Sunday, January 15, 2006

Super-human values

What really matters? I assume that the welfare of sentient beings has moral importance. Does anything else, on top of this?

Suppose that what is good for us is for our lives to go the way we (upon reflection) want them to. Then the fulfilment of such desires constitutes 'welfare value'. Clearly we can also value many other things, such as the advancement of human knowledge, or the completion of grand and noble projects. Some might even value diversity for its own sake, and want to sustain a wide variety of independent cultures and ways of life, even if some of those cultures are harmful to the people within them. (Someone who prizes this value might not want to see practices like female genital mutilation universally abolished, for example.) I will call these sorts of things 'personal values', in contrast to the 'welfare value' described above.

The question then arises: how important are personal values - either our own or other people's? Suppose I care greatly about building the next 'wonder of the world', much more than I care about "mere" human welfare. Would it be okay (morally? rationally?) for me to enslave the local populace and force them to build the great structure? (It sounds like an awful thing to do. On the other hand, I'm glad the Egyptians built the pyramids.) Must welfare values always outweigh our personal values? If we reject both these extremes, how should we balance the two?

And what should we think of other people's personal values -- do we have any reason to support them? Consider the case of Dying Deb:
Deb is on her deathbed, and her beloved childhood home is about to be demolished. The sadistic developers make you an offer to preserve the home if (and only if) you take Deb off her painkillers, so she will die a painful death. Deb would actually prefer this, because she cares more about the home than about her own welfare. You have the following options:

(1) Tell Deb about the offer (she will accept, suffer some pain, and have the home saved); or
(2) Ensure that Deb has a pleasant death (perhaps lying to her about the home; it will in fact be destroyed).

What should you do?

I'm inclined to think that (2) is better. Deb is more important than her old home, her own opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. Though this is a fairly extreme example. What if Deb only had to suffer a mild pinch? Or what if there was no cost at all? In the "no cost" case it seems like we have some reason to fulfil Deb's wishes, even if it won't make her any better off. So perhaps others' personal values do matter, it's just that they might be easily outweighed by welfare concerns.

The Pyramids case does bother me though. Taking a "big picture" view of things, sometimes welfare doesn't really seem all that significant compared to grand "super-human" ideals. (Perhaps this is just because my mind "zooms out" so far that I lose sight of it?)

What do you think? In particular, what do you think matters aside from welfare, and how important is it in comparison? (And do you think it has intrinsic value in the sense that it would be valuable even if no person valued it? Or is it a merely personal value? Does this difference matter?)


  1. I think lying devalues you (and in a sense society as a whole). So there is an intrinsic loss to you decieving Deb.

    Interestingly the person who does it makes some assumptions that seem to rely on them being much smarter and much more rational than debs. One would hope that they really were maybe it is disbelief in this sort of assumption that makes it seem undesirable.

  2. > On the other hand, I'm glad the Egyptians built the pyramids.

    I'm not. History is interesting regardless of whether it involves big sand structures or not.

  3. Well, I think its worth noting that "welfare" is perhaps not so unified concept as you might think it is. Firstly, I would've thought any definition of welfare includes some kind of happiness, in the sense that your mental state is actually positive.

    Still, that doesn't seem to be the whole picture, since we also want to give some weigh to /what people actually want/, regardless of whether it will make them happy or not (I don't want my partner to cheat on me, regardless of whether I find out or not, and I also suspect many people want their wishes to be respected after they die, to take two examples).

    But, further, I still don't think thats a complete picture. We want to call some preferences, and perhaps even some forms of happiness, /irrational/. If I nearly drown as a child, and then gain a very strong adversity to being near water, it seems as though - since my preference fails to reflect some notion of rationality - that it doesn't count for as much as other preferences I might have. Whether that implies that we only value /rationally gained welfare/, or, as I'm more sympathetic to, both welfare /and/ rationality, I leave to you.

    And, just to throw another into the ring, I'm also quite a fan of valuing freedom, in one sense or another - and not merely instrumentally. There does seem to be something valuable about having a number of doors open to you.

    Well, thats four values I count in total. Maybe there are more, I'm not sure.

  4. Okay I'll throw my hat into the ring.

    Heres my intuition (Which is currently a poorly concieved paper going nowhere fast...)

    I think we can figure out what things or states of the world are valuable from figuring what things have moral status.

    The claim is that whatever gives things moral status will be the same thing which gives states of the world a moral value as well.

    So what have I got so far?

    As with you, Sentience
    I'd also add autonomy or some self determination
    And I want to add something about being a moral agent.

    Anyone else have anything else to add?

  5. Alex, my desire theory can cover all that. (We desire happiness and freedom; we also would prefer not to have those irrational desires, etc. If we didn't care one way or another, it's no longer clear that they would matter to our welfare.) But if you disagree, I'd be happy to discuss it more in the comments to my 'global preferences' post.

