How Would I Present Desirism?

When considering a redesign for some client’s website, I often ask, “How would I have coded this thing?” A while back, I got to thinking about desirism in the same way.

This is no offense to Alonzo, but in my honest opinion, he presents desirism ambiguously, from key tenets right down to the original name, desire utilitarianism. I may be way off here, but I get the feeling Alonzo doesn’t want the heavy burden that typically falls to those making moral claims, and that this may influence him to equivocate on select terms. Most discouraging is that regarding conventional definitions, he claims “moral terms are being used in substantially the same way that moral terms had been used.”

I wouldn’t waste the time if it were just me having difficulty with the theory, but a non-trivial subset of intelligent people consistently raise identical or near-identical objections, so I thought I would take a stab at presenting desirism in a way that would make sense to myself. Specifically, my goal is to present it in a way that it avoids the common objections. If the current objections are really the result of misunderstanding as Luke and Fyfe claim, then a clearer presentation should nullify them. OTOH, if the same objections can still be raised after a clearer presentation, it follows that desirism may be in error.

I will be particularly interested in feedback regarding how accurately you think I’ve presented Alonzo’s theory, and more importantly, if you think my formulation can avoid at least some of the common objections to desirism. Hopefully, you’ll notice and appreciate the relative absence of traditional moral terms: no good, no evil, no morality, no right, no wrong, no mention of objective or intrinsic value, etc. In fact, I’m not even going to call it desirism!

Mind you, I’m not presenting this as something I actually believe in and endorse [although certain parts of it do happen to overlap with my own views on meta and applied ethics]. Ultimately, I think my presentation remains vulnerable to criticism [for example, substitute "should I paint my house bright pink" for "should I listen to loud music in the middle of the night," the example discussed at the end of the presentation]. However, I think my presentation is far simpler and clearer than Fyfe’s, without confusing moral language or claims without evidence–and that it is nowhere near as convoluted or open to criticism as his. We can actually use my presentation as a guideline without the need to embark on an impossible calculation of billions of desires, and without the unjustified claims that necessarily ensue from our inability to do so.

I’ve written the rest of this post as if I were speaking humorously to a live audience.

Hello folks, I’m cl–the most dishonest troll and douchebag on the internet according to a growing subset of atheist bloggers–and tonight I’m going to talk about a theory of interpersonal relations [IR], a theory I developed in my spare time, when I’m not out there deceiving the populace at large.

You might be wondering about IR, and what it entails. Perhaps it might help to begin by explaining what IR does not entail. It might be easier to understand what IR is once you understand what it is not.

IR is not a theory that identifies any single type of act, ideal or belief as a prime virtue that everybody should adhere to. It is not a theory like John Stuart Mill’s, which says we should produce the most happiness, nor is it a theory like Sam Harris’, which says we should produce the most well-being for sentient creatures. IR is not concerned with establishing arbitrary rules about what people should or should not do at the time of decision. The very asking of such questions assumes that something besides the collective interests of human beings ought to dictate what human beings should do. IR does not contain that assumption.

If IR is not any of those things, what is it?

IR is a formula for conflict prevention and resolution. IR is a response to the question, “how might humans procure beneficial interpersonal relations?” As thousands of years of seemingly intractable philosophical banter testifies, humans may or may not be equipped to discern truth in every question of interpersonal relations, but those relations remain. We know that people have wants and needs, and that people will usually act to fulfill those wants and needs. The mother who wants the best for her child will attempt to avoid situations that threaten that want. Similarly, the citizen who values freedom will resist efforts that threaten freedom. In this, we find a somewhat reliable predictor of human behavior and its effect on other humans. For example, if you know your neighbor wants a nice lawn, you can infer that tearing it up on your moped will encourage non-beneficial relations between you.

So then, how might humans improve our interpersonal relations?

By respecting the wants and needs of others, and by encouraging others to do the same.

That’s it. It all boils down to the Golden Rule of respecting one’s neighbor as oneself. That’s all we can do if we stick only to things known to exist. We can’t afford to sit around and trade philosophical banter or pseudoscientific moralspeak. We have to improve interpersonal relations right now. We don’t know whether God exists or not. We don’t know what’s right or wrong, or even if there is such a thing as “right” or “wrong” at all. However, we do know that humans have wants and needs, and we do know that humans get along best when respecting each others wants and needs.

