Alonzo Fyfe is misguided about population ethics…

I have previously written an entry against Alonzo Fyfe on the subject of meta-ethics, where he completely butchered the idea that evolution motivates morality and confused it with some form of adaptationism. His moral position is one he calls “desirism,” which seems to be based solely on people’s desires (hence the name), although when push comes to shove he seems to retreat towards some form of cultural relativism.

The topic of the entry I want to examine now is population ethics, that is to say, how many people there should be in the world. Obviously, antinatalism has a very particular answer to that question, that answer being “ideally, zero.” This is, obviously, not a widely accepted answer; as I’ve discussed before, insofar as population ethics go, it is considered a reductio ad absurdum.

The most famous argument in population ethics used to support the “zero” conclusion is Derek Parfit’s Repugnant Conclusion (which of course he did not himself believe in, because who’d be that crazy?). In this entry, Alonzo Fyfe tries to refute this argument with his desirist ideology. It is, therefore, of some antinatalist interest to examine the objections presented, since they have a direct bearing on the truth of antinatalism. If it is morally right for humanity to perpetuate, then antinatalism must be wrong.

Insofar as antinatalist theory is concerned, there is no reason for mankind to exist. There is no justifiable reason for anyone to exist, whether it’s one person or a billion people. The only way that people can validate their existence is by mitigating the harm suffered by themselves and others, but there is no reason for that suffering to exist in the first place.

Fyfe quotes the Repugnant Conclusion:

For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living.

From the antinatalist perspective, the Repugnant Conclusion is nonsensical because it assumes that all lives are worth living. It is clearly the case that many lives are not worth living. Furthermore, antinatalists do not believe that people are accurate about the quality of their life, as well as the quality of other people’s lives. Finally, most antinatalist arguments do not rely on quality of life at all, making the issue moot.

But Fyfe is not an antinatalist, and his objection is quite different:

This argument requires the assumption that each life us assigned an intrinsic value independent of interests or desires (though the intrinsic value of a life at depend on how many of the person’s desires are fulfilled). Or job – our moral duty – is to make this number as big as possible.

Desirism rejects that model.

I would very much like to know why Fyfe rejects the model. However, he does not tell us why he rejects it, and that seems like a crucial hole in his reasoning. I think it would be interesting because the view expressed seems pretty close to the views of some antinatalists (like Gary Mosher), with the exception that this intrinsic value is independent from the number of people that exist. Our moral duty is to protect this value and alleviate suffering, not to create more suffering and endanger the lives that already exist. As such, antinatalists tend to be negative utilitarians (aiming towards the lowest amount of suffering), not positive utilitarians (aiming towards the greatest amount of happiness).

Fyfe continues:

It asks a different question. “What reasons for action do we have to bring additional people into the world?”

Where populations are small, additional people contribute to the greater fulfillment of desires. Those who exist in such a world have many and strong reasons to promote interests that increase the population.

To see this, imagine one person living utterly alone, and the benefits of adding just one more person. Where there are two, add a third. Each new person provides significant improvements to everybody’s quality of life. Yet, in all but extreme circumstances such as on a lifeboat, they place little additional strain on available resources.

However, at some point adding new people produces less of a benefit; the law of diminishing returns applies.

Again, from the antinatalist perspective, these statements are nonsensical. Every new human being, whether one or a billion already exist, adds new unnecessary suffering to the world, suffering which must now be alleviated. The main difference is this: a new person coming to existence in the scenario where only one person exists will alleviate a lot more suffering than a new person coming into existence in the scenario where a million people already exist, but that is solely because the one person was suffering a lot more!

Let me put some fictional numbers to these scenarios in order to clarify my point. Suppose we have two scenarios, one where one person exists (P1) and one where a million people exist (P2). Because of the advantages of cooperation over independence, it is possible for the million people to alleviate their suffering more efficiently than for the one person. So suppose that the levels of suffering in each case are P1: -1000 and P2: -50.

