Morality in the Real World 06: Alph and Preserving Pandora

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 26, 2010 in Ethics,Podcast

In episode 06 of Morality in the Real World, Alonzo Fyfe and I discuss the nature of desire fulfillment.

Download Episode 06

You can also listen to this podcast at archive.org, or subscribe in iTunes or out of iTunes. See the full list of episodes here.

Every five episodes we answer audience questions, so please do post your questions and objections below. Make sure your questions address the topics of this episode only. If we plan to address the subject of your question in later episode, we will not answer it in the next Q & A episode. You can also leave your question in audio and we will play it back during the Q & A episode and respond to it: call 413-723-0175 and press 1 to leave a voicemail.

Transcript of episode 06:

LUKE: Welcome to…

ALONZO: Morality in the Real World.

LUKE: I’m Luke.

ALONZO: And I’m Alonzo.

LUKE: Okay, Alonzo. We talked about Alph and Betty on the distant planet, and we talked about Ebenezer Scrooge. What should we talk about today?

ALONZO: I want to return to Alph on that distant planet and … and, no theremin music.


Good. Now, originally Alph had a desire to gather stones. Today, we’re going to start by giving Alph a personality transplant.

LUKE: A personality transplant? Can we give Lindsay Lohan a personality transplant? She would be totally hot, then.

ALONZO: Unfortunately, we can only do these things on Alph’s world.

LUKE: Awwww.

ALONZO: Anyway, this time, Alph’s only desire is that the moon that he can see in the sky continue to exist.

LUKE: Why does Alph always have such stupid desires?

ALONZO: It’s not a stupid desire. It’s a beautiful moon.

LUKE: Oooh, like that moon Pandora in that movie Avatar with the floating mountains and pretty trees and stuff?

ALOZNO: Sure. But, there’s no creatures on it – just a lot of plants. Alph is the only creature that exists with desires.

LUKE: Okay. So Alph wants to preserve Pandora.

ALONZO: Yes. I choose this desire to focus on specific facts about desires. The facts that I want to focus on this time require a desire that can be fulfilled even if Alph ceases to exist. Alph’s desire to gather stones can’t be fulfilled if there is no Alph to gather stones. However, a desire that Pandora continue to exist, that can be fulfilled even if Alph himself should disappear.

LUKE: Um, yeah, but Alph has to stick around to have the desire that Pandora continue to exist, right? So if Alph goes, the desire that Pandora continue to exist goes with him, right?

ALONZO: Well yeah that’s right. If Alph ceases to exist, then his desire ceases to exist. However, at the moment of decision, Alph and his desires do exist. We are going to ask Alph to make a choice.

Luke, you play Alph. You only care about one thing: that Pandora continue to exist.

LUKE: Okay. What accent does Alph have?

ALONZO: Well, let’s make this easy. Let’s say . . . a Californian accent.

LUKE: Oh, good.

ALONZO: Okay, Alph…

LUKE: Yeah.

ALONZO: Here are your two options.

Option 1. You, Alph, will continue to exist, and Pandora will continue to exist indefinitely.

Option 2. You, Alph, will cease to exist, but Pandora will continue to exist just as long as it would under option 1.

Which will you pick? Door number 1, or door number 2?

LUKE: Okay. I’m Alph. The only thing I care about is that Pandora continue to exist.

ALONZO: That’s right. One of the key claims that desirism makes is that when an agent desires something – that Pandora continue to exist, for example – then what matters to that person is that what is desired is made or kept true. A person who desires that Pandora continue to exist wants the proposition, “Pandora continues to exist” to remain true.

LUKE: That’s what you call ‘desire fulfillment’.

ALONZO: That’s right. I want to make it clear that Alph isn’t after some psychological jolt like pleasure or happiness or a sense of satisfaction. Alph desires a state of affairs in which Pandora continues to exist.

LUKE: Okay so, I want Pandora to continue to exist. You didn’t say anything about me caring about my own existence. I only care that Pandora continue to exist. But Pandora continues to exist under either option, so I don’t NEED to choose. Why should I? What reason do I have to choose one option over the other?

ALONZO: Congratulations! You win a cookie.

LUKE: I don’t want a cookie. I’m Alph. I have no desire to eat a cookie.

ALONZO: Hey that’s great! That’s more cookies for me.

LUKE: Um, okay. I’m Luke again. Give me that cookie. Oh God I love cookies…

ALONZO: Okay, but don’t talk with your mouth full.

LUKE: Okay, well, of course I, Luke Muehlhauser, was cheating because I already know which answer desirism gives to that question, but a lot of people are going to say that Option 1 is the best option, because that’s the option where Pandora continues to exist AND Alph continues to exist. If he chooses Option 2, Pandora continues to exist but Alph ceases to exist.

ALONZO: But who cares whether Alph continues to exist or not?

Literally, who in Alph’s universe cares whether he continues to exist? Alph doesn’t care, and nobody else exists. If somebody wants to say that there is a reason for Alph to continue to exist, I want to know what that reason is. How does it work? How do we discover it? Where’s your evidence?

LUKE: But Alonzo, I really feel deep down inside that there is value in Alph continuing to exist, even if Alph doesn’t particularly desire it, and even if nobody else exists.

ALONZO: I suspect that some people would say something even stronger. That even if nobody desires Alph’s continued existence, that it is something that he SHOULD desire. In other words, that it’s wrong not to desire Alph’s continued existence.

LUKE: So what are you trying to say? Are you telling me that this feeling inside me is an illusion?

ALONZO: No. The feeling is very real. But, it’s lying. It’s like those feelings that told you that you were being watched over by a benevolent God. They lie. Don’t trust them.

Or, it could be that they’re not lying, but you are misinterpreting what those feelings are saying. If you disagree with me, and you think they are telling you the truth, perhaps you can answer a few questions for me.

LUKE: Okay. Such as?

ALONZO: Such as, what types of reasons are your feelings talking about? What is your evidence that this reason that you feel actually exists in Alph’s universe? If my feelings told me that there’s a diamond buried in my back yard I can go into my back yard and try to dig it up. So, what can you do to show me that your feelings are telling you something that is true?

LUKE: Well okay, if you think I might be misinterpreting my feelings, then what ARE those feelings telling me?

ALONZO: Your feelings, in this universe, are probably telling you two things.

First is that YOU, Luke Muehlhauser, prefer a universe in which Alph continues to exist. Option 1 better fulfills YOUR desires – even though it does not better fulfill Alph’s desires.

Second, you probably sense that you would be better able to fulfill your desires in a universe where everybody else desires that Alph continue to exist. After all, if you’re surrounded by people who value Alph’s continued existence then you are probably also surrounded by people who value your continued existence, and that is a safer world for you to live in.

Your feelings are telling you about your desires, and the desires you have reason to want other people to have. They’re not telling you anything about Alph’s universe.

LUKE: Yeah, and me and my desires don’t exist in our fictional world where Alph is, and nobody in Alph’s world desires Alph’s continued existence, not even Alph.

ALONZO: Not one bit. He could not possibly care less. He only cares about Pandora’s existence.

