As opposed to his usual complaining that he “doesn’t have time” or falsely accusing me of “not listening” to his arguments, Luke Muehlhauser actually had some salient things to say about my response to his article, In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism. I will respond to Luke here, and use those responses to articulate my broader position on the concept of intrinsic value, and how it relates to our ongoing discussions of morality.
In Luke’s post Morally Permissible Slavery, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist has implied moral defects in my character, here. The backstory: commenter antiplastic said this to Luke Muehlhauser, who replied not by addressing antiplastic’s objection, but by attempting to cast doubt on the sincerity of both antiplastic and myself to understand the theory. IOW, Luke chose to make it personal instead of keeping it professional. Then, Alonzo chimed in, lambasting antiplastic with what were in my opinion uncalled-for accusations about antiplastic’s character. Then, of course, when I came to antiplastic’s defense, Alonzo turned him judgment towards me.
My response follows, written to Alonzo.
In his post In Defense of Radical Value Pluralism, Luke Muehlhauser attempts to falsify value monism. Before addressing his claims, I’d like to comment on a few lesser issues and get them out of the way. On value, Luke writes,
A cup of coffee has value when I desire it. Sunshine has value when I desire it. Sex has value because you desire it.
Come from someone who emphatically denies intrinsic value, I think imprecision with language invites confusion here. Luke’s language lends all too easily to the idea that coffee, sunshine and sex can “have” or possess value, as if value is some sort of object that can be possessed. He writes as if value were a noun, but the only way value can be a noun is if it’s a person, place or thing. Many will see this as trivial, semantic, or nitpicking, perhaps because they feel the language is accurate enough to get the point across. I agree the language is accurate enough to get the point across, but that’s too low of a standard for rigorous philosophy. I think using value as a verb would allow Luke to make his arguments with more clarity and less amenability to confusion. Nothing has value, ever: people value.
That desirism is “not a moral theory” is a common objection, one that its founder Alonzo Fyfe handles in a systematic way. Today, I will try to explain why I’m skeptical of Alonzo’s response to this objection. I suppose it would be best to dive right in with some actual examples of the objection:
In the thread of Something That Made Me Thing Of Desirism, commenter James Gray asks a salient question to bossmanham:
Great post here. This may be one of the reasons desirism hasn’t moved beyond the sphere of internet atheists who enjoy it. It falls to the same or similar objections that Bentham and Mill’s utilitarianism falls to. [bossmanham]
Utilitarianism is a respectable theory that has gone far beyond the sphere of internet atheists. So, why shouldn’t desirism then be considered respectable and worthy of going beyond such a sphere? [James Gray]
I began a reply of my own, only to realize it quickly grew to post-length. Frankly, I believe several reasons exist, and keep in mind I’m not assuming desirism as comparable to Mill or Bentham’s utilitarianism. Here’s just a quick rundown:
I’ve decided to compose an index of posts I’ve made substantial contributions to at Common Sense Atheism from January 1st, 2010 to the date of this post, 6-11-2010. (NOTE: the index is now current through November 16th, 2010) It is not necessarily meant to be exhaustive, e.g. I omitted threads where I only made a single comment or two. I’ll be updating this list, as well as expanding on key posts where I think certain arguments deserve a closer look, and eventually distilling the best arguments into the homepage.
I'm a semi-regular reader of Common Sense Atheism, maintained by Christian-turned-atheist philosophy student, Luke. If you've never checked out Luke's site, I suggest you do. The commentary is usually thoughtful, and the integrity of the debate more than you typically find in the blogosphere. He's got what might be the most thorough collection of William Lane Craig material besides Craig's blog, and also links to over 400 debates between atheists and believers. Luke's blog is a genuine resource to (a)theism.
What originally turned me on to Luke's style was his sharp dismissal of much of what the New Atheists have to say. Luke ##— like myself — has a very low tolerance for sloppy atheist arguments. He's usually apt to call them when he sees them, too, which is all the better, as I've noticed atheists can be quite fond of towing party lines and refusing to rebuke their own, even when such is clearly called for. The only real negative I'd noticed up until last night was that I've seen Luke threaten to ban commenters (no, not me) for what I'd call nothing more than "disagreeable disagreement." While I don't know that Luke's ever banned anybody, I have absolutely zero tolerance for those who resort to censorship and moderation, and this opinion would not relent even of my own mother. Hence the offensiveness of even the suggestion.