How do we know which wants and needs to respect? We use the Golden Rule as our guideline. When considering whether or not to do X, reverse the roles. If you were your neighbors, would X bum you out? If so, you should either not do X, or come up with a way to do X that doesn’t bum your neighbors out.

Let’s say you like loud music. You might say, “Well I like loud music, so I would want my neighbors to play loud music at any hour of the night.” That’s not the right way to use the criteria. What DON’T you like? Say you don’t like barking dogs. If that’s the case, then barking dogs are to you as loud music is to your neighbors. Would you like to be awaken by barking dogs in the middle of the night? No. Similarly, your neighbor wouldn’t like to awaken by Black Republican in the middle of the night. Are you more important than your neighbor? Is your neighbor more important than you?

IR respects only one assumption: we are all equal. So let’s all respect the wants and needs of others, and do our best to encourage others to do the same. Thank you.

27 comments

- I found the “I’m the infamous troll” commentary amusing.
- The rule of respecting others’ wants and needs has a number of issues: 1) the word “respect” is not sufficiently defined, but it does not appear it would be too difficult to do so if one wished; 2) as with all general moral theories that I know of, it gives no practical template for prioritizing or weighing wants/needs against each other so that one may operate in the midst of others’ having conflicting wants/needs or simply too many and large to attend to.
- Your justification for the rule (“we are all equal” – or as it should be correctly framed for the purposes of the argument, “we are all valued equally by each other”) is demonstrably false: not everyone values each other the same.
- You make no discussion whatsoever of your conversion idea – how may one justify (and put into practice) the idea that person 1′s X is congruent to person 2′s Y? The idea does sound heuristically useful, I do think.
- What have you changed or added to this theory since six months ago?

spec,

Welcome.

Yeah, I get a huge kick out of those types of accusations, too. It’s fun to wear them like a badge, and one of two things usually happen: either people agree and add “unabashed narcissist” to the accusation, or they disagree and get suspicious of the accusers. Either way, it was just a joke, I don’t really want to spend too much time there… :)

As you allude to, “respect” can be fairly easily defined, and the reason I didn’t define it was to avoid more semantic dilly-dallying.

Though not airtight, I thought I gave a fairly practical template: would X bum you out if your neighbor did it to you? Not the specific action X, but a categorically equivalent action X.

It is not “demonstrably false” that we are all equal. I wrote it that way for a specific purpose. It should be obvious that not everyone values each other the same. That’s why I point out that we are all equal: from that, it follows that we ought to value each other the same.

I didn’t change much from six months ago. This isn’t my theory. This is my reformulation of Fyfe’s theory, in the attempt to strip all the baggage and equivocated-upon moral terminology to see if we can’t come up with something more elegant.

Like I said, this isn’t airtight at all. The “pink house” question seems fairly problematic, IMO, and I’m sure plenty other dilemmas could be uncovered. I only posted this because Garren did something similar, and it reminded me I had this post lurking in the drafts. So, in a sort of “hat tip” to Garren, I figured I’d publish my attempt, to get people’s opinion on which presentation seems clearer, as many people–perhaps even most–encounter serious difficulty extracting anything coherent from Alonzo Fyfe’s desirism.

I now suppose that I don’t understand what you mean by “we are equal”. What about us is equal, and – in the context of the theory at least – how should that convince everyone to adhere to an interpersonal relations theory? I get the feeling you’re either deliberately hiding the subjectivity of equality for the sake of a more interesting discussion or you’re just completely oblivious to its gaping ambiguity and undefinedness. I speculate such a notion of ‘equality’ would be based on something like deserts, a la http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/desert/ (does wordpress parse html?) – am I mistaken?

About a year or so ago I had a distinct impression that any sensible moral framework would be fundamentally (or at least in large part if not fully) based on this concept. It was only after some googling I found out this concept was called “deserts” and already had a measure of attention in philosophy. Take the following as an instructional bit: you can’t even justify, to yourself, making another human being happy without feeling they deserve happiness in the first place. Problematic, though, is that precisely what each of us deserves is (I think) ultimately a subjective question. There is a caveat for near-”human universality”, though: humans, in certain contexts (such as in judgments about truth or beauty), are satiated by symmetry and unsettled by arbitrariness – thus the haunting question for selfishness is “Why do I deserve while others don’t?” Under a deserts-type theory, egoism is reduced to egotism. Anyway, there’s some of my cents.

