I am in a rather odd position. I think that moral imperatives are real and knowable, but as it happens I know almost none of them. So, I don’t know how to live a moral life. I am morally bound but morally blind. I’m driving my life forward at 100mph but I don’t know which direction to turn it.I find this surprising since he has, like me, discovered an interesting approach to morality, namely Alonzo Fyfe's (the atheistethicist) Desire Utilitarianism. Now, I do not like the title of this approach, since it leads to many misunderstandings due to reading it as some form of act or rule utilitarianism, which fails to address the claims it does make. So I prefer, for what it is worth, to call this approach Desirism now. Regardless, Luke has become a fellow advocate of this approach. Still, as a sceptic, I have long been dubious of promoting one moral approach over others and see how such advocates come across in blogs and debates. Nonetheless, since I do think this is the best approach I have seen to date and am always looking for better, I have taken the risk of openly endorsing it, at whatever cost my advocacy appears to others.
Part of its appeal its minimalism and simplicity, far simpler than many of the alternatives I have considered. However it has to be more than that, simplicity and minimalism alone being insufficient, it has to be usable in a realistic fashion better than its competitors and I have and will continue to argue that it is - until or when I am shown something better. I have also noted that others - critics of many different colours and stripes - assume a complexity at least matching their own approaches and it seems easier to communicate desirism to those unversed in moral philosophy, not because they are unable to come up with standard objections but because, in my view they are uninfected with previous moral philosophical baggage. Indeed I have found those to be far better able to identify and challenge its real weaknesses than any versed in moral philosophy who seem to dwell on misunderstandings based on their own approaches and straw men criticisms.
This last paragraph might be relevant in supplying some light on Luke's issues in his post as he says:
I spend most my time on moral theory. Why? Because if I have the wrong theory, then all of my conclusions in applied ethics are unfounded. So I need to make sure I have the right theory before I can answer questions in applied ethics.I would not have it otherwise. In spite of the points I just made, it is still better to debate someone, whether they are a proponent or critic of desirism if they both properly understand it and are familiar with literature of moral philosophy. Of course I do not ask this of people in general, since I have always argued that if one needs to understand moral philosophy to be moral we are all in a lot of trouble. Anyway Luke goes on to expand on his troubles here with:
Unfortunately, this theory does not let me answer moral questions by closing my eyes and asking my “conscience.” Nor does it have any easy answers to any moral questions.This is partly correct. I dispute his second sentence here but will dwell on his first in this post. Intuitions (a better term than conscience but is what is implied above) have been shown to unreliable in other domains and without demanding special dispensation in this area - for which I have never seen a valid justification - there is no rational-empirical basis to regard things differently here. Indeed this is a criticism of any theory that requires or relies upon intuitions and is an argument in favour of any theory, not just desirism, that correctly denies a special place to such intuitions or conscience as a basis of what is morally blameworthy or praiseworthy. Now Luke proceeds with what is a most surprising point, for someone who claims to know and endorse Desire Utilitarianism.
Instead, desire utilitarianism says that moral imperatives can only be known by way of calculations involving billions of (mostly) unknown variables: desires, strengths of desires, relations between desires and states of affairs, and relations between desires and other desires.Here I have to strongly disagree in a number of ways but will focus on only one here. This highlights why I prefer not to call this desire utilitarianism, indeed this looks like a 101 error in understanding this approach and I wonder if Luke is being deliberately misleading in making this claim, but the rest of his post indicates nothing but that he is being honest in his dilemma. For sure this is an issue with any 1st order utility such as happiness/misery, satisfaction/frustration and so on, but desirism recognises the futility and errors in assume value monism. It espouses value pluralism which makes far more empirical sense. It is more of a 2nd order utility (if that is the right term now), allowing for value pluralism by focusing on reducing , let us call it, "friction" between agents who are pursing their, often incommensurate, own value. So there is no such calculus nor the challenges of resolving it.
Now, I don’t mean to overstate this. I’ve got some good guesses about what is moral and not moral, based on the theory of morality that seems most true to me. But they’re really just guesses.Well I (now) think Hare got this quite right with his two-tier utilitarianism (indeed it could apply to any moral approach) with his the Archangels and the Proles. Recognising the intuitions cannot serve as the basis for a moral code does not mean they must all be thrown out. We can happily operate at the lower common sense intuitive "Prole" level as a guide to our behaviour and conduct, noting that any and all of our intuitions (or heuristics, decision procedures, rules etc.) are open to review, revision, replacement and rejection - this being performed at the second-tier critical "Archangel" level - as andwhen required by the circumstances with time and data permitting, of course. At this second tier or level I want to chose the best available model to perform the review with resultant revision, replacement or rejection and that theory, to date is desirism. (This leaves out how this is to be cultivated at the first order Prole level but I do not think Luke and I disagree on that - the use of social forces to encourage and discourage relevant intuitions etc).
But I can’t just stop living. I have to make decisions every day. Thousands of them. I can’t calculate the morality of each one – or really, hardly any of them. Not yet, anyway. So what do I do?
What I am doing is a hybrid of (1) my best guesses as to what is moral according to desire utilitarianism, and (2) just ‘going with the flow’ on the many issues for which I cannot even guess at their moral implications.
Luke finishes with:
It’s a pretty weird place to be, honestly. But that’s what happens when it matters to you if your beliefs are true. You suddenly don’t know a lot of stuff you might have once thought you knew.Again I commend his honest position here, it is better to accept uncomfortable truth than a comforting fiction. Still the issue that Luke raised over a "calculus" of desirism is an important one. Having presented a somewhat negative response here I will follow through with a more positive reply in my next post (whenever that is I am still busy).