August 5, 2010
Months back on CommonSenseAtheism.com, commenter Cartesian offered the following argument against desirism, and I felt it was appropriate to repost here on the promise that I find the original link. Though I assure you I copied it verbatim, I agree that it’s professional to use first-order sources wherever possible, and promise to find the link. There’s also a technical reason I want to post it here instead of CSA. I’ve noticed that links to individual comments don’t work. That is, even when I used the direct URL for a particular comment, the post still loads with the page at the top, which forces the user to search for the quote his or her self. For this reason, it’s good to quote sources numerically at CSA, i.e. “So-and-so’s fifteenth on post X…”
At any rate, here’s Cartesian’s Nazi example:
Suppose the Nazis had killed or brainwashed anyone who disagreed with them, and succeeded in conquering the world. They keep a handful of Jewish people around in zoos, just to torture. Suppose the most popular television show in Naziland features ordinary Nazis — selected by lottery from among the Nazi population — torturing these Jewish people just for fun. The billions of Nazis in the television audience absolutely LOVE it. It’s like American Idol to them. They look forward to it all week. It’s what they want most in life: to see those Jewish people tortured. These Jewish people are kept in a pretty sorry mental state (due to nearly constant torture, and perhaps even some drugs), so that each of their desires not to be tortured is weaker than each of the Nazis desires to torture them.
You and your friend Jerk live in Naziland. Jerk is a typical Nazi: he really badly wants to win the lottery so he can appear on this television show and torture some Jewish people. You, on the other hand, don’t. You’ve done some thinking lately, and you’ve concluded that torturing people just for fun is awful, and you want no part of it. (Naturally, you keep these opinions to yourself, for fear of being taken in for “re-education.”)
Clearly, in this situation, your desire is good and Jerk’s desire is bad. But, in this situation, only Jerk’s desire tends to fulfill more and stronger desires than it thwarts. (His desire, if satisfied, would fulfill the very strong desires of billions of blood-thirsty Nazis, while thwarting the weaker desires of only a few Jewish people.) Your desire, however, actually tends to thwart more and stronger desires than it fulfills. So, according to desirism, *your* desire is bad and *Jerk’s* desire is good.
But that gets things exactly backwards. So desirism is false.
I agree wholeheartedly, and submit that’s an apt explanation of why good must mean something more than, “tends to fulfill the desires in question” or “tends to fulfill more than thwart other desires” or however else one wants to phrase it.