Video Trailer for a Philosophical Theory

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 24, 2010 in Ethics,Video

Redated from Feb. 15, 2009.

There are movie trailers, book trailers, video game trailers, and religion trailers, so why not a trailer for a philosophical theory?

Above is a trailer I made for desire utilitarianism (aka desirism), the ethical theory formulated by Alonzo Fyfe of I don’t know if desire utilitarianism is the correct ethical theory, but it is the most promising theory of objective morality I’ve heard yet, and I’d like more people to know about it.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

MJ February 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Good idea-though something similar, the political ad for philosophical theories, has already been done to grand effect:

I guess there’s a reason why trailers for philosophical theories aren’t so popular-dismissing the most important ethical theories from the entirety of human history in a minute in favor of the ethical theory of a blogger is absurdly perfunctory, to say the least, though also amusing. And I’m not sure that a “better world” exists in any more “real” sense than what you call “intrinsic values.” Isn’t the fact that the “better world” does not yet exist precisely why we’d need to act in order to get there?

Maybe I just need to wait for the release of the feature-length film. :)


lukeprog February 17, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Yes, it’s only a trailer. To see if the blogger, Alonzo Fyfe, happens to be right, you’d have to read his book.

I did review one other meta-ethics book by an atheist blogger, and it was AWFUL. Alonzo is, instead, a well-read and clear-thinking ethical philosopher who says stuff that makes sense.


matt February 18, 2009 at 4:55 am



toryninja March 22, 2009 at 5:49 pm

What's the music in the trailer?


lukeprog March 22, 2009 at 9:58 pm

First part is “Desire” by Talk Talk. Second part is Naruto's remix of Muse's “Butterflies & Hurricanes.”


toryninja March 23, 2009 at 4:52 am



toryninja March 23, 2009 at 5:14 am

Any idea where I could find a copy of the Naruto remix?


lukeprog March 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm


urbster1 May 26, 2009 at 6:50 pm

As far as I know, this is the same ethical theory that Richard Carrier defends in “Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism.” It is very clear and well-reasoned. I would love to see more atheists talking about this moral theory.


lukeprog May 26, 2009 at 8:03 pm

No, definitely not the same moral theory as Richard Carrier’s.


murrowcronkite May 26, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Desires create as much suffering and harm as they create good. They are amoral. The reason we choose to act on some desires and not others- good or bad(sorry that’s qualitative) is probably due to the subjective view of the survival benefits of the one acting. The more developed a persons cognition and ability to see the  full consequences  of their actions, the more likely they will ultimately benefit the person acting and others around them, even if it involves delayed gratification or sacrifice.
The ability to realize this for ones self and develop  it, refine it, to me makes us human, with “higher” conciousness.


stevo April 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

Two comments, the first about the trailer, the second about murrowcronkite’s comment.

1) The second piece of music (Naruto’s remix) is loud, dissonant, and awful. It would have been better to use something as quiet or soft as the first part, or to use nothing at all.

2) It’s only a trailer, and thus it leaves out important parts. The theory is based on desires, but it does not state that all desires are equal in any way. It provides a way to evaluate the desires to see which ones should be encouraged or praised and which should be discouraged or inhibited.


Microwave June 24, 2010 at 10:14 am

I didn’t fully understand this Desirism.

You just asserted that God doesn’t exists?

And i think that desire is a very dangerous and relative thing.

You just asserted that we are obligated to work for a better word?


Ken Pulliam June 24, 2010 at 10:35 am


Idefintely need to read more on desirism. I have come to the conclusion that Ethical Intuitionism makes the most sense. Michael Huemer and Robert Audi are two professional and highly credentialed philosophers who hold this theory. It doesn’t say that every ethical decision is intuitive but that there some that are and these can be used as foundations to make ethical decisions.

BTW, just a little nitpicking. In the trailer you have split infinitives–”desire to not rape” and “desire to not steal”. Sorry I used to teach English composition.


Burk June 24, 2010 at 10:50 am

Hi, Luke-

This is great, and I agree that desires are what form the “good” and thus underly all morality.

What I don’t get is why this creates objective morals. It seems the very definition of subjective morals, which we then put up for communal negotiation to come up with societal morals.

I think the fixation with “objective” morals is a hold-over from theism and will get you into no end of trouble, since there is no such thing as objective morals- they all exist to satisfy someone’s desires.

