Friday, July 08, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0024 - Against Act-Consequentialist Thoeries

In the next few posts I am going to relate what we know about this proto-moral community to the claims within a number of prominent moral theories to see how they compare.

I recognize that I have not said enough about this community to justify the claim that it is an alternative moral theory. That is not my intention in the posts that follow. My intention is merely to look at what the various moral theories have to say about the simplified imaginary community we have developed so far. We can then keep these points in mind and see how they hold up as this proto-moral community develops.

I hope and expect to show, over time, that the moral terms used in this community are more like our contemporary use of moral terms than that provided by any other theory. That will emerge in the posts ahead. I cannot assume that it has already been shown.

The key components of this proto-moral community is that everybody - Alphs (who like to gather stones) and Betts (who like to scatter stones) alike - is an aversion to pain and an ability to create an aversion to causing pain by condemning those who do so. People generally have a reason (coming from their aversion to pain) to use condemnation to promote a universal aversion to causing pain. They have adopted the linguistic convention of saying that it is wrong to cause pain to others both to report the fact that people generally have reason to condemn causing pain to others and to act as a statement of condemnation against those who would cause pain to others.

With this, I have shown in my previous post that this community has something like two categories of action. There are the non-obligatory permissible actions of gathering or scattering stones, where each person does what they please. And there is the category of prohibited action - causing pain to others.

This is different, in a very important way, from what an act-utilitarian theory would demand of the people in our proto-moral community.

Act utilitarianism does not allow for morally permissible actions, except under very rare circumstances. The right act, according to the basic theory, is the act that maximizes utility. Every other act - because it produces less utility than the right act - is wrong. It is something the agent ought not to do.

The only time in which non-obligatory permissions exist is when, by chance, there are two or more actions that tie for first place when it comes to creating utility. Then, and only then, may an agent choose that option which he likes the most, since it produces at least as much utility as all of the other options.

If we look at our moral lives, we place a great many actions into the realm of non-obligatory permission. This not only applies to our choice of occupation - whether to be stone gatherers or stone scatterers. It also applies to our choice of friends and of a mate, to the decision to have children, to what to eat for supper, what to wear, and what to read or watch on television. We are conventionally permitted to base these decisions on our own tastes and preferences - not on what maximizes utility.

Utility may have something to say in extreme circumstances. The non-obligatory permission to have steamed carrots for supper would become prohibited if, for example, an alien race were to threaten to destroy Earth if the agent were to eat steamed carrots. However, in the realm of every-day life, this is something that agents are permitted, though not obligated, to do.

When it comes to non-obligatory permissions, the proto-moral community has more in common with our conventional moral lives than it does with basic act-utilitarianism. In our proto-moral community, agents get to choose whether to be rock-gatherers or rock-scatterers based on their own tastes and preferences. Alphs may gather stones as it pleases them to do, while Betts scatter stones.

If we were to give the citizens in our proto-moral community a wide variety of tastes in food, here, too, they would have a non-obligatory permission to eat what foods they liked. The people in the community have no reason to use condemnation to promote a universal reason to any type of food - except those foods which somehow prevented the gathering or scattering of stones or caused pain to others. In those cases, the desire to gather or scatter stones or to avoid pain provides reason to create the universal aversion through condemnation. However, in most cases, agents have a non-obligatory permission to eat what they liked.

In general, whenever it is the case that people do not have a reason to promote the same desire or aversion universally, we can find the realm of non-obligatory permission. This fits conveniently in with the set of categories described above - what to wear, what to eat, which occupation to take up, when to sleep, where to live, who to marry, what games to play, and who to play them with.

In this, the account being presented here already has one significant advantage over act-consequentialist moral theories.

There are other advantages.

No comments: