New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 31, 2010 in News

Alonzo Fyfe and I will soon be launching a new podcast devoted to moral foundations. It’s called ‘Morality without God.’

We’re posting a draft of the first episode (only 8 minutes long!) for your feedback. We’d love to know what you think works, and what doesn’t.

What do you think of the music? Of our voices? Our tone? The content? Is it easy to follow? Does it make sense to people who don’t have their heads buried in contemporary moral philosophy? Does it make you want to hear the next episode? What do you think of the length?

We’d very much like to know what you think. It’s not our opinion of it we care about, but your opinion.

Download here.

Let us know what you think! Be honest!

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{ 85 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous July 31, 2010 at 7:18 pm

How about a transcript?

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lukeprog July 31, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Yup, there will be transcripts (actually, scripts) posted along with each episode.

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Rob July 31, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Very good, easy to follow. I confess I have skipped most of the prior posts dealing with morality, because I think (a)discovering if there are moral facts and (b)discovering what those alleged facts are is a lost cause. I desire to be proven wrong.

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Thomas July 31, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I second the request for transcripts. I would prefer to read the scripts rather than listen to the podcasts.

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Márcio July 31, 2010 at 8:20 pm

There is no free will but there is objective right and wrong? How is this possible?

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lukeprog July 31, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Marcio,

That will be covered in at least one of the episodes, already planned. :)

For now, see here.

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antiplastic July 31, 2010 at 8:45 pm

*Please* change the title. And the description.

It’s not as though every other moral outlook but your sainted own is irretrievably god-soaked.

And “naturalistic moral realism” is misleading, since a metaphysical naturalist can endorse non-naturalistic realism, just not supernaturalistic realism.

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lukeprog July 31, 2010 at 10:08 pm

antiplastic,

A metaphysical naturalist can endorse non-naturalistic realism? Isn’t that contradictory?

No, we know there are lots of non-theistic moral theories. Desirism is a minor player. We’ll be discussing the other theories, too.

But yeah, it would be more accurate to call it ‘Desirism: The Podcast’ or something like that. But nobody would listen to that. :)

Thanks for your feedback.

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godless randall July 31, 2010 at 10:23 pm

^Let us know what you think! Be honest!^

msieht

big ups to whoever understands that

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Cyril July 31, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Huh.

The topic is definitely interesting, but the beginning of it sounded scripted. I know, I know. It probably is. But it lacked the conversational tone that “Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot” and (to a lesser extent) the second half of the current podcast.

It helps when the speaker-switches come at natural paragraph breaks instead of just (seemingly) arbitrarily.

That having been said, I’m still looking forward to the next episode. I have no doubts that it will stay up to the quality level I’ve come to expect from this site.

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lukeprog July 31, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Cyril,

Thanks for your very specific feedback!

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Supersage400 July 31, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Beautiful! I’m very excited you guys started this. I am greatly looking forward to future episodes.

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Matt M August 1, 2010 at 4:53 am

Will definitely add this to my podcast list when it gets up and running. Have to echo some of the previous comments about the scripted feel though – I’d much prefer a looser, more conversation style.

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julian August 1, 2010 at 6:21 am

Awesome!! I’m very excited about this, big thank you Luke and Alonzo.

I’m sure this is the aim, but I hope you will be targeting this at a layman level (much like your MetaEthics in plain talk).

In particular I look forward to discussions of other non-theistic theories of morality.

PS: I think the music is a bit naff :)

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G'DIsraeli August 1, 2010 at 7:02 am

’bout time

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Luke August 1, 2010 at 8:56 am

Great podcast! I love your posts on moral theory. Looking forward to more (longer?) discussions in the episodes.

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lukeprog August 1, 2010 at 9:27 am

“naff”?

Urban dictionary tells me that means tacky or lame?

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G'DIsraeli August 1, 2010 at 10:37 am

Too short! We need more :)

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Anonymous August 1, 2010 at 11:28 am

What are these reasons to condemn child killers? What makes them better? How can we know that the reasons against child killing are morally unethical? If I answer your questions, it still doesn’t solve what is ‘better’. Because what if I simply state that my desire outweighs all of all your desires? How can we measure if yours are any better when my desires say otherwise?

Alonzo opted not to respond to my response after he already responded. I however believe that he forgot about it.

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Jeff H August 1, 2010 at 11:33 am

Oh God, the scripted conversation was terrible. It sounded to me like an infomercial, especially right at the beginning. Nothing personal of course – it’s very hard to write a dialogue that sounds natural. In the future, I’d suggest you create “talking points” instead of word-for-word dialogue so it sounds less forced.

With that said, I look forward to future podcasts. I find desirism an intriguing idea, though ultimately vastly inferior to Jeff’s command theory.

P.S. I kinda liked the music. The logo on the other hand…well, to me, the text seems too plain in contrast to the detail of the image. But maybe that’s just me. And it’s ultimately unimportant. That’s why it’s in a P.S. I suppose.

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Data August 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I can’t help but recognize that the speech is forced, and it distracts from the topic a bit for me. The questions seem very unnatural written in this sort of Q&A format.

I guess the best way to put it is that I don’t want to be constantly aware that you are reading from a script, while trying to make it sound otherwise… If that is what you two are doing.

Petty criticism aside… keep up the great content! This is helping me very much to understand what I believe about morality.

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Mike Caton August 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Luke, thanks for your continued focus on the really important question of rational philosophy (morality.) I really think that getting theists to accept the possibility of self-directed moral behavior will be a major nail in faith’s coffin. Now, branding question for you. One of the problems with atheism as a social movement is that it’s defined by the absence of something. Not that you’re issuing press releases for “Morality Without God” but in the long run, shouldn’t there be a more uplifting term for this that has a chance to get through to on-the-fence theists without triggering the shields-up response? Something all-American sounding. “Self-Reliant Morality”, something along those lines. Something that you can say while you’re eating beef and driving a Ford pick-up.

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lukeprog August 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm

We are indeed reading a script, and aware that it doesn’t sound natural. We appreciate all your feedback; we’ll try something else and see if it works better.

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TaiChi August 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I’m looking forward to this. Some notes:

- I agree with the comments above about the scripted tone, but I expect it’ll improve as the material becomes more interesting. I think it should be longer. The music’s fine. It’s a nice gentle introduction.
- There was an odd note hit in the comparison between theistic intuitions and moral intuitions: it was mentioned that both are inadequate evidence for realism, but then Fyfe went on to say that he’d spent 12 years searching for a tenable ethical theory. Should a theist likewise keep going with her hunch, knowing that her intuitions are inadequate as an argument, but continuing to believe and search for a plausible theism? That doesn’t seem very skeptical, and neither did Fyfe when giving his story.
- Whilst it’s all very well to set aside intuitions as not being particularly helpful at the outset, I hope you’ll return to discuss it. I’d like to hear why it should be, given that intuitions are not to be counted as an epistemic authority, that they should mostly line up with Fyfe’s theory.
- Another odd note: you (Luke) say that you want to know what really is better, rather than what is better according to your own tradition – then Fyfe asks after your tradition, saying it’s important. Why would it be important after you have explicitly set your tradition aside as an authority on what is better?
- I think the usual interpretation of Mackie in the latter half of Inventing Right and Wrong is that he is sketching a fictionalist account: he first argues that moral discourse is flawed, and then that it serves a useful function, facilitating social co-operation. Anyhow, Fyfe’s comment that Mackie “was trying to tell us how to make true moral statements” was confusing – presumably this is consistent with “all moral claims are false”, but it’s just not clear how that can be.

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lukeprog August 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm

TaiChi,

Thanks for your feedback!

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Justfinethanks August 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Luke, I don’t want to come off as one of those ungrateful types who doesn’t appreciate the massive amount of free, high quality, multi format content you produce.

But don’t you think it would be a good idea to produce a few entires for your second podcast before you start work on a third? Or is “counter apologetics” an abandoned project?

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lukeprog August 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Counter-apologetics is essentially abandoned, yes.

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Kip August 2, 2010 at 8:51 am

I think Luke sounded less scripted, probably because he’s had more experience with public speaking. Alonzo got better toward the end, and I bet he’ll get even better as the episodes go on.

Luke: if I may request… I’d like to hear an episode that deals with “universality” as regards to morality. What does “universal” mean in this context? Are there (natural) reasons why morality must be “universal”? How does morality differ from social norms, and how do we decide which is (or should be) which?

If Desirism can be summarized as saying that morality is about “achieving a harmony of desires”, wouldn’t that entail that not all the desires be the same (i.e. “universal”), but rather, as Alonzo discussed in an interview with you, “some people desire white meat chicken, and some people desire dark meat” (paraphrased). [I think the confusion may be over the use of the word "universal"… so I bring up this specific example to illustrate the confusion.]

Thanks, and I look forward to the next episode!

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cl August 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

Luke,

In general, too “NPR” ish. Make it a bit more original. It’s got no soul. Then again, it is a naturalist podcast oh! Thes music was okay IMO, but again, the whole NPR vibe just doesn’t work for me and I would definitely have made a different choice of melody. I agree with those who say it sounded scripted, but I actually liked Alonzo’s voice / tone better. Except the parts where he read questions, it sounded less contrived more like somebody I might encounter in a pizza parlor. I like that. Overall, the podcast was pretty easy to follow and I think you’ve succeeded in broadening the accessibility beyond the realms of acadamia. I dig the length. Short and sweet.

Now, as for the content… several issues bothered me:

1. You say this is supposed to be a discussion about morality “…without reference to gods or other dubious things, like moral intuitions, or intrinsic value,” and you imply that theories with evidence are superior, yet, Fyfe gives no evidence and seemingly relies on moral intuition for his claim that the Greeks were “probably wrong” concerning pederasty. When asked – repeatedly – to explain this apparent discrepancy, Alonzo refuses to justify his assertion – and you’re seemingly okay with that.

2. When Alonzo points out that several people with the desire to make the world a better place actually made it worse, you agreed, and stated that you want to be “very careful to figure out what really is better rather than what is better according to [your] own tradition, or what appeals to [your] own psychology.” Though I really do believe you speak in earnest there, it’s hard for me to take that seriously, because I believe that Alonzo and yourself are relying on your own intuitions in several areas concerning desirism, and I believe that you promote desirism precisely because it appeals to your newfound atheist psychology. You even imply this in the podcast.

3. Alonzo makes a reference to something he calls “the bandwagon fallacy,” where people assume that majority support justifies acceptance of a proposition. I agree that such is an instance of poor induction. However, Alonzo’s arguments on desirism seemingly incorporate an iteration of this fallacy. For example, Alonzo makes an awful lot of statements about “people generally,” and suggests that we should avoid certain desires because “people generally” have reasons to condemn them. How is that any different?

4. Particularly, this statement irked me more than any other: “…I’ve been defending [Alonzo's] theory of desirism not so much because I’m sure it’s right, but because I think it’s good enough to deserve a fair hearing and invite intelligent criticism so we can find out if the theory stands up to the test.” Are you kidding yourself? You and Alonzo have eschewed enough intelligent criticism that it makes my head spin. Worse, when asked about it, you reply that you’re too busy to address the intelligent criticism because you’re preparing desirism for peer review. Yet, you have enough time to launch a podcast about it? I believe that if you really wanted to be careful and check yourself here, that you would tackle the intelligent criticism head-on instead of just hand-waving it away and pressing on towards your goal. It just doesn’t make sense in light of the homage you pay to reasoned skepticism and abandonment of personal intuitions.

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Kip August 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm

cl:

1) It’s an empirical question for which there has not been a direct study done, but indirect evidence seems to indicate that it’s probably not “good”. Thus, Alonzo’s answer seems to have a proper confidence level in this case.

2) This may be right, but I’m not sure if it’s right in the exact way you think it may be right (mostly because I’m not exactly sure what you mean by it, but what it could mean is that the theory is wrong in a way that is not being questioned because of any underlying assumptions and biases).

3) The “reasons” Alonzo refers to (here) are not “beliefs” but “desires”. Desires-as-ends cannot be factually incorrect like beliefs can, and thus are not subject to the bandwagon fallacy.

4) N/A.

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lukeprog August 2, 2010 at 1:24 pm

cl,

Thanks for your feedback. Any suggestions on how to make it less NPRish? I’m not quite sure which feature of the podcast you’re referring to, there.

1: I agree about the apparent contradiction between denying the value of moral intuitions, and then using intuitions to say that, for example, Greeks were probably wrong about pederasty. (Though we did not use this example.) Truth be told, the real problem for me is not that, say, pederasty “seems” wrong, but rather that intuitions have lead to so many contradictory types of actions and desires in history that it’s quite plausible that IF moral realism is true THEN somebody has been doing some wrong stuff when they thought they were doing good stuff. But that takes longer to say. We’re always having to balance between saying it correctly and saying it briefly, but maybe this is a case where we should take the time to say it correctly.

2: Where do you think Alonzo and I are appealing to our intuitions when it comes to desirism?

3: The bandwagon fallacy is: “Idea X is popular, therefore idea X is correct.” The example I gave of this is the common moral realist reasoning “Moral realism is popular, therefore moral realism is correct.” Alonzo’s argument about ‘people generally having reasons for action to condemn X’ does not take that form, and thus does not commit the bandwagon fallacy.

4: I understand your frustration, but again I invite you to send your criticisms of moral realism to Peter Railton or Geoffrey Sayre-McCord and see what kind of response you get. Yup, I’m choosing to spend the time the way I want to, and that involves (1) bringing my philosophical skills up to snuff so I can present desirism for peer review, and (2) doing this podcast to try to communicate desirism more clearly than has done before. Since this podcast will quickly be a good way for us to respond to the criticisms so far provided of desirism, I’m not sure why you’re complaining…

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Alonzo Fyfe August 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Alonzo’s argument about ‘people generally having reasons for action to condemn X’ does not take that form, and thus does not commit the bandwagon fallacy.

Actually, it is not even an argument.

It is a proposition. (Arguments require 2 or more propositions.)

As a proposition – which is capable of being true or false. I assert that it is sometimes true.

To say that a proposition is an example of a bandwagon fallacy is a category eerror.

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Alonzo Fyfe August 2, 2010 at 2:30 pm

By the way, Like and I have been talking about how to incorporate some of these comments, and we thank you for them. It’s hard to see something clearly when you are standing too close to it. So, the input is quite valuable.

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BJ Marshall August 2, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Aside from what’s already been said, I noted a distinct lack of an intro and outro. For an outro example, perhaps you could refer people to the Common Sense Atheism or Atheist Ethicist web sites. I love how your intro on CPBD has a wonderful sound bite of the conversation, so perhaps you could do that, as well.

Have you considered having multiple segments in your podcast? I’m thinking of how The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe introduces “Science or Fiction” or their interviews – even with different catchy music. In your segment, you could take a current event and apply desirism (or whatever moral framework you’re discussing at the time) to see a real-world example of this stuff in action.

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cl August 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Kip,

Hey there.

It’s an empirical question for which there has not been a direct study done, but indirect evidence seems to indicate that it’s probably not “good”. Thus, Alonzo’s answer seems to have a proper confidence level in this case.

How so? Are you using the generic ‘good’ there, or, the moral ‘good?’ Unfortunately, unless you want to get more specific, I can’t share that opinion with you. The “indirect evidence” you’re appealing to is actually more ambiguous than Alonzo’s appeal to an unspecified subset of venereal diseases. I simply can’t do anything with it.

Regarding 2, all I’m saying is that there’s a big discrepancy between Luke’s statement, “[I want to be] very careful to figure out what really is better rather than what is better according to my own tradition, or what appeals to my own psychology,” and [Alonzo and] Luke’s action of eschewing intelligent criticism about the theory. The one who really wants to be sure would take the bull by the horns, don’t you think?

The “reasons” Alonzo refers to (here) are not “beliefs” but “desires”. Desires-as-ends cannot be factually incorrect like beliefs can, and thus are not subject to the bandwagon fallacy.

I agree that desires-as-ends cannot be factually incorrect, but that’s beside my point. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Alonzo is saying something that could be fairly paraphrased as, “we should respect those desires that satisfy the greatest amount of other desires.” Hence, he is doing something much like the bandwagon fallacy in my opinion. It might not be a textbook instance of the fallacy, but the underlying reasoning seems much the same. I don’t see much difference between, “belief X is correct because a majority accepts it” and “desire X is good because it tends to fulfill other desires.” Do you? If so, what significant difference do you see?

N/A.

If condoning the act of eschewing of valid criticism isn’t applicable to you, I don’t know what to say. I honestly don’t know why you would take that position. To me, that’s a flagrant offense against rationalism.

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cl August 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Luke,

Any suggestions on how to make it less NPRish? I’m not quite sure which feature of the podcast you’re referring to, there.

It’s hard to say, exactly. It’s more like a combination of everything: the music, your delivery… I don’t think it matters too much as the content is the main thing, but, a good style and feel would make it that much better. Maybe ditch the music altogether, in favor of a pertinent quotation or perhaps you could tell some real-world story to illustrate one or more principles of desirism? Either of those would have the added bonus of drawing you and Alonzo into a more natural discussion, as well.

I agree about the apparent contradiction between denying the value of moral intuitions, and then using intuitions to say that, for example, Greeks were probably wrong about pederasty. (Though we did not use this example.)

1) Can you clarify? Are you saying that it’s probably wrong for Alonzo to say [without a cogent argument] that the Greeks were probably wrong? If so, I agree, and I think you should ask him about it.

2) Alonzo said the Greeks were “probably wrong” and refused to justify that claim when pressed. Since, by Alonzo’s logic, non-monogamous sex is also “probably wrong,” I think we need to see a more fleshed-out argument, don’t you?

…the real problem for me is… that intuitions have lead to so many contradictory types of actions and desires in history that it’s quite plausible that IF moral realism is true THEN somebody has been doing some wrong stuff when they thought they were doing good stuff.

Yes, that’s a real problem for me, too, and that’s precisely why I’m trying to get you and Alonzo to participate here. I’m not convinced that you and Alonzo aren’t relying your intuitions here, and I want to see some convincing evidence that you’re not in the subset of misguided people you allude to. If desirism is what it’s cracked up to be, we should be able to use it to apprehend the truth here, don’t you think?

We’re always having to balance between saying it correctly and saying it briefly, but maybe this is a case where we should take the time to say it correctly.

Need correctness and brevity mutually exclude?

Where do you think Alonzo and I are appealing to our intuitions when it comes to desirism?

How many more examples do you need? I just gave one: the pederasty thing. Or, Alonzo’s rant against “trash TV” comes to mind. Or, Alonzo’s position on smoking. I still haven’t seen the various positions on these things justified, so, I conclude that Alonzo must be responding to what he feels is morally wrong, rather than what actually is morally wrong.

Alonzo’s argument about ‘people generally having reasons for action to condemn X’ does not take that form, and thus does not commit the bandwagon fallacy.

See my reply to Kip above. I don’t see much difference between, “belief X is correct because a majority accepts it” and “desire X is good because it tends to fulfill other desires.” Do you? If so, what significant difference do you see?

…again I invite you to send your criticisms of moral realism to Peter Railton or Geoffrey Sayre-McCord and see what kind of response you get.

Red herring. They’re not relevant here; you and Fyfe – and the claims you make – are.

I’m choosing to spend the time the way I want to, and that involves (1) bringing my philosophical skills up to snuff so I can present desirism for peer review,

I hear you, and I’ve heard you. What better way to bring those skills up to par than addressing valid criticism that’s already on the table? That’s what I’m getting at. Do you think referees aren’t going to have any of the same concerns? Seriously? Why not work out the kinks first, then submit the work?

Since this podcast will quickly be a good way for us to respond to the criticisms so far provided of desirism, I’m not sure why you’re complaining…

I’m complaining because you guys eschew criticism, make unjustified claims, and ignore questions, while implying that creationists are evil at worst and intellectually reckless at best for basically the same behavior.

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lukeprog August 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm

cl,

Thanks again for your thoughts on the podcast.

The Railton and Sayre-McCord thing is not a red herring. It’s an illustration. Just because somebody doesn’t respond to you doesn’t mean they are wrong or their claims are unjustified. I am not obligated to spend my life responding to your criticisms. And you are not obligated to take desirism seriously.

I can’t speak for Alonzo. Can you give an example of where you think I am smuggling intuitions into desirism?

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Kip August 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I don’t see much difference between, “belief X is correct because a majority accepts it” and “desire X is good because it tends to fulfill other desires.”

It’s entirely different. When a belief is “correct”, that means (to me) that it corresponds to reality. A desire cannot be “correct” in this way, so it makes no sense to say a desire is “correct”. A desire (as well as a belief) can be “good”, though, and by “good” people typically mean something to the effect of “fulfills the desires in question”.

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Kip August 4, 2010 at 5:24 pm

2) Alonzo said the Greeks were “probably wrong” and refused to justify that claim when pressed. Since, by Alonzo’s logic, non-monogamous sex is also “probably wrong,” I think we need to see a more fleshed-out argument, don’t you?

I don’t think so. I think we need more empirical information. Once we have agreed on the underlying moral framework, the normative rules that come out of that should be grounded on empirical, scientific research.

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cl August 4, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Luke,

The Railton and Sayre-McCord thing is not a red herring. It’s an illustration.

What are you trying to imply? That since professional philosophers won’t respond to every single question that you don’t have to, either? None of this is about that.

Just because somebody doesn’t respond to you doesn’t mean they are wrong or their claims are unjustified.

If somebody makes a claim, then fails to justify it to the person asking them, their claim is unjustified, from the perspective of the person asking. It may be that Alonzo has answers, yet, if that were the case, I don’t see why he wouldn’t just say, “Oh, see this post over here” or something of that nature. Or, if perhaps he needs time to come up with an answer, I don’t see why he wouldn’t just say, “Hmm… that’s a valid question, let me think and get back to you.”

I am not obligated to spend my life responding to your criticisms.

Of course you’re not, don’t be silly. You act like I’m asking you to bend over backwards when I’m really just asking basic questions that other people have, too [i.e. Cyril on Alonzo's appeal to non-malleable desires].

Can you give an example of where you think I am smuggling intuitions into desirism?

The whole “Creationists are evil” tirade you went on a while back comes to mind. I don’t recall you ever coming up with a viable argument for your position on the 1000 racists position, either. There’s two examples right there.

Kip,

When a belief is “correct”, that means (to me) that it corresponds to reality. A desire cannot be “correct” in this way, so it makes no sense to say a desire is “correct”.

Of course not, but at the end of the day, bias towards the overall majority is still the deciding factor.

A desire (as well as a belief) can be “good”, though, and by “good” people typically mean something to the effect of “fulfills the desires in question”.

The problem with this – and it’s a problem that has been pointed out several times – is that myself and other commenters have provided several instances both actual and hypothetical where a desire tends to “fulfill the desires in question” but would not result in the type of act most modern societies would condone as “good.” So to me, “good” must mean something more than “tends to fulfill the desires in question.”

I think we need more empirical information. Once we have agreed on the underlying moral framework, the normative rules that come out of that should be grounded on empirical, scientific research.

How might we use empirical research to reliably answer the question of whether or not the Greeks were “probably wrong” concerning pederasty?

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Kip August 4, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Of course not, but at the end of the day, bias towards the overall majority is still the deciding factor.

I don’t understand what you are saying, here. A “bias towards the overall majority” does not make a belief “correct”. And desires can’t be “correct” or “incorrect”.

The problem with this … is that myself and other commenters have provided several instances both actual and hypothetical where a desire tends to “fulfill the desires in question” but would not result in the type of act most modern societies would condone as “good.” So to me, “good” must mean something more than “tends to fulfill the desires in question.”

Until we are on the same page in regards to the nature of “value”, then I doubt we’d ever agree on any moral system. There’s a good reason that Alonzo starts his theory with a description of “value” (http://alonzofyfe.com/article_du.shtml) — because the entire theory is built on that foundation. So, my recommendation would be for you to focus your questions and efforts there, rather than on the meta–ethical theory.

So, if you’d like to start, my first question to you would be for you to please give me (again, if you have already, I apologize) an example of a desire that tends to fulfill more and stronger desires (considering all desires), but that tends to result in actions that most of society would not condone as “good”.

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lukeprog August 4, 2010 at 9:44 pm

“What are you trying to imply? That since professional philosophers won’t respond to every single question that you don’t have to, either?”

Exactly.

Re: creationists and 1000 racists, Alonzo and I have given the arguments several times. There are no basic intuitions involved. If you don’t buy the arguments, that’s fine.

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cl August 5, 2010 at 7:45 am

Kip,

I’m still very interested in hearing you [or Fyfe or anyone else] explain how we might use empirical research to reliably answer the question of whether the Greeks were “probably wrong” concerning pederasty.

I don’t understand what you are saying, here. A “bias towards the overall majority” does not make a belief “correct”. And desires can’t be “correct” or “incorrect”.

I’m not saying that bias towards the overall majority makes a belief correct. In fact, I’m arguing the exact opposite, then applying the same logic to Alonzo’s arguments concerning the moral good.

The bandwagon fallacist says something like, “belief X must be true because people generally believe it.” The desirist says something like, “desire X must be morally good, because people generally would have more desires fulfilled than thwarted by it.” In both cases, the search for truth is discarded in favor of bias towards dispositions of the overall majority.

Said another way, if the fact that “people generally” believe X doesn’t make X correct, how does the fact that “people generally” desire X make X morally good?

I anticipate an answer that assumes Alonzo’s definition of ‘good’ is sufficient. If that’s the case, then I suppose we move on to debate that, which leads to…

Until we are on the same page in regards to the nature of “value”…

I’ve read Alonzo’s introduction at least three times over the past year. What makes you think I ought to read it again? What makes you think we’re not on the same page regarding value?

So, if you’d like to start, my first question to you would be for you to please give me (again, if you have already, I apologize) an example of a desire that tends to fulfill more and stronger desires (considering all desires), but that tends to result in actions that most of society would not condone as “good”.

No problem, but first let me point out that you’ve switched things up a bit since your last comment to me, where you said that good = “tends to fulfill the desires in question.” Here, you are saying that we need to consider all desires, so you’re going to have to clarify. Are we to consider all desires that exist? Or, only the pertinent affected desires in any given situation?

That aside, the 1000-racists problem – specifically, Cartesian’s variation of it – is a perfect example of what I describe:

Suppose the Nazis had killed or brainwashed anyone who disagreed with them, and succeeded in conquering the world. They keep a handful of Jewish people around in zoos, just to torture. Suppose the most popular television show in Naziland features ordinary Nazis — selected by lottery from among the Nazi population — torturing these Jewish people just for fun. The billions of Nazis in the television audience absolutely LOVE it. It’s like American Idol to them. They look forward to it all week. It’s what they want most in life: to see those Jewish people tortured. These Jewish people are kept in a pretty sorry mental state (due to nearly constant torture, and perhaps even some drugs), so that each of their desires not to be tortured is weaker than each of the Nazis desires to torture them.

You and your friend Jerk live in Naziland. Jerk is a typical Nazi: he really badly wants to win the lottery so he can appear on this television show and torture some Jewish people. You, on the other hand, don’t. You’ve done some thinking lately, and you’ve concluded that torturing people just for fun is awful, and you want no part of it. (Naturally, you keep these opinions to yourself, for fear of being taken in for “re-education.”)

Clearly, in this situation, your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad. But, in this situation, only Jerk’s desire tends to fulfill more and stronger desires than it thwarts. (His desire, if satisfied, would fulfill the very strong desires of billions of blood-thirsty Nazis, while thwarting the weaker desires of only a few Jewish people.) Your desire, however, actually tends to thwart more and stronger desires than it fulfills. So, according to desirism, *your* desire is bad and *Jerk’s* desire is good.

But that gets things exactly backwards. So desirism is false. (Cartesian)

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cl August 5, 2010 at 7:47 am

Luke,

I’m not asking you to answer every single question, though. I’m asking very specific, pointed questions, and I would be more than happy if you would pursue even one of them to a conclusion. If you don’t want to, that’s your deal, but if that’s the case, well… why should anybody take desirism seriously?

There are no basic intuitions involved.

Sure there are: you guys strongly dislike Creationists and what you believe they stand for. Your moral intuitions tell you that racism is wrong, so you argue against it. Your moral intuitions tell you that pederasty is wrong, so you argue against it. Then, ironically, you warn us about the dangers of basing our reasoning on intuitions. It just doesn’t compute, whatsoever.

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lukeprog August 5, 2010 at 8:07 am

cl,

I have no doubt that my intuitions influence how I reason about morality. But I’m trying to counteract them as much as possible. In any case, I did not cite my intuitions in favor of condemnation of creationists. I gave arguments. If you have a complaint about the arguments, please direct your efforts there, not towards a genetic fallacy.

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Kip August 5, 2010 at 8:21 am

No problem, but first let me point out that you’ve switched things up a bit since your last comment to me, where you said that good = “tends to fulfill the desires in question.” Here, you are saying that we need to consider all desires, so you’re going to have to clarify. Are we to consider all desires that exist? Or, only the pertinent affected desires in any given situation?

You always consider the “desires in question”. “Good” is a relative term — it is relative to one or more desires. In the context of moral propositions, I would suggest that “good” should(*) refer to “all desires within the moral system” (and that the “moral system” for humans would include all human desires on Earth). Alonzo may disagree with me on details of this. But, we don’t disagree on the underlying idea of “value”, though — what makes something “good”. You seem to disagree.

(*) I think this is also an area of confusion. There is no objective way to determine the correct definition of the term “moral proposition”. We must just agree to use the term to refer to the same thing. People use the term in different ways, of course, so it’s imperative to get “on the same page” before much useful conversation can take place.

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Kip August 5, 2010 at 8:30 am

Clearly, in this situation, your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad.

Perhaps. Why do you think it is, though? What makes my desire “good” and Jerk’s desire “bad”? How do you gain this knowledge? How can you be sure it’s true?

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cl August 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Luke,

I have no doubt that my intuitions influence how I reason about morality. But I’m trying to counteract them as much as possible.

You keep saying that, but I believe that if you were really trying as much as possible, you’d address the objections that have already been raised. I know I would, but that’s just me.

In any case, I did not cite my intuitions in favor of condemnation of creationists.

Sure, not openly, but since your arguments were shown to be in need of emendation at best and horribly vapid at worst, where’s the justification for your claim?

If you have a complaint about the arguments, please direct your efforts there, not towards a genetic fallacy.

Oh please.

1) Do you really think I’ve committed the genetic fallacy here? If so, it is your responsibility as positive claimant to provide evidence for your claim, as opposed to simply asserting it in hopes that I or your audience will believe.

2) Don’t be disingenuous. You tell me to direct my efforts to the arguments, when I know that you know I already did. I wrote a detailed, point-by-point post addressing your arguments, and I sent you an email to assure that you knew about it. In that email, I asked if you would be willing to respond and/or enter into dialog with me. Note that you responded then much as you do now: you stated that you didn’t have the time and/or interest to pursue the matter. That post dates back almost a full year.

I mean this in good spirit, but get serious here! If in fact you are serious, take a closer look! You can’t tell me to address your arguments when you know damn well I already did! Where’s the intellectual integrity in that?

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lukeprog August 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

cl,

You’re still talking about the creationists issue? Your post totally misunderstands what Alonzo said. Alonzo explicitly said that it’s not the beliefs that are worthy of condemnation, but the bad desires (or lack of good desires) that result in creationist beliefs that are what we have reasons for action to condemn.

For example, you write:

People who become creationists don’t sit around saying to themselves, “I have the desire to blind myself to evidence; I think I’ll believe God created the Earth in six days.” Rather, some creationists acquire the belief first, and then become vulnerable to slothful induction and ignoring evidence.

But neither Alonzo or I claimed anything like the idea that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence.

Moving on, your point (1) disputed our claim that “creationist values” lead to death and maiming. Alonzo identified creationist values as “a willingness to blind oneself to evidence.” Why do we think that YECs, or at least nearly all YECs, have this trait? Because YEC is so thoroughly contradicted by the available evidence that in this case, we can reasonable infer that if they really believe YEC, then they are willing to blind themselves to the evidence. We would conclude the same about an educated person who thought the world is flat. YEC is that extreme of a view. And this level of willingness to blind oneself to the evidence contributes to death and maiming in a lot of ways, as Alonzo explains here.

On (2) you wrote: “it should be self-evident that it is possible to be a creationist without damaging society, and that’s why I’m so disappointed in Luke and Fyfe.”

We never said that it’s impossible to be a creationist without damaging society! cl, your charges are littered with these straw men. This is why I often can’t raise myself to respond. You’ve so thoroughly misrepresented our positions, it’s exhausting. What we said is that creationists have bad desires (or, they lack good desires) in such a way that people have reasons for action to condemn these bad desires (or, their lack of good desires).

On (3), you acknowledge that I did not commit the ad hominem fallacy. Or, you kinda did. You said I insulted creationists by morally condemning them, and that this is close enough to ad hominem to be worth charging me with ad hominem. I just disagree. An ad hominem is an argument. What I did was insult creationists – though I prefer the term “morally condemn.” Moral claims are insults of a sort. My moral condemnation of a rapist is an insult to his values. My moral condemnation of creationists is an insult to their values. (Not to their beliefs, as you keep claiming.)

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cl August 5, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Kip,

Okay, so Fyfe’s actual position notwithstanding, you personally define “desires in question” as “all human desires?” Am I understanding that correctly? [Personally, I don't see the need for the distinction "on Earth," as I don't see how geographical location matters]

Alonzo may disagree with me on details of this. But, we don’t disagree on the underlying idea of “value”, though — what makes something “good”. You seem to disagree.

If by disagree you mean that I reject Alonzo’s definition of good altogether, no, I don’t disagree. I agree with you and Alonzo that “tends to fulfill other desires” is cerainly a necessary component in any accurate definition of good. However, I argue further that good must mean something more than “tends to fulfill other desires,” as evidenced by the many scenarios devised to illustrate this point. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to agree, when you reply “perhaps” to Cartesian’s Nazi example.

Why do you think it is, though? What makes my desire “good” and Jerk’s desire “bad”?

I have no idea what makes your desire “good” and Jerk’s desire “bad.” However, that’s beside the point. I can tell you with certainty that’s it’s not the simple fact of a desire tending to fulfill other desires that makes your desire “good” – because if that were the case – then you’re desire wouldn’t be “good.” Jerk’s would.

So, where does that leave us regarding good and value?

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cl August 5, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Luke,

Yeah, I didn’t think you’d say anything like, “My bad cl, you’re right – you actually did address my arguments.” You should, unless of course you feel it’s okay to make false accusations against people without apologizing when corrected. Is that what you think?

Your post totally misunderstands what Alonzo said.

You know, it’s funny, because that’s exactly what you say when people object to desirism, too. How much longer will you continue to rely on the Courtier’s Reply?

As for your claim I “didn’t understand,” consider:

…neither Alonzo or I claimed anything like the idea that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence.

then

Alonzo identified creationist values as “a willingness to blind oneself to evidence.”

How can one have a “willingness” to blind oneself to evidence without telling oneself that they will blind oneself to evidence?

We never said that it’s impossible to be a creationist without damaging society! cl, your charges are littered with these straw men.

Nor did I say that’s what you said. It’s what you didn’t say that I was alluding to. You went on a tirade against YECs, yet failed to mention that it’s possible and quite common to believe God created the Earth in six days without leading to maiming or death. So no, I’ve not built any strawman, I’ve exposed the illogical nature of your argument.

My moral condemnation of creationists is an insult to their values. (Not to their beliefs, as you keep claiming.)

Yet, the title of my post is, “Creationist Values Do Not Lead To Death And Maiming.” Here’s further evidence suggesting that I’ve been aware you are not attacking creationist beliefs all along, but their desires / values:

Luke seems to distance himself a half-step from Fyfe by claiming it’s not what creationists believe that’s evil, but the “set of desires that produces a belief in creationism,” specifically, “the desire to blind oneself to the evidence.” (cl, 10-19-2009)

So then, if I specified that you weren’t attacking their beliefs 10 months ago, why do you claim that I “keep claiming” you are attacking them now?

Anyways, the whole point here was my claim that you rely on moral intuitions in your moral judgments on creationists. Since you don’t have a cogent argument supporting your across-the-board judgment, I stand by my claim. If you actually respond to my objections instead of alleging strawmen where none exist, I’ll gladly reconsider my position, but until then, I suspect that something besides a cogent argument supported by reason has created your attitude towards YECs.

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lukeprog August 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm

cl,

No, I’m not going to apologize or say that you addressed the arguments until you do address the arguments. If you attack straw men, it is not a Courtier’s reply for me to say that you attack straw men.

You ask: “How can one have a willingness to blind oneself to the evidence without telling oneself that they blind oneself to the evidence?”

This is the whole point of the original creationists post by Alonzo. Creationists are guilty of a kind of moral negligence that we have reason to condemn. Negligent people do not necessarily say, “I am going to be negligent, here.” They are just negligent.

You say that by pointing out that YECs don’t necessarily contribute to death and maiming you have exposed the illogical nature of my argument. But this is false, because my argument does not depend on the claim that YECs necessarily contribute to death and maiming. Indeed, I said this claim is false. So yes, you are attacking a straw man. You said that my argument relies on claim X, and that’s why the falsity of X undermines my argument. But I never made claim X. That is the definition of attacking a straw man.

So I’m still waiting to hear: Where did I call on intuitions in my argument for the condemnation of creationists? You keep asserting this, but you cannot point to any point at which I made this claim. You say, “Sure, not openly.” But then doesn’t that mean I haven’t called upon intuitions in support of my argument? It sounds like you agree, and yet you keep insisting that I’m calling on intuitions to support my argument.

I saw the paragraph about how Alonzo was condemning beliefs and I was not. My response was unclear. I should have asked why you said that Alonzo said we should condemn creationist beliefs, when he never said any such thing.

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cl August 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Luke,

Isn’t this a question of applied ethics? Didn’t you just tell me [in another thread] that you don’t have the time to get into questions of applied ethics because you “don’t know?” Just wondering.

Negligent people do not necessarily say, “I am going to be negligent, here.” They are just negligent.

True, but Alonzo claimed they are willfully negligent. A willfully negligent person must have knowledge of what it is they are doing. Awareness is a necessary component of a willful act.

