Desirism: More Questions Answered (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 16, 2009 in Ethics

I’ve answered five more questions on my Desirism F.A.Q. Here they are:

{6.06} What’s wrong with common utilitarianism?

Common utilitarian ethical theories claim that X has intrinsic value, and thus ought to be maximized. Bentham argued that pleasure has intrinsic value, and should be maximized. Mill argued that happiness has intrinsic value. Hare argued that preference satisfaction is what has intrinsic value. These theories promote “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Many people object that these utilitarian theories fail because they give surprising results. For example, they fail the 1000 Sadists Problem. Imagine a world in which 1000 sadists want to rape a child. The greatest good for the greatest number is for the sadists to rape the child. The child will endure great suffering, but her suffering is not as great as the pleasure / happiness / preference satisfaction experienced by the 1000 sadists. The objection goes like this: Surely we all know that it would be wrong for the sadists to rape the child, so therefore utilitarianism cannot be right.

I don’t think this is a good objection. The objection assumes that we are born with some kind of highly accurate morality-detector, or that our pre-philosophical moral intuitions are usually correct. But there is no evidence for either of these assumptions. So, the fact that most of us feel that something is wrong provides no evidence that it is wrong.

Instead, I think these utilitarian theories fail because there is no reason to think that intrinsic value exists. We can’t explain any facts about the world better by postulating intrinsic values than by postulating less exotic entities, for example desires. To quote Alonzo Fyfe: “By the powers vested in me by Occam’s Razor, intrinsic values do not exist.”

{3.03} But “objective” means “mind-independent,” and desires are not mind-independent.

Yes, moral philosophers use the word “objective” to mean “mind-independent.” Desires are mind-dependent, so desirism is not objective in this sense.

But moral philosophers do not seem to have realized that this definition of “objective” has curious consequences. For example, the recent AFP headline “Forty injured in US prison riot” would not be considered “objective.”

Why? Because “injured” is a value-laden term. It is a mind-dependent term. Injury refers to damage that is not desired. If you ask somebody to pierce your ear for an earring, that is damage but not injury. If a robber grabs you and cuts your ear to threaten you into submission, that is damage and also injury, because it was undesired. So injury is a value-laden and mind-dependent term. So the AFP headline “Forty injured in US prison riot” is not “objective,” as moral philosophers use the term.

So we need to be clearer about how we use our terms. Fyfe suggests three tiers for the objective/subjective distinction:

(1) Broad objectivism, narrow subjectivism: If a statement has truth value, it is objective. “I like ice cream” is objective, because anybody who denies it is objectively wrong. I do like ice cream, and that’s a fact. A subjective utterance might be “Ewwwww… cockroaches!”

(2) Middle objectivism, middle subjectivism: If I’m reporting my own psychological states, that’s subjective. If I’m reporting on somebody else’s psychological states, that’s objective. But this has a curious consequence. If I say “Luke likes ice cream,” that is subjective. If you say “Luke likes ice cream,” that is objective. The exact same proposition can be either an objective fact or a subjective opinion, depending on who speaks it. So here we are not classifying propositions as subjective or objective. Instead, we are classifying speech utterances. There is also the problem of saying “We like ice cream.” Is this subjective or objective or a little of both?

(3) Narrow objectivism, broad subjectivism: The philosopher’s definition: any statement about psychological states is not objective but subjective. So,”5 > 3″ and “The earth is round” are objective, but “I like ice cream” and “Forty people were injured in a US prison riot” and “There is a new outbreak of disease in Kenya” are subjective (injury and disease are value-laden terms that refer to psychological states).

With these distinctions in place, we can say that:

  • Desirism is objective(1), since it is entirely factual.
  • Desirism is mostly objective(2), since it refers to all desires, of which the speaker’s desires make up a negligible proportion.
  • Desirism is not objective(3), since it refers to desires, which are psychological states.

What people often mean when they say something is “objective, not subjective” is that it is “factual, not a matter of opinion.” Desirism is factual, not a matter of opinion.

{3.04} Desirism may be a true theory about desires and types of value, but it’s not a theory about morality. Desirism doesn’t refer to intrinsic value or categorical imperatives, which is what we intuitively mean by “morality.”

Throughout history, our intuitions have been dead wrong about damn near everything. It’s no surprise they were wrong about morality. The fact is that intrinsic value, categorical imperatives, and the commands of God – the traditional foundations of morality – do not exist. So nearly all moral theory is in serious error.

But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Water was once universally considered to be an element. Now we know it’s not, but that doesn’t mean “Water does not exist.” Atoms were once universally held to be without parts – indeed, that’s what “atom” means. We’ve discovered that’s not true, but that’s doesn’t mean atoms do not exist. Likewise, morality was once almost universally held to have a transcendent quality. Does that mean naturalist moral philosophers are not even talking about morality? I think not. Our definitions of things change as we learn more about the real world.

I think desirism is a true theory about desires and certain types of value relationships. But I think it’s worth calling it a moral theory about moral values because:

  1. Desirism accounts for the three categories of moral action: obligatory, forbidden, and permitted.
  2. Desirism accounts for mens rea or “guilty mind.”
  3. Desirism accounts for actions “above and beyond the call of duty.”
  4. Desirism is a universal consideration of reasons for action, not just a prudential or institutional consideration.
  5. Desirism accounts for the wrongness of negligence.
  6. Desirism accounts for moral dilemmas.
  7. Desirism explains why praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment are core components of morality.
  8. Desirism explains what subjectivists get right about morality: that moral value depends on desires.
  9. Desirism also explains what objectivists get right about morality: that moral value is independent of human opinion, and individuals and societies can be wrong about morality.

For these reasons, I think it is sensible to talk about desirism not just as a theory about desires and their relationships to states of affairs and other desires, but a theory about morality and moral value.

{3.05} You say “do what a person with good desires would do.” Isn’t that a hypothetical entity, something you said desirism avoids?

Desirism says you ought to “do what a person with good desires would do.” But there probably isn’t any such person with only good desires. He is a hypothetical agent.

But one of my objections to social contract theory is that the social contract is hypothetical. So how can I defend a theory that refers to hypothetical good agents?

My answer is that the “good agent” is a metaphor. When I say, “do what a person with good desires would do,” I mean “act on good desires.” The reason I conjure a hypothetical agent is that a concrete image sticks in human minds better than abstract ideas.

Now, contractarians will say the “social contract” is also a metaphor. But for what? Nothing that exists, as far as I can tell. In contrast, “act as a person with good desires would act” is a metaphor for something in the real world: namely, acting on good desires.

{3.06} But desirism is a theory about values, not facts. So desirism isn’t factual.

Here’s Fyfe:

It is widely assumed that something can either present a fact (e.g., “the earth is 4.5 billion years old”), or a non-fact value (e.g., “that is a very good story”). Facts are said to be objective while values are subjective. Nothing can be both a fact and a value, and nothing can be both objective and subjective, or so it is thought.

This looks good on the surface, until you start to ask some questions about what this really means.

For example, even though people speak of values as referring to some type of subjective non-fact entity, those same values are said to be able to influence things in the real world. They cause us to behave one way or another, or to choose one thing over another. These non-fact values somehow cause the world to be different than it would have otherwise been.

How can a non-fact entity influence the flow of matter through the physical universe?

Values are facts. They are part of the physical universe. Specifically, they are relationships between desires and states of affairs. A “good” story is one that fulfills common desires about what we want a story to be like. Both stories and desires exist in the physical world, as do the relationships between them.

Values are facts. I value ice cream. That is a fact. The subjectivist says that if values were facts, that would require us all to like the same thing. This is nonsense. Height is an objective fact but this does not require that we all be the same height. Location is an objective fact even though it is impossible that even just two of us have the same location, let alone everybody.

By the powers vested in me by Occam’s Razor, intrinsic values do not exist.

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{ 92 comments… read them below or add one }

TK August 16, 2009 at 5:41 pm

What evidence do you have that Occam’s Razor exists? If you have none, why do you feel comfortable using it?

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Ryan August 16, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Are you saying that pleasure and happiness do not exist?

I say they exist as brain states, just like desires. The real question we now face is: Why prefer a utilitarian theory that maximizes pleasure over one that maximizes the fulfillment of desires?

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lukeprog August 16, 2009 at 7:57 pm

TK,

Are you serious? Occam’s razor is a method. I use it because it works.

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lukeprog August 16, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Pleasure and happiness exist.

