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Moral Subjectivity V.S. Moral Absolutism
Posted: 05 January 2009 06:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 166 ]
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Fatihless,

Well, I think the issue of how one defines objective is turning out to be a critical one for where we disagree. It’s sort of like the difference between calling myself an atheist or an agnostic. I’m an agnostic on a technicality, but I don’t really consider anything remotely supernatural to be likley. Similarly, I consider myself a pragmatist, relatively utilitarian in practice, and certainly interested in rationalizing and refining moral rules in terms of their consequences. I don’t think this makes morality objective in the sense you mean, because defining “objective” to include “subjective states” seems just as arbitrary as my definition (which, of course, any definition is to some extent), and less reasonable or precise. Still, I don’t think we need to throw in the towel on investigating moral systems just because we can’t agree on this word and how to apply it. There’s probably lots of room to move forward anyway.

Great point about the subjectivity of god’s point of view! Never thought of it that way. I certainly see that one could view god as having a subjective point of view, in which case his laws would be as subjective as any. I suspect theologians might argue that god’s omniscience means he is in direct possession of the true facts of objective reality, and so in a magical sense has all points of view at once and has a point of view that is more accurate and true to reality than that of humans. In this sense, his word is more “objective” than anything we could come up with even though if one posits him as a self of some kind one has to grant him a specific POV. The reason I mentioned it is only that something outside of human consciousness and directly embodying the underlying truths of reality wouold be an example of what I would accept as an objective moral system, and one can make the argument that what god says meets this criteria. Anyway, neither of us believe in any of this, so it’s just a curious sideline, and I’m not attributing any theism to you.

“But moral rules can only be evaluated in terms of effects which are themselves judged by moral principles.”

But this is what is in dispute and what I disagree with. I am asking why consider morality different to any other scientific or engineering challenge and all I see is that you have defined it to be different. This looks question begging and I am sure I have said this before.

And all I’m seeing is that you have defined the evaluation of moral principles in terms of their effects as “objective” just because the process of evaluation and refinement bears some resemblence to the process of scientific inquiry. I don’t see any substantive refutation of the fact that the standards by which you do the evaluating are as subjective and relative and the principles themselves, which is different from the case in science where there is an actual physical reality to measure things against. Again, if by “epistemically objective” you just mean “rational, non-arbitrary, and organized in a way similar to scientific inquiry,” fine, I’ll go along with you. As I said above, I believe we ultimately agree on the value of doing this, we just disagree on whether the process is objective in the same way, rather than in an analgous way, to what we are doing in science.

“mckenzievmd - 05 January 2009 04:28 PM
If a strict “Thou shalt not kill” edict is a good or bad moral rule can be evaluated by the degree to which it does or does not reduce killing, but this is all in the context of the relative or subjective value that preventing killing is good. “

OK you don’t need to make the second move or inference.

Why not? It seems the logical move to make if by objective one means, as I do, “real apart from what anyone believes.” I’m not saying evaluating such an edict in a rational, systematic way isn’t a good thing. Of course it is. Good social science methods absolutely should be applied to moral and legal rules, and they can undoubtedly improve their efficacy in terms of the standards established for measuring efficacy. I’m just saying such standards are not objective the way the physical universe and its underlying laws are; they are contingent on beliefs and opinions in a way the answers to engineering problems are not.

Anyhow, I think we are bedeviled by semantics and probably agree as much or more than we disagree about the value of evaluating moral principles in rational, systematic ways. When enacted, such principles have effects on objectively real individuals in the world, and so these effects can be investigated as can any quality of an objectively real phenomenon. I would argue that any normative judgements about whether a rule should be maintained, modified, or eliminated based on sujch analysis still ultimately hinges on the subjective values or criteria we put in place to judge it, but again let’s not let that stop us from moving forward.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 12:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 167 ]
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faithlessgod - 05 January 2009 03:40 PM
StephenLawrence - 05 January 2009 01:46 PM

Assuming rules of chess are objective, for the sake of argument (not at all sure they are) I’m quite sure there can’t be the right set or the wrong set of the rules of chess.

You are confusing internalism and externalism. A bishop jumping over pawn is wrong within the current standard rules that constitutively define chess.

but the current standard rules are not right, they just are the current standard rules.

Rules of games cannot be right or wrong, correct or incorrect, that’s the point I’m making.

We can see that’s true because people have often played chess to different rules and none of the sets of rules were either right or wrong.

This looks like a black and white (delighted with the pun though not intended) issue to me.

Stephen

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Posted: 06 January 2009 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 168 ]
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Brennan

I agree with your initial point that it is the definition of objectivity that divide us. However, and I think you acknowledge this as well, the issue on which we disagree over the term “objective” is not just about how things are labelled - as in your atheist/agnostic example. I now do not really care what my or anyone else’s systems are called, especially if all this is is debating semantics. I am interested rather in how they work, or do not, in the real world, the world of facts without fictions. You (and anyone else) can call it what you want but I seek only to find the facts that exist and reject everything else as fictions, that is the basis of my approach here. Calling it subjective, relative or objective it does not matter to me (now). The challenges I am interested in in my own approach are the same that I attempt to use to criticise other approaches - a question of what are the facts of the matter and identifying and eliminating the fictions and fantasies.

So a preliminary challenge is to tune into differing and variable semantic usages.  Now on semantics all definitions are subjective and arbitrary however communication is made possible by public, shared, neutral,systematic, inter-subjective agreement on terms. In order to engage in conversation all parties need to tune in to agreed meaning of terms otherwise they end up talking across each other. This often means generating a more specialised, with a similar but often not the same, vocabulary as in popular usage - that is just a necessary evil, I would and I think most others would prefer to avoid.  However since much of the semantic confusions IMHO revolve over equivocation fallacies it is, unfortunately, unavoidable IMV.  We end up discussing philosophy whereas I want to discuss the scientific and/or engineering challenges, including as to how feasible, if at all, any of these approaches are. That is I want to discuss, to compare and contrast different frameworks in theory and in practice. Granted this it should be clear that it is a major blocker for the term “objective” to be hijacked, as I think it is by many here, for my goal here.  So, how do we do this, without throwing in the towel on investigating moral systems? Where is the room to move forward?

I am glad you like my point on the supposed objectivity of theistic morality. I also note that from your perspective, even as you claim a somewhat utilitarian approach you also support - IIRC - some form of moral relativism which would make you baulk at the idea of god as a privileged frame of reference? Whether this is your view or not, I agree on the invalidity/unsoundness of any such privileged basis for morality - I have never seen any decent argument to justify this. However I insist that the search for a framework to consider these issues is a different task and this is certainly where confusion lies between us. How is it different, you might ask?
My point is I have presented in the past a framework (there are others) which if anyone applies to a given situation with the same facts and data should produce the same result and conclusions (within measurement error and granted similar skills etc.) That is these are the results of an epistemically objective processes and and are not relative to any agent, the products are agent neutral. By contrast other methods that will provide differing results due to the differing interests and biases of the investigator are not epistemically objective - they are epistemically subjective and agent-relative. Now only certain “standards” can achieve this goal of agent-neutrality and I reject those that do not achieve this. You accept this to the degree it is “rational, non-arbitrary, and organized in a way similar to scientific inquiry”  but “disagree on whether the process is objective in the same way, rather than in an analogous way, to what we are doing in science.”

End of Part 1. Could not post complete reply as there is a problem with the forum software

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Posted: 06 January 2009 05:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 169 ]
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Part 2 this is as much as I could post, part 3 coming up


Well, I ask what is the difference? I think your main gripe with regard to that my selection of a standard however reliable, robust and revisable is that you “don’t see any substantive refutation of the fact that the standards by which you do the evaluating are as subjective and relative and the principles themselves, which

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Posted: 06 January 2009 05:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 170 ]
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is different from the case in science where there is an actual physical reality to measure things against “. However there is a physical reality to measure against otherwise there is no way one could obtain a reliable and robust framework! Now if you deny there is an actual physical reality to morality then either morality does not exist, you are a dualist or we are talking about different subjects. If the latter, which I think is, this goes back to my complaint that you - along with others- have IMHO arbitrarily defined this away, a popular move but is only supported by an argumentum ad populum.