Because of the unique forms of suffering caused by being alone and having only one pair of hands to gather resources, adding one new person to P1 is extremely beneficial. So suppose that in this case we’re able to go clear from -1000 to -600. Fyfe here is basically saying, look how much benefit this new person has brought to the existing person! That’s a +400 gain! But this is hopelessly naive. In P2, on the other hand, a new person may not change the levels of suffering significantly. Suppose a new person in P2 improves the average level of suffering by +0.001. Fyfe would say that this is where the law of diminishing returns would apply.

So, using the hypothetical numbers to provide some perspective, adding a new person causes the following changes:

P1: from -1000 to -600
P2: from -50 to -49.999

The gain in P1 is so significant precisely because the first person is suffering so much that new people can provide them a lot of relief, but these new people are badly off as well. The high gain that Fyfe touts as a positive of procreation only occurs at the expense of the first person’s suffering, and there was no reason for that suffering to exist in the first place. It’s all a big shell game. and a crappy one at that.

But of course a scenario where only one human exists but can somehow procreate is nonsensical. This is not, and probably never will be, the state of the human species. Therefore we learn nothing about the desirability of procreation from such a scenario. And the law of diminishing returns, as Fyfe would say, hits way before any sort of realistic number. The population of a hundred years ago (1.5 billions) is far beyond that limit. The population of two thousand years ago (somewhere between 150 and 330 millions) is probably beyond that limit as well, or at least close to it.

I will skip his explanation of the law of diminishing returns (as I assume everyone basically understands what that means) and go into his argument based on desirism:

I would like to stress that what desirism suggests to look at is is not interests TO bring more or fewer people into the world but interests THAT bring more or fewer people into the world. What reason do we have to encourage women to become interested in science, medicine, politics, consulting, and ends that would be thwarted by having children, thus motivating them not to select that option? What reasons do we have to promote interests in non-procreative sex over procreative sex – such as is provided through the use of birth control?

What Fyfe says here is profoundly offensive. He is basically acknowledging that women’s interests must be squelched for procreative purposes, and that “we” might decide to “encourage” women to do something else than become breeding machines if “we” (presumably, the men in charge) decide that fewer people should be brought into this world.

I’ve explained in the past how natalism entails the objectification of women and a profound misogyny which simply ignores women’s needs or desires, because natalism is based on the assumption that procreation can be discussed as an abstract concept and evaluated on the basis of its impact on the economy or society, and therefore that the number of children in a society can be made higher or lower, not as a real-life phenomenon that takes a physical and psychological tool on women, which ruins many women’s livelihoods, increases their dependence on others, keeps women oppressed into systems of motherhood. Fyfe writes from this sociopathic, misogynist mindset, because he is a natalist. There’s really not much else to it.

As you can expect, his answer to these questions has nothing to do with the well-being of mothers or children at all, but a simple economic rationale:

Where bringing more people into the world thwarts more and stronger of our desires, where we have reason to avoid greater competition for scarce goods and services, we have more and stronger reason to promote alternative interests.

I’ve already expressed how profoundly wrong this is, so I won’t repeat myself. I will simply note further the selfishness in Fyfe’s reasoning: the reason why we should not have children is not for any reason connected to the children themselves, not out of any concern for anyone’s suffering, but because they’ll take away our toys.

Should we be having more people? The answer is found by looking at the reasons for action that exist for promoting interests that will increase the population over promoting interests that will maintain or reduce it.

This is a muddled conclusion, to say the least. But either way, it seems to have no relation to the question posed. “Should we be having more people” is a yes or no question, and is not answered by giving reasons. I guess he’s trying to say that we must look at whether we’re part the point of diminishing returns, and he seems to be saying that we have, although he seems uncertain about this for some reason (how anyone can be uncertain about such a clear fact, unless you’re an optimist beyond measure, is beyond me).

I suppose some might say that Fyfe is not telling us what is moral, but is telling us how procreation is evaluated in reality, but this is equally spurious. Historically, none of what Fyfe said holds true. Societies tend to expand to the limit of their energy sources. Societies that don’t have access to plentiful, portable energy will tend to stay small and be unable to expand. Societies that do have such access, tend to expand more than their neighbors. Nothing to do with “desires.”