LUKE: But what if Alph has to stay alive to prevent some huge asteroid from destroying Pandora, or something like that?

ALONZO: Well, now, you’ve changed the options. Let’s imagine that scenario and you’re Alph again. Now, you have these two options.

Option 1. You, Alph, continue to exist and Pandora continues to exist under your protection.

Option 2. You, Alph, cease to exist and Pandora gets destroyed by a huge asteroid.

LUKE: Now, Option 1 is the only option that fulfills my desire that Pandora continue to exist. So, now, I have a real reason to choose Option 1 over Option 2.

ALONZO: Now, let me throw the question back at you. What if it were the case that the the only way for Pandora to continue to exist is for you to cease to exist? You are going to unavoidably destroy Pandora unless you cease to exist.

LUKE: That’s pretty weird. Like, maybe you’re saying I’ve got Nuclear Tourette’s. Every now and then, I uncontrollably goes into a cursing fit, which fires nuclear warheads out of my mouth that will unavoidably destroy Pandora?

ALONZO: Well, sure, we’ll go with that.

LUKE: Alonzo this is really going to hurt my sex life.

ALONZO: You’re Alph. You don’t have a sex life. You don’t WANT a sex life.

LUKE: Oh. Yeah.

Now, from what you said so far, if the only thing I care about is preserving Pandora, and I have Nuclear Tourette’s that will DESTROY Pandora, then I would have to choose the option where I cease to exist, so that Pandora can be preserved!

ALONZO: And you would make that choice with absolutely no qualms or regrets. We would be wrong to imagine you full of anguish over the fact that you must sacrifice yourself to save your beloved Pandora. It would be more accurate to imagine you giving a shrug of total and complete indifference before ending your own existence with casual and deliberate ease.

LUKE: Alonzo, if this story is right, then it looks like there are a lot of other things in this fictional world that don’t have value either.

Alph’s welfare or well-being has no value.

Alph’s flourishing is worthless.

Pleasure or happiness . . . eh . . . who cares?

ALONZO: That’s right. In order for any of these states to have value somebody must have desires that are fulfilled in those states, and only those people with those desires have any reason at all to pursue these states.

LUKE: Alonzo, that puts a major crimp in those theories that say that human flourishing, or happiness, or pleasure, or the well-being of conscious creatures is the root of all moral value.

ALONZO: It tells us that those theories are substantially wrong. People in this universe do have reasons to pursue states such as flourishing or happiness or well-being – whatever those things mean. That is because these are states that contain elements that fulfill human desires. But there are other states, not properly called “well-being” or “happiness” or “flourishing” that also fulfill desires that people in this universe have.

There is absolutely no reason to take happiness or flourishing or whatnot and say THAT is the only thing that counts.

And, while we’re at it, there’s something else that doesn’t count on this model. Desire fulfillment itself. In Alph’s world, desire fulfillment has no value.

LUKE: Right. And honestly, Alonzo, I can’t stress this enough. People keep thinking that we must be sneaking intrinsic value into our theory somewhere, but we’re really not. We really don’t believe in intrinsic value.

ALONZO: And this is where they say we do it. They say that we are claiming that desire fulfillment itself has intrinsic value – that desire fulfillment is something that everybody should aim for whether they want to or not.

LUKE: Yeah, but desire fulfillment has no value at all unless somebody desires it, and it only has value to those who desire it. In our story universe, Alph does not want desire fulfillment. He only wants Pandora to continue to exist. In that universe, Pandora’s continued existence has value, but only to Alph, and only because of Alph’s desire that Pandora continue to exist.

ALONZO: That’s right. In fact, this is such a common misunderstanding that I’m thinking we should spend more time on it. Let’s take the next episode to explain specifically why not even desire fulfillment has intrinsic value.

LUKE: Sounds good. See you then.

Audio clips

(in order of appearance)

* marks royalty-free music. With copyrighted music, we use only short clips and hope this qualifies as Fair Use. Fair Use is defined in the courts, but please note that we make no profit from this podcast, and we hope to bring profit to the copyright owners by linking listeners to somewhere they can purchase the music. If you are a copyright owner and have a complaint, please contact us and we will respond immediately. The text and the recordings of Luke and Alonzo for this podcast are licensed with Creative Commons license Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0, which means you are welcome to republish or remix this work as long as you (1) cite the original source, and (2) share your remix using the same license, and (3) do not use it for commercial purposes.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Camus Dude October 26, 2010 at 4:08 am

Okay, Alph’s having only one desire (even one which might necessitate him dying) is not logically impossible, but it certainly seems highly improbable that any being with such a psychology is physically possible (except perhaps by a brain damaging accident). I know you guys are trying to build this up slowly, so I hope I’m not jumping the gun, but I have to say the implausibility of Alph’s psychology makes me question the theory you aim at. What if there are multiple, conflicting desires? I think reality may just be too complex to be described by a moral theory (cf. Bernard Williams, Richard Posner).

  (Quote)

Yair October 26, 2010 at 5:51 am

Overall, a solid explanation of what you mean by “desire” and “value”. Further elucidation on why you think desire fulfillment has no value is certainly needed, but you acknowledge that and lead up to it, so it’s all good.

There are two sore points, however, so here is a rant.

I don’t like the psycho-analytic crap. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but Alonzo isn’t a qualified psychologist (presuming that that even means much). You have no idea why Luke desires Alph to stay alive. You would be wise to phrase things more tentatively (“Perhaps you feel this way because…” instead of “…are probably telling you two things”), or bring in actual solid empirical evidence that your suggestions are really what underlies people’s intuitions in such cases.

More importantly, you have not even started to put “a major crimp in those theories that say that human flourishing, or happiness, or pleasure, or the well-being of conscious creatures is the root of all moral value”. Stop treating them as strawmen. They can be divided into three camps:

1. Psychological hedonism based theories, that maintains that the root of all value is the person’s happiness. These theories in a sense provide an underlying psychological mechanism to all of your post. They posit that the only way Alph can make a decision is by judging the pleasure (and suffering) the idea of each option’s fulfillment brings him, so that what he is doing when he makes his decision is identical to maximizing his own happiness. Not his future happiness, but his happiness with the choice, with his actions, with his life as he lives it. Hence, happiness is the ground of all value. Far from showing that this theory isn’t true, you maintain that Alph would choose in a way that is at least consistent with psychological hedonism.

Of course, such moral theories then need to build up a moral theory on the basis of personal subjective happiness being the ground of all value – but then again, you have hardly built a moral theory yet, either, you too are only talking about subjective personal values at this point.

2. Moral sense theories that maintain that global happiness (or some conjunction of properties, whatever) is the only moral good. These, to the extent that they are rational, maintain that this criterion is the sole criterion we use when we make a moral judgment on the moral value of some thing or state of affairs. This is a claim about the human moral sense, about how we value things morally, which is not necessarily the same as making a claim about what we desire. Just like one can acknowledge that something has a high economic value yet not desire it. Whether we desire the good is a separate issue, and most moral theories would actually reply “only partially”.

