All the Desires That Exist

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 15, 2010 in Ethics,Guest Post

chipmunk and coke

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

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There are those who think that desire utilitarianism contains the hidden moral premise, “Thou shalt consider all of the desires that exist.”

They object to desire utilitarianism on the grounds that there is no way to justify this fundamental moral principle. They challenge me to to provide them with a justification as to why they should consider all the desires that exist. They anticipate that I will fail and, on the basis of that, assert that they have punched a fatal hole in desire utilitarianism.

Ironically, it is not only the case that desire utilitarianism is not founded on a principle of, “Thou shalt consider all desires that exist.” It specifically rejects that proposition. The proper desire utilitarian response to the challenge, “You can’t explain to me why I should consider all the desires that exist,” is to say, “Gad, I hope not! If I could, then I would prove that desire utilitarianism is false.”

“Thou shalt consider all of the desires that exists,” is not the foundation for desirism. It is the foundation for desire-fulfillment act utilitarianism. Desire-fulfillment act utilitarianism says, “Do that act that fulfills the most and strongest desires, regardless of whose they are.” That requires considering all of the desires that exist.

This confusion is why some people prefer the term ‘desirism’. It is thought that the term ‘desire utilitarianism’ immediately makes people think about the various forms of act utilitarianism that exist: Jeremy Benthan’s “Do that act that produces the most pleasure and the least pain no matter whose it is,” or “Do that act that produces the most happiness over unhappiness,” or even, “Do that act that satisfies the most preferences regardless of whose they are.”

When they hear the term “desire utilitarianism” they think, “Do that act that produces the most desire fulfillment.”

I wonder, when they hear the term “rule utilitarianism,” if they think this must mean, “Do that act that produces the most rules.”

Desire utilitarianism empatically denies that you should consider all the desires that exist.

When you have sex with your spouse, it is hoped that you are not thinking, “Well, according to an impartial calculation of all the desires that exist, this act of having sex with my spouse is the act that produces the most overall desire fulfillment.”

It would not make for a very entertaining evening.

If your child just got hit with a wild pitch and is laying unconscious next to home plate, desire utilitarianism would not have you impartially consider the interests that others have in continuing the game. Those desires . . . when your child is laying unconscious . . . should not matter.

If they do matter, then the father not only foreits any claim to call himself a good father. He looses any claim to call himself a good person. To put it loosely, he needs to get his priorities (his desires) in order.

Nor is it the case, when you go to a restaurant, that you should look through the menu and ask, “Which menu item would fulfill the most desires that exist?” The proper question to ask would be, “What would I like to eat?”

Now, there is reason to ask the question, “What should I like to eat?” It may be the case that certain food preferences tend to fulfill or to thwart other desires. To whatever degree food tastes are malleable – and the fact of cultural cuisines suggests they are malleable – there may be some preferences we have reason to promote over others.

For example, we may have reason to promote an aversion to eating human meat. If people desired the taste of human meat, then they would have a reason to act so as to fulfill that desire. The actions that such a desire might cause a person to perform are actions that run a high risk of thwarting the desires of others. People generally have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to eating human meat because people have many and strong resons to avoid the desire-thwartings prevented by such an aversion.

So, when you go into a restaurant, you still only order what it is that you want most. But you don’t want human meat. You do not reject human meat because you have considered all of the desires that exist and decided that, in spite of your craving for human meat, it would fulfill more desires if you did not eat it. You do not eat human meat because you find the thought of eating human meat repulsive. The very idea sickens you.

The principle that you are acting on is not, “Thou shalt consider all desires that exist.” You are acting on a principle, “Thou shalt not eat human meat,” that cultural praise and condemnation has turned into an actual aversion – a very real and effective revulsion to eating human meat that prevents you from eating human meat even in secret when you think you can get away with it.

Though no moral-cultural conditioning is ever 100 percent effective.

I cannot justify the principle, “Thou shalt consider all of the desires that exist.” However, failure to do so does not prove that desire utilitariaism has a fatal flaw. Failure to do so is a mark in favor of desire utilitarianism, because desire utilitarianism says that such a principle cannot be defended. If I could defend the principle, “Thou shalt consider all of the desires that exist” this would not prove desire utilitarianism to be correct. It would prove that desire utilitarianism is mistaken – and desire fulfillment act utilitairnism is the better theory.

The role that all of the desires that exist plays in desire utiltarianism is not the role of, “That which you ought to consider in performing any given action.” The role they play is to provide others with reasons to use praise and condemnation in molding your desires – those desires being the principles you can and will act on – your love for your spouse or your child, your preferences for food, your interest in helping others in need, your aversion to acts of violent harm, and the like.

Can I prove that all the desires that exist offer reasons to use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others? That part, actually, seems pretty simple.

- Alonzo Fyfe

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{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles April 15, 2010 at 7:05 am

It sounds like desirism is a theory that describes what people do and why they do it. But not only that, it also tells you if you want to change what other people do, here is how, and if you aren’t sure what to do yourself, what is the right course of action.

Did I get that right?

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Briang April 15, 2010 at 7:36 am

Here’s a question. Under desirism, can a morally evil act be changed into a morally good act by changing people’s desires? Since praise and condemnation can change people desires, does it follow that morality can be changed by praise and condemnation as well? Could for example, child molestation become a good act, if children were taught that it was ok to let adults do this to them, and people who were opposed to this were condemned as fundamentalist bigots? If everyone’s desires were changed, would the act become good instead of evil? If this is too extreme, could the act of child molestation become less evil, by praise and condemnation? If this is in principle possible, maybe society at times would be better using it’s praising and condemning to make evil acts less evil, then to make people less inclined towards them. Rather then changing how people behave, why not change the morality to the people?

This to me seems absurd. I want you to understand that I’m not trying to setup a strawman attack on desirism. If these questions reflect some fundamental misunderstanding on my part, perhaps it will provide a good opportunity for you to clarify desirism. I acknowledge my ignorance, which is why I’m asking.

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RA April 15, 2010 at 7:58 am

Briang,

I don’t believe in desirism because I don’t believe in objective morals. But I wonder just how much you differ with desirism?

Child molestation is certainly a good argument to make because it is such an emotional one. But there are worse things than child molestation such as child murder.

Interestingly, religious people view this subject much differently. For example, there is no issue with killing innocent children by dropping bombs on them because it is all for the greater good. Aren’t your own morals an example of desirism in some way?

By desiring a safe America or safer world, you rationalize your moral view on the killing of a child.

Do you always believe it is wrong to kill regardless of the circumstances?

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Charles April 15, 2010 at 8:03 am

Briang,

Under desirism, only desires can be ‘good’ or ‘evil’. There appears to be something wrong with your question as worded.

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Briang April 15, 2010 at 8:22 am

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” (Paragraph 2314)

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Eneasz April 15, 2010 at 8:23 am

That is the best picture-to-subject pairing that I’ve ever seen. It captures the essence of the subject simply and with a lot of emotional strength. Awesome pick! Did you have it saved already waiting for such an occasion?

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RA April 15, 2010 at 8:25 am

What about discriminate destruction on small villages which only kills a dozen or so? Is that OK?

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Briang April 15, 2010 at 8:35 am

Briang,Under desirism, only desires can be ‘good’ or ‘evil’. There appears to be something wrong with your question as worded.  

Maybe it’s not my wording, but my understanding. I thought morality under desirism is to act to fulfill desires (although a person cannot act by considering everyone’s desires). Perhaps something like the following:
1) A morally evil act is one which goes against the most relevant desires.
2) A morally good act is one which acts in fulling the most relevant desires.

The desirist also wants to promote good and reduce evil by modifying peoples desires to better conform to 1 and 2.

Is this understanding incorrect?

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John D April 15, 2010 at 8:38 am

That is the best picture-to-subject pairing that I’ve ever seen.

I feel sorry for him. The straw is clearly not positioned in a manner conducive to the fulfillment of his desires. And I have a desire for his desires to be fulfilled. *sigh*

(“He” might be a “she” of course).

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faithlessgod April 15, 2010 at 8:43 am

Hi Charles

“sounds like desirism is a theory that describes what people do and why they do it.”
Yes.

“But not only that, it also tells you if you want to change what other people do, here is how,”
Yes but that is not desirism per se, that is social psychology

“and if you aren’t sure what to do yourself, what is the right course of action.”
Yes in the sense you can use desirism to determine prescriptions of what generally people have reason to promote and inhibit. The prescriptions obtained are predictions about how others are likely to respond to the various courses of action available to you. It is generally to one’s benefit to have such desires that lead to courses of action that are less likely to clash with such prescriptions without need to work it out all the time, which is impractical.

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Charles April 15, 2010 at 8:47 am

Acts are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Desires are ‘good’ or ‘evil’. In desirism, we make this distinction to remind ourselves that it is only desires that are judged.

With this definitions, under desirism, “A right act is one that a person with good desires would perform.”

The desirist also wants to promote good and reduce evil by modifying peoples desires to better conform to 1 and 2.

I’m not sure. What does it mean, “promote good”?

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Cyril April 15, 2010 at 8:50 am

1) A morally evil act is one which goes against the most relevant desires.
2) A morally good act is one which acts in fulling the most relevant desires.The desirist also wants to promote good and reduce evil by modifying peoples desires to better conform to 1 and 2
.Is this understanding incorrect?  

No.

Desirism says that people will act on their desires whether the desires in question are good or bad. So instead of trying to strong-arm people into improve their behavior, we instead mold their desires into better ones.

So a morally good *desire* is the one that fulfills the most desires (ditto for bad desires), and good actions are those that follow from good desires.

So in the case of child molestation, the desire to molest children goes up against the desire for their psychological wellbeing. And since the molestation desire is the malleable one (it’s possible to imagine a world within child molestors but not to imagine one where people don’t desire their own wellbeing or where mothers aren’t worried about their children, etc.), that’s the one which loses out.

And since the desire for child molestation is one which thwarts non-malleable desires (and is therefore a “vice”), the intentions/actions which would follow from such an action (*obligatory Catholicism reference*) are likewise to be discouraged.

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faithlessgod April 15, 2010 at 9:02 am

Briang

“Under desirism, can a morally evil act be changed into a morally good act by changing people’s desires? ”

There are no such things as morally evil and morally good acts, since no act in and of itself can have such properties as “good” or “bad” (or even the more conventional “right” and “wrong”) and there are no moral facts not reducible to non-moral facts and If they are not reducible, then they do not exist.

Now in desirism these acts are understood as the result of desires that generally people have reason to promote or inhibit.

People still use such terms, because of their expressive power to mould each others desires, so what could they mean? Pragmatically the most useful, consistent and applicable meanings of “moral evil” ( or “moral good”) is a desire that generally people have many and strong reasons to inhibit (or promote).

So what you are asking is whether a desire that generally people have many and strong reasons to promote can be turned into a desire that generally people have many and strong reasons to inhibit – by changing peoples desires? If generally people have many and strong reasons to promote this desire (in virtue of that desires tendency to thwart other desires) then there is no reason for them to change peoples desires. So your question does not make sense.

Your reasoning that follows contains one implicit and important insight, even though the rest does not follow. Prescriptions, especially in the form of moral-speak such as “evil”, has expressive power to mould desires. However that can and has just as easily been used for prescriptions that are false as for those that are true. Hence it is important to know whether a prescription is true or false and generally people have many and strong reason to condemn those who promote prescriptions that are false.

Does this help?

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faithlessgod April 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

RA

“I don’t believe in desirism because I don’t believe in objective morals.”
Whether one believes in it or not, it is just the name for what, IMHO, is the best empirically adequate explanation for what people do when they think they are being “moral”.

Now if by saying you don’t believe in “objective morals” you mean there are no objective values, intrinsic prescriptivity, moral laws, divine commands or nature, categorical imperatives, objective utilities, hypothetical contracts, ideal observers and so on, then you are quite correct.

If, on the other hand, you are saying there are no prescriptions that can be objectively true or false, and that some are true, then I will argue, if you respond, that you are incorrect.

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RA April 15, 2010 at 9:23 am

Faithlessgod,

I think we are in agreement. I’m not competent in philosophy, but I believe that we arrive at morals through our own self interest. Therefore, we can call child molestation morally wrong since it is not in our overall interest and especially not in the interest of the child.

I was just curious to see if Briang really was not subject to subjective morality and somewhat desire driven himself.

I really should not be posting on this subject given my understanding of it.

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faithlessgod April 15, 2010 at 9:42 am

RA

No, please do continue. Comments are a good place to test ideas and learn.

One other point, I might disagree with your comment that ” I believe that we arrive at morals through our own self interest.” but it depends. If what you mean by self interest is that you disallow the possibility of other-regarding desires, in addition to self-regarding desires, then I disagree. If you do accept that there are other-regarding desires, then that is more or less fine.

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RA April 15, 2010 at 9:49 am

Faithlessgod,

By other-regarding desires, you mean the desires of the other person? Yes, by self interest, I mean the interest of the human race, planet or whatever we find important. Therefore, we might act in a manner that is not in our own self interest (such as to defend another person at our own risk) in order to accomplish the greater good. That would be a “moral” act.

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faithlessgod April 15, 2010 at 10:21 am

RA

Your answer is fine as far as this thread is concerned.

Programme Interruption:

This response is just a clarification and a FYI.

Self Interest can mean two different but related things. There are typically are three ways to state this distinction:

a)Interest in the self versus interests of the self
b)Narrow self interest versus broad self interest.
c)Self regarding versus self and other regarding desires

I will only explain it in terms of c), hopefully you can guess the logic of the other descriptions of the same distinction.

The explanation is over a certain aspect of the content of states of affairs that are the targets of a desire. If these only intended to benefit the self and no others, then it is a self-regarding desire. If, on the other hand, this are intended to benefit others, then it is an other-regarding desire. (Of course many desires can be self and other regarding).

I note this only because I always prick up my ears when someone makes claims over self interest and what they mean by this. That all desires are interests of the self, or broad self interest and so can be other regarding is indisputable (assuming desires exist of course). That all desires are only of interests in the self or narrow self interest or only self regrading is an additional claim and quite disputable (indeed it is a non-empirical and metaphysical claim).

Now back to the Programme.

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Silas April 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm

What?! This makes no sense. So if you’re a murderer, you should act on your desire to murder? You shouldn’t try to change your desire to murder? You must think about all desires that exist to come to the conclusion that murder is wrong. People that condemn you must do that too.

So yes, I think if you’re eating in a restaurant, you should consider all desires, realize (for example) that all meat eating is wrong, and then “condemn yourself” (and others that eat meat) so that you form an aversion to eating meat.

What is the alternative? What should I do in this situation? Well, you just have to wait for people to condemn you so that you form different desires! Is this right?

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rvkevin April 15, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I have a general question about desire utilitarianism. How is it any different than act utilitarianism? Its hard to think of a single example where the two would have different outcomes. From what I understand, desirism says is that our actions are based on our desires, therefore in order to have positive actions, we should have positive desires, which is generally what act utilitarianism is about: maximizing (net) positive results/actions.

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Cyril April 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I have a general question about desire utilitarianism. How is it any different than act utilitarianism?Its hard to think of a single example where the two would have different outcomes.From what I understand, desirism says is that our actions are based on our desires, therefore in order to have positive actions, we should have positive desires, which is generally what act utilitarianism is about: maximizing (net) positive results/actions.  

The difference lies in the 1000 sadists problem. Under act utilitarianism, there will come a time when there might be so many sadists hurting a defenseless child that the amount of utility produced tips the morality of the action in favor of the sadists. In desirism this will never happen.

There’s others too, probably, but that’s the one that comes immediately to mind.

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Charles April 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm
Jeff H April 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I feel like Alonzo has deflected the question here with this – and I don’t mean to imply that he did so intentionally. But it seems that the question of “Why should I consider all the desires that exist?” is meant to be taken on that “archangel” level that Alonzo talked about before, where one is rationally looking at the bigger picture. Alonzo, in this article, applies it to the “prole” level.

So if we go back to this broad-level, archangel level, why should we, when we are evaluating moral options, consider all the desires that exist? Regardless of whether you consider all the desires when you’re sitting in the restaurant, at some point or another, someone apparently needs to consider all the desires that exist. The person in the restaurant acts on his desires at the time, but then he starts thinking about how he can be a more moral person, and voila – he needs to think about all the desires that exist. Therefore, Alonzo’s article seems to miss the point of the objection. Just because we don’t always need to evaluate all desires all of the time, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to evaluate all desires some of the time. Thus, I’d still like to hear an answer to this objection.

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rvkevin April 15, 2010 at 6:10 pm

The difference lies in the 1000 sadists problem. Under act utilitarianism, there will come a time when there might be so many sadists hurting a defenseless child that the amount of utility produced tips the morality of the action in favor of the sadists. In desirism this will never happen.There’s others too, probably, but that’s the one that comes immediately to mind.  

What is the reason under desirism that would never happen? Aren’t the reasons for aversion of desires under desirism just references to the negative effects of actions? And I don’t really see the 1000 sadist being a problem under utilitarianism. If an action is wrong because the net effect is negative, then I find it hard to say that repeating that action 1000 times would make it have a net positive effect.

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Cyril April 15, 2010 at 6:21 pm

What is the reason under desirism that would never happen?Aren’t the reasons for aversion of desires under desirism just references to the negative effects of actions?And I don’t really see the 1000 sadist being a problem under utilitarianism.If an action is wrong because the net effect is negative, then I find it hard to say that repeating that action 1000 times would make it have a net positive effect.  

The reason that this might happen under regular utilitarianism is that when judging an action (in this case the sadistic treatment of a child) then it measures the amount of happiness lost / pain inflicted (depending on the kind of utilitarianism; in this case it would be the displeasure of the child being abused) against the pleasure/happiness gained (in this case by the sadists). If pleasure > pain, then the action is moral. And in the case of a single sadist, it can be reasonably be believed that the child’s displeasure would outweigh the sadists’ pleasure.

But what if there were two sadists? Or five? Or a thousand? Eventually you reach a point where there would be enough sadists and such a quantity of sadistic pleasure that utilitarianism would seem to justify the action (this is assuming that the group of sadists are considered as a group, rather than judging each of them individually; if this trips you up then you can just assume that there is one sadist which is actively abusing, and the others are watching and chuckling; they’re all being sadistic, but only one of them abusive).

However, within desirism the idea is to reduce the *desire* for child abuse rather than necessarily judging each case separately. If it were the case that the sadists had less of a desire for child abuse (or better yet, none at all), then their desires would not be thwarted at all because there would be no child abuse occurring: all the would-be child abusers would be fulfilling other desires, like reading a book or taking the Mrs. to the pictures.

