Monday, October 10, 2016

Desirism: Catching Up

IT is time to return to my presentation on desirism.

First, let's just remember where we left off.

I wrote a summary piece on the first section of my presentation: Desirism Book: Part 1 - Table of Contents".

In that section I imagined a universe with one agent (Alph) with one desire (a desire to gather stones - or, more precisely, a desire "that I am gathering stones"). I explained the difference between means (scattering stones so that one has stones to gather) and ends (a state of affairs in which the proposition, "I am gathering stones" is true).

I used Robert Nozick's experience machine argument to claim that what matters is not pleasure or some other brain state but a state of affairs in which the proposition that is the object of one's desire is true. This is a good that, in some cases, an experience machine cannot provide.

I argued that desires provide the only end-reasons for intentional action and that the proposition, "What should I do?" can only be answered by arguing what desires are served by each individual action.

I then brought a second person into this world (Bett) and gave Alph the power to select Bett's desires. I looked at the reasons that Alph may have for giving Bett either a desire to gather stones, or a desire to scatter stones. Alph's desire to gather stones - on a planet with few stones to gather - gave him a reason to cause Bett to acquire a desire to scatter stones. This would allow Alph to keep the proposition, "I am gathering stones" true.

In a case where Alph has a reason to give Bett a desire to scatter stones, and can do so by giving Bett an injection, then Alph has reason to give Bett an objection. On the other hand, if Alph lives in a world where he can mold Bett's desires by acts of praise and condemnation, then he has a reason to use these tools to promote in Bett a desire to scatter stones.

In short, I created a proto-moral society in which Alph was using praise and condemnation to mold Bett into being a scatterer of rocks.

In the second set of posts I was looking at this proto-moral society and describing what is true of that society and what is not.

In Part 23, I described the difference between a moral prohibition and a moral non-obligatory permission. Both Alph and Bett have reasons to cause others to have an aversion to injuring others. This is because the "other" that the other person would injure, and being injured would prevent them from gathering or scatting stones respectively. Whereas gathering or scattering stones are not things that either person has reason to encourage or discourage universally. On these grounds, injuring others is a moral prohibition (nobody may injure others; all people should be given an aversion to injuring others), while gathering or scattering stones is a non-obligatory permission - something not to be universally encouraged or discouraged.

I then turned my attention to alternative claims about morality to look at the degree to which they are true or false.

In Part 24 I pointed out that Alph has a reason to gather stones, Bett has a reason to scatter stones, and both have a reason to avoid injuring the other. However, neither has a reason to "create the greatest good for the greatest number". Indeed, there is no place for the act-utilitarian principle in this community. It may have a place in our community, but it can only serve as one desire among many and not as a universal measure of all things right and wrong.

Indeed, as i point out in Part 25, the only way to create a society in which people always act so as to maximize utility is to create a society in which people have only one desire - to maximize utility. There can be no desire to gather or scatter stones because this desire would, at times, motivate action other than maximizing utility (namely, gathering or scattering stones).

In Part 26 I argued against the existence of moral absolutes. An absolute can only work if it is the sole desire that an agent has. For example, in order to never lie, an agent must have an aversion to lying that is stronger than any other desire - stronger, in fact, than all other desires combined.

In Part 27, I objected to moral sentiment theories - that we get right and wrong by examining our sentiments. In the case of Alph and Bett, they did not get a prohibition on causing injury from a moral sentiment. They got a prohibition on causing injury from having reasons to promote an aversion to causing injury universally. Moral sentiment theories, in fact, fail to make a necessary distinction between what people actually do like or dislike, and what they should (have reason to) like and dislike.

And in my last post before getting distracted, Part 28, I objected to evolved moral sentiment theories both on the grounds that they are moral sentiment theories and that there is no reason to believe that evolution gave us the attitudes we ought to have. Again, Alph and Bett in our proto-moral society did not evolve a sentiment against injuring others. The story of what sentiments they have reason to promote is not at all determined by the sentiments they actually evolved to have.

That catches me up. The next question is: Where do I go from here?

Our proto-moral community already gives us enough information to challenge the idea that morality is a set of commands or prescriptions that lack descriptive content. Similarly, we can reject the idea that morality is just a matter of opinion - there is no fact of the matter. Quite the contrary - there are moral facts and they are independent of what anybody in the community believes or wants those facts to be. I also want to challenge any type of "objective list" theory of right and wrong - and with it any theory that looks for "the end" or "the purpose" of human existence. There is none. While, at the same time, theories that tell us to invent our own ends or purposes are just as absurd. There are ends and purposes, but no single end for everybody, and they are not merely spun out of thin air.

Once I cover these points (and maybe a couple of others that I may have thought up, or that may come to me in the form of comments from interested readers), I am going to develop this proto-moral community a little further. I am going to add more people and more desires and see what comes of it.

Stay tuned.

No comments: