Friday, January 12, 2018

Street 04: Desires-as-Means

I know what you're thinking.

"We're already well into this discussion. There's no way I can make any sense of this. I had best go away and do something else."

I will try to catch you up quickly.

Sharon Street wrote a very good article called, "A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value."

In Part 01: Evolution and Desires-as-Ends, I argued that (1) this isn't really an objection to "realist theories of value". It is an objection to the theory of intrinsic values. Values can be real without being intrinsic properties. Furthermore, I thought I could make some refinements to the theory - to improve upon it.

My main suggested improvement is that, where Street asserted that evolution worked on "proto-evaluative judgments", I wanted to argue that evolution worked on desires-as-ends.

In Part 02: What Are Desires-as-Ends?, I explained what desires-as-ends are - in case you could not guess.

In Part 03: Proto-Evaluative Judgments, I pointed out how desires-as-ends can fill the role of Street's proto-evaluative judgments in that they were basic dispositions likely subject to evolutionary forces. They include such things as the aversion to pain, hunger, thirst, preferences regarding the taste of food, concern for one's off-spring, and the like.

And, now, I am going to look at desires-as-means.

I have refined Sharon Street's argument in, "Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value" to argue that it is unlikely that our desires-as-ends are desires for states of affairs having an intrinsic value quality. Applied here, Street's argument holds up. Desires-as-ends They are simply desires for things, the desiring of which resulted in the genetic replication of our ancestors and was passed down to us. This includes such thing as the aversion to pain, hunger, thirst, preferences regarding the taste of food, concern for the well-being of our offspring, desire for sex, and the like.

However, Street presented us with two types of evaluative judgments:

(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.

The desires-as-ends that I have already discussed are Type (1) evaluative judgments - except they are simply desires that a particular state of affairs is realized and does not require that anything is "called for" or "demanded". It simply requires that certain states of affairs be liked or disliked.

In the case of the second type of "evaluative judgment", we have two options:

Option 1: This type of evaluative judgment is simply a way to rephrase the first type of evaluative judgment. The first type of judgment says, for example, that one simply wants to survive for its own sake - survival itself is something the agent wants. To value survival for its own sake includes within it the attitude that survival "calls for" or "counts in favor of" not jumping off of a tall cliff. In other words, to say that survival "calls for" and "counts in favor of" not jumping off of a cliff is to say that survival has value in itself, and counts as a reason to avoid jumping off of a cliff.

Option 2: Experiencing survival as something that has value as an end or in itself is one thing. Experiencing survival as a calling for, or counting in favor of, not jumping off of a cliff is another, completely separate judgment. This is consistent with holding that survival has a positive value, but that the agent at the same time may lack the second judgment that survival counts as a reason for not jumping off of a tall cliff. Pointing out the mere fact, "If you jump off of the cliff, you will not survive," would still draw blank stares from the person who has determined that survival has value in itself, but lacks the second judgment that survival counts as a reason for not jumping off of a cliff.

I am going to reject Option 2 because, if we accept that option, then we are going to need a great many Type (2) judgments just to survive. We will need a separate, additional, Type (2) judgment for anything and everything that might contribute to or threaten survival. It is far simpler and easier to hold that if a person has a desire for survival in itself, then the mere fact that something else contributes to survival would "count in favor of" that something else, and the mere fact that something else threatens survival would "count in favor of" avoiding that something else.

On this account, there is no second type of evaluative judgment for "desires-as-means". Instead, a "desire-as-means" is simply a "desire-as-end" combined with recognition of the fact that the means either will realize or threaten the realization of that end. Once something becomes an end, it becomes a reason for anything and everything that will contribute to realizing that end, and for anything and everything that will thwart the realization of that end, regardless of what it may be, and without the need for a second type of judgment that the end serves as a reason counting in favor of a given means, for each and every different type of means available.

So, we have Street's Darwinian Dilemma showing us that Type (1) evaluative judgment - desires-as-ends - are subject to evolutionary influences and, consequently, unlikely to point to things that have an intrinsic worth that is independent of our disposition to like or dislike them. Furthermore, we do not, in fact, have Type (2) evaluative judgments. Instead, we have a true or false belief that something is likely to bring about - or threaten to prevent bringing about - something that has Type (1) value.

Furthermore, we can give a Darwinian account for acquiring a faculty that allows us to adequately discover the truth of the matter concerning whether a means will tend to realize, or prevent the realization, of something that has Type (1) value. In other words, we can provide a Darwinian account for the development of the capacity to more-or-less accurately determine whether a means will tend to realize or prevent the realization of a state of affairs to which the agent has a desire-as-end.

If an agent is generally mistaken in what realizes these desires-as-ends (i.e., fails to realize that jumping off of a tall cliff is a threat to survival, or that such a planet is poisonous, or that her offspring is in danger), then that agent will fail to realize the relevant end. If evolution has selected that end, then failure to realize that end is a threat to genetic replication. Genetic replication, instead, depends on success at recognizing such relationships, and there is a success to be had.

So, it is at least not unreasonable to expect, pending verification from other types of evidence, that we evolved a capacity to recognize the relationships between means and ends. This could well develop into a capacity to recognize causal relationships generally, which allows us to discover causal relationships that have nothing to do with the relationships between means and ends.

This does not refute Street's thesis. Street is arguing against the existence of a type of value that does not depend on our evaluative judgments. Means-ends judgments, even though they have a truth value, also depend on other evaluative judgments. They are judgments about the relationships between means and ends, where evolutionary forces have had an influence in shaping those ends. If evolution had gone differently - if we would have evolved a different set of ends, then the means-value of other things would have likely changed as well.

Actually, I want to argue that we do not have a desire-as-end for survival at all. The value of survival is as a means - as something that is useful to the realization of other ends. The same is true for survival of the species. Instead, individual survival and species survival is, for almost all of the animal kingdom and for humans until recently, an unintended side effect of seeking the other things we have come to value, not an end in itself.

This is going to lead to a discussion of the fact that ends are, at the same time, also means. So, there will be a truth-value to claims about the value of ends insofar as they tend to realize or prevent the realization of the fulfillment of other ends. Combine this with the thesis that our interactions with our environment shape our ends, and that each of us is a part of the environment of others, and we come up with questions about what ends people generally have reason to promote. This will tie in with a discussion of reflective equilibrium as Street describes it, discussing the value of some ends in virtue of its relationship to the fulfillment or thwarting of other ends.

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