The one thing theists crow most about is their “objective” morals, until you point out to them that their morals are as subjective as anyone else’s. Perhaps based on the writing of some crabby malcontent of millennia ago rather than on their own reasoned desires, but that is just off-loading the inherent subjectivity to someone else, after which theist still cherry picks whatever writings they happen to agree with at the moment anyhow.


lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 12:32 pm


I write for human beings not grammarians, but thanks anyway. Many grammar mistakes I will correct.

I’ve read just a bit of Huemer and Audi and need to read more, but the whole project seems doomed, and is being battered rather badly by every single discovery in moral psychology made every week.


orgostrich June 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I have a general question about desirism, maybe I just don’t understand it. When in a situation where there are conflicting desires, are you supposed to account for the strength of each of the desires and/or the number of people holding them? Basically, if 100 people have a moderate desire for an event to happen, and 5 people have a strong desire for it not to happen, what should be done?


Josh June 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm

“BTW, just a little nitpicking. In the trailer you have split infinitives–”desire to not rape” and “desire to not steal”. Sorry I used to teach English composition. ”

I, for one, take a stand against being against splitting infinitives. The idea that “You shouldn’t split an infinitive” is an old prescriptive rule that has its roots in Latin, a language in which it is literally impossible to split an infinitive because of the way the language works. Old white men in the early days of modern English thought it would make English more pure and cool (like Latin!) if they told people that they couldn’t split infinitives in English.

But of course, it’s perfectly fine to split infinitives. For one thing, the sentence still makes perfect sense and nothing at all is lost (this is pretty much the only thing that matters). Moreover, stylistically it flows much better in many situations. To paraphrase Steven Pinker, would you rather have had Captain Kirk’s mission be “to go boldly”?


Josh June 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Since this issue is really important to me, here’s an amazing article by Pinker on the issue:


Sabio Lantz June 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

@ Ken Pulliam
Isn’t the rule of “no split infinitives” a hang over from Latin grammar, imposed by Catholic scholastics on English due to their investment in the supposed holy and elite dead language of Latin. Odd that thou shouldst free thyself from the slavery of Christian soteriology yet still be bound by the abstract grammar of Latin who is not the mother of English.
Smiling (but serious). Am I wrong?


Sabio Lantz June 24, 2010 at 2:25 pm

(1) Ooops, I just noted that Josh but put the point more eloquently, he did.

(2) Luke, your persistence with Desirism is fascinating. It makes me keep considering it. Though I must say, with the recent condemnation of trivial pursuits, my moral intuition alarms went off — but hell, Eve, by eating that damn fruit, corrupted my intuitions.


Teapot June 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Yeesh, lukeprog, grammarians aren’t human beings? What a jerk. I thought that the silly attempt to reduce sweeping claims about enormous fields of study to a two-minute video with the bad Enya ripoffs in the background was bad enough…


Lee A.P. June 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Just text in the trailer? Flash a series of tits or something man.


Sly June 24, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Even though I am a huge Muse fan, I agree that it was jarring to switch to Muse in the second portion. I had to turn my volume down.


lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm


I know tone doesn’t come through text, but of course I was kidding about grammarians not being human. Did you think I was somehow serious?

Also: notice this is a trailer for a philosophical theory. It’s not intended to defend any of its claims – just to announce them, as a preview for more to come.


Ken Pulliam June 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm


Note I apologized and admitted it was nitpicking, Sorry to detract from the main issue. I spent too many years grading English papers. Things like that stand out like a neon sign to me.

Regarding intuitionism, I am not sure what you mean by it being battered by moral psychology. My limited knowledge of neuroscience shows that even infants have moral instincts or intuitions.


lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 6:18 pm


Many of my upcoming interviews will address this question, but the short story goes like this: Evolutionary theory and moral psychology give us no reason to suspect that our inner feelings about morality (our “moral intuitions”) actually track the moral facts. They also mount a positive case against any such view. The moral intuitionist generally wishes to argue that we have a mental faculty capable either of detecting moral facts or of reasoning properly to them. But moral psychology demolishes this view. For example, our moral judgments are different when we smell freshly baked bread than when we are exposed to fart spray (even fart spray of which we are not aware). Our moral judgments are primarily emotional reactions, not the result of moral reasoning (moral reasoning is post-hoc) or of an as-yet undetected moral faculty capable of direct detection of non-natural moral facts, whatever that would mean.

