“Thank You” Giving Day

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 25, 2010 in Ethics,Guest Post

The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory, so I rarely discuss the implications of desirism for everyday moral questions about global warming, free speech, politics, and so on. Today’s guest post applies desirism to one such everyday moral question. It is written by desirism’s first defender, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

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“Thank you” is a statement of praise and, as such, something a desirist would look at to promote those desires that prompted the action for which the agent was thanked.

An agent performs an act evidencing a desire that tends to fulfill other desires. The agent is thanked as a way of saying, “Those desires that resulted in this action – we could use more of that.”

So, you are walking to the store on a day when a heafty amount of snow has fallen. You come across a car that appears to be stuck. It is reasonable to expect that the desires of the driver would be fulfilled if the car could be made mobile again. So, you take a slight detour from your walk to the store, get behind the car, and push.

This desire to provide others with a little help that motivates you to give the car a shove – this is a desire people generally have reason to promote. One way to promote it is with the praise inherent in a sincere ‘thank you’. It tends to motivate the agents to do more of that kind of thing.

Sometimes, a “thank you” is so important, it is best delivered publicly – as an award or a public commendation, by being called a “hero”.

But, as in the case with the stuck car, now that it is moving it had best stay moving, at least a wave – some visible sign of appreciation – is in order.

We tend to condemn those who do not give thanks where thanks are due.

There is a reason for this as well. The person who does not give proper thanks to others is not promoting those desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote. As such, those who do not give proper thanks are putting us at risk of not obtaining the help we could use when we could use it – because the desires that would motivate an agent to help have not been sufficiently promoted. So, we use the tools of praise and condemnation to make sure that people give proper thanks.

Thus, it might be a good idea to have a “thank you” day – a day of giving thanks to real people who have acted in ways that exhibited desires that tend to fulfill other desires – desires people generally have many and strong reasons to promote.

Giving Thanks

For example, I would like to thank Luke, whose interests and desires are such that they produce Common Sense Atheism, and the podcast “Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot.” His desires, not only in learning this material, but in presenting it in a way that helps others to make sense of many of the same issues, represents desires that tend to fulfill other desires.

In the last couple of months, I have gotten some insight into the work that Luke does in order to present this material to us. For example, his Conversations from a Pale Blue Dot not only involves getting a hold of people with good ideas worth sharing and recording a conversation with them. It not only involves doing the research in advance to guide the conversation onto interesting topics. It also involves a lot of work after the recording is done getting an episode that is easy to listen to.

Real world conversations do not go as smoothly as those that download.

It’s not as if Luke has some infinite powers where he can simply end starvation or bring peace to a region with a single thought. If he were – if he did not have to go far out of his way to provide these benefits to others – he actually would not deserve much thanks. The measure of how much thanks a person should receive is a measure of how much “out of one’s way” the agent has gone to provide a benefit.

Luke provides people with a genuine benefit – a benefit that better informs us of the world in which we live – and he does so because his desires are such that acts that produce these benefits tend to fulfill his desires.

So, Luke, I would like to offer a word of appreciation for those desires you have that tend to fulfill the desires of others.

Thank you.

More Work to Do

There are a few others who very much deserve to receive a sincere “thank you” from me on this “Thank You Giving Day,” so I’m going to go and thank them.

And I would like to recommend that you do the same. And spread the idea around a bit, if you would.

Give it some thought. Is there anybody around you to whom you owe a sincere, “Thank you?”

- Alonzo Fyfe

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

mojo.rhythm November 25, 2010 at 4:38 am

Thankyou Alonzo, for doing everything that you do (making podcasts, writing informative blog posts on ethics etc). It’s a pleasure listening to and reading your material. I sincerely mean that.

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Zeb November 25, 2010 at 6:12 am

Thank you Luke and Alonzo for working so hard to improve your ideas and present them well.

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Jordan Peacock November 25, 2010 at 6:47 am

Yes, thank you. I’ve used notes from your columns here in emails and exchanges with friends and family.

As a gift in return, here is a potential topic for your column; reasons to condemn trivial/mildly harmful/repeated requests of friends.
http://www.google.com/buzz/hewhocutsdown/FMrqU17NmMH/I-think-there-are-reasons-to-publicly-condemn-this

Enjoy!

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woodchuck64 November 25, 2010 at 9:03 am

I also want to thank Luke and Alonzo for their work on this blog, but I want to add that, upon introspection, my motivation for doing so is prompted more by simple gratitude than by a conscious desire to motivate them to keep on doing it. Best wishes.

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Justfinethanks November 25, 2010 at 10:54 am

I would also like to thank Luke and Alonzo in providing resources that help challenge and refine my beliefs. And since I am a better educated atheist now than when I discovered this blog, I must thank you both for giving me the greatest gift an atheist can receive: the satisfying feeling of smugness.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm

You’re welcome for the smugness, Justfinethanks.

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Jeff H November 25, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I’d just like to take the time to thank God for giving Luke and Alonzo the desire and intelligence to create this helpful material. He deserves all the credit, right?

Well, maybe not. Thanks, guys, for all the hard work you do. It certainly shows in the quality of the material presented here.

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Bill Maher November 25, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for all of the fun posts I read when I am using the bathroom. :)

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JNester November 25, 2010 at 10:43 pm

“I must thank you both for giving me the greatest gift an atheist can receive: the satisfying feeling of smugness.”

–BARF–

Speak for yourself on what’s the greatest gift an atheist can receive! Smugness is for Fundy loons but hey I guess nobody said atheists can’t join the party. Nice post otherwise.

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Alonzo Fyfe November 26, 2010 at 4:23 am

Woodchuck64

I also want to thank Luke and Alonzo for their work on this blog, but I want to add that, upon introspection, my motivation for doing so is prompted more by simple gratitude than by a conscious desire to motivate them to keep on doing it.

Your comment touches on an important distinction within desirism.

It is the distinction between looking at an act within an institution (the act of showing gratitude by saying “thank you”), versus looking at the institution that the act resides in.

Recall, desirism does not say that people should have a desire TO fulfill the desires of others. Rather, it sees morality as a system for promoting desires THAT fulfill the desires of others.

In this case, the institution that is being justified is the institution of showing gratitude by saying ‘thank you’. However, the act within the institution is the act of showing gratitude or expressing attitude.

Otherwise, how do you answer the question, “Why show gratitude by an act of praise like saying ‘thank you’?” Why not show gratitude by throwing eggs at their house? Or doing anything at all?

Saying that one acted out of a sense of gratitude does not explain, “Why THAT act?”

Whereas looking at the institution of one where praise is used to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires DOES explain why it makes sense to show gratitude with a statement of praise such as “thank you”. Yet, it does not deny the fact that the act in question is an act of “showing gratitude”.

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Luke Muehlhauser November 26, 2010 at 8:06 am

JNester,

I think you missed the sarcasm…

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JNester November 26, 2010 at 9:53 am

“Recall, desirism does not say that people should have a desire TO fulfill the desires of others. Rather, it sees morality as a system for promoting desires THAT fulfill the desires of others.”

Question though – why should we promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires? Isnt’ that just an arbitrary selection?

“I think you missed the sarcasm…”

Apparently you did too cupcake. Hopefully it was more apparent that time ;)

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al friedlander December 7, 2010 at 11:54 am

Thx to CSA and Luke specifically. Don’t know what I’d do without this site. Really.

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