    David: does that mean you're going with pure welfarism, and none of this super-human stuff? (But is it really plausible to deny personal values entirely? Or would you just expand your theory of welfare to include them somehow?)

    P.S. Another common super-human value to add to my list is, of course, (non-instrumental) environmentalism.

  6. David your aproach seems quite interesting in that it reduces to questions to one question and it puts incentives in the right places. Ie to be mroe moraly significant I would have to add more to the world by that same method of valuing things.

  7. I think (As in the case of the given example) it would be more favourable to choose option (1), based solely on the choice of the Deb in question.


    She as in individual clearly makes the choice choosing to accept the pain over the destruction over the home, so she has decided her own utility based on her own decision. (In this case, the value of the home worth more than her life)

    A morally determined choice then, becomes attached to the welfare in the sense that it rises above pure utilitarianism. Correct me if I'm wrong, though.

  8. There are only two types of value.

    Those things that we desire.

    Those things that are useful in helping to bring about that which we desire.

    Nothing has value independent of desire. Any attempt to attribute value to something, that is not an object of desire, or that is not useful in fulfilling desires, is a false statement.

    "Welfare values" are typically those things with a great deal of usefulness -- life itself, health, education.

    However, leaving a person a tool (taking care of their welfare values), while depriving them of that for which the tool is useful, results in leaving them a tool that, itself, has no value.

    In the sample case, the reason not to give into the demands of the builder is because it is not useful to foster or promote any type of desire to see others in pain. Those who find value in (desire) the suffering of others are a threat to everybody. This type of person needs to be condemned -- so that fewer of them will come into existence.

    Which I would condemn the developers in no uncertain terms, and work to make their lives quite miserable, as a way of saying to society as a whole, "Do not become like these people."

    And I would probably attempt to convince Deb that appeasing sadistic developers is wrong. Even if it means saving the house. There are certain moral boundaries that limit what one may do to save the house, and appeasing, rather than condemning, sadistic developers sits beyond that boundary.

    [Note: The pyramids were not built with slave labor. They were built by volunteer labor by people who thought they were working for the greater glory of their Gods.]

    Alonzo Fyfe
    The Atheist Ethicist

  9. "if you disagree, I'd be happy to discuss it more in the comments to my 'global preferences' post."


    "Note: The pyramids were not built with slave labor. They were built by volunteer labor by people who thought they were working for the greater glory of their Gods."

    I'm incredibly suspicious of this, not least because I imagine our histories of the egyptians were not written by the labourers.


  10. My values are the most important for me. Your values are the most important for you. Forget about "mankind" - that doesn't exist.

  11. Alex Gregory

    Do not underestimate what one may cause others to do -- and to give up -- and to do to others, by promising them an eternity in paradise for their hard work.

    Don Jr.

    That you can picture a serial killer or a child rapist saying "2+2=4" does not make it any less true.

    What the serial killer or child rapist ignores is that his desires are not the only desires that exist, and people in general have every reason to take action to assure themselves that the desires these people have are condemned and contained.

    That is a reality that they cannot ignore.

    In the mean time, reality does not change simply because some of us may wish that it were different.

  12. Don Jr.

    (1) Those other desires exist and provide others with reason for action whether the child rapist wants them to or not.

    As for making such a statement in support of their actions, what type of support is logically entailed by the statement, "I like to rape children." I suggest there is none. So, your worry is unfounded.

    (2) Desires have (higher and lower) value in the same way that all things have higher and lower value, in terms of their tendency to fulfill or thwart (other) desires.

    This is known as a recursive relationship, similar to a feedback loop. For example, consider a tripple-star system in space. The motion of each star, through gravity, effects the motion of the others which, in turn, effect the motion of the first star.

    These types of relationships are very common in nature, and very real.

    Alonzo Fyfe
    The Atheist Ethicist

  13. Francois, most of us think the serial killer is making evaluative mistakes, and that we ought to give some weight to others' concerns (at least their welfare; in this post I question whether we also ought to give weight to their other 'personal values').

    Don Jr. - Your objections misfire. If desire-fulfilment has value, then the massively desire-thwarting nature of the criminal's actions makes them bad. Simple. There's nothing question-begging about this. (Your objection assumes that the criminal can rightly disregard everyone else's desires. But that's precisely what a desire theory of value denies: if desires have value, you can't rightly ignore them, for that is to disregard things of value!) [Though, as I recall, Alonzo denies that desires really have (intrinsic) value. So he might be more vulnerable to that sort of objection than my response would suggest. I'll let him address this issue himself!]

    Hi Alonzo, thanks for your comments. My questions still remain though, even within a purely 'desire-based' value framework. My suggestion was that 'welfare value' consists in the fulfilment of a particular class of desires, those about how we want our life to go, whereas 'personal value' consists in the fulfilment of outward-looking desires.