Secondly any scientist seeks to find consistent relations between variables under investigation including identifying what such variables there or could be. There is nothing subjective or relative about that and neither is there in what I am doing here. Heck you don’t have to call what I am doing morality, still I argue it better captures what people mean by this than other approaches. If people refuse to acknowledge this it still remains the case that people affect each other by such processes. If you don’t want to call it science or objective then don’t. None of this stops it existing, it is still a framework to evaluate the interactions of people. 

Note my point here is not to convince you that I am right and you are wrong, but rather for you to acknowledge my position as I acknowledge yours and others. My approach is simple there is no problem of morality unless people actually clash in the real world, it is not all in the head, there are physical and material consequences for these behaviours. If you are a utilitarian you should not have a problem recognising this. Is this social science - a soft science - yes it is as is psychology and economics.  “I’m just saying such standards are not objective the way the physical universe and its underlying laws are; they are contingent on beliefs and opinions in a way the answers to engineering problems are not”. There are many engineering problems that are contingent on beliefs and opinions. For example, I would regard much, but not all, of marketing as engineering in this sense, as marketing uses the results of cognitive sciences and using biases and heuristics to convince us of something. I mean engineering to contrast with science - to apply in a design and construction sense what has been learnt from science.

Anyway enough for now.

End of Part 3 of 3

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Posted: 06 January 2009 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 171 ]
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StephenLawrence - 06 January 2009 12:57 AM
faithlessgod - 05 January 2009 03:40 PM
StephenLawrence - 05 January 2009 01:46 PM

Assuming rules of chess are objective, for the sake of argument (not at all sure they are) I’m quite sure there can’t be the right set or the wrong set of the rules of chess.

You are confusing internalism and externalism. A bishop jumping over pawn is wrong within the current standard rules that constitutively define chess.

but the current standard rules are not right, they just are the current standard rules.

Rules of games cannot be right or wrong, correct or incorrect, that’s the point I’m making.

We can see that’s true because people have often played chess to different rules and none of the sets of rules were either right or wrong.

This looks like a black and white (delighted with the pun though not intended) issue to me.

Stephen

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Posted: 06 January 2009 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 172 ]
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Very cogent reply, faithless. As far as the issue of semantics, there may not be a way forward. You regard your definition of “objective” as superior in that it is the one that allows for the proposol you are making, and you regard my definition as flawed because it disallows the use of that word to describe the system you propose. My point was that even if we can’t agree on that, we needen’t stop investigating the issue of moral systems and how they are constructed and improved. I will continue to maintain that morality has an inherent subjectivity despite the fact that it involves actions in the real world because the core of it is the values or judgements involved and the preference for some actions or outcomes over others that ultimately is not a feature of the physical, objective world but of the relative, subjective beliefs of the agents involved. But I think we’ve probably gone as far as we can down this particular road.

I have presented in the past a framework (there are others) which if anyone applies to a given situation with the same facts and data should produce the same result and conclusions

From what I’ve seen and understood of your framework, which isn’t very much, I dispute this. I udnerstand that it involves epistemic objectivity, but the social sciences are deservedly notorious for doing a poor job of controlling for bias, blind spots, and culturally relative perspectives, and I don’t yet see evidence that a moral system could be designed that would be as consistent, reliable, and likely to turn up the same results regardless of the agents as you suggest. Heck, it is damned hard to accomplish this int he physical sciences, where despite enormous efforts to control bias and the presence of an “objective” (in my sense) physical reality to measure against, the source of research funding still has a significant impact on the outcome of the experiements. Bias and subjectivity are such deep parts of how our brains work that I am extremely skeptical of the idea that something like a moral system could be applied by different individuals and get the same results in the way an algebraic formula can be.

there is no problem of morality unless people actually clash in the real world, it is not all in the head, there are physical and material consequences for these behaviours.

