Sunday, January 07, 2018

Desires vs. Evaluative Judgments: Critique of Darwinian Dilemma - Part 02

This is a Critique of Sharon Street's "Darwinian Dilemma for Moral Realism" - Part 02

You can read Critique of Sharon Street's "Darwinian Dilemma for Moral Realism" - Part 01, but it should not be needed to understand the argument below.

I know that the fact that something is not biologically useful, or could have been done much more efficiently, is not a reason to object that there is such a thing. However, when we are considering two possible explanations for a set of events, I think that there is reason to suggest that the simpler and easier explanation has merit simply in virtue of its being simpler and easier.

Sharon Street argues that evolution has had an influence on our "evaluative judgments" - causing us to "judge" as good or ought-to-be-done that which also happens to promote human genetic replication. Clearly, a being that saw "ought-to-be-done-ness" in killing its offspring will not have offspring around today to carry on that tendency.

But my question is: Why "evaluative judgements"?

Nature does an excellent job of getting us to do that which promotes our genetic replication and avoid that which is detrimental to our genetic replication by using simple desires. The pain that causes me to favor my foot when I twist my ankle has nothing to do with making an "evaluative judgment". Nor does my going for a second slice of chocolate cake as my wife and I snuggle on the couch in the evening. In fact, neither does the snuggling. With respect to the chocolate cake, I may well give a negative evaluative judgment to eating a second piece of chocolate cake, but do so anyway. I am acting on a desire - one that, at times, seems to be stronger than any motivation that may be associated with an evaluative judgment.

This becomes more obvious when we look at the behavior of animals. I throw a toy mouse for my cat, who runs off, grabs it, and brings it back to me. In explaining and predicting his behavior, I have never resorted to "evaluative judgments". Instead, all I need for my explanation are simple desires. It also explains why he eats his catfood, uses his kitty liter box, and crawls up on my lap and goes to sleep when I watch television. I suspect that his thoughts have never held an evaluative judgment. Yet, he has no trouble engaging in the type of behavior that caused his ancestors to be evolutionarily successful.

When it comes to taking care of our young, no "evaluative judgment" is needed to cause a bird to build a nest, keep her eggs warm until they hatch, and bring the fledgling birds food until they are able to fly on their own. I feel confident that, at no time, no bird ever made a judgment that taking care of her young had some type of "ought to be doneness" associated with it. The bird did what the bird wanted to do, and in wanting to do it she contributed to the genetic makeup of the next generation.

There is no reason to believe that the care of birds for their young is caused by one type of mental operation, and that human care for their young is substantially different - any more than there is to think that animal pain is substantially different from human pain. They all motivate without resorting to the complexities of "evaluative judgments".

When Street writes about "evaluative judgments", she is including desires in what she is talking about. Yet, I hope that one can recognize a difference between judging something to be good or bad, and having a desire for or an aversion to it. Street herself wrote that she was interested in "basic behavioral and motivational tendencies" and "unreflective, non-linquistic motivational tendencies." This speaks more of desires than it does of evaluative judgments. On this matter I agree. Our desires - our aversion to pain, desire for sex, hunger, thirst, comfort, the simple pleasure of taking care of a child or of the company of a friend - have been subjected to evolutionary selection. But these are desires as distinct from evaluative judgments.

Recognizing this distinction, we should recognize that we have reason to take a look at evaluative judgments and see if we can make any sense of what they are.

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