Sunday, January 21, 2018

Western Culture: Truth, Wisdom, and Justice

The attached video shows how Fox's Tucker Carlson uses language that white supremacists love.



A part of this video concerns the interest in "preserving our culture". For example, the video shows clips in which Carlson says:

This is a country founded on European culture....Is the western civilization we are talking about superior to the culture that these immigrants are bringing.

I will start with accepting that some cultures are superior to others. A culture that has abolished slavery is superior to a slave culture. A genocidal culture - e.g., a culture that engages in the (near) extermination of a portion of its population (e.g., Native Americans) is inferior to a culture that condemns these practices.

From which it follows that there is good reason to prevent the growth of these types of ideas in America. To allow people into this country who would advocate and advance the practices of slavery or genocide may be legitimately classified as a bad idea - something that ought not to be done.

Here is one of the things that I would argue makes one culture better than another.

A love of and respect for truth. Truth matters. Honesty matters. Determining the facts of the matter and basing one's actions on the best available understanding on the best available evidence matters. In a culture worth protecting, these would be seen as virtues worthy of being promoted. Those who practice deception or epistemic negligence would be condemned - their behavior would be seen as contrary to, even in violation of, what this culture perceives as good.

Carlson spoke of "European culture". Well, the idea of the love of wisdom is typically traced back to the ancient Greeks, with Aristotle being the first person to begin to formalize the principles of logic. So, on Carlson's standard, this would qualify.

However, in fact, the origin of these principles does not matter. There is a sense in which the love of wisdom emerged first in Asia - in the sense that the part of ancient Greece that saw the rise of the first philosophers was the eastern side of the Ionian sea - the area that is now western Turkey. The merit of an idea does not depend on where it was located. It is absurd to say that honesty has value if it originated in Miletus, but not in if it originated in Sparta or Tyre. Honesty is a virtue regardless of where it was first valued as such.

So, a culture worth preserving is one that values truth and wisdom. A country that values truth and wisdom is a country that recognizes that the location of the first part of the world to attach a high value to truth and wisdom is irrelevant to its merits. A culture that loves truth and wisdom is one that would look upon somebody declaring to his television audience that the location of culture is relevant to its merit as somebody worthy of condemnation - because he is obviously somebody who cares quite little about truth and wisdom.

This love of wisdom also would be one that recognizes that "hasty generalization" is a fallacious form of thinking - a way of thinking that the wise and reason-loving person would ignore.

A lover of wisdom knows that you can not begin with a premise that states, "An X has property Y" to "All X have property Y". You cannot infer, for example, from the premise that "one immigrant is guilty of rape" to "all immigrants should be thought of as rapists". In fact, a culture worth protecting - a culture that has true worth - is a culture that looks at somebody who makes such a claim and condemns that person for two important reasons.

The first reason for condemnation is the reason already mentioned - such a person has no love of truth or wisdom, and a culture worth protecting is one that promotes a love of truth and wisdom. A person with a love of truth and wisdom would say, "Nope, that doesn't follow. The evidence does not support that conclusion."

The second reason for condemnation is that such an attitude is unjust, and a culture worth protecting loves justice. A just society is one that has, as one of its core values, a principle of individual responsibility and accountability. If Person A commits a crime, one does not condemn or punish Person B. It is wrong . . . unjust . . . to punish an innocent person. A lover of justice is somebody who hates the idea of punishing an innocent person. Which means that, if Person A commits a crime, Person A is the person to be condemned or punished. If one goes beyond this and condemns Person B because Person B is from the same country, or has the same skin color, or speaks the same language as Person A, then one is punishing a potentially innocent person. This is something that the just person would want to avoid, and the unjust person does easily.

These are the combined flaws of bigotry. Bigotry consists in the use of derogatory overgeneralizations to promote a hatred of individuals who are innocent of the wrongs they are being condemned for. It represents two vices: (1) a disregard for truth and wisdom (sound reasoning), and (2) injustice - an eagerness to punish the innocent.

Some cultures are better than others . . . I grant that.

A culture that values truth, wisdom, and justice is better than one that has no interest in truth or wisdom and is willing - even eager - to condemn people for crimes they did not in fact commit.

There are a great many potential immigrants in the world - from all over the world - who shares these values.

The biggest threat to these values does not come from those immigrants, it comes from newscasters with a huge audience who seem to care nothing about truth, wisdom, or justice.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Natural Law Theory

The first topic we will be discussing in the Philosophy of Law course is "Natural Law Theory".

I have to admit that, when it comes to the philosophy of law, I tend to think that all major positions are correct. They do not have any substantive difference. They simply want to use terms in different ways. It is like the dispute as to whether Pluto is a planet. It is not a dispute about substance - about Pluto's size, the details of its orbit, its chemical composition, or any matter of fact. It is a dispute over how we want to use words. In the end, it really does not matter.

