Trivial Hobbies

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 17, 2010 in Ethics,Guest Post

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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This is not going to be my favorite topic because it concerns a particular vice of mine.

There seems to be some underlying assumption that if one is going to bill oneself as an ethicist than one should be a paradigm of moral virtue – free of faults. If one is caught doing what one argues ought not to be done, then the whole moral theory must be garbage.

Well, according to desirism this link is not true. A person can know what a person with good desires would do and also know, at the same time, that one does not have those desires.

Then there comes the question of changing those desires. That takes effort, and the motivation must come from somewhere. Desirism tells us that there are probably cases in which an immoral agent can say, “I just don’t have the energy to change that.”

Well, this is where social praise and condemnation comes in. If the internal drives to become a better person are absent, then the praise and condemnation of others – others whose desires are thwarted by the agent who is not as good as he could be – can, perhaps, provide the motivation.

Well, a comment in my last post suggested that if we evaluate the desire to read according to desirism, this turns out to be a vice – something that people generally have reason to condemn so that they can get people away from reading and on to doing something more valuable.

Actually, it is going to depend a lot on what one reads. Acting to fulfill desires requires true and complete beliefs, and reading is a means of acquiring true and complete beliefs. So, reading true non-fiction, or even non-fiction that has been disproved so that one can understand why it was wrong, can have value. We should be encouraging people to acquire true and relevant beliefs that will aid them in acting in ways that fulfill the desires of others.

There is also some fiction that has merit. Plato’s dialogues were fiction – stories about Socarates that never took place. Some of my posts represent lessons drawn from writing about imaginary people in imaginary situations and asking, “What should that person do in that situation.” Good fiction can provide good moral lessons that give people a chance to ask themselves, “What should a person do in that situation?”

However, a lot of fiction is just garbage. It is pure escapism that does not even teach a valuable moral lesson. In fact, some of them teach moral vices – a type of recklessness or disregard for others where the author conveniently leaves out the potential harms of, say, unprotected sex, vigilante justice, or the casual slaughter of non-descript ‘bad guys’.

Television sitcoms and reality shows fall into the same category. They are a worthless waste of time where people sit on a couch and get fat while they acquire no useful information and accomplish absolutely nothing of value. We would be better off if people had no taste for such things – and we can make ourselves (or our children’s lives) better off if we were to condemn these practices and praised more useful expenditures of time and energy in their place.

Turn the television off and go do something useful. Go acquire some true and relevant beliefs and see what you can do to teach those true and relevant beliefs to others. It’s better than watching mindless television. If you must watch television, try to find some programs that provide you with true and relevant beliefs. (Which, of course, would put an end to Fox News.)

Spectator sports provide another example. Participatory sports provides exercise, but spectator sports is a waste of time, money, and real-estate. Imagine if we could take all of the time and effort and all of the money that people spend on sports – about $300 billion per year in the United States alone – and put it to something useful, like curing malaria or teaching science. There are many and strong reasons to go this route. A great many desires otherwise being thwarted would be fulfilled. And we would not have to worry about the desires of sports fans being thwarted because the method for making this transfer is to reduce the frequency and strength of sports fandom by social forces such as condemnation.

“Why are you wasting your time with that stupid game?”

And there is my personal vice… computer games. I spend hours each week manipulating electrons inside of my computer in ways that fulfill certain interests of mine that produce absolutely no real-world good. Time that I could spend acquiring true beliefs and teaching them to others are spent in this tasks of changing the order of electrons in my computer from one useless configuration to another.

This issue does touch on the question of whether such an interest counts as an addiction. This is a relevant tangent, but it is not the topic that I am interested in here. I am not talking about the sports fanatic who dos nothing but talk about “the team” and has memorized every relevant statistic going back 30 years, or the person so hooked onto a computer game that he cannot get focused on his classes or hold down a job.

I can know all of this, and still the lure of the game is there. See, if I manipulate the electrons on my computer a particular way then I get a prize which is called a “win.” The logic puzzle of figuring out just what manipulations to engage in and in what order to obtain this “win” appeals to me. I could literally spend hours solving thinking about these problems, inputting my instructions, and seeing if they get me any closer to a “win” or not.

But, what if I was finding that desire-fulfillment, not in a game, but in a socially relevant puzzle like figuring out exactly how the mind-brain works or doing more reading and writing on matters of moral philosophy? Or, what if the desire to obtain a “win” were just a bit weaker, and the desire to read and write on moral philosophy were just a bit stronger?

Imagine the society we would have if the interest people have in sports were instead an interest in rooting for teams to produce important medical breakthroughs or provide medical benefits to children in underdeveloped countries. Imagine if the time that people spent watching sitcoms and “reality” television were spent on understanding reality. It seems quite clear that the world would be a better place.

Of course, this assumes that we can alter peoples’ affections through social forces. If it is impossible to alter these affections, then the principle of ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ (or ‘cannot’ implies ‘it is not the case that one ought’) comes into play, which makes moral statements inapplicable.

Now, this result may not conform well to our moral intuitions. However, our intuitions only tell us the sentiments we do have. They do not tell us the sentiments we should have, and clearly it is not the case that “we do have sentiment S implies we should have sentiment S.” It would be absurd to argue that our sentiments or intuitions are infallible and any theory that does not correspond to those intuitions must be rejected. A person who argues this way is not looking for a moral theory, but a way of rationalizing existing prejudices.

So, I think it is correct to say that desirism does not have anything good to say about frivolous pasttimes. The best that can be said for them is that others are not being harmed by them, even if others are not being helped.

“What a waste. You could have done so much with your life. Instead, you have wasted it.”

- Alonzo Fyfe

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{ 155 comments… read them below or add one }

Zeb June 17, 2010 at 6:45 am

What games are you into?

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Charles June 17, 2010 at 6:45 am

I’m confused. What is your conclusion?

That the desires to watch TV and play nintendo aren’t malleable?

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Almost Chris June 17, 2010 at 7:40 am

As much as I love reading Alonzo Fyfe, I don’t think I could disagree with this more. Yes, the vast majority of TV is bad, but the vast majority of any art form is bad. Any readoning that concludes that watching The Wire is a vast of time is. All art forms, TV, film, music, and games included with “higher” art form can speak to us of the human condition as well as waste our time. It could even be argues that in this “golden age of TV”, even the schlock is of much higher quality than the schlock of previous generations. This is part of the argument in the fascinating book, “Everything Bad is Good for You” which covers this very topic well. Even schlock plays an important role if its popularity helps finance “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. Further, need everything we do have the utmost importance? Don’t we need at least a little mindless entertainment to help process higher-level thinking? And finally, what of the recent TED talk titled “Gaming can make a better world”?

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html

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Almost Chris June 17, 2010 at 7:44 am

Woops. Hit submit too soon. Read “Any reasoning that concludes that watching The Wire is a waste of time is flawed” above.

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EvanT June 17, 2010 at 7:59 am

Very interesting talk that one. Luke, I really recommend watching it.

In any case, I can think of a great many benefits of playing computer games, other than satisfying yourself. Better reflexes, hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking, memory exercising (depending on what games one plays). Honestly, if I hadn’t been involved with online real-time strategy games a few years back, I doubt I would’ve ever learned to type fast.

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David June 17, 2010 at 8:15 am

I don’t always read these, but thought I might have a go at this one. I have to say I disagree, and one of the reasons that I haven’t bought desirism wholesale (besides that I am deeply skeptical of any theory-of-everything for morality) is the lack of room for aesthetic and “practical” concerns.

To the aesthetic first: as Oscar Wilde noted oh-so-long ago, “All art is quite useless.” I don’t think he’s trying to say that art is valueless. But even if one wants to separate the “moral” values (how we treat each other) from aesthetic values, I think it’s pretty clear that the latter does have some value, even if in an important sense aesthetic concerns are subordinate to moral ones. Clearly, sitcoms and video games can (but often don’t) fall into a category of aesthetic values. Recent examples might include things like the remake of Battlestar Galactica, or Mad Men; or perhaps a video game can have artistic qualities to it (like the acclaimed game Braid). So even if these aesthetic categories do not have the amount of value assigned to them as a moral category, that is not to say they are valueless.

Secondly to the practical: it seems to me like humans need some form of entertainment. Granted some are better and healthier than others (such as participatory versus spectator sport). However, can you find a single human culture that has been wholly without these diversions? Can you even find a social class of mammals that does not have some form of game, especially for its young? From cats playing hunting games (sometimes with their food) to dogs roughhousing to the creative self-amusement of dolphins, it seems like most social creatures play games, especially when they are young, and this does have some correlation to adult survival. In other species this entertainment continues to adulthood (a la the dolphins). How much more is this the case for humans! I’m not trying to defend a culture of endless entertainment – I do think that is damaging – but it seems like we and our animal brethren have some psychological need for entertainment on some level. Like all biological and psychological drives, there are healthy and unhealthy ways of fulfilling it. But in some capacity it is necessary for human flourishing, which ought to be the end of all moralizing.

I’ll grant you that this is all armchair sociology, but I think it holds up at least as well as your armchair utilitarian arguments, and I would argue correlates better to the reality we find ourselves in.

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Eneasz June 17, 2010 at 8:56 am

Well, that was a rather depressing post.

Given that the desire for this sort of non-productive stimulation is hard-wired and cannot be removed (let me know if you disagree), isn’t this post counter-productive? It encourages self-loathing due to a basic drive. It seems to be much like fundies causing gay people to hate themselves.

A much better tactic would be to promote the fulfillment of this desire in responsible ways. Ways that allow a person to fulfill this desire without drastically reducing time spent in highly-productive pursuits, and/or ways that fulfill this desire while at the same time providing some good effects (even if they’re less efficient). A less-efficient but fun activity will net more good in the long term than a highly-efficient but disliked activity.

For example, encouraging a love of dancing has much better health-outcomes than encouraging regular aerobic exercise. I feel this post is the equivalent of condemning dancers for not enjoying aerobic workouts. The intent is to promote greater efficiency and better outcomes. But the result is a lot more people who are both A) fatter than they otherwise would be, and B) full of shame for wanting to dance and not wanting to workout.

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Lorkas June 17, 2010 at 9:32 am

What if it were demonstrated that taking time off from productive activities to play video games and watch sports or TV shows actually increases productivity?

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noen June 17, 2010 at 10:08 am

Dear god I haven’t seen such sophomoric earnest hand wringing in ages! Why is everyone watching American Idol when they could be reading Plato!!!!!

However, a lot of fiction is just garbage. It is pure escapism that does not even teach a valuable moral lesson.

HAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!!!!!!

In fact, some of them teach moral vices

Some even have nekkid wimmins in them. Nooooooooooo!! You’ve missed your true calling Alonzo. You should be a professional moral scold like Brent Bozel or other right wing loons. I’m looking forward to your appearance on Fox & Friends any day now.

A person can know what a person with good desires would do and also know, at the same time, that one does not have those desires.

No, a person cannot know what “good desires” are even on desirism’s own terms because one cannot calculate where any one desire fits in with all other desires. I suspect there is not enough computer time in the universe for that.

So, I think it is correct to say that desirism does not have anything good to say about frivolous pasttimes.

Well of course it doesn’t, you set up your strawman very well so naturally it’s going to fall down. But then desirsm is filled with straw so it comes as no surprise. It makes things so much easier when you just assume what it is you want to prove doesn’t it?

Premise 1
Desirism states that “We should be encouraging people to acquire true and relevant beliefs that will aid them in acting in ways that fulfill the desires of others.”

Premise 2
Video games, sports and TV shows “are a worthless waste of time where people sit on a couch and get fat while they acquire no useful information and accomplish absolutely nothing of value.”

Premise 3
Desires that thwart good desires should be condemned.

Therefore we should condemn Video games, sports and TV shows as worthless wastes of time.

The argument is invalid because premise 2 is unsupported.

You don’t know the first thing abut morality Alonzo Fyfe.

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noen June 17, 2010 at 10:13 am

Lorkas
What if it were demonstrated that taking time off from productive activities to play video games and watch sports or TV shows actually increases productivity?

That doesn’t work because then one can’t be a pretentious twit who thinks everyone else is wasting their lives reading books and watchings show that one doesn’t approve of.

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cl June 17, 2010 at 10:52 am

Alonzo,

This was the most incoherent post I’ve read from you yet. Where to start?

…a comment in my last post suggested that if we evaluate the desire to read according to desirism, this turns out to be a vice – something that people generally have reason to condemn so that they can get people away from reading and on to doing something more valuable.

I really wish you would provide citations and clarify who you talk about. That you don’t could be considered intellectually reckless, at least to some degree, don’t you think?

At any rate, assuming you allude to me, my comment does not suggest what you claim it does. The salient difference is that my evaluation was of a single agent with specifically-identified affected desires. As usual, your evaluation refers to the generic “people generally” and lacks any significant evaluation of affected desires.

I prefer avoiding the generic “we” and “people generally” in my arguments concerning desirism, because “we” and “people generally” lack the specificity required for meaningful evaluations. They are relative terms that reflect only the experience and observation of the person using them. Your “people generally” is going to be different than my “people generally,” and so forth. As such, my argument was not that “people generally have reason to condemn reading.” That is a misrepresentation. My argument was that given a specific person with specific affected desires, desirism leads to the conclusion that shooting heroin is good and reading books is bad, for that person, given their affected desires.

As for your analysis of reading and television, your evaluation takes place outside the context of specific, affected desires. I will argue that you should know better, because, in the post Criticism of Atheists, when I asked you,

Given two (or 200) agents with malleable desire P, and one agent with malleable desire ~P, what does desirism prescribe? (cl)

…you replied,

It is not possible to answer this question with the information provided. It is necessary to know the specific desires we are working with. (Fyfe, emphasis mine)

That you used desires, plural, suggests you allude to more desires than just the desire that P/~P. Yet, in today’s post, you’ve answered questions of morality pertaining to TV and reading without any significant evaluation of affected desires. As usual, you argue against something you don’t value – in this case, non-edifying TV and “escapist fiction” – and you write blanket statements as if those things were intrinsically wrong. Yet, you also deny intrinsic value. Well, how can you deny intrinsic value and make blanket statements at the same time? Granted, you can say something like, “Because I value X and Y, then Z is bad for me,” but on what grounds do you make generic prescriptions for others based on your values? It doesn’t get any more right-wing that that!

Good fiction can provide good moral lessons that give people a chance to ask themselves, “What should a person do in that situation?”

I agree. That’s why your broad generalization about sitcoms and reality shows are absurd. Without so much as even a lick of specificity, you write,

Television sitcoms and reality shows fall into the same category. They are a worthless waste of time where people sit on a couch and get fat while they acquire no useful information and accomplish absolutely nothing of value. We would be better off if people had no taste for such things – and we can make ourselves (or our children’s lives) better off if we were to condemn these practices and praised more useful expenditures of time and energy in their place.

Turn the television off and go do something useful.

You’re verging on the propagandic here. Has it not occurred to you that some people watch TV precisely because they’ve been doing something useful all day long and seek a little respite from the burdens of existence? Would you agree that rest and relaxation are useful? If so, on what grounds can you make such blanket statements?

…spectator sports is a waste of time, money, and real-estate.

They’re a waste of time to you, Alonzo. That doesn’t give you the right to make prescriptions for others who don’t share your values. Again, it doesn’t get any more right-wing than that.

There are many and strong reasons to go this route. A great many desires otherwise being thwarted would be fulfilled. And we would not have to worry about the desires of sports fans being thwarted because the method for making this transfer is to reduce the frequency and strength of sports fandom by social forces such as condemnation.

You’re honestly scaring me with this. For one, you simply assert without evidence or argument that a great many desires otherwise being thwarted would be fulfilled. Such as? Second, the part about “not having to worry about the desires of sports fans” strikes me as borderline fascist. You assert the superiority of your values over the sports fans’. You assume that their values are the ones that should be reduced in frequency and strength, but, on what grounds?

…what if I was finding that desire-fulfillment, not in a game, but in a socially relevant puzzle like figuring out exactly how the mind-brain works or doing more reading and writing on matters of moral philosophy?

Then your readers would likely attain a much clearer understanding of desirism. You’ve got plenty of relevant puzzles in various threads you’ve left lingering. I submit that solving those puzzles is what you should be doing, and I can support my prescription with desirism: were you to solve lingering desirist puzzles instead of playing electronic games to get yourself a “win”, then more desires would be fulfilled, overall. Your desire of solving logic puzzles would be fulfilled, as would your readers’ desire(s) to clearly understand your theory.

In short, answering lingering questions is a win-win for all of us (by us I refer to those with a desire to understand desirism), so please – get on with it.

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Josh June 17, 2010 at 10:58 am

I’m surprised everyone is getting so butthurt over this post.

“Given that the desire for this sort of non-productive stimulation is hard-wired and cannot be removed (let me know if you disagree), isn’t this post counter-productive? It encourages self-loathing due to a basic drive. It seems to be much like fundies causing gay people to hate themselves.”

Suppose that the desire to hate people that look different is hard-wired. Does that mean it would be counter productive to discourage such a hate?

“What if it were demonstrated that taking time off from productive activities to play video games and watch sports or TV shows actually increases productivity?”

I guarantee that me watching the World Cup right now when I should be working is NOT increasing my productivity. Moreover, it seems absurd to think that the extent to which people watch stupid television and play stupid video games goes quite in excess of the amount that would increase productivity overall.

Noen,

Please, shut up.

This isn’t to say that I’m myself not guilty of all these things (I consider playing video games my biggest hobby) but I seriously think that Fyfe has a good point.

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cl June 17, 2010 at 11:09 am

Alonzo,

Here is a partial list of lingering desirist puzzles:

1) How is desirism prescriptive if – as you say – it “prescribes nothing” in the case of 200 that P and one that ~P, where P = some malleable desire (for example pederasty or smoking)?

2) Regarding pederasty, you replied that you thought the Greeks were “probably wrong,” but all you offered in support was a vague allusion to an unspecified set of “venereal diseases” that would seemingly also make all other forms of non-monogamous sex also “probably wrong.” Was non-monogamous sex also “probably wrong” at that time? Is non-monogamous sex “probably wrong” now? If not, can you clarify your supporting arguments?

3) You argue against the invocation of “things that don’t exist” in moral arguments, yet, you frequently refer to the generic “we” and “people generally.” Isn’t that an invocation of things that don’t exist? Meaning, aren’t you invoking something ontologically similar to the hypothetical observer?

Also, when I asked,

What does desirism prescribe when we have two agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What about two-hundred agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What does desirism prescribe then? Who’s right?

…you replied,

Which side will win will depend on a number of factors such as strength, planning, and quantity of ammunition.

I can’t help but to conclude that all you’ve given is a description of survival of the fittest. If you’re simply saying that the strongest side wins, you’re going to have a hard time convincing people that your theory is about morality. So,

4) Is that what you’re saying?

The next one’s tentative, but,

5) If “no” to 4, what are you saying?

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Eneasz June 17, 2010 at 11:48 am

cl – As this topic is rather interesting, and since it contradicts things Alonzo has posted in the past regarding leisure activities (they were always viewed benignly), I decided to go ahead and read your comments for once. Oh woe is me. I stopped when I got here:

You’re honestly scaring me with this.

You’re honestly dishonest. And with italics no less! So much sincere honesty about the borderline fascist atheist with his scary dislike of sports! Scary!

That’ll learn me, I won’t be making that mistake again for a while.

Josh

Suppose that the desire to hate people that look different is hard-wired. Does that mean it would be counter productive to discourage such a hate?

Yes. But it’s not.

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cl June 17, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Eneasz,

I’ve known you don’t read my comments for a long time now. The frequent vacuity and impertinence of your responses are clear indications of that fact.

You’re honestly dishonest.

See what I mean? Like many atheists, you portray this pretense of rationalism, yet apparently have no problem making irrational claims whenever it floats your boat. Do you have some evidence or support for this positive claim of yours? Or, will you simply shirk your burden as usual? IOW, do you have, you know… something like a valid or cogent objection to any of my arguments? Maybe something to add that other commenters might benefit from? Or, are you just here for your usual juvenile snipe?

On the off-chance it’s the former, allow me to clear up your misunderstanding: what scares me is not Alonzo’s stance on sports or spectator sports, per se. It’s his willingness to make moral prescriptions based – not on any cogent exegesis of his theory – but rather his own personal opinions. It’s his willingness to castigate empty preaching while preaching emptily, and the fact that he [apparently] does so unabashedly. That’s what scares me.

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Lorkas June 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm

“I guarantee that me watching the World Cup right now when I should be working is NOT increasing my productivity.”

But suppose we take two groups of people, and require that one group work for 10 straight hours and allow the other to work for 2 4-hour shifts with a 2 hour break in between to do something they enjoy, like watch a soccer game.

I’m not sure it’s so terribly obvious that the 10-hour shift group will get more done than the group that works for a total of only 8 hours but has a break.

Maybe the research already exists, but I’m too busy playing a video game to look it up right now.

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rvkevin June 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I’d like to get something clarified. When you say that a good desire is a desire that tends to fulfill other desires, do you really mean or could it be more specifically stated that a good desire is a desire that tends to fulfill non-malleable desires or other desires that tend to fulfill non-malleable desires?

I think the first introduces confusion about what desires you are considering when talking about desirism’s application, while the latter starts with a base set of desires and aims to build up from there a set of desires that tends to fulfill them. If so, it might be worthwhile to identify what desires are non-malleable.

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cl June 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Alonzo,

Building on what rvkevin just said, I’ve yet to see a decent argument for the existence of non-malleable desires. I will add that on your own blog – in the post Desirism, Descriptions, and Prescriptions – commenter Cyril asked for your clarification on precisely this issue:

…you’ve made numerous references to the “malleability” of desires. This, however, you’ve ever gotten to a definition (“Malleable desires are those that can be molded using social tools such as praise and condemnation”).

But I’m not sure how useful this is. I tried to come up with some examples, but it seems that a lot of the things that we would think of as unmalleable desires turn out to be quite malleable (e.g. desire to eat v. anorexia, desire to live v. suicidal tendencies, homosexual desires v. being Ted Haggard, etc.)

The way I see it, these could be construed two different ways (here exemplified with anorexia):

Option A: The desire to eat is malleable, and that’s why we have anorexics.

Option B: The desire to eat is not malleable, but exists alongside a malleable desire to the contrary which overpowers the malleable desire.

Either one of these seems to describe the facts just as well, and so those wishing to propose one over the other would need to have an argument to that effect. And in the past, I seem to remember you deciding conflicts between different groups of desires on whether one of them was malleable or not. So that would be a good thing to explain.

Also, if you assume some kind of fuzzy logic for the malleability of desires (as would probably fit the data better), how does this fit into the theory? Then we can’t just say that when two groups of desires are in conflict, the one with the umalleable desires wins. Would it then be the least malleable desires? Individually or on average?

So, recap. Questions to be answered:

1) How do we know that there are malleable desires?
2) How does/would fuzzy malleability factor into your theory?
Extra question:
3) How are conflicts between different sets of malleable desires decided? Just let the chips fall where they may?

These are serious questions, and I hope that you would find it advantageous to give a somewhat in-depth answer, as such things cut to the very heart of your theory. Perhaps it would behoove you to do a post or series of posts devoted to the subject. (Cyril)

I agree with Cyril that these are serious questions. questions we unfortunately have to add to the “lingering desirist puzzles” because you haven’t yet answered them.

When we examine desires typically touted as non-malleable – to eat, to live, to reproduce, etc. – we can always find instances where people have somehow “rejected” them: the anorexic, the suicidal agent, the asexual, etc.

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Josh June 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Eneasz,

“Yes. But it’s not.”

Suppose that there is a serial killer who really enjoys killing people (I think that there are plenty of examples to show that such people exist) and is arguably “hard wired” to love killing people.

You really think it’s counter productive to try to get that person to stop murdering people and to tell them why it’s bad?

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noen June 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm

rvkevin
If so, it might be worthwhile to identify what desires are non-malleable.

All desires are subjective, therefore all desires are malleable.

———-
Josh
Please, shut up.

No.

This isn’t to say that I’m myself not guilty of all these things (I consider playing video games my biggest hobby) but I seriously think that Fyfe has a good point.

No, he doesn’t have a good point. He is making sweeping moral claims based on his own personal desires. CL is correct that this borders on fascism. It is something that you should be alert to as there are many atheists who are also flat out fascist if not right wing authoritarian pricks. Whether or not one is an atheist or theist says nothing about one’s politics. Fascism is Will to Power, which is the desire to control and dominate others.

Every tin-pot dictator starts off eliminating those aspects of popular culture they don’t like. It never ends there. Next thing you know you’re chucking babies into the ovens with a pitch fork.

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Silas June 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I really don’t get this post at all.

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cl June 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm

noen,

It is something that you should be alert to as there are many atheists who are also flat out fascist if not right wing authoritarian pricks. Whether or not one is an atheist or theist says nothing about one’s politics. Fascism is Will to Power, which is the desire to control and dominate others. Every tin-pot dictator starts off eliminating those aspects of popular culture they don’t like. It never ends there.

STANDING OVATION. That’s exactly what scares me. Rationalists and freethinkers can spot this kind of stuff pretty easily when it’s dressed in a black-and-white robe and adorned with a cross, but not so much when disguised in a Scarlet A robe and donning a scholar’s cap.

Though I’ll certainly interject from time to time, I’m pretty much over it [discussing desirism]. There’s simply too many unanswered questions from too many intelligent commenters for me to take Fyfe seriously anymore.

I remain utterly dumbfounded as to why Luke thinks this theory is ready for peer review.

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noen June 17, 2010 at 4:25 pm

CL
I’m pretty much over it [discussing desirism].

The central error of desirism is the failure to understand that the fact that I have a desire says nothing about whether or not I ought to act on the desire or not. Alonzo claims that desires are as objective as hair color. Which is true in the limited sense that if I have a desire then it is objectively true that I have it. But nobody cares about that. People want to know what desires one ought to have.

Once again we have the Ought/Is dilemma. I’ve been asking how desirism solves it for three effing months and have yet to get a straight answer.

If Alonzo thinks that once he publishes he won’t get the exact same criticism he’s in for a big surprise.

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Reuben June 17, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Tremendously underwhelming.

neon, your first comment had me laughing out-loud.

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Charles June 17, 2010 at 6:25 pm

noen,

The solution to your is/ought dilemma is really very simple. If you have the desire, ‘I want to make the world better’, then desirism can be used as a tool to help you realize that desire. If you don’t, then desirism is purely descriptive. It says, if these are your desires, then this is what you are likely to do.

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cl June 17, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Charles,

If you have the desire, ‘I want to make the world better’, then desirism can be used as a tool to help you realize that desire.

Yeah, but the problem is that if you have the desire, “I want to make the world a living hell,” then desirism can be used as a tool to help you realize that desire, too.

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Eneasz June 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Josh:

Suppose that there is a serial killer who really enjoys killing people (I think that there are plenty of examples to show that such people exist) and is arguably “hard wired” to love killing people.
You really think it’s counter productive to try to get that person to stop murdering people and to tell them why it’s bad?

No to the first part, but yes to the second. Telling them why it’s bad won’t change anything, they already know why and they don’t care. The productive thing to do in such a case is either to threaten to thwart their other desires if they do kill, or (if such threats are likely to be ineffective) to physically prevent them from killing. Thus: prisons.

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lukeprog June 17, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Looks like we have lots of fans of trivial hobbies, here. :)

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tmp June 17, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Hey, I have a GREAT desire to be entertained. And if I understood desirism correctly, as long as my desire to be entertained is greater than the desires of others that could be fulfilled by my altruistic acts, then the moral thing to do is to play great deal of frivolous videogames.

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Evolution SWAT June 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm

People need balance in their lives. I don’t think all of Alonzo’s examples are equal. I consider it an important cultural experience to go to professional baseball games. I really enjoy the time with my family. Is baseball the end purpose of life? No, but I can’t imagine myself on my deathbed regretting going to baseball games with my sister. I can’t imagine myself regretting watching the occasional baseball game at the var with some friends.

I CAN imagine regretting watching too many baseball games at home by myself instead of spending time with family, or doing other activities. I definitely can’t see much value in playing video games, except a few times where I had a social experience with friends when I was younger. When other humans are not involved, I feel like it is more a waste of time.

However, Alonzo’s last line really hit me. When I look back, although I appreciated SOME of my trivial hobbies, I wish I had spent 95% less time on video games, more time reading intellectual books, more time discussing philosophy with friends, more time doing activities instead of watching tv.

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Richard Wein June 18, 2010 at 12:55 am

Oh my. That’s really funny.

First, because it’s just the age-old lament about people watching too much TV, but dressed up in vacuous desirist mumbo jumbo which adds no useful content whatsoever. And second, because reading and writing about desirism are just the same sort of waste-of-time escapism as watching TV.

My name is Richard and I’m a double addict: my addictions are TV and debunking desirism.

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Sabio Lantz June 18, 2010 at 3:38 am

Wow, we just got to watch philosophical suicide up front and close!

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Almost Chris June 18, 2010 at 4:44 am

Once again let me promote the book “Everything Bad Is Good for You” by Steven Johnson, which speaks to this issue. Has anyone else read this?

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 6:15 am

tmp,

Yeah, you do not understand desirism correctly. :)

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 6:19 am

Almost Chris,

I read a few chapters of that book – quite entertaining.

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 7:27 am

lukeprog,

Yeah, I thought so. :)

I kinda got lost at “there are no intrinsic values, but we should maximize desires, because maximising desire has intrinsic value”. This is so silly an interpretation that I *MUST* have gotten something wrong.

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 8:26 am

tmp,

Yeah, desire fulfillment has no intrinsic value. Here is a good place to start.

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 9:45 am

lukeprog,

So, Desirism says that you should avoid behavior that gets you punished, and engage in behavior that gets you a reward? And you should discourage behavior in others that you do not like, and encourage that which you like? And if you can get away with it, anything goes? For example, if you kill someone, and nobody knows it, that’s okay because nobody knows to punish you?

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cl June 18, 2010 at 10:13 am

Richard Wein,

[Alonzo's OP is] just the age-old lament about people watching too much TV, but dressed up in vacuous desirist mumbo jumbo which adds no useful content whatsoever.

Yup. Pretty disappointing.

Sabio Lantz,

Wow, we just got to watch philosophical suicide up front and close!

LOL! Sad, but true [presuming you allude to Alonzo's incoherent post].

tmp,

I feel confident re-working your desirist interpretation thusly:

[Desirism says] you should discourage behavior in others that you do not like, and encourage that which you like?

That’s pretty close, and as you can see by the OP, that’s exactly what Alonzo’s done: offered us some preposterous variant of, “I deem spectator sports and escapist television valueless, therefore we should avoid them.” If that’s not at least an open door to stinky, smarmy, fascist prescription-making that utterly disrespects freethought, I don’t know what is.

[Desirism says] if you can get away with it, anything goes?

Sort of. I would think that anything goes so long as it fulfills your desire(s) without thwarting others’. That’s yet another reason why it doesn’t seemingly have much to do with morality: things like shooting heroin can become “good” and things like reading books can become “bad” – all depending on whether the affected desires would be thwarted or fulfilled.

It’s good that you ask Luke questions, but prepare to be stonewalled. I – and others – can speak from experience.

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 10:25 am

tmp,

Sorry, no. Not at all. Here is your next step, though I’ll understand if you don’t have time! :)

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 10:26 am

cl,

>I would think that anything goes so long as it fulfills your desire(s) without thwarting others’.

But there is no intrinsic value in not thwarting other’s desires…

I have desires. I’m going to need a stable society to realize most of them. So, when I act upon my derires, I need to evaluate the damage I cause to society, and how it will effect fulfilling my other desires.

Say, I get incurable cancer. I get a gun, abduct some really hot woman, rape her and shoot myself into head. I have fulfilled my desires for some really hot tail, and avoiding dying painfully of cancer. Since I’m dead, and others have no value other than how they affect the fullfillment of my desires, this is an OK course of action…

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cl June 18, 2010 at 11:03 am

But there is no intrinsic value in not thwarting other’s desires…

I agree. I was just momentarily humoring you by playing devil’s advocate. Keep asking your questions, but, like I said, prepare to be stonewalled. In my experience, it typically happens right around the point your questions get tough.

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 11:04 am

lukeprog,

So, you pretty much do the “make ought from is” trick?

I agree, that desires are the cause of action. But you do not explain WHY fulfilling desires is moral, or why a rapist, for example, should care about the desires of his victim.

Btw, I’m well aware that there is no intrinsic value, but I like to PRETEND that there is. :)

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cl June 18, 2010 at 11:14 am

tmp,

Get ready for another link! [I'm guessing you'll get pointed to Hateful Craig this time]

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

lukeprog,

I think the problem is, that we have somewhat different definition of “ought”. This is probably because I’m not a native speaker.

>Specifically, ought means “There exist reasons for action such that…”

I use ought in two different meanings, e.g. “If I open my fist, this ball ought to fall because of gravity”, or “You ought to be nice to people, because it’s the right thing to do”. The first is “will, but I’m not entirely sure” and the second is “should, in my opinion”.

Saying “There exist reasons for action such that…” say nothing about RIGHTNESS of action, and to evaluate right or wrong, good or bad, you need to specify some set of criteria. Also, how do you define this set of criteria without giving it any intrinsic value?

And I can’t see anything, that would make, say an attractive woman’s desire to not sleep with just anyone any more valuable than a bunch of horny guys desire to sleep with an attractive woman…

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

cl,

I’ve spent an awful lot of time trying to explain in plain language how desirism works. Try sending Brink or Dworkin or Railton an email asking them an endless series of questions about their moral theory instead of reading their books and I suspect you will get ‘stonewalled’ to an even greater degree.

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 11:25 am

tmp,

Yup, you get another link. See the ought-is link here. I don’t have time to repeat myself.

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cl June 18, 2010 at 11:32 am

…reason tells me not to use reason to get Craig to refrain from thwarting the desires of others. Instead, reason tells us that we can use threats to thwart Craig’s other desires as a way of modifying his behavior. [Fyfe]

Yeah, and let’s just threaten anybody who doesn’t do what I – oops, I’m sorry – people generally have reasons to condemn, fans of spectator sports, unprotected non-monogamy and escapist TV included!
tmp,

Saying “There exist reasons for action such that…” say nothing about RIGHTNESS of action…

Correct. Stonewalling imminent in T-minus 3, 2, 1…

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 11:49 am

lukeprog,

Links are good.

I read the PDF. And no, it does not bridge the is-ought cap. Ought implies a WHY and the why is not explained.

e.g.

I release the ball, it ought to fall because of gravity.

You ought to wash your hands, because bacteria can make you ill.

I also read the hateful Craig thing. So, we should use social tools to curtail Craigs harmful desires? But why, if _I_ am not Craig’s victim, should I do anything about him?

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cl June 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

Luke,

Try sending Brink or Dworkin or Railton an email asking them an endless series of questions about their moral theory instead of reading their books and I suspect you will get ’stonewalled’ to an even greater degree.

Ah, nice rhetorical device: “endless series of questions.”

Ah, nice assumption [that I'm not sufficiently read on desirism]. Is that a stock response of yours? I see it often.

A significant subset of your most intelligent commenters have gotten the impression that you and Fyfe are stonewalling. You can ignore or try to downplay that if you want, but honestly, I think you’d do better to address the issues than to leave another response that eschews intellectual accountability and prefers rhetorical device and unfounded assumption, ironically on the very same day you post about how we should keep vigilant for bias.

This theory is nowhere near ready for peer review, IMHO.

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Lee A. P. June 18, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Those handsome older people are going to fuck like mad after their heated video confrontation. I am sure of it.

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm

lukeprog,

Ah, you meant the tho links in the FAQ.

I don’t see the problem with Hume’s argument. Value comes from an observer giving value. So ‘ought’ is an opinion. An observer with access to all the facts that are merely has access to valuations made by all other observers.

‘Ought’ rises from ‘is’ of the observer, not of the ‘is’ of the thing observed. Well except indirectly; the ‘is’ of the observed of course has a great deal of effect on the observations. So when Alonzo Fyfe makes ‘ought’ from ‘is’, it has more to do with Alonzo Fyfe’s opinions than the thing whose ‘is’ was the basis for the ‘ought’.

About the description and prescription thing, if Fyfe claims that “don’t drink poisoned water” is a moral prescription, then he is probably using some different meaning of the word than what I’m familiar with. The part about promoting desires in others that you like inhibiting those that you dislike also seems more like a common sense observation than a moral prescription. Also, you cannot really say ‘people generally’ when it’s an individual taking the action.

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm

tmp,

You are correct that ought comes from the is of observers. However, it is incorrect to say that ‘ought’ is an opinion. ‘ought’ is a relation between desires and states of affairs. We can have an opinion, which is a form of belief, that is incorrect – even about our own desires.

The sentence “If you don’t want to be poisoned, you ought not drink poisoned water” is trivially true, and identifies a value. But it does not necessarily describe a moral value. Moral value is, according to desirism, a subset of value having to do with the value of desires themselves.

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 5:31 pm

lukeprog,

Ok, so Desirism uses terms ‘ought’, ‘value’ and ‘moral’ in ways that are different from common use? I need to read up more on them, then. e.g.

“If you don’t want to be poisoned, you ought not drink poisoned water.” would commonly probably be called “a true statement” rather than a “value”.

But you admitted, that ‘ought’ comes from the ‘is’ of observers, and that means it’s almost by definition subjective, right?

Another question; I’m reasonably certain, that I have desires that are result and dependent on my beliefs. But the truth or falsehood of those beliefs really has nothing at all to do with the existence of those desires. So why do the truthfulness of my beliefs matter at all?

And third. I still have not gotten over the “no intrinsic value” part. There are desires. Some of those desires are good. But because goodness has no intrinsic value, there is no reason whatsoever to treat those desires any different from any other desire. Right?

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm

lukeprog,

Ok, communication error. When you say ‘good’ you mean ‘good as fit for some purpose’, specifically ‘good according to Desirism’.

And when you say ‘ought’, you also mean ‘ought as defined by Desirism’.

Which is kind of a circular argument: You can make Desirism work, because you can make an ‘ought’ out of ‘is’, and you can make ‘ought’ out of ‘is’ because of Desirism.

And I think it really would have been simpler to simply say “Do unto others…” :)

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 7:54 pm

tmp,

Desirism is both a meta-ethical theory and a normative theory. The meta-ethical theory proposes a set of slightly “reforming” definitions (ala Brandt), because existing theories of morality either refer to things that don’t exist (intrinsic values, categorical imperatives, etc.) or define moral terms very narrowly. Desirism tries to bring in a set of definitions that is as closely aligned as possible to the way people typically use moral terms while at the same time referring to things that actually exist. (Much the same way we tweaked our definition of ‘atom’ when we discovered atoms were not, in fact, indivisible.)

So yeah, a set of definitions is part of the proposal, and under Desirist definitions ‘ought’ is a species of ‘is.’ But this is no more question-begging than any set of definitions for moral terms that necessarily partitions ‘ought’ and ‘is.’ In any case, it is hard to see how someone could use ‘ought’ phrases meaningfully if they are not a species of ‘is’. If someone did so, it seems all such ‘ought’ sentences must fail to refer, if ought is not a species of is. So there is good reason to reject any set of definitions that proposes ought is not part of the realm of is.

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 8:01 pm

tmp,

The poisoning sentence is true. The part about not wanting to be poisoned discusses a value. I, for one, place negative value on getting poisoned. I have an aversion to being poisoned.

‘ought’ in the general sense is subjective, yes. Desirism holds that moral ‘ought’, on the other hand, has to do with an evaluation of all desires that exist, which some people have described as a kind of borderland between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ as those terms are typically used.

According to Desirism, desires are good not intrinsically, but they are good in the same way anything else is good or bad. A desire is ‘good’ (according to desirism) if it tends to fulfill desires. A desire is ‘bad’ (according to Desirism) if it tends to thwart desires.

As for desires and false beliefs, I know Alonzo has written on that, but I can’t find the posts right now.

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 8:37 pm

lukeprog,

I have no other problem with the redefinitions, except that it confuses people that are not familiar with Desirism.

If you give new definitions ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘value’, ‘moral’ and ‘ought’, you really should put up a disclaimer before conversation starts. :)

(BTW, could you give me a link to the formalisms for the moral calculations under Desirism? And the methods used to perform the measurements? And possibly the example results of some?)

But it does mean, that Fyfe did NOT solve the Hume dilemma(he changed the question instead of giving an answer). And that it IS circular; the part of ‘is’ that Derism derives its’ ‘ought’s from includes Desirism itself.

And there seems to be a glaring problem in the primer that I read: Fyfe asserts that people are not selfish, and goes on to cite an example of a person sacrificing for his/her child. And then cheerfully goes to extrapolate from this to complete strangers. Wait, what?

Next, we go to being altruistic(taking the desires of other’s into account) without any explanation WHY we should do so.

>it is hard to see how someone could use ‘ought’ phrases meaningfully if they are not a species of ‘is’.

Uhm, isn’t Desirism’s ‘ought’ just the ‘is’ that according to Desirism is good. So under any other ethical theory, ‘ought’ would be the ‘is’ that is good according to that particular theory. The problem here is, that this is valid only after the theory has been shown to be right, so you cannot use any ‘ought’ statements in proving your theory. Oh, and you also can not claim something to be good because good is derived from the thing you are trying to prove.

>So there is good reason to reject any set of definitions that proposes ought is not part of the realm of is.

So, if I say “you should do this, because the Bible says it’s the right thing to do” is OK? While I don’t believe in gods, the Bible is real. It’s roughly analogous to “you should do this, because Desirism says it’s the right thing to do”. (The justification for Desirism is circular, so any moral prospriction according to Desirism necessarily includes “Desirism says so”.)

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 8:48 pm

lukeprog,

>The poisoning sentence is true. The part about not wanting to be poisoned discusses a value.

Not really. It discusses what one should do to avoid being poisoned. It says nothing about whether the agent wants to be poisoned or not. Although this is a matter of semantics, and COMPLETELY irrelevant. :)

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 9:01 pm

tmp,

There are about 25 things to respond to in your last couple of posts, and I definitely don’t have time for that. Please do check the FAQ links, where many of the issues you raise are addressed.

Keep in mind that all moral theories have their own set of definitions. Desirism is not unique in that regard. There is no ‘normal’ definition for the word ‘good.’ Certain theories outlaw deriving ought from is by definition, others necessitate that ought is a species of is by definition, and so on. I’ve given at least one reason for why it makes no sense to keep using ‘ought’ phrases if we’re going to define them out of the realm of ‘is.’

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tmp June 18, 2010 at 9:34 pm

lukeprog,

Ah, the FAQ has filled entries after the “To be added…” ones.

The clarification what you mean by ‘objective’ helped. Now I understand the argument. Not necessarily agree, but understand.

Thank you for your time.

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lukeprog June 18, 2010 at 11:34 pm

The older FAQ, linked in the first paragraph of the newer FAQ, has lots of useful links.

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JS Allen June 18, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Despite my conviction that Alfonso is a semi-retarded clown, I’ll point to a grad student who has thought through this specific issue more deeply. If it’s a pearl to a pig, so be it. Meaningful careers vs. hobbies

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Richard Wein June 19, 2010 at 12:11 am

tmp wrote:

If you give new definitions ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘value’, ‘moral’ and ‘ought’, you really should put up a disclaimer before conversation starts. :)

Well said.

Luke calls himself a moral realist. By his definition so am I. But in the normal sense of the term I’m a moral anti-realist (aka moral irrealist aka moral skeptic). Alonzo Fyfe hedges his bets by calling himself both a moral realist and a moral anti-realist! Changing the meanings of words like this is not conducive to rational communication.

Luke wrote:

In any case, it is hard to see how someone could use ‘ought’ phrases meaningfully if they are not a species of ‘is’. If someone did so, it seems all such ‘ought’ sentences must fail to refer, if ought is not a species of is. So there is good reason to reject any set of definitions that proposes ought is not part of the realm of is.

Moral claims are “is” statements in the sense that the speaker is making a descriptive attribution of a property he believes to exist. But the properties in question (moral goodness, moral obligation, etc) cannot exist because those concepts are incoherent.

The rational response to the incoherence of moral claims is to point out the incoherence, not to redefine moral terms in a way that’s inconsistent with how they’re actually used.

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tmp June 19, 2010 at 8:04 am

Richard Wein,

>Changing the meanings of words like this is not conducive to rational communication.

Yes. I thought Desirism was an “objective moral theory” and wondered what were these guys smoking, and where could I get some? If I call it “a subjective theory about a subset of moral questions”, then I have no objections.

Well, expect Fyfe’s is-ought cap. If I got this right, Hume asserts that he cannot conceive any magical ‘oughtness’ hiding in the ‘is’. Then Fyfe asserts, that just because Hume cannot conceive it, the magical oughtness isn’t there. And then goes on to say, that there is no magical oughtness, which is something of contradiction. And crosses the is-ought cap by redefining ‘ought’, which I really don’t have a problem with, but his answer has nothing whatsoever to do with Hume’s question. SOMEONE has misunderstood something here.

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tmp June 19, 2010 at 9:39 am

I think I got it.

Hume claims, that if there is a thing-that-is and an observer-that-is, there is nothing in the thing-that-is that could give rise to an ought, only in the observer-that-is.

The problem is, then, that those oughts-that-are are different for different observers, and you have no justification to claim that your ought is more right than any other.

Fyfe claims the same, and simply asserts that this is not a problem. And for Desirism, it isn’t. But again, this answer really has nothing to do with Hume’s problem.

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lukeprog June 19, 2010 at 10:07 am

tmp,

On is-ought: You seemed to agree that the sentence “If one wants to avoid being poisoned, one ought not drink poisoned water” was rather trivially true. That is, it’s part of the ‘is’ realm.

Well, that’s a hypothetical imperative. And desirism sees morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives (like Philippa Foot did in her famous article, “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives.”) What’s so mysterious or tricky about that?

