Wednesday, January 09, 2019

British Ethical Theorists 0013: Roger Crisp's demon

If you are trying to defend desirism, and you come across somebody who has a good idea of what she is doing, she is going to summon Roger Crisp's demon. This is not a demonic version of Roger Crisp. This is a demon that Crisp discovered that threatens to be the bane of "ought to desire" theories everywhere.

More specifically, you are going to tell this person that a good desire is a desire that people generally have reason to promote. This is because the desire tends to fulfill other desires. Consequently, those with the "other desires" are going to have reason to see it promoted.

After she gets done laughing hysterically and she catches her breath, she is going to say the following.

"Here, let me summon Crisp's Demon. Crisp's Demon is going to torture people mercilessly if they do not admire President Trump. (Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that President Trump is not the type of person that one would generally regard as being admirable.) To say that Donald Trump is admirable is not to say that people admire Trump. There are certainly people who admire him. However, for Trump to be admirable he would have to be somebody that deserves admiration - something that people have a reason to admire. Well, if Crisp's Demon threatens to torture people unless people admire Trump, then people have a reason to admire Trump. If they have a reason to admire Trump, then they ought to admire Trump. And if they ought to admire Trump, then Trump is somebody that people ought to admire. Right?"

By the way, this objection comes from: Crisp, Roger (2000). “Review of Jon Kupperman, Value…and What Follows.” Philosophy 75: 458–62.

Clearly, for Trump to actually be admirable, he would have to have those qualities that make him worthy of admiration. Threats against those who do not admire Trump are the wrong kinds of reasons - they do not make Trump admirable. Yet, desirism states that for Trump to be admirable, it must be the case that admiring Trump is such as to fulfill other desires - such as fulfilling the desire to avoid the pain that Crisp's Demon would inflict if we did not admire Trump. So, desirism promotes the wrong kinds of reasons.

One response is to say that, even though one might not like Crisp's Demon, this is, in fact, where many of our values come from. Crisp's Demon is named "Evolution", and Evolution simply killed people who valued certain things while he let other creatures live. Those who had an aversion to certain sensations that indicated disabling damage to the body lived, those that did not have his aversion died. Those that liked the taste of ripe fruit and fresh meat lived, and those who liked the taste of rotten food died. Those who liked to take care of their offspring had offspring that had their own offspring, those who did not are now extinct.

Evolution gave us a reward system that works the same way. Reward/praise people who tell the truth and punish/condemn those who lie, and you end up with a population that values telling the truth and has an aversion to lying. If you currently view lying as something bad - if you have an aversion to lying - it is likely because Crisp's Demon has rewarded you in the past for honesty and punished you for lying. If not you personally, then you learned it by experiencing others (some real, some fictional) being praised and rewarded for honesty and punished and condemned for lying.

A second response to this problem is that different value-laden terms answer the four questions of value differently. The four questions are: given the standard use of the term, (1) what is the standard object of evaluation, (2) what are the relevant desires in question, (3) does the standard object of evaluation fulfill or thwart those desires, and (4) does it fulfill or thwart those desires directly or indirectly?

When we talk about admiration, we are evaluating character traits. We are asking if those traits are traits, if they were made universal, would tend to fulfill desires. An admirable trait could fulfill desires directly or indirectly - that part does not matter. The most powerful influence would be the tendency of the trait, if made universal, to fulfill desires indirectly. Direct fulfillment of desires simply would be too small to count for much.

So, given that "admiration" is based on "having a trait that people generally have reasons to promote universally," the question becomes whether the demon can make a trait one that people generally have reason to promote universally. If a trait could actually be made a trait that people generally have reason to promote universally, then it could be made admirable. However, in the real world, there are a great many reasons not to promote universally Trump's bigotry, dishonesty, arrogance, foolishness, and intellectual recklessness. Imagine if everybody were like Trump.

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