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rvkevin April 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm

However, within desirism the idea is to reduce the *desire* for child abuse rather than necessarily judging each case separately. If it were the case that the sadists had less of a desire for child abuse (or better yet, none at all), then their desires would not be thwarted at all because there would be no child abuse occurring: all the would-be child abusers would be fulfilling other desires, like reading a book or taking the Mrs. to the pictures.  

Isn’t that consistent with act utilitarianism? The action causes undue suffering so if we can replace the same amount of pleasure with a different action that has a lesser negative effect for the sadist (regardless of how many there are), like reading a book, then that is preferable under act utilitarianism. Also, under desirism what if the desires of the sadists are more than the victims desire not to be abused, does it then become ok?

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Cyril April 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm

I suppose we would need to be more specific as to what kind of utilitarianism we’re talking about.

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rvkevin April 15, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I suppose we would need to be more specific as to what kind of utilitarianism we’re talking about.  

Think of Sam Harris’s moral landscape. There are some society’s that have more well-being than others, which would be represented as a higher peak. Through our actions, we should try to move to the highest peak, which would represent maximum well-being (for example lots of happiness, only necessary suffering). Would you consider this desire or act utilitarianism? I think the sadist situation needlessly zooms in on the short term.

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Charles April 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Also, under desirism what if the desires of the sadists are more than the victims desire not to be abused, does it then become ok?

No, it doesn’t. It isn’t about comparing relative strengths of desires in a massive tug of war and watching who wins. It’s about evaluating the individual desires themselves and asking what happens when we make them prevalent/rare.

For example, we could ask, “What would the world be like if no one had the desire to rape? If everyone did?” In the first case, no one wants to rape and no one wants to be raped. No desires are thwarted. In the second case, a whole mess of them are. So we conclude that rape is evil/wrong/bad.

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Zeb April 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Under desirism, can a morally evil act be changed into a morally good act by changing people’s desires?Since praise and condemnation can change people desires, does it follow that morality can be changed by praise and condemnation as well?

Briang, I think faithlessgod may have missed your point by focusing on your language. I think gay sex may be an example of a “morally evil act” being changed into a “morally good act” by changing people’s desires. And if it were actually possible to change all the desires about child molestation, including those of the all children, then child molestation could become a “morally good act.”

Of course under desire utilitarianism it is the desire for gay sex or child molestation that is good or evil, not the act. But since what makes a desire good is if it tends to fill other desires, and since a desire can only “tend to fill desires” if it increases the likelihood of acts that tend to increase the likelihood of states of being that make desired propositions true, I don’t see why acts shouldn’t be considered referred to in moral terms as long as we understand that it is desires upon which moral forces prevail.

And this is a weakness I see in desirism: the distance between the objects of morality (desires) and the objects of value (true propositions). Example – We desire children to grow up psychologically healthy (a very strong and numerous desire). We believe molestation will harm children psychologically (a true belief). Therefore we act to prevent molestation. We desire to act to prevent molestation. We believe that molestation is an act caused by the desire to have sex with children combined with the belief that molestation is the best way to make true the proposition “I’m having sex with a child.” Therefor we act either to eliminate the desire to have sex with children or the belief that molestation is the best way to make true the proposition “I’m having sex with a child.” Among the tools to eliminate the desire to have sex with children are condemnation and praise, moral tools. When our efforts to eliminate the desire (or belief) are successful, the state will be that molestation does not happen. The state may then be that children grow up psychologically healthy. The numerously and strongly desired proposition will then be true.

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Zeb April 15, 2010 at 8:10 pm

What?! This makes no sense. So if you’re a murderer, you should act on your desire to murder? You shouldn’t try to change your desire to murder?

Yeah I think desirism should have an upfront disclaimer that morality is not for the individual desirer, but for the total community of desirers. Which goes against the way morality talk is usually used, but might actually better reflect what morality talk must mean. Consider, if your strongest desire is to murder, then you will murder. It doesn’t matter what you “should” do. But if everyone else wants you not to murder, they will tell you that you should not murder, because they want to change your desire.

“Prudential ought” says that if you want to murder, you ought to pull the trigger. “Prudential ought” says that if we want you not to murder, we ought to reduce your desire to murder. Our prudential ought happens to define the moral ought because it represents the balance of most numerous and strongest desires that would be affected by your desire to murder. Our prudential ought creates your moral ought “you ought not murder.” Your moral ought happens to be identical with your prudential ought if you desire to be a good person under desirism. If you want to be a good person under desirism, you desire to have desires that tend to fulfill more and greater desires than it thwarts (or is it just to have a better fulfill/thwart ratio than other available desires?).

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faithlessgod April 16, 2010 at 12:44 am

rvkevin

I like your approach to Act Utilitarianism.

The problem is in those who employ a straw man of desirism as naive form of AU. It is usually diversionary to correct their naive understanding of AU, as this does not resolve the issue in that they are still reading desirism as AU. At least I thought it would be diversionary, maybe it would not be.

However your answer with respect to AU is the type of answer that an AUrian would give to such a naive misreading of AU.

Still, there are other issues with AU. For example:

1) AU is impossibly demanding, it is not possible to only have the desire to maximise utility all the time.

2) Even if possible, it has been shown that having the desire to maximise utility fails to deliver such maximising of utility, due to data, time and resource limitations.

3) Psychological analysis based on satificing, shows that it reduces utility of an agent, since seeking the optimal best (“right act”) of all choices, rather than the sub-optimal best of fewer choices, decreases the utility e.g. happiness, of the agent.

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faithlessgod April 16, 2010 at 1:26 am

Zeb

You might be right that I misread Briang, lets see. However I am am only responding to your comments here.

“I think gay sex may be an example of a “morally evil act” being changed into a “morally good act” by changing people’s desires.”
Not quite. Yes, it is no longer a “morally evil act”, but it is now only morally neutral, neither to be encouraged nor discouraged.

However there was no moral justification for making it an evil act in the first place, since that was a false prescription. So what has been corrected is a false prescription and generally people have many reasons to inhibit the promoting of false prescriptions.

“And if it were actually possible to change all the desires about child molestation, including those of the all children, then child molestation could become a “morally good act.””
First note that desirism addresses malleable desires.

Still it is known that some children enjoy their molestation. Indeed many child molesters get way with it, because the child enjoys it and because they encouraged the child to enjoy it. The child does do not realise the implications and damage that has happened till they are older and more mature.

And the issue of the age of consent has varied. At the beginning of the 20th century in the UK it was 12, it has long been 16 and in the USA 18.

However the question is whether generally people have reason to promote, inhibit (or neither) a desire for child molestation. The wide, numerous and overwhelming data regarding the Catholic Church and paedophilia is just some evidence supporting that generally people have many reason to inhibit such a desire.

Further this desire has to be evaluated separately from the desire to promote in children the enjoyment of molestation. Reasonable age of consent issues aside, there is substantial evidence both of physical (including a 12 year old girl’s death as the result of sex in a Muslim marriage) and emotional damage show that children have many and strong reasons to inhibit such a desire and we, as adults, have reasons to promote such inhibitions. (And two wrongs do not make a right).

Acts are referred to in moral terms. “Right” and “Wrong” acts are determined in reference to “good” and “bad” desires.

The other issue with acts is that acts alone do not have value. Is sticking a needle in an arm causing pain torture or not? Maybe, but it could be acupuncture or for a tattoo. The value of an act is due to it being a voluntary or intentional act and this, necessarily, traces back to desires as the sole motivation for the act, hence the evaluation of desire.

How are objects of value true propositions? This makes no sense.

Desires are the sources of value, the states of affairs that are the object of the desires are valued. The means to bring these states of affairs about, including actions, are valuable but only reference to the desire and the state of affairs.

“We believe molestation will harm children psychologically (a true belief).” This is only true, if it is true (we agree it is) due to the evaluation of desires. Nothing prevents us having beliefs about the value of desires and we are generally interested in having true beliefs (about desires and anything else), but that is not in virtue of them being beliefs first, which is what you are implying.

And without the relevant desires, beliefs, true or false, are motivationally inert.

So I am not sure what you are arguing for when you say this is a “weakness in desirism” or rather it is not clear what the weakness is.

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faithlessgod April 16, 2010 at 1:36 am

Zeb

“Yeah I think desirism should have an upfront disclaimer that morality is not for the individual desirer, but for the total community of desirers. ”
Huh? Desirism is a solution to the problem of morality which is about the interaction of two or more agents and the institution of morality that is used to regulate such interactions.

“Which goes against the way morality talk is usually used, but might actually better reflect what morality talk must mean”
This seems to be completely the opposite of moral talk. It is about the obligation, permissions and prohibitions that apply to everyone. If not then it is not moral talk. If your point were true then just about all disputes over morality would not exist. But they do exist, including this debate here, so your point is self-refuting.

““Prudential ought” says that if you want to murder, you ought to pull the trigger. “Prudential ought” says that if we want you not to murder, we ought to reduce your desire to murder.” The latter is moral ought not prudential ought. Looks like you are redefining prudential beyond its normal meaning, and given your complaint above about desirism that is both contradicting yourself and ironic. And you have created an equivocation here based on an idiosyncratic redefinition.

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rvkevin April 16, 2010 at 2:40 am

Regarding your points:
1) I think its easier than you think. You don’t need to think about it 24/7, in most cases, the best thing to do is fairly given, just like having good etiquette and acting reasonable, certain guidelines (Do help others, don’t lie, steal, or kill) cover most situations that happen in every day life.

2) Those things would have to be considered, but I don’t think they change the fact that there is a best state of well-being (I thought including necessary suffering would have made it clear that I am not saying that everyone will be in a constant state of ecstasy, just the optimal level of happiness). I don’t think limitations of resources does anything to refute this. I agree that a lack of knowledge is a source of suffering (medical, agriculture, etc.), but that only means that we should research more in order to reduce suffering caused by ignorance. And that we should use our resources as wisely and efficiently as possible.

3) It only shows that time has utility. When you include time into the decision, then the person would have optimized their well-being, despite maybe paying a few dollars more for an item. As the saying goes, time is money.

What are the implications of desirism when talking about helping those in need? Shouldn’t we have the desire to help others in need, but shouldn’t we also have the desire to be happy ourselves. How far would we take the desire to help other people? Would we stop when it encroaches on our desire to be happy? I know desirism would instill that we should encourage others to be charitable as well, but to what extent does the desire to help others impact actions?

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Gabriel April 16, 2010 at 5:47 am

Alonzo,

I may be a little behind on this but, can you explain the value as it corresponds to the desire and the state of affairs. Is it such as, I have a desire: looking at porn. The actual state of affairs: looking at porn, wasting time, upsetting my spouse, etc. Now the value, the relational value of looking at porn seems small. The desire is strong but the actual value is diminished because of the actual state of affairs. Am I close, or far away?

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Zeb April 16, 2010 at 7:12 am

Faithlessgod, regarding gay sex, if it was the case at a certain time that acts of gay sex thwarted more and stronger desires than they filled, then why wasn’t the desire that tended to cause those acts a “bad” desire? The desire to reduce aversion to gay sex may have been a good desire because in the long run it may have tended to fill more and stronger desires than it thwarted. But the desire for a sex act at the time only filled, at most, two desires for sex.

I think your example of age of consent is another good example of changing desires making a good desire (to marry a 15 year old, say) into a bad one.

Since the desire for sex with prepubescent children is non-malleable in some people, why shouldn’t we be working to reduce the desires that thwart, and are twarted by, that desire? That’s what happened with homosexuality. There was a time when the desire for gay sex tended to thwart the desires of heteros who were disgusted by gay sex, the desires gay people for social and psychological well-being, and the desires of their friends, families, and allies for the same on their behalf.

I think it was Luke who said something like desires are attitudes regarding propositions such that when the proposition is true, the desire is filled. EI, my desire to eat chocolate cake is filled when the proposition “I am eating chocolate cake” is true. I thought that was a fundamental part of the desirism theory. The weakness I think is that it is a long and winding walk from the desires about desires, which are what delineate desirist morality, to the truth of propositions which are what we actually value. The problem with that is the system is hard to use, gives unclear results, and is not very motivating.

What I meant about the way morality talk is usually used is that we tend to think morality is some sort of force or at least a relevant concern for any individual at the moment of his making a choice. Desirism says that the individual’s desires are the only forces or relevant concerns for an individual at the moment of making a choice, but that morality is a relevant concern for everyone else before and after an individual makes a choice. In other words, desirism is prescriptive for the community of desirers, not for the individual desirer. I think that’s why people are so confused by desirism at first, but I think it is a sensible and necessary shift if you take God and intrinsic value out of the picture.

Looks like you are redefining prudential beyond its normal meaning, and given your complaint above about desirism that is both contradicting yourself and ironic. And you have created an equivocation here based on an idiosyncratic redefinition

No. “Prudential ought” for a desire is the set of actions a person or group must take in order to fill that desire. Desirism simply defines the moral ought as being the prudential ought for the balance of numerous and strong desires regarding another desire. Desirism does not tell the murderer at the time of decision that he should not murder, it tells him he should not desire to murder because that desire tends to thwart more and greater desires. Desirism prescribes to all desirers whose desires would be thwarted by murder the task of reducing the desire to murder, because reducing the desire to murder is a prudential ought given their desires that would be thwarted by murder.

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faithlessgod April 16, 2010 at 7:36 am

RVKevin

Regarding your points:
1) Your answer is not an AU answer, it is now indirect utilitarianism, based on decision procedures or heuristics or mitigated (not full) rule utilitarianism, also know as indirect utilitarianism. There are issues with both these variants.

2) I think you missed the point here. It is well known that endeavouring to produce the AU right act though deliberation often does not produce the right act.

3) I am not sure why you think time has utility is relevant to my point here. I was talking about the differential psychological benefit of satisficing versus optimising and its effect on utility.

Regardless of our discussion of AU I repeat I like your AU resolution of 1000 sadists and is a good and additional riposte to those who misrepresent AU as well as desirism.

The questions about the implications of desirism make no sense, at least to me, in the context of this thread and the OP, since that is exactly what the OP answered.

Now, if you reading in another similar general “thou shall” namely “thou shall have the desire to fulfil other desires”, that is still AU and then the dispute becomes over what utility is better. That is the only way I can make sense of your questions. Utility exists but is not something that can be maximised directly, it is plural and incommensurate and hence indeterminate. Desirism incorporates that insight and argument (it came from Mackie “The Indeterminacy of Utility”).

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Godless Randall April 16, 2010 at 8:17 am

“What would the world be like if no one had the desire to rape? If everyone did?” In the first case, no one wants to rape and no one wants to be raped. No desires are thwarted. In the second case, a whole mess of them are. So we conclude that rape is evil/wrong/bad.

what would the world be like if no one had the desire to be homosexual? if everyone did? in the first case, no one wants to be homosexual and no homosexuals get persecuted. no desires are thwarted. in the second case, a whole mess of them are. so we conclude that homosexual is evil/wrong/bad

what would the world be like if no one had the desire to be surf? if everyone did? in the first case, no one wants to surf and no surfers would be condemned. no desires are thwarted. in the second case, a whole mess of them are. so we conclude that the desire to surf is evil/wrong/bad

we could go on like this forever

are the desires to surf and be homosexual ^actually^ wrong, or is this interpretation of desirism flawed?

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faithlessgod April 16, 2010 at 8:33 am

Zeb

Homosexual desires acted upon amongst consenting adults never did thwart any directly affected desires.

The desire to discriminate and persecute homosexuals is a different desire which does directly thwart other desires, namely those of homosexuals.

Both desires need to be evaluated separately and two wrongs do not make a right.

The “more and stronger” desire is what people do act upon, but, in evaluating such a desire, the distribution and strengths of such a desire are confounding factors. In other circumstances they could have been quite different. Indeed the evaluation is seeking to determine whether they should be different. It is question begging and a hasty generalisation to draw conclusions from what distribution and strengths of desires are going in to the analysis.

“I think your example of age of consent is another good example of changing desires making a good desire (to marry a 15 year old, say) into a bad one.”
The age of consent is one of those variables where there are obviously too high and too low values but for practical and legal reasons society needs to set a standard somewhere in between those. In reality it depends on the person but that is difficult to work with legally. That is all. The principle of what is a bad desire here remains the same throughout.

“Since the desire for sex with prepubescent children is non-malleable in some people, why shouldn’t we be working to reduce the desires that thwart, and are twarted by, that desire? ”
Good question. The issue is over what really is non-malleable.

Just because it is non-malleable does not generally give people reason to promote it. The sociopath too might have non-malleable desires but that give us no reason to promote those it either. In both cases in everyone else the relevant desire is malleable, indeed the age of consent point supports this. It is those that morality is addressed to.

The key point is that whether some sub-set ends up having a non-malleable desire for whatever reason that is normally a malleable desire.

What psychology and desirism is built upon is the constraint on malleability applies to those desires that are not malleable in normal functioning humans. That is a different category of malleability to the examples you and I brought up. It makes no sense for the social forces to address those, since they cannot be moulded.

Your next point that starts with “That’s what happened with homosexuality…” does not follow since you are talking now about malleable desires!

“I think it was Luke who said something like desires are attitudes regarding propositions such that when the proposition is true, the desire is [ful]filled.”
Note my correction. Desires are an attitude to propositions, the attitude being to keep or make true at state of affairs where the proposition is true. The point is to distinguish this from beliefs which are an attitude that a proposition is true. The distinction showing that only desires motivate, which is why this theory is called desirism not beliefism.

“The weakness I think is that it is a long and winding walk from the desires about desires, which are what delineate desirist morality, to the truth of propositions which are what we actually value.”
I already made the valued/valuable distinction above. When you talk about the “desire about desires”, I think you mean whether a desire is desirable or not, that is valuable or not, that is what morality is concerned about, whatever people realise it or not. There is nothing else that can change behaviours through the institution of morality so what else could it be?

“The problem with that is the system is hard to use, gives unclear results, and is not very motivating.”
I disagree it is the easiest system I have seen, employing the fewest real-world entities that do more with less than any other approach. It is elusively easy in the sense that too many people bring to bear pre-conceptions of what morality is, most of my discussion is aimed at removing this – such as there is no such thing a moral inquiry distinct from rational and empirical inquiry and so on. As for “not being motivating” that is a very odd statement. It is a theory of motivation, more empirically adequate than any other I have seen.