Predicted response: You are assuming interpersonal relations have intrinsic value.

What baffles me is that Alonzo is so opposed to saying good actions are those which in fact result in the most agent-neutral desire-fulfillment. Or how Desirism is effectively any different from that, besides the constant claim it’s different from that.

I realize the motivation for this denial is to get around distribution problems for consequentialist theories, but the fix is so unclear.

I like it.

In many ways it is similar to Buddhist ethics, which is the form of ethics that I find most plausible. The idea is what we are all interconnected in essential ways, and that my individual well-being is predicated upon the well-being of others. Therefore, I ultimately meet my own needs by meeting the needs of others, which as you said is just a variation of the Golden Rule.

Now, this is not a rule that holds in EVERY single interaction. In other words, there will be times when meeting my own needs and not the needs of others will result in more well-being for myself than the opposite, and vice versa. However, it states that over time and generally, this is a rule that will increase the likelihood of maximizing well-being for myself and others.

It all boils down to the Golden Rule of respecting one’s neighbor as oneself.

It’s a great first effort, but I think a complication is that respecting one’s neighbor as oneself taken at face value complicates certain kinds of important social interaction, for example:
* showing irritation, anger (necessary to let people know when they’ve crossed a social line, etc.)
* criminal punishment
* hierarchical relationships such as parent to child, boss to employee, commanding officer to enlisted men, etc.
So respect as a definition ends up needing to be expressed in simpler, more basic social components, say: taking the action that best ensures the benefit of my neighbor. But now “benefit” introduces some ambiguity and seems to require quantifying the needs and desires of my neighbor in some objective fashion as well as exactly how my actions contribute and exactly when or why my neighbor should benefit more or less than myself. Then “needs” and “desires” need work, as well as the strength of desires and how desires interplay in society, etc. But by this time, it feels like we’re moving in a desirism direction after all.

Garren,

What baffles me is that Alonzo is so opposed to saying good actions are those which in fact result in the most agent-neutral desire-fulfillment.

If we focus on actions, then every circumstance is a unique and special case that may result in desire-fulfillment or may result in desire-thwarting depending on the situation; we have no business calling any action good or bad a-priori.

It seems possible, though, to say that good actions are those that are generally desire-fulling, but it seems to make more sense to insert desire into the middle of it since actions always result from desires: good actions are those that result from good desires; good desires are those that result in actions that are generally desire-fulfilling.

woodchuck64,

“good actions are those that are generally desire-fulling”

So you mean that good actions are those, that for “people generally” (inside some group, possibly, because all people in the world is awfully diverse), are useful in regards to their desires(e.g. they fullfill more than they thwart of their own desires).

hierarchical relationships such as parent to child, boss to employee, commanding officer to enlisted men, etc. [-woodchuck64]

I hadn’t thought of that point, and it’s a good one imo. Although I think a lot of hierarchical relationships are merely artificial (soul-crushingly so, in some cases), I think there are certain ways in which many of us are not equal and therefore the golden rule, as it is usually simplistically stated, requires clarification / elaboration.

Also, I’m posting this comment to see if wordpress accepts bullet point tags. If not then phooey.

woodchuck64,

..”If we focus on actions, then every circumstance is a unique and special case that may result in desire-fulfillment or may result in desire-thwarting depending on the situation; we have no business calling any action good or bad a-priori.”

Yes, that is the result of consequentialist moral theories, which Desirism is because it judges desires by their consequences.

This would be apparent if the whole ‘generally’ business were spelled out in a specific algorithm, which is why I suspect it hasn’t been. Since Luke is a much more precise thinker than Alonzo, I’m very interested to see what happens next year when the podcast gets around to trying to spell this stuff out.

Garren,

This would be apparent if the whole ‘generally’ business were spelled out in a specific algorithm, which is why I suspect it hasn’t been.

