Desirism: More Questions Answered (part 4)

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 30, 2009 in Ethics

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

{2.07} How could desirism be falsified?

Desirism makes a huge number of empirically falsifiable claims. For example, desirism would be falsified if it could be shown:

  • that non-desire reasons for action exist, for example intrinsic values or categorical imperatives
  • that desires do not exist
  • that beliefs do not exist
  • that agents do not form intentions from their desires, given their beliefs
  • that no desires are malleable
  • that desires do not tend to fulfill or thwart other desires
  • that people do not generally have reason to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, or people do not generally have reason to inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires
  • that methods like praise, reward, condemnation, and punishment do not affect malleable desires

But desirism is also a meta-ethical theory, and so it also deals with semantic issues. Regarding these issues, desirism would be defeated if it could be shown that there is another moral theory that fits better with the broad usage of moral terms and makes only true claims.

{3.10} What is the greatest objection to desirism you’ve ever heard?

Alonzo Fyfe thinks that:

…the greatest objection to [desirism] says that there are no desires.

[This] is because we have too many questions to answer about what a desire is and who has them. Some people predict that when we come up with a theory of intentional action that can handle all of these questions, that this theory will be so radically different from the theory of beliefs and desires that the latter will face elimination, [and this would falsify desirism.]

One of the questions is: At what point do creatures actually acquire desires. Let’s say that plants and amoeba have no desires. Do worms? Oysters? Lobsters? Sharks? Insects? Frogs? Snakes? Cattle? It seems difficult to draw a line somewhere.

Do thermostats have desires? Is it reasonable to explain what a themostat does as having a desire for the temperature of the room to be at 72 degrees, a belief that it is at 68 degrees, and thus it forms the intentional act of heating the room.

…Another relevant question to ask is: Under what conditions do machines acquire desires?

We must wait for neuroscientists to answer these questions. Until then, there are no solid competitors to the standard belief-desire model of intentional action (BDI theory) on which desirism is founded. BDI theory can be used to successfully predict physical phenomena in the universe (in particular, the behavior of others), and it is the best theory we have for doing so.

{1.08} If desirism is so simple, why did nobody think of it until recently?

Other moral theories postulate such exotic entities as non-natural properties, intrinsic values, hypothetical social contracts, and gods. Compared to these theories, desirism is remarkably simple. It derives morality from simple natural facts: desires, states of affairs, the effects of desires on other desires, etc. And it does not require a special epistemology but depends on a method we already know to work well: science.

But if desirism is so simple, why did nobody think of it until recently?

I think it’s because everyone was looking for the wrong thing. Most people have been convinced that morality is transcendent, intrinsic, or even literally magical. Many others thought that moral facts had to be intrinsically motivating, or “binding” in some inescapable way, or independent of desires. So, philosophers spent thousands of years looking for something that did not exist.

This is rather like the search for the “soul” – that thing that causes our personality and intentions. People were convinced that the soul was non-physical, that it survived the death of the body, and so on. So they looked for thousands of years and could not find it. Now we know the soul is simply the mind, which is itself a function of the brain, which is itself a system of neuron firings. The soul is wholly physical, and it does not survive the death of the body. But we finally found it, and we are beginning to understand it scientifically.

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{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

Taranu August 30, 2009 at 9:34 pm

“Now we know the soul is simply the mind, which is itself a function of the brain, which is itself a system of neuron firings. The soul is wholly physical, and it does not survive the death of the body. But we finally found it, and we are beginning to understand it scientifically.”

Luke, how do you know this?

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lukeprog August 31, 2009 at 7:58 am

Taranu: Luke, how do you know this?

It fits with all the scientific data we have, and it is WAY more parsimonious than positing souls to explain the mind.

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antiplastic August 31, 2009 at 8:11 am

that people do not generally have reason to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, or people do not generally have reason to inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires

 
Well, they don’t. Haven’t we been over this?
All people have reason to promote desires that tend to promote their desires. You are almost literally saying that a thirsty person has a reason to wish for a tidal wave.

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lukeprog August 31, 2009 at 9:56 am

antiplastic: You are almost literally saying that a thirsty person has a reason to wish for a tidal wave.

You’ve lost me.

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antiplastic August 31, 2009 at 1:45 pm

lukeprog: You’ve lost me.

You hide the non-sequitur behind talk of what people “generally” have reason to do.  “Generally”, if I’m thirsty, it makes sense for me to “promote” there being more water around. For me. At a time, place, and quantity suited to what I want. It makes no sense at all to say that because I am thirsty, I have a reason to “go about promoting water generally”, or that anyone specifically (or even, everyone specifically) has reason to go about promoting desire fulfilment “in general”.

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lukeprog August 31, 2009 at 2:07 pm

antiplastic,

Yes, that’s a fair objection! As I’ve said before, it will be addressed in future additions to the FAQ.

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Anonymous September 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Hey Luke,
What about the fact that we often make promises which we do not feel like fulfilling, but do out of the mere fact that we made the promise? It seems to me that in this case, one is not fulfilling any desire at all. What would your response be to that?

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lukeprog September 1, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Anonymous,

In a future update I will discuss the morality of keeping promises. Thanks for your question.

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Kip September 2, 2009 at 6:08 am

antiplastic:   All people have reason to promote desires that tend to promote their desires.

“Their desires” are a subset of “desires” so what Luke wrote is still true.  However, I take it you argument is basically against the “universality” of the moral project of promoting or inhibiting particular desires.
It seems to me that in the context of “morality” we are concerned with universal rules of conduct.  When people say that it is “wrong to rape”, they don’t just mean that it’s wrong to rape *them*, or that it’s wrong for *them* to rape.  They mean that it’s morally wrong for anyone to rape anyone.
It’s not a leap, then, to note that when we use our “moral” tools to promote and thwart certain desires that will lead to certain behaviors, we do so *universally*.  Otherwise, if there is reason not to do it universally, then we don’t use the same moral terminology and tools.  It may be similar, but we have to somehow let people know that we are not promoting a universal desire, but only a specific desire for a particular subset of people or some such.
It just so happens that a lot of people share the same reasons to promote the same desires *universally*.  Which of your neighbors don’t have reason to promote the desire to not steal things from other people?  Which don’t have reason to promote the desire to not destroy other people’s property?  Which don’t have reason to promote the desire to not rape?  Which don’t have reason to promote the desire to not kill other people(*)?
It seems pretty clear to me that there are quite a lot of these *universal* desires that most of us have reason to promote.
This is important, so I appreciate you bringing it up.  I presume that Luke will go into this in more depth.
(*) There are exceptions to this, when a valid “excuse” will excuse someone — e.g. self defense.

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antiplastic September 2, 2009 at 8:31 am

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@Kip:
Can you see the illicit quantifier conversion you (and luke) are making that’s being masked by “generally”?
 
George enjoys the ducks at the park. All ducks are birds. Therefore George enjoys birds. Ostriches are birds. Therefore, George enjoys ostriches.
 
Whoops! The third premise follows from the first two only when the quantifier is existential, not universal.
 
George has a reason to reduce his neighbor’s desire to steal. His neighbor’s desire to steal thwarts more desires than it fulfills. Therefore George has a reason to reduce desires which tend to thwart more desires than they fulfill. George wants to steal his neighbor’s TV. Therefore, George has a reason to refrain from stealing his neighbor’s TV.
 
They’re structurally identical (try writing them out in predicate logic and you can see this for yourself). Then you can see why “which of your neighbors don’t have reason to promote the desire to not steal things from other people?” etc. can be easily answered by saying “almost all of them, if you aren’t mindful of the quantifier type and scope”.

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antiplastic September 2, 2009 at 8:41 am

 
@Kip:
Can you see the illicit quantifier conversion you (and luke) are making that’s being masked by “generally”?
George enjoys the ducks at the park. All ducks are birds. Therefore George enjoys birds. Ostriches are birds. Therefore, George enjoys ostriches.
Whoops! The third premise follows from the first two only when the quantifier is existential, not universal.
George has a reason to reduce his neighbor’s desire to steal. His neighbor’s desire to steal thwarts more desires than it fulfills. Therefore George has a reason to reduce desires which tend to thwart more desires than they fulfill. George wants to steal his neighbor’s TV. Therefore, George has a reason to refrain from stealing his neighbor’s TV.
They’re structurally identical (try writing them out in predicate logic and you can see this for yourself). Then you can see why “which of your neighbors don’t have reason to promote the desire to not steal things from other people?” etc. can be easily answered by saying “almost all of them, if you aren’t mindful of the quantifier type and scope”.

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Kip September 2, 2009 at 1:13 pm

George has a reason to reduce his neighbor’s desire to steal. His neighbor’s desire to steal thwarts more desires than it fulfills. Therefore George has a reason to reduce desires which tend to thwart more desires than they fulfill. George wants to steal his neighbor’s TV. Therefore, George has a reason to refrain from stealing his neighbor’s TV.

George probably DOES have reason to refrain from stealing his neighbor’s TV, but not because of the missing quantifier in your argument.  First of all, anyone can surely see that there ARE reasons that exist to promote an aversion in George for stealing his neighbor’s TV.  Presumably, the neighbor would not want that, the neighbor’s friends and relatives, and probably even the other neighbor’s in the area would not want that.  All of those are reasons (for them) to promote in George the aversion for stealing.  If they are successful (assuming they haven’t been already), and do promote in George the aversion for stealing, then George WILL have a reason to not steal his neighbor’s TV — because he is averse to it.
Now, George also has other reasons to not want to steal his neighbor’s TV.  Apart from the obvious punishment he’s likely to receive (which he doesn’t want), he will also likely be promoting the tendency for others to steal from him (which he doesn’t want).

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Justin Martyr September 4, 2009 at 9:54 am

Desire utilitarianism is easily falsified. Consider the Hateful Craig problem – http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2006/12/hateful-craig-problem.html . Alonzo takes great pains to point out that reason cannot make Craig stop hating and actually scoffs at atheists who think that there is. However, there is reason for the rest of us to get Craig to stop hating, so we use tools like punishment, praise, and condmenation to mold Craig’s desires, or at least prevent future Hateful Craigs from arising.
 
But we can only do that because there are more of us than there are of Craig. Suppose that Hateful Craig makes up the majority of society. And let us further suppose that Hateful Craig’s hatred is not randomly directed (in which case each Craig would rationally agree to punish and condemn acts of hatred in order to reduce the chance of having his own desires thwarted by hatred). Instead Hateful Craig’s hatred is only directed towards an ethnic minority group in his society. Suppose we have a small society of 900 Racist Craigs and 100 black people. There is no one else. Then what are the oppressed black people going to do – use punishment, praise, and condemnation to stop their racist oppressors? Good luck with that. In fact, what we will see is that the Racist Craigs will use praise, punishment and condemnation to entrench their racism.
 
I anticipate a lot of people arguing that the “turn the desire up” technique should be normative, but if so they really need to reread Alonzo’s post. His Humean reasoning is correct – desire utilitarianism cannot give the Racist Craigs a reason to change their minds. It can only give the rest of us a reason to try and change it for them.

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Kip September 4, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Justin Martyr: Desire utilitarianism is easily falsified.

Nothing you wrote explained how it was falsified.  Which predictions or statements that Desirism makes are wrong?

Justin Martyr: But we can only do that because there are more of us than there are of Craig.

That’s not true.  The minority may have very strong desires that are being thwarted, and therefore have a lot of will to shape the majority desires, whereas the majority may not have a very strong desire to resist the change.  There are lots of ways the minority can work to implement social change.  We see this all the time.

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lukeprog September 4, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Justin,

The 900 Racists problem is identical to the 1000 Sadists problem, and is solved in the same way.

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Antiplastic September 4, 2009 at 5:48 pm

George probably DOES have reason to refrain from stealing his neighbor’s TV, but not because of the missing quantifier in your argument.

“My” argument? It’s *your* argument!

First of all, anyone can surely see that there ARE reasons that exist to promote an aversion in George for stealing his neighbor’s TV.

Reasons for people who are not George. Reiterating that people don’t like it when you steal their shit is hardly a philosophical breakthrough.

Presumably, the neighbor would not want that, the neighbor’s friends and relatives, and probably even the other neighbor’s in the area would not want that.  All of those are reasons (for them) to promote in George the aversion for stealing.

FOR THEM. And the leap to saying “George should not do this”
is…. fallacious, as I showed.

 
If they are successful (assuming they haven’t been already), and do promote in George the aversion for stealing, then George WILL have a reason to not steal his neighbor’s TV — because he is averse to it.

So if the terms of the hypothetical are different, then the conclusion of the hypothetical would be different? Are we in agreement now that the non sequitur I actually specified is in fact a non sequitur?

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Kip September 4, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Antiplastic: “My” argument? It’s *your* argument!

No it’s not.  See, I quoted you.  Not the other way around.  If you said it, that makes it your argument.  Not mine.

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faithlessgod September 5, 2009 at 2:07 am

Regarding Justin Martyr
Nothing he has presented falsifies desirism, let alone easily. This is quite ironic since, if we are searching for easily falsified theories one need look no further than  theistic-based morality, which has more flaws than any other and which is implied by some of Justin’s comments he endorses and in others he also refutes arguing for  moral nihilism. He cant make up his own mind. However this is a digression and as confused as he might be over his own position, this does not prevent him providing valid criticism of other theories, unfortunately he has failed here.
As already noted he has restated the 1000 sadists problem, nothing more. A particularly egregious mis-direction he made in his comment was “desire utilitarianism cannot give the Racist Craigs a reason to change their minds.”  No-one can, this is not due to DU, but a descriptive fact that DU utilises (but many other theories fail acknowledge nor deal with), the observation that one cannot use reason to change someone’s desires only their beleifs.
“It can only give the rest of us a reason to try and change it for them.” Um, is this meant to be an objection? It is not, since that is all any moral system could do.
Regarding Antiplastic this a far more interesting and considered argument. I will respond when I have the time – unless someone beats me to the punch.
 
 
which is why it has not been a contender on serious ethical
 

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faithlessgod September 5, 2009 at 3:31 am

2 woops. 1st I did not mean to imply that Kip isnot engaging with Antiplastic and that last line on my previous comment was meant to have been deleted.

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Justin Martyr September 5, 2009 at 8:12 am

lukeprog: The 900 Racists problem is identical to the 1000 Sadists problem, and is solved in the same way.

 
No it isn’t. The “turn the desires up” technique tells non-sadists tells non-sadists that their own desires would better be fulfilled if they use praise, punishment, and condemnation to stop slavery. In a society with a racist majority there are no no-sadists with the power to actually do this. The racist majority will get their way.

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Justin Martyr September 5, 2009 at 8:18 am

Kip: That’s not true. The minority may have very strong desires that are being thwarted, and therefore have a lot of will to shape the majority desires, whereas the majority may not have a very strong desire to resist the change. There are lots of ways the minority can work to implement social change. We see this all the time.

 
Hi Kip, thank you for seriously engaging my argument.  I agree that minorities can implement social change  – but it is also true that minority groups do not always succeed. See also: every act of genocide in human history.