The question is: Why is it moral to maximize pleasure? Please give me an argument. Usually this argument involves a claim that pleasure has intrinsic value. But there is no evidence to support that claim.

Desirism does not claim that it is moral the maximize desire fulfillment. See the 6th question down on the original ethics FAQ. (I will add the question to this FAQ eventually.)

Thanks for your question! Desirism can be pretty counter-intuitive.

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IntelligentDasein August 16, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Luke:
You should think about Mentioning Michel Onfray’s best seller The Atheist Manifesto. It has a whole section on Utilitarian and Hedonist ethics. The book is part of the “pop” philosophy with Dennett. Because of this book’s adorment, I think it needs to be discussed.

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Antiplastic August 17, 2009 at 2:10 am

Say again? Hare was a noncognitivist — exactly what piece of ontology is being “slashed” away by the razor here?

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Yair August 17, 2009 at 2:34 am

Briefly, briefly,…
A) Utilitarianism can be based on any moral ontology, including subjectivism (my view). Desirism also suffers from the 1000 sadists problem – or else slips into hypotheticals.
B) I have a better moral theory than Desirism – it’s called Yairism, and it has a sole dictum – the Good is serving MY selfish desires (my name’s Yair). According to Yairism,

There are three categories of moral action: obligatory, forbidden, and permitted, according to what serves my selfish desires.
Yairism accounts for mens rea or “guilty mind” – it is a psychological phenomena.
Yairism accounts for actions “above and beyond the call of duty.” – in the service of my selfish desires.
Yairism is a universal consideration of reasons for action, not just a prudential or institutional consideration. ALL desires, at all times, are considered in light of how they serve my own selfish desires.
Yairism accounts for the wrongness of negligence.
Yairism accounts for moral dilemmas.
Yairism explains why praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment are core components of morality.
Yairism explains what subjectivists get right about morality: that moral value depends on desires.
Yairism also explains what objectivists get right about morality: that moral value is independent of non-Yair opinion, and individuals and societies can be wrong about morality.

So far, Desirism and Yairism might seem on part. But wair! Yairism explains one more thing:
10. Yairism explaims why a needle doesn’t stand on its head – it’s due to my will.
 
There, convinced yet? No? Well, I’m not convinced claiming to do any of 1-10 is actually doing it, and Desirism doesn’t actually explain any of them. It is just yet another abdication of human reasoning for a higher power – in this case, identifying the good with the external “higher” standard of “tends to fulfill desires” instead of the person’s own internal standard. False 1-10 then follow like a plagues follow wars.

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lukeprog August 17, 2009 at 6:02 am

Yair,

Why is the fulfillment of Yair’s desires the sole good, the universal reason for action? Is it because your desires have intrinsic value, or because that is how you define morality, or what?

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faithlessgod August 17, 2009 at 10:20 am

 

TK: What evidence do you have that Occam’s Razor exists? If you have none, why do you feel comfortable using it?

There is widespread empirical evidence that this method is effective. In modern terms “the more complex an explanation is, the more evidence you need just to find it in belief-space”. Computational theories such as Solomonoff Induction provide support for this method .
 
Taking Occam’s Razor as a method to select the most probable programme to provide the explanation (or fit to the data), then Solomonoff Induction shows that the higher the probability a program assigns to the observed data, the better that programme fits the data.  “And probabilities must sum to 1, so for a program to better “fit” one possibility, it must steal probability mass from some other possibility which will then “fit” much more poorly. ”
So the justification for it’s use is not just that “it works”, but that it is most likely to produce (provisionally) correct results compared to other methods – such as faith, the desire to believe, status quo, argument from tradition and so on and so forth.
 

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Justin Martyr August 17, 2009 at 10:36 am

<i>Why is the fulfillment of Yair’s desires the sole good, the universal reason for action? Is it because your desires have intrinsic value, or because that is how you define morality, or what?</i>
 
I think you missed Yair’s point. He defined morality one way; you define it another. And yet you believe that your definition is  correct – and without any evidence! G.E. Moore’s naturalistic fallacy strikes again!

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TK August 17, 2009 at 10:43 am

lukeprog: TK,Are you serious? Occam’s razor is a method. I use it because it works.

Yes. You continue to lambaste ethical theories which are based on things for which there is no evidence of their existence, but here you are, using logical tools for which there is no evidence of existence, either. Perhaps “existence” isn’t a valid property to concern yourself with when it comes to abstract objects? I’m sure many advocates of categorical imperatives, intrinsic values, etc. would brush aside the “existence” question by noting that their pet abstract object “works” for their purposes, as you’ve just done.

faithlessgod:   So the justification for it’s use is not just that “it works”, but that it is most likely to produce (provisionally) correct results compared to other methods – such as faith, the desire to believe, status quo, argument from tradition and so on and so forth.

faithlessgod, I think I’m actually on your side here–Occam’s razor is a valid tool to use not because there is evidence that it “exists” (whatever that means), but because it produces correct results. Would you agree that it’s possible to base an ethical theory off of things that produce “correct results” without worrying about whether or not these things “exist”?

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faithlessgod August 17, 2009 at 10:52 am

Yair: Briefly, briefly,… A) Utilitarianism can be based on any moral ontology, including subjectivism (my view). Desirism also suffers from the 1000 sadists problem – or else slips into hypotheticals.

This why I and now Luke, are not calling it utilitarianism any more. Yes, act and rule utilitarianisms do suffer from the 1000 sadists problem but desirism does not, as I answered in another point from Luke in Desire Types and Tokens (see also The Problem with Utilitarianism)

Yair: 10. Yairism explaims why a needle doesn’t stand on its head – it’s due to my will.

Desirism does not explain 10 and for good reason. It is physics which explains this. Yairsim fails in comparison to physics here.
As for 1 to 9 anyone can claim to explain them by providing arbitrary and subjective assertions as you have done. However desirism does not do this, not being arbitrary or subjective and in that it provides argument and evidence to support its  provisional and defeasible claims, so these are open to criticism but not just because you don’t like it – according to yairism – since that is not a sound or valid criticism, let alone an empirical theory.
You want to abdicate of human reasoning for a higher power – in this case, Yairism. However there is no such thing as a higher power, unless you can show otherwise and yes, of course, I know your Yairism was some form a supposed argumentum ad absurdum, still it reflects some tacit thoughts in how you understand this topic e.g.  “Identifying the good with the external “higher” standard of “tends to fulfill desires” ” is not what desirism asserts, since there are no intrinsic values nor higher standards (certainly none that anyone has been able to demonstrate to date) and it is  consistent with this.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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faithlessgod August 17, 2009 at 11:12 am

TK: faithlessgod, I think I’m actually on your side here–Occam’s razor is a valid tool to use not because there is evidence that it “exists” (whatever that means), but because it produces correct results. Would you agree that it’s possible to base an ethical theory off of things that produce “correct results” without worrying about whether or not these things “exist”?

Depends what you mean by “exist”. It is easy to confuse epistemcially objective methods with ontologically objective objects and events (sorry bout the jargon). Nonetheless in some broad sense of “exist” such methods do exist as they are (at least partly) constitutive of certain processes such as some methods of scientific inquiry, without which the results could (and have been) quite different. We can even create programmes based on such methods -do these not exist (interestingly – or not – this was the subject of my AI MSc dissertation).
Now on this basis we can look at such methods in moral theories – ideal observer being the closest to desirism – especially as I use it (see my previous link in my last comment). Do these exist or not?  This is the subjct of a post I have been meaning to write. The other question and far more important one is what do you mean by “correct results”.
In answering (all too)  briefly the first question, they all exist as part of, let us say, processes, , the question being what are the most efficient and effective ones and this where IMV such methods as ideal observer etc. lose out. That is one does not need to treat them as Fyfe and, it seems Luke, does as pure fiction and fantasies to be discarded in solely in virtue of this … ahem…fact,  rather it is because there are better alternatives such as desirism which, of course, leads to the second question over “correct results”. Well this reply is getting too long, lets see how you respond first ;-)
 
 
 

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Justin Martyr August 17, 2009 at 11:22 am

faithlessgod: This why I and now Luke, are not calling it utilitarianism any more. Yes, act and rule utilitarianisms do suffer from the 1000 sadists problem but desirism does not, as I answered in another point from Luke in Desire Types and Tokens (see also The Problem with Utilitarianism)

Hiya faithless. I’ve read both of those posts but I don’t think you’re out of the woods. Consider the 1000 sadists problem. The desire to torture a child thwarts the child’s desire to be healthy. But conversely the child’s desire to be healthy thwarts the sadist’s desire to torture. How do you solve these conflicts of interests? You need (a) a way to make interpersonal comparisons of utility, or (b) to move to non-consequentialist criteria.

