Monday, April 11, 2016

Final Value and Fitting Attitudes

An interesting new paper forthcoming in Phil Studies, 'The pen, the dress, and the coat: a confusion in goodness' by Miles Tucker, argues against the (now widely accepted) Conditionalist thesis that intrinsic value and final value are separable.

Consider, e.g., the pen Abraham Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.  Intuitively, it would seem to have final (non-instrumental) value in virtue of its extrinsic properties (i.e., its historical significance / relation to emancipation).  But, interestingly, Tucker argues that standard accounts of final value cannot accommodate this verdict.


According to Fitting Attitudes: "A thing has final value only if it is fitting to care about it for its own sake." (p.6) But, Tucker argues, it's fitting to care about Lincoln's pen only because it's fitting to care about something else, namely emancipation.  So, he suggests, it's not really fitting to care about Lincoln's pen "for it's own sake", so it lacks final value on this account.

I think what this really shows is that the fitting attitudes account of final value has been misformulated. What matters is not the explanation why it's fitting to care about the object, but rather the kind of care that is thereby warranted.  The distinction between final and instrumental value mirrors that between final (non-instrumental) and instrumental desires.  So we should say that an object has final value when it is fitting to desire (or otherwise regard) it non-instrumentally.

This plainly solves the problem.  So long as it's fitting to have some non-instrumental pro-attitude towards Lincoln's pen (e.g. to non-instrumentally desire its continued existence), then it has final value on this account.  It doesn't matter what the explanation of this fittingness fact is.  That will merely serve as an explanation of why it has final value as it does.  Such an explanation might very well appeal to the values of other things to which the pen is related, such as the history of emancipation.  The important thing is just that, as it turns out, the pen really does warrant our non-instrumental regard.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting thought. But why think that "non-instrumentally" picks out a real kind of desiring? This seems to include lots of ways of desiring, including desiring something for itself, desiring it as a part, desiring it as a sign, etc.

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    1. Hmm, I guess it seems a fairly natural kind to me (even if it does allow for further subcategorization)? I'm actually tempted by the thought that all real desiring is non-instrumental desiring, and that talk of "instrumental desire" is just shorthand for picking out a certain combination of (real, final) desire + means-end belief, but shouldn't be thought of as a further desire at all, for reasons set out here.

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  2. To me it would be strange if it were a natural kind. After all, it is defined negatively. Is there another example of a natural kind whose members have in common just that they are not something else? But more specifically to this case: desiring something as a sign (e.g. desiring that an x-ray show no broken bone) does not seem like the kind of desiring that would be relevant to final value. Nor does desiring something as a part.

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    1. Ah, I see what you mean. I agree that sort of "desiring as a sign" is not what I had in mind by "non-instrumental desiring", which is perhaps better given a positive gloss as simply desiring as an end. That's a pretty familiar and real kind of desiring, right?

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    2. Maybe... but then it is less clear to me that anyone should desire the continued existence of Lincoln's pen in this way. What is going to be the difference between the pen and the x-ray? (I'm assuming that the x-ray does not have intrinsic value.)

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    3. Anyone who thinks Lincoln's pen has final value will presumably think that we ought to value it in a final way. (You may just not share the initial intuition?) The kind of pro-attitude it warrants seems very different from the x-ray. For example, we plausibly should be upset if hoodlums destroy such an historically significant artifact, whereas disposing of an old x-ray image is not such an act of desecration. More generally, the x-ray possesses the mark of the instrumental in being fungible: it could just as well be replaced by any other equally informative sign. Final ends like historical artifacts are not so fungible / replaceable.

      Put another way: we have no reason to care about the sign (x-ray) over and above our reason to care about that to which the sign refers (good health). Final value is different. Even when it is partially derivative of other sorts of value, nonetheless our (fitting) interest in Lincoln's pen is something further, over and above the interest it's fitting to have in the historic events to which it relates.

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