Thursday, 10 September 2009

900 Racists

9 comments
[This post was written in response to Martyr's original post. He has since significantly revised it. I have asked him to revert it to the original, which this post addresses (regardless of my direct response to his comment, I still refer to that original post). If he wants to create a new post to which I will chose to respond or not as and when I have time, that is fine. However what Martyr has done is completely unacceptable and extremely ironic given he is writing on ethics!]

Justin Martyr comments in my post responding to his supposed criticisms of Desirism that:
You spent a lot of time criticizing what is intended to be a high level intuitive overview of desirism. But you did not even make an attempt to engage my case of the 900 racists.
This was because by the time I had dealt with Martyr's errors on the basic ideas of Desirism, there was nothing left to comment on his 900 Racists argument, since it was one giant straw man. Further saying this was a "high level intuitive overview" does not excuse the errors made.

Nevertheless for clarification I will rise to Martyr's challenge in this post. He briefly summarised this in his comment:
The Case of the 900 racists. Small world of only 900 racists and 100
members of a minority group. The members of the minority group do not
have the power needed to change the desires of the racist majority via
praise, punishment, and condemnation. So why should the racists change
their desires such to allow the minority group to have more of their
desires fulfilled?
Well they are not going to are they? However this does not make such a society morally right, just because some are powerless to alter that society. The question is whether such a society is morally right or defective and this is the question that desirism can provide an empirically grounded answer to. Other approaches might also condemn such a society as being morally defective however desirism provides a ratio-empirical argument to make that case, which is why it my preferred approach, until or unless someone can provide better ratio-empirical grounds.

There really is not much more to say about Martyr's original post, as it gets so much about desirism wrong. So, instead, I will expand here based on his comment summary. Let us image two different scenarios:
  • Scenario 1: 900 racists, 100 victims, the racists have power, the victims are powerless (theocracies such as Sharia law states  springs to mind)
  • Scenario 2: 100 racists, 900 victims, the racists have power, the victims are powerless (apartheid South Africe springs to mind)
Now the question we are asking is whether the desire for racism is one to promote or demote. The phrase "desire for racism" is slightly odd (at least to me) and this might be better put by considering the question in reverse, is the "aversion to racism" one to promote or discourage?
  • Case 1: Moral agents promote an aversion to racism
  • Case 2: Moral agents do not promote an aversion to racism
Case 1 tends to fulfil more desires since both agents and recipients (regardless of how many there are in each category and whether some are in both or not) can fulfil their desires. Case 2 tends to thwart more desires, since either recipients would tend to have their desires thwarted or agents who lack this aversion would be thwarted by the laws of the land, for example. 

So we have reason to promote Case 1 over Case 2 and do this by both increasing the strength of an aversion to racism and by increasing the number of holders of this aversion. That is we have reason for this to be part of an efficient and effective device of morality.

We can now revisit both scenarios, where we are evaluating the device of morality as it functions in those societies. In both, the device of morality - the employment of the social forces of praise and condemnation, reward and punishment - tends to thwart desires not fulfil desires, to decrease an aversion to racism and decrease the holders of such an aversion. Our analysis has shown that in both scenarios the device of morality is defective, regardless of their own subjective and relative "moral" claims and justifications (such as it is in god's nature to be this way etc.).

It does not matter if either Scenario 1 or Scenario 2 comprised the only people that exists. The device of morality as it exists within those universes is still objectively flawed as the above empirical analysis shows.

Thats it. Over to the rest of you (either here or in the comment section of Luke's post).

9 comments:

Justin Martyr said...

Thanks for the response!

It appears you take Fyfe's procedure of "turning the knobs" as normative. That's fine. Then desirism does not justify genocide. I freely concede that. Plenty of atheistic theories of ethics refute genocide, such as Rawls' theory of Justice. But then they walk into another problem: what rational reason is there that the racists should alter their desires such to allow the oppressed minority group to fulfill more of theirs?

faithlessgod said...

I already answered your question in this post!

Note that "Turning the knobs" is just an explanatory metaphor.

The normativity comes from what people generally have reason to promote and inhibit, which as I emphasize here and elsewhere cannot be dependent upon the current mix and strengths of desires of any group, otherwise a vicious circularity follows and one cannot derive an "ought" from such an "is".


These are the empirical grounds upon which subjective moral terms can have objective referents and unless one can propose other real-world entities, it remains that this best captures the pragmatic sense of such optional terms as "ought" etc.

