Wednesday, May 23, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 16: Felt Need

Continuing with my series on the nature of desire, I am currently commenting on Friedrich, Daniel (2017), “Desire, Mental Force, and Desirous Experience.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

In Part IV of the essay, Friedrich begins to describe the feeling tone distinctive of desire in terms of a "felt need". In the sections above I have given reason to question the "felt" part of this account of desire. However, Friedrich makes several claims about the "need" part that fits into the idea that desire is a value assigned to P being made or kept true.

He states that felt needs can "differ in intensity". This is consistent with the idea that different values can be assigned to different propositions P being made or kept true. The value can be low (Yeah, that'd be nice, I guess), or high (STOP THAT! PLEASE! I BEG YOU!).

He states that felt needs can sometimes be given expression and uses the example, "This must become reality." This can be paraphrased as, "P must be made or kept true." Though, please note, there is nothing here about a "felt" aspect, just a need.

He also writes, "These experiences involve a distinctive mental force that is anchored in a distinctive phenomenology that can be articulated in terms of the notion of a felt need inasmuch as in these experiences the desired end is given to the mind as something that has to become reality." Here, Friedrich does mention this "distinctive phenomenology." However, once again, in order to explain and predict your behavior, I do not need to make any reference to this phenomenology. All I need to see is that you are willing to put a lot of work into making P a reality.

What I see is not the Radioman's turning on radios while wishing there were no radios on so that he would not be turning them on and putting up with their noise. For your motivation to be that of a desire, it must be the case that the end has been assigned a value. I must see you working, planning, and plotting to making P a reality. In observing your behavior, it must be the case that my best explanation is, "She wants to make P a reality and, given this and what I know about her beliefs, I can predict that she will do this and that, avoid this other thing, and be willing to make the following bargains." Once again, you may or may not have some sort of feeling associated with this, but that does not have to be true for you to have a desire.

Lastly, Friedrich states:

It is in virtue of the desired end being given to the mind as something that has to become reality that acting in ways one believes to promote the desired end is minimally rational.

Here, too, we can make use of the part of this account that identifies the importance of making something become reality (making or keeping P true) as an end, something the agent is willing to work for, without adding any type of feeling component.

I can well imagine that somebody might say, "The fact that some demon put a chip in my brain making it important to me to realize some proposition P does not give me any reason at all to realize some proposition P." Yet, in fact, I suspect each person will find a reason to avoid pain, to adjust the thermostat to make himself comfortable, to eat, to choose the foods that taste best among what he chooses to eat (consistent with other concerns), and the like – in spite of the fact that his reasons to do so are based solely on the chips that the demons of Evolution, Environment, and Experience have placed in his head.

This account has an implication that some may not like. It has an implication that I do not like. That is, it may be easier to create a robot with desires than we think. Such a robot needs to assign a value to realizing some end, and then go about finding ways to do so, collecting beliefs about the world in order to build a plan to achieve the desired goals. There is quite the risk that, as we did with animals in the 1800s, we will adopt a policy of thwarting the desires of machines while denying that they have real concerns. In fact, they will be giving us all of the evidence they can, and as much as we can demand of them. We are at risk of entering an area where we do to robots what we once did to animals.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 15: Other People's Pain

Continuing with my series on the nature of desire, I am currently commenting on Friedrich, Daniel (2017), “Desire, Mental Force, and Desirous Experience.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

In my last posting, I objected to their thesis concerning of a feeling tone distinctive of desire. In this post, I address the claim that one can launch the same argument against a feeling tone distinctive of pain.

Specifically . . .

In the previous section, I argued against the idea that we can understand desire in terms of a "feeling tone distinctive of desire" because I cannot tell if you ever have a feeling tone distinctive of desire.

The same argument can show that pain is not related to a distinctive feeling either. After all, the only thing I see from you when you are in pain is your observable behavior. I have no access to what you are feeling. It is quite within my capacity to imagine that you feel nothing – that you are just going through the motions without any feeling of pain at all.

Indeed, this was the case in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries regarding animals. People believed that animals lacked the intellectual sophistication required to actually feel pain. Whimpering, whining, yelping, and attempts to avoid what, in human, would cause pain were merely examples of animals going through the motions of pain, but they did not suffer from any distress. For that, one needed a soul, or a particularly sophisticated type of consciousness.

This part is true: I can imagine an advanced race sending a "pod person" down to Earth with the intention of learning about us. I can imagine that this being has no "feelings". However, it learns how to fit in. It learns that certain types of behavior (I.e., leaking water out of its eye and displaying the mannerisms of somebody who is sad) it is possible to elicit sympathy. Other types of behavior, such as praise and condemnation, mold the behavior in others in such ways that they tend to repeat that for which they are praised and avoid doing that for which they are condemned. Consequently, it expresses anger or joy. It will behave submissively at times to protect itself from harm, and display dominance behavior as a way of getting others to do its bidding. Ultimately, it becomes indistinguishable from a human being in behavior. And, yet, it has no felt qualities of desire, of pain, of joy or sadness. It simply goes through the motions.

