Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Analytic Reductionism

Recently, I have been reading up on Derek Parfit’s “triviality objection to naturalist reductionism.” Desirism reduces true value claims to claims about natural properties, so it is a proper target for Parfit’s objection.

Desirism hold that true value claims describe relationships between states of affairs and desires.

However, it DOES NOT hold that this is true by definition. It does not say that the very meaning of the word “good” is to be understood as “stands in such-and-such a relationship to desires”. The meaning of “good”is broader than this. However, an attribution of goodness is never true unless such a relationship e it’s.

When it comes to the meaning of value terms, they all assert that there is one or more reasons to realize or preserve a state of affairs (in the case of goodness) or to prevent or end a state of affairs (in the case if badness).

For example, somebody says, “You ought to do X.”

You ask, “Why?”

The answer to that question will be a reason for intentional action. What else can you possibly be asking for when you ask, “Why” but for a reason to do what somebody said you ought to do? That reason for action will either be an end-reason, or a means-reason justified in virtue of its ability to contribute to some further reason that is an end. Ultimately, the answer to every “Why?” question regarding what one ought to do is an end-reason for intentional action.

However, these terms do not require that the reasons be natural properties such as desires. These reasons may be intrinsic values, divine commands, categorical imperatives, the dictates of an impartial observer or of a committee behind a vail of ignorance. It does not tell us anything about these reasons, other than that there are reasons.

In technical terms, I reject analytic natural reductionism. This is the view that, in virtue of the meaning of value terms, those terms refer to natural properties.

In virtue of the meanings of value terms, value terms refer to end-reasons for intentional actions regardless of whether they are material or immaterial.

However, desires provide the only end-reasons that exist. Consequently, all TRUE moral claims are claims about the relationships between states of affairs and desires. If anybody says that the reason to realize, preserve, prevent, or end a state of affairs is a non-natural reason, that claim is false.

The point is, it is a mistake to interpret desirism as saying that it’s naturalistic reduction is an account of the meaning of moral terms - a type of analytic reductionism. It is not. It is a claim about which moral propositions are true.

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