Monday, 27 July 2009

A reply to Luke Muehlhauser's "Living without a moral code"

18 comments
Luke Muehlhauser of Commonsense Atheism has written a surprising but commendably honest post Living without a moral code. He starts by saying:
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.

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.
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).

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).

18 comments:

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Yeah, I agree with everything you said here. As long as we are being equally candid, I honestly find Luke's approach to be impractical and philosophically bigoted and to those degrees immoral. I'm awaiting how ridiculous his "many criticisms" of Richard Carrier's "goal theory" will be in his upcoming review of Carrier's chapters on morality in Sense and Goodness. It sounds like it's going to be a travesty.

I don't care for the term DU either since it seems like a contradiction in terms given how those terms are commonly used. It doesn't read very well at face value. I'm not sure I care for "desirism" either, since that has a hedonist tinge to it. Desire economics seems to be a better hybrid of the two, although that may bring down upon it an unnecessary monetary association. The language works fluidly though once you get into it, since talking about an economy of desires makes a lot of sense. How does that sound to your ears?

If DU and evolution are correct, together they would seem to predict that the conscience serves a real role in regulating our economy of desires. That doesn't mean it always gets it right, but it also doesn't mean we should actively ignore it wholesale as Luke bizarrely is compelled to do. I think your sentiments on this note are quite on the mark (yes, we would be in trouble if Luke is right).

I do hope Luke comes around, but I guess we'll see. Good luck, Luke! If you are reading this. May the best argument win.

Ben

faithlessgod said...

Hi Ben

Fyfe has also criticised Carrier's "goal theory" or at least responded to direct criticisms of DU to Fyfe by Carrier (search Fyfe's blog for posts on this). Not having yet read Carrier's book (cant find it in a bookshop in London guess I will have to order it online) I cannot comment on this much but Carrier appears to support some version of happiness or inner satisfaction theory and DU/desirism (a) does not take this extra step or additional assumption and (b) can be quite (or more) objective looking only at external fulfilment.

As for Luke's approach to this I found his post quite surprising which is why I responded as I did. However I cannot see his approach as being bigoted or immoral, but just honest and (surprisingly) naive.

As for the name I am sick of confusion with various (other) forms of utilitarianism. I disagree that DU is a bad name for it, since in all consequentialist theories, the evaluation focus is always part of the consequences, the difference here is that there is no utility that is being maximised or satisficed (at least not directly since it is indeterminate and/or plural). It should not surprise you that I that I think this better fits the facts than alternatives which is why I (provisionally) endorse it.

Desirism versus hedonism - should such confusion arise I think I can more easily and swiftly deal with them than the tiresome issues over utilitarianism.

"Desire economics" takes us closer to preference satisfaction (PS) and requires more typing ;-). Unlike Fyfe I do regard desirism as a species of PS but I support desirism because it deals with flaws in PS. However adding the "economics" would not significantly help but I am open to persuasion.

Conscience does serve a role this is not not in dispute (ignoring Luke's misunderstandings) however the point is it cannot serve as a basis for morality (at least not an objective one), it is, as Mackie puts it, part of the "device of morality" not all of it nor the foundation of it.

Now to check your other comment. Sorry I took so long to respond but I have been at sea (literally).

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

FG,

Thanks for getting back to me. I've been looking forward to talking with you.

I'm aware of and am unimpressed by Fyfe's criticisms of Carrier's goal theory. He has about five or six posts on that. I have a response planned, but it's not high on the priority list.

I would consider it hair splitting to call happiness an "extra step" beyond a well orchestrated economy of desires. Just what is it that you think is going to happen if all of your desires have a hardy tit for tat? Unhappiness? haha, that just sounds ridiculous unless you think happiness is pure fiction. The bottom line is that I will always have a reason to inaction to ignore whatever else you think is more important than genuine long term stable happiness. Why should anyone care about anything else?

I'm guessing you prefer having things that are easy to sequester and define and "happiness" is a very general term. Um...too bad? We have tons of desires to work with, not just one. What ordinary obvious concept pulls that all together and gives the mayhem a coherent goal? I think Carrier and Fyfe ought to merge in that regard. To ignore this is too simplistic and too convenient for minds that just like to over-analyze philosophical minutia in my opinion. It also puts us out of touch with what normal people will recognize.

...

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

...