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Ragnarok August 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

How does Desirism deals with the 1000 sadist problem?

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faithlessgod August 17, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Justin Martyr: Hiya faithless. I’ve read both of those posts but I don’t think you’re out of the woods. Consider the 1000 sadists problem. The desire to torture a child thwarts the child’s desire to be healthy. But conversely the child’s desire to be healthy thwarts the sadist’s desire to torture. How do you solve these conflicts of interests? You need (a) a way to make interpersonal comparisons of utility, or (b) to move to non-consequentialist criteria.

Hiya Justin
As I stated in the first post you refer to (as well as often elsewhere) you need to compare a desire to its absence.
Starter for 10:
1)A sadist desire either thwarts the desires of the victim or thwarts the (sadist) desire of the sadist, its absence leads to no desire thwarting.
2)By contrast a desire for freedom from deliberate pain is typically shared by both the sadist and the victim and is more basic to humans (as well as animals etc.). Its absence leads to desire thwarting  (whether by others or not) all round – regardless of the fulfilment of specific sadist desires.
None of this requires knowing the quantities of the holders of sadistic desire or the targets of this desire. the same analysis holds regardless.
Further there is no need to have either “(a) a way to make interpersonal comparisons of utility, or (b) to move to non-consequentialist criteria. ” The above analysis is entirely consequentialist and we are not comparing or assuming any utility as such, only a derivative of an indeterminate utility – the extrinsic relations of fulfilment and thwarting.
 

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Justin Martyr August 17, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Ragnarok: How does Desirism deals with the 1000 sadist problem?

According to Fyfe here is what you do: take the desire to rape children and make it more and more common. Then see if doing so results in more desires being thwarted or more desires being fulfilled. This is equivalent to asking whether or not it increases utility or decreases utility (I wish desire utilitarians did not introduce a separate vocabulary when we already have a good one). Desires that increase utility as they get more common are good; desires that decrease utility as they get more common are bad. As the number of child rapists grows then there are fewer people objecting to child rape. Child rape increases utility as it grows more common (that’s why it is called the 1000 sadist challenge and not the 1 sadist challenge). That’s not good for desirism.
 
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Let’s make the desire not to be raped more common. Now the 1000 sadists are being radically outnumbered by millions or billions of children who desire to be free from harm. It seems that we are at a dealock. Both the desire to rape and be free from rape increase in utility as they become more common.
 
I think we could partially salvage desirism by putting it this way. Let’s take the two desires which are locked in a conflict of interest. In this case it is the desire to rape and the desire to not be raped. Then let’s  see which one grows in utility faster or tends to a higher limit. But I think that is a kludgy approach. What we are really trying to do is look at a desire in isolation and decide whether or not it is good or bad. And desirism attempts to give an impartial basis for making that decision.
 
But if we are going to manipulate the numbers and strengths of desires to make our decisions we might as well as abandon the utilitarian framework complete. Instead we should place ourselves behind a Veil of Ignorance and do our moral reasoning that way. Of course, the Veil of Ignorance is just a multiple person generalization of the Golden Rule, so perhaps we prefer a little kludge to avoid the religious overtones.
 

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TK August 17, 2009 at 12:49 pm

 

faithlessgod: Depends what you mean by “exist”. It is easy to confuse epistemcially objective methods with ontologically objective objects and events (sorry bout the jargon). Nonetheless in some broad sense of “exist” such methods do exist as they are (at least partly) constitutive of certain processes such as some methods of scientific inquiry, without which the results could (and have been) quite different.

I follow you, but it seems like the fine distinction between methods and objects/events is a bit arbitrary. Consider the physicist (I know, I hate it when philosophy nerds make analogies to physics, too… ;) ) who makes use of wavefunctions in his work. Do wavefunctions “exist” as objects? I don’t know, but I doubt any physicist would say “yes” (most subscribe to the Feynman “shut up and calculate” interpretation of quantum mechanics). In fact, most of the physicists I know would say the question is meaningless. You do the math, part of which involves writing down and manipulating a wavefunction when necessary, and it spits out a testable result which happens to be correct. The wavefunction, in this case, is both an object and a cog in a method–there’s no fine distinction to be found between the two.
I guess I can see some fine distinction in terms of Occam’s razor being an epistemological tool versus values supposedly being things that ontologically “exist”. But I think this distinction is faulty. A value theorist might just as easily say that he doesn’t care whether these values “exist”, just as a physicist doesn’t care whether wavefunctions “exist”; they’re tools used to generate testable results. (This is probably my own personal bias shining through, though. I hate questions of ontology and think they’re meaningless, almost without exception.)

faithlessgod: This is the subjct of a post I have been meaning to write. The other question and far more important one is what do you mean by “correct results”.

That’s a dicey one. I think this is where all ethical theories ultimately fail, and it’s why I hover between emotivism and prescriptivism. The only conceivable thing I could see qualifying as “data” against which to compare the outcome of an ethical theory is our moral intuition. Luke holds (I think incorrectly) that there’s no reason to think our moral intuition would have evolved to generate correct results. I hold that this is incorrect because there is such a reason; namely, the ethical facts that are pertinent to humans are themselves a result of natural facts concerning what it is to be human, and these natural facts are likewise a result of evolution. Insofar as our intuition is some type of sense for jumping from “natural observation” to “ethical observation”, I think it’s quite plausible that moral intuition and moral facts could be quite strongly correlated.
 
I think a better counter against moral intuition (which Luke does mention repeatedly, and I think correctly so) is not that there’s no reason to think this is the case, but simply that it actually isn’t. If moral intuition were a reliable tool for gleaning ethical truths, we’d at least expect it to be precise. But it is imprecise in the sense that moral intuitions often contradict each other or fail to cohere depending on what individual they come from. Clearly, observations made using our moral sense aren’t anywhere near as precise as those we make using our other senses.
 
Whether there is any other way to “test” ethical statements is a mystery to me, but my intuition (ha!) strongly points toward “no, there isn’t”.
 

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faithlessgod August 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Hi Justin
With all due respect, the mistake you are making in response to Ragnarok is that there is no specific utility to maximise.  And as you can see from my reply to you, the quantities of desire holders and recipients makes no difference to the analysis as I presented it. It identifies the invariants common to all and any variable demographic mixes of these desires.
 

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Justin Martyr August 17, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Hiya faithless.
 
Sorry about that. I’m still learning the ins and outs of desire utilitarianism. I think your response is substantially correct. I would put desirism on par with other forms of justice as impartiality (like Rawlsian social contract theory and so on). It doesn’t mean that I agree with them but they avoid the worst problems of preference utilitarianism.
So consider that objection laid to rest!

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lukeprog August 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Ragnarok,

I’ve answered this many times before but I suppose I really should add it to the FAQ!

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Kip August 17, 2009 at 1:02 pm

faithlessgod: This why I and now Luke, are not calling it utilitarianism any more. Yes, act and rule utilitarianisms do suffer from the 1000 sadists problem but desirism does not, as I answered in another point from Luke in Desire Types and Tokens (see also The Problem with Utilitarianism)

 

It really is still “Utilitarianism”, though.  I don’t know what Alonzo’s thoughts are on your renaming of the theory, but I don’t think it’s necessary.  It’s easier to say and write, so that’s handy, but it removes a key defining aspect from the label.  It is Utilitarianism, after all.  It’s just that it has a different object of evaluation (desires), and different method of determining the right action (the one produced by good desires).  It is still a consequentialist theory that seeks to maximize the good by maximizing desire fulfillment.

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faithlessgod August 17, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Hiya Justin
It is rare in forums and comment thread to reach some mutual understanding and positive communication. Thanks for your response. Hopefully we can have some constructive conversations on this topic in the future, even as we (will highly probably) disagree.
 

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faithlessgod August 17, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Damn you TK! You are making my work avoidance strategy to interesting! ;-) .. you are making it too succesful!

TK: .. I guess I can see some fine distinction in terms of Occam’s razor being an epistemological tool versus values supposedly being things that ontologically “exist”. But I think this distinction is faulty. A value theorist might just as easily say that he doesn’t care whether these values “exist”

The issue here is different.  Desires exist and the states of affairs that are their targets (might) exist. So  surely do the relations between them exist? Fulfilment and thwarting are the labels we can give to the relations between desires and states of affairs. Whether one uses such labels or others  or ignores them, these relations must, in some sense, exist. Further without these relations desires make no sense, since desires exist to bring about certain states of affairs over others. And this is what (generic) values are.  If you disagree please explain what else values could possibly be.