I like your outline of desirism at your blog and particularly the analogy of desires to frequency of alleles. Maybe population genetics can offer some useful models for “people generally”.

tmp,

So you mean that good actions are those, that for “people generally” (inside some group, possibly, because all people in the world is awfully diverse), are useful in regards to their desires(e.g. they fullfill more than they thwart of their own desires).

I’ve assumed “people generally” applies to the human race within some general time-period in which we would still be called Homo Sapiens. But I agree with Garren that this should really be spelled out in specific terms.

woodchuck64,

So “people in general” covers both the people in Alaska and the people in Uganda, and damn any cultural differences?

But the point I was after is: if both you and me want the last muffin, then your desire for the last muffin is a bad desire from my perspective, because it tries to thwart mine. And my desire is bad from your perspective, because of the same. If the muffin was poisonous, then my desire to eat it would be bad from my perspective, but good from your perspective, because it would interact with our desires to live. And a general “good desire” is not a desire that increases desire fullfillment in general, but which for majority of people (people in general) does not thwart their own desires. Say, if people in general were tribalistic, and didn’t care about people outside of their own group, then any desire that benefits their own group at the expense of the rest of the world would be a good desire, because it would increase their own desire fullfillment.

In short: I’m not entirely sure if you are talking about “desire utilitarianism” that Alonzo has given up on, or “desirism” for which I actually don’t remember seeing a definition for “moral good”. So I tried to give a rambling example how “desire utilitarianism” moral good would work if you drop the “desires act like they had intrinsic value” part.

spec,

Interesting link to the “deserts” thing.

I now suppose that I don’t understand what you mean by “we are equal”.

I don’t know how to make it any more clear. If we’re neighbors, I don’t wake you up with loud music, and you don’t wake me up with your lawnmower. We’re both equal, we both value sleep, so we both honor each others want.

What about us is equal, and – in the context of the theory at least – how should that convince everyone to adhere to an interpersonal relations theory?

It’s not intended to convince. You either get it, or you don’t. However, if I were to try to persuade you against mowing your lawn at 6:30AM because I’m a bartender who doesn’t go to bed until 4:00AM, I would say something along the lines of, “You don’t want me to play loud music when I get home, right?”

I get the feeling you’re either deliberately hiding the subjectivity of equality for the sake of a more interesting discussion or you’re just completely oblivious to its gaping ambiguity and undefinedness.

I’m not deliberately hiding anything, but if you’d like to elaborate on this “gaping ambiguity and undefinedness,” and how it relates to the overall worth of the ideas, feel free.

…I think there are certain ways in which many of us are not equal and therefore the golden rule, as it is usually simplistically stated, requires clarification / elaboration.

Well, as far as hierarchical relationships go, of course it needs modification. I don’t get to tell my boss, “I refuse to wear your uniform because we’re equal.” At the same time, my boss doesn’t get to tell me that I work overtime without pay.

Garren,

Predicted response: You are assuming interpersonal relations have intrinsic value.

I’m not though. By “intrinsic value,” Luke and Alonzo mean “value without a valuer.” My rendition of desirism doesn’t assume any such thing exists. It assumes nothing more than, “I value what I value as much as you value what you value, and we can get along better if we respect that.” That’s it.

Since Luke is a much more precise thinker than Alonzo, I’m very interested to see what happens next year when the podcast gets around to trying to spell this stuff out.

I don’t see why we need another year. I don’t see why Alonzo isn’t explaining the theory clearly and justifying his applied ethics claims, right now. I mean, he’s doing the same sort of thing he rallies against YEC’s for.

dguller,

Now, this is not a rule that holds in EVERY single interaction.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’m using a variation of the Golden Rule; I think I’m using the Golden Rule. Can you think of an interaction where the Golden Rule wouldn’t apply?

woodchuck64,

So respect as a definition ends up needing to be expressed in simpler, more basic social components, say: taking the action that best ensures the benefit of my neighbor.

I don’t think we need to go that far. I say simpler is better. When I refuse to play loud music at 4:00AM, I’m not actively seeking to ensure the benefit of my neighbor. I’m actively seeking to avoid his mowing the lawn at 6:30AM. He honors my want, and I value his–because we agree to treat each other as equal.

tmp,

So “people in general” covers both the people in Alaska and the people in Uganda, and damn any cultural differences?