Note that theories that leave the good as a basic property that cannot be analyzed and reduced to other properties (most notable here is Moore’s theory) still fall under this category.

3. Kantian theories that maintain that any rational agent, by virtue of being a rational agent, would desire (value) some things (well-being, flourishing, and/or so on). Needless to say, you have not at all addressed what rationality demands you desire (which, incidentally, I’d maintain is – essentially nothing), or what evolutionary-wrought rationality does (which, incidentally, I’d maintain is – a lot).

Really, you haven’t even begun to address what other real relevant naturalistic moral theories maintain. Nothing you said even touches on anything that stands in opposition to any serious opposing moral theory, with the exception that some deny the “real” existence of desires or even beliefs (which you haven’t addressed). So stop patting yourself on the back. You haven’t earned it. If you want to argue against other moral theories, do yourself and your readers a favor and do so seriously and carefully, not with some wise-ass throwaway comment. .

  (Quote)

mojo.rhythm October 26, 2010 at 5:51 am

Camus,

You might be right, its probably as arduous as attempting to describe the economy in terms of atoms, quarks and wave functions. We are very complex and misunderstood creatures.

  (Quote)

Alonzo Fyfe October 26, 2010 at 7:06 am

Okay, Alph’s having only one desire (even one which might necessitate him dying) is not logically impossible, but it certainly seems highly improbable that any being with such a psychology is physically possible (except perhaps by a brain damaging accident). I know you guys are trying to build this up slowly, so I hope I’m not jumping the gun, but I have to say the implausibility of Alph’s psychology makes me question the theory you aim at. What if there are multiple, conflicting desires? I think reality may just be too complex to be described by a moral theory (cf. Bernard Williams, Richard Posner).

The “plausibility of Alph’s psychology” is not a premise in the overall argument.

The take-away points for this episode are:

(1) Desires motivate agents to realize states of affairs in which that which the agent desires becomes or remains true.

(2) No other reasons for action exist.

These facts imply that:

IF there were a universe with one creature (Alph) and one desire (that Pandora continue to exist) then Alph would have a reason to act so as to realize Pandora’s continued existence, and there is no other reason to act in Alph’s world.

Specifically, there is no reason in Alph’s world to pursue Alph’s well-being or flourishing, happiness, pleasure, or many of the other things that people often claim to be the root of all value.

Not even desire fulfillment. But we will get to that in the next episode.

Those take-away points are also true in the real world. Of course, in the real world, they have different implications (because of the different desires that exist in the real world). But they are still true. Any competing theory that denies (1) or (2) can be rejected as being grounded on a false assumption.

Note that this episode is not devoted to PROVING that (1) and (2) are true. That episode is coming up. This episode aims at explaining what (1) and (2) mean and what their implications are.

  (Quote)

Daniel Richardson October 26, 2010 at 7:22 am

It’s not showing up in iTunes for some reason.

  (Quote)

Yair October 26, 2010 at 8:15 am

Alonzo,

(1) Desires motivate agents to realize states of affairs in which that which the agent desires becomes or remains true.(2) No other reasons for action exist.

If it helps, psychological hedonism can be construed as an argument against (1) and (2). The PH says that the only reasons for action that exist are pleasure and suffering. An agent only acts to alleviate suffering and increase pleasure. Desires are only relevant to the extent that their contemplation arouses suffering or pleasure; if a desire is somehow deprived of its intensity, it no longer serves as a reason for action. Likewise, other things that incur pleasure or suffering bring other motivations, e.g. an instinctive aversion to snakes, that is too suffused and vague
to constitute a “desire”.

Now, whether pleasure and suffering can be disconnected from desires in this way isn’t entirely clear to me. It does appear, however, that this raises some difficult questions about the nature of subjective experience, feedback loops, intentionality, and so on. I hardly think this objection can be dealt with by the above scenario.

The same goes with the other moral theories I sketched. It isn’t at all clear that morality is about value to humans rather than moral judgment or categorical imperatives. Such a position needs to be argued for, not asserted.

.Note that this episode is not devoted to PROVING that (1) and (2) are true. That episode is coming up. This episode aims at explaining what (1) and (2) mean and what their implications are.

Very well, but it would stand to benefit if this was emphasized in the body of the work.

  (Quote)

Silas October 26, 2010 at 8:20 am

What EXACTLY are desires? Desirism will never make sense unless you explain this rigorously.

The brain is a collection of atoms and whatnot. Where in the brain are desires? Are desires simply a specific arrangement of atoms?

Particle A collides with particle B, which produces a muscle movement. Is the state of particle A before the collision a desire?

  (Quote)

Alonzo Fyfe October 26, 2010 at 8:22 am

Yair. Such hostility . . . . let’s talk about your mother.

Okay, sorry. On a more serious note.

You think that my phrase “…are probably telling you two things” is untrue or at least unearned and the phrase “Perhaps you feel this way because…” would be better.

I would hold that “probably” is earned in virtue of the fact that an alternative explanation would require that some other type of reason for action exists, and it is “probably not the case” that some other type of reason for action exists.

You objected that, “You have no idea why Luke desires Alph to stay alive.” However, I did not need to, nor did I even try to argue for any particular theory of WHY Luke desires Alph to stay alive. I merely argued that the value that Luke finds in Option 1 comes from his own desires. In other words, all I needed to argue for was that Luke’s feelings are not evidence that some type of desire-independent reason for action exists in Option 1 – that desire-based reasons are sufficient to explain the fact of Luke’s feelings.

Also, you wrote, “Nothing you said even touches on anything that stands in opposition to any serious opposing moral theory, with the exception that some deny the “real” existence of desires or even beliefs (which you haven’t addressed).”

I would argue that the fact that only desire-based reasons for action exist is a serious problem for any competing theory. It might not be the only problem that those theories face, but that does not remove it as a serious problem.

Your argument here is much like the claim, “You have not studied in detail every nuance of every theology that has ever existed, so you are not justified in making the claim that no God exists, or that the fact that no God exists would put a major crimp in any religion.”

That is not a reasonable requirement. Using that standard, a person would not be able to make any claim at all because nobody ever has the opportunity to look at every argument ever made suggesting that the claim is false in order to address them.

Your objection is valid with respect to one family of theories. This family of theories accepts the proposition that all value is grounded on desire. However, they add that we only desire one (or two) things – human flourishing, human survival, our own pleasure and freedom from pain, our own happiness, etc. It is true that nothing we said in this episode addresses those types of theories, and it is a mistake to claim otherwise.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 26, 2010 at 8:37 am

Daniel,

Just added it.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

Silas,

As you might expect, we have several episodes planned for discussing that. :)

  (Quote)

Daniel Richardson October 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

Thanks!

Particle A collides with particle B, which produces a muscle movement. Is the state of particle A before the collision a desire?

Particle A colliding into particle B does not produce a muscle movement, neural networks, hormones and neurotransmitters do. Neural networks are made up of individual neurons, which are made up of axons, dendrites, etc., which are made up of particles. But you can’t deduce a high-level, complex behavior such as desire from the behavior of atoms, anymore than you can deduce memories or breathing from the behavior of atoms. But if you are really unsure if desires exist, don’t eat for the next few days and tell me if you crave food.