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Justin Martyr September 5, 2009 at 8:48 am

faithlessgod: A particularly egregious mis-direction he made in his comment was “desire utilitarianism cannot give the Racist Craigs a reason to change their minds.” No-one can, this is not due to DU, but a descriptive fact that DU utilises (but many other theories fail acknowledge nor deal with), the observation that one cannot use reason to change someone’s desires only their beleifs.

 
Here is Alonzo’s own words taken from the Hateful Craig post:

 
One person in our meeting raises his hand. “Oh! Oh! Mr. Alonzo! I know! I know! Let’s tell Craig and everybody else that we have this big invisible friend that sees everything. This big invisible friend will see to it that Craig suffers horribly in a life after death if Craig does anything wrong. Even if we do not catch him, our big invisible friend sees all. This will give him a reason not to do mean things.”

 
The invisible man in the sky method, or as I call it, appealing to God, will work even against powerful majority groups. By contrast, “turn the desires up” is relatively powerless against oppressors (although as Kip points out, this need not always be the case).
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 5, 2009 at 9:52 am

It might be helpful to break this discussion into two levels. At the normative level you apply the tools of moral reasoning supplied by the ethical theory. At the positive level you describe how this would actually happen in society.
 
Normative: desire utilitarianism says “go ahead and oppress that minority group – it fulfills your desires.” Normatively, desire utilitairanism justifies genocide and slavery.
 
Positive: As Kip points out, the minority group has some negotiating power. They attempt to praise, punish, and condemn the majority group. But since they are the weaker group their efforts fail and they are killed or enslaved.
 
Now look at the same dynamic according to virtually any other theory of ethics.
 
Normative: slavery and genocide are categorically wrong. Don’t do it.
 
Positive: People who hold this ethical use praise, punishment, and condemnation to spread this ethical theory to others. This is never an easy sell when it goes against the majority groups self-interest.  But saying “Don’t oppress – it is against ethical theory X” will work better than saying, “Go ahead and oppress – it fulfills your desires.”
 

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faithlessgod September 7, 2009 at 11:10 am

 

Justin Martyr:   The invisible man in the sky method, or as I call it, appealing to God, will work even against powerful majority groups. By contrast, “turn the desires up” is relatively powerless against oppressors (although as Kip points out, this need not always be the case).

Unfortunately the historical evidence is overwhelming that invisible man in the sky method has far too often been used as a tool by oppressors to justify their actions whether this is slavery, bigotry, genocide and so on. This looks like an argument against your position rather than for it.
 

Normative: desire utilitarianism says “go ahead and oppress that minority group – it fulfills your desires.” Normatively, desire utilitairanism justifies genocide and slavery.

No DU does not say this. This is a straw man.

Now look at the same dynamic according to virtually any other theory of ethics.
Normative: slavery and genocide are categorically wrong. Don’t do it.

As desirable as it might be there is no such thing as “categorically wrong”. Plus most other theories of ethics agree – based on actual arguments -  with my objection to your statement, making your assertion,  quite inaccurate.

But saying “Don’t oppress – it is against ethical theory X” will work better than saying, “Go ahead and oppress – it fulfills your desires.”

Whilst very poorly phrased, it is till the case that DU falls into the first not second category.
 

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faithlessgod September 7, 2009 at 11:24 am

Antiplastic and Kip
Actually not much to add but two points:

Reasons for people who are not George. Reiterating that people don’t like it when you steal their shit is hardly a philosophical breakthrough.

The whole point here is that George lacks a reason and this is the basis for usning praise and condemnation etc. -  to give him a reason (or remove a reason he has, as required).

FOR THEM. And the leap to saying “George should not do this” is…. fallacious, as I showed.

Sorry I don to see this fallacious leap of logic. Shoulds and oughts contain implicit reasons for action (there are no categorical oughts, nor moral reason that automatically over-ride other considerations I think you agree with that?)
Everyone has reason to deter anyone who would thwart their desires,  so it is the case that people generally i.e. anyone who could be affected, directly and indirectly,  by George’s acting upon his desire to steal,  would want to discourage George from stealing.  Either they succeed in instilling an aversion to stealing in George or they do not. If they fail he is more likely to steal and then other processes such as the law and the courts would, hopefully, intervene. Indeed tThe law itself being an additional deterrent  as well.
Indeed George himself has a reason to encourage others not steal (from and his family and friends etc.)l. He might be a hypocrite but that is unfortunately not a rare condition.
 
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 7, 2009 at 11:38 am

faithlessgod: Unfortunately the historical evidence is overwhelming that invisible man in the sky method has far too often been used as a tool by oppressors to justify their actions whether this is slavery, bigotry, genocide and so on. This looks like an argument against your position rather than for it.

 
If you want to go on tangent about the historical record then I’m good with that. But I don’t want to lose the main track of the thread. God says “don’t commit genocide” gives a powerful and oppressive majority group a reason to change their desires. By contrast, the praise, punishment, and condemnation of a weak and powerless minority group does not.

faithlessgod: No DU does not say this. This is a straw man.

 
Sure it does. Consider a small world with 900 racist “Craigs” who are only racist towards a minority ethnic group. That group consists of 100 members. The racists have all the power to oppress and no reason to change their desires – save the praise, punishment, and condemnation of 100 relatively powerless people. The “turn the desires up” technique may be useful for disinterested bystanders, but it won’t give the racists a reason to change their desires – their desires towards the minority group are already fixed. Unless you are going to argue the technique is normative.

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Antiplastic September 7, 2009 at 2:41 pm

The whole point here is that George lacks a reason and this is the basis for usning praise and condemnation etc. -  to give him a reason (or remove a reason he has, as required).
FOR THEM. And the leap to saying “George should not do this” is…. fallacious, as I showed.
Sorry I don to see this fallacious leap of logic. Shoulds and oughts contain implicit reasons for action (there are no categorical oughts, nor moral reason that automatically over-ride other considerations I think you agree with that?)

First you say “the whole point is that G lacks a reason” and then you say “oughts contain reasons” — WHICH IS IT? Should he or shouldn’t he? Does he have a reason or doesn’t he? Here’s the argument

A person morally ought do something if and only if they have a reason to do it
You have a reason to do it if and only if it fulfills your desires
It doesn’t fulfill G’s desires
.: G doesn’t have a reason to do it (3,2 MT)
.: G has no moral obligation to do it (1,4 MT)

Which premise is false?

Everyone has reason to deter anyone who would thwart their desires,  so it is the case that people generally i.e. anyone who could be affected, directly and indirectly,  by George’s acting upon his desire to steal,  would want to discourage George from stealing.

By “everyone” you mean other people, and even this is too quick as i showed in my third post.  The whole point of skepticism about moral objectivity is skepticism about whether George has a reason. Does he or doesn’t he?

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Antiplastic September 7, 2009 at 2:42 pm

p.s. there has *got* to be a better formatting and editing option in this software.

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Justin Martyr September 7, 2009 at 3:10 pm

faithlessgod:  Indeed George himself has a reason to encourage others not steal (from and his family and friends etc.)l. He might be a hypocrite but that is unfortunately not a rare condition.

 
Not when you are looking at society with a racist majority. George does not have a reason to stop institutional theft against a minority group. Neither George nor anyone he cares about will be in danger of becoming a victim.
 

Antiplastic: By “everyone” you mean other people, and even this is too quick as i showed in my third post. The whole point of skepticism about moral objectivity is skepticism about whether George has a reason. Does he or doesn’t he?

 
The DU response is that non-Georges have a reason to thwart Georges desire to steal – they don’t want their stuff taken. And as long as the non-Georges have more power, they will generally succeed. They will pass laws against stealing and punish and condemn thieves. Thus their desires will trump Georges desire and give George a reason not to steal. But as explained above, that is contingent upon the victims having more power than the oppressors. Alas, that is not always the case.