    I'm guessing that you would deny this is an important difference, and that it is good to maximize values generally (albeit indirectly, via the usual desire-utilitarian suggestions). But I don't know how plausible this is. It seems more important to promote human welfare, or what is good for a person, rather than merely their personal values (or what is good 'to' them). Is this intuition mistaken?

    Note that many of our important life goals and projects will contribute to our welfare in this sense. So I think your 'tool' analogy is flawed. We require our basic needs to be met to enable us not (only) to pursue external personal goals, but (also) to further promote our welfare through the achievement of our central life goals. This broader conception of welfare makes the welfarist's position more plausible than it would be on your narrower interpretation. (You might be tempted by an even broader position, which considers all of one's desires, including those I consider 'personal values', to be relevant to one's welfare. I think that is implausible, for it conflates the 'good to/good for' distinction, explained in an earlier post.)

    For example, if Deb had made it her life's work to preserve that old home, then I think it's plausible to say she would be harmed by its destruction (it would have made her a 'failure' in this respect). But let me stipulate that that is not the case in my scenario. Deb just strongly desires the home to survive; but it is not closely wrapped up to her sense of identity or her life's goals in any meaningful sense. Thus, we can plausibly hold that nobody is harmed when the house is bulldozed.

    [Also, disregard complications to do with social incentives and the broader considerations you brought in to your earlier comment. Those are relevant to real world cases, of course, but they obstruct the core issues I hope to highlight through this thought experiment. (The wonderful thing about thought experiments is that they don't need to be realistic.) If you deny that morality can be isolated in such a way, instead consider the question to be about which outcomes are better, independently of the human actions that produce them.]

    Bearing these considerations in mind, my question is about which is better: fulfilling Deb's strong desire to have the home protected, or fulfilling Deb's (weaker) desire to not suffer a painful death? Considering that the former doesn't really benefit Deb herself at all (nor, we may suppose, anyone else), how could it matter more? Don't people matter more than desires do? (They come apart insofar as someone desires things unrelated to their welfare -- as we all do!)

  14. Greetings Richard. I thought I would stop by for a chat.

    Long time.

    I would deny that it is an important difference. Mostly, because value (other than being such as to fulfill a desire) does not exist. To say that one class of value is more or less important than another, independent of its tendency to fulfill desires, is to argue for a type of value that I do not think exists.

    Joel Feinberg (Harm to Others: The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law) provides an argument for promoting welfare interests over other types of interests, simply because they are so useful. For example, no matter what other interests you may have, with very few exceptions, being alive is useful in fulfilling those desires. Therefore, rather than focusing energy on a wide variety of end-desires (which is difficult and time-consuming), we can do a great deal of good by focusing on fulfilling the universal means -- life.

    Many welfare goods (life, food, shelter, health) fall into this category. Because these are universal means, it is easier to fulfill ends -- almost any ends -- by making these universal means available.

    If Deb strongly desires that the home survive, then she would be harmed if the home is destroyed. There is no way to separate these two. My aversion to pain, for example, is in no way associated with my identity or my life goals. I simply have this aversion to pain. Yet, causing me pain would still do me harm. Harm is the thwarting of a strong and stable desire (again from Joel Feinberg, HARM TO OTHERS).

    I do deny that morality can be separated from social considerations. Morality concerns the desires that we seek to promote or discourage specifically because of their social effects. Take away the social effects, and it becomes impossible to talk meaningfully about morality.

    Still, there are non-moral concepts of "better". Each concept looks at a particular subset of the total set of desires. It is "better" -- relative to Deb's desires alone -- that the house remain and she endure the pain. This is true ex hypothesi.

    It is "better", relative to my desires alone, that the sadists not be appeased -- because I do in fact have this strong aversion to appeasing sadists.

    If you are asking whether my aversion to appeasing sadists is good or bad, I would answer that this depends on whether an aversion to appeasing sadists tends to fulfill or thwart other desires.

    If you are asking what is intrinsically better -- which option has a type of betterness that is independent of the desires being fulfilled or thwarted -- my answer is that there is no such thing. It would be like asking which option God would prefer -- the non-existence of God raising serious problems with any attempt to answer such a question.

    Alonzo Fyfe
    The Atheist Ethicist

  15. "Long time." Indeed! Good to hear from you.

    I'd have to say I'm becoming more of a realist about value. I'm not convinced the sort of extreme reductionism you advocate can do justice to our evaluative concepts. (And I'm not sure why the non-existence of God should automatically disqualify the ideal of a "God's eye view", or, say, a hypothetical "ideal spectator", for the purposes of providing an objective standard for evaluation.)

    I grant the insightful point about the usefulness of "universal means". But, as previously mentioned, I still think there are welfare-related ends (e.g. achieving your life goals) that are, intuitively, more important than the various ends we might have that are completely unrelated to the rest of our life (say, strongly hoping that your local sports team wins).