Not only can I imagine this, but people have assumed it with regard to animals and, sometimes, other people.

I can imagine it. But what does that tell us?

There is a large body of philosophical literature on this subject having to do with the problem of consciousness and the metaphysics of mind. This has to do with the possibility of p-zombies; creatures that behave exactly like humans to the point of being indistinguishable from humans, but lack consciousness. Hopefully, I can avoid that debate and all of its complications and implications. For my purposes, I am quite content to assume that we all are, in fact, philosophical zombies.

The relevant point for this discussion is that it does not matter morally whether you are a p-zombie or a regular person. Ex hypothesi, I cannot tell the difference by looking at your behavior or through any type of observation. That you have the same sensations I do when you appear to experience pain, and whether you experience a "feeling tone distinctive of desire" when you desire that something be the case, when it comes to explaining and predicting your behavior, if a "desire" or "is in pain" attribution is useful in one case, it is just as useful in the other.

I could be the only conscious person in a world filled with philosophical zombies. As I grow up, I hear them using the terms "desire" and "pain". In learning the language, I would learn to apply those terms to my own experiences. I will learn to say that I want to go camping and I would say that the burn on my hand is painful. I may notice that desires have a distinctive feeling tone (if, indeed, it does), and that there is a felt awfulness to pain. Yet, here, we have to ask whether this is a part of the actual meaning of the word. I learned the words "desire" and "pain" from beings who never experienced such a thing.
So, what does it matter whether other people have a "feeling tone distinctive of desire"?

Monday, May 21, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 14: Other People's Desires

One question that a theory of desire should be able to answer is: How do you determine what another person desires or, even, if they have desires?

In reading Daniel Friedrich's article, this is a question I had problems with.

Friedrich, Daniel (2017), “Desire, Mental Force, and Desirous Experience.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

How do I tell if you have any desires?

This is the question I keep asking as I read Daniel Friedrich’s account of desires.

Freidrich writes:

Non-cognitive evaluation, I have argued, should be understood in terms of evaluative mental force. The notion of evaluative mental force is in turn tied to the distinctive feeling tone of certain experiences. In this section, my aim is to relate these ideas to desire. An extension of these ideas to desires requires that there is a feeling tone distinctive of desire.

But how do I know that you have a particular feeling tone distinctive of desire?

Let us take color by analogy. I do not know whether you see red the way that I see red. What I do know is that, when you point at things and call them “red”, I can pick out what they all have in common and use that to predict what else you may call “red”. You have never seen my heavy winter coat. Yet, I can reliably predict that you would say it was red. Or, at least, the vast majority of people who saw my heavy winter coat would say that it was a red coat.

That seems problematic when it comes to desire. When you point to things and call them “desired by me,” I look for what they all have in common so that I can come to reliably predict what else might be desired by you. However, I have different desires. Let us imagine that you like sports, while I prefer to play computer games. You drink coffee in the morning; I prefer cherry flavored Diet Dr. Pepper. You like Jazz; I prefer classic rock-and-roll.

When I look at the set of things that you desire, I am not going to pick up on some "feeling tone distinctive of desire" as being what they all have in common, which I can then put to use to determine what to get you for Christmas.

Perhaps I can infer the feeling tone distinctive of desire. I look at the things that I desire, discover a common “feeling tone”, and infer that you must feel the same thing.
There are at least two problems with this inference.

First, how do I know to attach the term "desire" to playing computer games and the like? You are not pointing to these things and calling them "desired". And I do not find "desiredness" in the things that you point to. In order to know that these are the objects of my desire, I have to find something else in common in what you are pointing to in using that term, and then find that in playing computer games and the like. From there, I may be able to discover that they all have a distinctive feeling tone. However, I first must identify them as objects of desire. Then, I can discover the common tone.

Second, even after I discover the things that the things that I desire have this distinctive feeling tone, how am I justified in inferring that you experience the same feeling tone with the objects of your desire? There is the question of whether your distinctive feeling tone is the same as mine. Then there is the question of whether you have a distinctive feeling tone, or if, for you, there is a collection of feeling tones. If you associated a different feeling tone to watching sports, drinking coffee, and listening to Jazz, but, so far as I can see, you treated them the same way (as objects of desire), I could not tell that they had one tone or three. Nor would it matter.

Whatever a desire is, I need to be able to base my claim that you have a desire that P based on what I can observe, and I cannot observe your private mental experiences. What I can observe is that you seem to be concerned with realizing certain states. You seem to be willing to put some stake in them, devoting effort to discovering and removing obstacles. They are important to you.

Upon observing that there are states that are important to you, I can take this assignment of importance and call it a desire that P. Recognizing that there are states important to me, I can recognize that I must have some desire that Q. I know nothing about the feeling tone of your desires, not do you know anything about mine. However, we know enough to negotiate. “If you help me to realize Q, I will help you to realize P”.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 13: Objections to Dispositional and Doxastic Desires

We are moving on to another article on desire:

Friedrich, Daniel (2017), “Desire, Mental Force, and Desirous Experience.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

“Desire, it is often said, is a pro-attitude”. This is how Daniel Friedrich begins his article.

He begins by looking at a couple of ways of understanding this, and providing reasons to reject this. The dominant views are: (1) desiring p disposes us to act in ways designed to realize p, and (2) desiring p entails a positive evaluation of p. These are the “doxastic” and “evaluate” theories of desire.

As a point of contrast, I have been arguing that desiring p entails an assignment of value to p being made or kept true. This is distinct from both of the theories presented above, which can be seen in the way it handles the objections.

Dispositions to Act

Friedrich begins by mentioning the same objections to the “dispositions to act” thesis discussed in Oddie (2017). We can imagine Radioman, who simply has a disposition to switch on radios. This mere disposition – something more of a habit or a tic – does not fit what we are talking about when we talk about desires.

Of course, what is missing is that there is no assignment of value to “the radio is on” being made or kept true. Add this, so that Radioman sees the radio being on as an end in itself – something to be done for its own sake – and we get something nearer to a desire.

However, the claim that a desire is an assignment of a value to p being made or kept true is not the same as believing that p is good or perceiving that p is good. To see this, we need to examine the doxastic view.

Beliefs that P Is Good

An alternative to the view that to desire that p is to be disposed to bring about p is the view that to desire that p is to believe that the realization of ‘p’ is good.
Friedrich brings up several objections to this doxastic view.

First, Friedrich brings up nihilists who believe that nothing has value yet who still has desires. He also brings up people who have a “desire that p” but who believes that p is bad. We can include in this the desires of the addict.

On the assignments theory, there is nothing problematic with a person believing that nothing has value yet still having a brain that assigns negative value to being in pain or positive value to having pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Nor is there any problem with a person having a desire that p and, at the same time, an aversion to having a desire that p, recognizing that his desire that p motivates him to act in ways that thwarts his other desires, that others have an aversion to people having a desire that p, or that others have many and strong reasons to condemn and punish those who are disposed to make or keep ‘p’ true.

Second, Freidrich brings up the objection that a believe that ‘p’ is good seems to require more intellectual sophistication than it is reasonable to assign to animals and small children who, nonetheless, have a desire to eat or an aversion to being in pain. There does not seem to be much sense in saying that one’s pet has a belief that being in pain is bad or that protecting one’s offspring from harm is good.

None of this sophistication is required of an animal that simply assigns being in pain a negative value – and thus works to prevent such states to the degree that she can recognize what might cause them.

Third, Friedrich reports that “beliefs are subject to the norm of truth”. To believe that p is to believe that ‘p’ is true. So, to desire to have pumpkin pie with whipped cream is to believe that having pumpkin pie with whipped cream is good, which means believing that “pumpkin pie with whipped cream is good” is true. Now, we need a theory to explain what it is for p to be true. And, if it is true for our agent Alph, is it true for everybody?

If you imagine there is an elephant in the room, you do not fall short of any inbuilt standard if there isn’t. But if you believe that there is an elephant in the room, your belief falls short of an inbuilt ideal if the closest elephant is in the zoo three miles away.

If one believes that p is good then one is “falling short of an inbuilt ideal” if p is not, in fact, true. So, now we need to determine what it is for p to be, in fact true.

When it comes to assigning a value to ‘p’ being made or kept true, there is no inbuilt assumption of truth. If ‘p’ is true, the desire motivates the agent to keep it true. If ‘p’ is false, the desire motivates the agent to make it true.

A common move to answer this kind of objection to the doxastic view is to say that value is like perception – that desiring that p is like perceiving that p is good.

Yet, perception also seems to have an inbuilt standard of truth. If one perceives that there is an elephant in the room then this perception is suspect if there is no elephant in the room. We still need to ask what is required to make, “There is an elephant in the room” true.

To be fair, one of the objections to the assignment view is that the assignments seem arbitrary. There is no fact of the matter to back them up, so one assignment is as good as another. This is true. Though, it is also the case that the relationships among desires are not merely a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact that addiction tends to thwart other desires and believing this is not the case will not prevent it from being true. People, who have this arbitrary aversion to pain that evolution happened to give them, as a matter of fact have a reason to cause others to have an aversion to causing pain.

Of course, these are the theories that Friedrich rejected as well. The interesting part will be to look at the theory that Friedrich supports.

On Desire 2018. Part 12: The Desires of Young Children and Animals

Young children and animals have desires. They have hunger, thirst, and an aversion to pain at the least. Cats have a desire to chase and catch things that are like prey. Herd animals have an aversion to cats.