Only one thing that Fyfe said holds true, that the central question of population ethics is: how many people should there be? He fails at debunking the Repugnant Conclusion and he fails at showing that desirism proves that there’s anything valid about natalism. All he proves is that natalism is disgusting, but I didn’t need him for that.

10 thoughts on “Alonzo Fyfe is misguided about population ethics…

  1. Brian L May 30, 2016 at 11:24 Reply

    I’ve never heard this before. Thanks Francois.

  2. David Jacquemotte January 11, 2017 at 08:28 Reply

    A couple of items I wanted to mention on this post as well as the one you linked about to about evolution:

    First, Alonzo has done a fantastic job coming up with a theory that explains the phenomena we call morality. Unfortunately, he doesn’t always apply it well. Desirism makes the same moral judgments about things like causing another to suffer, using others as means to an end, the principle of consent, etc. It’s just that HE wants to have a reason to write his blog, to go to school, be optimistic about the future, etc. And so (and I have had this discussion with him as well) he cherry picks some desires, but ignores stronger ones, to make it look like the theory outputs conclusions that he has already made. One example is here: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2009/08/value-of-human-survival.html.

    Look, I like Alonzo. I think he is right on a great many things. This just isn’t one of them. (I think he was wrong about Bernie Sanders too, but that is another topic altogether). So, essentially, Desirism (and objective rational thought) is what lead me to anti-natalism, even though it goes against every fiber of my intuitions and against what the main proponent of the theory thinks.

    Saying we desire the well-being of future generations too simply begs the question. If there are no future generations, no well-being is diminished. So the desire for the well-being of future generations isn’t thwarted, but neither is it fulfilled.

    We have many and strong reasons to prevent misery and suffering, especially if we are the cause of it, even at the cost of thwarting some of our other desires.
    What he is actually arguing for is two different desires. One, that there be future generations. And two, that those future generations do not suffer. But by allowing the first, you cause the possibility of the second, but also a possibility of thwarting the second, whereas not causing the first necessarily does not cause a thwarting of the second.

    He has also argued that he wants there to be people to read his blog. He would feel it was a waste of time if tomorrow the world stopped. Well, that goes against using people as means to and end, which the model of Desirism also says is wrong.

    So, I guess what I am saying is, you should judge the theory on a good understanding of the theory, not necessarily what someone purports to say about it.

    Regarding evolution, what he is trying to get at is a refutation of the common argument you get from atheists when they are debating against things like Divine Command theory. They often say that they get their morality from evolved traits like “empathy” or “compassion”. But there is nothing intrinsically good about those traits. They are good because of how they relate to other desires, and that people have many and strong reasons to promote them. The desire to rape and murder are evolved traits too, but that doesn’t make THEM good. So what exactly does make compassion good, but rape bad? Again, it is in how they relate to other desires, which is an objectively determinable property. We have no reason to promote a desire to rape, but we have many reasons to promote a desire for compassion. There’s really not much to it than that.

    Morality requires that desires be the cause of intentional action (as opposed to some other mystical force), and that some of them be malleable, and that we have tools at our disposal to influence the desires of others. These things are true of humans, and it just so happens that it is evolution that gave rise to those traits, but the two are not necessarily linked. We could have received those traits from God, or our programmers, or whatever.

    By the way, I do know that Alonzo has changed his mind on a number of things he has argued for in the past. It may be of benefit to revisit some of these issues with him.

    • Francois Tremblay January 11, 2017 at 08:41 Reply

      “First, Alonzo has done a fantastic job coming up with a theory that explains the phenomena we call morality. ”

      That’s your opinion. As an intuitionist, I clearly disagree.

      “So, essentially, Desirism (and objective rational thought) is what lead me to anti-natalism”

      How’s that?

      “So, I guess what I am saying is, you should judge the theory on a good understanding of the theory, not necessarily what someone purports to say about it.”

      I am open to doing so. Give me a link to his best evidence for Desirism and I’ll look at it.

