May 10, 2011
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.