Next bit of hairsplitting: Bigots *are* honest and surprisingly naive. You think members of the KKK *secretly* believe blacks are just as equal as everyone else? Isn't their *honest* conviction to the contrary *surprisingly naive* to you? Please tell me how Luke steps away from the definition of bigotry on this issue. He refuses to be "backwards compatible" like a video game company that can't be bothered to acknowledge there is merit to their older games. Luke even specifically said such things just "get in the way" and mysteriously he didn't learn even one worthwhile moral thing from his time as a Christian. Not one. Who knows. Maybe he'll construct an amazingly worthwhile positive theory in the end, but he needs the accommodation module in his thinking *in addition* to that for a complete theory. I'm sorry. It is outright bigotry to not respect where people are at in their moral growth just because they haven't read all of the high brow philosophical works he has or can rigorously define and defend all their terms. He calls any correspondence with his own conclusions pure chance and all of their values prejudice. Luke calls his adventures in philosophy "mental masturbation" in other posts and uh, I think that's all he's doing here at a rather steep expense to self awareness. Such unpleasant business, but Luke needs a heads up on this if there is any such thing as accountability in our humanist online society.

The word "economy" has lots of rhetorical and conceptual equity to me. It summons thoughts of a complex system that has to be understood and appreciated and well managed like someone balancing their check book every month. People have wants, needs and only so much money to work with, and a host of analogous tools for adults who are on a budget to get that job done on a regular basis. Opportunity cost. Conflict of interests. Tons of economic metaphors march right over to moral language. Many of these lessons apply to satisfying and juggling all our desires. So "desire economics" takes that very tangible (yet still sufficiently abstract) external money system and points to a very similar internal one that encourages people to see it as a system that is concretely grounded in real world activity. In a world of superstition and bad philosophy that fails to connect with life, the phrase, "desire economics" seems very helpful. That's my second pitch, anyway. :D

I don't find PS helpful. It trivializes the substance and commonality of fundamental desires. Sure, after we have our basics of any given decision down, we might add a layer of PS icing on top of our moral cake when we can(and perhaps often we can, since not every decision is life and death) to calibrate our activities to a flock of less important random preferences, but I wouldn't put my moral theory in that domain. Seems to flat line important concepts.

I fully agree with what you say about the conscience.

Ben

faithlessgod said...

Hi Ben

A number of interesting points:

1. Carrier vs Fyfe and happiness. this deserves its own post(s) and I will get on it soon. I will certainly be interested in your own response. What is your blog?

2. Bigotry and Sincerity: your point is quite correct. Bigots can be quite sincere in their (erroneous) beliefs. Sincerity is not a a useful criterion in determining the soundness or validity of argument.

3. Luke and Bigotry part 1: Granted point 2 above and your correction to my mistake I still do not see that Luke is bigoted - at least with respect these points in morality. Luke thinks theists are mistaken in their moral theory and so do I and many others and, at least in my case, this is based on the unsoundness, invalidity and incoherence of their claims. Of course, only applies to those theists who (mistakenly) argue that god is necessary for morality.

4. Luke and bigotry part 2: You list items to identify Luke's bigotry in your last comment above. I read this only to be aware if I am making any of those mistakes and believe I am not. With regards to Luke's position on this I suggest you take this up with him and, to the degree your points are correct (as being indicative of bigotry and as being applicable to Luke) I will support you in such criticisms - if Luke rejects your arguments.

5. Economy part 1: A key difference is that much of economics focusing on a single utility - fungible value - money as the means of exchange in barterless economies - at the very least, money is a proxy for intrinsic value (unitary or not) in much of economics. Whilst this does not exhaust the scope of economics it is a common perception and is quite different in desirism where there is no unitary fungible value, rather value is plural and incommensurate (quite compatible with a modern reading of Aristotle but then this gets us back to a broad conception of "happiness"/ eudaimonia). Probably another post in the making.

6. Economy part 2: On the other hand if you pretty much endorse a combination of DU and goal theory then go ahead and call it the desire economics theory of morality. If there is one thing that is clear from Fyfe's approach it is that names serve only to provide signs to what they refer and we should not get bogged down in semantics. To the degree that there are differences (in referents) between desire economics and desirism they deserve different names, at least for now.

7. Preference Satisfaction: I have made various criticisms of this in a number of posts. However the "flat line" criticism is similar to one I make about reducing everything to a single ultimate desire - as in happiness theories! ;-)

faithlessgod said...

...