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tmp June 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

lukeprog,

>What’s so mysterious or tricky about that?

I said that my objection was about semantics, and entirely irrelevant. Also, very possibly my mistake. I’m not a native speaker. I simply had to be contrary. :)

And I spotted my mistake: I did not use the desirist definition of value.

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Richard Wein June 20, 2010 at 5:05 am

@tmp

I think you need to distinguish between moral oughts and non-moral oughts. Hypothetical oughts are non-moral oughts. They merely give advice on how to achieve some goal. They do not attribute any moral obligation to take that advice. By conflating moral and non-moral oughts, desirism is again using terms in a way that’s inconsistent with how people actually speak.

Even hypothetical oughts are problematic. It’s certainly not trivial to reduce a hypothetical ought to an “is”. But I’m only concerned here with the subject of morality, so I won’t go into that.

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

Richard Wein,

>I think you need to distinguish between moral oughts and non-moral oughts.

Not when dealing with Desirism. In my use(possibly common use also) ought implies a WHY. And Desirism is constructed in such a way that the why is ALWAYS “because Alonzo Fyfe says so”. I think the theory is remarkably easy to understand after you realize this.

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lukeprog June 20, 2010 at 9:40 am

tmp,

Yes, ought implies a why. The only ‘why’ in the universe comes from reasons for action. If you say “You ought to do X” and I say “Why?” then the only correct answer can be a reason for action that exists. As it happens, only desires exist. So desires provide the only WHYs in the universe. This is precisely what Desirism claims.

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 9:48 am

lukeprog,

Ok, the why is always “Alonzo Fyfe desires that it be so”

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 9:58 am

lukeprog,

Well, more explanation.

You have a bunch of desires. You are going to use Desirism to choose which one to act on. The WHY of that CHOOSING, is “because Alonzo Fyfe’s desires that it be so”, and YOUR BELIEF that Alonzo Fyfe’s desires are true.

Which is why Desirism is subjective, btw, because there is really no way to determine the thruthfulness of Fyfe’s beliefs.

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Richard Wein June 20, 2010 at 10:02 am

And Desirism is constructed in such a way that the why is ALWAYS “because Alonzo Fyfe says so”. I think the theory is remarkably easy to understand after you realize this.

I stand corrected. ;)

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 10:32 am

Richard Wein,

The fundamental disconnect is in a fact that to make moral prosprictions you really need to cross the is-ought cap somehow.

Desirism does this by assuming that Alonzo Fyfe is the font from which morality flows. The problem is, of course, that it’s REALLY difficult to convince people who DO NOT ALREADY BELIEVE IN ALONZO FYFE that Desirism is correct. This has been tried before, and the technique was wildly successful. I wait with bated breath if Alonzo Fyfe is successful in challenging the incumbent. :)

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Richard Wein,

>desirism is again using terms in a way that’s inconsistent with how people actually speak.

Tell me about it. It actually starts with calling Desirism a “objective moral theory”. It is not objective, expect in a trivial sense that a Desirist is supposed to replicate Alonzo Fyfe’s intuitions as accurately as possible. It does not deal with things I(and people in general, I suppose) would think as “morality”(well, I could be charitable and say that it deals with Alonzo Fyfe’s subjective moral intuitions). Or if it does, a small subset at best. Also, it is not much of a theory, since there is a whole bunch of assertions that really have no justification whatsoever in the theory, and are just implicitly assumed.

You would except a moral theory to be able to make an assertion if an act is good or bad. Desirism can not. e.g. Desirist says an act is good -> it fulfills more desires than it thwarts -> Alonzo Fyfe says you should take this act. And THAT’S IT.

Sorry about the ranting. I’m actually pretty OK with redefinitions, but NOT IN THE LABEL.

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Eneasz June 20, 2010 at 6:40 pm

tmp

Obviously you are not here out of any desire to understand how other people have attempted to tackle real problems in the real world, in this case that problem being how humans should strive to act. You are merely here to insult anyone who attempts to answer such questions without coming to the same conclusions you did. You lack empathy, intelligence, creativity, and even basic civility. You are, in short, worthless. May your trolling fill your life with misery.

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lukeprog June 20, 2010 at 6:45 pm

tmp,

Desirism does not ground moral value in Alonzo Fyfe’s desires. It grounds moral value in all the desires that exist.

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 8:04 pm

lukeprog,

>Desirism does not ground moral value in Alonzo Fyfe’s desires.

You are right. And I have been overly harsh. For that, I apologize. I got somewhat excited, when I read in your FAQ, that Desirism was an objective moral theory. It isn’t. I was disappointed, and I was harsh.

Plus, this has probably been an exercise in internet rage. We were talking past each other, and I was left wondering what were you smoking, and you, what kind of idiot is that guy? And we STILL seem to have problems seeing each other’s points.

But desirism DOES ground moral value in Alonzo Fyfe’s subjective moral intuition. He outright states this in the-strangeness-of-ought link that I found in your desirism FAQ. He may have excellent reasoning, I have not read all that he has written, but the fundamental WHY of using desires to evaluate value(and taking in account ALL desires, not just your own) still points there. Which is the source of the “Alonzo Fyfe says so” thing. It may be overly harsh, but it’s not entirely incorrect.

So, for Desirism to work, you need to know the theory, let’s say you have a true belief that you know the theory of Desirism. Then, you need to have a desire to use Desirism as your moral guideline. This gives you a reason-for-action to actually use Desirism as your moral guideline. However, a non-Desirist would describe this situation as “Alonzo Fyfe thinks so, and you have faith in his reasoning.”

Rather than Alonzo Fyfe’s desire, Desirism is based on Alonzo Fyfe’s reasoning and moral intuition, and the Desirist’s own desire. There is really nothing wrong with it, but I kinda got an impression, that the theory is more than it is. Plus, Fyfe’s Desirism primer that you linked is pretty sparse; it leaves some holes that may well be filled in some of his other writing, but I kinda got into the “what ARE they smoking?” phase by then. Also, you really need a “Derirism lexicon” as a first link of you FAQ that translates critical Desirist terms to common usage.

P.S. to Eneasz, I have used a decent deal of energy trying to understand some of Fyfe’s writings, which are not terribly clear(uses Desirist definitions of terms). Plus, most of my questions seems to have problems with either me writing them to ask what I actually mean, or lukeprog reading what is intended. Probably a bit of both. I have not said anything about your conclusions, except that I don’t necessarily agree. I admit I was overly harsh, but I don’t see any assertions that I made that could be called entirely incorrect, exaggerated and harsh, yes, but not incorrect. You could have, maybe, tried to refute some claims that I made instead of getting all butthurt and insulting me.

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 8:12 pm

You cannot span the is-ought gap. More precisely, you cannot produce an argument that allows one to acquire knowledge of a non-trivial evaluative claim from premises which are purely descriptive.

Above you’ve linked people to some confused articles by Alonzo Fyfe that appear to claim the gap is spannable. But one can’t really tell, since the writing is so opaque. For an almost knockdown argument that the gap isn’t spannable (in the sense defined above), see Toomas Karmo’s “Some Valid (but no Sound) Arguments Trivially Span the ‘Is’-'Ought’ Gap” in Mind (1988): 252-7. Here’s a stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2255169

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 8:15 pm

lukeprog,

Ah, now I got it

> It grounds moral value in all the desires that exist.

What is the JUSTIFICATION for doing so. This is what I have been asking, or trying to.

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 8:16 pm

For those who prefer a brief discussion of the article to actually reading it, try here:

http://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2006/03/the_isought_gap/comments/page/2/

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm

If “desirism” grounds the truth of moral statements in all the desires that exist, then desirism is a form of ethical subjectivism. It makes value facts turn on attitudes or psychological properties of agents. It is also a form of reductionism, since it (presumably) holds that moral facts are reducible to psychological facts. As such, it is beset by all the problems that afflict reductionist theories and all the problems that afflict subjectivist theories. Here is a partial list of the problems any intellectually honest defender of this inchoate view will have to face up to:

(i) The problem of arbitrariness (the moral facts turn on the arbitrary desires people happen to have)
(ii) The problem of stability (if people’s desires shift, then it may well be truthfully assertible that Hitler’s actions were good)
(iii) The problem of modal or cross-temporal disagreement,
(iv) The problem of perverse desires (desires are themselves assessable as good or bad), and
(v) A likely problem of circularity (assessing desires as good or bad on the basis of desires).

Depending upon how Fyfe defines his terms, he’ll either be an analytic or synthetic reductionist. If he’s an analytic reductionist, he’ll run smack into Moore’s Open Question Argument. And if he’s a synthetic reductionist, he’ll have serious trouble accounting for moral knowledge absent appealing to ethical intuitions or other moral property detectors. (The latter concern isn’t, I think, devastating. Perhaps we can detect moral properties or perhaps we do have knowledge conferring ethical intuitions.)

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lukeprog June 20, 2010 at 8:33 pm

tmp,

There are so many misunderstandings of desirism in your post I don’t have time to explain. If you want to try to understand, you can keep reading the hundreds of posts Alonzo and I have written. But if not, I won’t be hurt. :)

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 8:41 pm

lukeprog,

Ok, cl was right. You are stonewalling. If you could have corrected even one of these misunderstandings, I could probably have found more by myself, and been motivated to do so. Now, I’m just going to assume my interpretation is correct, and call it a day. No great loss for either of us.

Thank you for your civility, anyway. I WAS a bit out of line.

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lukeprog June 20, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Anonymous,

Alonzo has written a great deal about Moore’s Open Question argument and also about how Desirism straddles the line between objective morality and subjective morality.

For example, if you define ‘subjective’ to mean ‘dependent on mental states,’ then this renders news headlines like ’30 Injured in Baghdad Bombing’ into subjective facts rather than objective facts. Is that really what you mean by subjective? I think not. So it’s more complicated than that.

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lukeprog June 20, 2010 at 9:49 pm

tmp,

Why, when someone more knowledgeable about the theory than you says that you misunderstand the theory, would you conclude that your interpretation is correct?

Bizarre.

If you tried to summarize Railton’s theory of morality and Railton told you that you had it wrong but he didn’t have time to explain the whole thing, would you say, “Well, I’ll assume my interpretation is correct and call it a day”?

You are very strange.

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Luke,

You point to a problem with defining “subjective”. But you don’t point at the problem accurately. You haven’t given a clear example, for one. Whether thirty people are injured or not needn’t depend upon anybody’s mental states. Suppose thirty people have their limbs blown off. They’ve been injured. And one needn’t consider anybody’s mental states to determine whether it’s true or false that these people instantiate the property “being injured”. They have been injured whether or not they or anyone else believes they have been, etc…

Nobody says that a property is had subjectively iff the having of that property depends upon someone’s mental states. You’ve raised a strawman. I have the property of “believing [whatever]“. I have this property in virtue of being in a certain mental state. So my having this property depends upon my mental states. But this isn’t a case of a property being subjective.

Why not? Because whether or not this property is instantiated doesn’t depend upon anybody’s attitudes or reactions or dispositions towards me (my attitudes included). Say, roughly, that a property is had subjectively by a thing iff the having of that property by that thing depends upon attitudes or reactions or responses people have or would have towards that thing.

On this definition, it can be an objective matter of fact that something has a property subjectively. And, of course, no philosopher would deny this. To say that an ethical theory is subjectivist isn’t to say that the theory does away with objective matters of fact. Everybody knows this.

So again, desirism is infected by all the problems that infect subjectivist theories in general. And I listed many of those problems. You haven’t done away with a single one of the problems I listed by raising your concern.

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 10:08 pm

I note that Fyfe has mentioned Moore’s Open Question Argument here:

http://www.freeratio.org/thearchives/showthread.php?t=103687

He clearly doesn’t understand the argument, or any of the philosophical literature on the subject matter.

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Moore’s OQA is targeted against Analytic Semantic Naturalism (ASN). Moore assumes that Metaphysical Ethical Naturalism (MEN) entails ASN. MEN is the doctrine that ethical facts are identical with natural facts. (In other terminology, ethical facts are “reducible to” natural facts.) Thus Moore thinks that (read “==>” as “entails”):

(1) MEN ==> ASN

Now Moore thinks that ASN entails the denial of the open question thesis:

(2) OQT: Questions of the form “Entity e has natural property N, but is it good?” are open questions.

So Moore holds (where “~” stands for negation):

(3) ASN ==> ~OQT.

But since:

(4) OQT

Moore concludes by modus tollens:

(5) ~ASN

And again, by modus tollens:

(6) ~MEN

That’s the argument. It’s provided as a refutation of MEN on the assumption that MEN entails ASN. It doesn’t refute MEN. But it does refute ASN. So if Fyfe is an analytic reductionist, he is fucked. He’d better be a synthetic semantic naturalist.

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Now as I said above, if Fyfe rejects ASN and opts for SSN (synthetic semantic naturalism), then he’s going to run into serious problems accounting for moral knowledge, absent positing interesting cognitive powers (the ability to observe moral facts or the instantiation of moral properties, the ability to intuit moral facts, etc…) But of course, if one posits such cognitive powers, there remains little reason to identify moral facts with natural facts likes desires.

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 11:21 pm

lukeprog,

>Why, when someone more knowledgeable about the theory than you says that you misunderstand the theory, would you conclude that your interpretation is correct?

Because I’m a generous person at heart. When someone more knowledgeable that me refuses to answer a single question or refute a single of my assertions(your prerogative, but you should reconsider having open blog on internet), and I have parsed together an interpretation which seems to be perfectly in line with the(small amount, admittedly) written material I read, and perfectly reasonable and coherent if less than impressive in its implications, I really should conclude that the entire theory is nonsense.

>If you tried to summarize Railton’s theory of morality and Railton told you that you had it wrong but he didn’t have time to explain the whole thing

Railton has more credibility. And I’m not asking for whole thing, I would have been reasonably happy if you had answered one of my questions, or pointed a single error in my interpretation.

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Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm

This so-called “desirism” isn’t well spelled out and isn’t well thought out. Asking Luke to defend a “theory” that hasn’t been articulated at any reasonable level of clarity won’t get you answers. The “theory” has never been clearly articulated. The “theory” has not been well thought out (in large part because nobody has any idea what the hell it is—which is of course a consequence of there being no clear statement of it). Luke’s promotion of “desirism” is on par with promotion of pseudoscience. You constantly get referred back to previous bullshit. Luke’s blog is great in many respects, but when it comes to this “desirism” business, it’s an epic fail.

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tmp June 20, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Anonymous,

I wonder if he is a clever troll. :) I’m reasonably certain that most of the Desirism posts collect a great deal of butthurt posters.

But, as I said, I have came up with an reasonably coherent interpretation, and until I see something that disproves it, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m having some difficulties taking this seriously after I read the-strangeness-of-ought, where Fyfe completely misses the point of Hume’s argument against making an ‘ought’ out of ‘is’. Actually, he specifically does exactly what Hume warns against. :)

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Richard Wein June 21, 2010 at 12:37 am

Hi Anonymous. First, I agree with you that Fyfe’s writing on metaethics is opaque. He seems very confused.

Fyfe’s basic assertion about morality is that a morally good desire is one that tends to fulfill more desires than it thwarts. He then says that a morally good action is one that a person with morally good desires would perform. But he is opaque as to whether these assertions are (a) substantive claims about what things are morally good, or (b) definitions of the meaning of the term “morally good”.

Luke (the host of this blog) insists that they are definitions. And I finally managed to get a response from Fyfe that pretty much confirmed this, though it was less than 100% clear. I suspect the problem is that Fyfe doesn’t see the distinction between (a) and (b).

I’m not familiar with the distinctions you make between different forms of moral naturalism, but from a brief google it appears that Fyfe’s position should be considered Analytic Semantic Naturalism. But whatever type of naturalism you call it, it is defining moral terms in a way that is inconsistent with how such terms are normally used.

The only version of the OQA that I’ve read is the one presented in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (on-line) and that seems somewhat opaque. It seems to me that the validity of a (reportive) definition should be assessed by comparing it with the way people actually speak, and it’s not clear how the OQA (in the form I’ve seen it) does that. From a brief google it seems that some philosophers have looked at this question in a more sophisticated way, and I’ll read up on that when I have time.

In the meantime, I don’t share the objections you made in your list, apart from the problem of possible circularity (which it might be possible to work around). If we pretend (for the sake of argument) that the concept of objective moral facts is a coherent one, I don’t see it as necessarily a problem that such facts be dependent on facts about people’s desires, and that they change as those desires change.

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Richard Wein June 21, 2010 at 12:42 am

P.S. I have to agree with you that Luke’s thinking about desirism is not up to the high standard of his thinking on other subjects. It seems like a classic example of the power of an idee fixe to blunt an otherwise sharp mind.

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 8:10 am

Anonymous,

Here are the top three Google results for Alonzo Fyfe Objective Subjective. They should clear some things up:
one two three

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 9:21 am

On the discussion of desirism in this posting, one thing to note is that I did not invent the English language. I take the language that is given.

I am not the one who described myself as both a realist (moral propositions describe states of affairs that exist in the real world) and an anti-realist (moral propositions refer to intrinsic values and intrinsic values do not exist).

These are other peoples’ descriptions of desirism.

I once received two invitations to debate at the same time. One invitation asked me to defend moral realism. The other asked me to defend subjectivism. Both invitations focused on different parts of the theory. Because I hold that value is a relationship between states of affairs and desires, some insist on calling me a subjectivist. Well, of “objective” means “independent of mental states (and desires are mental states)” than I AM a subjectivist.

Then I encounter another person who insists that the word “subjectivist” means that there are no moral facts and that all a person needs to do to make a moral claim true is to adopt it. “If I believe that slavery is permissible, then slavery is permissible (for me).’

Noen, for example, seems to want to use a definition where all statements about the brain are “subjective”. I wonder how he would classify, “Sam’s brain weighs 2lbs, 14.5oz.” Is this ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’. Because the statement ‘Sam’s brain is programmed for a desire that P’ is not a different kind of statement.

So, I have N different groups of people using N different sets of definitions. I provide an answer to the people who are using Definition Set 3. Then somebody using Definition Set 5 comes along and says that all of my claims are nonsense because “that isn’t what the words mean.” When I translate the statements into Definition Set 5, then somebody who uses Definition Set 3 comes along and says, “That is utter nonsense.”

There really is not much I can do about this. If everybody would agree to use the same definitions the problem will vanish. However, users of Definition Set 3 insist that theirs is correct, and users of Definition Set 5 insist that everybody must use their definitions.

Yes, it is confusing. Perhaps it is not a useful strategy to try to speak to each person who raises an objection in their own language. However, none of this has any bearing on the merits of the theory.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 9:22 am

This was not a post about abolishing entertainment. It is a post that says that some forms of entertainment are better than others. It is not a post about giving up fun for the sake of something else. It is a post about making choices as to what to promote as fun.

Is it possible to create a world in which people have as much fun . . . or more fun . . . but doing something useful at the same time.

For example, among my past-times (in addition to the time-wasting computer games) is the study of history, astronomy, and space development. I could – and do – spend a considerable amount of time in these pursuits. Through them, I have a better understanding of different cultures, how societies work, and science in general. Astronomy contributes to my recognition of certain deire-thwarting threats not only from space but the harms we can do to our own planet. My objections do not apply to these forms of entertainment.

For instance, as Eneasz pointed out, participatory sports has health benefits. I, myself, pointed out the ability that fiction has of getting one to understand things in the world from a different point of view.

Ultimately, yes, this is the timeless age-old lament about time-wasting activities such as watching too much worthless television and playing too many worthless video games. However, it demonstrates that this age-old lament actually makes sense. There is value to be had in encouraging useful entertainments and discouraging useless entertainments.

PS. NASA is developing a role-playing game where people taking quests have to solve real problems encountered on a space station or lunar colony using actual real-world physics. THAT sounds like fun.

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Richard Wein June 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

Alonzo:

I am not the one who described myself as both a realist (moral propositions describe states of affairs that exist in the real world) and an anti-realist (moral propositions refer to intrinsic values and intrinsic values do not exist).

My mistake. I thought I’d read that in one of your articles, but on revisiting the article I see I was mistaken.

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 10:36 am

Alonzo,

Re: NASA game. Interesting.

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cl June 21, 2010 at 11:18 am

Luke,

On is-ought: You seemed to agree that the sentence “If one wants to avoid being poisoned, one ought not drink poisoned water” was rather trivially true. That is, it’s part of the ‘is’ realm. Well, that’s a hypothetical imperative. And desirism sees morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives (like Philippa Foot did in her famous article, “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives.”) What’s so mysterious or tricky about that? (to tmp)

It says nothing about what’s right. When people consider morality, they want to know how to find out what is right. Now, I get that Alonzo simply chucks any intrinsic “right” out the window, but in doing so, he commits us to moral relativism. Since there are clearly desires that 1) tend to fulfill other desires, but 2) that most of us who comment here would consider wrong, I fail to see the point. Let me know if you need an example. That is, if none of the many examples already left don’t suffice.

Desirism does not ground moral value in Alonzo Fyfe’s desires. It grounds moral value in all the desires that exist.

Uh, you need to take a closer look and [possibly] take Alonzo off that pedastel. Here, in the OP, Alonzo grounds his moral prescriptions in his own desires. It could not be more clear. He says “some forms of entertainment are better than others” when he should say, “some forms of entertainment are better than others, for me.” As it stands, Fyfe castigates empty preaching while preaching emptily.

Secondly, desirism has no means by which it can evaluate all the desires that exist, so, “all the desires that exist” reduces to something that doesn’t exist – i.e. something that we lack epistemic access to.

Richard Wein,

Hypothetical oughts are non-moral oughts. They merely give advice on how to achieve some goal. They do not attribute any moral obligation to take that advice. By conflating moral and non-moral oughts, desirism is again using terms in a way that’s inconsistent with how people actually speak.

Exactly. Alonzo’s desirism is really just verbose pragmatism. It says that when people have reasons for action, they will act to realize a state of affairs in which their desires are fulfilled – as if that’s not so obvious as to be tautological.

tmp,

There are so many misunderstandings of desirism in your post I don’t have time to explain. (Luke)

Well, what’d I tell you? Luke’s apparently got all the time in the world, until the questions get too tough or too protracted. It’s pretty annoying, isn’t it? Fyfe does the same thing.

…I’m not asking for whole thing, I would have been reasonably happy if you had answered one of my questions, or pointed a single error in my interpretation. (to Luke)

Right? I hate it when Luke pulls the “I don’t have the thousands of hours required to intelligibly defend my theory” card. Absolutely hate it.

…Desirism is constructed in such a way that the why is ALWAYS “because Alonzo Fyfe says so”.

Well, I doubt that Fyfe would accept that, but I agree that in theory, this is how it plays out. For example, Alonzo told me that regarding pederasty, the Greeks were “probably wrong,” but when I asked for support, he alluded vaguely to a set of unspecified venereal diseases that would seem to make all sex probably wrong. When I asked him two or three times to clarify, he says nothing.

You can see this at play in the OP, too: since Alonzo doesn’t value spectator sports or escapist TV, we should condemn it.

…desirism is again using terms in a way that’s inconsistent with how people actually speak.

Tell me about it ;)

Take desirism’s definition of good as a perfect example of this: a good desire is any given desire that tends to fulfill other desires. Well, guess what? If the “other desires” any given desire tends to fulfill are bad, we have a definition of good that allows a bad desire to be called good simply because it tends to fulfill other desires. How is this not sophistry?

You could have, maybe, tried to refute some claims that I made instead of getting all butthurt and insulting me. (to Eneasz)

That’s just how Eneasz (t)rolls, and I speak from experience. You’d do best to just ignore Eneasz.

Anonymous,

Here is a partial list of the problems any intellectually honest defender of this inchoate view will have to face up to:

(i) The problem of arbitrariness (the moral facts turn on the arbitrary desires people happen to have)

YES, YES and YES. Desirism allows for things to get all twisted up.

Whether thirty people are injured or not needn’t depend upon anybody’s mental states. (to Luke)

That’s correct. Seems to me Luke – like Fyfe – uses terms in a non-standard way.

Luke’s promotion of “desirism” is on par with promotion of pseudoscience. You constantly get referred back to previous bullshit. Luke’s blog is great in many respects, but when it comes to this “desirism” business, it’s an epic fail.

Ouch, but, SO TRUE, and what might we expect given that just a few years ago Luke was a champion of pseudoscience? What a great analogy. It takes a while to unlearn the underlying character attributes that prompt one towards pseudoscience in the first place. Those underlying attributes don’t just vanish because we trade our cross for a Scarlet A.

Alonzo,

It is a post that says that some forms of entertainment are better than others.

Yes, to you. That doesn’t make those forms of entertainment better for everybody, which is the impression you give with absurd blanket statements condemning these forms of entertainment.

************

Regarding the meta-debate, Alonzo, I and others have enumerated many questions in this thread and others. Assuming you want people to understand your theory, when time permits, will you please answer them? Or, are you just going to ignore them and string us along until we give up? If that latter, I’m pretty close.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 11:50 am

Anonymous

Whether thirty people are injured or not needn’t depend upon anybody’s mental states. Suppose thirty people have their limbs blown off. They’ve been injured.

Tell me what an injury is without making reference to a mental state.

Explain why having a limb blown off an injury, but getting a haircut is not, without making any reference to mental states.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

cl,

>Well, I doubt that Fyfe would accept that, but I agree that in theory, this is how it plays out.

I think this is ultimately true for all moral theories, the difference is how honest you are about it. In the strangeness-of-ought article, he pretty much confirms it. We can present the is-ought-gap in as “You can make ought from is, but the ought is mind-dependent. Specifically yours.” And Fyfe cheerfully ignores this. Thus, “Alonzo Fyfe says so” :) This is, however, a very pragmatic definition: If the justification for something is not clear from Fyfe’s writings, and you cannot get your questions answered, you can just make a mental substitution.

>Take desirism’s definition of good as a perfect example of this

I don’t think this is really a problem. However, it does render Desirims incapable of answering questions about good and evil(since it does not have a concept for good as we understand it).

Where I really got my panties in twist, was Luke’s FAQ that claimed that Desirism was objective, which I read as mind-independent. And mind-independent theory of morality that deals with existing entities only would be a truly grand achievement. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

My best non-adversarial interpretation now is:

1. Under Desirism, the justification for moral ought is derived from your belief in Desirism correctness.

2. Under Desirism, the justification for moral action is derived from your desire for moral action.

And we ignore any missing bits, like HOW are you supposed to determine all relevant desires, measure them in ALL agents and then calculate the moral outcome. Especially when the dependencies are likely to be circular. Or is it a good idea to base morality for desires, when our ancestors spent a great deal of time evolving to live in small hunter-gatherer tribes, and we all carry a great deal of genetic imperatives that are not at all suitable to modern life.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 12:19 pm

cl

Luke has done a good job of pointing out where I have already answered many of the questions posted here. In fact, I’m having a hard time finding any new questions in this discussion.

Now, I get that Alonzo simply chucks any intrinsic “right” out the window, but in doing so, he commits us to moral relativism.

A type of moral relativism – yes. But virtually all (and perhaps all) of science is involved in the study of relations – how one thing stands in relation to (or relative to) something else. That moral science would also turn out to be the study of relations should not be a surprise.

Since there are clearly desires that 1) tend to fulfill other desires, but 2) that most of us who comment here would consider wrong, I fail to see the point.

If there is such a thing, then some people are taking their own prejudices as signs of moral truth. They are mistaken their (probably learned) like or dislike for something as perception of some kind of moral fact and making assertions that have no grounding.

Some may attempt to ground such claims on intrinsic values or God or categorical imperative. However, these things do not exist. What actually explains their decision to call something good or bad is their own desire that the proposition be true. However, a desire to believe something is not good evidence that it is true.

It could not be more clear. He says “some forms of entertainment are better than others” when he should say, “some forms of entertainment are better than others, for me.” As it stands, Fyfe castigates empty preaching while preaching emptily.

Here, you commit the fallacy of equivocation to get the conclusion you want. It is a common tactic of yours. Somebody says that 1 + 1 = 2, you redefine the symbol ’2′ to mean the result of dividing 12 by 4 and then assert that he must be wrong – because obviously 1 + 1 12/4.

(As if the person you are criticizing actually said 1 + 1 12/4.

The fact is, there is absolutely no way to have a conversation with this type of person. He will take the words that are written and spoken and constantly change their meaning.

Hypothetical oughts are non-moral oughts.

Hypothetical oughts are the only oughts that exist. If you want to call them ‘non-moral’, then that is fine. Morality if all make-believe and we should treat it as such. Yet, that would not change anything in the theory. That would only change the language in which the claims of the theory are made. It is not an objection to what I have written – only an objection to the language used in writing it.

Exactly. Alonzo’s desirism is really just verbose pragmatism.

In a sense – yes. But not pragmatism for individuals. A general pragmatism.

Desirism is constructed in such a way that the why is ALWAYS “because Alonzo Fyfe says so”.

A statement of the form, “You should do X” invites a question of “Why?” Desirism states that the answer must be a reason for action that exists. It makes no sense to make an assertion of what a person should do that makes reference to reasons for action that do not exist.

Desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

(Furthermore, desires only motivate the people that have them. Your desires are not a reason for action. Indeed, if your desires were causing ‘my’ actions, then they would not be my actions at all – they would be yours.)

Do you want to argue that other types of reasons for action exist? Take your best shot.

Take desirism’s definition of good as a perfect example of this: a good desire is any given desire that tends to fulfill other desires.

Well, actually, this is not its definition of good. To say that a state of affairs is “good” is to say that there are reasons to act so as to bring that state about or to preserve it. It turns out that desires are the only reasons for action that actually exist. So, it turns out that a true claim about what is good requires that it be something that fulfills desires. However, this is not true by definition.

And, once again, if you want to argue that some other type of reason for action exists, go ahead. Give it your best shot. I would like to see your proof.

…we have a definition of good that allows a bad desire to be called good simply because it tends to fulfill other desires. How is this not sophistry?

So, obviously, it must be the case that some other type of entity exists that explains the attribution of “good”. What is that entity?

Here is a partial list of the problems any intellectually honest defender of this inchoate view will have to face up to:

(i) The problem of arbitrariness (the moral facts turn on the arbitrary desires people happen to have)

But not on the arbitrary desires any particular person has. You cannot look at your own desires and decide what is right and wrong. It depends on facts outside of yourself – but still facts relating states of affairs to desires.

Now, the fact that you do not like a particular conclusion does not mean that it is wrong. The fact is, we live in a universe in which desires are the only reasons for action that exist. You may wish for something else (that is to say, you may ‘desire’ a state of affairs in which other types of reasons for action exist). However, the fact that you want it will not make it true.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

>A statement of the form, “You should do X” invites a question of “Why?” Desirism states that the answer must be a reason for action that exists(e.g. a Desire).