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lukeprog September 7, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Click HTML for more control. But I am more frustrated than anybody by the lack of a reliable commenting system. I’ve tried DISQUS and IntenseDebate and had problems with them, too.

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Kip September 7, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Antiplastic: Here’s the argument:
P1) A person morally ought do something if and only if they have a reason to do it
P2) You have a reason to do it if and only if it fulfills your desires
P3) It doesn’t fulfill G’s desires
.: G doesn’t have a reason to do it (3,2 MT)
.: G has no moral obligation to do it (1,4 MT)

Which premise is false?

P1 is false.  If you want to argue against DU / Desirism, then you really should study it a bit to try to understand the basics first.

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Kip September 7, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Justin Martyr: The DU response is that non-Georges have a reason to thwart Georges desire to steal – they don’t want their stuff taken. And as long as the non-Georges have more power, they will generally succeed. They will pass laws against stealing and punish and condemn thieves. Thus their desires will trump Georges desire and give George a reason not to steal. But as explained above, that is contingent upon the victims having more power than the oppressors. Alas, that is not always the case.

1) Not only do they have reason to thwart his desire to steal, they also have reason to change his desire to steal so that he no longer desires to steal.  This is important.
2) It is a fact that the moral projects we engage in to modify others’ desires is not always successful.  For example, sometimes people are held in slavery, for many years, even though slavery is morally wrong.  This is not an objection to Desirism — it is a statement of fact about the real world.

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faithlessgod September 8, 2009 at 12:51 am

Antiplastic


Kip
: P1 is false.  If you want to argue against DU / Desirism, then you really should study it a bit to try to understand the basics first.

Exactly. Now I understand the mistake that Antiplastic has been labouring under but still, I (and others) have already said this. It is not about the reasons they have, but the reasons they do not have for which we employ social forces.

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faithlessgod September 8, 2009 at 12:55 am

Justin Martyr
 
Again Kip is spot on, nothing to add. You too,  although for more clumsily are (to be charitable) labouring under misunderstanding Desirism. Still waiting for any valid criticism of it from you. Won’t hold my breathe.
PS Kip Your succinct and on the money ripostes  makes wonder what your disagreement with me is… whenever you get around to it.
 

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 5:39 am

Kip: 2) It is a fact that the moral projects we engage in to modify others’ desires is not always successful. For example, sometimes people are held in slavery, for many years, even though slavery is morally wrong. This is not an objection to Desirism — it is a statement of fact about the real world.

 
Slavery is not morally wrong according to desirism. If the slaves lack the negotiating power to change the desires of the slave-owning class then there is nothing wrong about slavery. Thus desirism justifies slavery, genocide, and oppression of people who belong to a lower social caste.
Case 1: Desirism
Now let’s look at the mechanism for changing beliefs and therefore desires. Let’s start with desirism. Consider again the small world of 900 racists and 100 slaves who belong to a minority ethnic group. The racists have the desire to oppress the slaves. So they apply the “turn the knobs up” technique and conclude that the best way to fulfill their desires is to own slaves. Slavery is entrenched. Realize this: on desirism the only normative principle is a duty of rationality to do the best job fulfilling ones own desires. A rational anaysis of how best to promote the desire to own slaves leads to – wait for it – slavery.
Case 2: Non-Desirism
Now let’s compare desirism to “God says don’t own slaves”.* Once again we have 900 racists and 100 members of a minority ethnic group. The racists have the desire to own slaves – but they also have the desire to please God. They apply the “turn the knobs up” technique (it is just a descriptive technique of rational analysis, after all) and find out that the best way to fulfill their desires is to abolish slavery.
 
The Animal Spirits Objection
 
Now, I suppose a desirist might object along the following lines: the racists in the first case might also have the desire to follow the Golden Rule or some other ethical principle, and thus turning the knobs up shows that they too should free their slaves. But that leads to two objections. The first is that desirism is not anti-slavery. It is perfectly happy with slavery provided that the racists don’t also subscribe to the Golden Rule. It is the Golden Rule that does the work of leading to abolition. Thus atheists need to champion the Golden Rule rather than desirism, which is merely a descriptive theory of how desires spread. That leads to the next objection, which is to wonder why rational, evidence-minded atheists should follow the Golden Rule or some other ethical principle.

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faithlessgod September 9, 2009 at 4:11 am

Justin Martyr seems to get everything upside down. Slavery has not been wrong according  to many version of theistic morality, but it is wrong according to a desirist analysis.
Case 2:  It is an undeniable fact that the selective quoting of scripture, selection of agreeable authorities can and often has produced a theistic endorsement of slavery.
The rest of Martyr’s analysis is bunk, particularity introducing the irrelevant category of  “atheists” into the mix. A morality absent god is applicable and available to all, regardless of theistic beliefs.
 
 
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 6:25 am

faithlessgod: Justin Martyr seems to get everything upside down. Slavery has not been wrong according to many version of theistic morality, but it is wrong according to a desirist analysis.

 
The topic of discussion is whether or not desirism is true, not whether Christian ethics are true. Let’s not throw up clouds of dust and then pronounce ourselves lost! Making an assertion without backing it up will not do. Why don’t you engage my question: why should members of a racist majority change their desires such to allow the members of a hated minority group to fulfill more of theirs?
 

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lukeprog September 9, 2009 at 6:37 am

Justin,

Your question appears to be that very old question, “Why should I be moral?” I will address this in future additions to the FAQ, but keep in mind that this is a problem for all theories of moral realism, including theistic ethics. (Traditionally, theism’s answer is that you should be moral because it’s in your best interest to be moral because if you aren’t moral you then loving Jesus will torture you for eternity. But this answer to the problem seems to undermine the virtue of morality and transform it into a game of pure self interest.)

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 7:12 am

Luke, are you sure you were a Christian? You did hear about that guy Jesus who died for your sins? I know atheists don’t know anything about what Jesus’ sacrifice meant (I didn’t when I was an atheist), but surely a former Christian would know that. In any case, theism is very different and I’ve made that point repeatedly. Here are the two answers to my question:
 
Theism: The racist majority should change their desires because God wants them to love the members of the minority group.
 
Desirism: The racist majority should fulfill their racist desires, not change them.
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 7:22 am

P.S. You can’t wait until the FAQ on this one Luke! You wrote a post specifically designed to refute my objection and my objection takes us to that point  – why should the racist majority change their desires? Assuming you take the niceties of civic discourse as normative – and being an atheist you need not ;) – then you can’t write a post declaring victory but not explaining how that victory was achieved!

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 8:35 am

 

Justin Martyr: Theism: The racist majority should change their desires because God wants them to love the members of the minority group.

Desirism:  The racisit majority should change their desires because it will result in more and stronger desires being fulfilled.
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 9:08 am

 

Kip: Desirism: The racisit majority should change their desires because it will result in more and stronger desires being fulfilled.

 
 
Hi Kip,

Great post! Short but makes a really good point. I hold that atheistic ethics can’t achieve two things. (1) give a rational reason to set aside one’s desires, and (2) provide objective ethical standards. Let’s start by looking at desirism.

I don’t think desirism can provide a reason to be moral when doing so goes against one’s self-interest. So it fails number #1. I’m open to arguments but so far I haven’t found anything compelling. I do think that desire utilitarianism provides objective standards. But so does Rawlsian social contract theory and many other atheistic ethics. Given the failure of #1 there is no reason to choose desirism over these others, or none at all.

Now let’s look at theism.

Everything God says is true.
God says I should love my neighbor.
therefore ‘I should love my neighbor’ is true.
Therefore, I should love my neighbor.

I can probably translate that into a proof using deontic logic if you think I’m equivocating over the meaning of “I should love my neighbor.”
 