OK I have subscribed to your War_On_Error blog.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

1. I'm assuming you found the xanga one? http://war-on-error.xanga.com I don't post much on blogger.

If you don't have Sense and Goodness, Carrier outlines his moral theory in this series of youtube vids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dce8mE0q4zA

3. This isn't really about theists per se. It's about any pre-philosophical system of values. It appears to be Luke's extreme contention that if you haven't thought everything through to the extent he personally is shooting for you should have NO IDEA if you are moral or not.

4. I'm not sure how this plays out in practice, obviously. Just going with what I see in his writings. People can be quite extreme in their ideology but about face in practice. It's kind of like the doctrine of total depravity with Christians. They call you total shit basically, but then treat you like you are a wonderful creation of god. And in practice when they aren't thinking their christian thoughts, they think you're a pretty good person. That's still ideological bigotry on their part as though human beings by default deserve a status that is punishable by eternal torment. You have to be an absolutely horrible person to deserve that. Doesn't matter if they apply it to themselves either, since being unfair is being unfair. Especially when they aren't consistent. And I've pointed out how Luke hasn't been consistent either. He claims he didn't know anything about morality when he exited Christianity, but somehow he knew just which moral question to ask to begin his inquiry. I say, "not as advertised," Luke. Sorry.

...

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

...

5. Seems like you are just re-emphasizing things. Which is fine, I'm sure there are plenty of aspects of economics that don't apply. Just in my mind there are a lot that do as I tried to point out. I don't know exactly how "objective" that ratio is, so I'm not going to quibble if it doesn't strike you as helpful.

6. Yeah, I really hate the semantics. A well rounded understanding of morality should pretty much be open to any angle people can take with it. And in fact, it seems probable that certain people maybe need to ask certain kinds of moral questions for the sake of overall efficiency in a subjective sense of what they can handle at any given point in their lives. If you "just get" utilitarian questions, then ask those kinds of questions. If you "just get" egoism questions, then ask those questions. Heck, even if you don't believe in god and it still helps you to think of what an ideal super being would direct you to do in life, then by all means pretend. I don't expect everyone to be able to do things exactly how I do them. And I don't expect perfection, just improvement as necessary. I'm not into the destroy all other theories in order to prop mine up approach that seems to plague a lot of people. I'd rather just show how they all fit together to the extent that they do and meet people wherever they are.

7. I have to disagree, since "happiness" is a general enough term that it doesn't flat line anything for me. Rather it keeps the broad and complicated picture in perspective. I guess we're just going to have to disagree if that doesn't make immediate enough sense to you.

Ben

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

"I will support you in such criticisms - if Luke rejects your arguments."

I've been thinking about this and all the instances in the past where I've failed to communicate similar criticisms properly. I can't think of a single success story, though mainly this has been towards Christians who stand to lose their entire worldview if they recognize the inherent unfairness of their doctrines towards humanity. I'd like to think it would be a little easier with a humanist who only needs to adjust their understanding to match what is actually going on.

Any time I mention the "B" word I know I'm going to fail and yet I don't see how I can avoid it. It just is what it is. I'm sure this is some kind of tactfulness fail on my part, but I don't know how to make both ends meet: in accuracy and presentation that isn't doomed to failure. I've been thinking maybe in the future (obviously it's a bit too late with Luke), perhaps I could just stick to "unfairness" in their evaluation to maybe be able to leave the general attitude connotations out of it?

...

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

...

Luke seems to react to what I say as though I'm assaulting everything (like when he appeals to how much he's written before on DU as though that even means anything on the current aspect being criticised). That would be a bit less confrontational, more neutral and focused criticism, right? How do you get away from the connotations of a 100% walking talking bigot machine that's wrong about everything and focus on a particular theme of unfairness that is evident on the spot to only the extent it is and no further?

This all assumes that I am correct on the issue, of course. I want to be helpful and not be just a dick, and this kind of issue just never seems to go anywhere fruitful even if it needs to be said. I'm always willing to reevaluate my approach.

I take it I'll have to write up a post hammering out an explicit case to move things along, right? I don't think we're quite on the same page yet even if we both agree that Luke is way off the mark in some way.

Ben

faithlessgod said...

Hi Ben

1. Changed my reader from your blogger to xanga blog

2. Thanks for the Carrier video links. Will watch these and post on this first, before reviewing the Carrier-Fyfe exchange.