      “They often say that they get their morality from evolved traits like “empathy” or “compassion”. But there is nothing intrinsically good about those traits. They are good because of how they relate to other desires, and that people have many and strong reasons to promote them. The desire to rape and murder are evolved traits too, but that doesn’t make THEM good. So what exactly does make compassion good, but rape bad? Again, it is in how they relate to other desires, which is an objectively determinable property. We have no reason to promote a desire to rape, but we have many reasons to promote a desire for compassion. There’s really not much to it than that.”

      I can’t make heads or tails of this. I agree that there’s nothing intrinsically good about our moral intuitions: actually, I have an upcoming entry on that very topic. They are the starting point for morality, but they can easily be manipulated by social institutions and people who set out to do exactly this.

      You say the desire to rape and murder are evolved traits. If that’s the case, then why do even modern societies have vastly different rates of rape and murder? My position is that the constructionist view fills in most of that picture, and the rest is relatively irrelevant.

      “Morality requires that desires be the cause of intentional action (as opposed to some other mystical force), ”

      That is either a profoundly trivial statement (in the general sense that any action performed by an individual is desired by the individual to some degree) or a profoundly silly statement (if “desire” means anything more than that). There is no clear connection between the fact that an action is more or less desired and the morality of an action. Some of the most evil actions ever committed are committed with ardent desire.

      “These things are true of humans, and it just so happens that it is evolution that gave rise to those traits, but the two are not necessarily linked. We could have received those traits from God, or our programmers, or whatever.”

      Again, a profoundly silly statement. The fact that our morality is the result of evolution has implications for the nature and validity of morality. So would divine creation. You can’t just handwave that fact away.

  3. David Jacquemotte January 11, 2017 at 11:45 Reply

    //That’s your opinion. As an intuitionist, I clearly disagree.//

    Yes, that’s clearly just my opinion. ;)

    //“So, essentially, Desirism (and objective rational thought) is what lead me to anti-natalism”

    How’s that?//

    A good person would not intentionally cause the pain and suffering (and eventual death) of another. A good person would not use another as a means to an end. A good person would adhere to the principle of consent unless doing so would cause more suffering (such as an injured and unconscious person undergoing a surgery).

    //I am open to doing so. Give me a link to his best evidence for Desirism and I’ll look at it.//

    I want to make sure you understand it before discussing evidence, if that’s okay.

    //I agree that there’s nothing intrinsically good about our moral intuitions://

    That’s not what I said, but okay. I agree there is nothing intrinsically good about our moral intuitions. But also, there is nothing intrinsically good about compassion. In fact, there is no intrinsic good or bad whatsoever. So what makes compassion “good”? Compassion is good due to it’s ability to fulfill other desires, which gives people reason to promote it. “Good” not a property of a thing, but of its relation to other things. Calling it “good” reflects this status among other desires.

    A similar kind of thing is when we call someone “tall”. Tall is not a property of a person. It is a reflection of how their height compares to other people’s heights. It is a way to describe a relationship.

    //You say the desire to rape and murder are evolved traits. If that’s the case, then why do even modern societies have vastly different rates of rape and murder?//

    For a few reasons. One, because it has been conditioned out of many, but not all, populations by the social tools of condemnation and punishment. Second, because of the first reason in conjunction with genetic variety, those with a strong genetic predisposition to rape have been selected out of the breeding pool among those populations, making the disparity even greater.

    The only way to be sure that someone won’t rape someone else in the absence of a deterrence (when they think they could probably get away with it), is if they don’t WANT to rape them. So, morality is concerned with getting others to not WANT to do things that one wouldn’t want done to one’s self.

    //My position is that the constructionist view fills in most of that picture, and the rest is relatively irrelevant.//

    I’m only vaguely familiar with the constructionists framework. Perhaps you can give me the basics?

    //“Morality requires that desires be the cause of intentional action (as opposed to some other mystical force), ”

    That is either a profoundly trivial statement (in the general sense that any action performed by an individual is desired by the individual to some degree) or a profoundly silly statement (if “desire” means anything more than that). //

    Its the first one. It is trivial if you agree that any intentional action is one that someone WANTS to do. However, there are a number of moral philosophies that postulate things like libertarian free will, allowing us to choose to do an act against all our desires. My statement is meant to counter those.

