Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0017 - Summary of One Person with One Desire

I am about to add a second person to this imaginary universe. Before I do, I would like to review what we have.

We have a universe with one person (Alph) who has one desire (to gather stones).

Desires are propositional attitudes. That is to say, they take as their object a proposition - a sentence capable of being true or false.

A desire is a motivational force directing the agent to make of keep true the proposition that is the object of the desire. So, for example, Alph's desire to gather stones motivates him to act so as to make or keep true the proposition, "I am gathering stones."

Note that this is different from a desire that the stones be gathered. With respect to Alph's actual desire, having a large pile of stones is merely an unintended consequence of the desire to gather stones. It bears the same relationship to the desire to gather stones as getting or causing pregnancy has to having sex. It may be a cause of the action, but it is not the reason for the action.

I am using Bernard Williams' account of what it means to have a reason.

A has reason to φ if and only if A has some motive which will be served or furthered by his φ

On this account, Alph has a reason to gather stones. He has a desire to gather stones that would be served by gathering stones. If he runs out of stones to gather, then he has a reason to scatter stones, since that is the only way he can make true again the proposition, "I am gathering stones." Alph also has a reason to avoid a crippling injury or death where these would prevent him from making or keeping true the proposition, "I am gathering stones."

These other goods - scattering stones if the supply of stones to gather runs out, avoiding crippling injury or death - are instrumental goods. They provide or preserve the means necessary to make or keep true the proposition, "I am gathering stones." They are not valued for their own sake, but for their usefulness.

There is no intrinsic value. A state in which, "I am gathering stones" has value for Alph in virtue of his desire to gather stones. However, nothing in this state generates a reason for anybody else (if they should exist) to realize or preserve such a state. A reason to realize a state in which a desire is being fulfilled requires a desire that desires be fulfilled, or some other desire made true in a state where a desire is being fulfilled.

Note that not even Alph is motivated by desire fulfillment. Alph is motivated by a desire to gather stones to realize a state in which, "I am gathering stones" is true. It is, "I am gathering stones" that has value for Alph, not "My desire that I am gathering stones is fulfilled."

We should also note that Alph, in this case, has no reason to enter a Nozickian experience machine that will stimulate his brain and feed him the illusion of gathering stones. Such a machine cannot make or keep true the proposition, "I am gathering stones." Similarly, a parent who cares that his children are safe and happy cannot settle for an experience machine feeding him the illusion that his children are safe and happy. His desire motivates him to seek the actual safety and happiness of his children.

If the reader thinks that Alph is wasting his life pursuing a meaningless end, then this would be because the reader is appealing to her own desires. The reader is saying, "I would not want to life that life." This is true, but it is a separate issue. The fact that Alph is content gathering stones does not imply that the reader - with the reader's own set of desires - would be or should be content with a life of gathering stones.

Nor does the reader's discontentment imply that Alph has a reason to shun a life of gathering stones. Such inferences are mistaken.

There is no morality in this world. There is one end - Alph's end of gathering stones, a number of means, and some unintended consequences.

I am about to drop a second person into this world. When I do, we will look at what is required for a rudimentary morality - though not right away.

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