Certainly I recognize and accept this. I’m just not convinced it has the implications you seem to impute: that it means a study of the consequences of behavior can lead to the design of a moral rule structure that obviates what I believe to be the inherent subjectivity of moral values and precepts. I’m will to listen to your ideas and emphasis, but be careful not to assume my failure to be convinced is a lack of understanding or a deliberately refusal to see the lgiht. It may be (as it appears to me) that the case isn’t yet strong enough as you’ve made it. And I have to ask, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, how you expect a framework for moral rule making to yield universally apparent and acceptable results if you can’t even convince someone with a generally very similar outlook of even the basic premise of your proposal? That’s not meant as a dig in any way, just a half-serious way of pointing out why I think subjectivity and morality are happily married and impossible to put asunder.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 173 ]
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Brennan, first I am glad we have found a way of communicating that is constructive.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 10:05 AM

But I think we’ve probably gone as far as we can down this particular road.

Another stab at this. I regard value as extrinsic and relational, specifically the relation between desires and states of affairs - this seems the best characterisation of what everyone really means when they use these terms.  Moral value is the relation between malleable desires (those open to social influence)  and any and all other desires - whoever has them.  That is desires are the objects of evaluation. It is an empirical fact that there are these relations and these can be evaluated in terms of the material and physical effects of malleable desires on others - do they tend to fulfil (morally good) or thwart (morally bad) them. Now the whole of science can be characterised as about expressing the relations of variables otherwise science says nothing about the world that is science is objectively relative. And so is what I am arguing for here, you could call it objective moral relativism of which I am offering one particular version - desire utilitarianism. If you don’t want to call this ethics or morality and reserve this for your approach, fine. It is still the case that there are these empirical relations or do you deny that these relations exist?

I am arguing for a framework based on what exists. There are still plenty of practical challenges and debates even operating with such a framework, I do not deny this. However just because this is deemed difficult is no reason not to pursue it, unless you can suggest something better which you have not. Such an attitude is defeatist and many discoveries would not have occurred with such an attitude. So the argument from difficulty is IMV not a defeater to my approach. I do deny that there is an algebraic formula, there is and can be no update of a felicific calculus AFAICS, this approach is by definition pluralistic, one cannot directly maximise value as this is not fungible. Instead this approach one can focuses on, we could say, minimising friction that prevents or slows everyone in different ways from realising their own values - from bringing about more fulfilling states of affairs.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 10:05 AM

there is no problem of morality unless people actually clash in the real world, it is not all in the head, there are physical and material consequences for these behaviours.

Certainly I recognize and accept this. I’m just not convinced it has the implications you seem to impute: that it means a study of the consequences of behavior can lead to the design of a moral rule structure that obviates what I believe to be the inherent subjectivity of moral values and precepts.

I do not argue for a moral rule structure, however internalised, although others might use a similar framework to do so. My approach rejects absolute or contributory moral principles due to their peculiar character and for other reasons. In what I recommend the evaluation focus is on desires not rules.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 10:05 AM

I’m will to listen to your ideas and emphasis, but be careful not to assume my failure to be convinced is a lack of understanding or a deliberately refusal to see the lgiht.

Well it is clear you still exhibit misunderstandings but I appreciate your attempts to engage in this.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 10:05 AM

It may be (as it appears to me) that the case isn’t yet strong enough as you’ve made it.

That is more the result of me experimenting how to communicate this here in the past. I have I think got far better at this. The real challenge is if one knows nothing about ethics it is very easy and simple to communicate (DU in one line is “encourage desire that tend to fulfil all other desires and discourage desires that tend to thwart all other desires). Most of my effort with people who have studied ethics in some way is to get rid of their unnecessary baggage. .

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 10:05 AM

And I have to ask, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, how you expect a framework for moral rule making to yield universally apparent and acceptable results if you can’t even convince someone with a generally very similar outlook of even the basic premise of your proposal?

