Desirism: Reply to Justin Martyr

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 7, 2009 in Ethics

justin_martyr

No, not that Justin Martyr.

Update: Instead of writing new posts to move the debate forward, Justin has massively revised his original posts. My post below still responds to his original posts, not the revised ones.

Justin Martyr has written ‘A Quick Refutation of Desire Utilitarianism [aka desirism]‘ in two parts: Part I, Part II. Like most criticisms of desirism, his criticisms fail to understand what desirism actually claims.

Justin begins with a summary of desirism. First:

A desire is a reason for action. This is true by definition – we have simply defined the word ‘desire’ to mean a reason for action.

This is almost true. It is part of our definition of the word ‘desire’ that it is a reason for action. But desire does not just mean ‘a reason for action.’ There are other possible reasons for action: for example, intrinsic values. It just happens to be the case that intrinsic values do not exist.

Second, the objects of desire are usually states of affairs, not psychological states:

The proposition P is ‘the poor in Calcutta, India are fed’. Mother Theresa desires that P is true. That desire can only be fulfilled if the poor in Calcutta are actually fed.

This is true, though psychological states can also be the objects of desire. For example, I may desire that P where P is “I am happy.”

Third, on malleable desires:

Desire utilitarianism only focuses on malleable desires – desires for things that can be changed. The desire to turn the moon into green cheese is not a malleable desire; the desire to feed the poor is.

Justin’s example is confused. The desire to turn the moon into green cheese is a malleable desire. For example, I may ridicule your desire, or bring you to a cheese factory where you learn that the smell of green cheese disgusts you, and then you will no longer desire to turn the moon into green cheese.

What is not so malleable here is the molecular structure of the moon, not the desire in question.

Fourth, on good and bad:

The definition of ‘good’ is that which fulfills desires and ‘bad’ is that which thwarts desires.

This is true only due to the conjunction of three facts:

  • By definition, “good” means “such as to realize that for which there are reasons for action to realize.”
  • Empirically, desires are the only reasons for action that exist.
  • Empirically, states of affairs are the usual objects of desires. (And for the exceptions, where psychological states are the objects of desires, we can consider psychological states as one category of states of affairs.)

Fifth, Justin notes the role of praise and condemnation, reward and punishment in affecting malleable desires. We can discourage bad desires (desires that tend to thwart other desires) and encourage good desires (desires that tend to fulfill other desires).

Next, Justin claims:

Desire Utilitarianism is the pursuit of self interest.

This is misleading. To claim this, Justin must redefine “self interest” to mean “one’s desires.” But let us consider someone who desires to campaign against acts of state terror by the United States military, even at cost of losing his job, family, and freedom. Using normal definitions, we would say that such a man desires what is contrary to his self interest, or that he sacrifices self interest to help others.

However, even if we accept Justin’s redefinition of “self interest,” Justin’s statement is simply false. Desirism does not advocate the pursuit of one’s own desires. Rather, it describes that this is what people do. People act such as to fulfill the strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. This is merely the central thesis in the most successful theory of intentional action, Belief Desire Intention theory.

Desirism does not say you should pursue your own desires. Instead, it says you should work to mold your own desires and the desires of others into good desires – desires that tend to fulfill other desires – and that you should act on those good desires.

Near the end of Part I, Justin claims that:

Because desire utilitarianism is basically the same as social contract theory it suffers from the same weaknesses. There is a reason why even liberal egalitarian (read: secular) philosophers have generally rejected social contract theory. That will be the subject of the second post in the series…

Secular philosophers have not generally rejected social contract theory. In fact, social contract theory has been one of the most popular normative theories among philosophers since RawlsA Theory of Justice (1971).

Now, social contract theory says that morality is in accord with a hypothetical social contract we would all agree to under certain conditions. Desirism says that morality is about promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and discouraging desires that tend to thwart other desires. If these are “basically the same,” Justin will need to explain how. Later, he tries:

What is justice as impartiality? Basically it is a way of doing bargaining but forcing everyone to have equal negotiating power. John Rawls does this with the Veil of Ignorance. Behind the figurative Veil people do not know if they are white or black. It is in this position that they make the laws about whether or not to allow slavery. But of course, this requires magical reasoning about the existence of intrinsic moral principles. Alternately, it could be the case that a loving God exists.

But what does desirism have to do with justice as impartiality? What is the similarity? In fact, Justin pulls out one of the major differences between desirism and other moral theories: desirism requires no magical thinking about gods or intrinsic moral principles.

So how does Justin ‘refute’ desirism? He presents the 900 Racists Problem, which is identical to the 1000 Sadists Problem (which Justin constantly references), and has the same solution given desirism. Here is Justin’s 900 Racists Problem:

Suppose we lived in a society with 900 racist whites and 100 blacks. The racist whites have the desire that blacks be enslaved and treated as inferiors. In this case the racist oppressors are the ones with the numbers on their side. They are the ones who have the ability to praise, punish, and condemn in order to have their racist desires fulfilled.

Now this might present a problem for act utilitarianism, which argues that the right act is one that causes the most pleasure or satisfies the most preferences. In this situation, acts that maintain slavery are morally right because there are more racist whites than blacks.

But according to desirism, the primary objects of moral evaluation are not acts but desires. So we ask, does a desire to maintain slavery tend to fulfill or thwart desires? One way consider the question is to imagine that we can control the desire with a knob. If we turn the knob to the left, the desire to enforce slavery on others decreases. If we turn the knob to the right, this desire increases. Now, given that the desire to enforce slavery on others is malleable, which way should we turn the knob?

If we turn the knob all the way to the left, then neither the desires of the racists nor the desires of the blacks are thwarted. Everyone is happy. If we turn the knob to the right, then the racists’ desires may be fulfilled by the system of slavery but the blacks’ desires are not. The best place to turn this knob is all the way to the left.

Why does Justin not accept this solution?

The point is that the only use for the [knob-turning thought experiment] is to help us disinterested bystanders figure out which desires to praise and which to punish. If you already have a strong desire then it will have little or no impact.

This is false. Let us imagine a world where there is nobody except the 900 white racists and 100 blacks. People still generally have reason to use moral tools like praise and condemnation to “turn the knob down” on the desire to enforce slavery on others? Why? Because if we turn the knob down then everyone can have their desires fulfilled (or rather, not thwarted).

Perhaps what Justin means to say is that in such a universe, the desire to enforce slavery on others would not be malleable, so there would be no point trying to change it. But if this hypothetical world is just like ours except that it has only 1000 people in it, then the desire to enforce slavery on others would be malleable in it, because it is highly malleable in our universe. In fact, this desire was changed in billions of minds in a single century. Now that is a malleable desire!

Conclusion

Justin’s post misunderstands desirism at almost every step, but that’s understandable. I just need to keep clarifying things with posts like this. I made the exact same mistakes when I first found the theory of desirism.

Another critique of Justin Martyr’s posts is available here.

There are many people who do understand desirism and have mounted serious objections to the theory, and I look forward to answering them, here.

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{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

Brett Bavar September 8, 2009 at 12:01 am

If we turn the knob all the way to the left, then neither the desires of the racists nor the desires of the blacks are thwarted. Everyone is happy. If we turn the knob to the right, then the racists’ desires may be fulfilled by the system of slavery but the blacks’ desires are not. The best place to turn this knob is all the way to the left.

If you turn the knob to the left, aren’t you thwarting the desires of the racists? I suspect you’re saying that their desire to enforce slavery wouldn’t be thwarted if the knob was turned left, because the very act of turning the knob left would remove that desire from them entirely. Thus, the racists would have no such desire to be thwarted in that case. Is that a fair representation?
That seems solid, if you assume that the desire of the racists is simply a singular desire to enforce slavery, based on no other foundational desires and affecting no other related desires. However, if the racists do have other related desires like “demonstrating the superiority of their race” or “bringing due punishment to races believed to be cursed by God,” might not these desires be (at least partially) thwarted by turning the slavery-enforcement knob to the left?

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Yair September 8, 2009 at 12:29 am

 

By definition, “good” means “such as to realize that for which there are reasons for action to realize.”

I don’t accept this definition, and I don’t see why anyone would. At best, this is a “practical-good”, a “good-for-a-purpose”, as in “this torture device is really good at extracting information from suspects”. The connection to the moral good is tenuous at best. Granted that X realizes that for which there are reasons for action to realize, is it good? On the contrary, that torture device does just that, and it isn’t good at all.
 
Really, the more I get entangled in these discussions, the more it appears to me that the word “good” has lost all its meaning and only breeds confusion and equivocation.

Desirism does not say you should pursue your own desires. Instead, it says you should work to mold your own desires and the desires of others into good desires – desires that tend to fulfill other desires – and that you should act on those good desires.

And thereby, by definition, it urges you to act irrationally. You should only “work to mold your own desires and the desires of others” into the form you desire, by definition. You will only equate this form with “desires that tend to fulfill other desires” due to confusing what you desire with this abstract, unrealistic, and irrelevant standard. This is accomplished by appealing to it as the “good”, and using the confusion in this concept to spread the confusion. People are so confused about what “good” is, and so desperate to be good, that they’ll cling to anything – but the only thing that it is rational to cling to, is themselves.
 
 
The path to the actions you want to take is through self-awareness. Desirism is an unfortunate distraction from this path, glorifying an ideal that has little to do with your actual desires. You do not have within you the desire to promote desires that fulfill other desires, nor do you have the desire to promote something that realizes what there are reasons for action to realize, or so on; this is a conceptual confusion. You must shed this false ideal if you’re to make true progress on acting out on your desires.
 
The path to “good” actions? The concept is meaningless – not because “good” is meaningless, but because it has too many meanings. All of them, however, are ultimately irrelevatn and in the interest of clarity I eschew them all – what you should care about is pursuing your own desires, and all else is sophistry.

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 6:09 am

Hiya Luke,
 
Thanks for breaking out a new topic. Rather than fisking a long post I will summarize my initial responses.

1. Luke’s criticism of malleable desires: Thank you for the criticism. I will update my post to reflect your comment.

2. Luke’s statement about my allageded misunderstanding of self-interest: There is nothing in self-interest that prohibits other-regarding preferences. It merely holds that people want to satisfy their own preferences, not someone else’s. Thus Mother Theresa seeks to satisfy her preferences to feed the poor, not Christopher Hitchens’ preference to open an abortion clinic. Economists sometimes assume the axiom of selfishness, which holds that people have only self-regarding preferences and assume others do the same. That seems to be what you are referring to. But again, my use of self-interest is correct and does not imply the axiom of selfishness. This is standard economic jargon – it might behoove you to get a deeper grounding in the empirical sciences.

3.Luke’s comment that desirism does not say one should fulfill their desires. I take duties of rationality as normative. It makes it much easier to talk about choices. But I’m happy to switch to a purely descriptive language if you prefer.

4. Luke’s comment about philosophers accepting social contract theory and pointing to Rawls: Wrong, that is is a social contract that is conducted from behind a Veil of Ignorance. That’s justice as impartiality. My point is that even liberal egalitarian philosophers have rejected justice as mutual advantage (and hence desirism) in favor of justice as impartiality.

Here I will quote because it is the heart of the post:
 
 

This is false. Let us imagine a world where there is nobody except the 900 white racists and 100 blacks. People still generally have reason to use moral tools like praise and condemnation to “turn the knob down” on the desire to enforce slavery on others? Why? Because if we turn the knob down then everyone can have their desires fulfilled (or rather, not thwarted).

 
That objection forms the heart of my criticism so I wish you’d spent more time on it rather than the preliminaries. My question is simple: why should the slave owners care about the desires of others? The thought experiment was specifically rigged so that the racist majority did not care (desire) that the desires of the slaves would be fulfilled.
 
 
 
 

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 6:10 am

P.S. Great caption! :)

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 6:18 am

If we turn the knob all the way to the left, then neither the desires of the racists nor the desires of the blacks are thwarted. Everyone is happy. If we turn the knob to the right, then the racists’ desires may be fulfilled by the system of slavery but the blacks’ desires are not. The best place to turn this knob is all the way to the left.

 
I think this quote is actually much better than the quote I chose. Why should racists set the knob in a position that helps the minority group but not them? They will set the knob in a position that best fulfills their own desires. You are taking the “turn the desires up” technique as normative.
 