That’s correct. It also damns individual preferences. Say I don’t care how long I live, and that I like cigarettes. Doesn’t matter, because Alonzo Fyfe says my desire is irrational and immoral. Yet, this assumes I share HIS values, i.e., he simply projects HIS values [or the majority's values] onto others, then calls that “morality.” Personally, it strikes me as fascist leaning.

In short: I’m not entirely sure if you are talking about “desire utilitarianism” that Alonzo has given up on, or “desirism” for which I actually don’t remember seeing a definition for “moral good”.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think the definition of “moral good” has changed.

tmp,

So “people in general” covers both the people in Alaska and the people in Uganda, and damn any cultural differences?

Right, because desirism is not supposed to be cultural relative. It says desires are good or bad without adding cultural caveats.

But the point I was after is: if both you and me want the last muffin, then your desire for the last muffin is a bad desire from my perspective, because it tries to thwart mine. And my desire is bad from your perspective, because of the same.

But not under desirism. Desirism would tell me (in theory) whether my desire to eat the last muffin at someone else’s expense is a good desire or not. What I expect is that desirism would say that the desire to compromise by eating half the muffin in that circumstance is a good desire.

In short: I’m not entirely sure if you are talking about “desire utilitarianism” that Alonzo has given up on, or “desirism” for which I actually don’t remember seeing a definition for “moral good”.

Desirism clearly defines morally good desires and morally bad desires, but Alonzo definitely doesn’t like the term good/bad acts. While I think it seems trivial to define good acts as those coming from good desires, I understand the need to avoid any confusion with act utilitarianisms.

cl,

He honors my want, and I value his–because we agree to treat each other as equal.

Can all social relationships function well with the assumption that each is equal? In parent/child, it seems very difficult to do that.

Even in normal interaction with people, I find that some people insist on taking advantage of others. In this case, the best social approach seems to be to suspend treating them as equals (temporarily). But then I have to look to another moral guideline for how to behave in that circumstance.

woodchuck64,

“Desirism clearly defines morally good desires and morally bad desires”

But what is this definition. Desire utilitarianism assumed that desires behaved like they had intrinsic value, so you could define a good desire as one that increased desire fullfillment in general. Desirism has dropped this principle, so either desirism states that general desire fullfillment has intrinsic value after all, or the definition has changed. And Alonzo has been consistently adamant that intrinsic value does not exist.

Also, I don’t see anything in Alonzo’s newer writings that would require “moral good”, only “useful for a particular agent”, but I have likely missed someting.

“Desirism would tell me (in theory) whether my desire to eat the last muffin at someone else’s expense is a good desire or not.”

Yes. And if I have gotten it right, the evaluation is different for every individual agent. So if you eating the last muffin at my expense will result in me pummeling you about head and shoulders, then it would be a bad desire, if you want to avoid savage beatings. But if you like muffins more than you dislike being beat on, then it would be a good desire(for you), all in all. My desires do not enter the equation at all, unless you are a fair and nice chap and value my desires, or I have means to make my desires impact yours. Like by striking you repeatedly.

cl,
..’I’m not though. By “intrinsic value,” Luke and Alonzo mean “value without a valuer.” My rendition of desirism doesn’t assume any such thing exists.’

Right, but that was still my somewhat tongue-in-cheek prediction because Alonzo has castigated other moral systems for assuming ‘intrinsic value’ when those systems don’t require it, such as classic utilitarianism.

..”I don’t see why we need another year. I don’t see why Alonzo isn’t explaining the theory clearly and justifying his applied ethics claims, right now.”

Probably because he thinks he has.

tmp,

But what is this definition. Desire utilitarianism assumed that desires behaved like they had intrinsic value, so you could define a good desire as one that increased desire fullfillment in general. Desirism has dropped this principle, so either desirism states that general desire fullfillment has intrinsic value after all, or the definition has changed. And Alonzo has been consistently adamant that intrinsic value does not exist.

The definition of a “morally good” desire doesn’t require intrinsic value. It’s just that, as you said, if we drop intrinsic value, we return to the is-ought problem. The problem is with Alonzo, tmp, not you. You’ve simply uncovered yet another discrepancy. I’d be interested in seeing you ask these questions at CSA. Maybe they’ll answer!