    You suggest that "Harm is the thwarting of a strong and stable desire", but this just doesn't seem very plausible as a theory of welfare. For something to harm us, it must affect our lives in some way. Pains do that (they thwart the desires we have about our own mental states; they are undeniably parts of our lives). So does the thwarting of our central life goals. But having the local sports team lose without my realising it? I don't see how that could plausibly be said to harm me, no matter how much I want them to win. (Again, it might be different if I had actually put the personal effort in that would make this outcome a part of my life. Say, if I was the coach of the team.)

    (P.S. I did once defend the contrary view, here, but I think I was mistaken to neglect the 'good to'/'good for' distinction like that.)

  16. "Long time." Indeed! Good to hear from you.

    I'd have to say I'm becoming more of a realist about value. I'm not convinced the sort of extreme reductionism you advocate can do justice to our evaluative concepts.

    I do not see how doing justice to our evaluative concepts should be the judge of what is real. Clearly, we can have concepts that do not match reality. In fact, this should work the other way around -- determine what is real, then invent the concepts that match it.

    I have no trouble with the claim that we have certain value concepts that do not match the reductionism that I speak of. Yet, my answer to this is that this is a problem for our concepts. The proper order of things is to design concepts that fit reality, not to design reality to fit our concepts.

    Value, in terms of "is such as to fulfill the desires in question" is the only type of value that exists.

    (And I'm not sure why the non-existence of God should automatically disqualify the ideal of a "God's eye view"...

    It can be a heuristic -- a way of looking at things -- but certainly it cannot be literally true if there is no God or "ideal spectator". It is like Newton's hypothetical man standing on a mountain throwing a ball, used to illustrate the fact that if he threw it hard enough it would orbit the earth. We still have to look elsewhere to determine what is happening in fact. Newton could not speak meaningfully of an actual man standing on an actual mountain, and ethicists cannot speak meaningfully of an actual God or "ideal spectator".

    ...I still think there are welfare-related ends (e.g. achieving your life goals) that are, intuitively, more important than the various ends we might have that are completely unrelated to the rest of our life...

    If this "life goal" does not manifest itself in the form of a strong desire, then it makes no sense to say that it is important.

    We can identify the agent with this type of "life goal" by the fact that she will be easily distracted away from it. She may claim the goal, and speak of its importance, yet if it rarely governs her actions then we can deny that she has such a goal. If it does govern her actions -- we may infer a strong desire.

    ...But having the local sports team lose without my realising it? I don't see how that could plausibly be said to harm me, no matter how much I want them to win.

    It you did indeed have such a strong desire, it would harm you. Yet, I would not qualify this as a morally relevant harm, because it would be a bad idea for everybody to have such a strong desire for this state. So, society rightfully discourages such a high level of interest.

    Yet, I would argue that if you have not made this outcome a part of your life, it is unreasonable to say that you had that much interest in the outcome.

    Alonzo Fyfe
    The Atheist Ethicist

  17. Don Jr.

    If an individual has no concern for the welfare of a child, and a desire to rape her, then he will rape her as a matter of objective fact -- as certainly as water will flow down hill.

    The question to ask, for those of us who care concerned that this not take place, is "How do we prevent it?"

    Option 1: Intrinsic Value

    We could assert that raping the girl is intrinsically wrong. However, this, in itself, will have no effect on the child-rapist's actions. He can just as easily brush aside "X is intrinsically wrong" as he can "X is harmful to others." Indeed, if he were to say to you, "I do not care about what has intrinsic value, so I'll abuse her as I see fit," what answer could you provide?

    In order to have an effect on his actions you must convince him that the act is intrinsically bad, and you must also cause within him an aversion to doing that which is intrinsically bad. In other words, you have to affect his desires.

    There are two problems with this system.

    (1) Convincing somebody that "X is intrinsically bad" is true when it is false.

    (2) Even if we cause within him an aversion to doing that which (he believes) is intrinsically bad, once he realizes that all intrinsic value claims are false, we are left just as defenseless as we were before.

    Rather than cause him to have an aversion to something that does not exist, and trying to convince himself of the falsehood of its existence, it is more efficient to cause within him an aversion to something that does exist, and then pointing out its existence, such as an aversion to doing harm to a child.

    Option 2: Human Threat

    Rather than causing within the agent a new aversion (e.g., an aversion to doing harm to the child), we may seek to play on the aversions he already has. "You may not be adverse to doing harm to a child, but I guarantee that you will be adverse to what we will do to you if we discover that you have raped a child."

    There is no fiction involved in this -- no myth or superstition to be maintained. However, it is entirely ineffective against the person who (believes that he) has an opportunity to rape a child without getting caught. We have reason to prefer a system that works even when he has an opportunity to act without getting caught.