But that paragraph is just a ‘trailer’ for what I’m trying to say. Stay tuned for my interviews on the subject, or read Sharon Street’s ‘Darwinian Problem for Realistic Theories of Value’ or whatever it’s called. Appiah’s ‘Experiments in Ethics’ is an accessible introductory volume on moral psychology.


lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm


Oh, and as for nit-picking; don’t worry about it. I appreciate all such comments, and very often fix my grammar or especially typos. So please, keep such comments coming! I even sometimes fix split infinitives. Just not in this case, and that’s my judgment call as a writer.




lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 6:23 pm


Re: desirism. Keep in mind I don’t think anyone is rationally obligated to accept it, at least not as it has been presented so far. I or somebody else needs to do the research and put it through peer review before we’ll know if it succeeds or fails. But one reason I keep pursuing it is because so far nearly all objections misunderstand the theory, and the ones that don’t misunderstand the theory are weaker objections than those that can be made against other theories. So of the realist theories of morality, I think desirism is the most promising.


Zeb June 24, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Ken, if you’re rejecting the desire to not rape, how do explain the fact that you perform the act of not raping hundreds if not thousands of times a day? I don’t know you, but I think your persistence in constant not raping is proof that you yourself have an all consuming, irresistible desire to not rape. Frankly, I share your passion. Thank goodness we can multitask, or not raping is all we’d ever do!

Which is to say, I feel the same way about split infinitives. But I am a Catholic after all.


lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 8:35 pm


BTW, a desire to not do something is usually called an ‘aversion,’ but as far as I can guess it’s the same kind of thing as a “positive” desire. Neuroscience may prove me wrong, however.


nate June 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I was going to make a video about moral nihilism, but then I realized I didn’t really have a reason to.


lukeprog June 24, 2010 at 9:09 pm


Bu-dum ching.


Ken Pulliam June 25, 2010 at 1:55 am


I think your criticisms apply only to the empiricist version of intuitionism. I hold to the rationalist version. I would not say that we have a separate faculty or a “sixth sense” that determines morality. I simply hold that there are a small number of moral beliefs that we hold which are are non-inferential. Huemer gives examples such as, it is wrong to punish an innocent person. I would add that it is wrong to kill (unless in self defense). Are these beliefs “objective”? It depends on how one defines “objective.” I tend to think nothing is objective in the full sense of the term but I think these intuitions are “objective” in the sense that virtually all men share them. If virtually all subjects agree on something, that is about as close to “objective” reality as one can get, IMO.


Zeb June 25, 2010 at 2:55 am

Luke, you’ve said that your initial doubts about desirism, as well as most others you see, were based on misunderstandings. Is there some place where common misunderstandings are collected and explained away, or do we need to go read the books and blogs and comment threads?


lukeprog June 25, 2010 at 9:27 am


I’m not concerned with such claims being objective or not, but rather with the claim that they are true simply because we feel so.


bh June 25, 2010 at 10:11 am


You attack the idea of a virtue holding some “intrinsic value,” correct? Then why would desire hold any intrinsic value?

You also write in the trailer that: “if we could capture a ‘good’ act or duty or virtue and crack it open, we would not find something inside called ‘intrinsic value.’”

If we could “crack open” a good act, why would we find a desire in it rather than an intrinsic value? More importantly, what is a “good act” in the first place?

Sorry if this has been brought up earlier, I (sadly) don’t have time to read all the comments.

Also, apologies if I come off slightly bitter. I yearn for an objective morality, but I can find none that are not flawed.


lukeprog June 25, 2010 at 11:42 am


Desire holds no intrinsic value. Check the FAQ. Good luck!


bh June 25, 2010 at 12:32 pm


If desire holds no intrinsic value, why do you choose it as the center of your ethical/moral system?


lukeprog June 25, 2010 at 1:26 pm


See the 5 links in the FAQ after the question “Aren’t you just saying that desire fulfillment has intrinsic value, that we should do whatever fulfills the most desires?”


piero June 25, 2010 at 1:57 pm


Huemer gives examples such as, it is wrong to punish an innocent person. I would add that it is wrong to kill (unless in self defense).

I’d say none of the examples works. For example, the Christian doctrine of atonement clearly shows that “it is wrong to punish an innocent person” is not universally held. Similarly, “it is wrong to kill” is evidently not widely, let alone universally, held. I would argue that most people don’t kill mainly because they fear they might themselves get killed or badly hurt in the attempt, or because they fear the legal consequences.


e-cig February 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Once I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails with the


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