TK
:just as a physicist doesn’t care whether wavefunctions “exist”; they’re tools used to generate testable results… That’s a dicey one. I think this is where all ethical theories ultimately fail, and it’s why I hover between emotivism and prescriptivism. The only conceivable thing I could see qualifying as “data” against which to compare the outcome of an ethical theory is our moral intuition.

I, not surprisingly, disagree. If I ask what could possibly be the basis for any moral disagreement it has to be something along the lines of someone’s desires being thwarted by others. If no desires are being thwarted then there is no reason for disagreement.  (Note egoists might only care about their own desires being thwarted and not anyone else’s but would still recognise what others are doing when they are complaining about, let us call it, third party thwarting, they just disagree that this is grounds for complaint, not that desires are being thwarted).
The concept of “such as to thwart or tend to thwart other desires” seems to capture descriptively what motivates everyone as they do. It is a descriptive framework to identify causes of disagreement. (Indeed it is the basis for conflict resolution – conflict being an incompatibility of interests and this can be cashed out in desire fulfilment form as an incompatibility over states of affairs).
The elegance of desirism is that it posits not further assumptions or entities in turning it into a prescriptive  theory. Ones’ desires (or the threat of  one’s desires) being thwarted is the motivation to use social forces and (other methods) to discourage this from happening. This is the description of prescriptions.  The general version being moral prescriptions – whether the agents know it or not, or agree or not to such labelling. Indeed “moral speak” is optional, just very useful especially as it and has illocutionary or expressive force. However to recognise the latter is not sufficient to think that is all there is as you imply. Do you honestly think that when someone is wrong this is merely your opinion  that  you are trying to get others to agree to? Or, if you are or hope to be successful, do you not think you have affected their desires so they do not  pursue them in the future? And this has material affects on desires and so future states of affairs? If it did not, why would you (or anyone) bother?
I will let Luke defend himself  but note I am somewhat critical of Luke’s black and white stance here too. However I also argue that it is a mistake to make moral intuition be the basis of a moral system but see this post.
 
 

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Jeff H August 17, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Back onto the topic of hypotheticals…
 
I remember back a little while ago, we were talking about the desires of infants – and whether they actually had any. I was arguing that essentially infants react to the environment around them, and don’t really have any reference point to create desires, other than perhaps the desire to continue to exist. I remember Luke mentioning that it was something about the possibility or potential for having a desire. Like, maybe infants don’t actually desire to not be put in a vat of boiling water, but we can infer that they would desire that if they knew what boiling water was.
 
So my question: Is this sort of desire-guessing not a form of hypotheticals? If it’s not just about what desires people actually have, but also what they might have, doesn’t this get into the realm of hypothetical desires? I wish I could remember a little better what was previously said, but at any rate, there you go…

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Jeff H August 17, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Sorry, I just thought of something else. Let’s take the desire not to be tortured. In an everyday situation, I’m typically not thinking, “Oh boy, I hope I don’t get tortured. I really wouldn’t like that.” It never even crosses my mind. Such a desire not to be tortured would only really come about once I start getting tortured. So here you go, here’s a couple more questions:
 
1) Would desirism posit that it is still wrong to begin torturing someone, even if the act of beginning to torture does not thwart any desire not to be tortured? Because if it does, it seems that we are also dealing with hypothetical desires – desires that we think someone would have.
2) How would you relate a “hypothetical desire” that is somewhat latent and largely cognitive in nature (like if I start thinking about torture, I can think, “Hmm, I probably wouldn’t want to be tortured”), to an actual desire that is active and largely emotional in nature (like, “Hmm, I really want ice cream right now”)? The two seem to me almost to be separate categories. And one could be detected in the brain (the desire to eat ice cream), whereas I don’t think you’d be able to find the other one (the latent hypothetical desire not to be tortured).

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lukeprog August 17, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Kip: It really is still “Utilitarianism”, though. I don’t know what Alonzo’s thoughts are on your renaming of the theory, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

I dunno. Desirism is consequentialist, but it also bares certain serious similarities to virtue ethics and Kantian universalizability. The name is also similar to Ryder’s “Painism,” which is a cross between consequentialism and deontological ethics.

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lukeprog August 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Jeff H,

A potential desire is no desire at all. I deny that potential desires are reasons for action.

Of course, I’ll write something on abortion for the FAQ.

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Justin Martyr August 17, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Hiya Faithless, the feeling is mutual! I appreciate the honesty of the community that Luke has fostered here.
Now, onto the naturalistic fallacy. Where is the scientific evidence that good = that which fulfills desires?

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Kip August 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm

lukeprog: I dunno. Desirism is consequentialist, but it also bares certain serious similarities to virtue ethics and Kantian universalizability. The name is also similar to Ryder’s “Painism,” which is a cross between consequentialism and deontological ethics.

I think when we are determining which desires are good, then the theory is consequentialist, and definitely Utiliatarian.

I have no idea what “faithlessgod” is talking about in his posts on this in response to you saying that there are billions of variables to consider.  There are.  Those are the facts.  They matter.  In fact, that’s all that matters.

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Yair August 17, 2009 at 10:57 pm

lukeprog: Yair,Why is the fulfillment of Yair’s desires the sole good, the universal reason for action? Is it because your desires have intrinsic value, or because that is how you define morality, or what?

How I define morality – like Justin Martyr said, it’s just my round-about way of illustrating the naturalistic fallacy.

faithlessgod: stuff

As Martyr’s quote of Fyfe illustrated, avoiding the 1000 sadists problem sinks into hypotheticals.
How would desirism be falsified? Its *moral* claims are not verifiable at all. Its core tenet – that good desires tend to fulfill other desires – is a totally unsupported external “higher” standard that Luke *explicitly* uses as such – rejecting his own intuitions to conform to this standard.
 

TK: I think this is where all ethical theories ultimately fail, and it’s why I hover between emotivism and prescriptivism. The only conceivable thing I could see qualifying as “data” against which to compare the outcome of an ethical theory is our moral intuition.

I appreciate both, but ultimately refer to myself as a subjectivist because said emotions are subjective and the good life is about more than prescription. Intuitions fail because introspection sucks, which is the source of all moral confusion to begin with; they don’t need to be abandoned, they need to be clarified (through science, eventually). I agree they are the only real test of morality,  since they are ultimately what the field is all about – talking about “desires that tend to fulfill others” or whatever is just arbitrarily redefining terms and committing the naturalistic fallacy.

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 8:24 am

Bump because I’m still waiting for scientific evidence for the proposition that good = that which fulfills desires.

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 8:48 am

Justin Martyr,

Your question is one I’ll add to the FAQ.

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 8:49 am

“How could desirism be falsified?” That’s a great question, one I’ll be adding to the FAQ.

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 9:04 am

Faithless, do you feel like taking a crack at it? What scientific evidence is there for the proposition that good = that which fulfills desires?

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 9:10 am

Justin,

You added a *bump* comment because I didn’t reply to you within 12 hours???

It will probably be weeks before I add that question and answer to the FAQ…

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 9:56 am

Sorry Luke! I won’t do it again.

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Jeff H August 18, 2009 at 12:59 pm

lukeprog: Jeff H,A potential desire is no desire at all. I deny that potential desires are reasons for action.Of course, I’ll write something on abortion for the FAQ.

Alright, great. So if I suffocate someone in their sleep, when they probably don’t have any desires in their heads, it’s not wrong? Wonderful.
 
To be honest, I don’t see any real possibility of sustaining a moral theory based solely on current desires. I mean, if you are willing to posit the existence of potential desires, then suffocating someone is certainly wrong. They desire to exist, they desire to have a long life, to have a family, to have a satisfying job, etc. etc. If you only take into account current desires, at most they could maybe have a desire to keep sleeping. But is that even a thing that’s going through their heads? I don’t think so.

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Kip August 18, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Justin Martyr: What scientific evidence is there for the proposition that good = that which fulfills desires?

What scientific evidence is there for the proposition that quenching = that which fulfills thirst?

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Kip: What scientific evidence is there for the proposition that quenching = that which fulfills thirst?

That is tautology. It is true by definition. As such it has no substantive content. Is that your take on desire utilitarianism as well?

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Jeff H,

Your question is very important and will certainly be addressed in future additions to the FAQ.

