Sunday, 9 May 2010

Desirism - an interlude.

Martin's most recent post "Letters to a lapsed Pagan III" in response to my "Desirism II" has been up a little while.
 Apologies for the delay in response but I'm busy with lots of other stuff, and still cogitating on what Martin is telling me. I've also been reading some more of Sam Harris' output on morality (this article among them) and trying to work out why it is I agree with almost everything Harris says, and find myself resisting, and even struggling to understand, some of the things Martin says. I suspect some considerable confirmation bias is involved. :-/
When my brain has sorted itself out enough to ask more questions, I'll post again.


faithlessgod said...

Hi Tim

I already answered this in reply to your first question in my last letter.

I need more specific questions from you in order to know what to answer.

Anyway the issue over Harris is specifically over what values reduce to facts. We both agree this is possible but disagree on the reduction.

Harris argues that flourishing as registered in the conscious experience of sentient beings are the values that are facts. There are many well known problems with this and Harris says nothing new, and adds the strange "conscious" qualifier, strange given has now has a Phd in neuroscience.

I argue that there are no intrinsic values and Harris's approach is an example of this. He cannot get to a science of morality without smuggling in a priori preconceptions as to what are valuable certain brain states.

The intrinsic value approach is a failed approach. Can we get by without using it at all? Yes I argue we can and my posts addressed this.

In short value is extrinsic and its status is in specified in the relation between certain brain states and state of affairs, those brain states being the proximate mechanism that motivate an agent to act, that is motivational brain states or desires for short.

Being extrinsic there is no utility to maximise. However promoting desires that tend to fulfil other desires and demoting desires that tend to thwart other desire will tend to make things go better for agents, as they are better able to realise what they regard as valuable, namely states of affairs that are the targets of their desires.

Timmeh! said...

Hi Martin,
Answered what? This post doesn't ask any questions. It is merely a statement that I am struggling to come to terms with some of the things you're saying and yet I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with Harris, and that I must think further on it and review your posts (and Sam's) before being able to formulate cogent questions.

One issue that I can see already is that Sam's posts are clearly written for the layman (which I so clearly am in this field) while your posts often cover a lot of ground in very short sentences, with very specific meanings of words with which I am either unfamiliar or have only recently learned, and therefore I have to spent time actively considering the meaning of some of your statements, while the meaning of many of Sam's is immediately apparent so I can happily skip on. There may be a number of reasons for this of course, including that his understanding around this issue may be rudimentary than yours and therefore closer to mine making it easier for me to comprehend what he's saying. But I suspect the most likely explanation is my cognitive bias toward someone who largely agrees with the position I already hold. On that basis, I need to expend more mental effort to comprehend what you've already told me, before I can ask questions that will advance my understanding.

faithlessgod said...

I mean I answered this in to your first question in your last letter to me, in my reply to that.

This most layman like version of this argument is what is value that is fact?

Harris says that value reduces to well-being or flourishing which is specified by certain states the conscious experience of sentient beings.

I say that value reduces to desires, the state of affairs that are the targets of desires and the relations between them.

The latter is far simpler than the former and employs fewer contentious ideas.