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.

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