Actually, this is true on a surface level. When we dig deeper, we do find some substantive differences between those who tend to prefer different theories. One of those differences concerns the obligation to obey the law. There are those who hold that if something has been made illegal - then you ought not to do it. Others hold that there is no obligation to obey - and may be an obligation to disobey - an unjust law.

A paradigm example (and defense) of this right (duty) to disobey an unjust law can be found in Martin Luthar King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

King was arrested for breaking the law. That is to say, he broke the law, he was guilty, he did it on purpose, and without remorse. He argues that it was his right to do so - even his duty.

Specifically, he was in Birmingham, Alabama to lead protests against discriminatory laws and practices. The city obtained an injunction against these protests. King announced that he would disobey the injunction. The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and Southern Christian Leadership Conference went ahead with the protests. Over 50 people, including King, were arrested and charged with demonstrating without a license.

It is while in prison that King wrote his famous letter, which included his defense of breaking the law.

One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."

This line, "unjust law is no law at all" appears to be a contradiction. It is like saying that a blue coat is not a coat. How can it be a blue coat if it is not a coat?

Obviously, King is using two different definitions of "law".

The first definition of law, what we may call Law1, refers to statues, regulations, constitutions, executive orders, and the like that constitute written law. This is also known as "positive law," the term 'positive' being taken from the term 'to posit' or to declare or state. It is the law as written.

The second definition of law (Law2) means that which is binding on the conscience - that which a person ought to do.

And sometimes what the law tells a person what he ought to do (or what he ought not to do) is not, in fact, what he ought to do (or ought to refrain from doing).

From St. Thomas Aquinas:

Law is a rule and measure of acts, whereas man is induced to act or refrain from acting: for 'lex' (law) is derived from 'ligare' (to bind), because it binds one to act.

Aquinas is concerned with a particular kind of binding - binding on the conscious. To say that unjust statues are not laws is to say that they are not binding on the conscience. They do not bind one to act.

There is a certain sense that what binds one to act can be found in statute. In order to accomplish certain goals, there must be some coordination among individuals. This requires getting together and making some decisions. If there are a group of people in a boat, then "getting somewhere" requires some system for deciding where to go. If the decision is to go east, then this may bind the conscience of individuals to do their part in travelling east. A statute may declare that the village will pool its resources for the building of a granary - which will be of a particular size and built in a particular location. In this case, the obligation of each individual within the community would be to contribute to the construction of a granary of that size in that location.

However, if the law commands a person to do that which is unjust - to treat one's neighbor with cruelty, for example - or a statue subjects one to inhumane treatment - then the statute is commanding that person to do that which conflicts with what natural law would bind the conscience to. And, when that happens, natural law binds the conscience, not the statute. The law1 is no more law2 than commands of a criminal demanding that you surrender your property at the point of a gun.

In principle, this sounds fine. However, what happens when a person thinks that what binds the conscience is, itself, injustice. What binds the conscience of a racist is to maintain his race's position of privilege and superiority. What binds the conscience of the theocrat is that his religion be forced on others (for their own good).

It is not an objection against a system that some people who use it will get the wrong answer. It is no objection to math that some people, when using math, make a mistake and get a wrong answer. We have no reason to prohibit the use of addition because somebody, somewhere, might add 2 + 2 in some important situation and get 5.

Desirism has something in common with natural moral law theory. Desirism says that the right act is the act that a person with good motives and lacking bad motives would have done in the circumstances. Whether people generally have a reason to promote a universal aversion to breaking the law depends on the quality of the law. If the law is generally good, then there are reasons to promote an aversion to breaking it, even if this aversion sometimes applies to a few bad laws in a generally good system. However, if the laws are generally bad, then there is no reason to promote an aversion to breaking the laws. There may even be reason to promote a desire to do so.

So, desirism agrees with natural law theory that one has to look at considerations outside of the law itself to determine what is binding on the conscience - what a good person would do. A good person does not limit his choices merely to a consideration of what is legal and illegal. Particularly if the law commands one to commit an injustice, a person with good desires and lacking bad desires may well find herself in a position where violating the law is the best option.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trump and the Loss of Virtue

I fear that one of the biggest long-term costs of the Trump reign as President is going to be the loss of virtue.

The moral foundation of our society had to have some serious cracks in it anyway for Trump to have even been considered for the office of President.

Many people predicted that Trump's campaign would be over at several points in the primary. When they showed Trump's lies, they thought that this would cause people to reject his campaign. When they showed his fundamental ignorance of facts that it would be important for a President to understand, they though this would be the end of his campaign. When he engaged in bullying, they thought that this would cause American voters to reject his campaign. When his history of sexual assault and recordings of him embracing and defending sexual assault as a legitimate practice came to light, many thought that this would spell the end of his campaign.

In all of these cases, pundits grounded their predictions on assumptions regarding the virtues of American voters. All of these predictions that the voters are going to reject Trump were built on the assumption that the number of good and decent American people so greatly outnumber those that are so lacking in virtue and good character themselves that they would vote for Trump.