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Justin,

The definition of “good” is a semantic issue in meta-ethics, and one I will certainly address in later additions to the FAQ.

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faithlessgod August 18, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Kip:   It really is still “Utilitarianism”, though… It is still a consequentialist theory that seeks to maximize the good by maximizing desire fulfillment.

Hi Kip, this is why I am dropping the label utilitarianism, although your understanding of this is far superior to most. There is no utility to maximize. Specifically desire fulfillment is not a utility, so not something that can be maximized. Fulfillment is label given to the relation that pertains when the state of affairs that is the target of the desire in question is true.
Further the idea of maximizing such relations (not utility) over the alternate (thwarting) is still misleading, since (a) there is no maximizing imperative (b) there is no necessary requirement or expectation that applying this over the whole range of relevant but particular situations will result quantitatively maximal (or near) fulfillment, since it all depends on the desires being evaluated. (This paragraph are new thoughts on this topic please respond if you can)

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faithlessgod August 19, 2009 at 12:24 am

Justin Martyr: Hiya Faithless, the feeling is mutual! I appreciate the honesty of the community that Luke has fostered here. Now, onto the naturalistic fallacy. Where is the scientific evidence that good = that which fulfills desires?

I assume you mean Moore’s naturalistic fallacies based on the Open Question Argument? Well this is not a scientific but a philosophical and semantic argument and not a…ahem…good one as my linked post argues. See also More on Moore.
Now the claim that generic good is “such as to fulfill desires of the kind in question” is a pragmatic claim, one that better explains the usage of the term generic “good” better than others, and this is a provisional and defeasible claim so in that sense you might think of this as “scientific”, but what would be required here is an alternate definition to compare and contrast with examples of language usage and states of affairs etc.  If you have an alternate definition we could do this analysis, do you?
 
 

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faithlessgod August 19, 2009 at 12:47 am

Kip:  I have no idea what “faithlessgod” is talking about in his posts on this in response to you saying that there are billions of variables to consider.  There are.  Those are the facts.  They matter.  In fact, that’s all that matters.

I do not deny that this is all that matters. However Luke’s representation of this problem misleads as it implies it is practically unsolvable and you seem to be doing the same.
Now the same challenge faces any scientist looking at any domain of empirical inquiry. Do they give up? If they do we would not have heard or know of them. The ones we know have found a way of finding (or at least trying to find)  the invariant features that exist within all the myriad instances in question. That was one point I was making.
The other point was that using desire as the evaluation focus (which you grok – at least somewhat – but many others do not) notes that desires are persistent (maybe disposition is a better word here?) and exist whether triggered or not. To focus on one instance when triggered and ignore all the others is not to make desire but the event the evaluation focus and that is not desirism but desire fulfilment act utilitarianism.

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faithlessgod August 19, 2009 at 12:52 am

lukeprog: “How could desirism be falsified?” That’s a great question, one I’ll be adding to the FAQ.

I list various challenges in a post I cant remember but an earlier one (not so good) is Ethics as a science

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faithlessgod August 19, 2009 at 1:22 am

Yair: Its core tenet – that good desires tend to fulfill other desires – is a totally unsupported external “higher” standard that Luke *explicitly* uses as such – rejecting his own intuitions to conform to this standard.

This is incorrect in many ways.
a) It is not that “good desires tend to fufill other desires”, it is that those desires that tend to fufill other desires are  or can be labeled as good.  They would “tend to fulfill other desires” regardless of whether they are labeled good or not. “good” is a semantic and used only descriptively here. Desirism argues that the use of “good” here is a way to to provide reliable, repeatable and robust external referents for the term “good” that makes better sense of common usage than other theories (suc as Yair’s).
b) There is no core tenet as misrepesented by Yair above.
c) There is no “higher standard” there is the just the world that exists.
 

Yair:“desires that tend to fulfill others” or whatever is just arbitrarily redefining terms and committing the naturalistic fallacy.

d) It is the opposite of arbitrary to have a method to reliably identify referents for a term, any term
e) Invoking the “naturalistic fallacy” is too vague. Which one are you referring to? It cannot be any of Moore’s 3 naturalistic fallacies because these refute your subjectivism.
f) Invoking the “naturalistic fallacy” is rhetoric. Of course, ethical (reductive) naturalists are comitting what you might call a fallacy, but we disagree that this is a fallacy. Just naming it as such says nothing. You have to provide an argument to show it is actually a fallacy  and as far as I can see calling the naturalistic fallacy is itself a fallacy (at least the Moorean approach results in this).
 

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faithlessgod August 19, 2009 at 1:36 am

JeffH
Desires are persistent entities. They can be triggered and active or current as you put it. We always have a desire to eat but – hopefully – it is not active or current all the time! If we lack such a desire we would not eat and would die (Many other desirea are optional but the same principle still applies).

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Yair August 19, 2009 at 3:12 am

faithless – there are two disagreements here, as far as I can see
 
a) What does “morality” refer to? I think its referrant is fundamentally the standard that underlies our moral intuitions, and therefore any attempt to construct a morality that does not use that as its referrant is doomed to semantic failure. Luke explicitly puts moral intuitions to the side, they are not relevant for desirism according to him. That is the “naturalistic fallacy” desirism, and often other moral theories, makes – it identifies something else (“desires that tend to fulfill desires” or whatever) as the good, which makes room for the Moorean open question, the is/ought problem, and various other naturalistic fallacies.
b) What should we do? I maintain that the standard by which we judge what we should do is internal, and not equivalent to desirism; therefore desirim is an external “higher” standard.  It is explicitly used as such by Luke, and desirism in general. Desirims maintains that we should judge what is good according to its standard (what desires tend to fulfill desires), putting it above our internal standard; that is precisely establishing an external higher standard. Claiming that it isn’t while at the same time claiming that it should be used as one is absurd.
 
I still maintain that the idea that desires that tend to fulfill other desires are good is the core tenet of desirism. All the discussions leading up to it merely serve to “prove” it, e.g. by invoking the fact that people will tend to promote such desires (the is/ought fallacy); all the discussions proceeding after it are applications of this principle, e.g.concluding that we should promote good desires. The definition of good is the core tenet of every moral theory.

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lukeprog August 19, 2009 at 6:01 am

faithlessgod: I list various challenges in a post I cant remember but an earlier one (not so good) is Ethics as a science

Cool, thanks for the link.

BTW, I really appreciate your comments over here. Please do comment on my desirism FAQ if I’ve made mistakes (however minor) or serious omissions in my entries.

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faithlessgod August 19, 2009 at 6:34 am

Yair: faithless – there are two disagreements here, as far as I can see   a) What does “morality” refer to?

Morality is social device or set of social institutions. Different societies have different implementations of this device, both formal and informal with different codes, practices, means of identifying blameworthy and praiseworthy, means of regulation, prevention and correction and differing explanation of its grounds, justification and authority and so on. Ethics is the study of the device of morality, to compare, contrast and identify which is more or less efficient and effective, both according to its own self-defined standards, by comparsion wiht other versions of this device and in general.
 
What else could it be? You say:

Yair:I think its referrant is fundamentally the standard that underlies our moral intuitions, and therefore any attempt to construct a morality that does not use that as its referrant is doomed to semantic failure.

Our moral intuitions objectify this device as to be part of the fabric of the universe independent of us. This is a semantic failure that any theory needs to deal with since this is an error as Mackie showed with his Argument From Queerness.

There is no choice but to seek a reforming definition given this error and this is no different than to worry over whether Egypt is in the Middle East or North Africa, whether Pluto is a planet or not, whether an atom is indivisible or not. Still one seeks reforming definition which best captures common and conventional usage of the terms under question – that is do the least violence to them without perpetuating such errors – and this is why I prefer desirism over its competitors.

You yourself are not sticking to you own point as your subjectivism also requires redefinitions of moral terms, however, as you know, I think this introduces other errors, that are avoidable.

Yair: Luke explicitly puts moral intuitions to the side, they are not relevant for desirism according to him. That is the “naturalistic fallacy” desirism, and often other moral theories, makes – it identifies something else (”desires that tend to fulfill desires” or whatever) as the good, which makes room for the Moorean open question, the is/ought problem, and various other naturalistic fallacies.

Putting moral intuitions to one side, or, as I say not allowing them as the ground of morality is not the natrualistic fallacy unless you can provide reason and evidence that that is the case. As i have just pointed out I the the claim of a naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy and I say why in my linked posts. There is no point in just repeating your point without dealing with that.