    //There is no clear connection between the fact that an action is more or less desired and the morality of an action. Some of the most evil actions ever committed are committed with ardent desire.//

    And here is where I think your biggest disconnect is. I didn’t say morality has anything to do with whether an action is more or less desired. You seem to think that Desirism is saying some desires are intrinsically good, or desiring something strongly it is good, or that if many people have a desire it is good. NONE of these is correct.

    If you read what I (and Alonzo) actually said slowly and thoughtfully, you might see your mistake. There are no good or bad desires in and of themselves, no matter how strong or how many people have them. It is in now they relate to other desires. And “good” is just a label of ones that tend to fulfill other desires. There is no secret sauce.

    //Again, a profoundly silly statement. The fact that our morality is the result of evolution has implications for the nature and validity of morality. So would divine creation. You can’t just handwave that fact away.//

    Na. It may help us understand why we have certain base desires, and how our desires came to be malleable, but it has nothing to say about whether those desires should be encouraged or discouraged. Evolution was the process by which we came to be moral agents, but it isn’t entailed by the fact that we are moral agents.

    By the way, repeatedly calling my statements “silly”, when it is obvious that you don’t understand what was said, is a clumsy attempt at well-poisoning. I would ask that you please refrain. It doesn’t offend me, just makes me respect you less. Coming in to this conversation, I have a high regard of you based on your blog at this point. There is no reason to ruin it with things like that. I wouldn’t expect you to understand Desirism as it is not a mainstream theory at this point. But if true, you might benefit from knowing it. If false, you could refute it. But in no case does calling my statements “silly” contribute to either.

    • Francois Tremblay January 11, 2017 at 16:41 Reply

      “A good person would not intentionally cause the pain and suffering (and eventual death) of another. A good person would not use another as a means to an end. A good person would adhere to the principle of consent unless doing so would cause more suffering (such as an injured and unconscious person undergoing a surgery).”

      Yes, I agree with all that! But what does it have to do with Desirism?

      “I want to make sure you understand it before discussing evidence, if that’s okay.”

      Well, I just don’t see the point of us two talking when I can just get it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I can write an entry about his justification and then we can discuss further. I just want to see the evidence.

      “So what makes compassion “good”? Compassion is good due to it’s ability to fulfill other desires, which gives people reason to promote it.”

      Okay. I get that.

      “For a few reasons. One, because it has been conditioned out of many, but not all, populations by the social tools of condemnation and punishment. Second, because of the first reason in conjunction with genetic variety, those with a strong genetic predisposition to rape have been selected out of the breeding pool among those populations, making the disparity even greater.”

      Okay, I understand that that’s your position.

      “I’m only vaguely familiar with the constructionists framework. Perhaps you can give me the basics?”

      I’ve already written about it rather extensively on this blog. This may be helpful:
      https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/three-categories-of-explanation-of-human-behavior/
      https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-constructionist-view-on-social-constructs-part-12/
      https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2016/07/27/how-can-we-explain-human-behavior/

      “Its the first one. It is trivial if you agree that any intentional action is one that someone WANTS to do. However, there are a number of moral philosophies that postulate things like libertarian free will, allowing us to choose to do an act against all our desires. My statement is meant to counter those.”

      But that doesn’t seem to change the problem. If we assume that the anti-causalist position is invalid (which I do), then the statement is still either trivial or silly.

      “And here is where I think your biggest disconnect is. I didn’t say morality has anything to do with whether an action is more or less desired. You seem to think that Desirism is saying some desires are intrinsically good, or desiring something strongly it is good, or that if many people have a desire it is good. NONE of these is correct.

      If you read what I (and Alonzo) actually said slowly and thoughtfully, you might see your mistake. There are no good or bad desires in and of themselves, no matter how strong or how many people have them. It is in now they relate to other desires. And “good” is just a label of ones that tend to fulfill other desires. There is no secret sauce.”

      Well, that’s why I asked you to show me Alonzo’s position in his own words. Anyhow, your explanation is no help at all. If you were right, it would mean that every single moral evaluation is actually just instrumental- that good only serves the interest of others desires. But if all evaluations are instrumental, then there’s no actual morality, no value that is being pursued, except desires for the sake of desires.

