Friday, January 12, 2018

Street 03: Sharon Street's Proto-Evaluative Judgments

Context: In my readings, I am currently going through Sharon Street's "Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value."

In this posting, I want to argue for using "desires" as I defined them in Part 02 "What Are 'Desires-as-Ends'? to play the role that Street gives to "proto-evaluative judgments" in her Darwinian Dilemma. “Desires-as-ends” are propositional attitudes that can be expressed in the form "[agent] desires that P" where “P” is a proposition and the desire provides a motivating reason to make or keep this proposition true. So, a "desire that I not be in pain" (aka an aversion to pain) is a motivating reason to make or keep the proposition "I am not in pain" true.

I am not seeking to refute her Dilemma. I am seeking to refine it.

Towards that end, I also want to repeat - as I argued in Part 01 Evolution and Desires-as-Ends" that her argument does not actually provide an objection to realist theories of value. It is only an argument against theories that suggest that value is an intrinsic property.

Values are real. They simply are not intrinsic properties.

To construct her Darwinist Dilemma, Sharon Street recognized that she needed to distinguish between the "reflective, linguistically-infused" evaluative judgments we are familiar with and a more basic type of evaluative judgment that animals can make and that evolution could have acted upon.

Street expressed a first approximation of her first premise as:

The forces of natural selection have had a tremendous influence on the content of human evaluative judgements.

She noted that this initial formulation had a couple of problems. Specifically, it is not reasonable to believe that “reflective, linguistically-infused capacity to judge that one thing counts in favor of another” (1) have a genetic basis, or (2) that it emerged early enough for evolutionary forces to choose winners and losers.

Instead, she suggested that evolution acted upon "more basic evaluative tendencies" that “may be understood very roughly as an unreflective, non-linguistic, motivational tendency to experience something as 'called for' or 'demanded' in itself, or to experience one thing as 'calling for' or 'counting in favor of' something else.”

Please note that Street is describing two different types of evaluative judgments here.

There is:

(1) an unreflective, non-linguistic, motivational tendency to experience something as 'called for' or 'demanded' in itself, and

(2) to experience one thing as 'calling for' or 'counting in favor of' something else.

These are the two types of judgments that Street argues that evolution could have acted on.

At this point, I want to limit the scope of the discussion to Type (1) judgments. I will have more to say about, "one thing as 'calling for' or 'counting in favor of' something else” in my next posting. In a later posting, I will argue that Type (2) judgments have a truth value and the Darwinian Dilemma would not be applicable. However, the Darwinian Dilemma still is relevant with respect to Type (1) judgments.

The refinement that I am offering is to say that those basic Type (1) evaluative judgments that evolution could have acted upon are desires-as-ends. The "as-ends" portion of this desire type corresponds to the "in itself" phrase in Street's account. In this category, I place hunger, thirst, the desire for sex, the aversion to pain, comfort (e.g., in terms of temperature), the preference for the company of others, concern for one’s offspring, food preferences, and the like.

It is easy to see how such things as a “desire that I not be in pain,” a desire to eat, thirst, to feed and protect one’s offspring, to climb a tree or to take flight when frightened, to prefer a particular temperature range, and the like could be subjected to evolutionary selection in the ways Street described.

Consequently, Street's Darwinian Dilemma is applicable here. For the reasons that she provides, it is unreasonable to expect that the objects of our desires-as-ends have a value that is independent of our having it as an object of a desire-as-end. Biologists can explain our acquisition of these desires-as-ends, such as the evolution of the aversion to pain, without ever once mentioning intrinsic value properties.

However, desires-as-ends do not have quite the structure that Street attributes to her “proto-evaluative judgments”. To describe basic “desires-as-ends” as a “tendency to experience something as ‘called for’ or ‘demanded’ in itself, or to experience one thing as ‘calling for’ or ‘counting in favor of’ something else,” over-complicates these basic drives. They are simply motivations to realize some state of affairs in which the proposition “P” is true.

The primary issue that I have with characterizing it as a “judgment” is its implications for how other people should respond to such a state. To “judge” a state in which I am in pain as something that calls for or demands avoiding for its own sake comes uncomfortably close to suggesting that it calls for this from everybody, and not just me. There is something in the state in which I am in pain that is doing the calling or demanding. But if it is doing the calling or demanding, why is it that I am the only one who can hear it? Or the only person with a reason to answer it? Other people should be able to hear this calling as well. They cannot - not because they are deaf or that I am the only one standing within earshot of this state. They cannot, because it is not a calling or a demand, it is simply something that I want to avoid - perhaps very badly.

If there is a “perception” that the object of evaluation “calls for” or “demands” something of the agent, it is the same type of perception as the perception that the earth is the center of the solar system, or the famous rabbit-duck illusion where the same image can be seen as a rabbit or a duck. In seeing that certain ends are attractive, we need to mentally fill in the gap as to whether we are being pulled to that state by something in it, or pushed toward that state by something in us. We cannot actually see the force, so we mentally fill in the gap. However, those who see it - or experience it - as a pull have, when we consider the evidence, made a mistake. In fact, the agent simply wants it to be the case that it is not in pain, that it is eating or drinking, that it has a safe place to sleep, that it’s child is not being attacked.

In summary, Street's Darwinian Dilemma gives reason to believe that desires-as-ends to not identify states of affairs having an intrinsic value property.

We also need to look at Street's Type (2) evaluative judgments. It will turn out that they have a truth value, and the ability to track the truth in these matters, as in matters such as knowing whether there is a cliff or a fire or food in the area, could be beneficial to intentional agents. So, for these judgments, Street's Darwinian Dilemma is not applicable. However, because these judgments depend crucially on desires-as-ends, it is not the case that this represents the discovery of a type of intrinsic value that would bring down her thesis.

I will discuss means-ends judgments in the next post.

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