So I have all these snippets of comments and posts that never made the cut for one reason or another, and instead of just delete them, I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate them into the blog. Thus, TWIM’s new Recycle Bin category.
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.”
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]
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 thought I should take a quick break from discussing the method to clarify my position on desirism. I'm not angry or irritated or anything like that, neither is this any sort of a "point fingers" post. I just want to clarify where I'm at concerning desirism [which is pretty much right where I've always been]. Else, we might have more misunderstanding, when I'd really rather just get a good discussion going.
In general, I'll argue that it's counterproductive to think in black-and-white terms of being "for" or "against" a given theory. In any given field, theories are more like "dynamic knowledge" than neatly-packaged, easily-reducible entities, and people often have mixed attitudes about them. It is both possible and common for an individual to support one or more of a theory's tenets, while maintaining reservations concerning others. Other times people feel they may have something valid to contribute. That's exactly the case with my attitude towards Alonzo Fyfe's desirism. Recently at CSA, Alonzo Fyfe wrote,
We discussed the method and some preliminary objections here. I think the best way to illustrate the method’s strengths and weaknesses would be to just dive in and play around with it.
It is my opinion that any moral theory worthy of being considered “the best” should be able to guide both isolated individuals and interactive groups towards the “moral good” at any given time. So, I’ll begin by considering the effects of any particular desire on the affected desires of an isolated individual, in order to specifically determine whether or not the particular desire tends to fulfill or thwart other desires. My hypothesis was that if desirism’s definition of good is sufficient, the numbers should line up with our moral intuitions most of the time.