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 7:43 am

Brett,

Yes, you’ve understood me correctly. Of course, “turning the knob to the left on a single desire” is a gross oversimplification. But the moral tools that could decrease the desire for racist domination would also decrease desires for “demonstrating the superiority of the white race” and so on.

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 7:48 am

Justin Martyr: My question is simple: why should the slave owners care about the desires of others? The thought experiment was specifically rigged so that the racist majority did not care (desire) that the desires of the slaves would be fulfilled.

I know the slave owners DON’T have desires to care for the black minority, but using moral tools on them can change those desires such that desires are more harmonized. That’s the point.

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 7:52 am

Yair: I don’t accept this definition, and I don’t see why anyone would. At best, this is a “practical-good”, a “good-for-a-purpose”, as in “this torture device is really good at extracting information from suspects”.

That’s correct. This is a generic definition of good. To get to “moral” good is another semantic issue. What counts as “moral”? Some would say a good only counts as moral if it comes from God. Others would say “moral” goodness depends on intrinsic value. Unfortunately, neither anchor of morality exists.

I would say that desirism has a strong semantic account for the meaning of “morality,” but it does so only by referring to things that actually exist. Specifically, when talking about generic good we refer to the reasons for action in question (which means you can indeed have a “good” torture device). But when  speaking of moral good, we’re considering ALL the reasons for action that exist. In that case, it may turn out that torture devices are not morally good.

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 7:56 am

lukeprog: I know the slave owners DON’T have desires to care for the black minority, but using moral tools on them can change those desires such that desires are more harmonized. That’s the point.

 
Why would a rationally-minded atheist who needs the evidence for everything he believes in decide to make personal sacrifices on the basis of these moral tools?

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Eric September 8, 2009 at 8:22 am

“Like most criticisms of desirism, his criticisms fail to understand what desirism actually claims.”

Hmmm… Luke, you’re starting to sound like a theist! ;) 

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Penneyworth September 8, 2009 at 9:00 am

Why can’t we take the knob that represents the blacks’ desire to be free and turn it all the way down?

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Josh September 8, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Why do we focus on turning the desire of the slave owners to have slaves down, rather than the desire of the slaves to be free down?  Suppose if you turn the knob the right, then slaves really desire to be free, but if you turn it to the left, they don’t desire to be free.  So by turning it all the way to the left, you fulfill the desire of the 900 slave holders and the desires of the 100 slaves are not thwarted.  This is compared to turning the “slave holding” desire down, which fulfills desires of 100 but simply does not thwart desires of 900.   It seems to me that we should turn down the desire to be free, rather than the desire to hold slaves.

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Josh and Penneyworth,

This is because freedom has a tendency to fulfill a very wide range of desires. Because of this, the desires for freedom (and what freedom can provide) are far less malleable than the desire to dominate others in slavery.

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Paul September 8, 2009 at 1:42 pm

 

Justin Martyr:   Why would a rationally-minded atheist who needs the evidence for everything he believes in decide to make personal sacrifices on the basis of these moral tools?

This question is outright silly.  For the same reason a theist does – because of a  “desires” to live a moral life.  Although perhaps the theist desires to live morally may be only because the theist greater desire is to not suffer for all eternity.  So the theist lives a moral life not because it is right but out of fear.  If that is the case I find the atheist reason far nobler.
 
Luke  – for my edification – using the slavery example please correct me when I go awry.
100 blacks desire to be free.  The object of their desires is the self.  The desire exists whether white people existed or not.
900 whites desire to oppress the blacks.  The object of their desires is external to the self.  I think it is safe to say if black people did not exist this desire also would not exist.
In a sense the blacks desire to be free thwarts the whites desire to enslave the blacks.  And vice versa, so which desire is the more “moral” one?
I understand that in desirism it is not about defining morality by assuming that which fulfills the most desires – given current conditions/desires.  But rather, perhaps somewhat imprecisely put, what the desires should/ought to be instead so as to maximize desire fulfillment.  In other words it is not about saying 900 > 100 thus slavery is moral.  Rather it is more or less how to best get to a point where the desires of all 1000 can be better fulfilled.  This can be done one of two ways in the example:  change the desires of the white or change the desire of the blacks (to wish to be enslaved).
I am naively familiar with desirism but I think it makes the case that the desire to enslave is bad because a rational person would not desire to be enslaved.  In this case the whites are desiring something of which they would not, rationally, desire upon themselves.
I don’t know how desirism makes the case though I assume on some level it does,  and frankly I dont’ know how to properly articulate it myself, but I think the object of the desire is important too.  It seems to me that a desire that can be fulfilled in an independent fashion is “better” than one that requires an external component to it.

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Josh September 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Luke,
But the fact that freedom fulfills various things is entirely contingent.  For example, on our hypothetical island, it appears that the only possible actions you can engage in are slavery or slave ownership.  In addition, being a slave may fulfill many desires in this place: perhaps the desire to be fed—or even the desire to not be killed for escaping!  Hence, without knowing the entirity of the situation, you don’t know what the right thing to do is.
This is my criticism of desire utilitarianism: I simply fail to see how this is a theory of moral realism and not one of noncognitivism akin to quasi-realism.  If the decision as to what act is moral is entirely contingent on the instantiation at hand, how is that moral realism?  As a form of normative ethics, I think that desire utilitarianism may have some value, but as a theory of moral realism, I dunno.  Maybe I just don’t really understand what it means for morals to “exist” in the first place.

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Kip September 8, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Josh: Hence, without knowing the entirity of the situation, you don’t know what the right thing to do is.

True & False.  It’s true that you need to know all of the relevant facts in order to determine which desires will tend to fulfill other desires.  However, once that has been determined, then you don’t need to know all the facts of a specific case to determine the right action, as the right action will be the one motivated by good desires.
In regards to your objection, you seem have a misunderstanding of some major aspects of the theory.  You should read these:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=2982
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=776

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Jeff H September 8, 2009 at 2:41 pm

lukeprog: Josh and Penneyworth,This is because freedom has a tendency to fulfill a very wide range of desires. Because of this, the desires for freedom (and what freedom can provide) are far less malleable than the desire to dominate others in slavery.