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

Never mind on the logic proof – I’m not strong enough in second order logic to do it. I’m getting bogged down. But I took the example directly from the logician Harry Gensler (p.67 from Formal Ethics). The only difference is that he used ‘Carol’ instead of ‘God’. His point is that Hume’s is-ought problem needs a more precise formulation and then gives it.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 9:51 am

Justin Martyr: I hold that atheistic ethics can’t achieve two things. (1) give a rational reason to set aside one’s desires,

http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2006/12/hateful-craig-problem.html

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 10:07 am

I’ve been referring to the case of the hateful craig since my opening salvo. See also my refutation of desirism on my blog.
 
http://www.thefaithheuristic.com/2009/09/quick-refutation-of-desire.html
Hateful Craig takes a prominent role. Alonzo is very clear in that post that reason alone does not give Hateful Craig a reason to change his own desires. However, it does give the rest of us a reason to try to change Craig’s desires for him. We do that using praise, punishment, and condemnation. That is why I constructed the 900 racists case. The minority group does not have the power to effectively use praise, punishment, and condemnation. (1) Minority groups  can’t change the racist’s minds. (2) Reason won’t change their mind either. Desirism justifies oppression.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 10:16 am

I’m starting to realize that there are actually two theories of desirism. The first theory is a purely descriptive theory of how praise, punishment, and condmenation alter malleable desires. But that fails in the case of the 900 racists. The second theory is a normative theory based on “turning the knobs up or down”. But that doesn’t give a rational reason for our racists to be moral.

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lukeprog September 9, 2009 at 10:19 am

*sigh*

Justin, yes I was really a Christian. Have you read my posts on my Christian life.

At the time, I was impressed that God would condemn us all to hell and then offer to save us if we worship him, but now it looks like a silly deal, as if Jesus had cut off my arm and then demanded to be worshiped before he’d sew it back on, and then proclaim that this was a generous gift for him to give me my arm back.

Justin, your original complaint was simply to repeat the 1000 Sadists problem, but replace “sadists” with “racists.” I’ve answered that. If you want to take a step back and say, “Well, why should we be moral at all?” then you’ll have to wait. I’m still drafting a response to that.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 10:36 am

lukeprog: Justin, yes I was really a Christian. Have you read my posts on my Christian life.

 
I read your posts on Christian life. But why would someone who even knows a little bit about Christianity claim that moral behavior determines whether or not one goes to heaven?Why the atheistic cliches when you know better?

lukeprog: Justin, your original complaint was simply to repeat the 1000 Sadists problem, but replace “sadists” with “racists.”

 
No it wasn’t. I was grappling with Alonzo’s argument in the Hateful Craig post. He was very clear that reason will not give Craig a reason to change his mind, but praise, punishment, and condemnation by the rest of us will. The 1000 sadists have a reason to praise, punish, and condmen torturing children because they may have their own children, and their friends and family may also have children. Thus even sadists will want a law against child torture. I specifically created a case where praise, punishment, and condemnation would not work. Some other reason will have to do. That is equivalent to asking “why be moral?” But if you don’t pin desirists down on that point they will say that praise, punishment, and condemnation give a reason to be moral.
 
 

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 11:05 am

 

Justin Martyr: Alonzo is very clear in that post that reason alone does not give Hateful Craig a reason to change his own desires.

That’s right(*).  And it’s right regardless of which moral theory you subscribe to.
 
(*) Although there are cases where you can use reason to show Craig that he has more and stronger desires that will be fulfilled if he were to change his own desires, reason is motivationally inert.  Desires are the only motivationally potent reasons for action that exist.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 11:08 am

Justin Martyr: I’m starting to realize that there are actually two theories of desirism.

It’s the same theory — both descriptive and prescriptive.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 11:13 am

 

Justin Martyr: (1) Minority groups can’t change the racist’s minds. (2) Reason won’t change their mind either. Desirism justifies oppression.

The conclusion “Desirism justifies oppression” does not follow.  Unless you are using a strange definition of “justify”.  Desirism says that it is bad, immoral.  That seems to be the opposite of justification to me.  You seem to be saying that since Desirism doesn’t make everyone become good people, then Desirism justifies them to be bad people.  That’s ridiculous.
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 11:15 am

Kip:   That’s right(*).  And it’s right regardless of which moral theory you subscribe to.   (*) Although there are cases where you can use reason to show Craig that he has more and stronger desires that will be fulfilled if he were to change his own desires, reason is motivationally inert.  Desires are the only motivationally potent reasons for action that exist.

 
I’ve already had that discussion upthread with both faithlessgod and you. But here it is yet again. The question is this: why should a racist majority change their desire to allow members of a hated minority group to fulfill theirs?
 
Theism can provide a rational reason.
 

Everything God says is true.
God says I ought to love my neighbor
Therefore, I ought to love my neighbor
I ought to love my neighbor

 
But on desirism the racists don’t have a rational reason to change their desires.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 11:17 am

Doh! I misdid the argument
 

Everything God says is true.
God says I ought to love my neighbor.
Therefore, it is true that I ought to love my nieghbor.
Therefore, I ought to love my neighbor.

 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 11:20 am

 

Kip: The conclusion “Desirism justifies oppression” does not follow. Unless you are using a strange definition of “justify”. Desirism says that it is bad, immoral. That seems to be the opposite of justification to me.

 
I’m taking duties of rationality as normative. If the rational way to fulfill ones desires is to oppress then desirism justifies oppression.
 

Kip: You seem to be saying that since Desirism doesn’t make everyone become good people, then Desirism justifies them to be bad people. That’s ridiculous.

 
Not quite. I’m saying that desirism can’t give a rational reason to be a good person, thus desirism justifies being a bad person.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 11:20 am

Justin Martyr:
Everything God says is true.
God says I should love my neighbor.
therefore ‘I should love my neighbor’ is true.
Therefore, I should love my neighbor.

This doesn’t motivate people to be moral.  (1) They may not believe God exists.  (2) They may not believe that God actually said that.  (3) They may not believe that he was telling the truth.  (4) They may reinterpret “love” or “neighbor”.  (5) They may not care what God says…. it doesn’t give them reason to actually do what he said they “should” do.
Your moral theory fails.

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lukeprog September 9, 2009 at 11:25 am

Justin,

The question of “Why should I be moral” or “Why should I care about the desires of others” is answered on my older desirism FAQ, with a link to this post. Does that not help?

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 11:27 am

Justin Martyr: I’m taking duties of rationality as normative. If the rational way to fulfill ones desires is to oppress then desirism justifies oppression.

You can replace “desirism” in that statement with just about anything and it would be just as true.

Justin Martyr: Not quite. I’m saying that desirism can’t give a rational reason to be a good person, thus desirism justifies being a bad person.

Reason is motivationally inert.  Asked and answered.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 11:27 am

The argument is valid but the premises may not be sound. If you disagree with the premises you need not accept the conclusion. But if you agree with the premises then the only way to reject the conclusion is by being irrational.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 11:33 am

Justin Martyr: I’ve already had that discussion upthread with both faithlessgod and you. But here it is yet again. The question is this: why should a racist majority change their desire to allow members of a hated minority group to fulfill theirs?

I answered this in the other thread:
“Should” is ambiguous.  There may be practical reasons why the majority should change their desire to result in more of their own desires being fulfilled.  However, even if that weren’t the case, there can still be a moral “should” which would mean that more and stronger desires would be fulfilled if their desire were to change.
In the real world we have seen the minority instigate social change over the majority.  They do so using various social tools aimed at changing the hearts and minds of the majority.  And when that fails, they sometimes use force.  We also see cases to this day where the minority is still enslaved or otherwise treated very badly.  Desirism still prescribes that slavery is immoral, since more and stronger desires would be fulfilled by not having the desire to enslave other people.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

Kip: You can replace “desirism” in that statement with just about anything and it would be just as true.