Creationists are guilty of a kind of moral negligence that we have reason to condemn.

No, they are not, and you are making a sweeping generalization that you cannot responsibly sustain. The truth is that the morally negligent are guilty of a kind of moral negligence that we [arguably] have reason to condemn, and anybody can be morally negligent in such a manner.

You say that by pointing out that YECs don’t necessarily contribute to death and maiming you have exposed the illogical nature of my argument… You said that my argument relies on claim X, and that’s why the falsity of X undermines my argument. But I never made claim X.

Hmmm… When you say “claim X” I don’t know exactly what you allude to, because you’re not being specific. Alas, let’s backtrack. You said,

I think Creationist values do contribute to death and maiming, for the reasons given quite clearly in Fyfe’s post.

Note the string, “CREATIONIST VALUES DO CONTRIBUTE TO DEATH AND MAIMING…” So, if claim X is something like, “Creationist values lead to death and maiming” – as you yourself said – where’s the strawman?

I saw the paragraph about how Alonzo was condemning beliefs and I was not. My response was unclear. I should have asked why you said that Alonzo said we should condemn creationist beliefs, when he never said any such thing.

1) Your response wasn’t unlcear; it was flat-out mistaken and indicates a lack of familiarity with my criticisms.

2) Where are you getting the string “condemning beliefs” from? Why are you attributing it to me? Did I say that Alonzo said “we should condemn creationist beliefs?” I don’t believe I did, but I’ll gladly apologize and pay better attention if you can show that I have. If you cannot show that I have, I would appreciate an apology for this strawman, and would ask you to pay better attention.

In my post, I said, “Luke seems to distance himself a half-step from Fyfe by claiming it’s not what creationists believe that’s evil, but the ‘set of desires that produces a belief in creationism,’ specifically, ‘the desire to blind oneself to the evidence.’”

The problem is that “the desire to blind oneself to the evidence” doesn’t “produce a belief in creationism” as you allege, hence, your argument is illogical, i.e. invalid.

BTW, here is what Fyfe actually said, quoted just as I quoted it 10 months ago:

THIS is the post in which I say that what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming.

Your ball: if you’re not basing your attitude of creationists on moral intuitions, what are you basing it on?

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Kip August 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Okay, so Fyfe’s actual position notwithstanding, you personally define “desires in question” as “all human desires?” Am I understanding that correctly?

When we are talking about moral propositions, which are intended to be universal, then yes.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to agree, when you reply “perhaps” to Cartesian’s Nazi example.

I don’t agree.

So, where does that leave us regarding good and value?

With you asserting something for which you have “no idea” how you know it, or how we can know if it’s true.

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lukeprog August 5, 2010 at 3:38 pm

cl,

Yes, the condemnation of creationists is an applied ethical question. I’m being generous. :)

Okay, this talk about ‘willful negligence’ can be confusing. The way I use those words, anyway, someone can be willfully negligent without being conscious of being willfully negligent. For example, consider the boss who willfully refuses to hire blacks because he finds them inferior, but he does not live in a subculture that makes him aware that this is racist. The boss is being willfully racist without ever thinking the thought “I am being willfully racist.” In the same way, YECs can willfully choose to not be very careful in their consideration of the evidence without ever thinking the thought “I am being willfully negligent in examining the evidence about the age of the earth.”

Now, you write:

The truth is that the morally negligent are guilty of a kind of moral negligence that we [arguably] have reason to condemn, and anybody can be morally negligent in such a manner.

This is correct, and fully consistent with the claim that creationists are worthy of condemnation for being morally negligent in their consideration of evidence about important topics.

You asked me to point to where you said Alonzo advocated “condemning beliefs.” Maybe I’ve misinterpreted you, but here’s where I got that quote from: “Luke seems to distance himself a half-step from Fyfe by claiming it’s not what creationists believe that’s evil, but [something else].” Doesn’t the first clause imply that Fyfe said what creationists believe is evil?

You also wrote:

The problem is that “the desire to blind oneself to the evidence” doesn’t “produce a belief in creationism” as you allege, hence, your argument is illogical, i.e. invalid.

This isn’t clear to me, so I’m not sure if it’s the argument I’m defending. Here is the argument I am defending: Belief in a 6,000 year earth, like belief in a flat earth, is very good evidence that the believer lacks sufficient desires to investigate evidence about important matters seriously. Because such carelessness in considering evidence leads to death and maiming, we have reasons for action to promote in others desires to investigate evidence about important matters in a serious way. The reasons for action that we have to do so are, specifically, our desires that will be thwarted when people are careless in considering evidence (about nuclear policy, about global warming, etc.)

And yes, Fyfe said exactly this:

THIS is the post in which I say that what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming.

But that doesn’t mean he’s condemning the beliefs. This is his support for the claim that the desire-set that leads to something like YEC or flat-earthism is a desire-set we have reasons for action to condemn.

So… where is it that I’m basing my argument on intuitions? Can you please, please point me to the point in my argument where I’m calling my intuitions into the fray?

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cl August 5, 2010 at 4:40 pm

NOTE: In a recent thread here, Fyfe made some emendations to his definition of good that I recall being of significant import to the desirism debate. Does anybody recall exactly where those were? I know I’ve got it somewhere in notes but I was just hoping maybe somebody else knew offhand.

Kip,

Cartesian’s example either successfully illustrates that Fyfe’s definition of good + desirist principle = violation of our moral intuitions, or it does not. When asked, you said perhaps, but I don’t see how you can defend Fyfe’s definition of good without concluding that Jerk’s desires are good. So, which is it? Do you think Cartesian’s example successfully illustrates that Fyfe’s definition of good + desirist principle = violation of our moral principles, or not? Are Jerk’s desires good in your opinion, or bad?

With you asserting something for which you have “no idea” how you know it, or how we can know if it’s true.

Are you attempting to shift the burden of proof on me by implying I ought to be able to explain why I believe Jerk’s desire is bad, when my moral theory is not the one under consideration? If so, why?

I brought up Cartesian’s example to illustrate that Fyfe’s definition of good is insufficient, and you haven’t really given me a solid answer as to whether or not you agree. Since you’ve pressed the issue, I’m more than willing to give you a better answer than “I don’t know” in response to your question of why I believe Jerk’s desire is bad, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. If you would, please answer whether or not you think “desirism gets things backwards” in Cartesian’s example. If you believe it does, then please state clearly whether or not you believe this illustrates the inadequacy of Fyfe’s definition of good. If you believe it doesn’t, please explain why.

Also, I’m still very much interested in hearing you explain how we might use empirical research to reliably answer the question of whether the Greeks were “probably wrong” concerning pederasty.

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lukeprog August 5, 2010 at 5:04 pm

cl,

You may be talking about this. Fyfe used to define “good” (generic goodness) as “that which fulfills the desires in question.” But that assumes the truth of desirism’s empirical premise, that desires are the only reasons for action that exist. So a more careful definition for good would be “such as to fulfill that for which there are reasons for action to realize.” If the empirical claim is true, that’s identical to the former definition, but this way we need not assume the empirical claim in the definition of “good” itself. Was that what you were talking about?

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cl August 5, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Luke,

This comment will focus specifically on my charge that it’s actually you who’s misinterpreted and strawmanned me. As far as today’s discussion about you and Fyfe’s anti-creationist tirades is concerned, recall that you opened with:

Your post totally misunderstands what Alonzo said. Alonzo explicitly said that it’s not the beliefs that are worthy of condemnation, but the bad desires (or lack of good desires) that result in creationist beliefs that are what we have reasons for action to condemn…

…neither Alonzo or I claimed anything like the idea that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence.

The problem is that I did not “totally misunderstand” what Alonzo said. Rather, I quoted him verbatim and refrained from taking liberty with his words as much as possible. Rather, YOU “totally misunderstood” my post, as we’re discovering, and I believe this is further supported by the following two points:

(1) As I believe you now understand, I’m pretty sure I never said that Alonzo said “we should condemn creationist beliefs,” or “creationist beliefs are worthy of condemnation.” So, this means that unless you can produce a citation that proves me wrong, you misinterpreted what I said, which means your opening claim *actually is* a strawman, right? Be fair and honest, now. You implied that I was unaware that Alonzo actually advocated the condemnation of bad desires as opposed to beliefs, yet I demonstrated that to be incorrect, when I reminded you that I acknowledged the distinction in my OP 10-19-2009. Note that you conceded that I had acknowledged this distinction, in your last comment to me. So, didn’t you strawman me by implying I said Alonzo said something he didn’t? [that "we should condemn creationist beliefs" or "creationist beliefs are worthy of condemnation"]

(2) I’m also pretty sure I never said that you or Alonzo said, “creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence.” In fact, I actually argue the exact opposite – that creationists don’t sit around telling themselves that – right here:

Though it may keep some creationists from questioning their belief, the desire to blind oneself to evidence doesn’t produce belief in creationism. People who become creationists don’t sit around saying to themselves, “I have the desire to blind myself to evidence; I think I’ll believe God created the Earth in six days.” Rather, some creationists acquire the belief first, and then become vulnerable to slothful induction and ignoring evidence. (cl, 10-19-2009)

You said that “the desire to blind oneself to the evidence” is among the subset of desires that “produces belief in creationism.” My sentiments above are in objection to that claim – which you still haven’t justified, BTW. Again, unless I’m just blowing it and you actually have a citation demonstrating otherwise, didn’t you strawman me again by implying that I said you and Alonzo said something you didn’t? [that "creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence"]

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lukeprog August 5, 2010 at 5:50 pm

cl,

Re: (1). I already cited the exact words where you appear to say that Alonzo condemned creationists for their beliefs. Here’s what I said:

Maybe I’ve misinterpreted you, but here’s where I got that quote from: “Luke seems to distance himself a half-step from Fyfe by claiming it’s not what creationists believe that’s evil, but [something else].” Doesn’t the first clause imply that Fyfe said what creationists believe is evil?