Yes. And if I have gotten it right, the evaluation is different for every individual agent. So if you eating the last muffin at my expense will result in me pummeling you about head and shoulders, then it would be a bad desire, if you want to avoid savage beatings. But if you like muffins more than you dislike being beat on, then it would be a good desire(for you), all in all. My desires do not enter the equation at all, unless you are a fair and nice chap and value my desires, or I have means to make my desires impact yours. Like by striking you repeatedly.

I think Alonzo would object that this is DFAU, not desirism. Remember, desirism has nothing to say to agents at the time of decision. That’s a direct quote from Alonzo. Rather, desirism is a schema for evaluating whether “people generally” should praise or condemn the act of eating the last muffin.

Garren,

Right, but that was still my somewhat tongue-in-cheek prediction because Alonzo has castigated other moral systems for assuming ‘intrinsic value’ when those systems don’t require it, such as classic utilitarianism.

Ha! Okay, makes sense now. Yes, I have always thought Alonzo’s adamant denial of “intrinsic value” was an unnecessary digression–especially when treated like “value that can exist outside a valuer.” How silly.

Probably because he thinks he has.

How in the world could he? Have you seen any math anywhere? Have you seen any real-world evaluations? Have you seen anything besides Alonzo’s guesswork that would justify the claim, “we’d be better off with spectator sports and trash tv?”

If so, where?

No, I’ve not seen any of that.

Alonzo not justifying his applied ethics is compatible with Alonzo thinking he has justified his applied ethics.

cl,

“It’s just that, as you said, if we drop intrinsic value, we return to the is-ought problem.”

This is exactly my point. If we say that, that maximising desire fullfillment is very pretty and morally good, but there is no reason whatsoever to actually do any morally good acts, then what is the point? You can, however, justifiedly tell an agent to do something that increases his own desire fullfillment, and I think that this is what Alonzo has been doing. It just seems odd to have a theory that says A is morally good, thus you ought to do B that has nothing whatsoever to do with A.

Also, I think I have been using the term “intrinsic value” wrong. What is it that, say utilitariarism gives to achieve moral ought, if not giving intrinsic value to whatever is being maximised?

Garren,

Alonzo not justifying his applied ethics is compatible with Alonzo thinking he has justified his applied ethics.

I know. I was just asking rhetorical questions… sorry :)

tmp,

You can, however, justifiedly tell an agent to do something that increases his own desire fullfillment, and I think that this is what Alonzo has been doing.

Well sure, but the minute he starts making across the board rules against everything from spectator sports to smoking, it seems he’s left the realm of “that which increases one’s own desire fulfillment” to something else entirely.

What is it that, say utilitariarism gives to achieve moral ought, if not giving intrinsic value to whatever is being maximised?

I think utilitarianism isolates something like “happiness” or Harris’ “well-being,” then elevates that to the status of a “prime virtue,” and that this is what utilitarians mean when they say that “happiness” or “well-being” has intrinsic value. I think Alonzo just wants to stand apart from this schema, while at the same time reaping its benefits–but it just seems to be leading to confusion instead of coherency, IMO.

cl,

“Well sure, but the minute he starts making across the board rules against everything from spectator sports to smoking, it seems he’s left the realm of ‘that which increases one’s own desire fulfillment’ to something else entirely.”

Well, yes. But it is possible, that he is just wrong. That is, he believes that “people in general” have a set of desires(and it would have been nice of him to identify them, because “people in general” is not all the people. How do you know, if this particular piece of advice applies to you?) that would be better fulfilled if evil spectator sports were banned. The funky is in the application, not in the basic principle(if it is useful to you, you ought to do it).

“this is what utilitarians mean when they say that ‘happiness’ or ‘well-being’ has intrinsic value.”

And why is it odd to criticize utilitarianism for having intrinsic value? I’m defending Alonzo here. It may not be the best word choice, but he does have a point.