3. I was only addressing Luke regarding theists. The issue of bigotry of course does not just apply to theists and ex-theists, either way.

4. I only started reading Luke after links from Alonzo. I do not see what you are claiming but that might reflect my prejudices. As for "He claims he didn't know anything about morality when he exited Christianity, but somehow he knew just which moral question to ask to begin his inquiry." I fail to see the issue. You don't need to know morality to start asking how to be moral by choosing to use the tools that have been most successfully demonstrated elsewhere - namely reason and evidence rather than emotion and faith.

5. Not sure what you mean by "ratio". As I said will write a post on this topic desire economics, thanks for the seed.

6. Morality is important as it affects us all one way or another. Toulmin showed that the wide differences on views as to what the grounds of morality are can make surprisingly little difference in practice - fundamentalists excluded of course. Unfortunately this is often the main issue and if some theories are more flawed - divine command being fatally flawed as we have known for thousands of years - then to the degree these flawed theories are used to distort and disrupt our society we need to defend ourselves against these.

7. You appear to be using happiness in such a broad sense that it is emptied of all useful content, so why use it? I prefer well-being or flourishing which has far less semantic and theoretical baggage. The question then can focus on what is or are the best designed device(s) of morality to deliver flourishing or well-being.

faithlessgod said...

Ben regarding debating bigotry with someone you are concerned is bigoted and they don't know it (and don't want this pointed out presumably).

Prejudice is a somewhat milder term and cannot be used as a direct label for the person. By this I mean you can say someone's idea reflect bigotry and this can be (and often is) read as calling them a bigot, when one is only addressing specific ideas. Using prejudice is better as the closest equivalent to to calling them a bigot would be that they are prejudiced - which has a different emphasis and illocutionary force.

Of course I called Tom Gilson a bigot because he is and clearly reason was getting nowhere with him and I did not want to waste my time on someone like that any more. It got him angry and he banned me (doing me a favour). If enough people call him a bigot - providing reason and evidence in support of that claim, maybe he might change, maybe not. Maybe some of his readers might be deterred from his path. However not saying this would enable him and his ilk to carry on unrestricted by such criticism and that is worse.

As for Luke this discussion needs to be taken to his blog and there is no point pursing it here. If you think he is prejudiced in some relevant way then provide reason and evidence in support of that claim. I do not follow all his comments but you could draw attention here when an opportunity for you to so comment on his blog arises again.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

FG,

3. My provisional understanding until I know better is that Luke regards ALL pre-philosophical moral activity as based on prejudice and is basically amoral. So that's virtually EVERYONE I've ever known since I can't think of any creme de la creme philosophers walking amongst us. This has nothing to do with theism vs. atheism. This appears to be a symptom of philosophical elitism. It sours his otherwise informed discussion on moral topics.

4. Specifically (if you actually follow what Luke claims) he said that he wanted to know if he had done more harm than good. Well how do you know morality should be defined in those terms (i.e. harm) unless you already know something about morality? Luke wants to debase virtually all "common sense" notions of morality by opening the door with equal starter weight to every moral notion ever conceived. Yet, clearly, he has not actually done this in practice and it is implausible that Christianity got everything 100% wrong for him to be able to claim it was of no help to him at all. I want him to recognize that his background knowledge and general experience (that begets modern moral intuitions) is in fact informing his present inquiry (and that Christians do know something about morality) and that it should be no surprise that the reality based moral theory he embraces validates that past of his retroactively. The reality that we are all naturally desire economists with at least some expertise on the topic (despite our errors) has been there the whole time and he doesn't have to be such an elitist prick about it, imho.

...

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

...

5. "Ratio" refers to the proportion of metaphorical applicability to economics vs things that don't apply as far as moral theorizing goes. Like any metaphor, there are aspects that work and ones that don't. I have no idea what that pie chart literally looks like and it'd be more work than its worth to try to nail the overwhelming applicability if you are just going to seek out the differences. "Pagan myths inspired Christology!" "Nope! Osiris's hair was parted on the left, and Jesus' was parted on the right." "Touche'" :p

6. Toulmin sounds like a smart guy. I wouldn't necessarily exclude fundamentalists since their ideology doesn't necessarily bear out consistently and inform everything they actually do. Humanism tends to have a foothold with humans...haha Unless of course you label fundamentalists as the most extreme of extremes where they actually do go ape shit on their lives with their extremism. I think my definition of fundamentalist is broader than that.

