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.”
Episode 14 of Luke and Alonzo’s oddly named Morality in the Real World is up, and despite its length, I don’t think it said much. Sure, it’s important and commendable to distinguish between the facts of reality vs. the words we use, but they could have accomplished that in a few short sentences. In the positive, the student is starting to surpass–or at least show genuine skepticism towards–the teacher. I find that very encouraging. Though one could argue that it has simply transferred to Yudkowsky, Luke’s infatuation with Alonzo Fyfe seems to be waning. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the episode, I suggest doing so, else my post might not make as much sense as it could.
I don’t believe what I’m about to say in the following thought example, but suppose that news of bin Laden’s death restores the economy to as good a state as it’s ever been in. Then suppose that his “death” was actually a lie concocted by economists and politicians because they knew–with reasonable certainty based on seemingly airtight calculations–that this lie would spur economic growth. Now, if there was an instance where desirism’s broad “people generally” statement can be made confidently, this is it. Certainly, “people generally” have reason to promote that which spurs economic growth, right?
In discussions of morality, attempts to define good can get downright maddening once one applies themselves duly to the task. Yet, it seems so simple. We all know what good means, right? The problem is, my “good” might actually be your “bad,” so how might we deal with that?
In his post Living Without A Moral Code, part 3, Luke Muehlhauser writes,
Now, it seems straightforward that my carnivorous desires are immoral. Surely my desire to eat meat tends to thwart more and stronger desires than it fulfills. It certainly thwarts the desires of the animals I eat, both by way of their death and by way of their horrifying lives packed into factory farms.
That is incorrect. Desires cannot fulfill or thwart other desires.
Luke Muehlhauser claims that desirism is an objective moral theory. I think it’s quite easy to demonstrate that this is an incoherent claim. Recall that Luke defines “objective moral value” thus:
…usually, the phrase “OBJECTIVE moral value” means something like “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons.” Right? If what you’re calling “moral value” is just based off somebody’s personal attitudes, that’s called SUBJECTIVE morality. [source]
Here and here, I argued that Luke Muehlhauser misled the audience at Colorado State University by declaring as subjective a God-based morality William Lane Craig does not actually endorse [a.k.a., refuting a strawman].
Luke’s response was to attack my character by labeling me a troll in his 7-point rejoinder, which I believe I successfully rebutted. Now, instead of responding to that rebuttal, Luke has declared in some sort of odd, melodramatic exit stage left that he’s “finally given up” on me. I won’t tire you with why I think that’s not a move a person with good desires would make. I’d rather dig a little deeper into one of the counterarguments I made in my aforementioned responses.
I kid you not, in no less than twenty minutes of posting my critique of his speech, Luke Muehlhauser fired off two admittedly hurried responses here and here, the former of which contains a personal attack. He labeled me a “troll” when all I did was write a critique of his speech on my own blog! Do those sound like acts a person with a desire for careful and rigorous philosophy would perform? To contrast, I took two hours crafting my critique, let it settle for three more, and then proofread it three times. Nonetheless, let’s see if we can refute some or all of Luke’s claims without resorting to the unprofessional insults and distortions he’s growing unusually fond of.
Continuing to explore the concept of intrinsic value, Luke Muehlhauser of Common Sense Atheism writes,
LUKE: Okay, Alonzo. Enough, now. Anyway, one of our commenters, Kip, pointed out that another meaning of the phrase ‘intrinsic value’ is ‘value as an end’, whereas ‘instrumental value’ would be ‘value as a means.’ For example, money has value to me, not because I care about money itself, but because money is a means toward getting things I really do care about: sex, for example. So we might say that money has ‘value as a means’ for me, but sex has ‘intrinsic value’ or ‘value as an end’ for me.
I advise against that, on the grounds that they’re likely to introduce more confusion over an already-confused and equivocated-upon term: intrinsic value. Why not just drop “intrinsic value” entirely and use “desire-as-ends” or “desire-as-means” wherever appropriate? Personally, I find those terms much clearer and easier to work with. I have difficulty following along when Luke and Alonzo use different definitions of “intrinsic value” in different podcasts.