About the delicious muffins… Why is it, that while desires are the reason for all action, morality is only about using social tools to manipulate other agents’ desires. If I, for example, use a threat(a social tool) of shooting you to give you a desire to give me you wallet, I have probably committed a morally good act(I manipulated your desires – part of the practice of morality. My desires were fullfilled – morally good.) On the other hand, if I just shoot you, and then take your wallet, this has nothing to do with morality at all. I didn’t manipulate anyone’s desires. I think the definition needs a little work. Or I got it wrong again. :)

tmp,

And why is it odd to criticize utilitarianism for having intrinsic value? I’m defending Alonzo here. It may not be the best word choice, but he does have a point.

His point is that intrinsic value doesn’t exist, ontologically, and I don’t think that’s any point at all. Utilitarianism doesn’t require that “value without a valuer” exist ontologically, in some weird, esoteric sense. It simply requires a prime virtue that all human desires reduce to.

If I, for example, use a threat(a social tool) of shooting you to give you a desire to give me you wallet, I have probably committed a morally good act(I manipulated your desires – part of the practice of morality. My desires were fullfilled – morally good.) On the other hand, if I just shoot you, and then take your wallet, this has nothing to do with morality at all. I didn’t manipulate anyone’s desires. I think the definition needs a little work. Or I got it wrong again. :)

Again, it seems you’re talking about DFAU. You are thinking in terms of the agent at the time of decision. Desirism has nothing to say to moral agents at the time of decision.

cl,

“Utilitarianism doesn’t require that ‘value without a valuer’ exist ontologically, in some weird, esoteric sense. It simply requires a prime virtue that all human desires reduce to.”

I have hard time wrapping my mind around this. A prime virtue without intrinsic value does not seem to be able to bridge the is-ought cap, that is, there is a prime virtue, and it is nice, but it lacks any intrinsic quality that states we ought to act to promote it. Exactly the same problem as with desires without intrinsic value, actually.

“Desirism has nothing to say to moral agents at the time of decision.”

Then it is completely useless. The act of using praise or condemnation (or threat) is a decision in itself. Saying a moral agent ought to do X, but when a time comes you actually could do X, then forget this advice does exactly nothing whatsoever.

I understand, that Alonzo is mostly talking on the level of society, but since there is no intrinsic value and the only reason-for-action are an agents’ own desires, then if the principles are valid on society level then they must be valid on individual level also, because otherwise the would be no reason-for-action. And it’s just easier to demonstrate problems on individual scale.

My understanding of desirism is that is it not about how we should act on the moment of decision. It’s about how we manipulate others so that when their moment of decision comes, they will choose as we would like. I was just pointing out, that there is nothing in desirism that says pulling out a gun and threatening someone with it is wrong. Or pulling out a gun an shooting someone with it, not only is it not wrong, it has nothing to do with morality whatsoever. And I did not think in terms of moment of decision: I was implying that pulling out a gun and threatening to shoot someone is generally an effective way of getting them to do what you want. There may be side effects, though, so it’s not always useful, if you want to stay out of jail, for example.

cl,

Now that I have thought about it, I think Alonzo is trying to say that morality is a social construct. It is kind of like a cloud that hangs around the participating agents, and it is enforced by crisscrossing use of social tools.

If you live in a society that promotes honesty in others, for example, eventually honesty may get promoted at you enough, that you genuinely start thinking honesty as a valuable thing, and at the moment of decision, your first instinct is to be honest.

Desires are the basis for behavior, and since the theory is about behavioral modification, basically, desirism is an apt name.

What it does not do, as far as I can see, is tell us where should we take morality, or what is the right thing to do. Unless it gives some goal, like maximizing universal desire fullfillment, intrinsic value.

tmp,

Now that I have thought about it, I think Alonzo is trying to say that morality is a social construct. It is kind of like a cloud that hangs around the participating agents, and it is enforced by crisscrossing use of social tools.

I think that’s exactly right. He wants “morally good” to refer to the same warm feeling we get inside about all that’s noble and right, but not have it mean that there’s anything “there” with intrinsic value.

What it does not do, as far as I can see, is tell us where should we take morality, or what is the right thing to do. Unless it gives some goal, like maximizing universal desire fullfillment, intrinsic value.

My desires are probably more likely to be fulfilled in a society that tries to maximize desire filfullment. So perhaps desirism doesn’t have to say anything to individual moral agents to catch on; if the argument and facts are clear and the approach is clearly shown to maximize desire fulfillment, self-interest could do the rest.

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