      “Na. It may help us understand why we have certain base desires, and how our desires came to be malleable, but it has nothing to say about whether those desires should be encouraged or discouraged.”

      Sure it does. To say otherwise would mean to say that the origin of a desire has no bearing on its moral status, but that’s clearly wrong. Likewise, the justification for a statement has a heavy bearing on whether we consider it to be true or false. It’s the same general principle.

      “By the way, repeatedly calling my statements “silly”, when it is obvious that you don’t understand what was said, is a clumsy attempt at well-poisoning. I would ask that you please refrain. It doesn’t offend me, just makes me respect you less. Coming in to this conversation, I have a high regard of you based on your blog at this point. There is no reason to ruin it with things like that. I wouldn’t expect you to understand Desirism as it is not a mainstream theory at this point. But if true, you might benefit from knowing it. If false, you could refute it. But in no case does calling my statements “silly” contribute to either.”

      If you don’t like the way I talk, then stop the conversation for now. Like I’ve asked you twice now, tell me where the evidence is and we’ll talk about that when I write about it.

      • David Jacquemotte January 11, 2017 at 23:28 Reply

        This is really interesting. I have read the links you posted. And what I found was that in almost every way, you completely agree with the claims of Desirism. The reason you find much of what I am saying trivial is because you already believe it. So when Alonzo argues that evolution can’t give us morality, you would call it “adaptionism”, and also say it is mostly wrong. It says the same as you, that “human nature” can give us a base set of desires, but that those desires are molded over time from influences of society. He calls them “social tools of praise, reward, punishment and condemnation.” And that they act upon the reward centers of the brain to change desires, and hence behavior. Behaviors that are rewarded form a pleasure-response connection in the brain. We are more likely to do that thing. After some time, we no longer do it for the reward, but the act because the reward in itself. We WANT to do the thing for it’s own sake.

        Also, Desirism requires determinism, which is why it claims anti-causal proponents are incorrect as well.

        So, in the end, it seems we are just using different language to talk about the same thing.

        I suspect in responding to Alonzo’s claims, you may have been thinking that this was Desire Fulfillment Act Utilitarianism. If so, that is a common and understandable mistake. But it is not, and says that theory is incorrect because it proposes that desires have intrinsic value and that desire fulfillment should be maximized. In DFAU, the right act is the one that fulfills the most desires. That’s not what Desirism says. (DFAU is easily refuted by the “1000 sadists” thought experiment)

        I am curious what you mean by “social institutions”, though. Would you consider your parents a “social institution”?

        Also, I did want to respond to this directly:
        //If you were right, it would mean that every single moral evaluation is actually just instrumental- that good only serves the interest of others desires.//

        Actually, the good serves one’s own desires as well. That’s the point of calling it good. So what else there that you think the theory is lacking?

        //But if all evaluations are instrumental, then there’s no actual morality, no value that is being pursued, except desires for the sake of desires.//

        What do you mean by “morality”? What else is necessary for it besides what I have described above?

        What “value” is there except as a relationship between a desire and a state of affairs?

        As far as where you can read more about it, Alonzo has a blog as well http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/. There is also a Public facebook group where he has been posting his essays lately. Just search for “desirism”. There is the wikia located at http://desirism.wikia.com/wiki/Desirism.

        As I said, he has changed his mind on a number of issues, which are best reflected in the blog.

        When you were asking for evidence, I guess I thought you were asking for studies on social influences changing behavior, but I suspect that is not necessary at this point since you already believe that is what happens.

        • Francois Tremblay January 12, 2017 at 00:01 Reply

          “This is really interesting. I have read the links you posted. And what I found was that in almost every way, you completely agree with the claims of Desirism.”

          First of all, constructionism is a position on why people act the way they do (descriptive), not on morality. While obviously the two are related, they are not the same thing. Is Desirism a descriptive view or a means of moral evaluation?

          Secondly, I clearly do not agree with Desirism in the areas that I’ve written about on this entry and the past entry. At least, Desirism as formulated by Fyfe on his blog. You may of course disagree with Fyfe’s line of reasoning, but then it’s up to you to show that Desirism entails a position similar to mine.