The only real challenge is Hume’s is/ought distinction, the fact/value distinction being a variant of this. I have dealt with this in Objections to Ethical naturalism and Fact and values.

Yair: b) What should we do?

Enough said for now lets deal with the above first.

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faithlessgod August 19, 2009 at 6:37 am

lukeprog: Cool, thanks for the link.BTW, I really appreciate your comments over here. Please do comment on my desirism FAQ if I’ve made mistakes (however minor) or serious omissions in my entries.

When I have time. I realize I need to clean up many of my posts that I am likely to reference for typos  (as try as I might they still slip in) and to provide forward links to points that have been abrogated or just better expressed in later posts.

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Justin Martyr August 19, 2009 at 8:35 am

faithlessgod: Now the claim that generic good is “such as to fulfill desires of the kind in question” is a pragmatic claim, one that better explains the usage of the term generic “good” better than others, and this is a provisional and defeasible claim so in that sense you might think of this as “scientific”, but what would be required here is an alternate definition to compare and contrast with examples of language usage and states of affairs etc. If you have an alternate definition we could do this analysis, do you?

 
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere.
 
1. If we are trying to create a definition that does the best job of capturing what we all mean when we use the word ‘good’ then natural rights morality does a better job. There is a vast literature out of psychology and behavioral economics which makes that point. People care about fairness and social norms in a way that really only agrees with rights-based moral systems.
 
2. Suppose you show that desirism does a better job of capturing the meaning of good. You are still not out of the woods yet. Suppose I can make a good definition that captures the meaning of the word ‘Santa Claus’. That does not mean that Santa Claus exists.
 

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Kip August 19, 2009 at 8:35 am

 

faithlessgod: There is no utility to maximize. Specifically desire fulfillment is not a utility, so not something that can be maximized. Fulfillment is label given to the relation that pertains when the state of affairs that is the target of the desire in question is true.

I see no reason why the relation between a state of affairs and desires cannot be “maximized” in the utilitarian sense.  I think that’s exactly what DU calls for — a state of affairs that results in the most and strongest desires being fulfilled.  It is conceivable that we could have some sort of “util” type measurement attached to the fulfillment of various desires, and a negative “util” attached to the thwarting of various desires, and seek to maximize utility by seeking a state of affairs where the # of “utils” was greatest.
The thing that is confused, I think, is that there is no intrinsic value in maximizing the utils (desire fulfillment).  We have no (or very few) reasons to create desires in order to then fulfill those desires.  So, when we go to do our calculations, to see which desires we should promote or demote, we have no reason to create arbitrary desires just to fulfill them.  There is no “utility” in that.
… or maybe I’m wrong.  I’d like to see what Alonzo’s take on this is.  Why did he call it “Utilitarianism” and does he still feel that is an appropriate name?

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Kip August 19, 2009 at 8:41 am

faithlessgod: I do not deny that this is all that matters. However Luke’s representation of this problem misleads as it implies it is practically unsolvable and you seem to be doing the same. Now the same challenge faces any scientist looking at any domain of empirical inquiry. Do they give up?

I think it is practically unsolvable… right now, at least.  We have a lot of work to do.  And we’ll be estimating for the foreseeable future.  No, we don’t give up.  I don’t think admitting that there are lots and lots of variables is in any way giving up.  I think dismissing the variables is giving up.

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Kip August 19, 2009 at 8:45 am

Justin Martyr: Suppose I can make a good definition that captures the meaning of the word ‘Santa Claus’.

And by “good definition”, you mean a definition that does what you want or need it to do, right?  It fulfills your desires or purposes.  Or perhaps the desires or purposes of various people, or the entire population.  I’m pretty sure that’s what we mean when we say “good”.

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Jeff H August 19, 2009 at 3:00 pm

faithlessgod: JeffH Desires are persistent entities. They can be triggered and active or current as you put it. We always have a desire to eat but – hopefully – it is not active or current all the time! If we lack such a desire we would not eat and would die (Many other desirea are optional but the same principle still applies).

I still find this tricky. Let’s say I just had a big meal and am now full – I do not desire to eat any more. Does this mean that I have no desire to eat, or that my desire to eat is just not currently active? And how can we really tell the difference? I’m not sure that we could really find a spot in the brain for a desire that is currently inactive. Perhaps eating, though, is not the best example, since it is a biological imperative. Hunger is the result of a complex set of hormones, cyclic fluctuations, and regulators. However, perhaps hunger is not the same as the desire to eat. After all, anorexic people can be hungry, but still not desire to eat.
 
Let’s choose a different example that is not a biological necessity. What about a desire to not be seriously injured? Is such a thing a “persistent entity”? Is my desire not to be seriously injured only active when I think, “Hmm, it would probably suck to be injured right now,” or is there some persistent desire to not be injured that is always in the back of our mind? And if so, can we pinpoint it in the brain? Of course, we don’t really know for sure whether we can, but if I had to guess, I’d say not. This desire is a cognitive one – when we think about getting injured, we’d say, “yes, I have a desire not to be injured.” But otherwise, we really don’t think about it at all. I suppose you can argue that this is just a latent desire that is still there, but how can we really determine that? I think it makes much more sense to say that hypothetically, given our knowledge of human nature, it is reasonable to assume that a given person does not desire to be seriously injured. But that deals with hypotheticals, and not with brain states.

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Jeff H August 19, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Justin Martyr:   Ok, now we’re getting somewhere.   1. If we are trying to create a definition that does the best job of capturing what we all mean when we use the word ‘good’ then natural rights morality does a better job.

I don’t have much to say on this, but one problem I could foresee with this idea would be that moral theories would then shift according to language shifts. If the idea in people’s minds of what “good” is changes over time, then so will the correct moral theory. And I see that as kind of an odd thing. It essentially turns morality into a popularity contest. Unless it could be shown that the concept of what is “good” does not change at all, then I think this strategy might be pretty ineffective at determining what true morality is.

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lukeprog August 19, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Jeff H,

I think the persistence or non-persistence of desires is a very complex issue that has not yet been resolved. There will be more discussion of the issue in teh FAQ, later.

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Kip August 19, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Jeff H: What about a desire to not be seriously injured? Is such a thing a “persistent entity”? Is my desire not to be seriously injured only active when I think, “Hmm, it would probably suck to be injured right now,” or is there some persistent desire to not be injured that is always in the back of our mind? And if so, can we pinpoint it in the brain? Of course, we don’t really know for sure whether we can, but if I had to guess, I’d say not.

Every time I take an action, there is a part of me that analyzes the risk of injury that action might have to me.  I am more careful when the action is perceived to be riskier.  Further, when actions I am taking may cause injury to others, then those people have reasons to increase my awareness and be more cautious as well.
Your point is good, though, as it is concerned with the nature of desire and specifically, for Desirism, the BDI model of Intentional Action.  That’s not something that philosophers will be able to answer — we need neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics and other scientific fields to weigh in on this question.

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Kip August 19, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Jeff H: Unless it could be shown that the concept of what is “good” does not change at all, then I think this strategy might be pretty ineffective at determining what true morality is.

Concepts are in us.  We make them up to fit our perceptions of the world.  “True morality” is not a non-human thing that is “out there” to be discovered, like discovering the speed of light.  It is a social system of interaction between people.  As people change, morality will also change.

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faithlessgod August 20, 2009 at 1:42 am

Justin Martyr:1. If we are trying to create a definition that does the best job of capturing what we all mean when we use the word ‘good’ then natural rights morality does a better job. There is a vast literature out of psychology and behavioral economics which makes that point. People care about fairness and social norms in a way that really only agrees with rights-based moral systems.

2. Suppose you show that desirism does a better job of capturing the meaning of good. You are still not out of the woods yet. Suppose I can make a good definition that captures the meaning of the word ‘Santa Claus’. That does not mean that Santa Claus exists.

Apart from Kip’s wonderful response to your point 2, more to the central theme of your response to me, does not point 2 implicitly contradict point1? Do natural rights exist or are they a fiction like Santa Claus?
Natural rights are based on fiction unless you can show otherwise, so switching the grounds or referents for moral terms from falsely intuited/objectified  “intrinsic prescriptivity” to non-existent  natural rights is still an error, indeed the same type of error, just a different version of it.
Your point 2 fails given there is no issue in providing definitions for non-existent entities, and such definitions do make these entities magically exist. It is the other way around here, people hold or assume that certain entities exist (see my paragraph above) and we can discover that they do not, however this does not mean becuase they were mistaken about what exists that nothing exists in that context at all, that is the fallacvy of the hasty generalisation. That is certainly a conclusion taken by subjectivists but not the only one. Desirism (and other reductive naturalisms) seek to find what does exist and correct the errors in that way.
 