Re: (2). No, I’m not saying that you said that Alonzo said that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence. I’m saying that the fact that creationists don’t tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence – a fact on which we agree – provides no evidence against the claims I am making.

You keep saying that I’m calling upon my intuitions in support of my claims, and I keep asking you to quote me where I call upon my intuitions to support my moral claims. Where have I done this? Are you saying that I’m calling on my intuitions when I say that YEC-belief almost always requires a morally condemnable set of desires concerning the investigation of evidence? Or are you saying my reliance on intuitions is somewhere else?

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cl August 5, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Luke,

You keep saying that I’m calling upon my intuitions in support of my claims, and I keep asking you to quote me where I call upon my intuitions to support my moral claims. Where have I done this? Are you saying that I’m calling on my intuitions when I say that YEC-belief almost always requires a morally condemnable set of desires concerning the investigation of evidence? Or are you saying my reliance on intuitions is somewhere else?

I will get to this, I promise. As you said, let’s keep it simple.

Re (1), you write,

I already cited the exact words where you appear to say that Alonzo condemned creationists for their beliefs.

I know you did. The problem is, my words which you cite don’t say that Alonzo says “we should condemn creationists for their beliefs,” or “Alonzo says what creationists believe is worthy of condemnation.” From the outset, I made the proper distinction, and I quoted Alonzo verbatim. He said that, “…what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming.” That’s in need of emendations at best, intellectually reckless at worst.

Anyways, if we’ve demonstrated that you’ve misinterpreted what I said, and can’t provide a citation that demonstrates otherwise, then didn’t you strawman me?

Re (2), you write,

No, I’m not saying that you said that Alonzo said that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence.

Yet, in your opening comment to me today, in plain English, you wrote,

Your post totally misunderstands what Alonzo said. …neither Alonzo or I claimed anything like the idea that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence.

Why would you say that? You clearly claimed that I misunderstood you and Alonzo, then went on to clarify what you thought that misunderstanding was. The problem is, I never misunderstood you or Alonzo. I never said that you or Alonzo said anything like the idea that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence, so you responded to a position that was not mine. I further demonstrated that I explicitly argued the opposite position in my OP [that YECs don't sit around telling themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence]. So then, didn’t you strawman me again, by implying I said you and/or Alonzo said “creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence,” when I did not say that, and actually argued the opposite position?

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Kip August 5, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Do you think Cartesian’s example successfully illustrates that Fyfe’s definition of good + desirist principle = violation of our moral principles, or not?

No…

Are Jerk’s desires good in your opinion, or bad?

Well, the problem is that I think the desire that Jerk has in our world is definitely bad, but in Cartesian’s world, without a lot more information I can’t make that same judgement. But, apparently you can… even though you don’t know how you came to know it, or how you can know it’s true.

Are you attempting to shift the burden of proof on me by implying I ought to be able to explain why I believe Jerk’s desire is bad, when my moral theory is not the one under consideration? If so, why?

No. There is no “burden of proof” here. I’m not debating you or arguing against you. We are having a conversation… one in which I suggested your primary disagreement with us is over what constitutes “value” (i.e. the nature of generic “good” and “bad”). I think I have a good understanding of what “good” is, and how we can know it. You disagree. We can compare our understandings to see which one better reflects reality. But, we didn’t get very far in that conversation, because you didn’t know why something was “good”. I’m not sure where to go from there until you are willing to discuss what makes something “good”. If we can’t agree on that, then any meta–ethical theory built on top of that we probably won’t agree on, either.

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Kip August 5, 2010 at 6:53 pm

cl: Dude, I think you just like to argue. If you spent more time trying to actually understand people instead of trying to prove them wrong, then I think you might actually be better at proving them wrong. Just sayin’.

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cl August 5, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Luke,

…YECs can willfully choose to not be very careful in their consideration of the evidence without ever thinking the thought “I am being willfully negligent in examining the evidence about the age of the earth.”

True, but atheists, Hindus, old-Earth Christians, antinatalists, liberals, fetishists and pedophiles can equally choose to not be very careful in their consideration of evidence without ever thinking the thought “I am being willfully negligent in examining the evidence,” so I’m unsure what point you’re trying to make – and IMO – you ought to drop the ‘willful negligence’ thing because none of my counterarguments rely on a particular definition thereof. I’m not the one who made the ‘willfully negligent’ claim in the first place: Fyfe did.

When I said,

The truth is that the morally negligent are guilty of a kind of moral negligence that we [arguably] have reason to condemn, and anybody can be morally negligent in such a manner.

…you replied,

This is correct, and fully consistent with the claim that creationists are worthy of condemnation for being morally negligent in their consideration of evidence about important topics.

That is incorrect. Unless we assume that creationists are morally negligent by default, my statement is not consistent with your claim, “creationists are worthy of condemnation for being morally negligent in their consideration of evidence about important topics.” My statement is consistent with the claim, “whoever is morally negligent in their consideration of evidence about important topics is worthy of condemnation, and people of all types are known to display moral negligence.” There’s a big difference. You frame the issue myopically on a group whom you vehemently disagree with and chastise as evil. BTW, that’s part of the reason I suspect you are framing your argument on intuition, so there’s a partial answer to that question.

You asked me to point to where you said Alonzo advocated “condemning beliefs.” Maybe I’ve misinterpreted you, but here’s where I got that quote from: “Luke seems to distance himself a half-step from Fyfe by claiming it’s not what creationists believe that’s evil, but [something else].” Doesn’t the first clause imply that Fyfe said what creationists believe is evil?

No, I didn’t intend for the first cause to imply that. That you thought it did doesn’t give you the right to say I misunderstood you.

Moving along, when I said,

The problem is that “the desire to blind oneself to the evidence” doesn’t “produce a belief in creationism” as you allege, hence, your argument is illogical, i.e. invalid[,]

…you replied,

This isn’t clear to me, so I’m not sure if it’s the argument I’m defending.

I don’t know if it’s the argument you’re defending now, but it’s certainly part of the extended argument you attempted 10 months ago, as we can see right here:

Actually, [it] is not the belief itself that is evil, but rather the set of desires that produces a belief in Creationism. For example, the desire to blind oneself to the evidence…

In that statement, you imply that the desire to blind oneself to the evidence produces a belief in creationism. Since that’s such an unfounded claim, I really have no idea why you wouldn’t just say, “you know, you’re right cl, that’s not a conservatively stated claim,” and then change it to something more like what I’m writing.

Here is the argument I am defending: Belief in a 6,000 year earth, like belief in a flat earth, is very good evidence that the believer lacks sufficient desires to investigate evidence about important matters seriously. Because such carelessness in considering evidence leads to death and maiming, we have reasons for action to promote in others desires to investigate evidence about important matters in a serious way. The reasons for action that we have to do so are, specifically, our desires that will be thwarted when people are careless in considering evidence (about nuclear policy, about global warming, etc.)

I’m willing to discuss this, but the problem is that it differs from the statements of yours that I originally responded to – and that’s what we’re talking about here. If you want to say something like, “Okay, I’m recanting my previous position because it was stated unclearly,” and then you want to supply emendations such as those above, that’s fine. Is that what you’re wanting to do here?

But that doesn’t mean he’s condemning the beliefs.

Yeah, I know… that’s why I have no idea how you got around to attributing variants of the string, “Alonzo says we should condemn creationist beliefs” to me. It wasn’t meant to be implied in the words of mine you cited, so apparently you misinterpreted what I said – which means it was you who misunderstood and strawmanned me – right?

…where is it that I’m basing my argument on intuitions? Can you please, please point me to the point in my argument where I’m calling my intuitions into the fray?

I’ve already answered in part, and I’d be more than willing to return to this question as soon as you clear up these other issues – I promise.

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cl August 5, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Kip,

No…

Thanks for giving me a straight answer.

…the problem is that I think the desire that Jerk has in our world is definitely bad, but in Cartesian’s world, without a lot more information I can’t make that same judgement. But, apparently you can… even though you don’t know how you came to know it, or how you can know it’s true.

1) I never said I can make that judgment, so I’m confused as to why you would say that. I’m saying that if Fyfe’s definition of good is sufficient and accurate, it follows that Jerk’s desire is good.

2) What more information would you need?

No. There is no “burden of proof” here. I’m not debating you or arguing against you. We are having a conversation… one in which I suggested your primary disagreement with us is over what constitutes “value” (i.e. the nature of generic “good” and “bad”).

I understand that. It sounded like you were criticizing me for not being able to explain why I think Jerk’s desires are bad. If you weren’t, then I misunderstood you – which is precisely why I asked what you were saying – instead of assumed.

I think I have a good understanding of what “good” is, and how we can know it. You disagree.

I disagree that “tends to fulfill other desires” is a sufficient definition of good.

We can compare our understandings to see which one better reflects reality.

Correct, and when we just compared our understandings to Cartesian’s example, we saw that even though Jerk’s desire “tended to fulfill other desires,” most of us believe that Jerk’s desire is bad. You, however, claim that you need more information, which is why I asked what more information you’d need.

I’m not sure where to go from there until you are willing to discuss what makes something “good”.

I’m willing to discuss what makes something good. I’ve started by claiming that good must mean something more than “tends to fulfill other desires.” I claim this because we can conceive of states of affairs where a desire tends to fulfill other desires, yet is not a desire most of us would describe as morally good [cf. Cartesian's Nazi example]

I think you just like to argue.

