Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Presenting Desirism

355 days until I start classes.

I have an active dislike of the idea of going to graduate school with the idea that I have this philosophy that I intend to defend.

First of all - and this is an issue I have long dealt with - it seems presumptuous and arrogant to be promoting and defending my own philosophy. I mean . . . who am I to think that, in a world filled with people who are smarter than I am, that I alone have been able to figure something out that people have been working on for centuries?

Second, I have seen a great many people present their philosophy, proudly declaring that they have figured out something that nobody has figured out before, only to present something that at least strikes me as significantly and clearly flawed. The first thing I think when I read an introduction from somebody who claims to have figured everything out is "Yeah, right."

Yet, on the other hand, these arguments concern quite indirect inferences. The test is in the arguments themselves. The inference, "Countless people have presented countless flawed arguments; therefore, your argument is flawed" is not valid. It is a reason to be suspicious, but it is not a proof against the argument.

To defeat desirism itself, one needs an argument against desirism, not one of these inferences that say, "There is probably an argument against desirism out there somewhere."

These are the concerns that come to my mind when I read David Jacquemotte's suggestion that I rename the theory the "General Theory of Morality". He correctly guesses that I consider the name "too grandiose". I think it would be arrogant of me to give it such a title. Though, I would say, if others think that it has merit, they are free to present and defend that position. I would be flattered.

Or, perhaps, to defend the thesis that desirism works as a general theory of morality.

There is also the idea of a podcast that has been mentioned – it is something I have thought about as well. It would be great to be a part of a project such as that. Yet, again, I feel the arrogant presumption of making a podcast about my own work. Perhaps a podcast that reviews the work of other philosophers (and non-philosophers making moral claims).

This has been the approach that I have been using in trying to introduce myself to the philosophical community in recent months.

I suggested to Dr. Chris Heathwood that there is a distinction between “seeking as much desire fulfillment as possible” and “seeking the fulfillment of the most and strongest of one’s desires” as a way with dealing with Robert Nagel’s “addiction” counter-example. Giving a person an addiction to an easily available drug gives the agent a way of obtaining as much desire satisfaction as possible, but (depending on what the agent desires) will not likely help an agent to fulfill the most and strongest of his existing desires. And he did say that my argument was effective in doing what I said it would do.

I should note that it was in actually specifying this distinction in this context that I finally faced the fact that “desirism” is not “desire utilitarianism”. The distinction between these two theories is precisely the distinction between “fulfilling the most and strongest desires” and “seeking as much desire satisfaction as possible”.

I suggested to Dr. Simon Blackburn that his objections to J.L. Mackie’s “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong” was mistaken. Mackie objects to the thesis that there are objective (intrinsic) values. However, there is another type of objective value that Mackie does not object to – the idea that one can make objectively true statements of the form, “Is such as to fulfill the desires in question.” He, too, said that I had effectively made my case.

Perhaps with a few more of these types of successes under my belt, I may grow a bit more confident about these ideas to explain the links between these different parts.

I also sent Dr. Neil Sinhababu an email after listening to his presentation presenting a distinction between “has a reason” and “ought to have a reason” – and that the job of a moral externalist is to provide an account of “ought to have a reason”. I felt that it would have been too much to add that I have an account of “ought to have a reason” (namely, others have a reason to use reward/praise and punishment/condemnation to cause people generally to have a reason) – but I did introduce the distinction and what the externalist has to do. I haven’t heard back from him.

I am pondering sending a version of the Sinhababu comments to Dr. Iskra Fileva at the University of Colorado. She was at the presentation and participated in the discussion. I would like to get her input on whether these criticisms are sound and, hopefully, she will come to think that it is worthwhile to have me as a funded member of the PhD program.

As a side note: one of my projects in the 355 days that remain before graduate school is to research the philosophers teaching at the University of Colorado to find out their specific interests and concerns. Towards that end, I found a podcast episode of PsychTalk featuring Iskra Fileva and Chris Heathwood discussing Well-Being on the Minerva podcast.


Shaun said...

Here's an argument against desirism.
1. The majority of people desire to see the desire of a certain minority thwarted.(premise)
2.The desire to thwart the desires of the minority tends to fulfill more desires then it thwarts. (from 1-there are more desires that the desires of the minority be thwarted then there are that the desires of the minority not be thwarted.
3. The desire to thwart the desires of the minority is a good desire (from 2 and definition of good desire.
3. The right act is the one a person with good desires would perform.
4. A person with good desires would have the desire to thwart the desires of the minority. (From 2 and 3)
5. The right act is to thwart the desires of the minority. (From 3 and 4)
I suppose the committed desirist could accept the conclusion, and say that our moral intuitions are wrong in this case.

Martin Freedman said...


Desirism is consequentialist but not utilitarian, in this scenario this means that the number of holders of a desire are not relevant to the analysis. After all the distribution of different desires in a population is an accident of history and could be different at different places and times, so your argument appears to assume a framework for a moral relativism not desirism?

So given (1) we can note the irrelevance of the distribution of these desires and then proceed with Agent A has a desire P to thwart a desire Q of Agent B. We then compare this to the absence of a desire P, whence desire Q is not thwarted. Now the latter tends to bring about more desire fulfilment than the former. So people have reasons to inhibit or discourage P not, as you IMV invalidly conclude to encourage P. Specifically (5) is unsupported.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Shmuel Warshell - I posted a longer response to your Premise 1 on a separate blog post.

However, in addition, your Premise 2 is false. The desire to thwart the desires of a minority fulfills no desires. If this desire to thwart the desires of a minority was to vanish - disappear entirely - who will miss it?

If a desire to keep promises were to disappear - lots of people would miss it. If the desire to repay debts disappeared, there would be a lot of problems. But, if this desire to thwart the desires of a minority were to disappear, there are a lot of people who would be sad to see it go, but nobody (at least within your assumptions) who would regret the loss.

Andy said...

Why don't you try and be a guest on a philosophy podcast? Maybe if a fan like myself emails them for you? Philosophy Bites maybe?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I hate to say this because it is so self-serving . . . but . . .

The best way to get these ideas out there is for people to find the blog posts that they like - that say things that are important - and to make relevant comments elsewhere that directs readers to those posts.

For example, perhaps one knows of some atheist groups that should see some of the posts on atheist tribes.

Or one encounters a discussion of evolution and morality that could use a link to a relevant post on that subject.

I could benefit from the input - even if it is negative.