          “So, in the end, it seems we are just using different language to talk about the same thing.”

          That is possible, but I see no reason to talk about desires, one way or the other. Desires have nothing to do with morality except in the most trivial way.

          “But it is not, and says that theory is incorrect because it proposes that desires have intrinsic value and that desire fulfillment should be maximized. In DFAU, the right act is the one that fulfills the most desires. That’s not what Desirism says. (DFAU is easily refuted by the “1000 sadists” thought experiment)”

          Then I guess I still have no idea what Desirism is. Or you are doing a very poor job at explaining it.

          “I am curious what you mean by “social institutions”, though. Would you consider your parents a “social institution”?”

          No. An institution is not a person or group of people. I explain this in detail here:
          https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/what-is-an-institution/

          “Actually, the good serves one’s own desires as well. That’s the point of calling it good.”

          I don’t understand how that makes sense given what you’ve already told me Desirism was. You told me: “Compassion is good due to it’s ability to fulfill other desires, which gives people reason to promote it.”

          “What do you mean by “morality”? What else is necessary for it besides what I have described above?”

          Morality is a means by which we can evaluate propositions about human behavior (i.e. evaluate behavior as being desirable or undesirable, good or evil, whatever you want to call it). This requires, at the very least, the existence of moral propositions, and a standard or standards by which one can evaluate them (values and principles) based on facts, Instrumental standards are not valid because they rely on some implicit standard in order to function. But since, clearly, I still don’t understand Desirism according to you, I will refrain from calling it instrumental until you explain it further or give me some data.

          “What “value” is there except as a relationship between a desire and a state of affairs?”

          I don’t know what the desire has to do with it. Again, it’s a trivial sort of statement. I believe anything because I desire to believe it. So what? And I don’t know what state of affairs you’re referring to.

          “As far as where you can read more about it, Alonzo has a blog as well http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/. There is also a Public facebook group where he has been posting his essays lately. Just search for “desirism”. There is the wikia located at http://desirism.wikia.com/wiki/Desirism.”

          Just give me one argument or one entry where he gives the very best evidence for his position.

          “When you were asking for evidence, I guess I thought you were asking for studies on social influences changing behavior, but I suspect that is not necessary at this point since you already believe that is what happens.”

          No, I’m asking about evidence that Desirism is true.

          • David Jacquemotte January 13, 2017 at 11:46 Reply

            //First of all, constructionism is a position on why people act the way they do (descriptive), not on morality.//

            Okay, so what are your views on morality?

            //Is Desirism a descriptive view or a means of moral evaluation?//

            Both. “Morality” is a description of a phenomena of human behaviors and how they relate to other sentient beings. Desirism is a model of this theory in that it attempts to explain why people use the tools of social influence to attempt to change the behaviors of others. And using it, we can make rational and objective determinations of the moral standing of behaviors. It takes desires to be objective brain configurations. They exist in the real world. How they relate to other desires has truth value. A desire that manifest as theft objectively harms the desire to keep one’s own property.

            People will act on their strongest desires. Their desires also give them reasons to try to change the malleable desires of others to be more likely to fulfill their own. They will use the social tools of rewards (praise, incentives, etc.) and punishment (condemnation, fines, etc.) to influence those desires.

            But is also a means of moral determination, the same way a theory of mathematics is used to make calculations. The model described by Desirism is a tool to help determine the moral standing of an act, based on whether a person with good desires and true beliefs would do that act.

            //Secondly, I clearly do not agree with Desirism in the areas that I’ve written about on this entry and the past entry. At least, Desirism as formulated by Fyfe on his blog. You may of course disagree with Fyfe’s line of reasoning, but then it’s up to you to show that Desirism entails a position similar to mine.

            You quoted Fyfe above:
            “This argument requires the assumption that each life us assigned an intrinsic value independent of interests or desires (though the intrinsic value of a life at depend on how many of the person’s desires are fulfilled). Or job – our moral duty – is to make this number as big as possible.

            Desirism rejects that model.”