First I have discovered that many are as fixed to their view of morality as are believers to religion. My view has changed quite a lot over the years and I am always open to something better - but I am familiar with all the standard arguments and that is how I got to where I now am so - and but I am sure I have appeared as fixated on this as others have on their approach. Secondly, granted you are not fixated on your approach, it still has taken quite a while to find a means to communicate constructively, lets see where this goes.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 174 ]
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desires are the objects of evaluation. It is an empirical fact that there are these relations and these can be evaluated in terms of the material and physical effects of malleable desires on others

I think this is basically sound. Of course, I can see lots of practical problems with turning this into a “science,” but as I’ve said before I’m willing to give the idea the benefit of the doubt. In the past, you have dismissed pragmatic objections as premature or “defeatist,” and so on. This buys you some latitude to propose and argue for your idea, but I reserve the right to bring the real world and its pragmatic issues into the discussion at some point, since I’m not personally interested in models that can’t handle the messy details of real human interactions. So where do we go next?

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Posted: 06 January 2009 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 175 ]
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mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 11:24 AM

desires are the objects of evaluation. It is an empirical fact that there are these relations and these can be evaluated in terms of the material and physical effects of malleable desires on others

I think this is basically sound. Of course, I can see lots of practical problems with turning this into a “science,” but as I’ve said before I’m willing to give the idea the benefit of the doubt. In the past, you have dismissed pragmatic objections as premature or “defeatist,” and so on. This buys you some latitude to propose and argue for your idea, but I reserve the right to bring the real world and its pragmatic issues into the discussion at some point, since I’m not personally interested in models that can’t handle the messy details of real human interactions. So where do we go next?

Great. I think one of the mistakes I made in the past was to fail to sufficiently emphasize the difference between this approach and act utilitarianism. Since you say are some sort of utilitarian, first maybe you could briefly expand upon what you mean by this?

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Posted: 06 January 2009 01:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 176 ]
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Hmmm. Well, again I’m a dilettante, so I’m not sure my use of the term “utilitarian” is entirely standard, and I hope that doesn’t lead to unecessary confusion. Also, I have rarely had a cause to articulate specifically my approach to ethics as a coherent model such as you seem to have developed, so my thinking may not be as clear or precise as I’d like.

What I mean by utilitarian is that since I don’t accept universal, absolute moral principles exist, I believe the best way to make and evaluate such principles is through looking at their effects and how they promote or impede pre-established goals. A common and generally useful such goal is happiness or well-being. Defining this is a mess as well, but generally it involves individuals being able to satisfy species-typical needs and behaviors patterns at a minimum: an appropriate physical and social environment. Subsequent needs follow in a loosely hierarchical fashion: intellectual challenge, self-determination, opportunity for creative expression, etc.

Now, I have a problem with the approach of some utilitarians to pretend such things as happiness can be mathematically evaluated, and I think specific moral decisions are often not as clear and discrete as generalized standards or guidelines suggest. Messy compromises, as I suggetsed elsewhere, and an irrational tendancy to favor personal and immediate desires over general principles seem intrinsic to human moral behavior.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 177 ]
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Brilliant Brennen! Your concerns over traditional Utilitarianism are not far off mine. However… ahem… the consequences are different, maybe.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

Hmmm. Well, again I’m a dilettante, so I’m not sure my use of the term “utilitarian” is entirely standard, and I hope that doesn’t lead to unecessary confusion.

Me too! First I support modern (MU) rather than classical utilitarianism (CU), this is emphatically not act utilitarianism (AU) and emphatically not happiness based utility (H). This in turn resolves most of the traditional challenges against CU. Nonetheless desire utilitarianism (DU) is both a species of MU - version of Preference Satisfaction (PS) but also has distinct difference IMHO improvements over MU/PU.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

Also, I have rarely had a cause to articulate specifically my approach to ethics as a coherent model such as you seem to have developed, so my thinking may not be as clear or precise as I’d like.

Well here is an opportunity for you then, Brennen wink

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

What I mean by utilitarian is that since I don’t accept universal, absolute moral principles exist, I believe the best way to make and evaluate such principles is through looking at their effects and how they promote or impede pre-established goals.

