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.

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