    Option 3: Divine Punishment

    This is like the human threat except we add a twist. We convince the potential child rapist that we have an invisible friend that can see everything he does, and will inflict punishment on him in the next life. We tell him, "You may not be adverse to doing harm to a child, but I guarantee that you are adverse to what my invisible friend will do to you in the afterlife if you this, and my invisible friend will know when you do this."

    This has the same problem as Option 1: it becomes ineffective the instant that somebody discovers that this "invisible friend" does not exist.

    More importantly, because this invisible friend is pure fiction, people have had a poor habit of saying that their invisible friend will hurt those who do nothing wrong. These invisible friends have sanctioned the slaughter of innocent people, or those who have different "invisible friends" (or no "invisible friends" at all), those who did not worship the speaker as the 'invisible friend's" one true voice on Earth, have embraced such things as slavery while condemned such things as collecting interest -- something that is vital to a thriving economy.

    These invisible friends are made up by humans, and these fictions are filled with human error.

    Option 4: Affecting Desires

    We cause the person to have real-world desires and aversions to real-world states of affairs that we can point to. We can create in people an aversion to harming children. A person with such an aversion will not harm a child even when he is alone with a child -- just as a person with an aversion to putting his hand on a hot stove will not put his hand on a hot stove even if nobody is watching him. Threats of punishment are entirely unnecessary against people with the right aversions.

    Desires and aversions can be affected using praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. We praise and reward those who would help a child to strengthen these desires, and we condemn and punish those who would do harm in order to strengthen the aversion to those who would create these types of states.

    As a matter of empirical fact, Option 4 is the only option that (a) does not depend on make-believe entities, and (b) has any chance of working when the person can act without getting caught.

    If you try to ignore these facts, this is like trying to cast a spell to put a circle of protection around the child. Magic does not work, and it leaves the child vulnerable.

    If you truly are looking for ways to prevent children from being raped, I would recommend looking for a real-world solution.

    As I said, the individual who has a desire to rape a child and no aversion to doing harm will, in fact, rape a child. This is a fact. So, the best thing to do is to make sure that this type of situation does not exist. It's the only way to protect the children.

  18. Don Jr.

    What does it mean to say that human beings have 'intrinsic value'? What is this thing called 'intrinsic value' and what evidence do we look for to show its existence?

    When I see people concerend with the proposition, "human beings have intrinsic value", what I see is a desire that everybody have an aversion to harming other humans.

    I can get to this same result simply by identifying the wisdom for each person to work to set up a neighborhood in which all of his neighbors have such an aversion -- so that they will not harm him or those he cares about. The wisdom of taking such action is no different than the wisdom of installing smoke detectors in one's home, to reduce the possibility of being killed in a fire.

    I can even give instructions on how to do this -- by applying praise and reward to those who help their neighbors, and condemnation and punishment to those who do harm.

    So, "intrinsic value" has no use. There is no reason to believe that it exists.

    Now, you speak of it being "scary" and "very frightening" to deny intrinsic value exists. This suggests a weaking other people's beliefs in the intrinsic value of life will make them dangerous.

    I argue that belief in a (non-existing) intrinsic value is impotent without a desire to bring about intrinsic value. Since the only way to defend ourself is by affecting the desires of another person, it is far better to give them an aversion to do harm, then the far more complex, partially fictitious, and thus more likely to fail aversion to do that which is intrinsically bad, and belief that harming others is intrinsically bad.

    Which was the point of my previous post.

    Is it the case that all you are concerned with is whether a person believes that something has intrinsic value?

    If so, then how do you respond to the person who says, "Yes, I agree that the well-being of a child is intrinsically good. That is why I want to destroy it. There is no greater pleasure than taking that which is intrinsically good and destroying with my own hands. And there is no better way to destroy that which is intrinsically good except through the brutal, sadistic rape of that child."

    In this case, since he agrees with you with what is in fact the case, you should be content.

    Or is the concern, instead, how to protect the child from harm? In this case, convincing the individual that the well-being of the child has intrinsic value is not an effective way to protect the child from harm.

    I believe that your use of the words "scary" and "very frightening" belies your statement that you are only concerned about "what is in fact the case and why." They betray a concern with harm and benefit.

    In the issue of morality, I am concerned with both issues. The question of what brings harm and benefit is intimately tied to the question of what IS harm and benefit.

    On this issue, I assert that the only harms and benefits that exist are tied to the thwarting and fulfilling of desires. Those people who are concerned with "intrinsic value" are attempting to prevent harms and realize benefits that do not exist.

    The tragedy is that they sacrifice real benefits and inflict real harms in their quest to realize these non-existing 'intrinsic values'. Thus, making the world situation worse for everybody than it would otherwise have been.

    Alonzo Fyfe
    The Atheist Ethicist

  19. I guess you are arguing at cross purposes.
    One of the problems is there are always scary implications of any theory.