I don’t know what to say. I enjoy debate, but I don’t enjoy debate just for debate’s sake. Besides, what does this matter? I could just as easily say I think you like to avoid questions – but I won’t because I think more highly of you than that, and I give you the benefit of the doubt.

If you spent more time trying to actually understand people instead of trying to prove them wrong, then I think you might actually be better at proving them wrong. Just sayin’.

How the hell do you know how much time I spend trying to actually understand people vs. something else? Have you solved the elusive Problem of Other Minds such that you can actually assert the contents of another mind with confidence? As far as your judgments on my skills at proving people wrong, I really don’t care what you think. I’d rather drop all that side nonsense in favor of returning to what I thought might prove a fruitful exchange – but it’s your call.

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Cyril August 6, 2010 at 12:54 am

Sorry for posting on such an old post (almost a week!), but others are, so I figured I would too. Also, hearing cl reference my previously unanswered questions jolted them back into my memory as potential topics for this series. Here’s the two big ones:
Desire malleability in all its facets, for being so important in the theory, has been sadly neglected. What does “malleability” mean in this context? Fyfe’s intro to Desirism here (http://www.alonzofyfe.com/article_du.shtml) defines it as “[desires] that can be changed by environmental influences”, but that’s not very specific. Given a desire, how can we tell whether or not it is malleable? Should the changes in malleability throughout one’s life be more formalised in the theory? And to what extent is malleability a property of a desire itself and not a relationship between the desirer and the “environmental influences”? (For example, if your significant other tells you not to where bright-yellow ties, then the ratio of “thank you”s to “piss off”s would be different than if the same advice would be given by some random stranger at the mall.)
Going a bit more technical, I’ve noticed that what conversation there has been has treated malleability as a boolean. Is there are reason for this? In the aforementioned article, Fyfe tries to claim that “fuzzy logic does not change the basic theory. It just makes it a little… well… fuzzy,” but I have to disagree for two reasons: (1) It potentially compromises the accuracy of the theory in favor of ease of use. If the theory’s accuracy would benefit from fuzzy values, then they should be used. Otherwise it feels like we’re using 3 instead of pi just because we don’t like long decimals. (2) The basic theory would need to be changed at least semantically, because “virtues” and “vices” are to my knowledge being defined so as to exclude non-malleable desires. This would thus need to be changed if you used a fuzzy value for malleability. But what would you use? 50%? 40%? If it’s not all-or-nothing, then the threat of arbitrariness becomes more palpable.
I’m sure more questions could probably be raised about the subject, but these seem like a good start.
Secondly, a question on the semantic level. As I understand it, desirism maintains that there is a separation between the thing-on-itself and our term for it. It has been stated before that our labels are more or less arbitrary and are only worth maintaining in interests of communication. This raises questions about the overlap between the thing-on-itself that desirism purports to describe and the moral labels in use.
To paraphrase Jonathan Haidt, most people use moral terms to describe five different areas: Care/Harm, Fairness, Ingroup/Outgroup, Authority, and Purity (for more details, see Jonathan Haidt’s Wikipedia page, or else his engaging and entertaining TED Talk).
But it seems to me that with the exception of the Care/Harm and Fairness categories (the two categories, says Haidt, that liberals are more likely to focus on), desirism does fairly poorly. Is this acceptable? Or does there need to be some kind of “Desirism Supplement” in order to flesh it out? Again, this would make for a fascinating topic of conversation.

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Kip August 6, 2010 at 6:07 am

Kip> …the problem is that I think the desire that Jerk has in our world is definitely bad, but in Cartesian’s world, without a lot more information I can’t make that same judgement. But, apparently you can… even though you don’t know how you came to know it, or how you can know it’s true.

cl> I never said I can make that judgment, so I’m confused as to why you would say that.

You’re confused? Yeah, me too. Because I’m pretty sure that you are making the claim that you can make that judgement, since you are implicitly agreeing with Cartesian’s claim:

cl> Cartesian> Clearly, in this situation, your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad.

To which I replied:

Kip> Perhaps. Why do you think it is, though? What makes my desire “good” and Jerk’s desire “bad”?

And then, rather than interjecting that you didn’t agree with the claim, you replied:

cl> I have no idea what makes your desire “good” and Jerk’s desire “bad.”

And then, you continue this response by saying:

cl> Correct, and when we just compared our understandings to Cartesian’s example, we saw that even though Jerk’s desire “tended to fulfill other desires,” most of us believe that Jerk’s desire is bad.

So, do you believe that Jerk’s desire is bad? Or not? Why or why not?

You, however, claim that you need more information, which is why I asked what more information you’d need.

I need to know if it tends to fulfill more and stronger desires, considering all the desires that exist in that world. If you make it simple for me, and say that it does, then the answer is that his desire is “good” in that world. It doesn’t seem right to us (using our intuition) because in our world, it is not the case that his desire would tend to fulfill more and stronger desires considering all the desires that exist in our world.

The problem is, desires do not exist in isolation, and Jerk’s desire is likely to affect a lot of desires that he and the the billions of other people that like to torture certain people don’t realize. For example, does the desire to torture one group of people affect how you will treat other groups of people? In our world, it definitely would. I can’t imagine a world where it wouldn’t, but if Cartesian makes a fantasy world where it doesn’t, then even though it’s not applicable to our world, the conclusion for his world would seem counter-intuitive.

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lukeprog August 6, 2010 at 9:48 am

cl,

When you quote me as saying:

Your post totally misunderstands what Alonzo said. …neither Alonzo or I claimed anything like the idea that creationists tell themselves they will blind themselves to the evidence.

Your ellipsis jumps three paragraphs down! And yeah, your sentence “Luke seems to distance himself a half-step from Fyfe by claiming it’s not what creationists believe that’s evil, but…” still looks like it’s saying that Fyfe claimed it’s what creationists believe that is evil.

Anyway, I’m not going to pursue this any further. Hopefully now you have some idea of what an incredible time drain it is to answer “simple” questions. I have waaaaaay better things to do with my time then this kind of endless back and forth about who misunderstood who. If you want to quote me saying that my intuitions provide support for my argument that creationists are worthy of moral condemnation, I may take that up with you.

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lukeprog August 6, 2010 at 9:56 am

cl,

But I do claim that creationists are, not “by default” but “virtually always”, guilty of moral negligence with regard to how they form their beliefs – in the same way that flat-earthers are morally negligent with regard to how they form their beliefs. (But yes, there are always marginal exceptions.)

Re: a desire-set producing belief in Creationism. In my article, I was focusing on what produced a belief like creationism or flat-earthism. It’s not that morally negligent epistemic processes always produce a belief in Creationism rather than flat-earthism or something else, it’s that Creationism-belief requires morally negligent epistemic processes. In fact, the whole point of the post was that these morally negligent epistemic processes often produce beliefs far more dangerous than Creationism, for example global warming denialism.

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Kip August 6, 2010 at 10:00 am

Anyway, I’m not going to pursue this any further. Hopefully now you have some idea of what an incredible time drain it is to answer “simple” questions.

No kidding. It seem that some people try to make it difficult to communicate with them.

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Reidish August 6, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Kip [wrt to cartesian's example]: It doesn’t seem right to us (using our intuition) because in our world, it is not the case that his desire would tend to fulfill more and stronger desires considering all the desires that exist in our world.

Right. This is, I think, the larger point regarding cartesian’s example or others like them (I’ve contended a similar one myself). Unless the desirist is willing to alter the definition of “good” and “evil” desires, then it seems he is committed to the principle that there do not exist any particular desires whatsoever that are necessarily good or evil. So long as the definition of “good” and “evil” desires remains unchanged, then this point will stand.

For me, this is where I had to turn my back on the theory. I can’t agree that’s it’s not necessarily evil to desire to torture others for fun. So, I conclude desirism must be false.

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Kip August 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm

I can’t agree that’s it’s not necessarily evil to desire to torture others for fun.

Well, in our world, it is. Is that not good enough? It must be “necessarily evil” (whatever that means)? How would you even know what is “necessarily evil”?

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Reidish August 6, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Hi Kip,

Well, in our world, it [(torturing for fun)] is [necessarily evil]. Is that not good enough?

I’m not sure what you mean. I’m using necessarily evil to mean evil in all possible worlds. So on this understanding, if you agree that in our world it is necessarily evil, then you agree it’s evil in all possible worlds. But I doubt you defend such a position (maybe I’m wrong) – would you clarify what you meant with the above statement?

It must be “necessarily evil” (whatever that means)?

Right – it’s not possible for the desire to torture for fun to not be an evil desire. That means it’s evil in every possible world.

How would you even know what is “necessarily evil”?

Well, I take it to be true on intuition. Do you think it’s possible for the desire to torture for fun to not be evil? If you do, then:
1. I have a really hard time believing you, and
2. I suppose we just disagree on the nature of that particular desire.

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Kip August 6, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Well, in our world, it [(torturing for fun)] is [necessarily evil]. Is that not good enough?

I didn’t mean it is “necessarily evil” in our world. I meant it was “evil”. But, on second thought, your “for fun” clause may be enough to make it “necessarily” so, since it may imply that it is “unwarranted” in every possible world.

But, lest we digress, let me go back to this:

Unless the desirist is willing to alter the definition of “good” and “evil” desires, then it seems he is committed to the principle that there do not exist any particular desires whatsoever that are necessarily good or evil.

I do not think that is the case, since as you just demonstrated, you can define a desire in such a way that it logically entails that it must be “evil”.

However, I think most of the desires in our world that are “evil” are not necessarily so. In other worlds, they may not be. But, that is okay. We don’t live in those other worlds.

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cl August 6, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Kip,

It seems to me that ours is just a simple misunderstanding, and that there’s really no need to get frustrated.