Luke, when Brett asks about all the other desires that racist whites would have, you say, essentially, that turning down the desire to be racist would also decrease the other, related desires. But here you then say that it’s important to keep freedom because it fulfills a bunch of other, related desires. So why are you okay with turning down the related desires of a racist but not the related desires of someone who wants to be free? It seems to me that it would be just the same to turn down the other desires that freedom fulfills.

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Kip September 8, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Paul: I am naively familiar with desirism but I think it makes the case that the desire to enslave is bad because a rational person would not desire to be enslaved.

No it doesn’t.  The desire to enslave is bad because it tends to thwart more and stronger desires.  (More generally, the desire to enslave is bad because there are many and strong reasons for action that exist to demote and/or thwart that desire.)

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Kip September 8, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Jeff H: It seems to me that it would be just the same to turn down the other desires that freedom fulfills.

You’re either not thinking hard enough, or being disingenuous.  Being enslaved, by its very nature, will tend to thwart every other desire you have.  Not being able to enslave someone else won’t.

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Paul September 8, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Paul: I am naively familiar with desirism but I think it makes the case that the desire to enslave is bad because a rational person would not desire to be enslaved.
Kip: No it doesn’t.  The desire to enslave is bad because it tends to thwart more and stronger desires.  (More generally, the desire to enslave is bad because there are many and strong reasons for action that exist to demote and/or thwart that desire.)

Thanks for the clarification – but in my defense I’d argue (just for fun :-)) that a rational person would be a person who does not desire to “thwart more and stronger desires”
 

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Paul: This question is outright silly. For the same reason a theist does – because of a “desires” to live a moral life.

 
My criticism of atheistic ethics is not that atheists can’t choose to live a moral life. Rather it is that there is (1) no rational basis for doing so, and (2) no objective standard for what constitutes the moral life. At this point in this thread we’ve clearly seen that desirism fails on both counts. If you dispute that claim then please attempt a second answer to my question: Why would a rationally-minded atheist who needs the evidence for everything he believes in decide to make personal sacrifices on the basis of these moral tools?

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

 

Paul: Thanks for the clarification – but in my defense I’d argue (just for fun :-) ) that a rational person would be a person who does not desire to “thwart more and stronger desires”

 
 
This is why I always accuse desirists of magical reasoning (Alonzo Fyfe excepted, who is very clear on the point that reason and rationality cannot give Hateful Craig a reason to change his mind – only the praise, punishment, and condemnation by others).
 
It is rational not to thwart one’s own desires – but why on earth is it rational to not thwart someone else’s?* Earlier you ducked the question and argued that atheists want to live a moral argument. If that choice is rational then surely you can make an argument defending it. Desirism is looking more and more like the the categorical imperative: pure magical reasoning.
* we are still focusing on the case of the 900 racists and the 100 members of a minority ethnic group.

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

errr, in the above it is that atheists want to live a “moral life” and not “moral argument.”

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Paul,

Desirism does not claim that the desire to dominate others is bad because it is contrary to practical reason or because people themselves wouldn’t want to be dominated. The desire to dominate others is a bad desire because it is a malleable desire that tends to thwart other desires.

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Josh,

Yes, what is moral depends on what happens to be contingently true about the universe. Why should this threaten moral realism?

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Jeff H,

It would be the same, except that (1) I suspect there are far more desires dependent on basic freedom than there are on the domination of others, and thus more work to do to turn THAT knob, and (2) in the universe we live in, racist desires seem to be more malleable than freedom desires. The tide turned on racist desires across the globe in a mere CENTURY, whereas every time we try to train people to not love freedom, they keep uprising and claiming their freedom back. So racist desires are more malleable than freedom desires.

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Kip September 8, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Justin Martyr: This is why I always accuse desirists of magical reasoning…

You are responding to a straw man.

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Kip September 8, 2009 at 6:23 pm

lukeprog: The desire to dominate others is a bad desire because it is a malleable desire that tends to thwart other desires.

The desire could be (generic) bad even if it weren’t malleable.  However, since social tools wouldn’t work on non-malleable desires, we don’t use them to change the desires.  Instead, we rely on using force or threats to prevent the action we don’t want.

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Kip September 8, 2009 at 6:39 pm

lukeprog: I suspect there are far more desires dependent on basic freedom than there are on the domination of others,

One of the things that Alonzo has discussed on several occasions is the idea that the individual person is the most informed and least corruptible agent at fulfilling his/her own desires.  The best way to ensure that my desires are fulfilled is to allow me the freedom to fulfill them.  If you take away my freedom, you take away my ability to choose the best options that will fulfill my desires.  Freedom, then, is at the very heart of desire fulfillment.  It’s critical.  Therefore, we should promote the love of freedom and the aversion toward taking away freedom.

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Justin Martyr September 8, 2009 at 6:46 pm

 

Kip: You are responding to a straw man.

 
If you don’t like the charge of magical reasoning then you should make a better argument. The challenge: why should a powerful racist majority change their desires such to allow the hated minority group to fulfill more of their desires? So far I’ve seen the following answers:
 

Kip: (from a previous thread). The minority group has strong desires being thwarted and the majority group might have weak desires to oppress. In that case the minority group could change the majority groups desires through social pressure. My take: I agree. Oppressed groups have some negotiating power even if it is fairly low. But history provides all too many examples of cases where the minority group lacks the power to thwart oppressive desires.
Paul: the majority group will decide through rationality that they will want to fulfill all desires, not just their own. My take: in the absence of a sound logical argument this is magical reasoning.
Luke: the majority group can adopt tools of moral reasoning which would lead them to change their desires to want to fulfill the desires of an oppressed minority group. My take: It’s not yet clear. If they do this through rationality then it is magical reasoning (in the absence of a sound logical argument). Alternately they might reach this conclusion through an irrational process. In that case my criticism is sustained: atheist ethics are irrational.

 

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lukeprog September 8, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Kip:

Right, I meant morally bad in that sentence.

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Paul September 8, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Justin Martyr: My criticism of atheistic ethics is not that atheists can’t choose to live a moral life. Rather it is that there is (1) no rational basis for doing so, and (2) no objective standard for what constitutes the moral life. At this point in this thread we’ve clearly seen that desirism fails on both counts. If you dispute that claim then please attempt a second answer to my question: Why would a rationally-minded atheist who needs the evidence for everything he believes in decide to make personal sacrifices on the basis of these moral tools?

I dont’ know Desirism well enought to be its defender but I will do my best to answer your two question.
1)  I think the idea is to *define* morality such that what is moralis that which maximizes the fullfillment of desires while also minimizing the thwarting desires by others.   Is this not rational?  If not, why not?  Taking a step further this is might be best achieved if a theory can be developed that is able to apply similar thinking objectively and universally – which I think Desirims does.
2) I don’t think Moral Realism exists – which I think might be you real issue.  And as far as I know Desirism does not pretend to be.  As previously stated I don’t know Desirism all that well, yet, but I think it is a theory that is objective and universal.  I think Alonzo, and Luke, explain why it is both of these things much better than I am able to.  Desirism is also relative in the sense that if there were a mass shift in desires than what is moral would change with the shift in desires.  I hope I am not misrepresenting it by saying this.
“Why would a rationally-minded atheist who needs the evidence for everything he believes in decide to make personal sacrifices on the basis of these moral tools” – I will say that I am willing to make some personal sacrifices because doing so as part of social contract might enable me to better fulfill other desires.  For example:  I will sacrifice the desire to commit murder because if someone else desired to murder me, and did, then all my other desires could not be fulfilled. And vice versa –  Some details overlooked for brevity.  But I think the reasoning is self evident.

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Paul September 8, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Justin Martyr: Paul: the majority group will decide through rationality that they will want to fulfill all desires, not just their own. My take: in the absence of a sound logical argument this is magical reasoning.

Not quite correct description of my position.  That aside, so that I may better understand – you are looking for an sound argument to what exactly?  Why the majority would want to be rational?  Or why is the rational thing to fulfill all desires?  Or something else? 

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Yair September 9, 2009 at 12:15 am

Justin Martyr:        It is rational not to thwart one’s own desires – but why on earth is it rational to not thwart someone else’s?* Earlier you ducked the question and argued that atheists want to live a moral argument. If that choice is rational then surely you can make an argument defending it. Desirism is looking more and more like the the categorical imperative: pure magical reasoning.

It is rational not to thwart someone else’s desires if it is your desire no to thwart them. That is the one and only case when it is rational, and that is why desirism (which extols us not to thwart on other standards) is irrational. But this is precisely what the common atheist response to the problem is – “why don’t you murder people”, “errg, isn’t empathy enough?”. Atheists are good because they are good people, because they have desires we agree are good; and they are likewise bad when they have bad desires.
 
The thing is, exactly the same is true of religious people – they are bad when they have bad desires, and good when they have good ones. History has proven repeatedly that people often use their religion to justify their desires, not to set them.  Atheists probably aren’t less or more moral than the religious. All in all, the statistics appears to me fairly balanced, with perhaps a slight advantage to the atheists in everyday moral behaviour (less jail precentage, less crime and more social welfare in more atheist states) and a slight advantage to the religious on charity (even accounting for self-promotion “charity”).
 
I otherwise agree with the quoted text, but not your allusion that religion fairs better. The only rational ethics is subjectivism, all moral philosophy is either an attempt to find it (“observing” that we want to treat people fairly, that we want to diminsih suffering, and so on) or sophistry (there is an objective ethics, people “generally” want to thwart desires that thwart desires, people should obey god, and so on).

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faithlessgod September 9, 2009 at 2:27 am

I have provided an alternative criticism of Martyr’s supposed refutation. It is here. I think your response is far, far better than mine.
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 5:27 am

Yair: It is rational not to thwart someone else’s desires if it is your desire no to thwart them. That is the one and only case when it is rational, and that is why desirism (which extols us not to thwart on other standards) is irrational.

 
Succinctly put.
 
I also agree with the general thrust of the rest of your post. The criticism is not that atheists can’t be good – many of them are. Rather, there is no rational basis for objective moral principles if atheism is true.

faithlessgod: I have provided an alternative criticism of Martyr’s supposed refutation. It is here. I think your response is far, far better than mine.

 
Thank you for taking the time to write that post. I will definitely check it out and provide my comments and criticisms.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 5:57 am

Faithlessgod, that was a terrible response. You completely ignored the case of the 900 racists and instead criticized my high level, plain English introduction. That does not even remotely constitute my canonical criticism, but exists merely as a service because most introduction to desirism are unnecessarily obtuse. Heck, I could have dropped into belief logic and define a desire as x:P . (x:P means that person x believes P is true. The underline comes from deontic logic. In the context of person x’s belief it means that person x desires that P be true).
 
But that doesn’t help a newbie.
 
Would you like to engage the case of the 900 racists? In another thread you argued that it is the 1000 sadist problem, but that shows that you don’t understand the essential difference.
 
 

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 6:12 am

Justin Martyr: If you don’t like the charge of magical reasoning then you should make a better argument.

I have not made any “magical reasoning” argument.   You made that claim in response to something Paul wrote, who has made it clear that he does not have a good understanding of Desirism.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 6:18 am

Yair: The only rational ethics is subjectivism

Which “subjectivism” are you referring to?
Also, please answer this question given your subjectivism:
Is it immoral for someone to rape (have sexual intercourse without consent) a person?

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 6:19 am

Kip: I have not made any “magical reasoning” argument. You made that claim in response to something Paul wrote, who has made it clear that he does not have a good understanding of Desirism.

 
Fair enough, but it isn’t just Paul’s response. Luke also needs magical reasoning because he claims the racists should adopt tools of moral reasoning that would lead to them changing their desires to help the minority group.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 6:22 am

Justin Martyr: Would you like to engage the case of the 900 racists? In another thread you argued that it is the 1000 sadist problem, but that shows that you don’t understand the essential difference.

What is the essential difference?  If they are significantly different, then I’ll engage the case.  :-)

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lukeprog September 9, 2009 at 6:34 am

Justin,

What magical reasoning have I appealed to?

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 6:34 am

Kip: What is the essential difference? If they are significantly different, then I’ll engage the case.

 
Sure, the 1000 sadists have a rational reason to use praise, punishment, and condemnation to stop torturing children because they have their own children, or at least their friends and family have children. That doesn’t apply in the case of the 900 racists who make up a majority. Their hatred is directed towards a minority group. Thus we have this question: why should the racist majority change their desires such that the minority group can fulfill more of theirs?