    1) The child raping society could exist in a desire utilitarian society and in a weird sense it might well be optimal (which seems revolting partly because we dont understand the members). Except in that there is an even more optimal state where you change the peoples desires to being more suitable.

    One of the problems here is that desires are VERY flexible in the big scheme of things. so to give a certain amount of utility you can give a man 100 dollars or you could just make him want a "nexgrileration grill" that you want to get rid of. (To look at it on the small scale)

    What is scary I guess is when you don’t think of changing desires as an option and assume humans are not very nice.

    If Alonzo argues there are no bad consequences in practice then he defends his argument as a practical theory, if Don Shows there are theoretical ones he notes it is not a perfect theory and there is potential for there to be a better one (or for our instincts about what is good to be wrong).

    Also I don’t think atheism implies that humans have no "value" because in that sense we get to define value and being humans we can quite logically pick ourselves to equal it. It doesn’t really become all that much simpler with a god involved because one has to ask why the god values us and why that is relevant. I.e. our perspective is multiplied in power by a trillion but it doesn’t change the nature of any of the equations.

  20. also most actions have semi hidden negitive side effects - like the oldentropy cheating machines that fail because entropy is hidden somwhere. (like the little machine that opens a switch to let particles through that seems to defy entropy - but entropy is hidden in its brain)

    If I lie to someone I generally hurt myself by reducing the truth of what I say and by making myself better at lying to myself etc. If I rape someone I cause some harm now but maybe more harm later I that person goes on to rape someone else (or whatever).

    This may leaves us rightfully scared of a hypothetical because our intuitions are taking into acount obscured likely outcomes.

  21. Don, I'm not sure why you think that our ontological value is God-given. Why not just have it there, unconditionally, as a part of our nature? (Perhaps supervening on the fact that we are sentient, or whatever you think it is that determines whether something has intrinsic value.) That's what my 'positive atheism' post was arguing for. (You're right that this departs from my earlier 'relationalism', held in the 'god-given value' post.)

    Also, re: your earlier comment, note that atheism is nothing more or less than the leaving of all gods out of our ontology. It doesn't entail anything about the rest of our ontology. Atheism is perfectly consistent with mental dualism, with intrinsic values, and so forth. (Perhaps you are confusing it with a very stark materialism.) My own view is a sort of physicalism -- there are no fundamentally non-physical substances -- but this allows for other properties, including mental and moral properties, to supervene on physical ones.

  22. > it's scary because it is a mindset that could easily, directly result in very large-scale evils (a few past examples come to mind).

    Basically every theory can do that. Just name one and it wont be that hard to demonstrate.
    In practice a person who consideres everyones desire (in a utilitarian sense and over a period of time) would probably act far better than most humans alive by most measures of "better". In ability to do this properly is what results in many of the scary implications I expect somthign Alonzo is probably trying to point out - that doesnt mean all are cleared up in this way of course.

    > My point now is that Alonzo has given no reason for asserting it (that is, for believing it to be true) other than to say that it is "useful," which is a poor reason for believing something to be true.

    such is philosophy particularly athiestic philosophy of course

    > Our value isn't relational; it's ontological. It's God-given, not God-perceived. God doesn't perceive us as valuable and thus we are given value; rather, He gives us value and thus He perceives us as valuable (because we are).

    My point is that, in a sense, this requires all the same assumptions as the athiestic argument it just shuffles them around a little. for example you have to initiate value somwhere - many utilitarians might do this at god level or at a human level etc. But lets say there were no humans then an athiest could equally do it at the ant level if that was the highest animal.

  23. > "Human beings don't have intrinsic value" is obviously guilty of this.

    I dont think anyone is proposing "nothing has value".
    If you propose desire has value and desire (or somthign else) is intrinsic to humans then humans automaticaly have value - it solves the problem. rather like my being made of molecules doesnt stop me from being made of atoms.

    now you can asume that the other person meant "humans have no value and therefore htey should not be valued but that is a bit like someone making a similarly twisted asumption regarding "humans are valued" (I expect you might have thought of some from the last post - clearly It would take a bit of twisting, but so does yours).

    > The second answer isn't even satisfactory at all though.

    an athiest might say the first answer defies their definition of the universe. The universe includes everything so it cant be created by "somthing" creating the obvious "what created god". Or they could say we did create the universe (by observing it). Things are not so simple to easily reject propositions like that.

  24. I might as well give the example.

    "Human being's have intrinsic worth"
    now we will take this to mean
    "ONLY humans have intrinsic worth and that is the only type of worth that exists" (otherwise you always have an out regarding having lots of other undefined principles) This is basicaly the same as your interpretation of "Human being's don't have intrinsic worth" which seems to convert it to somthing not far from "humans dont have value".

    Now on to the implications -
    1) Lets say this is my one and only objective in life
    2) Lets say you are doing a day to day activity like crossing the road.