 
Yup, but Christian ethics do not give a rational reason to be oppressive. Desirism and other atheistic theories of ethics do.

Kip: Reason is motivationally inert. Asked and answered.

 
Reason is motivationally inert but the duty of rationality to be logically consistent means that you either need to change your beliefs or change your desires. The theist can either reject belief in God and thus act immorally, or accept belief in God and act with love.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 11:50 am

 

Kip: In the real world we have seen the minority instigate social change over the majority. They do so using various social tools aimed at changing the hearts and minds of the majority. And when that fails, they sometimes use force. We also see cases to this day where the minority is still enslaved or otherwise treated very badly. Desirism still prescribes that slavery is immoral, since more and stronger desires would be fulfilled by not having the desire to enslave other people.

 
 
I’ve already answered it in the other thread. There are really two horns of the desirist’s dilemma.
 
Horn #1 Praise, punishment, and condemnation. This gives a rational reason to change desires – but alas, history is filled with examples of successful oppressions. On Horn #1 the morality of genocide is contingent on the power of the minority group.
 
Horn #2 Turn the knobs up. The turning the knobs up technique will consistently rule that oppression is morally wrong – but it does not give the racist majority a rational reason to change their desires.
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 12:00 pm

lukeprog: The question of “Why should I be moral” or “Why should I care about the desires of others” is answered on my older desirism FAQ, with a link to this post. Does that not help?

 
Thanks Luke. The linked post is the one about the Hateful Craig. Perhaps I am missing a subtlety that you can help clarify? My reading of the post formed the heart of my criticism of desirism. The situation is this: Craig has hateful desires to pretty much everyone. Why should Craig change those desires? Alonzo considers a few answers.
 
Reason. Alonzo is a good Humean and rejects reason. It cannot give Craig a reason (pun unintended) to change his mind. I would put a little fine print on that but basically agree.
 
God. Alonzo rejects God because he doesn’t believe in God but he does believe in samesex marriage.
 
Praise, punishment, and condemnation. This is Alonzo’s preferred outcome. The rest of us can use praise, punishment, and condemnation to change Craig’s desires. That works against Craig, who is but one man, but not against a powerful racist majority.
 
Am I missing anything?
 

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Justin Martyr: The theist can either reject belief in God and thus act immorally, or accept belief in God and act with love.

Or, as I said, just not care what god says to do (or maybe reinterpret what was said to fit what they want it to mean).  Why should the theist care what God says anyway?

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Justin Martyr: There are really two horns of the desirist’s dilemma.

There’s no dilemma.  Horn #1, by the way is incorrect.  Those are not rational reasons to change desires.  They are the tools used to change desires (or in the case of punishment, using current desires to change behavior).

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lukeprog September 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Justin Martyr: The rest of us can use praise, punishment, and condemnation to change Craig’s desires. That works against Craig, who is but one man, but not against a powerful racist majority. Am I missing anything?

Are you expecting a theory of morality to give us a foolproof plan of action for building a perfect world? Desirism is a theory of morality; about what a “better” world would be; about what we “should” do. It only works if people WANT a better world. But we can make people want a better world, because many such desires are malleable.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Kip: Horn #1, by the way is incorrect. Those are not rational reasons to change desires. They are the tools used to change desires (or in the case of punishment, using current desires to change behavior).

 
It is rational to fulfill the most and strongest of one’s desires (that’s actually an incoherent statement because one can’t simultaneously maximize two things, but we’ll let that slide by taking it as maximizing one’s own person utility). Once you factor in the punishment and condemnation then it will become rational to change one’s desires compared to the case where there is no punishment and condemnation. But I’m not supposed to be the one explaining desirism!

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 4:27 pm

lukeprog: Are you expecting a theory of morality to give us a foolproof plan of action for building a perfect world?

 
That would be the ideal. But I’m willing to settle for “give a rational reason to agree with Alonzo Fyfe instead of Francis Galton”.
 

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faithlessgod September 10, 2009 at 12:56 am


Justin Martyr
: Yup, but Christian ethics do not give a rational reason to be oppressive. Desirism and other atheistic theories of ethics do.

You complained when I criticised christian morality in this thread on desirism and then you make further erroneous statements such as the above. It is quite absurd to claim tha christian ethics do not give a rational reason to be oppresive given the histroy of Europe thte last 2000 years (and elsehwere). As long as you continue to make blatantly erroneous statements like this, I, and others I hope, will point them out.
You still are repeating the misleading and ethically empty classification of theories into theist and atheist moralities. The whole basis of your classification is deeply flawed and not acepted in ethics. For well over 2500 years some of our greatest thinkers have explored ethics and pretty much all have rejected your version of christian ethics. Some thinkers these have been religious and theists themselves (e.g. Sidgwick tried to make god a utilitarian) but this has not prevented them exploring ethics to endeavour to find the best theory to explain it, nor are any of the theories developed specific only to theists or atheists.  Indeed  it is both unethical and irrational to look at this space in the distorted way. Your method of argument is self-defeating in the sense you are arguing for the moral high ground by taking the moral low ground!
BTW I have answered your 900 racists post as you requested here
 

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faithlessgod September 10, 2009 at 1:06 am

Justin Martyr: That would be the ideal. But I’m willing to settle for “give a rational reason to agree with Alonzo Fyfe instead of Francis Galton”.

Again a wrong-headed question. The question should be are there rational and emprical (or ratio-emprical as I like to put it) reasons to agree with Fyfe instead  your version of christian morality?
The answer is there are plenty and some have been provided here. More relevantly are there any ratio-emprical reasons to agree with christian morality? None as far as I know. There are some purely rational and unempirical ones but these they are poor  not just becuase they have no emprical backing but also because are just narrow self-interested prudential, or egotistical and hedonistic reasons all only justified by relying upon non-emprical and most likely fictional entities  such as heaven, hell and god’s nature (however these are imagined).
By the same basis there are plenty of ratio-emprical reasons to reject Galton as Desirism does.
 

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Justin Martyr September 10, 2009 at 6:28 am

faithlessgod: You complained when I criticised christian morality in this thread on desirism and then you make further erroneous statements such as the above. It is quite absurd to claim tha christian ethics do not give a rational reason to be oppresive given the histroy of Europe thte last 2000 years (and elsehwere). As long as you continue to make blatantly erroneous statements like this, I, and others I hope, will point them out.

 
That’s a silly argument.  I think you are throwing dust rather than seriously engaging the debate. (1) on Christian ethics,  oppression is irrational, (2) as Rodney Stark points out, the Middle Ages were not an age of faith. Religious observance was very low in the Middle Ages compared to today. Luke approvingly cites Stark’s research on the spread of Christianity elsewhere on his blog.
 

faithlessgod: Some thinkers these have been religious and theists themselves (e.g. Sidgwick tried to make god a utilitarian) but this has not prevented them exploring ethics to endeavour to find the best theory to explain it, nor are any of the theories developed specific only to theists or atheists.

 
R.M. Hare made a similar point – he held that utilitarianism was the embodyment of Jesus of Nazareth’s message. I feel that natural rights morality does a better job extracting Jesus’ message. But regardless of which extraction we take, love your neighbor is normative.
 

faithlessgod: Again a wrong-headed question. The question should be are there rational and emprical (or ratio-emprical as I like to put it) reasons to agree with Fyfe instead your version of christian morality?

 
I think it is question-begging to assume that one should accept desirism over Rawlsian social contract theory or Neitzche’s will to power.
 

faithlessgod: More relevantly are there any ratio-emprical reasons to agree with christian morality?

