Friday, June 24, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0020 - A Belief in Goodness

Through several postings, we have had a universe with one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones). This is a universe with a limited number of stones, so Alph needs to spend half of his time scattering stones so that he can gather them again.

Recently, we introduced a second person (Bett) with no desires.

In our first model, we gave Alph two syringes. One had a red serum that would give Bett a desire to gather stones, and the other had a green serum that would give Bett a desire to scatter stones. I argued that Alph's one desire gave him a reason to give Bett an injection of green serum. This will cause Bett to scatter stones, allowing Alph to spend all of his time gathering stones.

In our second model, Alph tried to use incentives and deterrance to influence Bett's behavior. However, these tools are ineffective on a being with no desires. Bett had first to be given a desire - any desire. Furthermore, Alph needed the power to fulfill or thwart that desire. Then, Alph could agree to fulfill Bett's desire if Bett would scatter stones, or threaten to thwart Bett's desire unless Bett scatters stones. Again, the motivation to scatter stones came from Bett's desire.

In this third model, Alph will try to cause Bett to scatter stones by causing Bett to believe that scattering stones is good.

A belief does not need to be true to motivate action. A person who believes that there is a dragon outside that will eat him if he leaves his house will be motivated to stay inside. Similarly, Alph does not need to worry about whether the proposition “scattering stones is good” is true. As long as Bett believes it, he will scatter stones.

Or will he?

In order for the false belief about the dragon to keep our agent above inside, the agent also needs a reason not to be eaten. The belief that there is a dragon outside - by itself - motivates noting.

Similarly, for Bett to actually be motivated to scatter stones, he not only needs to believe that scattering stones is good, he must have a desire to do that which is good. Without that desire, the proposition “scattering stones is good” is just data - like the proposition that there is a dragon outside. It sits in the databank and does nothing – until it becomes useful for some end, to realize some desire.

There are those who claim that merely giving Bett the belief that something is good would be enough to motivate Bett. However, this view is filled with such metaphysical and ontological mystery that we should set it aside unless something compels us to pick it up. We can bring these metaphysical and ontological mysteries to the fore by asking, “What does it mean to say that ‘scattering stones is good’ is true, such that it can motivate an agent into acting just by believing it?”

Once we set this idea aside, we will discover that we never have a reason to pick it up again. We can simply let those metaphysical and ontological mysteries sit on the shelf. We can understand everything we are trying to understand using desires that determine the ends or goals of intentional action, and beliefs that select the means for those actions.

There is still a question of what it takes for the proposition “X is good” to be true.

In this set of postings, I am going to try to avoid talk of something being “good” or “bad” for a while – simply because it brings a lot of confusion into the story that we do not need just yet. I will be talking about it being the case that certain states of affairs fulfill desires. It will talk about facts where an agent has a desire that P and there is some state of affairs S where P is true in S. In this case, the agent has a motivating reason to realize S. In other words, S has value to the agent, grounded on the fact that the agent has a desire that P and P is true in S. I will also be speaking of this type of situation by saying things like S has value to the agent.

However, I will come to a point where I will be using the term “good” to refer to some of these relationships. But today is not that day.

For today, I will simply assert that we are sticking with the idea that desires provide the motivational force. Beliefs simply guide that force. Desires select the destination for intentional action, and beliefs choose the route. For Alph, merely causing Bett to believe that scattering rocks is good will not have any effect.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Seriously guys, why do people belive in God?!?!
I think this animation might have a funny answer...