A type of consequentialism (C) not yet utilitarianism, but that depends on the pre-established goals.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

A common and generally useful such goal is happiness or well-being. Defining this is a mess as well

OK DU does seek to promote value - C - but not by maximising some utility such as happiness for I guess not dis-similar reasons to your concerns. Specifically the real utility is pluralistic and indeterminate (as, in fact, are H and their ilk, regardless of claims by their supporters to the contrary IMHO).

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

, but generally it involves individuals being able to satisfy species-typical needs and behaviors patterns at a minimum: an appropriate physical and social environment.

These IMV is one type of desire “welfare interests” - needs that everyone has whether they realize it or not as a consequence of being a human being. This IMV can serve as a basis for human rights, so it is not nonsense built on stilts nor are they natural/inalienable.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

Subsequent needs follow in a loosely hierarchical fashion: intellectual challenge, self-determination, opportunity for creative expression, etc.

This is where I become pluralistic. Different desires are fulfilled by different states of affairs, it is not up to me nor anyone else to organize, prioritise or put them into a hierarchy. I accept that across person and groups (extrinsic) values may be not only not fungible nor incommensurate but not even comparable (at the least within individuals one has to make one’s desires comparable often with many resulting compromises one may regret).

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

Now, I have a problem with the approach of some utilitarians to pretend such things as happiness can be mathematically evaluated,

As you should now be able to guess I agree.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

and I think specific moral decisions are often not as clear and discrete as generalized standards or guidelines suggest.

Certainly and especially if these are deontological standards.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 01:30 PM

Messy compromises, as I suggetsed elsewhere, and an irrational tendancy to favor personal and immediate desires over general principles seem intrinsic to human moral behavior.

Do not know if it is irrational to be partial. I accept that is the way it is and demand no impractical (cough) absolute impartiality of anyone. DU focuses on evaluating desires, encouraging some and discouraging others, the evaluation based not so much on maximising utility directly - especially given the points above - but more to chose those that reduce conflict and “friction” between everyone’s individual pursuit of more fulfilling states of affairs. Conflict prevention as I put it elsewhere recently (well today in another thread). The reduction in “friction” frees up more “energy”  or reduces “energy” consumed in “friction” to be more available to seek more fulfilling states of affairs for everyone.

Now your turn to ask me a question as well as query my responses above.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 07:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 178 ]
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DU focuses on evaluating desires, encouraging some and discouraging others, the evaluation based not so much on maximising utility directly - especially given the points above - but more to chose those that reduce conflict and “friction” between everyone’s individual pursuit of more fulfilling states of affairs. Conflict prevention as I put it elsewhere recently (well today in another thread). The reduction in “friction” frees up more “energy”  or reduces “energy” consumed in “friction” to be more available to seek more fulfilling states of affairs for everyone.

This seems to be a good place to start. As I understand what you’re saying, and what you’ve said previously, DU focuses on evaluating the desires of agents in terms of their being fulfilled or thwarted (with the former assumed to be desirable and the latter undesirable), modified by evaluation of the effect of fulfilling or thwarting the desires on the agent’s other desires/outcomes and on other agents and their desires/outcomes? Obviously any brief summary is oversimplified, but is this close? You seem to be a pretty strong relativist in the sense that you don’t judge the desires themselves, only the consequences for the agent and for other agents of the fulfilling or thwarting of the desire; is this right? In this sense, no desire is intrinsically good or bad, but the consequences of fulfilling or thwarting a desire can be judged as desirable or undesirable based on the criteria, taken as given, that the most desire fulfillment for the most agents (or at least the minimum of conflict between agents) is the optimum to be sought. Is this the core of it?

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Posted: 07 January 2009 03:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 179 ]
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Brennen your description is largely accurate I raise some points to avoid potential confusions:

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 07:36 PM

DU focuses on evaluating the desires of agents in terms of their being fulfilled or thwarted (with the former assumed to be desirable and the latter undesirable),

Not quite,  means are desirable, ends are desired (or valuable/valued), this is not assumed but is a description of how things already work.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 07:36 PM

modified by evaluation of the effect of fulfilling or thwarting the desires on the agent’s other desires/outcomes and on other agents and their desires/outcomes?