 
That is contingent on the rationality of faith. If faith is irrational then there is no rational basis to choose any system of ethics except in that it subjectively pleases you.
 

faithlessgod: By the same basis there are plenty of ratio-emprical reasons to reject Galton as Desirism does.

 
First my question is wrong-headed but now you are argue that there are many reasons to choose desirism over Galton’s eugenics. Give me one of them.

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faithlessgod September 10, 2009 at 9:50 am

Justin Martyr:   That’s a silly argument.  I think you are throwing dust rather than seriously engaging the debate. (1) on Christian ethics,  oppression is irrational, (2) as Rodney Stark points out, the Middle Ages were not an age of faith. Religious observance was very low in the Middle Ages compared to today. Luke approvingly cites Stark’s research on the spread of Christianity elsewhere on his blog.

I am quite seriously engaging in debate but I could ask the same of you given you keep on repeatedly holding up christian morality as some sort of exemplar when the blatant and undeniable historical facts show otherwise from holy roman empire to the holocaust. You are quite entitled to say that all these uses of christian morality to suppress other religions and worse are mistaken or pathological compared to the true interpretation you have but you cannot deny that it has been employed in this way (or abused if you will) throughout history (as have other theisms in the past and today – this is not to exclude other “higher truth” ideologies such as communism but these are not the subject of debate here).
You need to make an argument that the level of religious observance is relevant here. In mono-cultural societies this is often the case (but why are they mono-cultural…) but they can still be dominated by a religious morality.
However this is all going too off topic, but if you make these points I will respond. It is up to you. I would prefer to address criticisms of desirism here.

Justin Martyr: R.M. Hare made a similar point – he held that utilitarianism was the embodyment of Jesus of Nazareth’s message. I feel that natural rights morality does a better job extracting Jesus’ message. But regardless of which extraction we take, love your neighbor is normative.

But do not forget the identification of “neighbour” has changed quite significantly throughout the ages. Now you face the problem that there is no objective basis to natural rights, it is a purely subjective thesis. But again we go to far off-topic I fear. Lets stick to desirism Okay?

Justin Martyr: I think it is question-begging to assume that one should accept desirism over Rawlsian social contract theory or Neitzche’s will to power.

Your response here is a non sequitur and red herring given this is in reply to “More relevantly are there any ratio-empirical reasons to agree with Christian morality?” Should I read this that you tacitly admit you have no ratio-empirical reasons to argue for Christian natural rights over desirism (or the others you list)?

Justin Martyr: That is contingent on the rationality of faith. If faith is irrational then there is no rational basis to choose any system of ethics except in that it subjectively pleases you.

Sorry, but I find this is barely intelligible. Ratio-empirical reasons are not at all contingent on faith “rational” or otherwise. Indeed they are quite independent of faith, however conceived. Further faith is itself a purely epistemically subjective means to understanding so contradicting your last line as an alternative. Indeed I was simply asking for objective not subjective reasons. I can only read this as in that it  appears you can give none.

Justin Martyr: First my question is wrong-headed but now you are argue that there are many reasons to choose desirism over Galton’s eugenics. Give me one of them.

I already have and you have both recognised this and conceded this point! As you said in a comment to my post 900 racists “Then desirism does not justify genocide. I freely concede that.”

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Justin Martyr September 10, 2009 at 11:09 am

 

faithlessgod: I am quite seriously engaging in debate but I could ask the same of you given you keep on repeatedly holding up christian morality as some sort of exemplar when the blatant and undeniable historical facts show otherwise from holy roman empire to the holocaust.

This is why I think you are throwing dust – trying to shift the debate to history from philosophy. But the “Hitler is a Christian” remark is too egregious to let slide. Hitler was an atheist or a pagan. His morality came directly from secular thinking such as social Darwinism, eugenics, and Nietzsche.* Hitler talked about wanting to “root out a thousand years of human domestication” – a clear reference to Nietzsche’s dismissal of Christianity as being a soft religion of the herd. There was even a mild de-Christianization movement in Germany. Christmas was replaced with yuletide, and hymns were rewritten so that Jesus was taken out and Hitler was replaced as the messianic figure.
 
Now, Hitler was a politician and thus knew that he had to pay lip service to Christianity. See also: the Democrats today. If abortion is ever made illegal in the same way as slavery was ended then some atheist historian will write a book about Obama called “God’s President” and talk about how open Obama was with his faith and how he was staunchly pro-choice.
 
Moreover, it is a little odd that this allegedly Christian movement happened in one of the most secular nations in Europe. Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century had heavily secularized and became the intellectual engine of much modern skepticism. Luke frequently refers to the fact that William Lane Craig is fluent in German and often debates in that language. Why did Craig learn German? Because when he was preparing his apologetics on the case for the resurrection of Jesus he wanted to go to place with the longest and richest tradition of skepticism. So he learned German and spent, IIRC, at least two years living in Germany so he could deal with the original documents that made up the heart of the skeptical case.
 
For all intents and purposes, ever since the Enlightenment Europe has been essentially secular. The only real exception is Great Brittain which did have the religious revival brought on by methodism in the 19th century. So why do these “Christian” oppressions keep happening the most secular of places?
 
* Neitzche would never have gone along with Nazism and was a staunch foe of antisemitism, but his concept of the superman was important in Hitler’s thought.
 

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Justin Martyr September 10, 2009 at 11:22 am

Faithlessgod, I have never seen anyone work harder to duck a direct question than you!
 
I demand that you make a rational argument why someone should become a desirist.
 
I will make that demand in bold every single post in this thread until you finally answer. So far you do nothing but dissemble. To forestall the obvious rebuttal, here is the rational argument to accept Christian ethics (given for the third time in this thread).
 
1. Everything God says is true
2. God says that I ought to love my neighbor
3. Therefore, it is true that I ought to love my neighbor
4. Therefore, I ought to love my neighbor
 
As I’ve pointed out to Kip, it is possible to deny the premises. But if you accept the premises then the conclusion follows. Now will you finally stop dodging, weaving, and ducking, and answer my question: what is the rational basis for accepting desirism? At least Luke has promised to someday answer that question in his FAQ.

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lukeprog September 10, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Justin,

I do not accept “demands.” Nobody is paying me to write. If you continue to post demands in bold you will earn the honor of being the first person to be banned from this site. Or, you can be civil and continue to participate in The Great Conversation.

The entire FAQ, and my much later “defense of desirism,” are extended (and very time consuming) attempts to show why desirism is more plausibly true than other moral theories.

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faithlessgod September 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Justin Martyr:   This is why I think you are throwing dust – trying to shift the debate to history from philosophy.

Not at all. We here treat the question of morality as an empirical challenge. Luke, myself and some  others here are ethical naturalists moral realists remember? This requires using conceptual (philosophy), empirical (science) and historical inquiry as appropriate.

Justin Martyr:But the “Hitler is a Christian” remark is too egregious to let slide.

I have made no such remark. However your follow up here is quite beyond rthe pale (as my friend Nicholas called the biography of his father Oswald).

Justin Martyr:Hitler was an atheist or a pagan.