Oddie addresses a concern that says that this is a problem for his “appears to as being good” thesis of desire. “Appears to as being good” seems to be beyond the cognitive capacities of infants and animals – which would leave them without desires. Specifically, it is unlikely that any animal or infant has an understanding of the concept “being good” that would be necessary for anything to appear as being good.

In response to this, Oddie suggests two possible answers.

For his first possible answer, Oddie notes things can appear a certain way to us even though we do not have a concept to describe it. He uses color as an example, noting that, “We experience a far richer palette of colors, for example, than we have the conceptual tools to characterize.” In fact, we cannot even ask the question, “What is that?” unless we had a prior ability to pick “that” out so that we can investigate and think about it.

The second possible answer, he draws on the ideas of Friedrich and Lauria that something can “appear round” in many different ways. It can look round. It can feel round. Using the example of a bat he claims that something can also sound round – though he could also use the example of rolling a marble around in a box.

Similarly, one can argue that there are different modes of presentation of a state of affairs. In the perception of S, S is presented as being the case. In the desire for S, S is presented as being good. One and the same state can be presented in these two different ways. The perception that S and the desire that S take the same object but present S in different ways. (p. 51).

This defense still leaves me with two questions.

The first question springs from noting that, nowhere in this section, did Oddie mention “fittingness”. It is possible for something to “appear good” without its goodness being, in any way, fitting, in the same way that something can appear round or appear red without any claim of roundness being a fitting shape or redness a fitting color. The idea that the brain, in assigning a negative value to “I am in pain” makes it “appear bad” can simply be a basic description that this is how the brain works. From here, survival of the fittest will determine if this particular assignment of value (or this particular way of drawing an assignment of value out of the environment and experience) will get passed to the next generation.

The second question deals with the fact that I do not know what “appears good” is supposed to mean. Specifically, rather than introspecting on my own desires, I am curious to know how I understand that somebody else has a desire. I cannot see how some particular thing “appears” to them. All I can see is their observable behavior and, from that, try to infer whether a desire provides the best explanation.

With respect to colors, such as red, I cannot tell how “redness” appears to other people. However, I can look at what other people point to and call “red” and, from that, make predictions regarding what other things people will call red. I can get pretty good at it – predicting what other people will call “red” with exceptional reliability, without having the slightest idea of how “red” appears to them.

When it comes to desire, I have a problem. People are in substantial agreement concerning what they call “red.” There is no such substantial agreement with respect to what they desire. It would make my job easier if everybody pointed to the same thing and called it “good” or “desired,” but they do not. This is in spite of the fact that, when two people point to the same thing and give it two different evaluations, every other appearance is (quite nearly) the same.

When I turn that knowledge inward, that is where I learn to explain and understand my own behavior as the pursuit of certain ends. I may discover that those ends have something in common, but the word is attached not to this appearance, but to what I can know that I share with other creatures who have desires – a disposition to pursue certain ends or goals. We may not have the same goals, but we do have goals.

This is now I know that young children and animals have desires. It is not by knowing how things appear to them – something I cannot know. It is because the best method I have for explaining and predicting their behavior is to understand them as agents who are disposed to perform goal-directed action. They act with a purpose – an end – to realize (or to prevent the realization) of certain states of affairs. This represents more than just a disposition to act. It represents a disposition to plan – to alter one’s behavior in ways that will realize an end even in environments that provide different means.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 11: The Death of the Death of Desire Principle

The “Death of Desire” principle notes that a desire, once fulfilled, ceases to exist. Another way in which it is phrased is to say that a person cannot desire that which they know to be the case.

Here, I must admit, this simply seems wrong. It is easiest to see with respect to aversions. My desire that I not be in pain does not cease to be exist simply because I am currently in a state in which I am not in pain. My fear of deep water does not vanish when I am not in deep water. In fact, the persistence of these “desires that not-P” even when not-P is true provides the motivation to make sure that not-P does not become true. It is my aversion to pain when I am not in pain that causes me to make sure that I avoid future pain. It is my fear of deep water even when I am not in deep water that keeps me out of deep water.

In the case of positive desires – desires to realize a state rather than to prevent the realization of a state, it makes sense that evolution would equip us with desires that fade when they are realize. After all, desires command action. It makes sense that evolution would equip us with desires that fade when they are fulfilled so that we can move on to the next project. We eat until we have obtained the nourishment we need, then we go on to do something else. We are thirsty until that point at which we have consumed enough water to restore a healthy balance. We desire sex until we have reached an end that makes reproduction possible (at least males do), and we explore until we have discovered whatever it is we were exploring to discover.

This provides some understanding of where the idea that a desire ends when that which is desired has been realized. However, it is a mistake to attribute this to all desire.

Even in the case of some desires persist. The desire that one’s offspring is healthy and happy persists even when one knows that one’s offspring are healthy and happy. One’s desire to be a novelist persists through the writing of several novels.