So the agent needs to have a belief that Desirism is the best moral guide, and a desire to act morally?

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

tmp

Where I really got my panties in twist, was Luke’s FAQ that claimed that Desirism was objective, which I read as mind-independent.

If that is how you define ‘objective’ then, Luke’s FAQ never claimed that Desirism is objective.

While it did use the phrase “desirism is objective”, it defined “objective” in terms of “exists in the real world.”

Minds exist in the real world. Beliefs and desires – though certainly not mind-independent (or brain-independent) are real. Scientists can study them and make objectively true and false claims about them – as objectively true and false as any other scientific claim.

While some people use the term ‘objective’ to mean ‘mind-independent’, others use the term to mean ‘incapable of scientific study’. But these are not the same thing. Because minds are real. Beliefs and desires exist. We can talk intelligably about them and make claims about relationships between states of affairs and desires.

And we can be wrong. Really, honestly, objectively, knowably wrong.

If you want to insist that ‘objective’ means ‘mind-independent’, then your decision decision to get your panties in a twist because desirism claimed to be mind-independent is self-serving. You honestly expected to look at a theory named DESIRISM and expected it to be a mind-independent theory of value?

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

>If that is how you define ‘objective’ then, Luke’s FAQ never claimed that Desirism is objective.

And therein lies the problem. We spent a great deal of time speaking entirely past each other.

I don’t want to insist that objective means mind-independent. I do insist, that many people reading a Desirism FAQ(a first contact with Desirism), are likely to take word to mean mind-independent, unless you are REALLY explicit about what you actually mean.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 12:48 pm

tmp

So the agent needs to have a belief that Desirism is the best moral guide, and a desire to act morally?

If you are asserting that this is an interpetation of what I wrote than you have opted to be willfully obtuse. Again, for your own pleasure, I assume.

If, indeed, you think that there is something in desirism that can only be accepted by somebody who has a beleif that Desirism is the best moral guide and a desire to act morally, then I ask you to make good on this assertion.

Back it up by identifying one proposition asserted to be true within Desirism that requires a belief in Desirism and a desire to act morally.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 12:52 pm

>then your decision decision to get your panties in a twist because desirism claimed to be mind-independent is self-serving.

No it wasn’t. It was a mistake. And no really a decision, per se.

>You honestly expected to look at a theory named DESIRISM and expected it to be a mind-independent theory of value?

Well, I thought that it was possible that the reason for using desires as a basis for morality would be mind-independent.

Again, a mistake. Yes, I was a retard. But I still claim that the FAQ could and should have been clearer.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

>Back it up by identifying one proposition asserted to be true within Desirism that requires a belief in Desirism and a desire to act morally.

“I ought to take the desires of others into account.”

There you have it.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I ought to take the desires of others into account.

We can’t tell if this meets the criteria of being a proposition that desirism asserts as being true until we know exactly what it means.

The term “ought” is ambiguous. Some people claim that “ought” means “commanded by God”. Yet, certainly, the phrase “God commands that we take the desires of others into account” is not a proposition that desirism asserts to be true.

So, please, disambiguate the term “ought” for me so that we have a proposition that (1) desirism asserts to be true, and (2) cannot be accepted by a person unless he has adopted desirism and has a desire to be moral.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

>So, please, disambiguate the term “ought” for me

“I have a reason-for-action to consider the desires of others”

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

> unless he has adopted desirism

Correction:

“I have a reason-for-action to consider all desires that exists when making a moral judgement”

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm

tmp

I have a reason-for-action to consider the desires of others.

This is not a proposition that desirism would accept as true. In fact, I will state flat out, this is often false.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

Thus, while Desirism can classify acts as “good” or “bad”, there is never a reason-for-action to pick a good act over a bad act.

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cl June 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Alonzo,

Luke has done a good job of pointing out where I have already answered many of the questions posted here. In fact, I’m having a hard time finding any new questions in this discussion.

Then you must not be trying at all. Here is a cut-and-paste duplication of my comment June 16th, which contains four questions you’ve eschewed. Note that that comment was an amalgamation of my comments to you in Draw Mohammed, which means that you’re leaving unanswered questions all over the place:

1) How is desirism prescriptive if – as you say – it “prescribes nothing” in the case of 200 that P and one that ~P, where P = some malleable desire (for example pederasty or smoking)?

2) Regarding pederasty, you replied that you thought the Greeks were “probably wrong,” but all you offered in support was a vague allusion to an unspecified set of “venereal diseases” that would seemingly also make all other forms of non-monogamous sex also “probably wrong.” Was non-monogamous sex also “probably wrong” at that time? Is non-monogamous sex “probably wrong” now? If not, can you clarify your supporting arguments?

3) You argue against the invocation of “things that don’t exist” in moral arguments, yet, you frequently refer to the generic “we” and “people generally.” Isn’t that an invocation of things that don’t exist? Meaning, aren’t you invoking something ontologically similar to the hypothetical observer?

Also, when I asked,

What does desirism prescribe when we have two agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What about two-hundred agents that want P, and one that wants ~P? What does desirism prescribe then? Who’s right?

…you replied,

Which side will win will depend on a number of factors such as strength, planning, and quantity of ammunition.

I can’t help but to conclude that all you’ve given is a description of survival of the fittest. If you’re simply saying that the strongest side wins, you’re going to have a hard time convincing people that your theory is about morality. So,

4) Is that what you’re saying?

5) If “no” to 4, what are you saying?

Next, I noted that on your own blog – in the post Desirism, Descriptions, and Prescriptions – commenter Cyril asked for your clarification on a question that was also raised in this thread, which you didn’t answer:

…you’ve made numerous references to the “malleability” of desires. This, however, you’ve ever gotten to a definition (“Malleable desires are those that can be molded using social tools such as praise and condemnation”).

But I’m not sure how useful this is. I tried to come up with some examples, but it seems that a lot of the things that we would think of as unmalleable desires turn out to be quite malleable (e.g. desire to eat v. anorexia, desire to live v. suicidal tendencies, homosexual desires v. being Ted Haggard, etc.)

The way I see it, these could be construed two different ways (here exemplified with anorexia):

Option A: The desire to eat is malleable, and that’s why we have anorexics.

Option B: The desire to eat is not malleable, but exists alongside a malleable desire to the contrary which overpowers the malleable desire.

Either one of these seems to describe the facts just as well, and so those wishing to propose one over the other would need to have an argument to that effect. And in the past, I seem to remember you deciding conflicts between different groups of desires on whether one of them was malleable or not. So that would be a good thing to explain.

Also, if you assume some kind of fuzzy logic for the malleability of desires (as would probably fit the data better), how does this fit into the theory? Then we can’t just say that when two groups of desires are in conflict, the one with the umalleable desires wins. Would it then be the least malleable desires? Individually or on average?

So, recap. Questions to be answered:

1) How do we know that there are malleable desires?
2) How does/would fuzzy malleability factor into your theory?
Extra question:
3) How are conflicts between different sets of malleable desires decided? Just let the chips fall where they may?

These are serious questions, and I hope that you would find it advantageous to give a somewhat in-depth answer, as such things cut to the very heart of your theory. Perhaps it would behoove you to do a post or series of posts devoted to the subject. (Cyril)

So quit acting like there aren’t serious, outstanding objections to your theory, and give us some coherent answers, please.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

tmp

Thus, while Desirism can classify acts as “good” or “bad”, there is never a reason-for-action to pick a good act over a bad act.

Never?

Where do you get “Never” from? Does “X is sometimes false” somehow imply “X is never true?”

In fact, your proposition, “There is never reason-for-action to pick a good act over a bad act” is also false. Sometimes there is. Sometimes there is not. Sometimes there are reasons to pick a good act over a bad act, but those reasons are weak and ineffective. Sometimes there are reasons to pick a good act over a bad act that are quite strong and overpower any reasons against it.

But, remember, your task is to identify a proposition that (1) desirism asserts to be true, and (2) that cannot be accepted except by a person who believes in desirism and has a desire to be moral.

You have not yet identified such a proposition.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

…Actually, there is never:
1. A reason-for-action to make a moral evaluation.
2. A reason-for-action to pick a “good” act over a “bad” act.

“I have a reason-for-action to make a moral evaluation(and use Desirism to make it)”

“I have a reason-for-action to pick a ‘good’ act over a ‘bad’ act”

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

>Sometimes there are reasons to pick a good act over a bad act

Yes, but if these reasons have nothing to do with desirism, then you are not really helping your case for using Desirism as a moral guideline.

If your claim is that Desirism was never intended to give moral proscriptions, then I have no objections.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

I try for a better formulation:

“I have a reason-for-action to make a moral evaluation according to Desirism”

“I have a reason-for-action to pick ‘good’ act over a ‘bad’ act, even if I desire the ‘bad’ act more”

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cl June 21, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Alonzo,

They are mistaken their (probably learned) like or dislike for something as perception of some kind of moral fact and making assertions that have no grounding.

That’s exactly what I suspect you are doing when you fail to ground your claim that the Greeks were “probably wrong” about pederasty. It is reasonable to presume that you, as a contemporary American, likely have a learned dislike of pederasty. So, are you mistaken? Or, can you ground your claim? Quit waffling.

However, a desire to believe something is not good evidence that it is true.

I agree. So, where is the good evidence that regarding pederasty, your claim, “the Greeks were probably wrong” is true?

A statement of the form, “You should do X” invites a question of “Why?” Desirism states that the answer must be a reason for action that exists. It makes no sense to make an assertion of what a person should do that makes reference to reasons for action that do not exist.

I AGREE. So, AGAIN, can you give me something that ACTUALLY EXISTS that might justify your claim that the Greeks were “probably wrong” about pederasty. See 2 above.

The fact is, there is absolutely no way to have a conversation with this type of person. He will take the words that are written and spoken and constantly change their meaning.

I’ve not equivocated on anything, Alonzo. I claimed that you make absurd blanket statements based on your own dislike. Sure enough, you do. Look, right here:

Television sitcoms and reality shows fall into the same category. They are a worthless waste of time where people sit on a couch and get fat while they acquire no useful information and accomplish absolutely nothing of value.

Note the complete disregard for specificity with which you blundered ahead. I emphatically DID NOT equivocate to get the conclusion I want. I took your words as you wrote them. Are you really going to tell me with a straight face that you didn’t just say the equivalent of, “Some forms of entertainment are better than others?” That you didn’t just make a blanket statement without any grounding whatsoever?

Hypothetical oughts are the only oughts that exist. If you want to call them ‘non-moral’, then that is fine.

Now you’re responding to claims made by other commenters as if they were claims I made. Can you at least pay enough attention to get your citations right?

In a sense – yes. But not pragmatism for individuals. A general pragmatism.

Whether general or specific, pragmatism is not morality. Pragmatism is how to fulfill one’s desires.

To say that a state of affairs is “good” is to say that there are reasons to act so as to bring that state about or to preserve it.

There are reasons to act to bring about any state of affairs, good, bad or indifferent. That says precisely nothing about whether it would be moral to bring about that state of affairs.

And, once again, if you want to argue that some other type of reason for action exists, go ahead. Give it your best shot. I would like to see your proof.

Now I know you’re barely paying attention. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve agreed that desires are the only reasons for [intentional] action that exist. Why do you persist in asking? You are doing to me exactly that which you criticize others for doing to you: pretending I’m saying one thing, when I’m really saying the exact opposite.

But not on the arbitrary desires any particular person has.

Correct; on the arbitariness of all desires that exist. All desires are malleable. You’ve not once given a cogent argument demonstrating the existence of non-malleable desires.

You cannot look at your own desires and decide what is right and wrong.

So then, given only one agent whose actions affect no others, is all permissible? If only one person existed and they cared not whether they lived or died, would wanton destruction of the environment be permissible?

The fact is, we live in a universe in which desires are the only reasons for action that exist. You may wish for something else (that is to say, you may ‘desire’ a state of affairs in which other types of reasons for action exist).

Alonzo, where have I once contested your claim that desires are the only reasons for [intentional] action that exist? Please, either provide citations that explain your misunderstanding, or, quit responding to positions that aren’t mine and actually answer questions that are mine.

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Alonzo,

This is why you need to write for peer review. If you keep writing for the layman you will always have to face a thousand confusions!

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cl June 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Luke,

This is why you need to write for peer review. If you keep writing for the layman you will always have to face a thousand confusions!

You should be ashamed of yourself. That comment right there conveys so much arrogance that I’m beside myself. Right, it’s not that our objections have validity. It’s not that I can PROVE Alonzo eschews valid questions [as I just did]. It’s that we’re a bunch of layman who obviously haven’t studied as much as you have.

Take your Courtier’s and stuff it up your ass –

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 1:52 pm

cl,

It’s interesting, that Fyfe can’t see what I’m after and just answer the question.

We’ll see if he answers the last formulation; I believe that I wringed most of the wiggle room out of them.

Or it might be that I mistundertood again, and Desirism simply was never intended to day ‘You should…’. How is that for epic miscommunication?

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Alonzo Fyfe June 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm

tmp

Your formulations are not identical.

(1)Sometimes there are reasons to pick a good act over a bad act.

There had better be a reason to pick a good act over a bad act. Otherwise, why call it “good”? It makes no sense to say, “This is good, but there is absolutely no reason to pick it.” So (1) true, but (2) not the case that one has to be a desirist or have a desire to do good to accept it.

Note that there is a difference between “there are reasons” and “I have reasons” just as there is a difference between “there are marbles” and “I have marbles”. There can be reasons that exist that one does not have, though, of course, all of the reasons that one has are reasons that exist.

(2)I have a reason-for-action to make a moral evaluation according to Desirism

I’m afraid I have not been able to parse this into a meaningful sentence. At best, I can think of one interpretation in which it is sometimes true and sometimes false – but none in which it is always true.

(3)I have a reason-for-action to pick ‘good’ act over a ‘bad’ act, even if I desire the ‘bad’ act more.

Again, this is often false, assuming by ‘good’ act you mean ‘morally good act’ and by ‘bad act’ you mean ‘evil act’. An agent may have absolutely no reason at all to pick the morally good act.

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 2:06 pm

cl and tmp,

When people understand my position and offer an objection to it, I have no problem responding. I’ve changed my mind about lots of things, even since starting this blog. Now in some cases I simply don’t have time right now to respond to certain objections, and in that case I will say “I understand your objection, and I hope I have time to reply to it later.”

In other cases, though, the way you’ve represented the theory is not what the theory claims, and that’s when I say you’ve misunderstood the theory. If you refuse this diagnosis and insist that you’ve understood the theory correctly, then I can teach you nothing about Desirism.

If you’d like to continue the dialogue, you are welcome to say, “Okay, at which point did I misunderstand the theory?” and then I will try to explain, time permitting. But some of the larger posts here misunderstand the theory at 5-10 different places, and that is just too much for me to respond to.

Here’s one thing I should say that might help us at least figure out what questions are relevant to the confusion.

All moral theories come with a set of definitions. Subjectivism has its definitions, divine command theory has its definitions, Cornell realism has its definitions, and so on. If you do not – for the sake of argument – take on board the definitions of a particular theory, then obviously its conclusions may not follow. So if you’re going to critique the truth or coherence of a theory, you have to first accept its definitions for moral terms for the sake of argument.