    Since I don't care at all about your desire to get to the other side of the road I am totally neutral to that.
    BUT I DO care about your life which has intrinsic value.
    Since there is a small risk involved in allowing you to cross the road (or even get out of bed) I have a incentive to prevent you doing those things - by force if nessercary. And if you continue to take risks I might put you into a coma (and of course take care of you and keep you alive).

    there you go - obvious "sacry implication".

  25. > Genius, you are arguing that "Human beings have intrinsic worth" directly implies that people will be hindered from crossing the street and thus put into comas?

    No not at all, I am making it clear that I CAN make that argument. this really goes back to methods of argument as opposed to the implications of the particular argument.

    > Similarly, if we have intrinsic worth it seems not to be reasonable to suggest that we gave it to ourselves

    You seem to define "worth" in a certain way.

    I expect many (probably including richard) would dispute that god given worth is actually real worth (ie lets say god valued torture [because he was evil or somthing] then torture would still not be "valuable" in many people's eyes). I guess in that case your just talking different languages.

    (note I'm weird in that dont always argue exactly for my own oppinion!)

  26. 'Well "just having [moral value] there" seems to be avoiding the question altogether, not giving an answer.'

    Don, it's hardly reasonable to say that the only sort of answer you'll accept is one which explains how our value could come from somewhere else. That's just to beg the question against the position that we have intrinsic value, in virtue of our own natures (and not contingent on God's whim).

    Note (as argued in my 'positive atheism' post) that on your view, there could be a human just like you or me in all natural respects, except that God chose not to give them that magic spark of value. So it would be morally okay to torture and abuse them. Even though they (being sentient) would feel pain and suffer just as we would. I think this is a compelling reductio of your position.

    On my position, it is necessary, given our nature, that we have value. It is not possible that someone could be just like us in all natural respects, but still lack moral value. (The natural facts determine the moral facts.) This is a far more plausible position.

    To help understand how this supervenience works, consider the property of being a fast runner (if that's too subjective, replace it with "being capable of running a four minute mile in standard conditions", or some such). Once you fix all our physical properties, there is nothing more that needs to be added to make it true that someone will be a fast runner. Necessarily, anyone physically identical to a fast runner will themselves be a fast runner. There's nothing God can do to change that, any more than he could prevent two and two from being four. And it's not an extra property he has to "give". It's just there, supervening on the underlying natural facts. I would suggest that our moral value is similarly just there.

    I am also baffled by why you think sentience is an 'arbitrary' condition for moral value. (I've never heard that before!) A conscious creature can suffer or rejoice, and has an interest in promoting the latter over the former. To have interests is to have intrinsic moral value. All seems perfectly obvious to me?

  27. Misc. Comments:

    Don Jr.: You continue to argue that if some belief can produce certain results then that belief must be true. I've never heard of that theory of truth before.

    I was responding to the argument that you were giving that suggested rejecting my position because it was "frightening" and "scary". There are two responses to that. "Frightening and scary does not imply false", and "There is nothing to be frightened about." I gave both responses.

    His relates to the long discussion between Don Jr. and genius regarding whether theories have scary implications. I see no merit to whether it is true or false that "every theory can have scary implications." I do not know if it is true or false. I see no reason to care.

    Many of the theories of physics -- those that the universe will wind down and become lifeless is "frightening" to some people. The theory that there is no God and nothing after death is "scary" to some people. Yet, nowhere is this a reason to reject the theory.

    "Frightening and scary" does not imply "false".

    However, "Theory T is frightening and scary" can be false, and it is reasonable to object to this statement.

    Don Jr.: You said, "Nothing has value independent of desire." You have yet to actually defend that statement...

    This is a statement about what does not exist. Like all such statements, in its fully fleshed out form, it says, "There is no evidence for the existence of any reason for action (value) independent of desire."

    As such, it is not up to me to provide the evidence. I await somebody else to explain the where, why, what, and how of any other type of reason for action.

    Genius: Also I don’t think atheism implies that humans have no "value" because in that sense we get to define value and being humans we can quite logically pick ourselves to equal it.

    The idea of "picking value", I think, is absurd. If we have the capacity to "pick value" then what we are really saying is that, "Nothing really has value, but we are going to play this game of let's pretend where we get to pick certain things and pretend they have value. So, let's pretend that human beings have value."

    In contrast to this, I hold that values are real-world entities. They exist in the form of relationships between states of affairs and desires. They are real in the same way that brains are real, in the same way that the beliefs and desires themselves are real.

    This is not a game of make-believe.

    Don Jr.: My initial point was that "Nothing has value independent of desire" is a very scary statement.

    How can it be "scary" -- except in a question-begging sense. If it is true that all value exists in the form of relationships between states of affairs and desire. Nothing is "scary" except that which threatens to thwart some very strong desires. A person who is afraid of something that does not threaten strong and stable desires has an irrational fear.