I am not writing here about a distinction between the "virtuous Democrat" and the "vicious Republican" - which is a display of tribalism that itself goes contrary to virtue. I am talking about the view of the Republican party and the Republican voters themselves. The error was in assuming that there was enough virtue among those who vote Republican to keep the likes of Trump out of the office of President. Trump's continued success - the fact that he repeatedly proved that these pundits were wrong - means that he repeatedly proved assumptions about the virtue and moral character of American voters (or the strength and distribution of virtue among American voters) were inaccurate.

Not only did Trump prove that this assumption made by several pundits was mistaken, he also proved that this assumption - held by people around the world about the American people - were wrong. Those who held the American people generally in high regard now have to confront the falsifying evidence that people who deserve to be held in high regard would not have voted the likes of Trump to be President. The possibility of Americans electing such a person is no longer merely a hypothetical. It is an established fact. There is no way now to deny the conclusion that the moral character of Americans is such that they would elect somebody like Donald Trump. If any American would want to deny that this is true of Americans, they now only need to point at the White House.

But, to make matters worse, Trump is like a seed that has found its way into the crack in the wall or foundation of a building. Now that it has taken root, it grows. In growing, it pushes the walls of this crack further apart - doing further damage to the foundation.

Future generations are going to have to deal with a group of teenagers who grew up in this environment of blatant dishonesty, disregard for fact, racism, and injustice. Attempts to tell children that they should be honest are countered every day by a President who refuses to tell the truth and who is not condemned for his dishonesty. Attempts to tell children that they should treat others with dignity and respect are countered every day by a President who is celebrated for his indignant disrespect for others. Attempts to teach children to be morally responsible and to consider the consequences of their actions on others are countered each day by a president who is morally irresponsible and fails to consider the consequences of his actions on others even to the point of nuclear war.

So, the cracks in the moral foundation of American society are made worse by those who learn from Trump that honesty, decency, justness, respect for others, and moral responsibility are mere words to be ignored when inconvenient or, worse, to be tossed out in favor of dishonesty, indecency, injustice, contempt for others, and moral irresponsibility. People who find themselves in a society filled with these type of people cannot expect to live nearly as well as those who are surrounded by honest, decent, just, respectful, and morally responsible individuals. There will be a cost to pay.

Now, one of the vices that Trump promulgates - one of the vices he is promoting among the American people and, in particular, among its teenagers and young adults (particularly those who are being raised in a culture that supports and celebrates trump) is a disregard for women.

Fortunately, on this front, enough women - and enough people who care about women - are saying, "No. We will not accept this. We will not let this happen and suffer the consequences ourselves, nor allow our daughters, nieces, and friends' children and grandchildren suffer the effects of this change in attitude. While Trump effectively promotes a sexist disregard for women - an attitude that they exist to be used and manhandled - women are pushing back with the #metoo movement - spreading the message that this is not alright and that those who promote or engage in this type of behavior deserve contempt, not admiration. In this one area, we see a well deserved and overdue pushback, bringing home that future generations will be less likely - not more likely - to adopt Trump's vice.

Granted, I have not conducted an empirical study on this matter, but I have not seen the same level of pushback on several of Trump's other vices. Perhaps this must be the case. There is only so much "attention" bandwidth, and if that attention is now on the poor treatment of women by men with power, then perhaps some of these other vices need to wait their turn.

However, if it is true, it does not bode well for future generations. Because while decent people counter vices one at a time, the likes of Trump continue to promote a whole battery of vices all at once. How do we get the children growing up today to learn that such things as dishonesty and moral irresponsibility are not good things? How do we get them to acquire the virtues of honesty, to treat others with dignity and respect, and morally responsible in a world that gives the absence of these virtues a nearly free pass?

Our children will not fare well in a culture that lacks these virtues.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Economics: Wealth Without Money

Economics is also known as "the science of value". However, it fails miserably.

Before I explain that statement, I should let you know that my current project is taking the six Darwinian Dilemma posts (Street 01-06) and turning into the paper that I intend to post on the Documents page of the Desirism website.

While I did that, I wanted to step out of the realm of theory here for a moment, and into the realm of practice or practical application.

These ideas on wealth have been with me for quite some time, and I have simply decided to put them down.

Economists tell us that we need to determine a person's wealth by the total cash value of everything that he owns - its cash value being what other people are willing to pay for them. A person's income is the total amount of money he gets a year from all sources - gifts, wages, interest, realized capital gains (or losses).

Each week, I consume a huge quantity of goods for which I am not charged a cent, and I am only asked to pay what I wish. At the same time, I produce a number of goods for which I have obtained no money myself except from the sale of A Better Place back when I named the theory I defended here "desire utilitarianism".

An honorable mention for those who have provided me with valuable goods and services for the price of a donation:

Mike Duncan for his History of Rome and Revolutions podcasts.