“What I meant about the way morality talk is usually used is that we tend to think morality is some sort of force or at least a relevant concern for any individual at the moment of his making a choice.”
The force comes from our culturally installed emotional not rational reaction to situations. Desirism is built on this. That is why it is called desirism!(Technically this is called motivational non-cognitivism.). So this objection is not an objection at all.

“Desirism says that the individual’s desires are the only forces or relevant concerns for an individual at the moment of making a choice,”
Psychology says that and desirism does not contradict this but employs such insights.

“but that morality is a relevant concern for everyone else before and after an individual makes a choice.”
Of course, how else it mean to work? If it works well then the “force” experienced by the individual at the making of the choice will influence their choice, but only because it has already affected their desires.

“In other words, desirism is prescriptive for the community of desirers, not for the individual desirer.”
I do not see this following from the above statements. I see it the other way, moral prescriptions are predictions of how others will react to our choice, if you learn to incorporate this into your desires you will be less likely to clash with those prescriptions and not want to. The institution of morality makes this learning easier by addressing your desires directly.

“I think that’s why people are so confused by desirism at first, but I think it is a sensible and necessary shift if you take God and intrinsic value out of the picture.”
I accept people do get confused, as noted above people bring too much baggage to understand its simplicity. In way it says there is no such thing as Morality with a capital “M”, but there is still a field we can call “morality” that exists and affects us and it seeks to be the best explanation of that.

“No. “Prudential ought” for a desire is the set of actions a person or group must take in order to fill that desire. Desirism simply defines the moral ought as being the prudential ought for the balance of numerous and strong
desires regarding another desire.”
If by this you mean that prudential and moral analysis use the same methods but just have different scope than I do not disagree, but I am not sure that is what you are saying. People can abuse “prudence” as much as they abuse and in a similar way as they do to “self interest” see my last reply to RA above.

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faithlessgod April 16, 2010 at 8:46 am

Godless Randall

“what would the world be like if no one had the desire to be homosexual?”
This is a non-malleable desire in the second sense just discussed in the previous comment not the first. More accurately is the sexual desire for gender preference that is non-malleable and that applies to all humans.

“if everyone did?”
Like above that could not happen either. So the question is more than hypothetical it is imagining what is naturally impossible.

Your surf example is different. Surfing is directly desire fulfilling for those who have and act on the desire and generally no other desires are thwarted. This desire is malleable. However when we ask whether generally we have reason to promote or inhibit this desire, than answer is neither. It is in the huge class of desires that are morally neutral or permissible.

Does this help?

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Charles April 16, 2010 at 8:51 am

Last time I checked, surfing was morally neutral.

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Zeb April 16, 2010 at 9:31 am

Let’s just take the age of consent question. Is it not quite likely that in 1700′s America, the desire to marry a 15 year old girl tended to fill more and greater desires than it thwarted, but that in 2000′s America the desire to marry a 15 year old girl would tend to thwart more and stronger desires than it tends to fill? And is that not because the desires of 16 year old girls have changed, from wanting to marry a bread winner and start a family, to wanting an education, a career, and the freedom to seek diverse experiences? I’m not talking about age of consent laws, I’m talking about the morality of one desire at two different times.

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rvkevin April 16, 2010 at 9:40 am

1.I think you are overemphasizing the method of getting to that state of well-being. All methods would be open for debate and revision given argument and evidence. I don’t see how dreading over every second contributes to maximum well being, not to mention causing anxiety in the person. However, if someone shows that to be incredibly beneficial, I would stand corrected.

2. Not known to me. Anyway, it would not change the fact that there are different levels of well-being and if deliberation is not the best way to achieve those optimal results, then its not part of the optimal solution. If you mean that they do not produce the best result, then I agree, several factors can interfere such as bias, absent or incorrect information, etc. I would need to hear an example to comment further.

3. Well, if the marginal negative effect caused by satisficing is greater than the marginal negative effect of searching for a better solution, then the person will search for a better solution until they have found the maximal solution or the marginal negative effect from searching equals satisficing. Just because one aspect of a decision is negative, does not mean that the overall well-being is not maximal.

Reread the OP, I think I understand desire utilitarianism better, though I think it would be better understood just as positive and negative reinforcement. Although, I’m not so sure how well it would work for religion? Insight please!

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faithlessgod April 17, 2010 at 2:54 am

RVKevin

I think debates of over AU versus desirism might be better served on the forum felicia.org. You will find plenty of utilitatarians there who disagree with me.

With regard to utility I think you are active on Alonzo’s own blog regarding the debate over well-being (and Sam harris). If not, please check it out.

I will note that many are confused over what the debate is about. It is not over two competing utilities well-being versus a utility base don desirism. Desirism is based on the insight that utility is indeterminate and non-intrinsic. So there is no basis to directly optimise such an indeterminate utility. This does not mean it does not exist rather that it is extrinsic, non-fungible, incommensurate and plural (indeed it is a mistake to refer to such an indeterminate utility as “it”).

With respect to your ideas on social conditioning they are quite correct.

That is the basis of how the institution of morality functions. The issue is what is the justification of such conditioning.

For far too long it is has operated in an inefficient and ineffective manner being both inconsistent (only praising a sub-set of those worthy or praise, only blaming a – usually another sub-set – of those worthy of blame) and incoherent (praising – at least a favoured sub-set – those who are blameworthy, blaming – often another unfavoured sub-set -those who are praiseworthy). This inconsistency and incoherency is supported by promoting false prescriptions as well as false beliefs and often aided by promoting the idea that there are no such things as false or true prescriptions.

Religion is very often a culprit in all these ways but not all religion and not only religion, extremist political and economic ideologies of many stripes are also culpable.

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faithlessgod April 17, 2010 at 3:03 am

Zeb

I do not see that what you are saying contradicts my point. There is some cultural variability of the age of consent – some acceptable and some not (such as too low in some Sharia law countries). However dwelling in the acceptable range, the principle that generally people have reason to inhibit desires for below the age of consent still applies.

BTW your name is extremely is a very rare name to me. I only know one Zeb, you do not live in London do you?

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Richard Wein April 17, 2010 at 4:14 am

Hello again Faithlessgod. I’m the RichardW who was posting to your blog.

I will note that many are confused over what the debate is about.

That’s not surprising, because you have been highly misleading in describing your position, as has Alonzo if his position is the same as yours. Even Luke seems to have misunderstood it.

There are no such things as morally evil and morally good acts, since no act in and of itself can have such properties as “good” or “bad” (or even the more conventional “right” and “wrong”) and there are no moral facts not reducible to non-moral facts and If they are not reducible, then they do not exist.

Now in desirism these acts are understood as the result of desires that generally people have reason to promote or inhibit.
People still use such terms, because of their expressive power to mould each others desires, so what could they mean? Pragmatically the most useful, consistent and applicable meanings of “moral evil” ( or “moral good”) is a desire that generally people have many and strong reasons to inhibit (or promote).

Now if by saying you don’t believe in “objective morals” you mean there are no objective values, intrinsic prescriptivity, moral laws, divine commands or nature, categorical imperatives, objective utilities, hypothetical contracts, ideal observers and so on, then you are quite correct.

If, on the other hand, you are saying there are no prescriptions that can be objectively true or false, and that some are true, then I will argue, if you respond, that you are incorrect.

Thanks for stating your position clearly at last. It is now clear that you are a moral anti-realist, even though you won’t call yourself one. (Alonzo Fyfe calls himself both a realist and an anti-realist, which is little better.)

You don’t believe that there are any objective moral values (on which I agree), but you want to continue making moral claims for pragmatic reasons (which I understand). For this purpose, you have redefined the meaning of moral terms, i.e. you are not using them in the same sense that other people use them. In your sense of these moral terms it is possible to make objectively true “moral” (scare quotes) statements. But your “moral” statements are not real moral statements. Your “moral” oughts are really prudential oughts:

““Prudential ought” says that if you want to murder, you ought to pull the trigger. “Prudential ought” says that if we want you not to murder, we ought to reduce your desire to murder.” The latter is moral ought not prudential ought.

The latter is only a “moral” ought because you’ve decided to call it one. You’ve defined “moral” that way. But it is not what anyone else would call a moral ought.

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Zeb April 17, 2010 at 4:51 am

Ok, so I’ve established that for post-pubescent children, the desire to have sex with them can be changed between bad and good by changing the desires of the children. That was the original point of Briang’s comment.

Under desirism, can a morally evil act be changed into a morally good act by changing people’s desires? If this is in principle possible, maybe society at times would be better using it’s praising and condemning to make evil acts less evil, then to make people less inclined towards them.

Now, since the desire to have sex with 16 year olds is probably non-malleable in many people, but the sum of all desires that would be thwarted by the desire to have sex with 16 year olds is malleable, would desirism say that we should be working to reduce the desires that would be thwarted?

My full name is Zebulon, and I live in Pennsylvania. I have never met another Zebulon and believe, like the Highlander, that “there can be only one” and if I meet another I will instantly engage him in mortal combat. So maybe I should not visit London.

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Godless Randall April 17, 2010 at 9:04 am

Does this help?

no because ^if^ everyone all of a sudden got a stick up their ass against surfers for whatever reason, then surfing would overall thwart desires and even if this doesn’t work so strong with surfing it could be replaced with one of any numbers of things

that homosexuality is not malleable is not the ^truth^ you think it is but i don’t want to go there. you seem to be saying ^non-malleable^ = ^not subject to moral consideration^ or something like that

if that’s the case then desirists don’t even need to defend homosexuality it would be ^off-limits^ to moral consideration

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Brett Bavar April 17, 2010 at 9:58 am

Jeff H said,

I feel like Alonzo has deflected the question here with this – and I don’t mean to imply that he did so intentionally. But it seems that the question of “Why should I consider all the desires that exist?” is meant to be taken on that “archangel” level that Alonzo talked about before, where one is rationally looking at the bigger picture. Alonzo, in this article, applies it to the “prole” level.So if we go back to this broad-level, archangel level, why should we, when we are evaluating moral options, consider all the desires that exist? Regardless of whether you consider all the desires when you’re sitting in the restaurant, at some point or another, someone apparently needs to consider all the desires that exist. The person in the restaurant acts on his desires at the time, but then he starts thinking about how he can be a more moral person, and voila – he needs to think about all the desires that exist. Therefore, Alonzo’s article seems to miss the point of the objection. Just because we don’t always need to evaluate all desires all of the time, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to evaluate all desires some of the time. Thus, I’d still like to hear an answer to this objection.

My thoughts exactly. Well said. Why should anyone else’s desires even matter to me? My desires are certainly reasons for my actions, but why consider anyone else’s desires as reasons for my actions?

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rvkevin April 17, 2010 at 10:03 am

you seem to be saying ^non-malleable^ = ^not subject to moral consideration^ or something like that if that’s the case then desirists don’t even need to defend homosexuality it would be ^off-limits^ to moral consideration  

I think he’s saying that non-malleable means unable to be changed, it would be in their nature so trying to rid the world of that desire would be impossible. Although if you are expecting to change the desires of sexual predators, drug addicts, etc. where desires effected by chemical imbalances, I don’t see how sexual orientation would be any different.

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Kip April 17, 2010 at 7:44 pm

There are those who think that desire utilitarianism contains the hidden moral premise, “Thou shalt consider all of the desires that exist.”

They object to desire utilitarianism on the grounds that there is no way to justify this fundamental moral principle. They challenge me to to provide them with a justification as to why they should consider all the desires that exist. They anticipate that I will fail and, on the basis of that, assert that they have punched a fatal hole in desire utilitarianism.

Assuming you are talking about me (which I assume is the case, since I’ve emailed you a few times about it, and posted about it on your blog and this one), you grossly mischaracterize my objection, and attribute “anticipations” to me that I do not have. You should not do that. It’s dishonest.

Can I prove that all the desires that exist offer reasons to use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others? That part, actually, seems pretty simple.

I’d love to hear it. Are you saying that all desires that exist offer reasons for me to use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others? Of course not — that’s absurd. Right?!? At least I hope you think that’s right. So, what are you saying? That those who have the desires have reasons to use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others? Okay. I agree with that. But, if they can’t use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others — such as animals that do not have the necessary rationality or moral tools to do so — then their only hope is that those who do have the rationality and moral tools will have their own reasons for action to promote desires that also, as a side–effect, will tend to fulfill the other animals’ desires.

If you disagree with me — I’d love to hear it. But, address my real objection, and don’t attribute to me any ill–motives that I don’t have. In other words… be honest.

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Kip April 17, 2010 at 9:32 pm

JeffH:

I feel like Alonzo has deflected the question here with this – and I don’t mean to imply that he did so intentionally. But it seems that the question of “Why should I consider all the desires that exist?” is meant to be taken on that “archangel” level that Alonzo talked about before, where one is rationally looking at the bigger picture. Alonzo, in this article, applies it to the “prole” level.

Exactly correct. I was referring to the “archangel” level. I’m not sure what it says that you picked up on that, but Alonzo didn’t.

I submit that we should bring our moral tools to bear on Alonzo for continually doing this with people who are trying to seek truth: deflecting their questions, attacking straw–men, and attributing ill–motives to them when their motives are good (seeking true beliefs). I’ve seen it many times, with many different people. Shame on you, Alonzo. Shaaaaaaaaaaaaame!!

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cl April 18, 2010 at 10:04 am

I’ve been proceeding under the assumption that we’re simply supposed to consider all the affected desires that exist. As Alonzo notes, we don’t need to consider the desires of other agents when it comes to having sex with our spouse. I take desirism to be saying, “Promote desires that are such as to fulfill the desires in question,” where desires in question refers to the pool of affected desires shared by some overlapping set of agents.

However, when Alonzo says,

Nor is it the case, when you go to a restaurant, that you should look through the menu and ask, “Which menu item would fulfill the most desires that exist?” The proper question to ask would be, “What would I like to eat?”

I don’t think that’s as cut and dry as he makes it sound. I find it problematic that Alonzo refers to “What would I like to eat” as “the proper question”. Sure, that’s the “proper question” if we don’t care about anyone else’s desires, but this approach seems to push desirism one step closer to that “self-interest” theory that Alonzo claims it is not. In reality, one might consider the desires of the other eaters [e.g. "family style" eating], or the desires of those affected by certain menu choices [e.g. non-free-trade coffee]. To me, to say that an eater need only consider their own desires seems antithetical to desirism, because desirist evaluations are supposed to consider all affected desires that exist.

Alonzo seems as if he’s going to address this issue when he says,

It may be the case that certain food preferences tend to fulfill or to thwart other desires. To whatever degree food tastes are malleable – and the fact of cultural cuisines suggests they are malleable – there may be some preferences we have reason to promote over others.

..but unfortunately, he gives us an irrelevant red herring instead:

For example, we may have reason to promote an aversion to eating human meat.

“Human meat” is not a menu option that we would find in the first place, so what’s the use of that example?

I was disappointed to see that Alonzo appears to make his case by directing us right back towards our gut:

You do not reject human meat because you have considered all of the desires that exist and decided that, in spite of your craving for human meat, it would fulfill more desires if you did not eat it. You do not eat human meat because you find the thought of eating human meat repulsive. The very idea sickens you. (Fyfe, emph. mine)

Lastly,

Can I prove that all the desires that exist offer reasons to use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others? That part, actually, seems pretty simple.

Well sure, but what does that really prove? That desires offer reasons to use praise and condmenation is so obvious that it seems tautological to even mention it.

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Richard Wein April 18, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Fyfe and Faithlessgod are obscurantists who refuse to state clearly what their position is. In particular they refuse to state their definition of moral terms. If they did so it would be much clearer that desirism is not a genuine moral theory at all. It’s just the notions that (a) the only way to change people’s behaviour is by changing their desires, and (b) if you want to find the most rational way of acting you have to consider changing people’s desires among your options. These are obvious facts (perhaps even tautologies), given that they apparently use the word “desires” to include all people’s internal motivations.

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rvkevin April 19, 2010 at 1:21 am

It’s just the notions that (a) the only way to change people’s behaviour is by changing their desires, and (b) if you want to find the most rational way of acting you have to consider changing people’s desires among your options. These are obvious facts (perhaps even tautologies), given that they apparently use the word “desires” to include all people’s internal motivations.  

This. Let’s say you are an utilitarian who eats meat. He has a desire to eat meat, he finds it delicious and wants that state to be fulfilled. However, there are many ways to change his eating habits. One way is to tamper with his food or other negative stimuli so that he no longer finds it delicious or desires to eat it. However, there are a number of other ways to change him to a vegetarian, such as convincing him that the negative effects on health, environment (from raising livestock), animal suffering outweigh his immediate gratification. In this aspect, notice how I have not done anything to change his desire to eat meat, he still thinks meat is delicious, I have only shown that it is not in the best interest of everyone to do so.

Notice how no instance of praise or condemnation is required, mere discussion, the increase in knowledge, can change behavior, which is why I don’t see the need for negative and positive reinforcement. If you say that he no longer desires to eat meat because of the other factors, I fail to see how this is any different than utilitarianism. Also, given this view, it is not reasonable to make the idea of eating meat repulsive because if we are able to make synthetic meat in the future, then there are no other desires being thwarted, and eating meat would be acceptable in both views.

Also, desirism can be shaped to influence almost any moral intuition. If someone thinks any action that contributes to their own well-being is moral, then you can influence their desires for certain actions by adding a negative stimuli for them to consider, but unless that negative stimuli (stigma, fines, imprisonment, etc.) is big enough to counteract the benefit they receive, then it is useless. I doubt people don’t steal because other people would look down on them, I’m pretty sure its the presence of law enforcement. I fail to see how this is a moral system in of itself or contributes anything new.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 4:21 am

Richard

I have and always repeat that I am seeking to explain the institution of morality – the use of the social forces of praise and blame, reward and punishment involving two or mote agents in social interactions. There is nothing confusing nor obscure about this project. Alonzo repeatedly says the same thing to (dunno how clear Luke is on this but I am sure he is onboard). We also make clear what moral terms can mean in the most empirically adequate, generally applicable and consistent sense.

Now this is all that remains to be explained once one has been skeptical over something called “Moral Inquiry” it is a mistake and does not exist (in neither objective and subjective variants nor cognitive and non-cognitive variants). There is only rational and empirical inquiry (or ratio-empirical) and desirism relies only on that. That is is why it can also be labelled reductive naturalism.

In addition this approach is firmly placed in the centre of where all the action is in modern ethics, which is moral realism. The key here is that universal or “moral” prescription are truth-apt and some are true. If you think that is moral irrealism then fine, many others would disagree with you on that.

