Monday, May 30, 2016

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.

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