    The implications you see are irrational.

    Part of irrationality comes from misinterpreting the statement to say, "Nothing has value independent of my desires." This position would, indeed, be frightening. but it is not a position that I hold. It is not a position that I even think is coherent.

    Rejecting my view by asserting that it is identical to this view, and rejecting it, is a classic "straw man" fallacy.

    Don Jr.: Contrarily, from "Human beings have no intrinsic worth," "That little girl is worthless" is not the result of asinine reasoning. It's perfectly rational reasoning. And that is very frightening.

    No it is not rational. This argument requires the additional premise: "The only type of value that something can have is intrinsic value."

    I reject this premise.

    Value exists. Value is real. However, value is not an intrinsic property.

    This is the same as saying that weight exists. Weight is real. However, weight is not an intrinsic property.

    Human beings have no intrinsic worth. However, states of affairs in which the little girl is well off still has value. And, in virtue of the fact that the desire to rape little girls is a desire-thwarting desire (it is a desire that tends to thwart other desires), it has negative value.

    This negative value is very real, and I can defend it, but I do not need "intrinsic value" to do so.

    Alonzo Fyfe
    The Atheist Ethicist

  28. Don, you seem to be ignoring the fact that the little girl will herself have desires, and that these "values" will exist independently of what anyone else happens to think of her. Thus it seems plainly false on Alonzo's view that she's "just a means to an end" (unless you mean to include her own ends in that formulation, and then it is no longer so "utterly appalling"). You keep trying to twist his theory to justify ignoring the desires of some people. But that's just not part of his theory at all.

    Your final objection, about a society full of evil 'people in general', is more pressing. (Though presumably such a society would still be far more desire-thwarting in total than the alternative where people lacked such evil desires. This counterfactual provides grounds for calling the rapist's desires "evil", and seeking to change them all, to create a more harmonious society.) An alternative response is outlined in my post 'consistency and utilitarianism', which you can find under the 'fav posts' section of the sidebar.

  29. > The idea of "picking value", I think, is absurd

    i really dont see how you are getting around that problem. your answer doesnt seem to adress it - probably because I dont think it is possible for you to have an answer that addreses it.
    A value could be a "real" thing if you want, humans are real inteligence is "real".

  30. Well, I think you're misunderstand what Alonzo means when he denies "intrinsic value", as explained in my previous comment (where I pointed out exactly where your misunderstanding was). But instead of trying to second-guess him, let me describe an interpretation of his position that makes it a more clearly reasonable one. This interpretation sees his denial of "intrinsic value" as simply meaning that there is no value independent of human desires. Put another way, desires are the source of real ('intrinsic') value. Because people have desires, and desires have value, it follows that people have value. Simple.

    Your continued objections involve disregarding someone's desires. But that's morally wrong according to a moral theory which says that all people's desires matter. So your objections are simply way off target (on my interpretation of his theory). They would apply if Alonzo also denied that desires have value. If he did that, I would also be concerned. But this interpretation of yours seems strongly at odds with what he's actually said (all of which supports the view that he thinks desires create a form of value that is 'real'.)

  31. > Well then your point is not analogous to mine, so I'm not sure that it's really relevant.

    haha I dont have to have a certain position for it to be true or worthy of investigating and proving true or false. Otherwise you would be proven wrong just by opposing me!

    > My point was that "Human beings don't have intrinsic value" has direct implications that are frightening

    My scenario did not require special circumstances at all (do oyu believe intrinsic value is the only sort of value? in which case you are exposed to the scenario but Alonzo may or may not be as per his defense). It sounds "ridiculous" just because it is a better example of why the argument is "ridiculous" and it clashes with your preconcieved notions which of course makes you more aware of it.

    > Contrarily, from "Human beings have no intrinsic worth," "That little girl is worthless" is not the result of asinine reasoning.

    Alonzo defends his point just above.
    Anway - almost no one believes "Human beings have no intrinsic worth," in such a way that you could directly infer "That little girl is worthless". Do you honestly think they do??

  32. Yeah, I just don't think he means the same thing by "intrinsic value" as we do. He seems quite clear on the point that he thinks that desire-based value is real. Your objections all rest on ignoring this latter point.

    "The issue before was that you believed the theists were saying that apart from a divine "magical spark" humans have no intrinsic value."

    My objection to theistic value-theory is the claim that our value is contingent on God giving it to us. There is no such contingency in Alonzo's value theory. (Though if you're correct, there's not actually any real values in his "value theory" either. That would certainly be a worry! But we'll let him clarify that one.)

  33. the funny thing about philosophy is that even if you do provide an argument that wins a debate (or clarifies a point) the "other side" almost never realises/can accept it. That and people using different definitions of words stunts philosophy I guess (not that I'm blaming anyone in particular).


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