Most everyone disagree that prudential reasoning involves “we”, yours is a highly idiosyncratic use of the term prudential, Richard.

Anyway being a reductive theory, the whole of this can be developed without reference to moral and related terms (such as prudence) – these terms are redundant and optional. If you want to have a debate on this topic without using such terms fine, but then please don’t make reference to them either.

So your complaints make no sense. What do you think morality means, what do you think moral terms refer to, give us some clear external referents for these terms and then lets discuss those referents and drop all moral-speak altogether.

Once that is done then we can revisit moral-speak and then we can compare and contrast which definitions – yours or mine – are closer to general usage etc.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 4:33 am

Zebulon

Great name, don’t think my mates name is an abbreviation of that! So no need to duel with him! :-)

“Ok, so I’ve established that for post-pubescent children, the desire to have sex with them can be changed between bad and good by changing the desires of the children [adults you mean?]. That was the original point of Briang’s comment.”

Sorry I still disagree. There is some cultural variability over age of consent that is all. The reason being is that there is no absolute possible determinant of such an age – since it does not exist. This is due to the natural differential maturational development of human beings. That is all.

“Now, since the desire to have sex with 16 year olds is probably non-malleable in many people, but the sum of all desires that would be thwarted by the desire to have sex with 16 year olds is malleable, would desirism say that we should be working to reduce the desires that would be thwarted?”
Desire for sex may not be malleable but as for where and whom to have sex with and to act upon it that certainly is. I am not sure what else your issue here is and what you are trying to achieve.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 4:48 am

Godless Randal

“no because ^if^ everyone all of a sudden got a stick up their ass /i> [surely you meant arse not the animal] against surfers for whatever reason, then surfing would overall thwart desires and even if this doesn’t work so strong with surfing it could be replaced with one of any numbers of things”
Such a hypothetical is naturally impossible. It would never be “all of a sudden” would it? And if is not then you need to show what and how generally people would have reasons to prohibit the desire for surfing. This is just one of the many morally neutral desires out there.

“that homosexuality is not malleable is not the ^truth^ you think it is but i don’t want to go there.”
Well yes, noting that I am making not personal insinuations, but the only conclusion from your comments is that you believe that one could be socially influenced to become homosexual if one is heterosexual.I and most people I know find that bizarre, YMMV.

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 4:55 am

Richard,

Fyfe, for one, has been trying to explain his moral theory clearly to everyday people for many years. He has written millions of words on the topic. Do you really think he’s trying to cover up what his position “really” is? Fyfe repeatedly and explicitly defines his moral terms.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 4:57 am

Godless Randall

Emphasis borked in the last post and I could not edit in time to fix it. This abrogates the last comment to you

“no because ^if^ everyone all of a sudden got a stick up their ass [surely you meant arse not the animal] against surfers for whatever reason, then surfing would overall thwart desires and even if this doesn’t work so strong with surfing it could be replaced with one of any numbers of things”

Such a hypothetical is naturally impossible. It would never be “all of a sudden” would it? And if is not then you need to show what and how generally people would have reasons to prohibit the desire for surfing. This is just one of the many morally neutral desires out there.

“that homosexuality is not malleable is not the ^truth^ you think it is but i don’t want to go there.”
Well yes, noting that I am making not personal insinuations, but the only conclusion from your comments is that you believe that one could be socially influenced to become homosexual if one is heterosexual.I and most people I know find that bizarre, YMMV.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 5:09 am

RVKevin

“However, there are a number of other ways to change him to a vegetarian, such as convincing him that the negative effects on health, environment (from raising livestock), animal suffering outweigh his immediate gratification. In this aspect, notice how I have not done anything to change his desire to eat meat, he still thinks meat is delicious, I have only shown that it is not in the best interest of everyone to do so.”
These all serve to increase and/or install other desires in the recipient. No amount of rational argument is going to convince a meat-eater to stop eating meat, if he does not want to be convinced.

It is quite to true that for an ex-smoker they may still have the desire to smoke, it is just never the more and stronger of their desires so they do not act on it. However it is easier for them to achieve this if they lost the desire to smoke. There are two paths to achieving such a desirable results – one retains the desire to smoke one does not.

Beliefs describe, desires prescribe. Beliefs do not motivate, desires do. So you cannot use reason to change desires, only beliefs. Since people act to fulfil their desires given their beliefs this can successfully affect how they fulfil their desires. This is the only way I can see how reason over beliefs affects desires.

If you disagree, please show how beliefs motivate – that these are desire-independent reasons to act. If you cannot then it remains that desires are the only reason to act and there is nothing else for praise and blame to affect.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 5:16 am

Kip

I think you are over-reacting here. I have always found you are very good critique of desirism, because you do not blink if someone creates a bad criticism of it, you are ready and more than able to call them on it.

Alonzo has replied to you in name in that past, as I am on my blog now. However I do not think it would have made sense on Luke’s blog, but your concern is broader than it being just your concern and probably my recent posts were a trigger for this response addressed to others apart from you and me. I had already added an update to one of my posts to you with respect to this post from Alonzo here.

Consider this. How do you think people get ideas for posts? One is from other posts on other blogs and from comments. Sometimes they warrant addressing the commenter or blogger directly, sometimes they do not, raising broader concerns.

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rvkevin April 19, 2010 at 8:52 am

If you disagree, please show how beliefs motivate – that these are desire-independent reasons to act. If you cannot then it remains that desires are the only reason to act and there is nothing else for praise and blame to affect.  

I’m not doubting this, but I fail to see how this is exclusive to desirism. I could have said the same thing for utilitarianism; “how can we stop someone from performing actions that have a net negative effect?”, introduce a negative stimuli such that their value (or desire) to perform that action is offset by the value of the stimuli; such as law enforcement and/or social stigma. Like I’ve said before, I feel like its a re-packaging of utilitarianism under a different name.

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Godless Randall April 19, 2010 at 9:15 am

Such a hypothetical is naturally impossible.

that’s not the point

desirism defines ^good^ and ^bad^ specifically by ^tend to fulfill desires^ and ^tend to thwart desires^

the point is that ^if^ surfing ^for whatever reason^ thwarted more desires than it fulfilled, it would be ^bad^ according to desirism

to say ^ah well that would never happen^ is to coddle the theory

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 9:16 am

rvkevin,

There is a lot more than this that desirism shares with other moral theories. What is unique about desirism is a combination of (1) its insistence that the relation between desires and states of affairs are the only source of normativity, (2) its denial of intrinsic value, (3) its positioning of desires as the primary objects of moral evaluation, and a few other things.

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Alonzo Fyfe April 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

Actually, Kip, the source of this posting came from reading somebody else’s comments to your objections, which then caused me to remember that I had seen the objection that I was resonding to above enough that it would warrant a post. I was not responding to anything specific you had written, but a general objection that I have seen repeatedly over the past several years.

Are you saying that all desires that exist offer reasons for me to use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others? Of course not — that’s absurd. Right?!?

Absurd, yes. If you interpret “reasons for me” to mean “reasons that I have”. The only “reasons for you” or “reasons that you have” are your own desires. The desires of another creature are not “reasons for you” in the relevant sense. They are, at best, external facts that it would be wise for you to consider, like the laws of gravity.

[I]f they can’t use praise and condemnation to alter the desires of others — such as animals that do not have the necessary rationality or moral tools to do so — then their only hope is that those who do have the rationality and moral tools will have their own reasons for action to promote desires that also, as a side–effect, will tend to fulfill the other animals’ desires.

Yep. That’s true.

Well, not necessarily “have their own reasons for action” but “have reasons to promote those reasons for action”.

If you are alone in the universe with one other person, and that person’s desires are best fulfilled by a state of affairs in which you are slowly tortured to death, and there are not tools available for modifying his desires, then your only options are to submit to slow torture or to find a way to incapacitate the other individual. If that person can create a state of affairs in which you are slowly tortured to death, he will do so.

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rvkevin April 19, 2010 at 10:38 am

Luke, while those may be important philosophical distinctions, I’m not convinced that they result in a different analysis of any situation. If they don’t, then they are identical in practice, which is what I’m more concerned about.

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lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 10:54 am

rvkevin,

Yes, they do have different implications. Almost every post on desirism emphasizes this. Especially ‘why we should not torture children’, for example.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Godless Randall

In one way you are correct, in another you are not.

The best definition of moral good (of a desire and anything else derivatively) that we know of is to mean that generally people have many reasons to promote (a desire) and none to inhibit it.

So yes, if generally people have many reasons to prohibit a desire for X, the a desire for X is bad.

However your example where X = surfing does not work since it is not the case that generally people have many reasons to inhibit and none to promote such a specific desire. There are many desires that are neither ones that generally people have reasons to promote nor inhibit, they are morally neutral or permissible. The desire for surfing is one of them, given our current state of knowledge.

The other point is that when we examine a desire in situ the social forces have already been applied, possibly haphazardly, and we have to suspend judgement over the effect of those forces. We seek to determine whether those social forces should be applied that way or differently. So it is misleading to think that the application of the social forces can change what is good or bad, the underlying general reasons are what they are independently of the application of the social forces.

What can change the status of a desire is new knowledge such as the use of asbestos, which when originally used was thought to be neutral with respect to health and later found to have negative health value. This new data gave people a new reason to inhibit the desire to use asbestos, making the desire to use it or sell it go from a morally neutral to a morally bad desire.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm

RVKevin

The key distinction here then is over the indeterminancy of utility which utilitarianism must deny. Such a determinate utility is not needed to get an empirically adequate consequentialist theory which desirism is. Further it is subjective to assert such a utility unless you can show there is intrinsic value to it, as an appeal to self-evidence or intuition is subjective and inadequate or it is defined too vaguely to mean very much.

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rvkevin April 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Further it is subjective to assert such a utility unless you can show there is intrinsic value to it, as an appeal to self-evidence or intuition is subjective and inadequate or it is defined too vaguely to mean very much.  

I don’t understand the criticism. Utility is subjective. Different things have different utility to different people. A bow an arrow brings significant utility to a tribal hunter, but near none to me. A functional bow has more utility to a tribe than a broken one. I didn’t really think anyone disputed such claims, I find it as intuitive as economics. Wouldn’t one’s willingness to pay be evident enough that an object has value to them?

As for quantifying how much utility someone receives, it could easily be quantified as how much they are willing to pay for it, that threshold would represent their utility from a certain object or action. As for negative effects, I would leave that to how damages are calculated in physical tort law or by Bentham’s Felicific calculus.

Wikipedia: “utility is a measure of the relative satisfaction from, or desirability of, consumption of various goods and services.” Seems adequate to me, all you need to do is change the scope depending on the discussion.

Luke, regarding the child abuse hypothetical or similar scenario, if they voluntarily compensated the victim fully for all of the harm done, would it still be immoral and why?

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Zeb April 19, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Faithlessgod:

There is some cultural variability over age of consent that is all.

I’m not talking about social norms, much less criminal law. I’m talking about morality, and I’m arguing that according to desirism, at one time the desire to have sex with 16 year olds may have been morally good because it fulfilled more desire than it thwarted, and now the desire is morally bad for the opposite reason, and that the reason for the change is primarily that the desires of 16 year olds have changed. Is that correct?

Secondly I am arguing that if the desire to have sex with 16 year olds is itself non-malleable (we can agree to disagree whether it likely is; it’s a question for psychologists and biologists to answer), desirism would say that we should use moral tools to cause 16 year olds to desire to have sex with older adults.

This all comes back to Briang’s original point:

“maybe society at times would be better using it’s praising and condemning to make evil acts less evil, then to make people less inclined towards them. Rather then changing how people behave, why not change the morality to the people?”

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Zeb

Moral norms sometimes necessarily have some variability across time and places – the age of consent being one due to biological variability. And you are incorrect over the age of consent making something morally good, it does not, it is just morally neutral or permissible.

What is consistent and coherent across many (but not all of course) cultures is that generally people have many reasons not the have under age sex, which is why there are ages of consent in different cultures and why those who do not or are set too low as in some sharia law states, can and should be condemned by everyone else.

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faithlessgod April 19, 2010 at 11:15 pm

RVKevin

If subjective utility is measured by willingness to pay then it is fungible. This is an objective measure of subjective utility, the question is can it capture such utility?

There are many issues with willingness to pay to equate utility, differential means to pay just being one that demolishes this.

Still the indeterminancy of utility implies that utility is non-fungible, so using the maximisation of willingness to pay will not leads to maximising utility.

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rvkevin April 20, 2010 at 12:50 am

There are many issues with willingness to pay to equate utility, differential means to pay just being one that demolishes this.
  

I don’t find this to be a problem, please explain further. Also, I don’t think utility is as indeterminate as you lead on. If it was indeterminate, then tort law wouldn’t exist.

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faithlessgod April 20, 2010 at 3:44 am

rvkevin

First this is getting too far off topic the OP.
Second I gave you a very simple critique, not thinking it was a problem is hardly an answer.
Third Alonzo and myself have addressed this issue before and when I have time I will write a post entitled “willingness to pay”.

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Zeb April 20, 2010 at 5:30 am

Faithlessgod, you are not responding at all to what I have actually said.

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cl April 20, 2010 at 8:50 am

Zeb,

Faithlessgod, you are not responding at all to what I have actually said. (Zeb)

I’ll second that. I think you asked a very clear and relevant question that deserves to be answered with a “yes” or “no” and followed by explanation, if necessary:

..I’m arguing that according to desirism, at one time the desire to have sex with 16 year olds may have been morally good because it fulfilled more desire than it thwarted, and now the desire is morally bad for the opposite reason, and that the reason for the change is primarily that the desires of 16 year olds have changed. Is that correct? (Zeb)

FYI: pushing faithlessgod on the same question can lead to false accusations against you. I speak from experience.

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cl April 20, 2010 at 9:19 am

Richard Wein,

When faithlessgod said,

I will note that many are confused over what the debate is about.

You replied,

That’s not surprising, because you have been highly misleading in describing your position…

I agree, and can offer an example. When considering various versions of the so-called “Nazi example” (which are really just variations on the 1000 sadists problem), faithlessgod told Thomas Reid and myself,

When it comes to considering all desires, the reason for this is to ensure one is not omitting any affected desires. (faithlessgod, to Thomas Reid)

Yet, when attempting to explain how the desire to exterminate a minority was “grossly desire thwarting,” faithlessgod proceeded to consider ONLY the few Jews’ desires, while omitting consideration of the Nazis’ [affected] desires. When I asked him to account for what appears to be unabashed special pleading, instead of providing a clear answer, he accused me of being a “racist” with an “unhealthy obsesssion with Nazis.”

So I agree that faithlessgod has been misleading, at best. However, I make no claim of intent.

Kip,

..you grossly mischaracterize my objection, and attribute “anticipations” to me that I do not have. (to Alonzo)

What is (was) your objection? Perhaps you could state it here in your original words?

Another part of your comment that caught my attention was, “bring our moral tools to bear.”

I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes. (faithlessgod, April 12, re cl)

I think we should bring our moral tools to bear on faithlessgod. I believe those who value the honest pursuit of truth have reasons to promote an aversion to the desire to make baseless accusations against one’s interlocutor. Shame on you, faithlessgod!

Luke,

Fyfe, for one, has been trying to explain his moral theory clearly to everyday people for many years. He has written millions of words on the topic. Do you really think he’s trying to cover up what his position “really” is? Fyfe repeatedly and explicitly defines his moral terms. (to Richard Wein)

I agree, and I don’t think Fyfe is being purposely misleading. However, the fact that he’s had many years to make desirism ‘click’ for everyday people counts that much more against desirism IMO, because obviously, people just aren’t getting it.

I told you before that I think your “sitting the sidelines until you can write a book-level defense” strategy is wise, but meanwhile, people want clarity and it doesn’t help that desirism’s most vocal defender here – faithlessgod – contradicts himself and attempts to stigmatize dissenters as incompetent racists. Not to mention that his arguments often contain frequent misspellings and omitted words that pass an extra burden to his interlocutors.

To date, I’ve not seen a successful desirist refutation of the 1000 sadists problem. Lest you think I’m merely echoing misunderstanding, I believe Alonzo’s fails because he loads his definition of “any society” with something like “any society that has pre-existing reasons to promote an aversion to child torture,” and your own answer to the problem on your FAQ remains forthcoming.

Is there a successful 1000 sadists defense somewhere I’ve missed?

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Alonzo Fyfe April 20, 2010 at 10:41 am

Secondly I am arguing that if the desire to have sex with 16 year olds is itself non-malleable (we can agree to disagree whether it likely is; it’s a question for psychologists and biologists to answer), desirism would say that we should use moral tools to cause 16 year olds to desire to have sex with older adults.

This does not follow. The desire-thwartings associated with the physical consequences of pregnancy and disease, and with abusive relationships that would be more diffcult to detect in such an envronment, provide reason to promote in aversions to these types of relationships independent of whether or not the 16-year-old likes sex itself. Even if the desire is non-maleable, the aversions to some of the potential consequences of these relationships are also non-maleable.

Even if a person does have a desire to have sex with a 16-year-old. they should also have desires for the future health and well-being of such individuals to recognize the value of inhibiting those relationships that would outweigh such a desire in a good person.

Also, there is the possibility of substitution. The desire for sex can often be at least partially fulfilled through other activities such as masturbation or sex with somebody who has many though not all of the desired qualities.

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Alonzo Fyfe April 20, 2010 at 10:54 am

To date, I’ve not seen a successful desirist refutation of the 1000 sadists problem. Lest you think I’m merely echoing misunderstanding, I believe Alonzo’s fails because he loads his definition of “any society” with something like “any society that has pre-existing reasons to promote an aversion to child torture,” and your own answer to the problem on your FAQ remains forthcoming.

To the best of my recollection, I do not think that the term “any society” has any necessary role to play in the way I deal with the 1000 sadists objection.

Am I supposed to be arguing that there is no possible life form where it would be morally permissible to torture a child? I am not certain that I could defend such a claim.

If I put my mind to it, I could probably invent a science-fiction world with a particular history and situation in which torturing a child for pleasure would be permissible. Perhaps it would be a race of creatures where the turture of a child caused certain physiological changes necessary for proper functioning as an adult. Perhaps the pain also triggered the release of a chemical necessary for the creature to develop the capacity to reason.

However, I am reasonably certain that any competing attempt to defend such a claim would run into far more serious difficulties than desirism – particularly when they try to assert that there are reasons for action that exist other than desires.

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rvkevin April 20, 2010 at 11:05 am

Second I gave you a very simple critique, not thinking it was a problem is hardly an answer.  