  (Quote)

Yair October 26, 2010 at 9:16 am

Yair. Such hostility . . . .

I would note that I opened by saying that overall it’s solid. The points raised here are minor quibbles which are entirely besides the point of the podcast, which is precisely why the unnecessary segments that led to them just shouldn’t have been there. That would have made the podcast better. There is no need to diss other theories or delve into Luke’s (disturbing, no doubt) subconscious to make the point of the podcast, and doing so just distracts from it.

I would hold that “probably” is earned in virtue of the fact that an alternative explanation would require that some other type of reason for action exists.
Not at all. There are plenty of other possible psychological constellations that would lead Luke (and people in general) to feel as they do without implying reasons for action beyond desires. Perhaps, for example, they have been taught from childhood that some things are just wrong, and a large part of their identity is now tied up with that belief so they cling to it tightly? Really, there is no end. And no point. There is no need for raising wild hypotheses as established truths – just state the general principle that these feelings could come from other desires through confusion, give the same two scenarios as examples of this, and your point is made far more strongly and clearly and without committing to unsubstantiated psychological hypotheses.

all I needed to argue for was that Luke’s feelings are not evidence that some type of desire-independent reason for action exists in Option 1 – that desire-based reasons are sufficient to explain the fact of Luke’s feelings.

Precisely. There is no need to burden that argument with needless psychological assumptions.

I would argue that the fact that only desire-based reasons for action exist is a serious problem for any competing theory.

How can it be a serious problem for theories that accept that premise? Even psychological hedonism can accept it, yet still maintain that pleasure is the root of all value. Kantian theories can accept the premise yet maintain only Universal (categorical) desires are moral ones. Moral sense theories entirely sidestep the issue, focusing on moral judgment rather than motivation.

Your argument here is much like the claim, “You have not studied in detail every nuance of every theology that has ever existed, so you are not justified in making the claim that no God exists, or that the fact that no God exists would put a major crimp in any religion.”

No. I didn’t just say “there are moral theories out there you haven’t studied” (and I doubt you didn’t study them), I gave explicit arguments why some – nay, the important – theories aren’t touched by your claims thus far about desires and values and reasons for action, why these theories can be maintained even if all that you say is true.

Your objection is valid with respect to one family of theories. This family of theories accepts the proposition that all value is grounded on desire. However, they add that we only desire one (or two) things – human flourishing, human survival, our own pleasure and freedom from pain, our own happiness, etc.

Those would be moral sense theories under my categorization, but there is an important difference in that such theories need not maintain that we only desire these things in order to simultaneously maintain your premise. Rather, they need only maintain that moral judgment is done according to this one thing. It is entirely consistent to maintain that we desire many things but that moral judgment is about one thing. Whether we also desire it or desire only it is a different issue, as I noted above.

To repeat myself, the other options exploit other loopholes.

You are equivocating between moral theories and theories that talk about what we value. That’s a natural thing to do, but it isn’t a logical step, and it isn’t a step you’ve argued for yet. You might ask – what is the point of constructing a theory about a “good” that no one wants to achieve? Well, it can have its uses, but I would concur that, ultimately, it isn’t what we should use to guide our actions, no. Frankly, that’s my issue with desirism.

  (Quote)

Camus Dude October 26, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I too wonder what “desires” are – not in the sense that I don’t get hungry, obviously, but what exactly is a desire; what does it mean to call something a desire?

Let me give you an example of why I am befuddled. I don’t want the Republicans to take control of either House. The thought sickens me, and I would say I greatly desire that such a state of affairs not be brought about. However, I am not an activist of any sort. Heck, I don’t even vote. Is this because I am irrational, akratic, something else?

My desire that the Republicans not win elections in no way motivates me, it doesn’t give me a reason, in the sense that I have an internal compulsion to act to realize my desire. Am I misusing the word desire? Are feelings different than desires, and if so, in which ways? I could definitely see if I was an activist, or a voter, how my feelings might be offered in conversation, say, as my reasons for my beliefs and actions, but that is purely hypothetical. Just because I can use something as a reason if I choose doesn’t seem to me to make it a reason.

So I guess, I’m skeptical of Alonzo’s i and ii but, of course, I admit I may be confused here.

  (Quote)

woodchuck64 October 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Thanks again to Alonzo and Luke for their work on this series.

One implication I take away from Alph and Pandora is that fulfilling Alph’s desire does not necessarily result in Alph’s continued existence.

Could it be true that fulfilling human desires on balance may not necessarily result in continued human existence? Of course, we desire our continued existence, but it’s possible to imagine that maybe the long-term existence of the human race is not quite as important a desire to the individual as more immediate goals.

If it were hypothetically true that fulfilling human desires on balance would not result in continued human existence, would that mean that desirism is wrong in some sense? I’m guessing no. But then surely we would want to abandon desirism as a moral theory, wouldn’t we? On what grounds could we do so, given that desirism sees nothing wrong with extinction as long as that is ultimately what is desired (or something else is desired more)?

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 26, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Did anybody notice that there’s way less music in this one? How do people feel about that? Was it boring without the brief musical interludes?

  (Quote)

Daniel Richardson October 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Is this because I am irrational, akratic, something else?

My desire that the Republicans not win elections in no way motivates me, it doesn’t give me a reason, in the sense that I have an internal compulsion to act to realize my desire. Am I misusing the word desire?

I don’t think you are really misusing the word “desire,” but you do seem to be misusing the word “reason.” Just because you have a reason to do something, that doesn’t mean you will do that, and it doesn’t mean that you are irrational to not do that.

I have no idea why you don’t vote, but a possible reason could be that your belief that your vote won’t count outweighs your desire to not see Republicans take control of congress. Another possible reason is that your desire to stay home outweighs your desire to vote against Republicans. No matter what your particular circumstance is, I am quite confident there is some reason(s) as to why you wouldn’t vote. I am confident of this because no one ever does anything without reason. Even if they do something completely random and spontaneous to prove they can act without reason, they have defeated themselves because wanting to prove they can act without reason is a reason itself.

  (Quote)

Yair October 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

As an aside, here is a thesis on “Hedonism as the explanation of value” that I run across; seemed rather relevant.

http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=1455027&fileOId=1466315

http://www.lu.se/o.o.i.s?id=12588&postid=1455027

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 26, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for the link, Yair.

  (Quote)

orgostrich October 26, 2010 at 3:40 pm

As far as I understand this series, you haven’t yet linked “reasons for action” to morality. Maybe I missed something, but if I have a desire for something, and therefore a reason to act, is acting on that desire necessarily “good” or “morally right”? I remember a previous episode where you said you would cover that in the future. But, I think until you link those two concepts formally, it’s a big jump to say that moral theories which don’t rest on desires are inherently flawed.

  (Quote)

lukeprog October 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm

orgostrich,

Correct. Because we are, as we keep saying, not talking about morality yet.