7. Yeah, to me, "happiness" "flourishing" and "well-being" are in the same family of synonyms. Without happiness in there as rounding out the spectrum it almost sounds like everything is taken care of, but somehow you are still left possibly miserable. Fuck that. haha

Ben

faithlessgod said...

Ben

3. I do not think it is as strong as you make out but your analysis does explain some of my puzzlement over Luke's style on this topic. Not really much more to say here.

4. "The reality that we are all naturally desire economists with at least some expertise on the topic (despite our errors) has been there the whole time"

Yes, part for the test for any prescriptive theory is how well it descriptively explains what people already and this is one of the appeals for desirism, since it i explains more with less than other descriptive or prescriptive theories.

You are reading Luke as "elitist" and I can see how you can infer that, however is that not a choice of yours, is this the most charitable reading you can give Luke?

7. I have no issue with the use of happiness in the broad sense that you use and basically agree. However read this way happiness is not a useful tool here - being either an ever present constant and/or it is one that can be abused by unilaterally deciding what will make you happy regardless of your own view. Is the latter not one of the problems of pretty much all ideologies that have infected society? (Religions - theist or not, communisms and fascisms have all sought support by offering happiness as 'a' if not 'the' carrot).

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

4. I guess I could try to think up a more charitable description. In a more perfect world, I'd be able to yell out, "Hey, that direction is too 'elitist'" and the person would say, "Hey, you're right. Guess I'll back away from that." And it would be over with. You wouldn't have to calibrate your language to the degree it explicitly applies as though I really even know how far it applies. Isn't the point to just stop being that way? We all have various inequalities to massage out of our thoughts and feelings over time like a carpet with irritating folds in it that are hard to stamp out. So when we find ourselves registering uncomfortably on the bigotry-o-meter and we have to make efforts to get away from it, rather than complaining we register at all. It's just not the important issue. I'm sure I'll keep trying to figure it out regardless, since we don't live in that more perfect world.

7. Obviously one has to be able to unpack "happiness" in sensible ways and it seems that "desire utilitarianism" calls attention to the dynamic scape of many desires that need to be accounted for in order to get at a dynamic definition of "happiness" that avoids the issues you brought up. It can be done wrong. One can promise a shallow or misbegotten version of happiness and that just wouldn't be what I'm talking about. It just seems kind of silly to throw the term out, just because it is abused. It's not like we can't use other words when we need to clarify.

Ben

faithlessgod said...

Hi Ben

One final point here is that since happiness is open to equivocation and abuse and, you agree, that we can use other terms then surely it is simpler, or at least more effective and efficient, to use those other terms to make one's points clearer. This does not mean that one cannot use the term happiness, only that one should be prepared to expand upon its meaning, in the relevant way, when called upon.

I suppose this means that when anyone uses this term in ethical debate, the first thing I should do is ask "what do you mean by 'happiness'?". I know all too often they do mean it in the internal state singly ultimate intrinsic value way which has problems that I have noted in previous comments (and elsewhere). If they do not, then I have no issue with it, as in the way you now appear to be using it.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Sure, and we have to work towards creating a world where "happiness" is culturally synonymous with "a flourishing psychological economy of well managed desires." "Happiness" strikes me as the "code word" for that concept already and I'm not about to give it up because I live in a world with lots of intellectually challenged folk. I never understood or made use of the "intrinsic" crap to begin with so all of the hang ups that Alonzo and Luke have with it in ordinary rhetoric strike me as shrill on their part. Active moral concepts are messy heuristics and not computer code that can be completely derailed with too literal a reading. It makes a lot more sense to try to understand what people have to mean in practice with their word use, rather than looking for cheap ways to derail philosophically butchered moral understanding that still has merit. I don't know how to avoid building backwards compatibility theories to accommodate people's persistent moral misunderstandings since I am forced to live in a world rich with such moral misunderstandings I won't be able to fully correct any time soon. My brain is going to interpret and consistently put patterns together whether I want it to or not, so I really don't understand how Luke can claim to "not have time" for this side of the moral equation. If it just gets in the way, that's life getting in the way! That's freaking *people* "getting in the way." That's like all of your loved ones, friends, and acquaintances and every moral thing they think. Every functional misunderstanding they have. How in the world can you possibly avoid it like you are going to be living in some philosophical utopia in just a very few short weeks? I don't get it. Makes me feel a little crazy.

Ben