I don’t see what the problem is, all it does is introduce moral obligations. If you have a thread discussing the problem in detail, I would be interested in looking at it. Otherwise, I will wait for the new post.

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Eneasz April 20, 2010 at 12:11 pm

To date, I’ve not seen a successful desirist refutation of the 1000 sadists problem. Lest you think I’m merely echoing misunderstanding, I believe Alonzo’s fails because he loads his definition of “any society” with something like “any society that has pre-existing reasons to promote an aversion to child torture,”

Emphasis is in the original, but I would have added it as well. Obviously for something to be bad there must be reasons to promote an aversion to it. If there weren’t then it would be neutral. Desires that are bad are bad for a reason. How do you defend a statement that says something is bad for no reason at all?

So you appear to be asserting that a society without any reasons to promote an aversion to child torture… has reasons to promote an aversion to child torture. This is an incoherent position. Please try again.

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Thomas Reid April 20, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Hi Alonzo,
You wrote:

Am I supposed to be arguing that there is no possible life form where it would be morally permissible to torture a child? I am not certain that I could defend such a claim.

If I put my mind to it, I could probably invent a science-fiction world with a particular history and situation in which torturing a child for pleasure would be permissible. Perhaps it would be a race of creatures where the turture of a child caused certain physiological changes necessary for proper functioning as an adult. Perhaps the pain also triggered the release of a chemical necessary for the creature to develop the capacity to reason.

So according to desirism, it is not necessarily true that the desire to torture a child for pleasure is a bad desire (ie, wrong). Have I understood the above correctly?

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Zeb April 20, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Thanks Alonzo. I think I could still defend my example about sex with 16 year olds, but it was just trying to illustrate a broader idea – that under desirism, a bad desire could just as well be eliminated by bringing moral tools to bear on the good or neutral desires that the bad desire thwarts as by bringing moral tools to bear on the bad desire itself. If that concern can be answered in the abstract, would you please point me to or provide the answer?

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faithlessgod April 20, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Zeb

Aha I see the point you are trying to make
“– that under desirism, a bad desire could just as well be eliminated by bringing moral tools to bear on the good or neutral desires that the bad desire thwarts as by bringing moral tools to bear on the bad desire itself. ”
but you have it upside down.

Throughout history and still the present the application of social forces has been corrupted by various groups due to ignorance and differential power, authority and influence. This is expected under desirism and is evaluable under desirism. So you compare ceteris paribus what generally people heave reason to promote and inhibit versus how the social forces are being used in a particular society or group. To the degree there is a difference, this the degree to condemn that society or group for abusing the social forces.

So a bad (desire-thwarting) desire remains a bad (desire-thwarting) desire regardless of how a society or group has subverted the concept of “bad” by the use of the social forces and the resultant deleterious effect on moulding their desires.

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Richard Wein April 21, 2010 at 12:47 am

Faithlessgod,

We also make clear what moral terms can mean in the most empirically adequate, generally applicable and consistent sense.

That’s rather unclear. Why “can mean” rather than “do mean”? Do you or do you not think that you are using moral terms in the same sense that most people use them? If you’re not, then your “moral” (scare quotes) terms are not real moral terms. You are then using the term “moral” to mean something other than moral. I’ve been arguing that you have indeed changed the meaning of moral terms, and some of your comments have suggested that to some degree you accept that.

Now this is all that remains to be explained once one has been skeptical over something called “Moral Inquiry” it is a mistake and does not exist (in neither objective and subjective variants nor cognitive and non-cognitive variants). There is only rational and empirical inquiry (or ratio-empirical) and desirism relies only on that. That is is why it can also be labelled reductive naturalism.

In addition this approach is firmly placed in the centre of where all the action is in modern ethics, which is moral realism. The key here is that universal or “moral” prescription are truth-apt and some are true. If you think that is moral irrealism then fine, many others would disagree with you on that.

I’m glad you put the word “moral” in what appear to be scare quotes. You seem to recognise that your so-called “moral” terms are problematic. But if you’ve changed the meaning of “moral” from its standard meaning then you’ve also changed the meaning of the term “moral realist”. You are only a realist with regard to claims that use the word “moral” in your non-standard sense, not with regard to moral claims in their standard sense.

Suppose I define “moral” to mean green. I’m then a realist about “moral” claims (where “moral” means green), such as “grass is green”: greenness is a property that some objects really have. So, if I follow your example, I can then call myself a moral realist! This is absurd. Of course your case isn’t as blatantly absurd as this. But, if you’re not using the word “moral” in its normal sense, then this is analogous to what you’re doing.

Anyway being a reductive theory, the whole of this can be developed without reference to moral and related terms (such as prudence) – these terms are redundant and optional. If you want to have a debate on this topic without using such terms fine, but then please don’t make reference to them either.

If moral terms are redundant then why on earth do you keep using them, and causing so much confusion in the process?

What do you think morality means, what do you think moral terms refer to, give us some clear external referents for these terms and then lets discuss those referents and drop all moral-speak altogether. Once that is done then we can revisit moral-speak and then we can compare and contrast which definitions – yours or mine – are closer to general usage etc.

I’m basically an error theorist (though I think moral claims have important non-cognitive meanings too). I think that the referents of moral claims are non-existent, e.g. there is no such property as moral goodness. So when someone says “X is morally good”, he is attributing to X a property that does not exist (though he probably thinks it does). When someone says “you morally ought to do X”, he is referring to reasons for action that don’t exist (though he probably thinks they do).

When we drop the moral-speak you and I are basically in agreement. I don’t have any problem with your theories about desires (except perhaps that once shorn of the moral-speak they seem banal). It’s your moral-speak that’s the problem, including the fact that you call yourself a moral realist. So let’s get straight down to discussing definitions. I’ve told you mine. Please tell me yours.

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Richard Wein April 21, 2010 at 2:06 am

Luke:

Fyfe, for one, has been trying to explain his moral theory clearly to everyday people for many years. He has written millions of words on the topic. Do you really think he’s trying to cover up what his position “really” is? Fyfe repeatedly and explicitly defines his moral terms.

I was being polemical in calling Fyfe an obscurantist. I don’t think he is literally one, i.e. that he is deliberately being obscure. I think it’s his muddled thinking on this subject that has led to him to being highly obscure and misleading.

If Fyfe really has repeatedly and explicitly defined his moral terms, you should have no difficulty providing me with a link to where he does so. Please do.

I haven’t read his site for the last year. Back then he refused to enter into discussion of definitions, saying that such discussions were “the great distraction”. The nearest he came to giving me a definition of a moral term was this:

I also equate “ought” with “there are reasons for action that exist”.

But this fails to distinguish between moral and non-moral oughts. Perhaps he meant to say that all oughts are moral oughts, but if so he didn’t make that clear, and it doesn’t seem to be Faithlessgod’s position.

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Richard Wein April 21, 2010 at 2:46 am

P.S. Clarification to Faithlessgod. I’m saying that moral claims (in their standard sense) refer to reasons for action that don’t exist. I think you agree with this, but you want to keep making moral claims and you don’t want to refer to things that don’t exist, so you’re redefining moral terms to make them refer only to reasons for action that do exist. But in doing so you’re gutting moral claims of what it was that made them moral claims in the first place.

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faithlessgod April 21, 2010 at 4:23 am

Hi Richard

It is impossible to address moral terms and explain them without providing some form of revisionist definition (in fact there is no agreed underlying definition in the first place) and you do too, being an error theorist and note this did not stop Mackie being a pragmatic realist as Railton argues and I agree. Plus your complaint over moral realism seems to be in ignorance of where all the action is in ethics nowadays moral realism and what the large majority of non-theist philosophers also agree upon.

We agree that if prescriptions refer to reasons to act that do not exist they are false, but this does not prevent prescriptions that refer to reasons to act that exist being true.

When it comes to moral prescriptions that are three features found in common across societies they are universally prescriptive and that they have both motivating (non-cognitive) meanings and descriptive (cognitive) meanings . Unlike you I can retain both meanings by only utilising reason to act that exist and this is closer to general and typical usage than yours.

This is not different as to whether Egypt is in the Middle East or North Africa, atoms are indivisible or not and whether Pluto is a planet or not. We seek the best empirically adequate referents for these terms and revise them in the light of new data. In the case of moral terms Mackie correctly showed that, due to projection, people mistakenly thought moral terms refer to reason to act that do not exist. Armed with that knowledge, desirism is a success theory that shows what reason to act that exist that moral terms can still refer to.

Moral prescriptions are reducible to universal prescriptions, which are truth-apt and some are true. If you don’t like to call this moral realism then don’t, it still does not alter the theory one iota. Anyway you cannot deny that this is ethical reductive naturalism!

BTW I answered your query over consistency in a post on my blog today. (It is actually the similar but not the same issue, noting I did not invent the philosophical jargon, motivational externalism refers to the descriptive meaning of prescriptions, whereas reasons internalism refers to the motivational meaning of prescriptions).

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Alonzo Fyfe April 21, 2010 at 6:34 am

Thanks Alonzo. I think I could still defend my example about sex with 16 year olds, but it was just trying to illustrate a broader idea – that under desirism, a bad desire could just as well be eliminated by bringing moral tools to bear on the good or neutral desires that the bad desire thwarts as by bringing moral tools to bear on the bad desire itself. If that concern can be answered in the abstract, would you please point me to or provide the answer?  (Quote)

I do not see how your description provides a concern to be answered.

If desire A conflicts with desire B, this in itself does not tell us which of these desires to be promoted or inhibited. The answer here comes from determining the ease with which the different desires can be modified, the other desires that each might have a tendency to promote or inhibit, and the side effects of promoting or inhibiting each.

Your description is off. You talk about a bad desire that can be made good by altering the good desires with which it conflicts. However, if this is true, then what is your justification for calling the first a “bad” desire and what is your justification for calling those with which they conflict “good” desires?

I see this as a case in which one desire is in conflict with another, and the determination of which to count as “bad” or “good” depends on these other considerations. There is no badness or goodness separate from this.

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 7:11 am

Richard,

Sure. Which terms do you want defined, specifically?

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Richard Wein April 21, 2010 at 7:35 am

Hi Faithlessgod,

It would help if you tried to address my post point by point, instead of ignoring important parts of it.

First and most important, I note that you still haven’t given a definition of your moral terms. To be more specific what’s the distinguishing feature(s) of a moral ought as opposed to a non-moral ought?

Nor have you answered my question as to why you insist on explaining your theory in moral terms when you yourself say that such terms are redundant.

It is impossible to address moral terms and explain them without providing some form of revisionist definition (in fact there is no agreed underlying definition in the first place) and you do too, being an error theorist and note this did not stop Mackie being a pragmatic realist as Railton argues and I agree.

What do you mean by “revisionist”? Since there is no generally accepted definition of what moral terms mean, it makes no sense to use revisionist in the sense we use it when we say that a holocaust denier is a historical revisionist, i.e. someone who rejects the accepted view.

It therefore looks like you’re referring to definitions that don’t correspond to how people normally use moral terms. Once again, you say something which suggests that you accept you’re not using moral terms in the sense they’re normally used, but you won’t come straight out and say it.

And, if that’s what you mean, I deny that error theory is “revisionist” in this sense. But we’re dicussing your theory, not mine. You can’t evade the problem of a flaw in your theory just by pointing to a similar flaw in a rival theory.

We agree that if prescriptions refer to reasons to act that do not exist they are false, but this does not prevent prescriptions that refer to reasons to act that exist being true.

What I’m saying is that if they only refer to reasons that exist (and not to any that don’t exist), then they are not moral prescriptions. They may be true though. Let me elaborate further.

The only reasons for action that exist (we seem to agree) are those which are ultimately based on the fulfillment of the agent’s own desires. Other people’s desires are relevant as means to these ends, but as far as the agent is concerned they are not ends in themselves. Let’s call these reasons “self-motivated reasons”. If an “ought” appeals only to self-motivated reasons, such as “if you want to get to Tokyo as quickly as possible, you ought to fly direct”, we don’t consider these to be moral “oughts”. They just tell the agent how best to fulfill his desires.

“Oughts” take on a moral character when they are not just telling the agent how best to fulfill his desires, when they tell the agent to do something for some other reason, i.e. when they appeal to non-self-motivated reasons (to coin the complement of my previous term). These reasons don’t exist (we agree) but the maker of a moral claim normally believes that they do. For example, when a theist says “you ought to do X because God commands it”, he considers “because God commands it” to be a reason for action that exists regardless of whether you have any desires that would be fulfilled by doing X. That’s what makes it a moral ought.

Now you still haven’t given a definition of your moral terms. But it seems that you consider some “oughts” to be “moral” even when they appeal only to self-motivated reasons. For example, you wrote above (in response to someone else) that the following is a moral ought: “if we want you not to murder, we ought to reduce your desire to murder” . But this is not what is generally considered a moral claim, because it only tells the agents how best to fulfill their own desires.

Please respond directly to this argument.

BTW I’ve read the new blog post that you referred me to. I don’t see how it is a response to any argument I’ve made. I agree with what you say there, and I’ve never said anything to the contrary.

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Polymeron April 21, 2010 at 7:39 am

I’ve been thinking of desirism for a while now. And when I saw the beginning of this article, I thought it would finally address the biggest revision I now think it requires. It has not. The main objection that seems to have spurred this remains. Jeff H and Kit seem to have referred to it, but it goes somewhat deeper than the objections they expressed.

(Note: This is somewhat comprehensive and therefore long. But it represents a lot of thought I’ve put into desirism over the past few months, and establishes what I think is a critical point)

I’d like to open by saying that desirism provides a very useful insight into our use of moral language.

(It also has good insight on reasons for action, but to be honest I find the claim that desires are the only reasons for action that exist so completely self-evident as to be almost trivial. Sadly, not everyone agrees)

Specifically, I’m talking about the words “good” and “bad”. “What is good?” has been a central, unanswered question in moral philosophy ever since mankind started to dwell on morality. All descriptions so far have been shown to be inadequate. And I think that the description for good being “desires that tend to fulfill other desires more than they thwart other desires” is a very useful observation. For instance, it would explain why the more successful forms of classical utilitarianism are fixated on happiness – I used to say that as a Biologist, I can easily administer pain or pleasure, but not happiness, because happiness requires *context*. Well, happiness is what we feel when we believe our desires are being fulfilled, misery is our sense of them being thwarted. And like all emotions, they are feedback mechanisms. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? We thought of happiness because it is related to desire fulfillment. Likewise, we thought of pleasure and pain (yet more classical utilitarianism) because the desire for pleasure and avoidance of pain seems universal enough to confuse us. The objections, of course, started to mount when it was pointed the pleasure doesn’t equal happiness…

So, a very useful observation – but inaccurate in two regards.

First: We use the words good and bad describing things that are not desires, but the meaning is retained. An evil act is one that tends to thwart desires (and read on before you explain that’s not what desirism currently claims; I know that). A good apple is one that tends to fulfill desires. Value arguments tend to include these desires as an often unsaid assumption. Consider the following exchange, for example:

Alice: “That’s a good apple! Very tasty”
(underlying assumption: There exists the desire to eat tasty things)
Bob: “It might be tasty, but it’s been sprayed with chemicals that are bad for your health. Therefore, that’s a bad apple”
(Underlying assumption: There exists the desire to be healthy.

(As an aside, note an even deeper-buried use of value words: Things that make you unhealthy are “bad for your health”, because they thwart the possibly-desired state of being healthy. Likewise, medicine is “bad for the bacteria” it kills. Both of these uses are actually anthropomorphizations that assume that a state “would prefer” to exist rather than not exist – attributing desires to something that may well have none).

But carrying on. Let’s continue the conversation on whether the apple is good or bad.

Charlie: “Well a starving child in Africa wouldn’t care about that sort of thing, just that they have something to eat, so apples made with pesticides are still a good thing”

Charlie has made two underlying assumptions here, both of them very important.
First, he is considering the desires of other people rather than only Alice’s.
Second, He is underwriting the desire to not have a slow degradation of health as less important than the desire not to starve. The apple strongly fulfills the second desire (for a starving child, if not for Alice), while only weakly thwarting the first.

So, we have three different opinions regarding whether the apple is good or not, the difference being not even the facts in question (though that could also be a factor), but because of the desires being considered. And here we have a question which I don’t think has been answered satisfactorily, and it is, “which desires are *relevant* to the value judgment?”

And my answer is: It varies.
Desirism in its present form *does* say we should consider all desires when making the value statement, at least at the Archangel level. This includes animal desires, apparently, and fetus desires, with the question becoming whether or not certain animals or fetuses have desires, malleable and otherwise. Desirism does not explain *why* the desires of an animal are relevant to a value statement; I claim that this is an entirely arbitrary part of the theory and as such needs revision.

Consider:
Alice can claim that eating your dog is bad because it requires you to have desires that tend to thwart other desires, *including the dog’s desire to not be harmed*.
Bob can say eating the dog *isn’t* bad because he doesn’t give a damn what the dog wants, and neither should you. The reason they are in a disagreement is because they do don’t agree on which desires are *relevant* to the question.

That is exactly why some people can justify violent or even genocidal actions against other peoples: With no real disagreement over facts, it may be that they simply consider only their own people’s desires relevant to the question of what they should or shouldn’t do. And if I may be so bold as to speculate, this is also exactly why Alonzo can consider a parent’s action to save their child moral regardless of other people’s desires; he, too, sees some desires as more relevant than others in establishing whether it is a good desire to ignore other people’s wants when your child is in danger.

Likewise, we don’t have any idea how important the chance of fulfilling or thwarting is, compared to the number of desires being thwarted/fulfilled, compared to the strength of the desires. Sometimes desirists mention the strength of desires; sometimes they mention their number; at other times there appears to be the underlying assumption that all desires everywhere are equal in this moral calculation. This last, I think, is not only arbitrary but in all likelihood false.

Basically, in order to be a more accurate observation, it should go:
“Good is that which tends to fulfill more and stronger relevant desires than it thwarts”.

The key word here is relevant. And relevance depends on context. In here I think it’s less important to try and maintain the line between moral realism and subjectivism, and ask ourselves what the FACTS are. DO we have a meter that establishes the degree relevance of desires to a moral question? Do we have reason to think that such a meter exists? Can the morality of the desire to include certain sets of desires in this calculation, be calculated itself, or is this somehow endlessly recursive? I haven’t gotten that far yet, but these are questions which I think desirism is required to answer to remain consistent.