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 6:38 am

lukeprog: What magical reasoning have I appealed to?

lukeprog: I know the slave owners DON’T have desires to care for the black minority, but using moral tools on them can change those desires such that desires are more harmonized. That’s the point.

 
Why on earth would the slave owners use these moral tools? (Remember, the minority group does not have the power to use praise, punishment, and condemnation to change the desires of the racist majority).

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Jeff H September 9, 2009 at 8:06 am

lukeprog: Jeff H,It would be the same, except that (1) I suspect there are far more desires dependent on basic freedom than there are on the domination of others, and thus more work to do to turn THAT knob, and (2) in the universe we live in, racist desires seem to be more malleable than freedom desires. The tide turned on racist desires across the globe in a mere CENTURY, whereas every time we try to train people to not love freedom, they keep uprising and claiming their freedom back. So racist desires are more malleable than freedom desires.

(1) So here we are discussing the practicality of it, not the morality of it. It doesn’t make any difference, except that reducing racist desires is easier. I think we could reasonably make a case for the other way, though – racists tend to hold onto their racism despite appeals to facts, reason, and empathy. Thus, maybe it would be more difficult to reduce racism than it would be to reduce freedom. But ultimately, if the only measure of which knob to turn is to choose the easiest one, then what’s the point at all? Why don’t we just blow up the whole world, and then we have no morality to deal with. Sure, everyone gets their desires thwarted at that point, but then afterwards there are no desires to deal with whatsoever. Problem solved.
 
(2) I think this is a fairly naive assertion, to be honest. Keep in mind that (a) racism isn’t quite dead yet (especially in other parts of the globe), (b) for the majority of human history, racism has been alive and kicking, and (c) it is likely possible to trace the roots of anti-racism much back further than a century. I don’t want to extend the causality too far, but it is probably the case that the conditions in the Western world made it more likely for racism to be destroyed – to say that it all happened in a century may be ignoring the cultural context that preceded that century.
 
As well, your bit about freedom seems to be a typically American response. There are many cultures around the world that do not embrace individualism and cowboy-style freedom like America, and they don’t even necessarily want that kind of freedom foisted upon them (in some cases). Not to mention that slavery and other forms of forced labour have been present throughout human history – to say that revolutions always happen whenever people aren’t free is ridiculous. Serfdom in the Middle Ages (though not quite the same as slavery) lasted for centuries. So did slavery in the Greek and Roman empires, etc. I think that the desires for freedom are very malleable. It seems that people only really want freedom for themselves when they see other similar groups with freedom. Otherwise, they simply don’t know anything else, and so they are fairly content living within it. If we are postulating a world with only 900 racists and 100 minorities, it seems that they wouldn’t have any example of free minorities to go by. I don’t think it’d be hard at all to keep them in that state, nor do I think that they would really have the desires for freedom that you think they might have. It’s possible, but not necessarily the case.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 8:09 am

Justin Martyr: Sure, the 1000 sadists have a rational reason to use praise, punishment, and condemnation to stop torturing children because they have their own children, or at least their friends and family have children. That doesn’t apply in the case of the 900 racists who make up a majority. Their hatred is directed towards a minority group.

In the scenario, there was only 1 person the 1000 desired to harm.  The 1 is clearly in the minority.  I don’t see your scenario being significantly different.
Alonzo addresses the 1000 Sadist problem more here:  http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2009/06/bob-slave.html
Just because you and your family may not be in the hated minority today, doesn’t mean that can’t change.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came...

Justin Martyr: Thus we have this question: why should the racist majority change their desires such that the minority group can fulfill more of theirs?

“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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Kip September 9, 2009 at 8:13 am

Justin Martyr: Remember, the minority group does not have the power to use praise, punishment, and condemnation to change the desires of the racist majority

This isn’t true.  Of course they do.  The punishment may not be legal, but they can clearly use punishment.  And they can definitely use praise and condemnation.  They can also befriend members of the majority and form alliances.  These things happen all the time where the minority is being treated badly by the majority.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 8:30 am

Kip: In the scenario, there was only 1 person the 1000 desired to harm. The 1 is clearly in the minority. I don’t see your scenario being significantly different.

 
The racist majority doesn’t care if their oppressive acts violate desire fulfillment act utilitarianism or desire utilitarianism. They just want to fulfill their own desires. You can argue that in the 1000 sadists case their own desires would best be fulfilled by “turning the knob down” because they have their own children, as do their friends and family. You can’t make this defense in the case of the 900 racists. You need to provide a rational reason why they would do so. In fact, you provide two reasons.
 
Kip Defense #1
 
 

Kip: Just because you and your family may not be in the hated minority today, doesn’t mean that can’t change. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came…

 
Oppression is never in the rational self-interest of the oppressor? Oppression will make them too likely to get their comeuppance? That’s pretty weak.
 
Kip Defense #2

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.

 
I agree that sometimes the minority can change society but history is filled with  many examples of cases where they can’t.
 

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 8:31 am

Kip: This isn’t true. Of course they do. The punishment may not be legal, but they can clearly use punishment. And they can definitely use praise and condemnation. They can also befriend members of the majority and form alliances. These things happen all the time where the minority is being treated badly by the majority.

 
Desirism doesn’t justify genocide because the minority group changes society and stops it from happening?

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 9:30 am

Justin Martyr: They just want to fulfill their own desires. You can argue that in the 1000 sadists case their own desires would best be fulfilled by “turning the knob down” because they have their own children, as do their friends and family. You can’t make this defense in the case of the 900 racists.

You need to read this:  http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2009/06/bob-slave.html

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 9:33 am

Justin Martyr:   Desirism doesn’t justify genocide because the minority group changes society and stops it from happening?

This is not correct.  The end result of the moral project (attempt to change desires) does not determine the morality of the desire in question.

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Justin Martyr September 9, 2009 at 10:02 am

 

Kip: This is not correct. The end result of the moral project (attempt to change desires) does not determine the morality of the desire in question.

 
I can create a new moral theory called anti-oppressionism. It’s only tenant is “thou shall not oppress”. It is objective, just like desirism. But it can’t give the racist majority a reason to change their desires any more than desirism. The only difference is that anti-oppressivists would not pretend that it is in the rational self-interest of the racist majority to stop oppressing. By contrast, the desirists keep acting like Kant after he created the categorical imperative. They keep implying that reason and rationality are a sufficient basis to “turn the knobs down.”
 