  (Quote)

Alonzo Fyfe October 27, 2010 at 4:56 am

Orgostrich

But, I think until you link those two concepts formally, it’s a big jump to say that moral theories which don’t rest on desires are inherently flawed.

I do not think it is a big jump to say that moral theories which are founded on postulating things that do not exist have a significant problem. So, if intrinsic values do not exist, then moral theories that ground their claims on intrinsic values are going to have a problem.

This is similar to our claim that moral theories grounded on the existence of God have a signficant hurdle to overcome.

Now, this is telling you what a moral theory ISN’T. It doesn’t say anything about what a moral theory IS.

  (Quote)

Gabriel October 27, 2010 at 8:03 am

Isn’t Alph’s desire for Pandora to exist fulfilled by the act of him killing himself? Hence, the suicide is the desire fulfillment. He desires that pandora to continue to exist and for that to take place he must end his own life which invariably fulfills his desire.

  (Quote)

Jeff H October 27, 2010 at 10:11 am

Did anybody notice that there’s way less music in this one? How do people feel about that? Was it boring without the brief musical interludes?  

Actually, I found it much better. The theremin music when talking about Alph was appropriate, but other times I’ve found that much of the music is simply distracting. Your episodes are not really long enough to need interludes.

  (Quote)

cl October 27, 2010 at 1:05 pm

In the thread of In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, I suggested that Alonzo use a real-world example to illustrate desirism’s alleged superiority over competing utilitarian theories. I think it’s unfortunate that he apparently didn’t see any value in that advice. While it might be true that the plausibility of Alph’s psychology was not a premise in Alonzo’s argument, it is also true that the implausibility of Alph’s psychology renders this whole episode a toy example with no relevance to the real world. I wouldn’t raise this objection if Alph’s psychology weren’t so implausible.

As I asked in the aforementioned thread – and Luke did not answer – why would Luke desire to run through flowers, unless of course running through flowers was instrumental in making him or somebody else happier? Why would he desire to have a compassionate child, unless of course it was instrumental in contributing to his child’s happiness and well-being, or the happiness and well-being of other sentient creatures? Why would an addict desire a fix, unless of course it was instrumental in making them feel happier? Why would a suicidal agent desire to pull the trigger, unless of course they believed that they would be “better off” dead? Similarly, why would Alph desire that the moon endure unless of course Alph believed the moon’s endurance had some purpose? In the real world – which these podcasts are supposed to be about – people don’t desire vacuously.

Luke,

Did anybody notice that there’s way less music in this one? How do people feel about that? Was it boring without the brief musical interludes?

I don’t know. No offense, but I stopped listening to them because I can’t stomach your guys’ corny attempts at humor. If I’m listening, I’m forced to endure your jokes, whereas if I’m reading, I can gloss over them and other distractions in favor of pertinent material. Which brings me to,

LUKE: Alonzo, if this story is right, then it looks like there are a lot of other things in this fictional world that don’t have value either.

Alph’s welfare or well-being has no value.

Alph’s flourishing is worthless.

Pleasure or happiness . . . eh . . . who cares?

ALONZO: That’s right. In order for any of these states to have value somebody must have desires that are fulfilled in those states, and only those people with those desires have any reason at all to pursue these states.

LUKE: Alonzo, that puts a major crimp in those theories that say that human flourishing, or happiness, or pleasure, or the well-being of conscious creatures is the root of all moral value.

My concern is that you appear to actually believe that. Alonzo’s make-believe story didn’t put a crimp in anything. You can’t use a hypothetical agent in a hypothetical world to disprove competing real world theories of morality. This is why, in Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, I suggested that Alonzo use a real world example that refutes the other real world utilitarian theories. After all, you guys gas on ad nauseum about how we should only describe morality in terms of things that actually exist, but you’re not doing that here.

Speaking for myself, tackling the questions you said you were “out of time” for would go much further in demonstrating the alleged superiority of desirism over other utilitarian theories. This toy example lacks relevance to the real world and does not establish the superiority of desirism over other utilitarian theories as you allege.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I’m happy with the simple abstract examples as they obviously are not intended to be real. They do serve as basic illustrations of specific points that if taken from real situations may add in distractions that have nothing to do with the narrow points being made.

I trust that Alonzo and Luke will provide some mind benders at some point, and I hope that the payoff is something both useful and/or informative but not intuitive. A curious or even disturbing illustration that strips back preconceptions like the trolley problem would be fantastic, but I would be satisfied if what they convey is just a refined explanation of reality as it touches issues of morality. Luke and Alonzo have made it explicit that they are not providing a concise silver bullet but are instead forming a methodical explanation; a framework.

If they said they had the answer to a specific issue and they spit it out up front, then it would be fine to jump on those larger claims and tear into them. That’s not the case. I’m glad to wait patiently for the framework to be erected, and even then I don’t expect a complex machine to go *poof!* into existence. The complete project might just consist of architect diagrams intended for revision later, or coastline measurements with some blank areas — total unknowns — labeled ‘here be monsters’.

  (Quote)

cl October 28, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I don’t expect a complex machine to poof into existence, either. I do expect that claims of “putting a major crimp” in competing utilitarian theories be justified instead of merely asserted – but apparently, that’s just me. IMHO, using a made-up story to imply superiority over competing real-world utilitarian theories doesn’t conform very well to that comment of Alonzo’s you were badgering me with for the past few weeks. It seems to me to be an example of basing a claim about the real world on something not real. I also find it telling that you would throw that comment in my face whenever it suits your fancy, yet, when Alonzo and Luke base a claim about the real world on something not real, not a peep comes out of you. Is what’s good for the goose not good for the gander?

  (Quote)

Hermes October 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I’m a clam, patient, and trusting person. Yet, I do take claims seriously. I do think that I am accountable for what I assert. I remember what I did say as well as what I did not say. I keep the same in mind about other people as well. There’s trust, yet there is also accountability after all. How about you? Do you consider that to be a good way to approach things?

  (Quote)

cl October 28, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Do you consider that to be a good way to approach things?

Certainly, but in my experiences with you, you operate off a childish impulse to troll and denigrate. As just one of many examples, you waited a whole 5 comments to launch into your personal attacks on our very first thread together. Here’s my favorite quote from that exchange:

I should treat [cl and ayer] better, but would it make any difference to anyone but me?

Really? No, you shouldn’t treat us better, because it’s all about you! That was quite possibly the most self-centered comment I’ve ever read on this blog. How is that patient? How do you square a statement entirely devoid of empathy with all that crap you talk about morality? That’s why I wrote you off as a troll and refrained from engaging with you for months. As for trust, when I trust someone, the last thing I do is follow them around somebody’s blog and troll them ad nauseum, but you seem to have knocked that off a bit lately, so, maybe there’s hope yet.

Anyways, cut all the smarmy hightalk about trust and patience and let’s get straight to the point: Do you consider using make-believe stories to claim one’s “put a crimp” in real world theories as intellectually honest? A simple “yes” or “no” would really help me discern your position. Anything else might be taken as an attempt to evade.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm

So, are you interested in morality or not? If you are, that includes you. It’s really that simple.