Now. As far as I can tell, desirism is trying to be a *practical* moral theory. One that both describes moral behavior and allows people some consistency in applying it. But desire strength and number is impossible to quantify, especially considering desire overlap; and it cannot be arbitrarily assumed that the identity of the owner of the desires is of no consequence. If one further affixes desires with a variable relevance factor, it becomes worse. That isn’t to say it can’t be useful as a social engineering tool, but at least until we decide on a means with which to decide on desire relevance, it’s not going to accurately describe moral behavior, which was its original premise (otherwise its use of moral language would, indeed, be spurious).

On a final note, I find the dismissal of our biological moral mechanisms to be premature. Yes, we may want to ignore what our flawed, evolution-evolved brains tell us about morality, in favor of something more evidence-based; but what we are really doing is trying to find the underlying pattern. Just as ram head-butting has a proximate cause in hormones, but an ultimate cause in establishing societal dominance and attracting mates; so too, our instinct not to hurt people may be steeped in the firing of the Amigdala or some other part of the brain, as a proximate cause. I think the question desirism tried to define is intimately connected to the ultimate cause these mechanisms evolved. What I’m saying is, in the quest for evidence-bases moral realism, you shouldn’t ignore our biological processes – as they are the biggest piece of evidence we have in this.

Thank you for reading. I am now willing to defend the above, or alternately, accept my error if it is adequately shown. I’m sure most of you would do the same :)

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Polymeron April 21, 2010 at 7:40 am

Aaaand, forgot to subscribe to the comments here :]

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Alonzo Fyfe April 21, 2010 at 7:42 am

Hi Alonzo,You wrote:So according to desirism, it is not necessarily true that the desire to torture a child for pleasure is a bad desire (ie, wrong). Have I understood the above correctly?  (Quote)

According to desirism, it is not necessarily true that there is no possible arrangement of desires whereby the desire to torture children can have positive value.

As I said, I can imagine an animal species that evolves in such a way where torture results in a physical change in children that provides them with benefits as an adult.

We can compare that to our own society to subjecting a child to rabies shots, burn treatment, or physical therapy. These acts are so painful that they would qualify as torturing a child. It can be moral to torture children in the same way that it can be moral to subject a child to physical therapy, rabies shots, or burn treatment.

In our imagined species, we may say that it evolves so that a percentage of population evolves a desire to torture children because this became an effective means for activating this useful trait.

Note that, in nature, the evolutionary value of a trait is not the same as the reason why it is performed. We are imagining a species here where the benefits of torture are a side effect, not an end. In our imagined species, people torture children out of a desire to do so. The desire to do so evolved because of its evolutionary advantages. However, the evolutionary advantages are a side effect, not an end.

so, do not think that I am avoiding your “torture child for pleasure” condition by talking about torture where the purpose is to provide this side benefit. The side benefit of sex is procreation of the species. That is why the desire evolved. However, the end or purpose of sex is not procreation. The end or purpose of sex is to have sex.

In our imagined species, the side effects of torture are these imagined benefits. They are not the end or purpose of torture. It’s end or purpose may still be pleasure, but the desire does not come good unless it tends to produce effects that fulfill other desires.

Now, in addition to this, it is necessarily true that there are many and strong reasons to avoid torturing a child. The very definition of torture is that it is something that those being tortured have many and strong reasons to avoid. So, the thought that there can be a society without many and strong reasons among its members to avoid torture is a contradiction in terms.

As a result, the instant it is true that these benefits can be obtained without a desire to torture children, then the value of the desire to torture children disappears and we are left with the reasons for action that exist for inhibiting torture. Furthermore, there are many and strong reasons that exist to look for alternative ways to obtain these benefits – just as there are many and strong reasons that exist to find less painful alternatives to that would allow children to obtain the benefits of physical therapy, rabies vaccinations,
or burn treatment.

Now, ‘moral’ is a term that we use to describe what we have reason to promote or inhibit. We use terms like ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ not only to describe certain relationships, but as acts of praise and condemnation used to mold maleable desires. In this context, calling the torture of children ‘moral’ in this sense says that we have no reason to promote an aversion to torture within our society.

In this sense, the torture of children can never be moral.

The fact that some species might exist that has a reason to call such torture moral does not imply that we are that species. We are not.

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Richard Wein April 21, 2010 at 7:50 am

Luke:

Sure. Which terms do you want defined, specifically?

OK, same as I asked Faithlessgod. Please show me where Alonzo gives the distinguishing (definitive) feature(s) of a moral ought as opposed to a non-moral ought. I assume other moral terms can be derived from moral oughts, e.g. the morally good is–roughly–that which one morally ought to do.

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cl April 21, 2010 at 7:57 am

Hi Alonzo,

FYI, I’m not a contrarian or hater on desirism. It is both possible and common for an individual to support one or more of a theory’s tenets, while maintaining reservations concerning others. That’s exactly the case here. I think desirism has some merits, and some flaws.

To the best of my recollection, I do not think that the term “any society” has any necessary role to play in the way I deal with the 1000 sadists objection.

In May of 2007 you wrote,

So, take the desire to rape children, for example. In any society, the more prevalent and the stronger this desire becomes, the more other desires are thwarted. As we turn the desire up, making it stronger and more common, either more children (and those who truly care for children) are having their desires thwarted, or those with this desire to rape children are having their desires thwarted. (Fyfe, emph. mine)

This usage of “any society” is loaded.

It is NOT true that the more prevalent and the stronger this desire becomes, the more other desires are thwarted, “in any society.”

It IS true that the more prevalent and the stronger this desire becomes, the more children’s desires are thwarted, “in any society.” [on the logic that child rape always thwarts a child's desires].

If in DU we were only supposed to evaluate the children’s desires, then I would agree with you, without issue. However, in DU, we’re supposed to evaluate all affected desires, are we not? So why should 1000 sadists have their desires thwarted for the sake of one child’s desires?

Since there is no intrinsic value in desirism, then can’t any desire can be “good” so long as it “tends to fulfill the desires in question?” If yes, this would seemingly have to include all desires, i.e., murder, rape, stealing, etc.

Accordingly then, in any society, if a particular desire tends to fulfill the desires in question, then according to desirism, isn’t that desire “good” regardless of whether it offends our moral intuitions or not?

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cl April 21, 2010 at 8:12 am

Alonzo,

I’m also confused by your attempt to delineate between DFAU and DU. In the post I cited last comment, you start by saying,

Desire fulfilling act utilitarianism: That act is right that fulfills the most desires.

Desire utilitarianism: Desires (like everything else in the universe) are good or bad according to whether they tend to fulfill or thwart (other) desires. Acts are right or wrong according to whether or not a person with good desires would perform that act.

P1: In DU, “good” = “such as to fulfill the desires in question.”

P2: In DU, the “right act” is the act that a person with desires that are “such as to fulfill the desires in question” would perform.

P3: In DFAU, the “right act” is the act “that fulfills the most desires.”

How are the strings “such as to fulfill the desires in question” and “fulfills the most desires” NOT synonymous?

I understand that DFAU evaluates acts whereas DU evaluates desires, but that should be irrelevant here because we’re evaluating DU’s definition of a right act.

It seems to me that the strings “such as to fulfill the desires in question” and “that fulfills the most desires” are categorically equivalent. In DFAU, the right act is the act that fulfills the most desires. In DU, the right act is the act a person with desires that are “such as to fulfill the desires in question” would perform.

Consider your own response to the 1000 sadists problem:

Either way, ‘up’ in strength and prevalence means more desires being thwarted. ‘Down’ on the other hand means fewer desires being thwarted. If we can dial this desire all the way down to zero, then children would be safe at least from this type of harm, and nobody in society would be suffering the frustration of not acting on such a desire.

You are evaluating “rightness” according to quantity of desires fulfilled / thwarted, are you not? This seems to proceed clearly to the conclusion that promoting an aversion to child rape is “good” precisely because it leads to maximum desire fulfillment, with minimum desire thwarting.

If so, then the right act in DU also happens to be the act that fulfills the most desires, because the “right act” is the act a person with “good” desires would perform, and “good desires” are desires that are “such as to fulfill the desires in question.”

If not, then can you clarify exactly what it is you *are* evaluating when considering acts according to DU, and precisely how that differs from what we are to evaluate in DFAU?

Is it possible for an act to “tend to fulfill the desires in question” without “fulfilling the most desires?” If so, how so? If not, how are those two statements any different?

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cl April 21, 2010 at 8:25 am

Alonzo,

Excuse me for “butting in,” but while reading your response to Thomas Reid, I noticed what appears to me to be the same error I alluded to in your 1000 sadists defense:

Now, ‘moral’ is a term that we use to describe what we have reason to promote or inhibit. We use terms like ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ not only to describe certain relationships, but as acts of praise and condemnation used to mold maleable desires. In this context, calling the torture of children ‘moral’ in this sense says that we have no reason to promote an aversion to torture within our society.

In this sense, the torture of children can never be moral.

The fact that some species might exist that has a reason to call such torture moral does not imply that we are that species. We are not.

Sure, torturing children can never be moral “IN OUR SOCIETY” because “WE” have reasons to promote aversion to torturing children, but this loads the evaluation with “OUR” pre-existing values / beliefs / desires. What if a society does not share “OUR” values / beliefs / desires?

This is another reason I’m very interested in hearing desirist arguments that don’t rely on the generic “WE”. When you say “WE” you really mean yourself and those who share your values / beliefs / desires, but that’s not everyone.

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Thomas Reid April 21, 2010 at 8:40 am

Alonzo, thanks for the reply. You say:

According to desirism, it is not necessarily true that there is no possible arrangement of desires whereby the desire to torture children can have positive value.

Then it seems we are in agreement that, if desirism is true, it is not necessarily true that the desire to torture children for pleasure is a bad desire.

I’m curious as to why you say this later on in your comment:

Now, in addition to this, it is necessarily true that there are many and strong reasons to avoid torturing a child. The very definition of torture is that it is something that those being tortured have many and strong reasons to avoid. So, the thought that there can be a society without many and strong reasons among its members to avoid torture is a contradiction in terms.

First, how could a desirist defend such a strong statement. Without relying on moral intuitions, intrinsic values, or the like, how could one defend such a claim that it is a necessary truth that “there are many and strong reasons to avoid torturing a child”? I don’t know how a desirist would even begin to construct an argument to defend that, and I would be very interested if you have one.

Second, if desirism is true, isn’t this only part of the equation? We would also have to inspect whether or not torturing children for pleasure tends to fulfill other desires before we reach the conclusion of whether or not it is a bad desire, right?

Finally, you say:

Now, ‘moral’ is a term that we use to describe what we have reason to promote or inhibit. We use terms like ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ not only to describe certain relationships, but as acts of praise and condemnation used to mold maleable desires. In this context, calling the torture of children ‘moral’ in this sense says that we have no reason to promote an aversion to torture within our society.

In this sense, the torture of children can never be moral.

I don’t see how you reconcile this claim with what you said up-comment. As you already said, it is not necessarily true that the desire to torture children for pleasure is a bad desire. So if it did tend to fulfill more than thwart all other desires, we would have reason to promote it, and therefore it would be moral. So given desirism, it isn’t true that the torture of children can never be moral.

Therefore, I’m left to consider the following choice: either desirism as currently formulated is not true, or it is not necessarily true that the desire to torture children for pleasure is a bad desire. I have a very hard time not going with my intuition on that one.

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 8:42 am

Richard,

Maybe the best short article containing the definitions you want is here.

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Eneasz April 21, 2010 at 8:56 am

Polymeron -

DO we have a meter that establishes the degree relevance of desires to a moral question?

I don’t think we do. However TGGP’s Ass-Kicking Ability metric seems to be the one that most closely matches the real world (where Ass-Kicking Ability covers not just personal ability but also the ability and willingness of allies).

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Richard Wein April 21, 2010 at 9:28 am

Luke:

Maybe the best short article containing the definitions you want is here.

I’ve read that article more than once in the past, and I didn’t find any explicit definitions of moral terms in it. Perhaps I missed them, but I doubt it. I’m not going to read the whole article again on the off-chance. You insist that Alonzo has repeatedly and explicitly defined his moral terms. It shouldn’t be difficult for you to point me to the exact location of such a definition.

I think you’ve jumped to the conclusion that certain phrases used by Alonzo are definitions, even though he doesn’t explicitly state that that’s what they are. I think you’ll be disappointed if you go through his articles looking for an explicit definition.

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Zeb April 21, 2010 at 11:08 am

Faithlessgod:

So you compare ceteris paribus what generally people have reason to promote and inhibit

This brings up another reservation I have about desirism. Who are these “generally people” that have reason to promote the truly good and inhibit the truly bad desires? Desirism seems to obliquely refer to some sort of utopia where everyone has all true beliefs and all good desires; and so when the balance of desires physically present in a given situation do not provide your desired moral outcome, you refer to these “generally people” who are perfect citizens of a perfect society.

I think Alonzo adequately rebutted the second part of my example, where I suggested desirism would have us change the desire not to have 16 year olds have sex with older adults, but I don’t see that the my abstraction, that on desirism it may be just as good to make bad desires good by using moral tools to eliminate the malleable desires the bad desires thwart, has been rebutted.

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Alonzo Fyfe April 21, 2010 at 11:20 am

Richard Wein

It appears to me that you are asking two different questions. One question is, “What is your theory of what the term ‘moral’ means among native English speakers?” The other theory is, “When you use the term ‘moral’, how are you using the term?”

There is a third relevant question to ask: To what degree (if any) do these two definitions differ.

My theory on what ‘moral’ means in common language is that it is a massively vague term that is used in different ways by different people. When some people use the term ‘moral’ they literally mean ‘that of which God approves’ such that, it is true by definition that if there is no God then there is no morality. Other people mean by the term, “That which is in the best interests of the agent.” Another would define ‘moral’ in terms of altruism.

Language is an invention. As such, it only needs to be good enough to get the job done. “The job,” in this case, as with all tools, is to bring about states that those who use language value. We invent words for those concepts that it is useful for us to talk about, and that which is not useful for us to talk about we leave unnamed. At the same time, different people find different things useful to talk about. What one group of people name (e.g., the specific bones of the body), another leaves unnamed.

Two conclusions follow from this.

(1) Any debate over which is the one and only proper and legitimate use of the term ‘moral’ that properly explains and predicts its uses by all native English speakers is a waste of time. There isn’t one.

(2) If you want to drop the term ‘moral’ because its ambiguity causes too much confusion, it’s fine with me. I don’t need it. I can describe the theory from start to end without using it. I can limit myself to speaking only about the objectively true facts concerning the relationships between states of affairs and desires.

As for the second question – what do I mean by the term ‘moral’?

Well, a morally obligatory act is the act that a person with good desires would perform; a morally impermissible act is that act that a person with good desires would not perform; a morally permissible but non-obligatory act is that act that a person with good desires may or may not perform depending on morally irrelevant considetions.

All obligatory acts are permissible, but not all permissible acts are obligatory.

A virtue is a good desire (a desire that people generally have reason to use praise and reward to promote); a vice is a bad desire (a desire that people generally have reason to use condemnation and punishment to inhibit).

Is this what people typically mean when they use moral terms?

No.

Of course not. That would be absurd.

However, it is still the case that these terms refer to things such that a substantial portion of English-speaking people could adopt this definition without substantially changing the way they use moral terms.

It’s the same thing as asking somebody who proposes that water = H2O, “Do you think this is what people typically mean when they use the term ‘water’?”

Answer: No. But if they were to adopt this meaning it would not substantially change the way they use the term ‘water’.

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 11:38 am

Great comment, Alonzo.

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cl April 21, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Polymeron,

Basically, in order to be a more accurate observation, it should go:
“Good is that which tends to fulfill more and stronger relevant desires than it thwarts”.

I think your comments about “underlying assumptions” are important, too. If our agents share identical underlying beliefs / values / desires, then desirism’s definition of “good” becomes more accurate.

Zeb,

Who are these “generally people” that have reason to promote the truly good and inhibit the truly bad desires? Desirism seems to obliquely refer to some sort of utopia where everyone has all true beliefs and all good desires; and so when the balance of desires physically present in a given situation do not provide your desired moral outcome, you refer to these “generally people” who are perfect citizens of a perfect society.

Yes, that’s exactly the way I see it, too. That’s why I object to arguments using the generic “WE” and why I argue that Fyfe loaded his defense to the 1000 sadists problem. This is why I’d love to see some desirist evaluations that don’t allude to some generic “WE” but real people, or at least hypothetical people whose specific desires are clearly labeled and factored into the discussion. Ideally, we could run these evaluations like real equations, which is what I’m trying to get at here.

To take another example, in the statement “we have reason to promote an aversion to the desire to smoke” the pronoun “we” is loaded with specific beliefs and values that not everybody necessarily shares. The person who says “we have reason to promote an aversion to the desire to smoke” speaks from the underlying assumption that things like health ought to be valued more than smoking. It’s precisely these kinds of “underlying assumptions” the desirist seems at a loss to justify, as far as I’m concerned.

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Richard Wein April 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Hi Alonzo:

My theory on what ‘moral’ means in common language is that it is a massively vague term that is used in different ways by different people. When some people use the term ‘moral’ they literally mean ‘that of which God approves’ such that, it is true by definition that if there is no God then there is no morality. Other people mean by the term, “That which is in the best interests of the agent.” Another would define ‘moral’ in terms of altruism.

You’re making the same mistake as Luke. You’re confusing claims (propositions) about what kind of things are moral with definitions of the meaning of the word “moral”. When someone tells me that the moral thing is to do what God commands, he’s making a claim about what’s the moral thing to do. He’s not telling me the meaning of the word “moral”.

Given that you’re calling your basic moral claims “definitions” and then insisting that you don’t have to justify your definitions, that amounts to shirking any responsibility for justifying your basic moral claims. Anyone else can adopt the same tactic and insist that their own basic moral claim is the right one. And some do. You’re not the only one to make this mistake. Of course, their “definitions” aren’t the same as yours. But since neither theirs nor yours have been justified, there’s no more reason to accept yours than theirs.

(1) Any debate over which is the one and only proper and legitimate use of the term ‘moral’ that properly explains and predicts its uses by all native English speakers is a waste of time. There isn’t one.

(2) If you want to drop the term ‘moral’ because its ambiguity causes too much confusion, it’s fine with me. I don’t need it. I can describe the theory from start to end without using it. I can limit myself to speaking only about the objectively true facts concerning the relationships between states of affairs and desires.