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 11:28 am

Justin Martyr: They keep implying that reason and rationality are a sufficient basis to “turn the knobs down.”

No they don’t.

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Yair September 9, 2009 at 1:10 pm

The criticism is not that atheists can’t be good – many of them are. Rather, there is no rational basis for objective moral principles if atheism is true.

The thing is, there is no rational basis for objective moral principles under theism either. Morality is just not objective, under any reasonable meaning.
The best theism can provide is a just universe according to god’s standards, not an objective standard. Of course, what’s possible under theism is kinda irrelevant, given that theism isn’t true…

Which “subjectivism” are you referring to?
Also, please answer this question given your subjectivism:
Is it immoral for someone to rape (have sexual intercourse without consent) a person?

Individual ethical subjectivism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualist_ethical_subjectivism
And to answer your question – in the common, humanistic, meaning – yes. In other meanings – depends on what you mean by “immoral”, but generally it is possible for the murder to be moral in some sense for the murderer, while being immoral in the same sense for the populace at large.
But note that you are essentially making the same argument as Justin – that because atheism/subjectivism doesn’t provide an objective morality, it is somewhat lacking. Assuming atheism doesn’t allow an objective morality, does that make it lacking? Of course not, the only thing that is relevant  is whether it is right, not whether there is an objective morality.  That we lack good objective reasons to oppose rape does not mean that we don’t desire to oppose it, and all talk of some  standard beyond our individual desires merely obscures the fact that the speaker is using this very same standard plus his own confusion.

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Josh September 9, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Justin,
I think you’re missing part of the point of desire utilitarianism (though I’m not a big fan of it myself).  You’re assuming that a theory of moral realism needs to entail a force of moral obligation.  You’re asking the question “Why should the racists change their desires?”  Well, the answer under desire utilitarianism is “Because they have bad desires.”  This doesn’t meant that there is any outside force compelling them to change their desires, it just means that their desires are bad.
I think moral truths (if they exist), should be just like any other truths: they are true, but that doesn’t mean you have to believe them.  For example, we all agree that the earth is round.  But suppose there is a group of people who believe the earth is not round.  Why “should” they believe the earth is round?  Because there’s evidence for it, of course.  But they can neglect that evidence.
Similarly, the slave holders can neglect the evidence that slavery is wrong and continue to practice it.  Under desire utilitarianism, it is simply a fact of the world that slave holding is wrong—the proposition “Slavery is wrong” is entailed by the proposition “Desire utilitarianism is true.”
What Luke means by “rational thinking”and what you call magical thinking is simply this: suppose that desire utilitarianism is true.  Then, there should be some way to discover that desire utilitarianism is true, call that “rational thinking”.  Once you realize that desire utilitarianism is true, you have no choice but to accept the FACT that slavery is wrong.  Now, you can continue holding slaves, but that just means that you are engaging in an immoral act.  However, if you feel like you should engage in moral acts, you can stop holding slaves.
Of course, you’re going to ask, “why should I engage in moral acts?”  I can’t really answer that.   And I don’t think desirism needs to answer that: desirism is simply a way of determining the truth value of the proposition “x is moral.”  Just like astronomy is a way of determining the truth value of “celestial body x is round”.

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Paul September 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Justin Martyr: Fair enough, but it isn’t just Paul’s response. Luke also needs magical reasoning because he claims the racists should adopt tools of moral reasoning that would lead to them changing their desires to help the minority group.

Let me reword this a bit – as the above statement misrepresenting my perspective.  I am not making an argument for why “the racists should adopt tools of moral reasoning that would lead to them changing their desires to help the minority group”.  What I am trying to articulate is the possibility that Desirism provides a tool (a means, if you will) to determine whether a desire is a good desire or a bad desire.  And that it can do this objectively and universally.  Nothing more nothing less.  Whether Desirism is able to provide such a tool is still an open question for me.  Though I tend positive to it.

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Kip September 9, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Yair: Kip: “Is it immoral for someone to rape (have sexual intercourse without consent) a person?”
In the common, humanistic, meaning – yes.

So, if I say “I like raping people.  I don’t think it is immoral.”, you would say that I am wrong?  If so, then that is not common subjectivism.

Yair: That we lack good objective reasons to oppose rape does not mean that we don’t desire to oppose it

I think desiring to oppose it is as good and objective reason as you need.  Yes, it’s subjective, but it’s also true, observable, measurable, and affects the real world.  Anyway, if you don’t want to call it “objective”, then that’s fine.  It’s still the case that all of these desires that we all have really exist in the real world.

Yair: and all talk of some standard beyond our individual desires merely obscures the fact that the speaker is using this very same standard plus his own confusion.

As long as you are including everyone’s individual desires, then there is no other standard.  A common subjectivist, though, will appeal to their own desires, disregarding all the other desires that exist.

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faithlessgod September 9, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Hi Guys, interesting discussion going on here. Too busy to participate at the moment. Anyway in response to a comment by Justin Martyr I have provided my view on the 900 Racists
(Incidentally, Kip this might answer some of our disagreement too, I don’t know)
 

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Yair September 9, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Kip: So, if I say “I like raping people.  I don’t think it is immoral.”, you would say that I am wrong?  If so, then that is not common subjectivism.

I would say that it is wrong in some senses of the word immoral, and not wrong in others. The whole problem is that people keep thinking they are talking about one clear thing, when they’re talking about vague concepts that are often conflicting.

In the sense of the normal human morality – you are wrong to rape. In the sense of your own private morality, you are right – but the normal morality isn’t really relevant to you (except as data), and your own idiosyncratic morality isn’t really relevant to the people at large (except as data).

I think desiring to oppose it is as good and objective reason as you need.  Yes, it’s subjective, but it’s also true, observable, measurable, and affects the real world.  Anyway, if you don’t want to call it “objective”, then that’s fine.  It’s still the case that all of these desires that we all have really exist in the real world.

Yes, it is objective in this sense.

As long as you are including everyone’s individual desires, then there is no other standard.  A common subjectivist, though, will appeal to their own desires, disregarding all the other desires that exist.

Your meaning isn’t clear to me. I include others’ desires as data about the world, not as the foundation of setting right and wrong or – more clearly – how to behave. It is my impression all subjectivists do this, e.g. counting compassion and empathy as their motivation for doing good.
 