Rick and Tracy, who provide the Civil War podcast.

Russ Roberts of Econ Talk

The London School of Economics for podcasting the school's Public Lectures and Events.

And, of course, there is Wikipedia and a huge amounts of information found on government web sites.

Because a huge amount of my week is spent on these activities in which I receive no pay and ask for nothing from others for what I produce, I am not a part of "the economy". This effort shows up in no government statistics on wealth or income.

And this is just an illustrative example.

Spend one day, going through your day, and consider the wealth you create for others, and the wealth provided to you by others, for which no money has changed hands.

This blogpost (I hope) is an example.

Indeed, this fact shows how to become wealthier without money. Acquire a desire for states of affairs that you can realize without spending money - which is pretty much what I have done. I can go for days without buying anything but the necessities . . . and, I would admit, a somewhat higher quality of those necessities - food, clothing, shelter (with heat), internet connection.

If the rest of your desires are those that require money, then you are going to be in for a bit of a struggle.

If, instead, they are desires for things that one can get without money, then one can be quite wealthy (in terms of having one's strongest desires fulfilled) without a great deal of cash.

The economists are going to tell you that you cannot be wealthy unless you have assets that can be converted into cash money. This is the only type of "wealth" that an economist can see. But you should not let this corrupt your thinking. If you read this and take from it the attitude that, "I am poor . . . I am not well off . . . my life has less value . . . because I have not accumulated that which can be turned into cash," you are doing yourself a disservice.

The economists are going to tell you that other people cannot be wealthy unless they have "stuff" - that which can be converted into cash. But that is not the actual measure of wealth - of value. Value is found in that which fulfills desires. Desires are malleable, and there are a great many desires out there that one can fulfill at very little expense.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Street 06: Acquired Ends

In my last posting, The Value of Individual and Species Survival I argued that it is unlikely that our ancestors evolved to have a natural "desire that I survive" or "desire that the species survive". This is unlikely because, until very recently, humans did not have the ability to recognize their own death, or species survive, in order to recognize the relationships between means and those ends.

We might have started to evolve such a natural end since we acquired the ability to recognize these ends. However, even if this is the case, these are two ends among many - such as the desire to eat, desire for sex, aversion to pain, concern for the welfare of our offspring - all of which can come into conflict with the desire for survival at any time (and often do). Observations show that the desire for survival, if it exists, seems to be quite weak then this end conflicts with the others.

Having said that, it is clear that among humans and among, at least, complex mammals, natural ends are not the only ends we have. We have the capacity to acquire new ends - new desires and aversions - as well as experience some modification to our natural ends (e.g., food preferences) based on our interactions with our environment. We can come to want things, not because wanting them helped our ancestors maintain biological fitness, but because of experiences we had while growing up in a particular environment.

This possibility of acquired ends adds some complexity to my discussion of Sharon Street's "Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value" that I have been presenting in this series of posts. In those posts, I divided Sharon's Street's "evaluative judgments" into two sets: (1) desires-as-ends or "Y is good in itself" judgments, and (2) desires-as-means or "the end Y is a reason to do X" judgments. I argued that Street's Darwinian Dilemma applies to Type (1) judgments. Type (2) judgments have a truth value and it is useful that we evolved a capacity to track those truths. However, Type (2) judgments still depend crucially on Type (1) judgments so the Darwinian Dilemma applies to Type (2) truths indirectly. Evolution provides the set of ends Y that provide the reasons for doing X.

The possibility of acquired ends means that there is a set of Type (1) goods that do not come to us through evolution.

However, they do come to us through a mechanism that, itself, evolved. Because evolution shaped this mechanism, we may assume that evolution has selected a mechanism that takes experience with one's environment and converts them into learned or acquired ends that tend to promote fitness. For example, eating a particular type of plant makes one sick. After eating such a plant, one associates even the smell of that plant with the nausea and comes to dislike the smell itself. The animal does not smell the plant and think, "I had better not eat the plant with that smell because that will make me sick." Indeed, that requires far too much mental work. Instead, the animal dislikes the smell itself and, upon experiencing the smell, goes someplace else to eat - just to get away from that smell.

The existence of acquired ends blurs the distinction between Type (1) judgments and Type (2) judgments. On the one hand, they are ends. The animal in this example sees the state in which it does not experience the smell of that plant as an end in itself - it has reason to prevent the realization of such a state simply in virtue of the fact that it does not like it. At the same time, since acquired ends are learned, we can ask whether - in a Type (2) sense, there are reasons to acquire or to prevent the acquisition of these ends.

Assume that the consumption of a particular plant causes one to have a particularly strong Type (1) desire to consume more of that plant. This new acquired end is so strong it quickly overwhelms other desires such as the desire for sex or the desire to eat, threatening the survival of the animal. In such a case, the fulfillment of these other ends provide a reason not to acquire, as an end, the desire to consume this particular plant.