If, on the other hand, you wish to argue that we should not accept Desirism’s set of definitions for moral terms, then that is a different kind of critique. For example, you can argue that the definitions offered by desirism are not similar enough to how people use moral terms, and thus it might be a true and coherent theory about how certain relations involving desires work, but we cannot legitimately call it a theory about morality. This category of objections includes ones such as “Desirism’s set of moral definitions fits it into the category of subjective moral theory” or “Desirism’s set of moral definitions fits it into the category of relativistic moral theory.”

So, first: Which kind of objection do you want to make?

Do you want to take on board for the sake of argument Desirism’s definitions for moral terms, and then argue that the theory is incoherent or that the facts we claim do not follow from these definitions?

Or, do you want to argue that the set of definitions for moral terms offered by Desirism does not allow it to be classified as a “moral” theory or as an “objective” theory of morality, or something like that?

But this stuff about “I don’t care if you think I misunderstand the theory. I really do understand the theory better than you do” is just not going to get us anywhere.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

Thank you. Again, I thought there were things in Desirism that are simply NOT there. The problem here is, again, that a layman is almost certainly looking for them.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm

lukeprog,

>But this stuff about “I don’t care if you think I misunderstand the theory. I really do understand the theory better than you do” is just not going to get us anywhere.

A case of internet rage. I misread your FAQ(and really, it is a bit confusing for a first contact to Desirism). So when I brought up what I though was a valid objection, you thought I was an idiot. And when you answered, I thought you were smoking crack. And since the theory looked silly, and I was not getting any answers, I was not really saying that I understand it better, just that I was content to leave it at my current understanding because there would not likely to be anything worthwhile to be had by expanding it, and expanding it would be really hard.

Fyfe was kind enough to answer questions, and I actually feel that I understand the broad strokes now. He’s a hard man to communicate with, or perhaps I’m bad at communicating, but he actually answered, and countered my objections.

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cl June 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm

tmp,

It’s interesting, that Fyfe can’t see what I’m after and just answer the question.

The problem – as Luke so ‘eloquently’ pointed out – is, of course, that we’re obviously not as well read as he on the finer nuances of desirism. We’re just layman! I guess the atheism espoused here isn’t so common sense after all. Apparently, you have to be a super-duper oh-so-rational smarty pants to get these arguments.

Luke,

When people understand my position and offer an objection to it, I have no problem responding.

I have taken painstaking effort to understand your position, and when I offer objections to it, you whine about not having enough time to meet them. If I didn’t understand your position, I believe you’d be giving me introductory links, like you are to tmp. You act as if I’m asking for the “thousands of hours” version when in fact I’m asking pointed questions that require elaboration on specific tenets of the theory. Get off Fyfe’s

So if you’re going to critique the truth or coherence of a theory, you have to first accept its definitions for moral terms for the sake of argument.

What leads you to think that I haven’t?

So, first: Which kind of objection do you want to make?

For FSM’s sake, read my questions. I’ve left the same damn questions in the last three threads. They are not quibbles over definitions. They are valid objections confirmed by other commenters, and they are based on tentative acceptance of the definitions you and Fyfe provide. Ya dig?

But this stuff about “I don’t care if you think I misunderstand the theory. I really do understand the theory better than you do” is just not going to get us anywhere.

I agree. Since I never said that AT ALL, why are you saying that to me? I do care if you [or Fyfe] think I misunderstood the theory. That’s exactly why I’m asking questions, so why are you stonewalling? It may be that I’ve misunderstood one or more tenets of the theory. If that’s the case, that’s what you need to explain, not simply assert, and that with all the pomposity and vainglory of a Christian giving a Courtier’s, I might add.

What won’t work is your smarmy, condescending retort that those who dissent simply “don’t understand.” Since you raised the issue, how many books have you published, Luke? I’m not talking PDF’s any kid with a word processor can make and call a book, but actual books with ISBN’s available through legitimate distributors?

In fact, nevermind. Don’t even bother with my questions. Stuff your Courtier’s up your ass.

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm

tmp,

I don’t think you or cl are stupid. Desirism can be very confusing. I misrepresented the theory for months after first discovering it, and sometimes still do. Alonzo will tell you. :)

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 2:52 pm

cl,

Re: books. I’m the one who complains the most that Desirism has not been published in a form fit for peer-review, and I’d love to be able to do so but I have lots of research to do first.

You said ‘nevermind’, but if you’re interested, let’s do this as an exercise. Pick one, very narrow objection, and I’ll do my best to work our way to some understanding.

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cl June 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm

What? Now you want to talk, now that you’ve pulled a Courtier’s out of your ass without demonstrating even one single aspect of the theory that I’m misunderstanding? Piss off.

I’ve already enumerated objections in this thread. You pick one, and I’ll listen. Else, keep stuffin’, ‘cuz I’m done.

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tmp June 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm

lukeprog,

Firstly, I have to congratulate you for being remarkably civil.

If you ever have the time, cleaning up the FAQ a bit would be useful. I hit the first “to be added” on a first readthrough and stopped here(the entries with content look no different from empty ones), and when I actually read them all I was already in such a snit that I missed that you actually say that Desirism is not mind-independent. And I was in a snit, because I thought you made the outrageous claim of Desirism being mind-independent. :)

Also, the FAQ should have, in addition to what the theory is, a list of the most important things that it is NOT. We spent a great deal to time with me asking questions about things that I THOUGHT were there, and you being completetely clueless about what I was after(no reason for YOU to think about them, you KNOW they are not there). And me getting annoyed by the fact that you avoided justifying a position that you were not taking.

This would have been funny, if it were not so pathetic. But, nobody lost a limb, so all is well that ends well.

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cl June 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm

tmp,

Just so you know, the thing that pissed me off was Luke lumping you and I into the same category of “person who obviously misunderstands the theory.” I come from the school of rationalism that says doubt oneself first. I’ve spent about six months ensuring that I understand the theory to the best of my ability. For Luke to simply eschew valid objections and then get all Christian with it and pull the Courtier’s Reply was off-the-charts maddening for me. I don’t think that’s civil at all. I think it’s arrogant and totally disrespectful of the earnestness and patience with which I’ve pursued the issues. It was quite easy for Luke and Fyfe to clear up your misunderstandings, and that’s no offense to you at all. However, I notice that neither Luke nor Fyfe have even accurately identified one of my objections, let alone adequately responding to them.

Lastly, you are correct about the FAQ: it’s next to worthless. It’s a post full of promises.

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cl June 21, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Alonzo,

I’ll be checking back to see if you answer any of the outstanding questions in this thread or others. If so, perhaps we’ll discover where the mis-communication is going on. If not, best of luck to you and your writing. Sincerely.

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm

cl,

Okay, I guess we’re done, then.

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lukeprog June 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm

tmp,

I definitely want to expand the FAQ. Thanks for your thoughts.

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Richard Wein June 22, 2010 at 12:01 am

Alonzo:

Morality if all make-believe…

I agree with you. But it’s never been clear to me until now that this is your position. It seems strange to me to describe as “moral realism” a position that says morality is all make-believe. It would help if you stated clearly and often in your writing that you think morality is all make-believe.

…and we should treat it as such.

But you don’t treat it as such. By recycling moral terms, giving them new meanings with which it is possible (at least in principle) to make objectively true “moral” (scare quotes) claims, you are treating “morality” as something real. And people are liable to confuse your “morality” (scare quotes) with morality (normal sense), and think you are treating morality (normal sense) as something real.

…Yet, that would not change anything in the theory. That would only change the language in which the claims of the theory are made. It is not an objection to what I have written – only an objection to the language used in writing it.

Yes, my objection is (primarily) to your language, to your abuse of moral terms. Choice of language is important because people will tend to assume that you mean terms in something like their normal sense unless you are absolutely clear that you do not. My objections would be less strong if you wrote at the start of every explanation of desirism:

WARNING: Desirists do not use moral terms in their normal sense. We define “morally good” to mean…

I would still consider your usage absurd, but at least you would be giving your readers fair warning of what you’re doing and avoid a lot of unnecessary confusion.

Following your approach, I could define “morally good” to mean “fatal”, and then claim that murder is morally good. I could define “cheese” to mean “rock” and then claim that the Moon is made of cheese. In both cases I could reply to objections with the same justification as yours: your objection is not to my claim, only to my language.

Don’t you see how absurd this is? Why on earth do you choose to use moral terms in a sense that doesn’t correspond to their normal usage, and so confuse the hell out of everyone? Why not use some other terms instead? Why not call a desire that tends to fulfill more desires than it thwarts a “desire-fulfilling” desire or a “useful” desire, instead of misleadingly calling it a “morally good” desire?

If, on the other hand, you want to claim that your definitions of moral terms actually do correspond to their normal usage, you need to be prepared to defend that claim. But in the past you’ve refused to do so, claiming that choice of language isn’t important.

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Richard Wein June 22, 2010 at 2:54 am

P.S. Look at this pragmatically. From reading this blog it seems that the vast majority of people who encounter desirism misunderstand it. That means that you and Luke spend a huge amount of time repeating yourselves. But most people still don’t understand it. And this confusion mostly results from your use of moral terms. Yet you argue that you could have explained the same theory using different terms. So you could have used far more comprehensible terms, such as the ones I’ve suggested. If you want people to understand your theory, isn’t it common sense to use less confusing language?

I suspect the reason you don’t want to use more comprehensible terms is because other terms would not serve your purpose. I think you want to use moral terms because of the baggage (the non-cognitive connotations) that those terms carry. When you announce (based on a desirist evaluation) that something is morally wrong, you want the listener to feel an obligation not to do it (if we’re talking about an action) or encourage it (if we’re talking about a desire). Saying that something is “desire-thwarting” just won’t carry the same weight as saying that it’s “morally wrong”, even if you’ve defined the latter to mean the same as the former. Would you agree?

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AlonzoFyfe June 22, 2010 at 3:32 am

Richard Wein

Why on earth do you choose to use moral terms in a sense that doesn’t correspond to their normal usage

Please explain in what sense desirism does not correspond to the normal usage of moral terms?

My issue, as I wrote above, is with 50 different people coming to me using moral terms in 50 different ways – every one of them claiming that THEIR use of the term is “normal usage” and complaining, “Why do you not use the terms the same way that I do?”

The situation is one in which I could waste every minute of every day debating what “normal usage” is that no time is spent talking about the theory itself.

I hold that desirism best explains our moral practices. It best accounts for the role of praise and condemnation in those practices, what an ‘excuse’ is and what an ‘excuse’ is supposed to do, what different value-terms have in common, the concept of ‘negligence’ and why it deserves moral condemnation, the presumption of innocence, the properties of a moral ‘right’, the three types of moral actions (obligation, prohibition, and non-obligatory permission).

So, yes, desirism corresponds to the normal usage of moral terms better than any other theory.

It is not a perfect fit, because some people build false assumptions into their definitions – assumptions about intrinsic value or the existence of God or that they have a special faculty of moral perception that allows them to “sense” the morality or immorality of an act just by thinking about it.

When you or anybody else comes up to me and says, “I hereby assert that the normal usage of the term ‘rock’ is ‘green cheese’ and, thus, your essay on lunar geology is false because you deny that the moon is made of green cheese,’ I have two options.

(1) Get trapped in a permanent diversion over the normal usage of the term ‘rock’.

(2) Say, ‘Fine, if you want to define the term ‘rock’ that way, go ahead. I can translate the theory into your language and everything I say can still be true.’

I choose option 2.

I demonstrate that desirism best fits the normal usage of moral terms by showing that it best accounts for our moral PRACTICES – those elements that I described above. There is actually no better way than this to demonstrate that a theory accounts for the normal usage of a term.

If you or anybody else wants to argue that desirism does not provide the best account of the elements that make up our moral practices, please provide an example of how some other theory involves a better job and I will answer it.

If you are going to come up to me and insist that ‘rock’ means ‘green cheese’ and that my theory fails because I do not use the term that way, have fun.

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AlonzoFyfe June 22, 2010 at 4:08 am

Richard Weir

I wish to provide an illustration of my previous point.

The claim that ‘objective’ means ‘mind-independent’.

This is a theory about what the term ‘objective’ means in normal language, yet nowhere – except among those who hold a particular theory of morality – will you see the term used this way.

‘Objective’ at best, means ‘independent of the observer’s perception’.

It makes absolutely no sense to translate ‘objective’ to mean ‘mind-independent’ because the proposition ‘X’s brain weights 2.45 pounds’ is not, in any way, a different type of proposition than the proposition, ‘X’s brain is structured so that it contains a functional desire-that-P.’ There is no sense to be made of the claim that the former statement is ‘objective’ and the latter is ‘subjective’.

I hold this to be sufficient proof that the ‘objective’ means ‘mind-independent’ thesis is worthless. It is not normal usage. Yet, I still have people coming up to me and saying that my theory does not correspond to normal usage because the term ‘objective’ means ‘mind-independent’. They assert this as if it were something about which they are incapable of error.

I say this enough times, and STILL I get people coming up to the theory with the assumption that ‘objective’ means ‘mind-independent’ and asserting that I am not corresponding to normal usage.

I could demonstrate today that the ‘mind-independent’ theory of normal usage is mistaken and STILL, next month – next year – in the next decade – I will have to repeat the argument when yet another person steps up with the absurd notion that ‘objective’ means ‘mind-independent’ saying, “Why in the heck do you not use these words according to their standard usage?”

Sigh. Again, what you claim ‘standard usage’ is, is not standard usage. Now, I could enter a permanent debate with you on this matter. Or, we can simply recognize that there is a distinction between debating the language that a theory is written in and debating the claims of the theory itself. I am not interested in the first debate. I am interested in the second. So, go ahead, if you want to speak a different language, go ahead. This theory can be translated into whatever language you want to adopt. Now, let’s look at the theory.

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Richard Wein June 22, 2010 at 6:15 am

Alonzo:

Please explain in what sense desirism does not correspond to the normal usage of moral terms?

First things first. I’d like to have the discussion about whether desirism’s definitions correspond to the normal usage of moral terms. But first I want you to address my response to your previous argument. I want you to accept that it matters whether your definitions of moral terms correspond to their normal usage.

In the past you’ve refused to discuss your definitions, insisting that discussing definitions is “The Great Distraction”:
http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2009/04/moral-definitions-great-distraction.html
The argument you’ve made previously (and implied here) is that it doesn’t matter whether desirism’s definitions correspond to the normal usage of moral terms, because all that matters is the content of the theory, not the terms in which it’s expressed. You could have used other terms to express the same theory.

My response was that using terms in ways that doesn’t correspond to their normal usage is very confusing. Anyone reading the comments in Luke’s blog can see that the use of moral terms in describing desirism has caused enormous confusion and contention. You could communicate your theory vastly more effectively by using other terms instead, such as the ones I suggested above. To put it your way, you could “translate” your theory into other terms. Why don’t you do so? Why are you so committed to using moral terms even though they cause so much confusion?

I hold that desirism best explains our moral practices.

Now we have a problem. If desirism sets out to explain our moral practices, then it must explain our use of moral terms. In that case you can’t translate desirism into a form that doesn’t mention moral terms. So your argument that you could use other terms instead makes no sense.

We need to distinguish between two types of terms a theory may use:
1. Terms which the theory sets out to explain our use of.
2. Terms which are introduced as useful shorthands for concepts which would otherwise require more lengthy expressions. For example, if we get tired of saying “desires that tend to fulfill more desires than they thwart”, we can define the term “desire-fulfilling desires” as a shorthand to be used in its place.

In the first case we cannot substitute an alternative term, since the theory would then be explaining a different explanandum. It would become a quite different theory. In the second case we can in principle use any term we like, but we are likely to cause confusion if we use a term that normally has a very different meaning and/or we don’t clearly state what we’ve done.