Same question I asked Faithlessgod: if you can describe your theory without using moral terms, why on earth don’t you do so? It would avoid the endless confusion that we see on your blog and here caused by your use of moral terms. The reason obviously is that your moral claims are part of your larger theory. If they’re not, drop them. If they are, you need to justify them. You’re trying to have your cake and eat it too.

As for the second question – what do I mean by the term ‘moral’?

Well, a morally obligatory act is the act that a person with good desires would perform; a morally impermissible act is that act that a person with good desires would not perform; a morally permissible but non-obligatory act is that act that a person with good desires may or may not perform depending on morally irrelevant considetions.

All obligatory acts are permissible, but not all permissible acts are obligatory.

A virtue is a good desire (a desire that people generally have reason to use praise and reward to promote); a vice is a bad desire (a desire that people generally have reason to use condemnation and punishment to inhibit).

Since you prefaced this with “what do I mean by the term ‘moral’?”, I take it that these are supposed to be definitions. Again these are actually claims about what kinds of things are moral, not genuine definitions of the meaning of “moral”. But thanks for finally telling me your “definitions”. You didn’t give me these “definitions” the last time I asked you to define your moral terms, about a year ago.

Is this what people typically mean when they use moral terms?

No.

Of course not. That would be absurd.

This is another sign that you’re confusing moral claims with definitions. It might be absurd to expect your moral claims to be the same as typical ones. But it’s not absurd to expect your definitions to capture what people typically mean by moral terms. Not only is that not absurd, it’s essential. Capturing the meaning of people’s moral terms is what much of the field of meta-ethics is concerned with. If your definitions don’t capture what people typically mean, then your moral claims are deceptive. If they’re far enough from what people mean (and I say they are) they’re not even genuine moral claims. They’re non-moral claims made to look like moral claims.

However, it is still the case that these terms refer to things such that a substantial portion of English-speaking people could adopt this definition without substantially changing the way they use moral terms.

I deny that your definitions represent the meaning understood by even a “substantial portion” of English speakers when they use or hear moral terms, because you’ve just taken basic moral claims and called them definitions. If we took them seriously as definitions they would make a mockery of people’s actual moral claims. But there’s no point in bothering to write more on that if you’re going to refuse to enter into discussion of your definitions. Anyway, I’ve been discussing the meaning of moral claims with Faithlessgod, and I don’t want to repeat myself. If you’re interested, please read my recent posts to him.

Alternatively, perhaps what you mean is that these basic moral claims roughly capture the moral values of a substantial portion of people. That’s something different.

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faithlessgod April 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Hi Richard

It would help if you tried to address my post point by point, instead of ignoring important parts of it…
BTW I’ve read the new blog post that you referred me to. I don’t see how it is a response to any argument I’ve made. I agree with what you say there, and I’ve never said anything to the contrary.

It would also help if you made your points clear. You made a direct complaint over my use of motivational externalism and reasons internalism that they were inconsistent and I replied. I enjoyed writing that post anyway. So no probs.

I have repeatedly given definitions of moral terms whilst noting that all definitions are subjective and they are optional and redundant. Anyway Alonzo has more than adequately and better replied to those questions.

To be more specific what’s the distinguishing feature(s) of a moral ought as opposed to a non-moral ought?
As I said in my previous comment they are universally prescriptive.

Nor have you answered my question as to why you insist on explaining your theory in moral terms when you yourself say that such terms are redundant.
I have, this is a trivial consequence of any reductive naturalism, what else needs to be said?

What do you mean by “revisionist”?
This is standard parlance in the ethical literature where (also reformist and revised are used to this way). Nothing more.

You can’t evade the problem of a flaw in your theory just by pointing to a similar flaw in a rival theory.
How is it a flaw to offer a revised definition endeavouring to minimising the mistakes and eliminate the errors of the past? Surely it is a flaw not to, is that what you are advocating?

What I’m saying is that if they only refer to reasons that exist (and not to any that don’t exist), then they are not moral prescriptions. They may be true though. Let me elaborate further.
If you think moral prescriptions are categorical oughts, well they do not exist. You might probably agree, so if you want to say moral oughts do not exist, fine. There are still universal prescriptions which do the same thing and that is what I am talking about. Plus explaining this to many people, they say makes sense of moral oughts.

The only reasons for action that exist (we seem to agree) are those which are ultimately based on the fulfillment of the agent’s own desires.
Not unless you include other regarding desires of course.

Other people’s desires are relevant as means to these ends, but as far as the agent is concerned they are not ends in themselves.
Yes they can be.

Let’s call these reasons “self-motivated reasons”.,,
The standard parlance is self-regarding desires. In which case I disagree, you seem to be excluding other regarding desires, which is an additional and metaphysical assumption. Why not be more parsimonious as I am? Plus where is your reason and argument that this is true? In other show me that this is not a metaphysical assumption.
An ought is a prescription, s description of reasons to acts and their relation to states of affairs. These reasons to act may not be yours, the prescription can still be true if the relation is accurate and the reasons to act exist.

“Oughts” take on a moral character when they are not just telling the agent how best to fulfill his desires, when they tell the agent to do something for some other reason,
A universal prescription such as generally people have a reason to inhibit a desire – that you have, is a prediction of how they will respond to you acting on that desire. You may or may not be concerned by that but there are a number of ways that it might be in your interest to consider this prediction.

i.e. when they appeal to non-self-motivated reasons (to coin the complement of my previous term). These reasons don’t exist (we agree)
Huh, yes they do, where is your argument that they do not?

but the maker of a moral claim normally believes that they do. For example, when a theist says “you ought to do X because God commands it”, he considers “because God commands it” to be a reason for action that exists regardless of whether you have any desires that would be fulfilled by doing X. That’s what makes it a moral ought.
This is a bad example, we both agree that such a reason to act doe snot exist, this does not mean that other reasons to act that do exist cannot be used they can.

Now you still haven’t given a definition of your moral terms. But it seems that you consider some “oughts” to be “moral” even when they appeal only to self-motivated reasons.
Huh? As you just read in my post, the connection between motivational externalism and reason is internalism is the use of the social forces, motivational non-cognivitism.

For example, you wrote above (in response to someone else) that the following is a moral ought: “if we want you not to murder, we ought to reduce your desire to murder” .
I did not write this. Still it is roughly correct.

But this is not what is generally considered a moral claim, because it only tells the agents how best to fulfill their own desires.
So what? The goal is to get people to have less desire to murder and this is the only way to do it. Any other type of moral ought can only work by magic, that is not at all.

The main problem seems to that your whole argument seems to be based on the false metaphysical premise that there are only self-regarding desires which leads to ethical egoism. Unless you can provide reason and argument to support this assumption (and I have never seen anything decent) it is one assumption too many and must be discarded.

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faithlessgod April 21, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Zeb

This is answered in my post coming out tomorrow morning. I have answered it many times before but maybe not to you.

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faithlessgod April 21, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Polymeron

Thanks for the effort you put into your post. Always pleased to hear of someone interested in desirism and you should challenge it to see if it is robust.

I can only be quick here and might have missed something in your comment.

Context matters for which desires are relevant and the various examples of good apples determines the relevant desires – remember generic good means such as to fulfil the desires of the kind in question or there are reasons to act of the kind in question to bring about the state of affairs. The archangel level is for determining whether a desire is morally (universal) neutral or requires a proper moral (universal) evaluation. Most of the time we operate at the Prole level, and pursue our desires, whatever they are (and whether self or other regarding)

Does this help?

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faithlessgod April 22, 2010 at 12:49 am

Polymeron

Slight correction, the base explanation of generic good is “that there are reasons to act of the kind to bring about the state of affairs in question”. (Since, desires are the only reasons to act that exist, this can be restated as generic good means “such as to fulfil the desires of the kind in question”).

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Polymeron April 22, 2010 at 1:02 am

faithlessgod,

Thanks for addressing my questions!
While enlightening, it doesn’t answer what I consider the main issue.

I’ll restate my main quandary more succinctly: Is there a real meter prescribing which desires are the desires “in question” for deciding moral issues, or is this measure of relevance subjective?
If it’s the former, what is it? If it’s the latter, that’s a good answer, but that makes Desirism an anti-realist moral theory.

Another thing, touching on that issue. Society is a complex thing. When I say that “society” has reasons to discourage genocide, I might mean the society of all mankind. When I say that society has reasons to create a military force and encourage people to enlist, I probably mean the society of my countrymen. We all have multiple loyalties – to family, friends, country, to strangers we meet on the bus and see forget their wallet. All of these are varying degrees of loyalties and commitment, and in all these contexts our reasons for action can be different.
Now, desirism seems to state that the group’s reasons to encourage or discourage desires is at the heart of the issue, but again the question arises – which group here is relevant to the moral question? If all of them are, which is more important, in what context, and what meter decides this? Isn’t it true that what’s good for my family may not be good for my country, even when it comes to which desires I promote or punish in my family members?

Desirism seems to have very useful observations at its foundation, but I still find much of its conclusions to be founded on arbitrary assumptions. I’d be happy to see justification for those assumptions or, barring that, a revision to the theory.

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Polymeron April 22, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I’ve just read the “why consider other people when you don’t have to?” answer to Kip’s question which my above post has echoed, and that too does not seem to answer the question at all, other than to divert it into subjectivism. Which like I said, is an acceptable answer, but negates the “selling-point” I’ve been given to desirism as a moral realist theory based in fact.

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faithlessgod April 23, 2010 at 2:25 am

Hi Polymeron

How on earth is this subjectivism?

It is a matter of fact that Group A has desires that are thwarting Group B’s desires.
It is a matter of fact that there are reasons to inhibit such desires of Group A.
It is a matter of fact that if Group B has no means to influence Group A, that Group B can give Group A has no reason to change.
It is a matter of fact that if no-one in Group A chooses to inhibit Group A’s desire thwarting desires, then they will continue.

Nothing is a matter of opinion and nothing is subjective here.

OTOH It might be better addressing the concerns of that post there, rather than here, as others might be unfamiliar with it.

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Polymeron April 23, 2010 at 3:22 am

Seems pretty relevant here, too. Plus I already expressed the question in more general terms in the post before my last.

To the matter at hand-
Are the desires of Group A to be considered good, or bad?
It has been stated that the world will consider them bad and may want to change them. But the people in A may not perceive them that way, and can claim they are being good. Why should I prefer the world’s interpretation (that takes B’s desires into account), rather than group A’s interpretation (which doesn’t)?

An answer to that would lay the matter to rest.

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faithlessgod April 23, 2010 at 4:52 am

Polymeron

“Good” and “bad” like any words can be subjectively modified to suit one’s interests. People all the time play with words to suit their purpose. In Group A’s case, one could presume that their use of these terms was culturally relative – relative to Group A and this benefits only them.

However when looking at the problem objectively, we are looking impartially at this, so we have no prior basis to prefer Group A’s or Group B’s use of such language. All we can, objectively note, as a matter of fact, is that there are reasons that exist in the universe that Group A, one way or another, are not taking into account.

So there is no argument to prefer a “world’s interpretation“. We do not need to rely on subjective meanings of “good” or “bad”: ours, Group A’s, Group B’s or the world’s. The facts are as stated in my previous reply and that is it for that world.

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cl April 23, 2010 at 8:11 am

faithlessgod asked Polymeron,

How on earth is this subjectivism?

IMO, right here:

It is a matter of fact that there are reasons to inhibit such desires of Group A. (faithlessgod)

That’s tricky, and potentially deceptive. From who’s perspective is faithlessgod speaking here? His own? From the perspective of the generic “WE”? From the perspective of Group B?

Regardless, when clarified, the statement, “there are reasons to inhibit such desires of Group A” distills to, “some subset of people don’t want Group A to be mean to Group B.”

That’s the fact here – that there are people who have their own reasons to inhibit the desires of Group A – obviously, the members of Group B, and perhaps anyone else that cares about Group B’s desires. However, that’s only half of the fact.

The other half of the fact is that there are also people who have their own reasons to promote the desires of Group A – obviously, the members of Group A, and anyone who doesn’t care about Group B’s desires. That’s why faithlessgod’s statement is potentially deceptive: it omits consideration of [any] reasons for action to promote Group A’s desires, and focuses only on subjective reasons for action to inhibit Group A’s desires.

Hence, faithlessgod’s analysis is not objective and it also appears to violate his own admonition to “consider all desires.”

Desirism seems to proceed by the underlying assumption that we should all be peace-loving utopians who care about fulfilling more than thwarting everyone else’s desires, but if there is no intrinsic value as desirism also claims, then on what grounds does the desirist base such an assumption?

Or, as Polymeron put it,

Why should I prefer the world’s interpretation (that takes B’s desires into account), rather than group A’s interpretation (which doesn’t)?

This remains a valid question, and I’m glad to see more people asking it.

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Polymeron April 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm

faithlessgod,

I accept your explanation, yet I still lack something in coherence here.

“Good” and “bad” like any words can be subjectively modified to suit one’s interests.

I find something very strange in a moral theory that purports to be realistic and yet isn’t capable of giving a definitive answer to whether something is a virtue or a vice, or indeed, explain how one goes about making that decision. I’m also not sure how useful such a theory is.

If I misunderstood and desirism DOES prescribe the method by which this is determined, please explain what that method is.
Alternately, if good and bad are subjective, then that is answer enough – but desirism cannot be considered a subset of moral realism in any way, shape or form. So far I’ve seen both these options denied, but I don’t see a third option.

All we can, objectively note, as a matter of fact, is that there are reasons that exist in the universe that Group A, one way or another, are not taking into account.

How do we determine that these reasons for action are relevant to the question at hand? I think I might be able to answer this one myself, so please tell me if a good (if not quite a one-liner) answer would be:
“Because those are desires that have a tendency to be thwarted by Group A’s desires in question. Any desire that has a tendency within reasonable bounds of being thwarted or fulfilled is relevant; those that do not are not relevant and need not be considered.”
…Where “reasonable” is of course of a somewhat variable nature, but useful enough for our needs.

Is this what you’re aiming for?

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faithlessgod April 26, 2010 at 5:23 am

Hi Polymeron

On the one hand I can give explicit definitions.

Generic good (bad) means “there are reasons to act of the kind to keep or bring about (to stop or prevent) the state of affairs in question”

Since desires are the only reasons to act that exist this becomes generic good (bad) means “such as to fulfil (thwart) the desires of the kind in question”

When it comes to morality we are talking about the (un)desirability of desires with respect to everyone. So moral good (bad) means “such as to fulfil (thwart) or tend to fulfil (thwart) all other affected desires” where “all other affected desires” are now the desires of the kind in question posited by by any realistic understanding of morality.

There are thre points with respect to these definitions:

1. They are referentially transparent one can substitute these definitions and retain the truth conditions – the intensional meaning – of any sentence that uses them.

2. They are reductions, moral terms are reduced to non-moral natural terms, there is nothing above and beyond those natural terms (reasons to act, desires, states of affairs and their relations).

3. These are objective that is they are statements of fact not opinions, which is the only sense of objective that is important here.

On the other hand are you going to get people to agree to such definitions if they don want to? No of course not. That is no different to any other empirical discourse and it is is unreasonable to expect anything different here. However the above does provide a better explanation of the usage of moral terms than any other I have seen.

Alonzo ahas provided further definition of vice and virtues and so this those theory does explain them and explain them away. I would find it very strange for any realist theory that does not do this. (Some do, non-reductive naturalisms but they have many problems in my view).

That is all that needs to be aid on the matter as far as I can see. Otherwise I am not sure what your issue is.

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Polymeron April 26, 2010 at 5:44 am

That answers the question pretty thoroughly, actually.

It does mean that desirism is purely descriptive, though. Any form of what looks like moral prescription from it is an illusion – it can tell you whether reasons exist to have certain desires, but that’s it.

A lot of moral theories try to bridge the is-ought gap one way or another, always failing by making some assumption or other about it. In contrast, desirism in its current form stays safely on the “is” side of the gap. There isn’t really an “ought” in this theory, except in the most casual and descriptive of ways – not as it is normally understood in moral philosophy (not that there’s agreement there on what the word means, but nevermind).

That’s not an indictment against desirism, of course. And I do think my corrections still apply, in regard to natural use of the language. Desirism does offer an interesting outlook on the whole thing; it’s just not a strong prescriptive system, which is something a lot of people expect in a moral theory. Maybe because we want to be told what to do? I’m not sure.

At any rate, I think this debate was productive. :)

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faithlessgod April 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Polymeron

I do not follow you reasoning as to why you conclude this is only a descriptive theory. It is also a normative theory being concerned as to whether it is correct to hold one moral belief or another.

Meta-ethically desirism is a reductive naturalism, a moral realism where the are no moral facts not reducible to non-moral facts. These facts are both descriptive and prescriptive. All true prescriptions can be described, but that does not stop them being prescriptions.

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Polymeron April 26, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Well, desirism does not explain why I ought to act in any particular way, except redefining “ought” to mean “there are reasons for others to encourage these desires”. That’s hardly a prescription, and I hold that presenting it as such is misleading.

In addition, it seems to ignore the applicability of those reasons for action. I notice that desirism takes animal desires into consideration, despite the complete inability of the animals to use praise or condemnation, or indeed almost any form of feedback, to promote or discourage the desires thwarting or fulfilling their desires. This is strange, because presumably there is no intrinsic value to their desires (or anyone else’s). All this makes the definition of vice and virtue extremely vague, further leading me to believe that there is little prescriptive power to desirism beyond the trivial.

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faithlessgod April 26, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Polymeron

“Well, desirism does not explain why I ought to act in any particular way, except redefining “ought” to mean “there are reasons for others to encourage these desires”. That’s hardly a prescription, and I hold that presenting it as such is misleading.”
1. If you deny that prescriptions are not relating reasons to act to keep of bring about states of affairs that are the objects of the prescriptions, then they are not prescriptions! Please explain what prescriptions are if you deny this. Looks like you are denying that prescriptions are action-guiding, in which case they are not prescriptions!

True prescriptions are accurate predictions of what people will do. They alter the social environment within which one operates and which, one way or another, affect one’s ability to fulfil one’s desires and vice versa.

2.You like many others, even as they might deny a supernaturalism, think there is something “magical” to moral oughts. I see no such thing. And no-one has shown what this queer property is. Can you? Presumably it is not magic of course to you, so please show me what it then is.

3.What are your definitions of prescriptions and moral oughts? Then we can compare and contrast these to see which is a better pragmatic explanation of moral usage and behaviour.

“In addition, it seems to ignore the applicability of those reasons for action. I notice that desirism takes animal desires into consideration, despite the complete inability of the animals to use praise or condemnation, or indeed almost any form of feedback, to promote or discourage the desires thwarting or fulfilling their desires.”
Those capable of responding the the social forces are moral agents, those incapable are not – such as animals – although social mammalian species (and possibly others) do have rudimentary capacity to respond to social forces within their species – as ethologists repeatedly show.

Moral agents can be held responsible by other moral gents for their desires over humans and other animals that, for whatever reason, are not moral agents but still have desires.

“This is strange, because presumably there is no intrinsic value to their desires (or anyone else’s). ”
There is no intrinsic value to desires. Virtues (good desires) and vices (bad desires) are good and and bad only in an extrinsic not intrinsic fashion – due to their relations to other desires.

“All this makes the definition of vice and virtue extremely vague, further leading me to believe that there is little prescriptive power to desirism beyond the trivial”
4.How is this trivial when it repeatedly shows faults in many past an present popular moral theories, and makes recommendations against them. If it were trivial it would not do this. Please show me why this is trivial.

I numbered 4 questions here to help clarify your issues with desirism and my understanding of your position.

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Flux Capture April 12, 2011 at 3:58 am

Replying to a comment made by cl (I think), but it’s for everybody:

First post. Newbie to Desirism and to Internet discussions in general. Not sure of the rules here, or if my comments will even show up properly formatted, but I’m giving it a shot. I landed on this website after running a single Google search using the three words “fungible,” “happiness,” and “utilitarianism.” It was in connection to a college class, PHL 209 Business Ethics. The OP was interesting, so I kept reading. That was five hours ago. I’m still not done reading the thread, but you (cl) made a comment on April 21, 2010 which resonated with a question about desirism that had been developing in me as I read. Here is a link, hopefully (if it works right), to the original post: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=7927#comment-41388 but I also paste the relevant paragraph further below for reference.

I’m 44 years old, which may be relevant to my comment, but I can’t tell (my frame of reference is too subjective). My formal philosophy training is limited mostly to books I’ve read on my own by/about Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, but in class we’re being exposed to J.S. Mill and Bentham. I read the Germans in the original German in my 20′s, one of my few major accomplishments. Also when I was younger, I read repeatedly a wonderful beginner book by Will Durant called, “The Story of Philosophy,” and several good books on Zen Buddhism by Suzuki and Watts. I report these works only to give you all an idea of my limited experience and lack of sophistication, which may be relevant to your response(s), if any.

Here’s the part that prompted this post:

**The person who says “we have reason to promote an aversion to the desire to smoke” speaks from the underlying assumption that things like health ought to be valued more than smoking. It’s precisely these kinds of “underlying assumptions” the desirist seems at a loss to justify, as far as I’m concerned.**

To start, I emphasize that I am praising the content. Fittingly, if I understand it right, my praise is a form of tool I use to nurture desires which I hope will lead to the fulfillment of some desire of my own. This is a good place to start, because although I enjoy philosophy immensely and desire (obviously) to engage in it, I’m not at all sure that this is a rational desire, in the sense that it might not be “good” or “healthy,” for me or anyone else. I think someone pointed out earlier that the desire to “deliberate” may be itself be counter-productive, and I can attest without doubt that my fondness for “deliberation” has resulted in the loss of an absurdly high number of opportunities to have sex (token reference to sex, humor intended). Not that I didn’t have lots of sex in my day, but I just think it’s interesting, looking back, on how much time I’ve spent in the pursuit of Truth with a capital “T,” when traditional desire-fulfillment schemes would have had me patrolling for potential mates. I literally gave up sex to contemplate why people have sex. That doesn’t sound healthy or rational!

In short, cl has brought up the problem of self-destructive behavior. Forgive me if this is incredibly naive, but must it really be supposed that fulfillment of desire is actually…desirable? What if it can be shown that the fulfillment of desires leads ultimately to hedonistic and eudaimonistic numbness, a state in which nothing feels good any more: nothing is fun, nothing is novel, and the future–according to all empirical evidence–promises only steadily intensifying cycles of boredom, sadness, fear, isolation and regret? What if utility is “maximized” by delaying gratification… indefinitely?

This isn’t an original idea, and like I said, it may be incredibly naive. That’s Schopenhauer’s take on things, if I’ve understood him correctly. Monks and nuns, for example. I guess that would be called asceticism, now that I think of it, which maybe more modern philosophers have refuted. I just know, sadly from personal experience, that people who live like rock stars end up wishing they’d never been born. I’m not trying to spoil the fun here at all. I have great respect for all the ideas you’ve provided. It’s just that the questionable value of deliberation has simply become a serious problem for me, and Desirism may offer solutions. I admit though, that what little I’ve read here so far reminds me too much of MYSELF, and suggests to me a very fascinating and familiar, but deadly form of pathological SERIOUSNESS.

Be honest–haven’t we all as philosophers played with the idea that one day we’ll “figure it all out?” Haven’t we all dreamed of thinking the ultimate thought, the thought which creates the model which explains and justifies everything real and imagined, which in the process puts a permanent end to all suffering everywhere, and creates a world where desires don’t thwart each other and we all have high self-esteem? Isn’t this the secret DESIRE of every attempt to codify “good” behavior? Wouldn’t that make us most PRAISEWORTHY? That would mean that we as philosophers have the “best” of intentions (which, by the way, under Kantian deontology would makes us the most “moral” of all possible creatures), but since Utilitarianism justifies behavior not by intention but by consequences (if I understand correctly), then it seems that Desirism, in order to establish its fundamental tenets, needs at least to consider the possibility that there are monsters on the other side of desire.

Desirism might do well (presumptuous of me, I know) to consider the possibility that the most “moral” state of existence, and the one that we as philosophers with the “best” of intentions OUGHT to be seeking to unleash upon the world, is not the fulfillment of desires, but rather an ignorant, semi-blind, bumbling, unjustified but harmless and inextinguishable feeling of HOPE.

Perhaps the ultimate mission of “moral” deliberation is to hide the truth, not reveal it. For much of the past 7 years I have not desired to continue living, but for the thought that my death might distress some more perfect soul unnecessarily. It is no exaggeration to say that my goodwill toward others saved my life, but I’m not necessarily grateful for it, and this is what ultimately interests me about Desirism.

I have asked the same question as you all, “What should I desire?” For the moment, I have come to the conclusion that the most “moral” thing for me to desire, which might better be described as “the healthiest for all concerned,” is simply MORE DESIRE. Accordingly, for several years now, I have been basing my decisions (applying this system of “morality”) not on the fulfillment of desires, but with the singular goal of nurturing interests. I don’t claim to have made the “best” decision, but I do claim to have made decisions that have sustained my existence. The assessment of any value inherent in this existence I leave to you and others.

What do you say? Is the most “moral” behavior that which creates the most desire–without gratification or disappointment? Is ANTICIPATION the most rational and moral “object” of value, the one we should be pursuing and proliferating? I just thought of something funny: the philosophic axioms I just proposed may be extremely naive, but according to my own analysis, that would make them highly moral!

Kevin.
Comments?

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Flux Capture April 12, 2011 at 4:04 am

Replying to a comment made by cl (I think), but it’s for everybody:

First post. Newbie to Desirism and to Internet discussions in general. Not sure of the rules here, or if my comments will even show up properly formatted, but I’m giving it a shot. I landed on this website after running a single Google search using the three words “fungible,” “happiness,” and “utilitarianism.” It was in connection to a college class, PHL 209 Business Ethics. The OP was interesting, so I kept reading. That was five hours ago. I’m still not done reading the thread, but you (cl) made a comment on April 21, 2010 which resonated with a question about desirism that had been developing in me as I read. Here is a link, hopefully (if it works right), to the original post: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=7927#comment-41388 but I also paste the relevant paragraph further below for reference.

I’m 44 years old, which may be relevant to my comment, but I can’t tell (my frame of reference is too subjective). My formal philosophy training is limited mostly to books I’ve read on my own by/about Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, but in class we’re being exposed to J.S. Mill and Bentham. I read the Germans in the original German in my 20′s, one of my few major accomplishments. Also when I was younger, I read repeatedly a wonderful beginner book by Will Durant called, “The Story of Philosophy,” and several good books on Zen Buddhism by Suzuki and Watts. I report these works only to give you all an idea of my limited experience and lack of sophistication, which may be relevant to your response(s), if any.

Here’s the part that prompted this post:

**The person who says “we have reason to promote an aversion to the desire to smoke” speaks from the underlying assumption that things like health ought to be valued more than smoking. It’s precisely these kinds of “underlying assumptions” the desirist seems at a loss to justify, as far as I’m concerned.**

To start, I emphasize that I am praising the content. Fittingly, if I understand it right, my praise is a form of tool I use to nurture desires which I hope will lead to the fulfillment of some desire of my own. This is a good place to start, because although I enjoy philosophy immensely and desire (obviously) to engage in it, I’m not at all sure that this is a rational desire, in the sense that it might not be “good” or “healthy,” for me or anyone else. I think someone pointed out earlier that the desire to “deliberate” may be itself be counter-productive, and I can attest without doubt that my fondness for “deliberation” has resulted in the loss of an absurdly high number of opportunities to have sex (token reference to sex, humor intended). Not that I didn’t have lots of sex in my day, but I just think it’s interesting, looking back, on how much time I’ve spent in the pursuit of Truth with a capital “T,” when traditional desire-fulfillment schemes would have had me patrolling for potential mates. I literally gave up sex to contemplate why people have sex. That doesn’t sound healthy or rational!

In short, cl has brought up the problem of self-destructive behavior. Forgive me if this is incredibly naive, but must it really be supposed that fulfillment of desire is actually…desirable? What if it can be shown that the fulfillment of desires leads ultimately to hedonistic and eudaimonistic numbness, a state in which nothing feels good any more: nothing is fun, nothing is novel, and the future–according to all empirical evidence–promises only steadily intensifying cycles of boredom, sadness, fear, isolation and regret? What if utility is “maximized” by delaying gratification… indefinitely?

This isn’t an original idea, and like I said, it may be incredibly naive. That’s Schopenhauer’s take on things, if I’ve understood him correctly. Monks and nuns, for example. I guess that would be called asceticism, now that I think of it, which maybe more modern philosophers have refuted. I just know, sadly from personal experience, that people who live like rock stars end up wishing they’d never been born. I’m not trying to spoil the fun here at all. I have great respect for all the ideas you’ve provided. It’s just that the questionable value of deliberation has simply become a serious problem for me, and Desirism may offer solutions. I admit though, that what little I’ve read here so far reminds me too much of MYSELF, and suggests to me a very fascinating and familiar, but deadly form of pathological SERIOUSNESS.

Be honest–haven’t we all as philosophers played with the idea that one day we’ll “figure it all out?” Haven’t we all dreamed of thinking the ultimate thought, the thought which creates the model which explains and justifies everything real and imagined, which in the process puts a permanent end to all suffering everywhere, and creates a world where desires don’t thwart each other and we all have high self-esteem? Isn’t this the secret DESIRE of every attempt to codify “good” behavior? Wouldn’t that make us most PRAISEWORTHY? That would mean that we as philosophers have the “best” of intentions (which, by the way, under Kantian deontology would makes us the most “moral” of all possible creatures), but since Utilitarianism justifies behavior not by intention but by consequences (if I understand correctly), then it seems that Desirism, in order to establish its fundamental tenets, needs at least to consider the possibility that there are monsters on the other side of desire.

Desirism might do well (presumptuous of me, I know) to consider the possibility that the most “moral” state of existence, and the one that we as philosophers with the “best” of intentions OUGHT to be seeking to unleash upon the world, is not the fulfillment of desires, but rather an ignorant, semi-blind, bumbling, unjustified but harmless and inextinguishable feeling of HOPE.

Perhaps the ultimate mission of “moral” deliberation is to hide the truth, not reveal it. For much of the past 7 years I have not desired to continue living, but for the thought that my death might distress some more perfect soul unnecessarily. It is no exaggeration to say that my goodwill toward others saved my life, but I’m not necessarily grateful for it, and this is what ultimately interests me about Desirism.

I have asked the same question as you all, “What should I desire?” For the moment, I have come to the conclusion that the most “moral” thing for me to desire, which might better be described as “the healthiest for all concerned,” is simply MORE DESIRE. Accordingly, for several years now, I have been basing my decisions (applying this system of “morality”) not on the fulfillment of desires, but with the singular goal of nurturing interests. I don’t claim to have made the “best” decision, but I do claim to have made decisions that have sustained my existence. The assessment of any value inherent in this existence I leave to you and others.

What do you say? Is the most “moral” behavior that which creates the most desire–without gratification or disappointment? Is ANTICIPATION the most rational and moral “object” of value, the one we should be pursuing and proliferating? I just thought of something funny: the philosophic axioms I just proposed may be extremely naive, but according to my own analysis, that would make them highly moral!

Kevin.

Polymeron,

I think your comments about “underlying assumptions” are important, too. If our agents share identical underlying beliefs / values / desires, then desirism’s definition of “good” becomes more accurate.

Zeb,

Yes, that’s exactly the way I see it, too. That’s why I object to arguments using the generic “WE” and why I argue that Fyfe loaded his defense to the 1000 sadists problem. This is why I’d love to see some desirist evaluations that don’t allude to some generic “WE” but real people, or at least hypothetical people whose specific desires are clearly labeled and factored into the discussion. Ideally, we could run these evaluations like real equations, which is what I’m trying to get at here.

To take another example, in the statement “we have reason to promote an aversion to the desire to smoke” the pronoun “we” is loaded with specific beliefs and values that not everybody necessarily shares. The person who says “we have reason to promote an aversion to the desire to smoke” speaks from the underlying assumption that things like health ought to be valued more than smoking. It’s precisely these kinds of “underlying assumptions” the desirist seems at a loss to justify, as far as I’m concerned.

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Polymeron April 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm

faithlessgod,

I don’t think I noticed your comment until now. I hope you will forgive the 1-year delay in replay.

1. If you deny that prescriptions are not relating reasons to act to keep of bring about states of affairs that are the objects of the prescriptions, then they are not prescriptions!

This is not coherent. Feel free to clarify.

Please explain what prescriptions are if you deny this. Looks like you are denying that prescriptions are action-guiding, in which case they are not prescriptions!

True prescriptions are accurate predictions of what people will do. They alter the social environment within which one operates and which, one way or another, affect one’s ability to fulfil one’s desires and vice versa.

Prescriptions tell you that one action is preferable to another.
“accurate prediction of what people will do” are descriptions, not prescriptions.
I really don’t think these definitions are something to struggle with, or anything controversial.

2.You like many others, even as they might deny a supernaturalism, think there is something “magical” to moral oughts.

Really? Can you give any example of this?
If you put words in my mouth as a basis for your argument, don’t be surprised when your argument fails.
The rest of your point 2 therefore does not deserve further comment.

3.What are your definitions of prescriptions and moral oughts? Then we can compare and contrast these to see which is a better pragmatic explanation of moral usage and behaviour.

I described what a moral prescription is, above. I do not claim to have a competing theory that better evaluates them, however.
That does not mean that I would unquestioningly accept any theory, however.

Those capable of responding the the social forces are moral agents, those incapable are not – such as animals – although social mammalian species (and possibly others) do have rudimentary capacity to respond to social forces within their species – as ethologists repeatedly show.

Moral agents can be held responsible by other moral gents for their desires over humans and other animals that, for whatever reason, are not moral agents but still have desires.

There is no intrinsic value to desires. Virtues (good desires) and vices (bad desires) are good and and bad only in an extrinsic not intrinsic fashion – due to their relations to other desires.

I don’t see how any of this explains why animal desires should be taken into account by desirism.

4.How is this trivial when it repeatedly shows faults in many past an present popular moral theories, and makes recommendations against them. If it were trivial it would not do this. Please show me why this is trivial.

My concern is that these are all descriptive positions, rather than prescriptive. I am not saying that desirism is trivial as a whole. I’m saying I’m concerned that it might be trivial as a prescriptive moral theory.

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Polymeron April 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Flux Capture / Kevin,
It seems to me that you are confusing Desirism with Desire Fulfillment Utilitarianism.
I will very, very briefly explain the main differences as I understand them:

- DFU considers desire fulfillment to have intrinsic value. Desirism does not, and in fact rejects intrinsic value entirely as unfounded.
- DFU prescribes actions that maximize desire fulfillment; this includes actions that create more desire to be fulfilled. Desirism, in contrast, tries to prescribe which desires we have, which is completely dependent on the set of existing desires.

I find Desirism to be useful descriptively; I still have a lot of doubts about its prescriptive power.

If you are interested in this, you should check out the “Morality in the Real World” posts (which include podcasts and transcripts), which is the more recent attempt by Luke and Alonzo Fyfe to refine, explain, and defend Desirism. It is not complete, alas, and moves at a ponderous pace (at the benefit of being very comprehensive most of the time), but it might give you some valuable perspective on what this theory is.

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Flux Capture (Kevin) April 13, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Thank you, Polymeron!

I was hoping someone could tell me where to pick up this thread. After I commented, I saw the previous time stamp, and wasn’t sure anyone would find my post.

I think you’re right. What I’ve read here so far certainly suggests description, not prescription. Without a standard of value, it’s fairly straightforward to prove a complete absence of prescriptive potential for any system of ethics.

I don’t want to say too much here, because I’m looking forward to exploring “Morality in the Real World,” and many issues must have already been addressed there. The time I spent reading and responding in this thread was well-spent though, because it crystallized at least some questions for me. Ethics always bored me as a teenager (which is probably typical for that age), because traditional values to me seemed so obviously arbitrary. The answer to the primary question of ethics, “What should I do,” was plainly, “Do what you want.” In that sense, I may have shown some early desirist tendencies.

However, the question I brought up in the post, “What should I want,” is a question of aesthetics, I’m reminding myself. Nietzsche gets a lot of bad press, but he was on to something when he said, “Life is Art.” I’ve been trying to build on that for a decade now without much success, since art to some extent involves breaking the rules (even the rules about when and how to break the rules). I’ve mostly concluded I was right about ethics all along: “Do what you want.” The natural universe does a pretty good job of shaping our wants on a day-to-day basis, assuming adequate genetics and parenting.

Beauty may form the basis of a standard of value. As I described in my previous post, raw pleasure can’t be trusted as a standard, but “beautiful” will always attract, and “ugly” will always repel. Naturally, what constitutes beautiful and ugly is debatable. If beauty is the standard, then the ethical imperative becomes, “Do what is beautiful.”

I guess that’s a good place to leave it. I’ll pick it up again in “Morality in the Real World.” Thanks for responding.

“Flux”

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