Of course. Only an atheist could say “We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out. ”
Regardless of your weak claims on Hitler’s supposed personal (and hidden) beliefs (I suggest you read Mein Kampf) there is no question that Nazism was largely a theistic religiously based movement but quite specifically a christian one,  if modified to his “Positive Christianity”, it was absoultely required to and driven by the Jewish Question – becuase they assimilated were otherwise impossible to identify and contrast to German speaking Christian “Aryans”. I have all the orginal Nazi party literature in German and English translations, no-one for one second could doubt this.  Has the movement been syncretic taking other ideas as it suited them. For sure. But that does nothing to refute  its religious basis, without which Hitler would never have been voted into power.
Further as embarrassed as the Roman Catholics were over their involvement with the Nazis and their backtracking and excuses they have made since, until the advent of getting US news and commentary via the internet, I and anyone else I know had never heard of this absurd claim over the Nazis being atheist. I guess a few most have made such noises in Europe anyway, but they were never taken seriously.  Certainly none of my German friends, old and young, accept this – now I have heard of it and asked them.
Now for someone who presumably likes to be taken seriously  in a debate on morality whilst at the same time blatantly demonstrating such a sever abuse of the facts  makes your whole position a perfomative contradiction. If your morality leads you to such claims, there clearly is something very wrong about it.
I won’t waste any more time on the rest of your diatribe, as, I forget the name for the “law”, but after you have brought up lies like “Hitler was an atheist” we all know that productive debate is over. One might ask why I said anything here in response, rather than just call the law. Well I will not let such immoral and racist ideas as yours go unchecked. I want to ensure that “Never Again” means something.

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faithlessgod September 10, 2009 at 9:19 pm

 

Justin Martyr: Faithlessgod, I have never seen anyone work harder to duck a direct question than you!   I demand that you make a rational argument why someone should become a desirist.

Hmm, you clearly don’t have issue with authoritarians do you? Your demand is truly beyond silly, and I have no reason to respond to it. Regardless all I have done on the internet the last year is make such arguments and that is what I have been doing here anyway. I will continue to do so in spite of and not becuase such demands.

Justin Martyr:I will make that demand in bold every single post in this thread until you finally answer. So far you do nothing but dissemble. To forestall the obvious rebuttal, here is the rational argument to accept Christian ethics (given for the third time in this thread).

1. Everything God says is true
An incredibly dubious premise in so many ways

2. God says that I ought to love my neighbor
That is a command or request. It is not capable of being true or false, it is non-cognitive, it is is not truth-apt etc. We can grant it is true that god issued a command

3. Therefore, it is true that I ought to love my neighbor
This is an invalid inference even if we accept premises 1 and 2. And why should we follow god’s command? You can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”. And why does god command something that is impossible for us to follow, specifically in virtue of it being commanded as such. This is not the sign of someone who tells the truth and contradicts premise 1. 

4. Therefore, I ought to love my neighbor
And without this argument you would not? Maybe I should not expose its flaws, as otherwise you have no reason to “love thy neighbour”?
Pity god did not command you to tell the truth, respect facts and avoid sophistry (see my other reply).
Luckily  (most of) the rest of do not need such myths and illogic to be decent people.
I would recommend you drop your Christian morality (is this not an oxymoron?), I have long suspected it produces moral cripples and you are a case in point.
 

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Justin Martyr September 11, 2009 at 5:21 am

faithlessgod: I won’t waste any more time on the rest of your diatribe, as, I forget the name for the “law”, but after you have brought up lies like “Hitler was an atheist” we all know that productive debate is over

 
You are referring to Godwin’s law, which technically holds that as the length of an internet discussion increases the probability that someone invokes Hitler approaches one. It has morphed into the corollary, which is that once Hitler has been invoked the possibility of useful discussion is over. That is probably true here as well but I’m stubbon.

faithlessgod: I could ask the same of you given you keep on repeatedly holding up christian morality as some sort of exemplar when the blatant and undeniable historical facts show otherwise from holy roman empire to the holocaust.

 
Here you were the one to trigger it by arguing that Christianity caused the Holocaust. There was no mention of such events upthread.
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 11, 2009 at 5:37 am

Justin Martyr: Your demand is truly beyond silly, and I have no reason to respond to it.

 
Ducked the question again. What is the rational basis for accepting desirism? You can’t provide one. Just bite the bullet here.

faithlessgod: An incredibly dubious premise in so many ways

 
Sure, I agree that one can doubt the premise. That’s the reason why there are atheists. As Luke pointed out, one could spend whole careers going over individual  arguments in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. But if you don’t doubt the premise (and the next) then moral behavior is rational.

faithlessgod: That is a command or request. It is not capable of being true or false, it is non-cognitive, it is is not truth-apt etc. We can grant it is true that god issued a command

 
You simply do not understand logic. Non-classical logics that deal with beliefs (belief logic) and commands (deontic logic) are well-established. For example, you can use the machinery of these logics to show “I ought to do A” and “I act with the intention of not doing A” are incoherent with each other. Go get a book on philosophical logic. For self-study I recommend ‘An Introduction to Logic’ by Harry Gensler because it has accompying computer software that you can download.
 

faithlessgod: This is an invalid inference even if we accept premises 1 and 2. And why should we follow god’s command? You can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”.

 
Wrong on both counts. It is a valid inference (see previous point). And secondly the logician Harry Gensler (recommended above), uses that example to show that we need a more precise formulation of Hume’s law. Here is his:  If B is a consistent nonevaluative truth that doesn’t quantify over truths (or anything similar) and A represenents a logically and causally contingent simple action, then B doesn’t enail that A ought to be done. See ‘Formal Ethics’ by Harry Gensler, p. 61-62 for a fuller discussion of the need for a more precise Hume’s law.
 

faithlessgod: And without this argument you would not?

 
Without this argument it would be irrational. See also: desirism.

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faithlessgod September 11, 2009 at 7:11 am

Justin Martyr:   You are referring to Godwin’s law, which technically holds that as the length of an internet discussion increases the probability that someone invokes Hitler approaches one. It has morphed into the corollary, which is that once Hitler has been invoked the possibility of useful discussion is over. That is probably true here as well but I’m stubbon.

I never mentioned Hitler. You did.

Justin Martyr:Here you were the one to trigger it by arguing that Christianity caused the Holocaust. There was no mention of such events upthread.

I was talking about the Catholic Church.
 

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faithlessgod September 11, 2009 at 7:43 am

Justin Martyr:   Ducked the question again. What is the rational basis for accepting desirism? You can’t provide one. Just bite the bullet here.

You certainly have failed to provide one. I hope you don’t break your teeth. If you are so confident that you can why don’t you?
Now you are equivocating over “rational”. I treat this in the broad sense of conceptual (philosophical) and empirical (scientific and historic) inquiry. Both Luke and I have given numerous arguments to show that christian morality has no rational basis and that desrism has a superior rational  basis over its competitors (which  does not include christian morality becuause it is not even wrong).

Justin Martyr:Sure, I agree that one can doubt the premise. That’s the reason why there are atheists.

Theists can doubt this premise too. Indeed any that do not are not strving to be moral.  Just because god exists does not mean he is honest.

Justin Martyr: But if you don’t doubt the premise (and the next) then moral behavior is rational.

False.  Your argument is missing a number of premises, most importantly why should god be obeyed, that loving thy neighbour is all there is to moral behaviour, what about thy stranger, can love be commanded? etc.

Justin Martyr:For example, you can use the machinery of these logics to show “I ought to do A” and “I act with the intention of not doing A” are incoherent with each other.

I grant that if anyone is an expert on incoherence here it is you. How do you manage to keep such an upside down, inside out, meaningless and multiply contradictory world view in balance?

Justin Martyr: I recommend ‘An Introduction to Logic’ by Harry Gensler because it has accompying computer software that you can download.

Your reasoning and morality so far does not provide any confidence to indicate that any of your recommendations are to be taken seriously. I only take recommendations from those who demonstrate they know what they are talking about.

Justin Martyr
Without this argument it would be irrational.

False. Just because your argument fails it does not entail mean that morality is irrational.

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urbster1 September 15, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Hey Luke, just so you know, the link at the top to the Desirism FAQ is not functioning properly. It’s missing the “.com” so you may want to edit that in. Peace!

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lukeprog September 16, 2009 at 6:48 am

Thanks, fixed.

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