  (Quote)

Hermes October 29, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Cl, no response? As I mentioned before, I don’t begrudge you your sharp comments. Please feel free to make any comments about me — true or false — as you wish. I will leave it to you to determine if any comments you make sit right with your conscience.

This is not an argument. I have basic questions for you. If you answer them, you are able to promote your own view of things. If you do not, as seems to be quite a frequent decision on your part, then that lack of a response is personally interesting to me even if nobody else notices that lack of response.

If you wish to make this more personal as opposed to cordial, that is also your decision, but note that I’ve already granted you free reign to say what you want. I trust others to look at the details if they are interested and draw their own conclusions.

That said, when you do get a calm and well thought out comment, you seem to ignore them. I am not talking about my own comments to you, but those of others who have attempted to discuss things with you. I find that behavior to be a troubling sign of your personal earnestness.

You can do the right thing. I honestly think that you believe that you are doing the right thing. Yet, I hope, that somewhere in the back of your mind there’s a little voice saying that it detects a problem. I encourage you to address that voice for yourself if not for anyone else.

  (Quote)

cl October 31, 2010 at 10:46 am

Hermes,

I have basic questions for you. If you answer them, you are able to promote your own view of things.

I answered your previous questions with a “certainly.”

Please feel free to make any comments about me — true or false — as you wish.

I only make true comments about you. That’s why – unlike you – I provide evidence in the form of links: I trust that interested commenters can use the links and make their own decision. How about you? Do you think it’s intellectually honest to make claims about other people without evidence?

If you do not [answer them], as seems to be quite a frequent decision on your part…

I’m content that the lack of evidence for your claim speaks for itself. I make it a point to answer all non-trollish comments, and, as you can see from my patience with you, sometimes I even answer the trollish ones.

If you wish to make this more personal as opposed to cordial,

Oh, I see… now you’re all interested in cordiality. Hilarious! In real life, do you piss on people and then extend your hand for a shake?

…note that I’ve already granted you free reign to say what you want.

As if I need permission from you to speak my mind. Get real!

That said, when you do get a calm and well thought out comment, you seem to ignore them.

While it’s always possible that I miss a comment or two, this accusation of yours is false. Though I’m midway through an update, I actually keep an index of my thread activity here, which I check periodically both to answer new comments and examine past comments. Like I said earlier, the lack of evidence accompanying your claim speaks for itself.

I hope, that somewhere in the back of your mind there’s a little voice saying that it detects a problem.

Why don’t you just cut the armchair-psychoanalyst smarm and answer the question I asked you: Do you consider using make-believe stories to claim one’s “put a crimp” in real world theories as intellectually honest?

  (Quote)

Hermes October 31, 2010 at 11:24 am

Cl, we both know of instances where you did not acknowledge or respond to direct and honest comments. Where you avoided the issues raised. This has even been pointed out to you by others and I’ve given you the opportunity over the last couple months to address some of those and in the process raise your credibility. The frustration others have expressed with you on this point is well documented. My patience is useful for watching you ignore those opportunities, and that patience is where I gain an insight into your motives and actual moral perspective.

It’s so easy to do the right thing. You still can! I encourage you to take the right path in the future.

  (Quote)

Alonzo Fyfe November 1, 2010 at 7:50 am

I wish to repeat, on account of those who like to raise irrelevant distractions and derail conversations:

The two take-away points of this episode are this:

(1) Desires motivate agents to realize states of affairs in which that which the agent desires becomes or remains true.

(2) No other reasons for action exist.

Are these propositions true or false?

Can one provide any evidence that they are true or false?

Note that the question is not, “Can somebody find some twist or distortion in some random part of the post so as to derail the discussion and send it heading off who-knows-where?”

The question is: Are these two propositions true?

Of course, if no other reasons for action exist, this puts a serious crimp in any competing theory that would argue grounded on those other reasons for action.

Since they don’t exist.

So, we identified the propositions we were examining, when to some effort to explain exactly what they mean, which includes explaining some of their implications. Does anybody have any questions or comments regarding whether the propositions are true, what they mean, and what their implications would be?

  (Quote)

Yair November 1, 2010 at 8:44 am

Alonzo,

(1) Desires motivate agents to realize states of affairs in which that which the agent desires becomes or remains true.
(2) No other reasons for action exist.

Are these propositions true or false?

True.

Can one provide any evidence that they are true or false?

Isn’t it your role, as the one putting them forth, to provide evidence that they are true?

They are pretty much true by definition. I can quibble over things like insisting on “deliberate action” in (2), or wondering whether desires can be reduced to feelings of pleasure and pain or so on – but that would be quibbling. The two propositions are pretty much effectively true – now what?

Of course, if no other reasons for action exist, this puts a serious crimp in any competing theory that would argue grounded on those other reasons for action. Since they don’t exist.

I’m tempted to say “Such theories don’t exist either”. That’s not wholly true, but I suspect one can safely say “No serious contemporary competing theory is committed to such an existence claim”.

Why do you keep coming back to this point? As you yourself say, it is totally besides the take-home-message of the post/podcast. It would be better if you just dropped the issue – come back to it later, when you make an explicit and detailed argument in support of it. Until then, leave the other theories alone. You haven’t detailed them, so it’s unfair to say they make such commitments yet.

So, we identified the propositions we were examining, when to some effort to explain exactly what they mean, which includes explaining some of their implications. Does anybody have any questions or comments regarding whether the propositions are true, what they mean, and what their implications would be?

I think I’ve commented enough.

  (Quote)

Zeb November 2, 2010 at 7:17 am

Alonzo, I have some questions and doubts about those propositions. First, automatic actions like breathing or blinking are clearly not the result of desire. If you somehow define those out of “action,” what about an athlete’s actions during intense points in a game, which seem to be just as automatic as blinking and breathing? Besides involuntary reflexes, aren’t instincts, compulsions, and routines also reasons for action separate from desire? And what about the occasions where people would claim to have eliminated desire, as in Zen Buddhism for example? I don’t see why it is not possible to have no preferential attitudes toward making or keeping any proposition true, and then act according to some other guide, whether it be an intuitive sense of one’s own ‘nature’, one’s sense of God’s will, some sort of socially constructed program, etc. Certainly many people have claimed to be in that state.

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser November 2, 2010 at 7:20 am

Zeb,

Yup. We’re only talking about intentional actions, not about, say, breathing. We’ll get more explicit starting with episode 11.

Those who adopt a Humean theory of motivation, like Alonzo and I do, reject the idea that we can intentionally act without desire.

  (Quote)

Zeb November 2, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I look forward to hearing how you differentiate “intentional action” from all the other events in the the universe – especially the other events that human bodies do. Is it just going to be a matter of definition that intentional actions are those events motivated by desires and according with beliefs?

  (Quote)

cl November 10, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Hermes,

Cl, we both know of instances where you did not acknowledge or respond to direct and honest comments. Where you avoided the issues raised.