I’m pretty sure that you are making the claim that you can make that judgement, since you are implicitly agreeing with Cartesian’s claim:

cl> Cartesian> Clearly, in this situation, your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad.

To which I replied:

Kip> Perhaps. Why do you think it is, though? What makes my desire “good” and Jerk’s desire “bad”?

This is the part where I’m getting confused. This sounds like you’re asking me why I – cl – personally believe that your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad [in Cartesian's world]. Is that what you’re asking?

Luke,

Anyway, I’m not going to pursue this any further.

Ah f’cryinoutloud.

Look, you claimed that I didn’t address the arguments in your anti-creationist tirade when you knew I did because I’d emailed you and you responded. Perhaps to save face, you alleged that I didn’t actually address your arguments, but strawmen. However, I was able to point you to the specific paragraphs that indicated you’d misinterpreted me – which you pretty much conceded the possibility of a few comments ago. It’s nothing personal, as this isn’t a pissing contest for me, but don’t you think that you’re at least somewhat in the wrong there?

Don’t you think it would be fair to say something like, “My bad cl, I misinterpreted you, you actually did address my arguments even though I might not fully agree, and you actually did show that you understood the distinction between my approach and Fyfe’s? If not, why not?

As far as the intuition thing, I’ve already explained in part: there are only so many foundations one can base an argument on. Given your inability to defend the claims I criticized, I’m convinced that your argument is not founded upon solid evidence or cogent reasoning. That pretty much leaves intuition, faith, gut feeling… those types of things.

Showing that your argument is based on solid evidence and/or cogent reasoning would be the ideal way to prove me wrong, for, if your argument is founded on either or both of those, it can’t be founded on intuition or gut feeling.

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cl August 6, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Luke,

Regarding your follow-up comment,

It’s not that morally negligent epistemic processes always produce a belief in Creationism rather than flat-earthism or something else, it’s that Creationism-belief requires morally negligent epistemic processes.

On the one hand, I’m glad you realized the insufficiency of your claim as previously worded, and that you clarified. On the other hand, your clarification is just as absurd as the proposition it was meant to clarify. Honest.

If you’re not leaning on solid evidence and/or cogent reasoning, what are you leaning on? If you can’t demonstrate what you’re leaning on, why isn’t it fair for me to suspect you of following your intuitions?

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lukeprog August 6, 2010 at 9:25 pm

cl,

You are welcome to think whatever you want of me. I’ve wasted enough time going in circles with you. You’re not like most of the people who criticized my ‘sexy scientists’ post. You’re more specific and interested in the arguments than that. So I appreciate that. But we are obviously talking completely past each other no matter how hard we try, and I’m not going to spend my time on that any longer.

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Reidish August 7, 2010 at 7:36 am

Kip,

I didn’t mean it is “necessarily evil” in our world. I meant it was “evil”.

OK, I see what you’re saying now. Sorry for putting words in your mouth earlier.

But, on second thought, your “for fun” clause may be enough to make it “necessarily” so, since it may imply that it is “unwarranted” in every possible world.

Well, then it looks to me like you’ve affirmed the objection to desirism. For in cartesian’s example, the evil desire was actually pronounced “good” when run through the desirist analysis. So, you’ve either got to give up the commitment to the idea that the particular desire to torture for fun is necessarily evil, or reject the desirist definition of good and evil desires.

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Kip August 7, 2010 at 9:11 am

So, you’ve either got to give up the commitment to the idea that the particular desire to torture for fun is necessarily evil, or reject the desirist definition of good and evil desires.

I don’t think so. It depends on how you are defining “for fun”. If by “for” you mean “the one and only reason for, all other reasons being excluded”, then you are just creating a logical entailment in the term such that the conclusion must necessarily follow from that definition.

However, if you allow other reasons, and “fun” is just one of many reasons, then it wouldn’t entail that “torture for fun” is “necessarily evil”.

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cl August 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

Luke,

You asked me to explain why I felt you were arguing from intuition in your anti-creationist tirade. I explained.

I’ve wasted enough time going in circles with you.

Interesting choice of words. I don’t consider any of our exchanges a “waste of time” type of thing. I consider them a “peeling away layers of error to reveal the truth” type of thing. It’s unfortunate that you’re unwilling to stand by your argument, but now, is it really any wonder why I believe you were arguing from intuition [or possibly bias] in your anti-creationist tirade?

…we are obviously talking completely past each other no matter how hard we try,

I disagree. I believe that I’ve understood you properly since the outset. 10 months later, we discovered that you misinterpreted me, which nullifies your strawman charges. Now, you’ve reworded your claim to,

…Creationism-belief requires morally negligent epistemic processes.

…but that’s not true, and neither is it true that creationist beliefs [or values] lead to death and maiming [or however else you want to reword it today].

It’s not that we’re talking past each other, it’s that you either can’t or won’t justify your own claims, and that you had the nerve to accuse me of not addressing them.

I mean, run the ol’ “I don’t have time” excuse again if you want, but do you really not see the problem here?

Reidish,

One thing that confuses me is that Kip claims we are to evaluate all human desires that exist. Recall that in the discussion where faithlessgod falsely accused me of being a racist, faithlessgod argued that we are to evaluate only the affected desires [even though faithlessgod refused to take the Nazi's affected desires into consideration during our evaluation]. Now, we could certainly say something like, “well desirism must be false because it’s adherents can’t even agree on the basics,” but we all know that’s just as untrue as the “Christianity must be false because nobody can agree on the basics” trope that newbie atheists frequently peddle.

My problem is that if we take Kip’s approach, then without some sort of omniscient supercomputer or God, we could never have awareness of all desires that exist, which would mean we could never make an accurate prediction with desirism.

So then, how does desirism retain reliable prescriptive power if we are told to evaluate something we cannot [the set of all desires that exist]?

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Reidish August 8, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Reidish: So, you’ve either got to give up the commitment to the idea that the particular desire to torture for fun is necessarily evil, or reject the desirist definition of good and evil desires.

Kip: I don’t think so. It depends on how you are defining “for fun”. If by “for” you mean “the one and only reason for, all other reasons being excluded”, then you are just creating a logical entailment in the term such that the conclusion must necessarily follow from that definition.

For our purposes, your proposal will do: “the one and only reason for, all other reasons being excluded”. So consider the following syllogism:

(1) Good desires are those that overall tend to fulfill more than thwart all other desires.
(2) The desire to torture certain others for fun, for that reason and no other, overall tends to fulfill more than thwart all other desires.
(3) Therefore, the desire to torture certain others for fun, for that reason and no other, is a good desire.

(1) is the familiar desirist definition, and (2) is a possible state of affairs. So if (1) is true and (2) obtains, then (3) results. But I think (3) is obviously false, because I take it that it is necessarily true that such a desire is evil. So desirism is false. Maybe it could be rescued by modifying the definition if (2) obtains, but that gets messy in a hurry.

Furthermore, as you can see, there’s no logical entailment that such a desire is evil necessarily given how I’ve defined the desire. I mean, if desirism is true, I’ve just given an argument showing how it follows logically that such a desire could be good.

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Reidish August 8, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Hi cl,

My problem is that if we take Kip’s approach, then without some sort of omniscient supercomputer or God, we could never have awareness of all desires that exist, which would mean we could never make an accurate prediction with desirism.

That’s a common objection to utilitarian theories. Any utilitarians can speak up here and correct me, but I think the typical rebuttal to this would be that reliable (albeit imprecise) estimates could be made. You would agree that there’s nothing inherently impossible about such a task, right?

So then, how does desirism retain reliable prescriptive power if we are told to evaluate something we cannot [the set of all desires that exist]?

Well, theoretically we could, even if practically we cannot right now. But I’m not here to defend any kind of utilitarianism, so I’ll let it rest there.

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Kip August 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm

(1) Good desires are those that overall tend to fulfill more than thwart all other desires.
(2) The desire to torture certain others for fun, for that reason and no other, overall tends to fulfill more than thwart all other desires.
(3) Therefore, the desire to torture certain others for fun, for that reason and no other, is a good desire.

I don’t think #2 could be true in any possible world, unless you define “fun” in such a way that it is a stronger desire than the desire to not be “tortured”. If you did that, then it would not be the common usage of the terms “fun” and “torture” that we use in our world.

So, let’s go ahead and do that. Let’s suppose that people in this world desire “fun” more than they desire to not be “tortured”.

Would it be “good” to “torture people for fun”? Yes. If they had the choice to be tortured and have fun, or to not be tortured and not have fun, they would choose to be tortured and have fun. That makes “torture for fun” better than “no torture without fun”.

On a related note, for #1 to be true in a “moral” sense, you must include the caveat that these desires are being promoted universally throughout the population. That’s what we use our moral tools for, and what, as far as I can tell, delineates a generic good from a moral good.

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cl August 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Reidish,

You would agree that there’s nothing inherently impossible about such a task, right?

Nothing inherently impossible, no. An omniscient God could handle the task just fine. Something like a supercomputer might be able to. Without either one of those things or something equivalent, though, then yes – I’d say reliable estimates were impossible.

When you say that theoretically we could make a reliable estimate, I have to ask – how so? I don’t see how we could without the aforementioned scenarios.

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Reidish August 10, 2010 at 8:16 am

cl,

When you say that theoretically we could make a reliable estimate, I have to ask – how so?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s something similar to pattern recognition when looking at pointilist paintings: you get the idea without processing every single dot of paint.

I don’t see how we could without the aforementioned scenarios.

I don’t put much stock in the utilitarian response to the objection myself.

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cl September 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm

I was just checking back to see if Alonzo, Luke, or anyone else from the desirist camp had paid any attention to Cyril’s objections.

That they [apparently] haven’t doesn’t surprise me at all.

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