counter, and would not want to be that person is irrelevant. It is as irrelevant as her aversion to living in New York or near the ocean is to the fact that Charlie, who lives in New York, is near the ocean.

So, I ask the reader to set those feelings and those judgments aside. We are looking only at the relationships that exist in this imagined world - a world in which there is one person (Alph) with one desire (a desire to gather stones).

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