Following from my previous response,  whether the agents desires are a means or an end, they can be evaluated as means with respect to other desires. (This is still means/end rationality although some might say it is an expanded version granted the ability to evaluate ends in this specific way).

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 07:36 PM

Obviously any brief summary is oversimplified, but is this close? You seem to be a pretty strong relativist in the sense that you don’t judge the desires themselves, only the consequences for the agent and for other agents of the fulfilling or thwarting of the desire; is this right?

Not sure what “relativist” specifically means here, this is consequentialism. Remember this is not done on an act by act basis, if you are thinking in terms of acts then it is better to think that “the right act is the act that a person with good desire would perform”. The context of desires or as I like to say desire-desire interactions is more important that the content, I am unsure if one can always analyse this without knowing the actual desire content but possibly. This certainly helps remove bias (relative or otherwise) over different desire contents.

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 07:36 PM


In this sense, no desire is intrinsically good or bad,

Yup no intrinsic value here

mckenzievmd - 06 January 2009 07:36 PM


but the consequences of fulfilling or thwarting a desire can be judged as desirable or undesirable based on the criteria, taken as given, that the most desire fulfillment for the most agents (or at least the minimum of conflict between agents) is the optimum to be sought.

1) this “criteria” is desire fulfilment act utilitarianism and DU is not that. (It is not so much taken as given but just a description of and internal to how any desire works).

2) A desire is evaluated in comparison to its absence not to its thwarting.  Remember this is not over a single specific situation - however we use simplified experiments (skeletal though experiments here) to understand the evaluation that is all.

3) The idea of this as a form conflict prevention and so conflict minimisation is just a way to help grok this. 

4) There is no direct maximisation (minimisation) or optimisation of utility, this is more operating over a 1st derivative of utility I like to use the metaphor of friction, but it is only a metaphor (that is a 2nd derivative of utility).

5) You seem to be adding in intermediate steps such as the judgement, well it looks like an additional step and can be made explicit and we need to here to understand this, however this is what people do anyway to without such explicit and intermediate steps. For example:
(1)Agent T desires that P
(2)Agent S desires that not P
(3)Action X brings about not P
(4)S has a reason to X
(5)T has a reason to not X
(6)T has a reason to stop S X’ing
If you want to call (6) a “judgement” that is fine, however note that it has no special status or difference over any of these other reasons.

[EDIT]So lets rephrase this in DU terms: “the consequences of the presence or absence of a desire are its affect on all other desires, if it tends to fulfil other desires it is (judged to be) encouraged, if it tends to thwart other desires it is (judged to be) discouraged.”[/EDIT]

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Posted: 07 January 2009 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 180 ]
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means are desirable, ends are desired (or valuable/valued), this is not assumed but is a description of how things already work.

Sorry, I don’t quite understand this. “Edns are desired” makes sense as a simple description of what a desire is-an internal impetus to obtain a goal state or some such.  By “means are desirable” do you mean just that the system you propose is about evaluating the desirability of means, or is there something else I’m missing?

Remember this is not done on an act by act basis, if you are thinking in terms of acts then it is better to think that “the right act is the act that a person with good desire would perform”. The context of desires or as I like to say desire-desire interactions is more important that the content, I am unsure if one can always analyse this without knowing the actual desire content but possibly. This certainly helps remove bias (relative or otherwise) over different desire contents.

I’m finding this hard to reconcile with your previous statements. It seems as if your claim to epistemic objectivity for DU was based on not evaluating internal states but their objective effects, by which I assume you mean actions of agents and their effects on the fulfillment or thwarting of the desires of others. Here you seem to be saying that the approach focuses exclusively on internal desires as good or bad and judges acts based on the evaluation of the desires they stem from. Isn ‘t this inconsistent, even contradictory? And if we are evaluating only the presence or absence of a desire in terms of its effects on the fulfillment or thwarting of other desire regardless of whether the desire is enacted by an agent, how can we ever apply the system to real interactions?

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