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faithlessgod August 20, 2009 at 1:58 am

Kip:   I see no reason why the relation between a state of affairs and desires cannot be “maximized” in the utilitarian sense.  I think that’s exactly what DU calls for — a state of affairs that results in the most and strongest desires being fulfilled.
Sorry Kip AFAICS you are arguing for desire fulfillment act utilitarianism (DFAU), I think you are familiar with this point from Alonzo’s blog. Or do you want to make an argument that DU and DFAU are the same?
Kip: … The thing that is confused, I think, is that there is no intrinsic value in maximizing the utils (desire fulfillment).

Correct

Kip: We have no (or very few) reasons to create desires in order to then fulfill those desires.

Exactly

Kip: So, when we go to do our calculations, to see which desires we should promote or demote, we have no reason to create arbitrary desires just to fulfill them.

Yes and DU does not do this. And most of the time we do no calculations operating at the Prole level, we just follow our suitably conditioned desires.

Kip: There is no “utility” in that. … or maybe I’m wrong.

Correct there is no utility (in that), this is what I am saying!  More precisely utility is indeterminate and incommensurate and down to each individual. DU shows how best  to reduce friction that thwarts desires  and lubricate the capacity of everyone to fulfil their desires.
I am confused as apart from your first sentence you are arguing against utility!?

Kip: I’d like to see what Alonzo’s take on this is.  Why did he call it “Utilitarianism” and does he still feel that is an appropriate name?

In reference to economic utility, IIRC. Regardless it is only a label, lets no dwell on semantics.
 

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faithlessgod August 20, 2009 at 2:01 am

Kip: I think it is practically unsolvable… right now, at least.  We have a lot of work to do.  And we’ll be estimating for the foreseeable future.  No, we don’t give up.  I don’t think admitting that there are lots and lots of variables is in any way giving up.  I think dismissing the variables is giving up.

This fails to address my argument AFAICS. I am not dismissing these variables, only focusing on the invariant features across situations as any scientist does in investigating a phenomenon. Why should we not do the same here? I do not see what your issue is and why you insist upon your position.

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faithlessgod August 20, 2009 at 2:03 am

JeffH
The persistence of desires is an interesting isue and I cannot do justice to it in a comment. Alonzo has written extensively on this before, I do not know if this is Luke’s DU FAQ. I will write a post on this when I have time.
 

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faithlessgod August 20, 2009 at 2:10 am

Jeff H: I don’t have much to say on this, but one problem I could foresee with this idea would be that moral theories would then shift according to language shifts. If the idea in people’s minds of what “good” is changes over time, then so will the correct moral theory. And I see that as kind of an odd thing. It essentially turns morality into a popularity contest. Unless it could be shown that the concept of what is “good” does not change at all, then I think this strategy might be pretty ineffective at determining what true morality is.

I think you are confusing the metaethical meaning of “good” with the pragmatic use of the term. DU seeks to retain as much as possible of how the term “good” is used whilst providing a better ontology of what it is.

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faithlessgod August 20, 2009 at 5:52 am

It seems that Alonzo likes the term desirism, or at least is not against it. He says:

“There is reason to want to avoid having to deal with these mistaken assumptions entirely – to begin with a clean slate, as it were. Desirism allows for the clean slate.”

The mistaken assumptions he was addressing include the 1000 sadists discussed in this thread for which he says far more elegantly and concisely than I put it:

“The moral question is not whether the act of torturing a child fulfills desires, but whether we have reason to promote a desire to torture children to begin with. We are evaluating desires first, and actions only insofar as they fulfill good desires. If nobody had a desire to torture children, then no child would need to fear being tortured, and nobody would have reason to regret this fact.”

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Kip August 20, 2009 at 6:26 am

faithlessgod: Kip:   I see no reason why the relation between a state of affairs and desires cannot be “maximized” in the utilitarian sense.  I think that’s exactly what DU calls for — a state of affairs that results in the most and strongest desires being fulfilled.

Sorry Kip AFAICS you are arguing for desire fulfillment act utilitarianism (DFAU), I think you are familiar with this point from Alonzo’s blog. Or do you want to make an argument that DU and DFAU are the same?

DU does call for the most and strongest desires to be fulfilled.  It just does it at the “Archangel” level, not at the “Prole” level.  By “call for”, I mean that is what it prescribes.  An action is good if it is motivated by a good desire, and desire is good if it tends to fulfill more and stronger desires.  How does a desire tend to fulfill more and stronger desires?  By leading to actions which cause states of affairs where the desires are fulfilled.  So, generally then, the consequence will be more and stronger desires being fulfilled.  If you think this is wrong, please let me know.  This is important, so if one of us is misunderstanding this, then we should get it clarified.
I do understand the reasoning behind dropping the “Utilitarian” part of the label.  I asked Alonzo about it, and he seemed to see the good in it too.  So, I’ll start calling it “Desirism” from now on, too.  :-)

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Kip August 20, 2009 at 6:28 am

faithlessgod: This fails to address my argument AFAICS. I am not dismissing these variables, only focusing on the invariant features across situations as any scientist does in investigating a phenomenon. Why should we not do the same here? I do not see what your issue is and why you insist upon your position.

My position is that the variables cannot be dismissed.  If you are not doing that, then we agree.  It seemed to me that you were, though.  But, that’s probably because I don’t understand what you mean by “focusing on the invariant features across situations”.  Maybe an example will help me understand.

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Justin Martyr August 20, 2009 at 8:58 am

faithlessgod: Apart from Kip’s wonderful response to your point 2, more to the central theme of your response to me, does not point 2 implicitly contradict point1? Do natural rights exist or are they a fiction like Santa Claus? Natural rights are based on fiction unless you can show otherwise,

Agreed. The way I show otherwise is to base morality on God’s nature. Natural rights ethics do a reasonable (but not perfect) job of harmonizing Christian ethics into a unified framework. If God does not exist then morality is a fiction. However, perhaps an atheist can provide scientific evidence for the existence of objective moral principles? The ratio of science to magical reasoning in this thread is very low.
 

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Kip August 20, 2009 at 10:56 am

Justin Martyr: The ratio of science to magical reasoning in this thread is very low.

It was higher until you brought your magical deity into the mix.  :-)

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Kip August 20, 2009 at 10:57 am

Justin Martyr: If God does not exist then morality is a fiction.

This is only true for certain limited definitions of morality (specifically, those definitions that require God to exist).

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lukeprog August 20, 2009 at 6:08 pm

faithlessgod: When I have time. I realize I need to clean up many of my posts that I am likely to reference for typos (as try as I might they still slip in) and to provide forward links to points that have been abrogated or just better expressed in later posts.

Please let me know if you disagree with something in my desirism FAQ, as you probably understand the theory even better than I do. I hope Alonzo will do the same.

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faithlessgod August 21, 2009 at 1:48 am

Justin Martyr: Agreed. The way I show otherwise is to base morality on God’s nature. Natural rights ethics do a reasonable (but not perfect) job of harmonizing Christian ethics into a unified framework. If God does not exist then morality is a fiction. However, perhaps an atheist can provide scientific evidence for the existence of objective moral principles? The ratio of science to magical reasoning in this thread is very low.

As Kip noted you have just dramatically increased it!
 
Even if a god existed and we ignored the subjective and relative barriers that makes you think your god is correct and others wrong, that is if regardless of this you just happen to be correct although you could never know, it is still not possible to ground morality in god since there are no intrinsic values and there is nothing god can do to change that. God is one person amongst many when comes to evaluating anyone’s – including god’s – desires.
” If God does not exist then morality is a fiction. “ Please provide scientific evidence of this claim.
“However, perhaps an atheist can provide scientific evidence for the existence of objective moral principles” Dear of dear. There is so much wrong with this sentence.
First the debate is not about atheists versus theists (especially since many theisms do not think god is necessary for morality) – this is trying to change the subject. Whatever morality is it is and should be available and applicable to everyone, theists or atheist. To break down the problem on these arbitrary lines is indicative of prejudice.
Secondly there are no such “objective moral principles” of the kind you imply. One main reason being jsut because these are claimed as “objective” does not mean that they are. Any such claimed objective moral principles turn out to be subjective and relative, at least in all the cases of god-based morality I have seen.
If you are trully, honestly and ehtically concerned to find the best objective grounds for moraliy then you are on (one of) right blogs but then you should realise that such a quest requires you to reject god as a basis for objective morality (since it is subjective, relative and no bieng cn be the basis for values of any kind). Now if you chose to do so this does not mean you have to give up your beleif in god just that you will understand your belief better.
It is your choice, what is more important, understanding morality or defending your idea of god?
 