(Definitions of terms in case 1 are called “reportive” definitions, because they report an existing meaning of a word. Definitions of terms in case 2 are called “stipulative” definitions, because they stipulate a new meaning.)

If desirism sets out to explain our moral practices then we’re dealing with case 1. In that case you need to drop the idea that you could have used some other terms instead of moral terms, and take more seriously the job of defending your claim that desirism’s definitions of moral terms correspond to the normal usage of moral terms.

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Alonzo Fyfe June 22, 2010 at 6:16 am

Richard Weir

From reading this blog it seems that the vast majority of people who encounter desirism misunderstand it. That means that you and Luke spend a huge amount of time repeating yourselves.

We would spend a huge amount of time repeating ourselves no matter what we said.

Look at the amount of time that people debating the theory of evolution spend repeating themselves – confronting the same (bogus) objections over and over again from people who mis-interpret what it says.

And this confusion mostly results from your use of moral terms.

So, the need for evolutionists to repeat themselves . . . does that also stem from their misuse of biological terms? Or is it the misuse of terms by those who do not understand it that is causing the problem? My guess is that it is the latter.

I suspect the reason you don’t want to use more comprehensible terms is because other terms would not serve your purpose.

No. The reason I do not adopt your terms is because, if I did, people would say, “Well, you’re denying the existence of morality. This means you are saying that people can do whatever they please – that there is no right and wrong.”

So, instead of answering one set of mis-interpretations, I would spend all of my time handling a different set of mis-interpretations.

Saying that something is “desire-thwarting” just won’t carry the same weight as saying that it’s “morally wrong”, even if you’ve defined the latter to mean the same as the former. Would you agree?

Yes, I would. This is because (as I have repeatedly argued) a moral statement is not just a statement about what deserves condemnation, it is (at least in one sense) an actual statement of condemnation. This is, as I have argued “what the emotivists get right.”

This is a fact about moral claims – a fact that desirism fully accounts for.

This is WHY if I were to adopt your proposal, I would then be faced with a different set of misinterpretations. A statement that is both a statement of what deserves condemnation and an act of condemnation cannot be fully replaced with a statement that of what deserves condemnation but is not at the same time an act of condemnation.

I have already said that. It is a part of the theory.

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Richard Wein June 22, 2010 at 6:31 am

P.S. Alonzo:

This theory can be translated into whatever language you want to adopt.

OK, go ahead and do it. Give a brief summary of your theory (including the bit that “best explains our moral practices”) without using any moral terms.

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lukeprog June 22, 2010 at 9:29 am

Alonzo’s comments above about moral language repeats what he has written a dozen times already; everyone please read it to understand better the nature of the debate.

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AlonzoFyfe June 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I want you to accept that it matters whether your definitions of moral terms correspond to their normal usage.

Nope. It doesn’t matter.

This is something that people get right when they discuss science, and get wrong when they discuss ethics.

You do not see scientists wasting huge blocks of time debating whether their terms correspond to common usage. In fact, they will readily admit that their terms do not conform to common usage. Common usage is vague, ambiguous, and often incoherent. Scientists prefer more precise terms than those that are found in common usage.

And we see progress in science in part (substantially in part) because they have recognized the distinction between debating theories and debating language.

We need to distinguish between two types of terms a theory may use:
1. Terms which the theory sets out to explain our use of.
2. Terms which are introduced as useful shorthands for concepts which would otherwise require more lengthy expressions.

Tell me, how would you fit E=MC^2 into this dichotomy.

Is the physicist saying that E is the E of common usage – that it corresponds precisely to native speakers use the term? Or is this a stipulative definition – made true simply by the fact that the author has decided to stipulate that “By E, I am to be taken as meaning MC^2″ in such a way that it cannot be questioned.

You will find that the answer is ‘neither’.

Or, if you can fit this into your dichotomy, once you explain to me how E fits, I will explain to you how the terms of desirism fit.

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Richard Wein June 23, 2010 at 12:07 am

Alonzo:

You do not see scientists wasting huge blocks of time debating whether their terms correspond to common usage. In fact, they will readily admit that their terms do not conform to common usage. Common usage is vague, ambiguous, and often incoherent. Scientists prefer more precise terms than those that are found in common usage.

Well, of course. A word can have various meanings, depending on the speaker and the circumstances, and some of those meanings may be incoherent. The basic distinction I’m making is between a reportive definition (which reports what some people already use a word to mean) and a stipulative definition (which stipulates what the speaker intends the word to mean). I talked about reporting “normal usage”. But if you want to argue that your definitions report the refined usage of some particular group, like scientists, that will still be a reportive definition. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

Also, normal usage can cover a spectrum of meanings, and in giving a reportive definition we will typically want to give some sort of approximation that roughly does justice to them, but may not capture the full details of any particular meaning precisely. So, if you are giving a reportive definition, I don’t expect it to precisely correspond to some existing usage. Roughly will do.

Tell me, how would you fit E=MC^2 into this dichotomy.

Is the physicist saying that E is the E of common usage – that it corresponds precisely to native speakers use the term? Or is this a stipulative definition – made true simply by the fact that the author has decided to stipulate that “By E, I am to be taken as meaning MC^2″ in such a way that it cannot be questioned.

You will find that the answer is ‘neither’.

E=MC^2 is not a definition at all! It’s a proposition of a physical fact. So of course it doesn’t fall into my dichotomy for definitions.

And as far as I know, when Einstein announced his discovery that E=MC^2, he was using E (energy) in the sense that physicists already understood the word. I don’t think he had to explain what he meant by “energy”.

Not for the first time, I’m wondering whether you actually understand the difference between a definition (which gives the meaning of something) and a substantive proposition (about something other than meaning). Perhaps it will help if I give an example:

A. An object is buoyant in a liquid iff it floats in that liquid.
B. An object is buoyant in a liquid iff its density is less than or equal to the density of that liquid.

A is a definition of “buoyant”. It tells us what the word means. B is a substantive proposition. It tells us something about the physical world (apart from what people mean by certain words). But there’s nothing in the wording of the sentences to tell us which is the definition. The only way you can tell that A is a definition is if you already know the meaning of “buoyant” or if someone else who knows the meaning tells you it’s a definition.

You say that a morally good desire is one that tends to thwart more desires than it fulfills, and that a morally good action is one that a person with morally good desires would perform. But it’s not clear from the way you word these statements whether you intend them as definitions (of the meaning of “morally good”) or as substantive claims (about what sort of things happen to be morally good). As G.E.Moore put it, are you answering the question “What is goodness?” or the question “What things are good?”. Luke insists that these are definitions, and in a recent reply to me you seemed to confirm that, but you weren’t 100% clear. So perhaps now that I’ve elucidated the difference you could give a definite confirmation, one way or the other.

Finally, if these really are definitions, please help me understand your position by answering the following two questions. These may seem like going over old ground, but I’ve found your past responses confusing, probably because we’ve been talking at cross-purposes, so I’ve tried to word these questions very carefully. I’d be grateful if you’d reply very carefully too:

1. Do you think your definition of a morally good action roughly corresponds to what any people apart from desirists already mean by a morally good action? (If so, which people?)

2. Why do you define “morally good” the way you do? Is it
a. Because you want to correctly report how some people already use the term “morally good”?
b. Because that’s what you want people to use “morally good” to mean?
c. Because that’s what you want people to understand “morally good” to mean?
d. Some other reason. Please give details.

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AlonzoFyfe June 23, 2010 at 3:38 am

E=MC^2 is not a definition at all! It’s a proposition of a physical fact. So of course it doesn’t fall into my dichotomy for definitions.

It cannot be a “proposition of a physical fact” until its terms are defined.

So, again, is the meaning (definition) of E in E=MC^2 a reportive definition or a stipulative definition? You claim that the definition of E must be either normative (reportive) or stipulative. In order for me to answer your question I need to know which you would choose.

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AlonzoFyfe June 23, 2010 at 4:01 am

1. Do you think your definition of a morally good action roughly corresponds to what any people apart from desirists already mean by a morally good action? (If so, which people?)

Your question contains an ambiguity.

By “means by”, do you mean that if somebody were to put this meaning before them that they would readily assent to it?

Or by “means by” do you mean that an observer of moral practices – which includes the use of moral terms – would be able to understand what he is witnessing in these terms?

The answer is (1) no, many would not readily assent to it and would even deny it, but (2) yes, the theory roughly corresponds to how people actually use the terms.

Note that, one of the changes that I have made is to note that the meaning of value terms have to do with reasons for action that exist, not with relationships between states of affairs and desires specifically.

“You should do this” means “There is a reason for action that exists for you to do this.”

However, desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

So, in questioning my definition of moral terms, please take note of the fact that this is the definition that you are questioning.

I scarcely think that any native English speaker would make sense of the claim, “You should do X, but there is absolutely no reason that exists for you do X.”

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AlonzoFyfe June 23, 2010 at 4:31 am

By the way, for a considerable amount of time I did, in fact, argue that “good” meant “is such as to fulfill the desires in question.” I did so because if you actually look at the claims people make, and how they defended those claims, you could make this substitution without changing anything in how their statements functioned within the dialogue they were having at the time.

But, a couple of years ago, in debates such as this one, I realized that I cannot like “good” to desire as a matter of definition. I was asserting that “desires are the only reasons for action that exist”. It did not occur to me to ask the question, “Well, what if some other type of reason for action did exist? Would it count?”

Answer “Well, of course it would, which means that you cannot make desire a part of your definition.”

So, at that time, I made the switch from “good” = “is such as to fulfill the desires in question” to “good” = “there are reasons for action that exists for you to realize or maintian that which is being described as good.”

This, combined with “desires are the only reasons for action that exist” yields desirism.

But it is not true by definition that desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

Now, as it turns, there are few if any differences between our moral practices and the practice of using social forces to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.

The way I have described it is that if you were to come upon a culture where people were explicitly engaged in the practice of using social forces to promote desires that tended to fulfill other desires, and inhibit desires that tended to thwart other desires, you would translate the terms of their language into moral terms in English without a second thought.

The concepts of “moral ought”, “virtue”, “right”, “excuse”, “negligent”, and elements such as “ought implies can” and “obligation, prohibition, and non-obligatory permission” will be easily recognizable.

The difference is that, some of the reasons for action that exist that we assert, they would simply claim do not exist.

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Richard Wein June 23, 2010 at 8:09 am

Alonzo:

E=MC^2 is not a definition at all! It’s a proposition of a physical fact. So of course it doesn’t fall into my dichotomy for definitions.

It cannot be a “proposition of a physical fact” until its terms are defined.

I don’t know whether you’re familiar with what these terms mean. But scientists are. And so I’m sure are most readers here. We understand these terms (at least roughly) and we know that they are physical quantities, so we understand the sentence as a proposition of physical fact.

Either you are unfamiliar with what E=MC^2 means (in which case see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass%E2%80%93energy_equivalence) or you are making an absurd point. Sorry to be blunt, but we’re not going to get anywhere if you keep making spurious objections.

So, again, is the meaning (definition) of E in E=MC^2 a reportive definition or a stipulative definition? You claim that the definition of E must be either normative (reportive) or stipulative. In order for me to answer your question I need to know which you would choose.

In your last post you appeared to be saying that E=MC^2 is a definition. I’m glad to see that either you didn’t mean that or you’ve changed your mind.

But this is still such a confused response to my argument that I’m not going to spend time untangling it. I’ve decided to put my arguments on hold for now and concentrate on establishing what you mean. (That’s a full-time job in itself.) Once I’ve done that I’ll return to my arguments if they’re still relevant.

So, at that time, I made the switch from “good” = “is such as to fulfill the desires in question” to “good” = “there are reasons for action that exists for you to realize or maintian that which is being described as good.”

This, combined with “desires are the only reasons for action that exist” yields desirism.

This old definition of “good” was your definition of “generic good”. You haven’t said anything here about your definitions of moral good. Have those changed too? What about the definitions we’ve been discussing, referring to desires that tend to fulfill more desires than they thwart?

If you changed your position a couple of years ago, why isn’t this reflected in the Intro to DU article on your web site (which I wasted my time re-reading today)? Do you have a more up-to-date article?

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Richard Wein June 23, 2010 at 8:59 am

P.S. I’m sorry my last post was rather sharp. I get short-tempered when I feel I’m wasting my time.

To be honest, it was a mistake to get started on this discussion when it was predictable that it would be a waste of time. In doing so regardless, I’ve wasted your time as well as my own, Alonzo. Sorry for that. But I’m going to cut our losses by stopping now. We’re having beautiful weather here in Bristol, England, at the moment and I should be spending more time outdoors instead.

Goodbye and best wishes.

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cl June 30, 2010 at 7:38 am

Well, I gave Luke and Alonzo two whole weeks, and no answers to the questions appear to be forthcoming.

Luke,

When people understand my position and offer an objection to it, I have no problem responding.

Uh, you spent a dozen replies answering tmp, who you claim misunderstands your position, and here am I, confident in my understanding of your position — getting stonewalled. Can you really not see how you’re sending mixed signals here?

If you’d like to continue the dialogue, you are welcome to say, “Okay, at which point did I misunderstand the theory?”

I’ve asked you that. You say nothing, which leads me to believe that something besides my alleged misunderstanding is motivating your silence.

Okay, I guess we’re done, then.

Your choice, not mine. I gave you two weeks to answer an objection. If you wish to rest on your Courtier’s Reply, well… that’s unfortunate, but not surprising. Religious skin don’t shed quickly.

Alonzo,

It’s now to the point where other people are sending me personal emails to the effect of, “I really hope Alonzo answers your questions, they’re good.” If you choose not to answer, that’s your deal, but you should know that people have a strong desire to see you answer!

…I made the switch from “good” = “is such as to fulfill the desires in question” to “good” = “there are reasons for action that exists for you to realize or maintain that which is being described as good.”

Richard Wein is correct. If you want people to understand your “theory,” emendations such as these shouldn’t be buried at the bottom of a thread on Luke’s blog. The emendation should be noted on your stock DU articles on your blog and your own site.

Even still, the emendation doesn’t solve any problems. Reasons for action exist for a tight-knit group of criminals to eliminate a rat. To call that “good” has nothing to do with morality.

You do not see scientists wasting huge blocks of time debating whether their terms correspond to common usage.

Granted. I feel your pain about not wanting to cater to 50 different people’s definitions, but Richard Wein is entirely within reason to criticize you for flagrant misuse of terms here. The “good” you describe is a pragmatic good that has nothing whatsoever to do with “moral” good. I opine that theories of morality should address the latter, not the former.

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cl July 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Earlier, regarding Fyfe’s redefinition of good, I said,

Even still, the emendation doesn’t solve any problems. Reasons for action exist for a tight-knit group of criminals to eliminate a rat. To call that “good” has nothing to do with morality.

It’s even worse than that. Besides the fact that it’s circular, Fyfe’s new definition of good is actually a definition of want. Consider:

1) I want to help the homeless. Translated: there are reasons for action that exist for me to realize a state of affairs where I’m helping the homeless.

2) I want to kill snitches. Translated: there are reasons for action that exist for me to realize a state of affairs where I’m killing snitches.

I feel confident asserting that most people would agree that 1 is in line with what “people generally” mean by good, whereas 2 is not. I also feel confident asserting that everybody would agree both 1 and 2 are analogous to “I want” statements. So, Fyfe’s defined want, not good. As such, I really don’t see the connection to morality.

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