I know of no such instances. As I’ve told you, the fact that there are comments out there I’ve not responded to is not an indication of avoidance. You have still failed to show even one instance of a comment I avoided. Stop making claims without evidence and stop pretending to be an angel here.

  (Quote)

cl November 11, 2010 at 12:29 am

Alonzo,

Note that the question is not, “Can somebody find some twist or distortion in some random part of the post so as to derail the discussion and send it heading off who-knows-where?”

The question is: Are these two propositions true?

You say “the question” as if there’s only one question here, as if you’re the arbiter of what’s a valid question. Excuse me sir, but your concerns are no more important than mine or anybody else’s. Worse, and yet again, here you go launching into a crusade against my character. You imply that I’m “twisting” and “distorting” things. Sure, Hermes and I are on another one of our little jaunts, but that doesn’t concern you so just mind your own business there. Accusing people of malicious behavior without evidence is a big no-no in America, where we are to be considered innocent until proven guilty, so please, no more personal attacks. They’re just a waste of time and energy, they don’t establish the superiority of desirism over other theories, and they simply aren’t what a person with good desires would do.

My opening objections remain valid and I’d rather ponder your responses to them than deflect more mud:

1) The implausibility of Alph’s psychology renders this whole episode a toy example with no relevance to the real world;

2) Luke said your make-believe story put a crimp in competing theories but that’s completely false;

3) In the real world – which these podcasts are supposed to be about – people don’t desire vacuously. You imply that Alph is not after flourishing, happiness, pleasure, the well-being of conscious creatures, etc., but why would Alph desire that the moon endure unless of course Alph believed the moon’s endurance was instrumental in attaining one or more of the above?

LUKE: Alonzo, [your story] puts a major crimp in those theories that say that human flourishing, or happiness, or pleasure, or the well-being of conscious creatures is the root of all moral value.

ALONZO: It tells us that those theories are substantially wrong. People in this universe do have reasons to pursue states such as flourishing or happiness or well-being – whatever those things mean. That is because these are states that contain elements that fulfill human desires. But there are other states, not properly called “well-being” or “happiness” or “flourishing” that also fulfill desires that people in this universe have.

Luke is wrong: your story about a fictional alien with fictional desires in a fictional universe doesn’t put a crimp in any real world theory. However, you could put a crimp in those real world theories if you would justify that last sentence, which you just asserted without evidence. Are we under any rational obligation to accept your unjustified assertions? Of course not. It is your responsibility to show us some examples of desire-fulfilling states that can’t be properly reduced to happiness, flourishing, well-being, etc. Don’t fault me; hesitance is reasonable wherever an argument is incomplete.

There is absolutely no reason to take happiness or flourishing or whatnot and say THAT is the only thing that counts.

A) What counts in desirism?

B) Similarly, there is absolutely no reason to take [your answer to B] and say THAT is the only thing that counts.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 11, 2010 at 6:53 am

I know of no such instances.  

Then you deceive yourself, and nobody else.

  (Quote)

cl November 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Like I said, Son of Zeus, produce the evidence: put up or shut up.

  (Quote)

Hermes November 11, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I am concerned about you. Maybe one day you will come around and see this is not a battle.

The only reasonable way I can see you not being aware of what I mentioned is if you ignore most posts to you. Yet, you tend to respond as if you have read most of my posts so I expect that you have read most of the posts of others. If you did that, then I can’t imagine why you would not honestly remember a few of those other comments even if you missed most of them.

As this is not a battle, I am also not asking you to believe me.

I am saying that I find it hard to imagine that you are unaware of what I mentioned as many people have mentioned your behavior as a prime reason why they don’t talk with you anymore. If you are honestly unaware of that, that concerns me. If you are not being honest, there’s no legitimate response I can give to you since you are not acting in good faith by acknowledging and acting on the best available information.

  (Quote)

Taranu November 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Luke and Alonso,
I have a question for the Q&A episode. It concerns the interpretation of moral intuitions provided in this episode. Alonso said:

“Your feelings, in this universe, are probably telling you two things.
First is that YOU, Luke Muehlhauser, prefer a universe in which Alph continues to exist. Option 1 better fulfills YOUR desires – even though it does not better fulfill Alph’s desires.
Second, you probably sense that you would be better able to fulfill your desires in a universe where everybody else desires that Alph continue to exist”

I recently read the Wikipedia entry on ethical intuitionism and one objection to this ethical theory that relies on Occam’s Razor claims:
“It is undeniable that humans experience a feeling of right and wrong, but are these feelings evidence of an independent feature of the world? The principle of Occam’s Razor suggests us to postulate only those entities which are necessary to best explain our observations. The existence of an objective wrongness is not necessary to explain our queasy and resentful feelings. Thus, according to the principle, we should say there is no such thing as wrongness, and perhaps looks toward an explanation such as Emotivism to explain the meanings of our sentences about wrongness”

And the response provided “is that the very fact we do postulate the independent feature regarding morals is indicative, and the fact we do not feel the need to do this for queasiness is itself an argument for objective morality. Moral sense might inform us of the existence of objective morality, just as eyesight informs us of the existence of colors. Occam’s Razor wouldn’t dismiss the existence of eyesight or colors, but would require the simplest explanation of how they work”

My question in regard to the way Alonso interpreted moral intuitions is this: What reason is there to accept the interpretation that our moral intuitions are telling us something about our desires over the interpretation that they are telling us about an independent feature of the world (they tell us that objective moral values exist)? After all, the very fact we do feel the need to postulate the independent feature regarding morals is indicative, and the fact that we don’t feel the need to do this for desires is itself an argument for objective morality knowable through intuitions.

The Wikipedia link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_intuitionism#Are_there_really_objective_moral_values.3F

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser November 16, 2010 at 7:31 am

Taranu,

That’s a good question. Much of the reason has to do with the results of the last 10 years of experimental moral psychology (a good overview is Appiah’s ‘Experiments in Ethics’), but I at least find the philosophical arguments against ethical intuitionism pretty damning, too. But I think the best place for us to cover that is in the series of episodes when we start talking about the problems we see in other moral theories, including ethical intuitionism. And for that, you’ll have to stay tuned. Thanks for your question!

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser November 16, 2010 at 7:37 am

cl,

If you want to criticize, then pay attention. For example, your objection “The implausibility of Alph’s psychology renders this whole episode a toy example with no relevance to the real world” is irrelevant because the plausibility of Alph’s psychology is not a premise in the argument we make in this episode. This has already been explained.

What you do has been called ‘shotgun philosophy.’ You throw out a thousand objections, most of them irrelevant or ignorant or misinformed, and one or two of them might connect and deserve a response, but I don’t have time to look at all of them. Your proven rate of relevance is too low to be worth my investment of time.

As opposed to, for example, Yair, who knows what he’s talking about.

Perhaps you are better off asking questions (like Zeb and Taranu on this thread) until you are better informed, instead of pretending to have thorough refutations of everything at which you aim your shotgun philosophy.

  (Quote)

Taranu November 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Thank you Luke. I look forward to those episodes.