Oddie brings up as an example Hillary Clinton’s desire to become president. Then (in his hypothetical alternative universe) Hillary does become the first female president of the United States. She can no longer become the first female president of the United States because she is the first female president of the United States. The desire disappears. However, being the first female president of the United States still appears good to her. This argument creates an objection to Oddie’s thesis, since this is an example where an agent can no longer desire that P (to become the first female president of the United States), but this still appears good to her. If a desire is an appearance of something as good, then there can be no appearance of good if the desire is dead.

Oddie answers this objection by stating that there is a thin desire that persists through the election, but we give different names to the different parts. At the start, Clinton has a perspective desire (a desire for a perspective state) of being the first female president of the United States. Then, she wins the election, and the perspective desire becomes a satisfied desire that she is president of the United States. Indeed, if the desire did not continue to exist, then she could not be experiencing the satisfaction of the desire the day after the election – not if the desire no longer existed to be satisfied.

The fact that Clinton can be satisfied with winning (if she wins) and disappointed with losing (if she loses) suggests that something of the desire survives the election. It does not, in fact, die. It simply changes its name.
The assigned value theory of desire would have the same response. The brain assigns a particular value to being the first President of the United States. This motivates the agent to make or keep the proposition true. When Hillary wins the election, the desire changed from making the proposition true to keeping it true. The desire did not die. It simply shifted to a new, appropriate object.

On Desire 2018. Part 10: Unexperienced Value

I found this part of Graham Oddie's paper difficult to write on. I think it is because I found a hard time getting my thoughts into the correct context.

That paper, by the way, for anybody who may have forgotten, is: Oddie, Graham (2017). "Desire and the Good: in search of the right fit." In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds.), The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

So, here is my attempt to understand this part of the paper:

The “admirable” demon example, discussed in the previous section, showed that it was possible for it to be the case that people ought to (or that it would be good to) admire someone (who otherwise threaten to do great harm) to prevent great harm even though that someone was not admirable. At least, this was true in the "Deontic" and "Axiological" versions of FA - but not in the Representational version.

(Representational FA) X is V if and only if it is representationally accurate for one to take attitude F(V) to X.

The “solitary goods” problem is meant to show that the left-hand side of such a biconditional is true, then statement cannot be state-entailing or belief-entailing.

The biconditional we are going to work with here is Oddie's conception of "good".

S is good if and only if favoring S is fitting.

Oddie wants to show that this is false if "S is good" is state-entailing ("S is good" implies "S exists"), or belief-entailing ("S is good" implies "Agent believes 'S is good'")

He will then show that the appearances thesis meets these criteria.

So, what are these “solitary goods”?

Solitary goods are those that exist without anyone’s being around to respond to them fittingly.

I mentioned that I found this difficult to understand. Does this mean that nobody exist who can respond to them fittingly? Or does this mean that such a person exists, but is unable to respond to them fittingly (e.g., because the object is at the center of the Sun where nobody can experience it)? If the former, then does the person have to exist at the same time as the object that has value? For example, what would we say of a situation where I respond fittingly to something that will not exist until 10 years after I die?

In this biconditional, “favoring” is to S being good what “admiring” is to X being admirable or desiring is to D being desirable.

So, the solitary goods case asks whether it is possible for “S is good” to be true, and “favoring S is fitting” to be false.

I would say “yes” to this and present as my examples the object of every desire that evolution, the environment, and experience has planted as a chip in my brain. The awfulness of that sore throat that results when my body is fighting off a flu, the taste of pumpkin pie with cool-whip, sex, Jimmy Buffett music, and a long, hot shower. All of these are good. Favoring these are not fitting – they are simply what the chips that evolution, the environment, and experience have planted in my brain.

However, for the sake of discussion, let us limit our focus to the same types of goods we discussed in the previous section – the admirable, the desirable, and the moral. These are goods that people generally have reasons to promote universally. I will bring forth my example from the previous section – the aversion to causing others pain (under the assumption that everybody has an aversion to pain).
Does this have a problem with solitary goods?

Oddie gives us an example:

Consider an apparently good state, E, that happy egrets exist. Conjoin E with the state F: that there are no past, present, or future favorers. Suppose that the conjunctive state E & F is also good.

Well, when I am asked to suppose that there are no past, present, or future favorers, I have to ask, “What about the happy egrets?” If happy egrets exist, then there are present favorers. If there are no present favorers, then happy egrets do not exist. Imaging such a universe in which E & F are good is like imagining a married bachelor named Jim or a round square that is pink.

Perhaps I think I can make this work if I consider an apparently good state – that G.E. Moore’s beautiful planet exists. Though it is beautiful, it contains no evaluative creatures. It has flowers and rainbows clean mountain streams, but no animals. In fact, in this universe, no evaluative creatures exist, have existed, or will exist.

Now we have a situation in which E (a beautiful world exists) & F (there never has been, is, or will be an evaluative creature) are both true. Combining E and F does not create a contradiction.

I would argue that it would be false to say that E & F (or E alone, for that matter) is good. For it to be good, there must be a creature with a reason to bring it about – an evaluating creature. However, this is not a logical requirement. It is a contingent fact about how value actually comes about. I can imagine – even if it is not real – an intrinsic value property attached to E alone and E & F combined that makes this combination logically possible.

However, this clearly does not entail a state in which somebody favors E & F. I already stated that we are imagining that value is an intrinsic property, and value as an intrinsic property does not imply an evaluator. Only value as a relational property between objects of evaluation and valuers requires a valuer, and this is not logically necessary. It is only metaphysically necessary.

So, “good” is not state-entailing.

And, if we can do without he evaluator, “good” is not belief entailing either.

I can agree that “S is good” is not state-entailing on the grounds that much of what we are concerned about in evaluating something as good concerns reasons for bringing it about – and bringing it about might not even be possible. For example, it would be good to be 30 years younger. However, my being 30 years younger does not obtain. So, “my being 30 years younger” is good does not imply “I am 30 years younger”.

To support Oddie’s claim that goodness is not belief-dependent, I can return to our village filled with people who have an aversion to pain. For them, a universal aversion to causing pain would be good – they certainly have reason to bring about such an aversion. However, it is good regardless of whether anybody in the community believes that this is the case. They may be totally in the dark concerning the merits or even the possibility of promoting an aversion to pain. Perhaps a malevolent demon has falsely informed them that condemning those who cause pain will bring divine wrath or bad luck. Yet, given the facts of the case (they have an aversion to pain and a reward system that makes it possible to promote an aversion to causing pain in others) this universal aversion to causing pain is good.

I am not certain that anything I wrote here makes sense of the original argument. I struggled with it. I have given it my best shot and this is what I came up with. Something can be good without anybody believing that it is good. Something can be good without anybody favoring it (though, perhaps, like “causing pain”, it may be something they should favor or, in this case, disfavor). Nothing can be good without somebody valuing something, but his is not a logical entailment. This is just how the universe works.

Yet, I am rejecting the claim, “S is good if and only if favoring S is fitting.” This makes sense for a certain kind of goodness, but not for all goodness. There is still the goodness that evolution, environment, and experience simply assigns to certain states, where there is no fittingness.

Friday, May 18, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 09: The "Admirable" Demon

This commentary on Graham Oddie's paper is turning out longer than expected. Still, I have come to value the technique of creating commentaries.

For reference, so that you do not need to go hunting for it, the previous nine posts have all had to do with: Oddie, Graham (2017). "Desire and the Good: in search of the right fit". In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds.), The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.


In a universe apparently filled with demons, Oddie postulates that, “an evil demon threatens the world with some terrible outcome unless you admire him.” In this case, there is a sense in which you ought to admire him, but that the demon is not admirable.

This creates a problem for “Deontic FA”, which Oddie defined as:

(Deontic FA) X is V if and only if one ought to take attitude F(V) to X.

Because, here, one ought to admire the demon (to prevent the terrible outcome), but the demon is despicable. The right side of the biconditional is true, but the left side false, so the biconditional does not hold.
Oddie identifies a similar problem for “Axiological FA” where, “the demon threatens to bring about the worst outcome unless you desire that outcome,” thus, “it is clearly better for you to desire the worst outcome than not.” Yet, it is still the worst outcome.

To answer these problems, Oddie considers a type of response that comes from Olson (2009) and Ewing (1959) that suggests that there are multiple definitions of ‘ought’. It is like the claim that “Georgia is one of the United States” is true when talking about the region north of Florida, but false when talking about the country on the east side of the Black Sea bordering Russia. The biconditional does fail under the definition of “ought” that appears in the objection, but there is another definition where the biconditional still holds.

Ewing presented some additional detail by claiming that one sense of “ought” refers to what people generally have reason to condemn (they have reason to condemn the person who fails to admire the demon). He distinguishes this from the ‘ought’ that is fitting to admire. It is in the first sense that the biconditional is false, while it remains true in the second.

As Oddie argues, “Representational FA” does not have this problem since, regardless of the merits of what an agent ought to do or it would be good for the agent to value, it remains true both that the demon is not admirable, and that it is not representationally accurate for one to take the attitude of admiring the demon (though it may be prudent or even obligatory to do so).

However, I still do not know what “representational accuracy” is.

We could be working under an assumption that representational accuracy requires representing the admirable quality as an objective, intrinsic property of “deserving-admirationness”. This could make the most sense of how we use the term, but it could lead us straight into an error theory. All claims of admirability would then be false since we are representing things as having a property that nothing actually has.

The tension found in Deontic FA and Axiological FA would be minor compared to this error.

I am not saying that representational accuracy requires this and that we must reject Representational FA as a result. I am saying that this is one way it can go. Another alternative is that representational accuracy is found precisely in Deontic FA – that to accurately represent admirability one represents it in terms of what people ought to admire.

Furthermore, I do not see reason for concern in the responses from Olson and Ewing mentioned above. The fact that the word “Georgia” refers to both a state and a country may generate some confusion, but it does not provide a reason to prefer a theory of “Georgia” that holds that some propositions are true of “Georgia” in the one sense and false of “Georgia” in the other. That is not a problem – it is simply a fact about the language we have invented.

Given uncertainty over what “representational accuracy” consists in and that the ambiguity of a term like “ought” need not be much of a problem, I would like to look more closely at what Oddie called “Deontic FA”.

In the previous section I described a community containing individuals who all had an aversion to pain and a capacity to create in others an aversion to causing pain by using rewards such as praise and punishments such as condemnation. The members of this community have reason to call “admirable” those who go out of their way to avoid causing pain to others, and to call “deplorable” those who do not. These are terms of praise and condemnation and, as such, are useful in creating a community where individuals have this aversion to causing pain that people generally have reason to promote universally.

Let us add the admirable demon to this community. He apparently has a desire to be admired. To get what he wants he is threatening to harm others unless they admire him. Given that others have an aversion to pain, he threatens to cause others pain unless they admire him (and not necessarily limit that pain to those who do not admire him).

This demon does not have a trait that people generally have reason to promote universally. To admire this demon is to promote universally the trait of being willing to harm others unless he is admired. In fact, the agent (not the demon) in holding that such a trait is admirable would have to also believe that she herself should adopt this trait – that she should also be disposed to cause pain if she is not admired. The same can be said of all her neighbors.

At this point, I need to admit to a shift in what I have called “admirable”. In the original example, we were talking about admiring a demon who wishes to inflict pain if he was not admired. Here, I am talking about admiring a trait. More precisely, we can combine the two by saying that one is admiring a person in virtue of a trait. We cannot simply admire the demon. We must have a reason to admire him – something we admire him for.

The demon’s demand, if not carefully worded, would leave us with a loophole. While the demon is deplorable in virtue of his being willingness to inflict pain unless he is admired, perhaps he is also an extremely gifted painter who can be admired for what he can put on a canvas. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and raped Sally Hemmings repeatedly – her non-consent being grounded both on the fact that she was a slave and, at the start of the affair, a young teenager. Insofar as this was true, Jefferson was not admirable. Yet, he may still be admired for his skill at eloquently presenting principles of and enlightenment.

In terms of examining Deontic FA, this would be cheating. The counter-example assumes that there is no other trait for which the demon can actually be admired. However, the fact that our admiration is focused on traits, and on individuals only in virtue of the fact that they exhibit admirable traits, does require that we specify what is going on with the demon.

With these considerations, I would offer an alternative to Deontic FA as follows:

(Deontic FA) X is V in virtue of X having trait T if and only if people generally ought to promote universally T by taking attitude F(V) to X in virtue of X having T.

To have a genuine counter-example to this version of Deontic FA, one would need a case in which the demon exhibited a trait that would not be counted as admirable, and yet for it to be a trait that people ought to promote universally by praising those who exhibited it and condemning those who did not. The demon’s trait of being disposed to cause pain unless he is admired is both despicable, and not a trait that people ought to promote universally. It is not a counter-example.

This defense of a form of Deontic FA does not defeat Representational FA. Recall that the objection raised against Representational FA concerned its lack of specificity when it came to cashing out “representational accuracy.” We can now cash out representational accuracy in terms of representing a person as having a trait that people generally ought to promote universally using praise and condemnation. The demon is deplorable, and it is representationally accurate to deplore the demon.

We can apply the same analysis to “delightful.” There are things we have reason to want people to take delight in – the laughter and the accomplishments of one’s children. There are things we do not want people to take delight in – the suffering and failure of one’s children. People generally have reason to encourage delight in some states and not in others.

At the same time, people sometimes use the term to refer to things that people do not have reason to promote delight in – a delightful meal or concert where there is no fault in others who not only take no delight in the but find them horrible. The use of “delightful” in these cases generally represents an error. In some cases, it may be an exaggerated compliment, “This is so good that those who do not delight in it are somehow defective.” In some cases, it is snobbery and prejudice, “Though there is no reason to promote a delight in this universally, those who do not delight in it are inferior beings – defective in some way.” These uses of the term do not obligate us to come up with a theory in which these uses report facts.

Oddie ends his discussion by drawing some lessons for the theory of the good.

This delivers a constraint on fitting attitudes (namely that they be capable of being representationally accurate) that will narrow the range and nature of the fitting responses to evaluative attitudes in general and to the thin evaluative attribute of goodness. The fitting response to a state’s being good must be a presentation of that state as good.

I have not given any reason to reject Oddie’s analysis of goods for which there is a fitting response – a response that people generally have reason to encourage universally. However, I am including under the concept of “goodness” those states that fulfill desires – the aversion to pain, hunger, thirst, certain food preferences, basic environmental comfort (temperature preferences), and the like – that evolution, environment, and experience have planted in our brains. In fact, I am using these desires as the foundation for the fittingness of such things as the aversion to causing pain.

, and that evolution and experience has planted in the brain. am using a broader definition of desire, and of good, than Oddie. I am including as desired the value chips planted in our brains by evolution and the regular course of biological development. In my description of the community of individuals with an aversion to pain, the evolutionarily acquired brain chip of aversion to pain, the admirability of honesty, and the delightfulness of a child’s achievements.

In the sample community seeded initially with people who have an evolutionarily acquired aversion to pain and a reward system, these are what make the aversion to causing others pain admirable. Without the evolutionarily acquired aversion to pain, promoting admiration of those who avoid causing pain would be pointless. Without a reward system, it would be useless.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 08: Desirable, Admirable, and Delightful

Continuing my series on Oddie, Graham (2017). "Desire and the Good: in search of the right fit." In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds.), The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

Oddie’s key focus in his theory of "desire" is on the idea of “fitness”.

This will require that we look more closely at the idea of fitness.

The fitting attitude account tells us that the delightful is not just what people happen to take delight in or what people typically take delight in, but in what it is fitting to delight in.

Oddie provides us with three conceptions of this which he generated by “commandeering” a similar topology presented by Toppolet (2011):

(Deontic FA) X is V if and only if one ought to take attitude F(V) to X.

(Axiological FA) X is V if and only if it is good to take attitude F(V) to X.

(Representational FA) X is V if and only if it is representationally accurate for one ought to take attitude F(V) to X.

In these sentences, FA stands for a fitting attitude such as admirable. We can read Deontic FA as saying, for example:

Honesty is admirable if and only if one ought to take an attitude ‘admiring’ to honesty.

Oddie does not specify any preference for either of these three formulations here. He saves that task for when he discusses objections, where he sides with the representational view. I fear that I am going to have problems with the representational view because I do not know how to cash out the phrase “representationally accurate.”

At this point, he seeks only to specify the options. I will do the same. However, I want to say a bit more about these formulations as seen from the assignments perspective.

Again, there is nothing here that we can see as an objection – just a clarification.

For illustrative purposes, allow me to take Deontic FA.

The initial examination of the assignments theory of desire would seem to suggest that honesty is admirable if and only if people admire it. However, this is clearly problematic. There have clearly been cases in the past where at least some people have admired cruelty or ruthlessness in getting what one wants, yet that did not make these admirable qualities. However, there is a way of getting something that fits more closely to what Oddie has in mind out of the assignments theory.

Consider a hypothetical community whose members have an evolved aversion to pain; evolution planted wiring in their brains such as to assign a negative value to states of being in pain.

Let us further assume that the beings in this community have what we may call a “mesolimbic pathway” – a reward system. By means of reward and punishment (including praise and condemnation) inflicted on agents, people can create in those agents an aversion to causing pain. In addition, people can acquire these aversions by observing others being rewarded or punished, or even hearing about them in a story where those who avoided causing pain were praised and those who did not were vilified.

Now, we have this fact: People generally have a reason to promote in others universally an aversion to causing pain. Nobody at the start of this community has an aversion to causing pain. However, this does not prevent it from being trued that they have a reason to create such an aversion. In fact, it may be the case that nobody has even yet figured out, "You know, if we all were to reward and praise those who refrain from causing pain, and punish and condemn those who do not refrain, we can promote universally an aversion to causing pain." Yet, this will not change the truth of the claim.

We can understand honesty in this way.

Honesty is admirable if and only if people generally have on balance many and strong reasons to promote an attitude of ‘admiring’ to honesty.

For the same types of reasons that the people in my hypothetical community have for promoting an aversion to causing pain, we can make an argument that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote, universally, an admiration for honesty. In this sense, honesty ought to be admired, even where the fundamental desires are evolutionary designed “brain chips” that assign values to such things as avoiding pain, caring for one’s offspring, hunger, thirst, sex, and environmental comfort.

This gives me a way of making sense of the claim I made in the previous section that maintaining a fiction of independent goods is a bad thing. People generally have many and strong reasons to promote, universally, an aversion to promoting the fiction of independent goods. The reasons come from the fact that people get criticized for having brains that make value assignments different from those of others. Recall that the problem is that those others see these value assignments as reliable indicators of a type of goodness that does not exist. This is true even though many of those reasons come from the “brain chips” evolution and experience has planted in people’s brains.

Nothing here so far provides a reason to Oddie’s fittingness thesis. It provides a useful analysis of terms like “admirable”.

Oddie does go on to consider three objections. The first of these will lead him to accept "Representational FA" as defined above. I wish to consider his objections and suggest a problem with Representational FA in the next section.