Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Korsgaard: Two Value Distinctions

The decision to return to graduate school has paid another dividend.

A graduate student at the University of Colorado, Zak Kopeikin, pointed me to "Two Distinctions in Goodness" by Christine Korsgaard.

This article identifies the same distinction that I wrote about in A Test for Intrinsic Value.

She defines "intrinsic value" as something where the value is found entirely in that which has value - as a property that supervenes on its natural properties. She contrasts this with what she calls "final value" which is the value that something has as an end. Final value or end value is distinguished from instrumental value or value as a means. Intrinsic value is contrasted with extrinsic value.

If we adopt Korsgaard's terminology, then I would argue that intrinsic value does not exist.

"Final values" (or "ends") exist, but our ends have been subject to a few hundred million years of evolutionary pressure. We are disposed to have those ends that tended to promote evolutionary fitness in our ancestors.

Here is another dividend from returning to school. Shannon Street developed this argument in detail in Street, S., 2006, “A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value,” Philosophical Studies, 127: 109–66.

However, there are two problems with Street's argument.

First, she took herself to be arguing against "realism". This would be true if one is talking about "realism" with respect to intrinsic values.

However, this leaves one with the mistaken belief that values themselves are not "real" - that we must be an anti-realist about value. This is not the case. One can, instead, be a "realist" about non-intrinsic values. That is to say, one can still be a "realist" about final values. And, in fact, that is what I am and that is what I defend.

The second problem with Street's argument is that she took moral values to be - in effect - genetic. They are dispositions that we have evolved to have. I have taken this to be a contradiction. To talk about a moral value grounded on genes is like talking about round squares or married bachelors. It is the very nature of moral language that it has to do with what is learned - what is acquired through interaction with the environment.

We have also evolved to have malleable brains, which means, in part, that interaction with the environment can alter out ends. Yet, even the mechanisms by which experience alters ends is subject to natural selection, disposing our interactions with the environment to alter our ends in ways that promoted the genetic replication of our ancestors in their environment.

Each of us is a part of each other's environment. As a result, each of us has the capacity to influence the desires of others - the "ends" of others - the "final values" of others. The tools for doing this are reward and punishment, praise and condemnation.

At this point, we can introduce claims that Jesse Prinz made about "emotional conditioning" - social institutions that cause individuals to acquire certain emotional sentiments with respect to certain states of affairs. In effect, this is the teaching of moral value. But, here, Prinz makes a mistake - stating correctly that morality is a socially conditioned response, but neglecting the fact that people have reasons to promote certain emotionally conditioned responses and discouraging others. We can take certain responses and say, "It would be a good idea of everybody had this one." There are others where it makes sense to say, "It would be a good idea if nobody had that one." And there is a very large set where it makes sense to say, "Well, we have no particularly strong reason to promote this universally or to promote its extinction." This gives us an objective account of moral obligation, prohibition, and non-obligatory permission.

I like how the various parts of these readings are coming together into a more developed philosophy. Soon, this may even grow into a book.

Well, in that book there may be an opportunity to talk about these "tests for intrinsic value". This is the discussion with Zak Kopeikin, who is interested in assessing a couple of tests for intrinsic value. I do not believe that intrinsic value exists. Therefore, I do not believe that we can have a test for intrinsic value.

I am wondering if the tests that Kopeikin wants to examine are actually tests for "final value" or for the ends of particular agents. It is possible - even likely - that we have some common ends - particularly ends that contributed to the evolutionary sense of our biological ancestors. It would be interesting to examine those tests as tests of final ends to see how far that trail can take one.

Just to draw this back into desirism - these "ends" or "final values" are what I have traditionally called that which "desired-as-end" (to distinguish it from that which "desired-as-means"). A desire is a propositional attitude that can take the form "agent desires that P," which gives "final value" to any state of affairs in which 'P' is true. Realizing a state of affairs in which 'P' is true is the "final value" that is created by any given desire.

This easily handles something like G.E. Moore's case in which a person may choose that a beautiful planet exists even if there is no person who can enjoy it. This can be accounted for by a desire that a beautiful planet exist (or that a beautiful thing exist). This desire assigns a final value to any state in which a beautiful planet exists - and provides the agent with a reason to act (and with motivation to act) so as to realize such a state.

It does not matter that nobody will actually experience the beautiful planet. A "desire that somebody experience a beautiful planet" is not the same desire as the desire that a beautiful planet exists. The latter assigns an end value to any state in which a beautiful planet exists. The former only assigns value to a state in which a beautiful planet exists and there is somebody who is appreciating it as a beautiful planet.

So, all of this, with some tweaks, sanding, and polish, can me shown to fit into a coherent defense of desirism.

Things are looking good.

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