  (Quote)

cl December 2, 2010 at 11:29 am

Luke,

It’s great that you can parrot Alonzo Fyfe verbatim, but, if you wish to criticize – at least, if wish to criticize with cogency – perhaps it is you who needs to pay attention.

For example, your objection “The implausibility of Alph’s psychology renders this whole episode a toy example with no relevance to the real world” is irrelevant because the plausibility of Alph’s psychology is not a premise in the argument we make in this episode. This has already been explained.

It has already been asserted. The problem is, you’re wrong. You use Alph’s implausible desire as a premise for the claim that Alonzo’s make-believe story “puts a major crimp in those theories that say that human flourishing, or happiness, or pleasure, or the well-being of conscious creatures is the root of all moral value.” That is a false claim that you could not make without Alph’s implausible desire, so, as Camus Dude pointed out, and I concur, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.

What you do has been called ‘shotgun philosophy.’ You throw out a thousand objections, most of them irrelevant or ignorant or misinformed,

How does your opinion relate to the veracity of the arguments? Further, what would you call somebody who uses exaggerated rhetorical devices to bolster claims made with no evidence whatsoever? You might want to take a long, hard look at that, my friend.

…I don’t have time to look at all of them.

Yet, you have time to attack my moral character and make false accusations against me? How does that work? Recall that, per desirism, people act to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires. The fact that you chose to eschew a valid rejoinder in favor of personal attacks is strong evidence that your desire to attack is greater than your desire to be rational [cf. BDI theory].

As opposed to, for example, Yair, who knows what he’s talking about.

I agree that Yair knows what [he?] is talking about. In fact, I’ve pretty much concurred with every objection Yair has ever raised against desirism. Wouldn’t that mean that – at least to some degree – I know what I’m talking about, too?

Perhaps you are better off asking questions…

I ask questions so often I get finger cramps. Typically, you either eschew them entirely, respond with a personal attack, promise to address in another episode, or lament that you “don’t have time,” which we’ve already seen is at least to some degree false. For example, look at this thread, or In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, where I’ve asked the same question about five or six times now:

Why would you desire to run through flowers, unless of course running through flowers was instrumental in making you or somebody else happier? Why would you desire to have a compassionate child, unless of course it was instrumental in contributing to your child’s happiness and well-being, or the happiness and well-being of other sentient creatures? Why would an addict desire a fix, unless of course it was instrumental in making them feel happier? Why would a suicidal agent desire to pull the trigger, unless of course they believed that they would be “better off” dead? Similarly, why would Alph desire that Pandora endure unless of course Alph believed the Pandora’s endurance had some purpose?

There’s a concise pack of five questions – that I’ve asked numerous times across numerous threads – so I cannot take your request for me to “ask questions” seriously, whatsoever. IMHO, you need to start answering questions, so please stop attacking my character and take the bull by the horns.

  (Quote)

Bernie (Bernard Oppenheim) March 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Great series of podcasts, Alonzo and Luke. I’ve just started reading them (listening to them would take much too long, though I’m missing most of the fun) and I’ve decided to pick up the gauntlet and enter the fray.

A problem I’m having with desirism is that it seems to overlook what underlies desires. Why do we have desires? Desires are psychological, but underlying everything psychological is something biological, and in the case of desires it is drives. It may be that a more fruitful approach to a theory of morality would be one based on drives rather than on desires. Perhaps it should be called “DRIVISM.”

An advantage to this approach is that it would eliminate the necessity for the distinction between voluntary actions and involuntary actions. You have to keep pointing out in your discussions of actions following from desires that you are always limiting these to voluntary actions, not actions like breathing. But all actions result from drives.

Using drives as the basis of a theory of morality enables one to go directly to an evolutionary account (the Alph and Betty parables are helpful, but only so far, since they are so unnatural). I think that one can even trace things as far back as the selfish gene, but here it’s probably not necessary to go back that far. Drives have an evolutionary origin, increasing the fitness of the organism. Involuntary actions such as breathing result directly from drives. In the case of the respiratory drive, diaphragm motion is caused by a chain of signals originating in O2 and CO2 receptors. With regard to desires, suffice it to say that every desire we have can be traced to a drive, the desire being the psychological response to that drive. The drive always precedes the desire. Successful biological organisms must reproduce, so all of them contain mechanisms that cause them to reproduce. The totality of these mechanisms, in each organism, represents the organism’s drive to reproduce. In organisms with a sufficiently developed nervous system evolution has resulted in the generation of sensations accompanying experiences that are beneficial for survival or reproduction, and these sensations cause the organism to act in such a way that these experiences will tend to recur. These sensations can be characterized as being pleasurable. Analogously other types of sensations, which can be characterized as painful, will cause the organisms to act to avoid recurrence of the harmful experiences producing such sensations. On an evolutionary account the pleasurable and painful sensations have their origins in the organisms’ DNA and will tend to produce actions that will increase their fitness. The sex act produces sensations of pleasure only because, in the course of evolution, organisms experiencing such sensations behaved in a manner that increased their reproductive fitness.

Rather than nitpicking your excellent podcasts on desirism (which, as some have noted, are perhaps a bit too drawn out and a bit too slow in getting to the meat of the issue), I’ve decided to take a first stab at a description of a theory of morality that I am calling DRIVISM, based on a few hours thought (they could be thought of as a summary of five years of podcasts which will never take place):

1. Drives are physiological mechanisms for attaining certain states that further biological fitness. When present they always demand satisfaction. Many change with time (e.g., the sex drive). Satisfaction may be accompanied by sensations of pleasure. Failure to satisfy is almost always accompanied by sensations of discomfort which, when strong, become sensations of pain.

2. Drives are also physiological mechanisms for avoiding certain states that impair biological fitness. When present they always demand satisfaction. Failure to satisfy (that is, failure to avoid the harmful states) is almost always accompanied by sensations of discomfort which, when strong, become sensations of pain.

3. A belief is a mental model of the present state of the world (including one’s own internal world) based on experience and reasoning.

4. A desire is a mental model of a possible state of the world (including one’s own internal world) that, based on beliefs, experience and reasoning, would satisfy a drive. It is fulfilled by acting in a manner that is expected (on the basis of beliefs, experience and reasoning) to lead to the realization of the desired state of the world.

5. Values are weights assigned to (1) various courses of action that might be taken to fulfill various desires, and to (2) whatever facilitates these courses of action. The weights result from the strengths of those desires competing for fulfillment at any particular time, and the difficulty in executing the various courses of action. They are determined psychologically on the basis of beliefs, experience and reasoning. Values exist only with respect to means for fulfilling someone’s desires. Nothing has intrinsic value.

6. A good course of action is one assigned a high value, and some courses are deemed better or worse than others, depending on their values. Anything else is good to the extent that it facilitates a good course of action, and bad to the extent that it hinders a good course of action. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.

7. The good is the good course of action. FOR EACH PERSON THE GOOD (COURSE OF ACTION) IS THAT WHICH CONTRIBUTES TO FULLING HIS OR HER DESIRES.

8. All the rest is commentary.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }