Sunday, January 27, 2019

Metaethics 0011: Michael Smith's Convergence of Ends

In my previous post, Metaethics 0010: Michael Smith's Moral Realism, I took issue with Michael Smith's claim that ends are subject to rational evaluation. I identified a number of different types of value - instrumental value, participatory value, contributory value, evidential value, and symbolic value. All of these can be rationally evaluated. This is because each of these consist of conglomerations of beliefs and ends, and the belief component can be rationally evaluated. There is no evidence in this that ends can be rationally evaluated.

Smith's moral realism contained another element. He argues that, if we were all rationally assess our attitudes, that we would come to some sort of convergence. However, since ends are not subject to rational assessment, and all rational assessment that does occur relates objects of evaluation to those ends, convergence requires that we already have the same ends. We all want the same things.

This requirement for convergence is false on its face. We can start with basic, biologically evolved ends such as aversion to pain. I have an aversion to my pain, and you have an aversion to our own pain. Insofar as I have an aversion to your pain, this is, at the very least, a different end from my aversion to my own pain. My aversion to my own pain has to do with the fact that my sensory nerves are connected to my brain (and, thus, those parts of the brain that process my aversion to pain) in a particular way. If there is any connection between your sensory nerves and my brain, it is clearly not the same type of connection, and it is not processed the same way.

Furthermore, in the same way that you and I did not evolve to have the same eye color, height, facial features, and the like, it is unlikely that we evolved to have identical aversions even to our own pain. I may have a stronger aversion to pain than you do, or a dislike for certain types of pain that do not bother you nearly so much. I may find bright lights and the scraping of fingernails on a chalk board to be painful while you shrug them off. You may find cold temperatures to be painful, while I am comfortable.

To make matters worse, our desires and aversions - much more than our physical features - are not genetically determined. We each have a reward system - a mesolimbic pathway. Because of this, our experiences shape our ends. You have great experiences with your family where you go to sports games and watch sporting events on television and root for the same team and enjoy your time together. My family, on the other hand, went camping, creating in me a love for the outdoors.

In fact, in many instances, we have reason to prefer it if ends do not converge. This is one area where ends are significantly different from beliefs. With respect to beliefs, while it is impossible for two people to have a complete set of beliefs (nobody can know that much), their beliefs should agree. However, when it comes to desires, it is not a convergence of desires that we are looking for, but a harmony of desires. I often use those desires that are relevant to choosing a profession as an example. We have no reason to want to create a society where everybody would put the same job at the top of their list of most preferred job, have the same second preference, and so on all the way to the bottom where everybody identifies the same least desired job. We are much better off in a society where some people value being teachers, others like being engineers, some want to be philosophers, others are historians, some build houses, and others produce sculptors and paintings. A rich diversity of desires pays dividends in the way that a rich diversity of beliefs do not.

So, against Smith's idea of a convergence of ends, we have: (1) ends are not subject to rational deliberation, (2) the sources of ends guarantees that we will have different ends, (3) to the degree that we have different ends we are - even if we are all equally and perfectly rational - going to be differently motivated by that which, relative to our different ends, have instrumental, participatory, contributory, evidential, and symbolic value, and (4) we have reasons to prefer a diversity of ends while we have no such reason to prefer a diversity of beliefs.

I think we can do without Smith's convergence of ends.

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