Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A response to Kip on Desirism

5 comments
This post is a response to comments by Kip on Desirism: More Questions Answered (part 2) at Luke's Commonsense Atheism.
I’m saying that all the desires that exist are relevant. You are
talking about the “invariants”, seemingly dismissing some of the
variables, but then you clarified that you are not, so I’m not sure how
your response addressed Luke’s concerns with the billions of variables
involved.
Now this was the result of my previous responses to a point in a previous post by Luke. Specifically:
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.
Kip remains unconvinced by my argument over types and tokens but this is only part of the argument. Let us complete it here.

To recap I have argued for two points so far:
  1. The evaluation focus being on desires not actions means that it is the type of desire that is under consideration - to be promoted or demoted - rather than any individual token instance with resultant action, since the same type can lead to different actions in different instances. It is the overall effect of promoting or demoting a desire, as it indeed leads to various actions in various circumstances that is of concern and that is amenable to social influence.
  2. One can determine in some sense the desire type by seeking to discover the invariant features that are common to a range of token instances with related actions.
Now Kip's concern seems to be that I am in some sense or other dismissing the variables within these tokens, specifically the strength and number of holders of the desires under question. His concern would be quite correct if I were dismissing these variables but I am not, rather it is a question of emphasis and priority. To illustrate this I will provide an argument from analogy, which might, at first glance confirm Kip's worry but, hopefully, the conclusion should lay this worry to rest.

Consider Aristotle seeking understand the structure of thought, of arguments that led to his theory of deductive logic. Now could Aristotle (and his peers and successors) have embarked on this enterprise if he (or they) had thought (to paraphrase Luke's above statement) that "that logic can only be known by way of calculations involving billions of (mostly) unknown variables: beliefs, strengths of beliefs, relations between beliefs and states of affairs, and relations between beliefs and other beliefs."?

My point about seeking invariants across token instances is surely very analogous to the extractions of the various logical principles such as syllogisms such as modus tolens and modus ponens and the range of mistakes - formal and informal fallacies- that can occur. (And I am treating this analogy in a Quinian sense, that there is an empirical basis and derivation of the rules of logic). So in both scenarios the number and strength of beliefs or desires serves to distract from and distort the underlying structures one is seeking to discern.

The analogy can be extended further since there are a number of informal fallacies based on the number holders and strengths of beliefs - such as argument from popularity and argument from histrionics (or, even worse, the argument from the threat of violence or the argument from violence). Without accepting something specially different about desires, for which an argument needs to be made, a similar point can be made with respect to desires - the strengths and (number of) holders of a desire are not legitimate grounds to justify any desire.

Ultimately the point to be made is quite simple, with regard to evaluating a desire the consequences or conclusion is over whether it is to be promoted or demoted. This means as to whether to increase or decrease the strength of the desire(s) in question and as to whether to increase or decrease the number of holders of such desires. So these factors - variables - are to be taken into account, but in the implementation of the solution.

To insist upon them as overwhelming factors in framing the problem space serves only to make the question unresolvable (I am not insinuating that Kip is guilty of this, but it is one implication of his concern) . As Dennett put it ""Philosophy is what you do when you don't yet know what the right questions to ask are". This approach gets beyond philisophy (conceptual analysis) to empirical analysis by asking questions capable of tractable answers.

5 comments:

Kip said...

Thanks for clarifying some things. I'd like to let Luke respond first, if he'd like. To help me (and maybe Luke, too), can you please explain what you mean by these terms:

1) "desire type"
2) "token instance"
3) "invariant feature"

And maybe you could give a specific example of the method you are advocating? For example, say "rape" -- what is the "desire type" there? And what are the "token instances"? And the "invariant features"? And how do you use these things to determine if the desire should be promoted or demoted?

faithlessgod said...

Hi Kip

I am really not clear about what you are asking. I have already explained these terms in the desire types and tokens and am using entirely standard terminology for these terms. This post should ahve served to make this clearer by analogy with beliefs.

As for specific example you requested well:
* A "desire to rape" is the desire type under question.
* Any situation where this desire becomes an intention that is acted upon (successfully or not) is a token instance.
* The desire to rape is what is invariant across all those token instances and indeed makes it intelligible to ask questions over the (dis)value of rape.

Indeed asking the question the way you have implies type thinking rather than token thinking which is what I am arguing for here.

As for your last question this is the standard DU analysis, surely you (unless I am thinking you are another Kip) are familiar with that?

Kip said...

Yes, this is the same "Kip".

Your response was mostly helpful - I think. I'll just go with what I think you mean by those terms, and hope that I'm not mistaken. I don't care what you mean by them, I just don't want us to talk past each other because of a misunderstanding of terminology. You say it is "standard", but not in my experience, thus my request for clarification.

Anyway, I will wait a bit for Luke to reply, and then I will reply.

Kip said...

FG: "One can determine in some sense the desire type by seeking to discover the invariant features that are common to a range of token instances with related actions."

This sentence was incomprehensible to me, thus the reason for my question asking you to define the 3 bolded terms.

You did. A "token instance", I understand, is just a specific action that was motivated by this type of desire. So, if I desire to eat chocolate ice-cream, then when I ate chocolate ice-cream yesterday, that was a "token instance" of my desire to eat chocolate ice cream.

(As an aside, these are the types of examples I tried to request from you, which would have been very helpful for me to understand what you mean.)

So... assuming I understand so far...

I asked for some examples of what "invariant features" for the desire to rape would be. You said:

"The desire to rape is what is invariant across all those token instances".

So, the "desire type" is the desire to rape, and the "invariant feature" is the "desire to rape"?

So now that we have examined the token instances to determine that the desire type is the desire to rape, and the invariant feature is the desire to rape, now what? What exactly has this accomplished?

faithlessgod said...

Kip

Is this the outstanding disagreement you have with me?

"So now that we have examined the token instances to determine that the desire type is the desire to rape, and the invariant feature is the desire to rape, now what? What exactly has this accomplished?"

All that was required by the challenge set by Luke which triggered these posts and comments. Nothing more and nothing less.

Namely another way to
a) avoid mistaking the evaluation focus, to focus of the desire type rather than on the token action and
b) to see how the range of different factors can become manageable as a result of this evaluation focus
c) that the number and strengths of desires is the problem that is being addressed