Saturday, May 19, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 10: Unexperienced Value

I found this part of Graham Oddie's paper difficult to write on. I think it is because I found a hard time getting my thoughts into the correct context.

That paper, by the way, for anybody who may have forgotten, is: Oddie, Graham (2017). "Desire and the Good: in search of the right fit." In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds.), The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

So, here is my attempt to understand this part of the paper:

The “admirable” demon example, discussed in the previous section, showed that it was possible for it to be the case that people ought to (or that it would be good to) admire someone (who otherwise threaten to do great harm) to prevent great harm even though that someone was not admirable. At least, this was true in the "Deontic" and "Axiological" versions of FA - but not in the Representational version.

(Representational FA) X is V if and only if it is representationally accurate for one to take attitude F(V) to X.

The “solitary goods” problem is meant to show that the left-hand side of such a biconditional is true, then statement cannot be state-entailing or belief-entailing.

The biconditional we are going to work with here is Oddie's conception of "good".

S is good if and only if favoring S is fitting.

Oddie wants to show that this is false if "S is good" is state-entailing ("S is good" implies "S exists"), or belief-entailing ("S is good" implies "Agent believes 'S is good'")

He will then show that the appearances thesis meets these criteria.

So, what are these “solitary goods”?

Solitary goods are those that exist without anyone’s being around to respond to them fittingly.

I mentioned that I found this difficult to understand. Does this mean that nobody exist who can respond to them fittingly? Or does this mean that such a person exists, but is unable to respond to them fittingly (e.g., because the object is at the center of the Sun where nobody can experience it)? If the former, then does the person have to exist at the same time as the object that has value? For example, what would we say of a situation where I respond fittingly to something that will not exist until 10 years after I die?

In this biconditional, “favoring” is to S being good what “admiring” is to X being admirable or desiring is to D being desirable.

So, the solitary goods case asks whether it is possible for “S is good” to be true, and “favoring S is fitting” to be false.

I would say “yes” to this and present as my examples the object of every desire that evolution, the environment, and experience has planted as a chip in my brain. The awfulness of that sore throat that results when my body is fighting off a flu, the taste of pumpkin pie with cool-whip, sex, Jimmy Buffett music, and a long, hot shower. All of these are good. Favoring these are not fitting – they are simply what the chips that evolution, the environment, and experience have planted in my brain.

However, for the sake of discussion, let us limit our focus to the same types of goods we discussed in the previous section – the admirable, the desirable, and the moral. These are goods that people generally have reasons to promote universally. I will bring forth my example from the previous section – the aversion to causing others pain (under the assumption that everybody has an aversion to pain).
Does this have a problem with solitary goods?

Oddie gives us an example:

Consider an apparently good state, E, that happy egrets exist. Conjoin E with the state F: that there are no past, present, or future favorers. Suppose that the conjunctive state E & F is also good.

Well, when I am asked to suppose that there are no past, present, or future favorers, I have to ask, “What about the happy egrets?” If happy egrets exist, then there are present favorers. If there are no present favorers, then happy egrets do not exist. Imaging such a universe in which E & F are good is like imagining a married bachelor named Jim or a round square that is pink.

Perhaps I think I can make this work if I consider an apparently good state – that G.E. Moore’s beautiful planet exists. Though it is beautiful, it contains no evaluative creatures. It has flowers and rainbows clean mountain streams, but no animals. In fact, in this universe, no evaluative creatures exist, have existed, or will exist.

Now we have a situation in which E (a beautiful world exists) & F (there never has been, is, or will be an evaluative creature) are both true. Combining E and F does not create a contradiction.

I would argue that it would be false to say that E & F (or E alone, for that matter) is good. For it to be good, there must be a creature with a reason to bring it about – an evaluating creature. However, this is not a logical requirement. It is a contingent fact about how value actually comes about. I can imagine – even if it is not real – an intrinsic value property attached to E alone and E & F combined that makes this combination logically possible.

However, this clearly does not entail a state in which somebody favors E & F. I already stated that we are imagining that value is an intrinsic property, and value as an intrinsic property does not imply an evaluator. Only value as a relational property between objects of evaluation and valuers requires a valuer, and this is not logically necessary. It is only metaphysically necessary.

So, “good” is not state-entailing.

And, if we can do without he evaluator, “good” is not belief entailing either.

I can agree that “S is good” is not state-entailing on the grounds that much of what we are concerned about in evaluating something as good concerns reasons for bringing it about – and bringing it about might not even be possible. For example, it would be good to be 30 years younger. However, my being 30 years younger does not obtain. So, “my being 30 years younger” is good does not imply “I am 30 years younger”.

To support Oddie’s claim that goodness is not belief-dependent, I can return to our village filled with people who have an aversion to pain. For them, a universal aversion to causing pain would be good – they certainly have reason to bring about such an aversion. However, it is good regardless of whether anybody in the community believes that this is the case. They may be totally in the dark concerning the merits or even the possibility of promoting an aversion to pain. Perhaps a malevolent demon has falsely informed them that condemning those who cause pain will bring divine wrath or bad luck. Yet, given the facts of the case (they have an aversion to pain and a reward system that makes it possible to promote an aversion to causing pain in others) this universal aversion to causing pain is good.

I am not certain that anything I wrote here makes sense of the original argument. I struggled with it. I have given it my best shot and this is what I came up with. Something can be good without anybody believing that it is good. Something can be good without anybody favoring it (though, perhaps, like “causing pain”, it may be something they should favor or, in this case, disfavor). Nothing can be good without somebody valuing something, but his is not a logical entailment. This is just how the universe works.

Yet, I am rejecting the claim, “S is good if and only if favoring S is fitting.” This makes sense for a certain kind of goodness, but not for all goodness. There is still the goodness that evolution, environment, and experience simply assigns to certain states, where there is no fittingness.

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