 
Acting on others’ desires instead of your own is irrational. Acting on your desire to act on another’s desire is rational. Part of our desires is to fulfill or at least not thwart at least some desires, and that makes it rational to act in that way. But it is not our desire to fulfill all desires, or to treat them equally, and if that is what you meant – then I’m not advocating doing that.

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Kip September 10, 2009 at 5:35 am

Yair: I would say that it is wrong in some senses of the word immoral, and not wrong in others. The whole problem is that people keep thinking they are talking about one clear thing, when they’re talking about vague concepts that are often conflicting. In the sense of the normal human morality – you are wrong to rape. In the sense of your own private morality, you are right – but the normal morality isn’t really relevant to you (except as data), and your own idiosyncratic morality isn’t really relevant to the people at large (except as data).

I’d submit that normally when people use moral terminology they are referring to the “normal” kind you talk about, not the “private” kind.  It is that sense of morality that Desirism captures.  Further, the practice of morality deals with shaping each other’s desires, not just our own, so on a practical level this is what Desirism focuses on — all desires that exist, not just my own.

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Kip September 10, 2009 at 5:35 am

Yair: Acting on others’ desires instead of your own is irrational.

And impossible.

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Kip September 10, 2009 at 5:53 am

faithlessgod: Incidentally, Kip this might answer some of our disagreement too, I don’t know

I agreed with that post, but it didn’t address the disagreement I think I might have with you.  I’m still waiting for your reply on that, by the way.

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faithlessgod September 10, 2009 at 6:04 am

Kip
What is your disagreement? Maybe you could provide it in the relevant post (not here it would only confuse). Or if you have already said it please point me to where that is.
 

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faithlessgod September 12, 2009 at 7:23 am

Luke
You may no know this but Martyr has significantly revised both his post and has, AFAIK, notified neither you nor me about this. Surely netiquette would have obliged Martyr to at least leave a comment here and at my two posts that he has done this.
Now he did leave some comments on his two posts but this is insufficient and unacceptable. There was no necessary reason for you and me to be following comments there. As it happens I did, hence I know.
I have posted comments that he revert his two posts and if he wishes to move the debate on to create new ones to which we can chose to respond, based on content and our available time etc.
I find what Martyr has done quite underhand – even if he states he has revised his posts. It looks as if he is trying to force us to respond on his timescale not ours. It is in the nature  and part of the attraction of online debate that each chooses when to respond or not as and when one can.
This is a more general point, am I wrong in thinking that unless he reverts his posts and creates new ones he is not someone worthwhile engaging in further debate? Regardless of any others opinions on Martyr (thinking of a Kip comment)  this is a point about anyone who does this to their posts and with such lack of notification.
I have added a prefix to both my posts and I suggest you do the same.
I would write a post on the ethics of revising posts but I am too busy at the moment. In all my online debates recently nothing has remotely annoyed me however it appears to onlookers. I feel I should be annoyed with this meta-debate ploy of Martyr’s and in that I have had to waste time on this creating three comments and prefixing my posts. However I am too busy and am passing the buck to you ;-)
Anyway just thought you should know.
 

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faithlessgod September 12, 2009 at 7:25 am

PS Why does your comments system collapse new lines and so lose paragraphs as I wrote them? In many systems there are settings to avoid this e.g. to do with BR or P tags.

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Jeff H September 12, 2009 at 8:39 am

faithlessgod, if you hit Enter twice in between paragraphs, it will look weird in the comment box, but it gives a nice single blank line when you actually post the comment.

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faithlessgod September 12, 2009 at 9:02 am

Hi JeffH
I know that. However I comment in various places and it seems unreasonable to expect us to all remember the differential idiosyncratic tricks for various comment systems. The new line behaviour here is certainly idiosyncratic and unnecessary.

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lukeprog September 12, 2009 at 9:06 am

faithlessgod,

Thanks for the heads up. Re: the commenting system, it is driving me nuts, too. I have tried other commenting systems for WordPress and they have their own problems too. Anybody have any suggestions?

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lukeprog September 12, 2009 at 9:33 am

MCEComments was messing things up, so I disabled it. But that means no more WYSIWYG comments editing, for now. I looked for other solutions, but…

Also, the quoting system was annoying with TinyMCE, since it was hard to get OUT of a blockquote. But now you can see the code, so you can edit more precisely.

Hopefully this will be better, even though less pretty.

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faithlessgod September 12, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Check out Tom Gilson’s thinkingchristian.net – not for the content but for the comment solution – IMHO it has the best wordpress based comment solution I have seen.

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faithlessgod September 12, 2009 at 11:51 pm

This is what I mean

* WP Ajax Edit Comments
Allows users and admin to edit their comments inline. Admin and editors can edit all comments.

and this

* Live Comment Preview
Supply users with a live comment preview. Use the live preview function to display the live preview in a different location.

Dunno if this is needed:

* Comment Saver
Saves comment text in a temporary cookie before it is submitted.

This is quite nice:

* Subscribe To Comments
Allows readers to receive notifications of new comments that are posted to an entry. Based on version 1 from Scriptygoddess

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 6:16 am

Okay, I made some changes to the comment system. Unfortunately, many of those plugins are not available for the latest version of WordPress. I think I will stop upgrading WordPress, because upgrades screw with too many plugins.

Let me know how it should be improved.

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cl July 6, 2010 at 10:27 am

I caught a link to this from Justin’s new 900 racists post, which I wasn’t that impressed by, although I agree with Justin that desirism – despite its strengths – is full of shortcomings.

Desirism does not advocate the pursuit of one’s own desires. Rather, it describes that this is what people do.

I agree. So then, how is it a prescriptive theory?

People act such as to fulfill the strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. This is merely the central thesis in the most successful theory of intentional action, Belief Desire Intention theory.

It’s also one of the most obvious points of all time, one that doesn’t need a bunch of sophisticated, obfuscatory language to be made. I’m beginning to think maybe I have different expectations of what a moral theory should provide. Perhaps you and Fyfe are content with mere description? If that’s the case, I can’t judge you according to what I expect, but I think many who hear the word “moral theory” expect to see a justification for moral prescriptions, not a restating of the obvious.

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