 
 
 
 
 

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faithlessgod August 21, 2009 at 1:55 am

 

Kip: My position is that the variables cannot be dismissed.  If you are not doing that, then we agree.  It seemed to me that you were, though.  But, that’s probably because I don’t understand what you mean by “focusing on the invariant features across situations”.  Maybe an example will help me understand.

The variables we are addressing here are the number of holders of a desire and the recipients of that desire’s fulfilment. This clearly varies from instance to instance. These are not dismissed but recognized as variables! What are the invariants in each and every instance? The desires and the states of affairs that are the targets of the desires.
I am not sure what it is you are arguing for, unless you are trying to justify relativism (which makes everything dependent on the numer of holders and recipeients of desire) and reject that there is any posibility of an objective (invariant) grounds for morality? If not this, then what?

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faithlessgod August 21, 2009 at 1:57 am

lukeprog: Please let me know if you disagree with something in my desirism FAQ, as you probably understand the theory even better than I do. I hope Alonzo will do the same.

I will when I have time. If only this thread would die ;-) !

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faithlessgod August 21, 2009 at 2:08 am

Kip: DU does call for the most and strongest desires to be fulfilled.

No. It observes that this is what everyone already does. It seeks to address what these most and strongest desires are by using social forces (that are already used too) to encourage some desires and discourage others on the basis of…

Kip: It just does it at the “Archangel” level, not at the “Prole” level.

Yes the archangel level is the level of critical analysis. Your previous comment was implying that people never operated at the Prole level, when tha is the norm.

Kip: By “call for”, I mean that is what it prescribes.
DU does not prescribe, DU rather analyses whether a desire is one that people generally have reason to promote or inhibit.

Kip: An action is good if it is motivated by a good desire, and desire is good if it tends to fulfill more and stronger desires.  How does a desire tend to fulfill more and stronger desires?  By leading to actions which cause states of affairs where the desires are fulfilled.  So, generally then, the consequence will be more and stronger desires being fulfilled.

I will answer this later this is not quite correct but my train is coming to its destination now.

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Kip August 21, 2009 at 10:50 am

faithlessgod:   The variables we are addressing here are the number of holders of a desire and the recipients of that desire’s fulfilment. This clearly varies from instance to instance. These are not dismissed but recognized as variables! What are the invariants in each and every instance? The desires and the states of affairs that are the targets of the desires. I am not sure what it is you are arguing for, unless you are trying to justify relativism (which makes everything dependent on the numer of holders and recipeients of desire) and reject that there is any posibility of an objective (invariant) grounds for morality? If not this, then what?

Can you please give me an example so I can understand what you are saying?

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Kip August 21, 2009 at 11:03 am

faithlessgod: Kip: DU does call for the most and strongest desires to be fulfilled.

No. It observes that this is what everyone already does. It seeks to address what these most and strongest desires are by using social forces (that are already used too) to encourage some desires and discourage others on the basis of…

No.  People act in order to fulfill the more and strongest desires *given their beliefs*.  They can be wrong.

faithlessgod: Kip: It just does it at the “Archangel” level, not at the “Prole” level.

Yes the archangel level is the level of critical analysis. Your previous comment was implying that people never operated at the Prole level, when tha is the norm.

I understand that people will always act at the Prole level.  That is, they will act in order to fulfill their strongest desires given their beliefs.

faithlessgod: Kip: By “call for”, I mean that is what it prescribes.

DU does not prescribe, DU rather analyses whether a desire is one that people generally have reason to promote or inhibit.

DU does prescribe.  It says that “ought” (a prescription) means that people generally have reason to promote that desire.  And those reasons are themselves desires, which will be fulfilled if the moral project is successful.

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Justin Martyr August 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm

faithlessgod: As Kip noted you have just dramatically increased it!

 
That is completely untrue. There is nothing remotely magical in my argument. It is a simple deductive argument. You don’t get much more upfront and honest than modus ponens.
 

1. If the Christian God exists then objective ethical princples exist
2. The Christian God exists
3. Therefore, objective ethical principles exist.

 
Now, I fully expect atheists to challenge the first two premises. We can debate whether or not the argument is sound but not whether it is logically valid. It is. There is no magical reasoning involved – unlike desire utilitarianism.

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Kip August 22, 2009 at 6:17 am

@faithlessgod:  My suggestion would be to not feed the troll.

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faithlessgod August 24, 2009 at 3:50 am

Kip: Can you please give me an example so I can understand what you are saying?

Scenario 1: 1000 sadists and 1 victim
Scenario 2: 1 sadist and 1000 victims
Scenario 3: 500 sadists and 500 victims
Does this help?

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faithlessgod August 24, 2009 at 4:17 am

Kip: No.  People act in order to fulfill the more and strongest desires *given their beliefs*.  They can be wrong.

This is correct but besides the point here – one cannot use reason to change desire, one uses social forces of praise and condemnation etc.
Kip: DU does prescribe.  It says that “ought” (a prescription) means that people generally have reason to promote that desire.  And those reasons are themselves desires, which will be fulfilled if the moral project is successful.
We might be splitting hairs here, I dunno. DU describes how prescriptions work, it is a theory of prescriptions. DU does not assert or just claim that the most plausible application of “moral” prescriptions becomes what desires people generally have reason to promote or inhibit, nor does it prescribe itself , rather it is (a) a theory that provides the evidence and arguments for this position meta-ethically and  (b) it provides – in normative ethics – methods with tips and traps on how to apply this to determine what these recommendations most likely are and to show what is mistaken in other normative ethical theories.

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faithlessgod August 24, 2009 at 4:19 am

Kip: @faithlessgod:  My suggestion would be to not feed the troll.

Agreed. He has completely discredited himself with his last post.

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Kip August 24, 2009 at 10:51 am

faithlessgod: Scenario 1: 1000 sadists and 1 victim Scenario 2: 1 sadist and 1000 victims Scenario 3: 500 sadists and 500 victims Does this help?

Unfortunately, no.  I’m saying that all the desires that exist are relevant.  You are talking about the “invariants”, seemingly dismissing some of the variables, but then you clarified that you are not, so I’m not sure how your response addressed Luke’s concerns with the billions of variables involved.  I’ve read your post on it a couple of times, but I’m missing the details I suppose.

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Kip August 24, 2009 at 1:51 pm

faithlessgod: Kip: No. People act in order to fulfill the more and strongest desires *given their beliefs*. They can be wrong.

This is correct but besides the point here…

I’m not sure what the point was anymore… but I do want to make a point to point out to you that I’ve seen you say that several times (on your website, too), and I think you should be careful to point out the importance of having good beliefs by including the phrase “given their beliefs” whenever you say that.  The truth is that people often do not act in order to fulfill their most and strongest desires.  They think they are, but they are mistaken.  This is critically important.

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faithlessgod August 26, 2009 at 11:08 am

Hi Kip
I am very busy at the momenet but please see Desirism

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faithlessgod September 2, 2009 at 4:01 am

Hi Kip and Luke
I have finally had the time to post a reply

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Kip September 2, 2009 at 6:34 am

faithlessgod: Hi Kip and Luke I have finally had the time to post a reply

Thanks!  I think you have clarified some things enough so that I can now be more sure that I disagree with you.  :-)  And, I could be wrong, so it’s definitely worth discussing.  But, I’d like to let Luke reply first if he’d like, since it was initially his post you were responding to.

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faithlessgod September 4, 2009 at 12:07 am

Hi Kip
Dunno if Luke will reply or not. So you might as well state what your disagreement is and we can discuss that – probably on my blog unless Luke wants to get involved.
 

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SupremeMuffin May 21, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Imagine a world with 1000 creepy voyeurs, 1 pedophile, and 1 child. Now what the voyeurs want to do is sit there and watch the pedophile rape the child. So, their desires are that the child is raped. Now, if we turn our knob to the right, and the rapist has a stronger desire to rape the child, he is also tending to fulfull 1000 other desires, while thwarting only 1. Is raping the child morally permissible in this situation?

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lukeprog May 21, 2010 at 10:53 pm

SupremeMuffin,

No. That’s the same sort of analogy that works as a criticism of act utilitarianism but not of desirism.

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