If one exists in an environment containing other beings with the capacity to acquire learned ends, then this is something that individuals can exploit. An individual can create in others dispositions that are useful, either to the individual, or the species to which the individual belongs. A bee sting may kill the individual bee who delivers the sting, but it creates in beings that have the potential for acquired desires a disposition to avoid those entities that are like the bee giving the sting. If a member of a pack responds to the behavior of another with snarls and a swipe across the nose, that will tend to cause that other animal to form an aversion to the type of act that brought about this response.

This technique is more effective in a community that can learn from the fortunes and misfortunes of another. Swipe and snarl at the creature that performed the obnoxious action, and others who witness it may also form an aversion to the type of action that caused the agent to get the swipe across the nose.

More sophisticated creatures, to the degree that it comes to realize that it is within a community that has acquired desires, can begin to ask, "What sort of desires should I cause others to have?" This points to the existence of Type (2) reasons to bring about - or to prevent - the acquisition, of certain Type (1) desires. Furthermore, even though it makes no sense to ask this question of fixed Type (1) desires insofar as they are fixed, it does make sense to apply this question to Type (1) desires if they have some flexibility.

Consider the following possibility:

There is a community where the following is true:

(1) Each member of the community has a natural, evolved, Type (1) aversion to its own pain.

(2) Each member of the community can acquire an aversion to causing pain to others as a result of interactions with its environment. Specifically, by rewarding and praising those individuals who avoid causing pain to others, and punishing or condemning those who cause pain, one can create in others an aversion to causing pain to others.

Each being in this community has a motivating reason - their own aversion to pain - to use these tools to bring about, universally, an aversion to causing pain to others. This aversion to causing pain to others is an end - a Type (1) value. However, it is a value where the individuals in the community have discovered a truth-bearing fact about its relationship to other desires, such as each individual's aversion to pain, which gave them reason to create and promote this aversion to causing pain.

Such is the nature of acquired desires, at least among the types of animals that we are familiar with.

This is consistent with Street's claim:

The widespread consensus that the method of reflective equilibrium, broadly understood, is our sole means of proceeding in ethics is an acknowledgment of this fact: ultimately, we can test our evaluative judgements only by testing their consistency with our other evaluative judgements, combined of course with judgements about the (non-evaluative) facts.

We can ask whether people generally have reason to bring about certain changes in the desires-as-ends of others in the community universally. However, this question never steps outside of the realm of evolved ends. It is these evolved ends that provide the reasons to promoting or inhibiting the formation of acquired ends.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Street 05: The Value of Individual and Species Survival

This post in the series does not need a lot of background, because it makes a stand-alone point.

I am going to argue that animals generally - probably (though not certainly) including humans - do not have a natural desire for personal survival or, even less likely, a desire for species survival. Personal survival have value mostly as a means to other ends. In order to realize the other things that we value, we need to continue living, in the same way that we need money. The well-being of our children, which for them will require the well-being of their children, and so on, come to imply an interest in the survival of the species. Neither of these are identical to valuing survival or the continuation of the species for their own sake.

In order to evolve to have a desire for (or aversion) to something, the being in question has to be able to detect when such a state of affairs obtains. A creature knows when it is in pain and when it is not, and because of this can acquire an aversion to pain. It knows about different things that it can eat, and thus can acquire a preference to eat come things and an aversion to eating others. It can sense the temperature in its environment and adopt a preference for certain temperatures and aversions to others.

However, no animal other than human has the ability to know when a creature is a dead. It cannot acquire a desire "that I survive" because it does not understand the possibility of not surviving.

The case is even worse when it comes to the end of "survival of the species." It is not unreasonable to expect that humans acquired the ability to recognize individual survival or death long before it learned to identify the possibility of the continued existence or extinction of a species. Even if there has been enough time in human evolution for us to have acquired an aversion to death, there has been much less opportunity to acquire an aversion to extinction.

The implication is that for all non-human animals and, unless we have evidence to the contrary - for humans as well, survival of the individual and continuation of the species are not ends. These are the unintended side-effects of other ends.

They are important unintended side effects because these unintended side effects determine whether the species exists today for us to look at. That is to say, we only see species whose evolved desires-as-ends promote genetic fitness. However, all that is required for evolution is the production of these effects, not that the agent consciously aim for what it cannot even recognize.

Clearly, it is not the case that we eat in order to survive. Obesity and a tendency to eat things that will shorten our life tells us that. We have evolved to have a desire to eat and, in this, to have a desire to eat that would have tended to bring about the genetic fitness of our ancestors in their environment. If eating was a means to the end of survival, and not an end in itself with survival as an unintended side effect, then we would not have people overeating, or eating in ways that do not promote survival.

Similarly, our aversion to pain tends to keep us away from things that are harmful to us and threaten our survival. However, there are situations in which pain contributes to death, as when a painful injury to one's leg prevents one from escaping a predator. The end, with respect to pain, is the absence of pain, not survival.

The same is true of sex and procreation. We do not have sex in order to preserve the species. We have sex as an end in itself. This is why there is so much non-procreative sex. However, the fulfillment of these desires - plus other desires such as the interest in the welfare of one's children - have, as an unintended side effect, the continuation of the species.

Simple plants and animals, from bacteria to algae, also tend to behave in ways to promote their survival. Yet, clearly it would be absurd to attribute to them a desire to survive, or a desire for the survival of the species, and a belief that the activities they engage in are useful means to this end. Street mentions the Venus fly trap, which reacts to insects in its leaves with trapping and digesting the animal.

As I alluded to above, in the time that humans acquired the capacity to recognize death, we might have began to have inherited a desire for survival as an end in itself. However, since these other ends - hunger, thirst, aversion to pain, desire for comfort, concern for our offspring - have kept us and our species alive without this desire for survival itself, there is no need to postulate that we have evolved such an end. Some sort of evidence is required - evidence of behavior that cannot be explained in terms of these simpler desires and aversions. If there is a desire for survival, it seems to be a particularly weak desire when it comes into conflict with desires for food, for sex, or the aversion to strenuous activity. We simply are not all that good at promoting our survival when some other interest comes in conflict with it. We clearly seem to have no interest in the survival of the species.

It is also the case that, with our advanced intellect, we have acquired the capacity to recognize that individual survival or the survival of the species has instrumental value. While we may not have a desire for survival itself, we have acquired the ability to recognize that the fulfillment of our desire to take care of our offspring, or to enjoy the company of friends, or to have whatever experiences we have not yet had, all of us reason to live a little long. Consequently, we see survival as a most important means. We may not eat in order to survival. However, if we do not survive, we will not be able to have that meal we are looking forward to tomorrow.

However, as it turns out, ends are not only acquired through evolution. Humans and other more complex animals have systems that alter our desires depending on our interactions with our environments. This system - or, at least, the most important system - is the reward system. With this system, if an activity or experience produces a reward (e.g., pleasure) or a punishment (e.g., pain), we begin to acquire a desire for or an aversion to that activity or experience respectively. The possibility of learning new ends and shaping ends introduces some additional considerations. I will address those considerations in my next post.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Street 04: Desires-as-Means

I know what you're thinking.

"We're already well into this discussion. There's no way I can make any sense of this. I had best go away and do something else."

I will try to catch you up quickly.

Sharon Street wrote a very good article called, "A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value."

In Part 01: Evolution and Desires-as-Ends, I argued that (1) this isn't really an objection to "realist theories of value". It is an objection to the theory of intrinsic values. Values can be real without being intrinsic properties. Furthermore, I thought I could make some refinements to the theory - to improve upon it.

My main suggested improvement is that, where Street asserted that evolution worked on "proto-evaluative judgments", I wanted to argue that evolution worked on desires-as-ends.

In Part 02: What Are Desires-as-Ends?, I explained what desires-as-ends are - in case you could not guess.

In Part 03: Proto-Evaluative Judgments, I pointed out how desires-as-ends can fill the role of Street's proto-evaluative judgments in that they were basic dispositions likely subject to evolutionary forces. They include such things as the aversion to pain, hunger, thirst, preferences regarding the taste of food, concern for one's off-spring, and the like.

And, now, I am going to look at desires-as-means.



I have refined Sharon Street's argument in, "Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value" to argue that it is unlikely that our desires-as-ends are desires for states of affairs having an intrinsic value quality. Applied here, Street's argument holds up. Desires-as-ends They are simply desires for things, the desiring of which resulted in the genetic replication of our ancestors and was passed down to us. This includes such thing as the aversion to pain, hunger, thirst, preferences regarding the taste of food, concern for the well-being of our offspring, desire for sex, and the like.

However, Street presented us with two types of evaluative judgments:

(1) an unreflective, non-linguistic, motivational tendency to experience something as 'called for' or 'demanded' in itself, and

(2) to experience one thing as 'calling for' or 'counting in favor of' something else.

The desires-as-ends that I have already discussed are Type (1) evaluative judgments - except they are simply desires that a particular state of affairs is realized and does not require that anything is "called for" or "demanded". It simply requires that certain states of affairs be liked or disliked.

In the case of the second type of "evaluative judgment", we have two options:

Option 1: This type of evaluative judgment is simply a way to rephrase the first type of evaluative judgment. The first type of judgment says, for example, that one simply wants to survive for its own sake - survival itself is something the agent wants. To value survival for its own sake includes within it the attitude that survival "calls for" or "counts in favor of" not jumping off of a tall cliff. In other words, to say that survival "calls for" and "counts in favor of" not jumping off of a cliff is to say that survival has value in itself, and counts as a reason to avoid jumping off of a cliff.

Option 2: Experiencing survival as something that has value as an end or in itself is one thing. Experiencing survival as a calling for, or counting in favor of, not jumping off of a cliff is another, completely separate judgment. This is consistent with holding that survival has a positive value, but that the agent at the same time may lack the second judgment that survival counts as a reason for not jumping off of a tall cliff. Pointing out the mere fact, "If you jump off of the cliff, you will not survive," would still draw blank stares from the person who has determined that survival has value in itself, but lacks the second judgment that survival counts as a reason for not jumping off of a cliff.

I am going to reject Option 2 because, if we accept that option, then we are going to need a great many Type (2) judgments just to survive. We will need a separate, additional, Type (2) judgment for anything and everything that might contribute to or threaten survival. It is far simpler and easier to hold that if a person has a desire for survival in itself, then the mere fact that something else contributes to survival would "count in favor of" that something else, and the mere fact that something else threatens survival would "count in favor of" avoiding that something else.

On this account, there is no second type of evaluative judgment for "desires-as-means". Instead, a "desire-as-means" is simply a "desire-as-end" combined with recognition of the fact that the means either will realize or threaten the realization of that end. Once something becomes an end, it becomes a reason for anything and everything that will contribute to realizing that end, and for anything and everything that will thwart the realization of that end, regardless of what it may be, and without the need for a second type of judgment that the end serves as a reason counting in favor of a given means, for each and every different type of means available.

So, we have Street's Darwinian Dilemma showing us that Type (1) evaluative judgment - desires-as-ends - are subject to evolutionary influences and, consequently, unlikely to point to things that have an intrinsic worth that is independent of our disposition to like or dislike them. Furthermore, we do not, in fact, have Type (2) evaluative judgments. Instead, we have a true or false belief that something is likely to bring about - or threaten to prevent bringing about - something that has Type (1) value.

Furthermore, we can give a Darwinian account for acquiring a faculty that allows us to adequately discover the truth of the matter concerning whether a means will tend to realize, or prevent the realization, of something that has Type (1) value. In other words, we can provide a Darwinian account for the development of the capacity to more-or-less accurately determine whether a means will tend to realize or prevent the realization of a state of affairs to which the agent has a desire-as-end.

If an agent is generally mistaken in what realizes these desires-as-ends (i.e., fails to realize that jumping off of a tall cliff is a threat to survival, or that such a planet is poisonous, or that her offspring is in danger), then that agent will fail to realize the relevant end. If evolution has selected that end, then failure to realize that end is a threat to genetic replication. Genetic replication, instead, depends on success at recognizing such relationships, and there is a success to be had.

So, it is at least not unreasonable to expect, pending verification from other types of evidence, that we evolved a capacity to recognize the relationships between means and ends. This could well develop into a capacity to recognize causal relationships generally, which allows us to discover causal relationships that have nothing to do with the relationships between means and ends.

This does not refute Street's thesis. Street is arguing against the existence of a type of value that does not depend on our evaluative judgments. Means-ends judgments, even though they have a truth value, also depend on other evaluative judgments. They are judgments about the relationships between means and ends, where evolutionary forces have had an influence in shaping those ends. If evolution had gone differently - if we would have evolved a different set of ends, then the means-value of other things would have likely changed as well.

Actually, I want to argue that we do not have a desire-as-end for survival at all. The value of survival is as a means - as something that is useful to the realization of other ends. The same is true for survival of the species. Instead, individual survival and species survival is, for almost all of the animal kingdom and for humans until recently, an unintended side effect of seeking the other things we have come to value, not an end in itself.

This is going to lead to a discussion of the fact that ends are, at the same time, also means. So, there will be a truth-value to claims about the value of ends insofar as they tend to realize or prevent the realization of the fulfillment of other ends. Combine this with the thesis that our interactions with our environment shape our ends, and that each of us is a part of the environment of others, and we come up with questions about what ends people generally have reason to promote. This will tie in with a discussion of reflective equilibrium as Street describes it, discussing the value of some ends in virtue of its relationship to the fulfillment or thwarting of other ends.

Street 03: Sharon Street's Proto-Evaluative Judgments

Context: In my readings, I am currently going through Sharon Street's "Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value."

In this posting, I want to argue for using "desires" as I defined them in Part 02 "What Are 'Desires-as-Ends'? to play the role that Street gives to "proto-evaluative judgments" in her Darwinian Dilemma. “Desires-as-ends” are propositional attitudes that can be expressed in the form "[agent] desires that P" where “P” is a proposition and the desire provides a motivating reason to make or keep this proposition true. So, a "desire that I not be in pain" (aka an aversion to pain) is a motivating reason to make or keep the proposition "I am not in pain" true.

I am not seeking to refute her Dilemma. I am seeking to refine it.

Towards that end, I also want to repeat - as I argued in Part 01 Evolution and Desires-as-Ends" that her argument does not actually provide an objection to realist theories of value. It is only an argument against theories that suggest that value is an intrinsic property.

Values are real. They simply are not intrinsic properties.



To construct her Darwinist Dilemma, Sharon Street recognized that she needed to distinguish between the "reflective, linguistically-infused" evaluative judgments we are familiar with and a more basic type of evaluative judgment that animals can make and that evolution could have acted upon.

Street expressed a first approximation of her first premise as:

The forces of natural selection have had a tremendous influence on the content of human evaluative judgements.

She noted that this initial formulation had a couple of problems. Specifically, it is not reasonable to believe that “reflective, linguistically-infused capacity to judge that one thing counts in favor of another” (1) have a genetic basis, or (2) that it emerged early enough for evolutionary forces to choose winners and losers.

Instead, she suggested that evolution acted upon "more basic evaluative tendencies" that “may be understood very roughly as an unreflective, non-linguistic, motivational tendency to experience something as 'called for' or 'demanded' in itself, or to experience one thing as 'calling for' or 'counting in favor of' something else.”

Please note that Street is describing two different types of evaluative judgments here.

There is:

(1) an unreflective, non-linguistic, motivational tendency to experience something as 'called for' or 'demanded' in itself, and

(2) to experience one thing as 'calling for' or 'counting in favor of' something else.

These are the two types of judgments that Street argues that evolution could have acted on.

At this point, I want to limit the scope of the discussion to Type (1) judgments. I will have more to say about, "one thing as 'calling for' or 'counting in favor of' something else” in my next posting. In a later posting, I will argue that Type (2) judgments have a truth value and the Darwinian Dilemma would not be applicable. However, the Darwinian Dilemma still is relevant with respect to Type (1) judgments.

The refinement that I am offering is to say that those basic Type (1) evaluative judgments that evolution could have acted upon are desires-as-ends. The "as-ends" portion of this desire type corresponds to the "in itself" phrase in Street's account. In this category, I place hunger, thirst, the desire for sex, the aversion to pain, comfort (e.g., in terms of temperature), the preference for the company of others, concern for one’s offspring, food preferences, and the like.

It is easy to see how such things as a “desire that I not be in pain,” a desire to eat, thirst, to feed and protect one’s offspring, to climb a tree or to take flight when frightened, to prefer a particular temperature range, and the like could be subjected to evolutionary selection in the ways Street described.

Consequently, Street's Darwinian Dilemma is applicable here. For the reasons that she provides, it is unreasonable to expect that the objects of our desires-as-ends have a value that is independent of our having it as an object of a desire-as-end. Biologists can explain our acquisition of these desires-as-ends, such as the evolution of the aversion to pain, without ever once mentioning intrinsic value properties.

However, desires-as-ends do not have quite the structure that Street attributes to her “proto-evaluative judgments”. To describe basic “desires-as-ends” as a “tendency to experience something as ‘called for’ or ‘demanded’ in itself, or to experience one thing as ‘calling for’ or ‘counting in favor of’ something else,” over-complicates these basic drives. They are simply motivations to realize some state of affairs in which the proposition “P” is true.

The primary issue that I have with characterizing it as a “judgment” is its implications for how other people should respond to such a state. To “judge” a state in which I am in pain as something that calls for or demands avoiding for its own sake comes uncomfortably close to suggesting that it calls for this from everybody, and not just me. There is something in the state in which I am in pain that is doing the calling or demanding. But if it is doing the calling or demanding, why is it that I am the only one who can hear it? Or the only person with a reason to answer it? Other people should be able to hear this calling as well. They cannot - not because they are deaf or that I am the only one standing within earshot of this state. They cannot, because it is not a calling or a demand, it is simply something that I want to avoid - perhaps very badly.

If there is a “perception” that the object of evaluation “calls for” or “demands” something of the agent, it is the same type of perception as the perception that the earth is the center of the solar system, or the famous rabbit-duck illusion where the same image can be seen as a rabbit or a duck. In seeing that certain ends are attractive, we need to mentally fill in the gap as to whether we are being pulled to that state by something in it, or pushed toward that state by something in us. We cannot actually see the force, so we mentally fill in the gap. However, those who see it - or experience it - as a pull have, when we consider the evidence, made a mistake. In fact, the agent simply wants it to be the case that it is not in pain, that it is eating or drinking, that it has a safe place to sleep, that it’s child is not being attacked.

In summary, Street's Darwinian Dilemma gives reason to believe that desires-as-ends to not identify states of affairs having an intrinsic value property.

We also need to look at Street's Type (2) evaluative judgments. It will turn out that they have a truth value, and the ability to track the truth in these matters, as in matters such as knowing whether there is a cliff or a fire or food in the area, could be beneficial to intentional agents. So, for these judgments, Street's Darwinian Dilemma is not applicable. However, because these judgments depend crucially on desires-as-ends, it is not the case that this represents the discovery of a type of intrinsic value that would bring down her thesis.

I will discuss means-ends judgments in the next post.