There are no "rational" reasons if by this one means conventioanl theoretical reasons - reasons to believe. Such reasons are motivationally inert (e.g deontology) when is comes to desires-as-ends. It is the failings of other theories such as your theistic natural rights morality that desirism addresses, by providing a ratio-empirical basis to evaluate desires (which is a combination of theoretical and practical reasoning).

Finally of course if you read Alonzo's 1000 sadists and Hateful Craig posts charitably then you would realise you are understanding the problem space and creating a straw man.

Justin Martyr said...

The normativity comes from what people generally have reason to promote and inhibit, which as I emphasize here and elsewhere cannot be dependent upon the current mix and strengths of desires of any group, otherwise a vicious circularity follows and one cannot derive an "ought" from such an "is"

Therein lies the rub. The 900 racists was chosen because it is a very specific case in which people do not have a rational reason to apply the "turn the knobs" technique. On desirism, it would be irrational for the 900 racists to act morally.

faithlessgod said...

"On desirism, it would be irrational for the 900 racists to act morally."
You have this completely upside down and inside out!

If the 900 racists provide any moral justification for their racism, such as god says it is okay (or any other basis), then they are being irrational.

There is no rational basis to the morality that the racists are asserting. This is what desirism shows. Their morality is defective.

Justin Martyr said...

There is no rational basis to the morality that the racists are asserting.

Sure there is.

1. They get the spoils of conquest: land, wealth, women, and slave labor.
2. They get to maximize their own reproductive fitness ahead of that of the minority ethnic group. Evolution is a zero-sum game, after all.

faithlessgod said...

Me:"There is no rational basis to the morality that the racists are asserting.

Justin:"Sure there is."

The spoils of conquest and repro-fitness are not moral values as the way the go bring them about, via racism, has already been shown to be immoral.

"Evolution is a zero-sum game, after all."
This is a red herring. We are talking about morality and rationalism not evolution.

It may be quite rational for a racist to bring about the means to realise his ends, however means-end rationality says nothing about the value of those ends.

It would be irrational for a moral person to bring about evil ends, such as racism, since these would not be such a person's (or a societies) ends.

A racist society is an immoral society, regardless of how rational they are and however they can apply subjective and relative pseudo-moral" justifications such as they are fulfilling the desires of god in so acting.

This is all so simple but you seem bizarrely confused.

It would be irrational for a racist to be moral.
It would irrational for a moral person to be a racist.
It would be rational for a racist to be immoral.
It would be rational for a racist to claim they are being moral.
It would be irrational for a moral person to accept such a claim from a racist.
And so on.

Justin Martyr said...

It would be irrational for a moral person to bring about evil ends, such as racism, since these would not be such a person's (or a societies) ends.

The 900 racists will profit through their oppression. I've given several self-regarding reasons for them to do so (1) plunder, (2) evolutionary success. Even Alonzo Fyfe himself concedes the point. He wrote "This does not say, "all acts of oppression leave the oppressor worse off." That would be false. Some acts leave the oppressor better off" in this thread.

A racist society is an immoral society, regardless of how rational they are and however they can apply subjective and relative pseudo-moral" justifications such as they are fulfilling the desires of god in so acting.

Desirism is a descriptive theory of ethics. The only basis on which you can say that the racist society is immoral is on the grounds of taking the "turn the desires up" technique as normative. Descriptive theories of ethics cannot do this. You have failed to provide a rational reason for the 900 racists to do this. Thus the case of the 900 racists stands unrefuted.

faithlessgod said...

"The 900 racists will profit through their oppression."
Wow that is an amazing insight! This is meant to be an objection??? If oppressors did not gain some benefit (sometimes just perceived, sometimes real) they would not bother!

"Desirism is a descriptive theory of ethics."
No it is a prescriptive theory. So the rest of your argument does not follow. Anyway you have already conceded your argument in a previous comment. You appear to be clutching at straws. The 900 racists remains refuted.

Justin Martyr said...

Hiya Faithless,

I don't know if you follow old threads, but I'm curious about what you mean when you say that it is a prescriptive theory. In what sense?

1. We have a rational duty to fulfill the most and strongest of our desires.
2. We should not fulfill the most and strongest of our desires, instead we should follow the prescription of 'turn the knobs'.

If you go with (1) then the 900 racists counter-example stands. If you go with (2) then you have to answer "why be moral?" And since a desire is a reason for action, you also have to give a coherent account of how someone would act on the weaker of their desires.