            You responded:
            I would very much like to know why Fyfe rejects the model. However, he does not tell us why he rejects it, and that seems like a crucial hole in his reasoning. I think it would be interesting because the view expressed seems pretty close to the views of some antinatalists (like Gary Mosher), with the exception that this intrinsic value is independent from the number of people that exist.//

            Any naturalistic model (of which Desirism is one of) rejects the intrinsic value of life because “intrinsic value” is an incoherent concept. In order for value to exist, there must necessarily be a valuer. And, sans some deity, there is none. The universe doesn’t have sentience and therefore, cannot value anything. Nothing has intrinsic value. Not life, not desires, not anything.

            And even if some deity valued something, it doesn’t necessarily entail we must or will value it the same. We have our own basis of value.

            //That is possible, but I see no reason to talk about desires, one way or the other. Desires have nothing to do with morality except in the most trivial way.//

            When we are considering the guilt or innocence of a person, for example, one of the primary determinations we try to make is mans rea (guilty mind), right? We are trying to determine if the person intended to do the act, and it wasn’t accidental or due to some mental illness. Intent is crudely defined as belief + desire. So, if it is true that desires are the motivation of intentional acts (the “springs of actions”) then they would be of primary importance to determining the moral standing of the act.

            //Then I guess I still have no idea what Desirism is. Or you are doing a very poor job at explaining it.//

            That is likely, sorry. I’m trying to consolidate a lot into one conversation.

            //No. An institution is not a person or group of people. I explain this in detail here:
            https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/what-is-an-institution/ //

            So parents are not an institution, but “parenting” is. Okay, I think I understand.

            //I don’t understand how that makes sense given what you’ve already told me Desirism was. You told me: “Compassion is good due to its ability to fulfill other desires, which gives people reason to promote it.”//

            “Good” as I use it, is an adjective. A desire is good to the extent that people have reasons to promote it. The reason people have to promote it is that it tends to fulfill other desires. It is both a description of the desire, but also a means to promote it (calling a desire good can have the effect of strengthening it in those that want to be good people. “Compassion is good? Oh, I want to be good. So I should be compassionate.”)

            //Morality is a means by which we can evaluate propositions about human behavior.//

            Then what? Once we evaluate it, are we done? If we determine that a behavior is “bad”, do we just mark that in our lists of behaviors? What’s next? And isn’t what happens next in our definition of morality?

            //This requires, at the very least, the existence of moral propositions, and a standard or standards by which one can evaluate them (values and principles) based on facts,//

            I agree. The “facts” are how one desire (when acted upon) relates to other desires. These are facts as much as saying Tom is taller than Jill.

            //Instrumental standards are not valid because they rely on some implicit standard in order to function.//

            If the “implicit standard” is “to achieve a state of mutual desire fulfillment”, then we can make objective determinations on whether a desire is good or bad based solely on its relationship to others. One objection to this standard is that it is self-referring and is therefore circular. That is true, but is not a refutation of the model. The same objection can be leveled at “definitions”, in which it is impossible to define something without relying on other definitions. But we do use definitions, and we are justified in doing so. Philosophers refer to these kinds of things as “virtuous circle”, where each member reinforces the next, but none of it relies on some ultimate foundation.

            //I don’t know what the desire has to do with it. Again, it’s a trivial sort of statement. I believe anything because I desire to believe it. So what? And I don’t know what state of affairs you’re referring to.//The state of affairs is the way the world is right now. A “value” is the relationship between desires and one’s belief about the state of affairs. If I am thirsty, I innately value having my thirst quenched as an end in of itself. I instrumentally value water (or pop, or tea, or whatever) because I believe that it has the capacity to fulfill my desire to be quenched. If I didn’t believe it has this capacity or I wasn’t thirsty, I would not value it (at least not for that reason). If I was thirsty, and I had a glass of water in my hand (and barring any other contingencies such as it not being my water), I would drink the water.

            And I don’t think you believe something because you desire to believe it. A belief is a propositional attitude that takes the proposition P to be true about the current state of affairs S. A desire is a propositional attitude that takes P to keep or remain true about S. I can desire P, and believe P is true in S, in which case my desire would be fulfilled. As long as I had this desire, I would be motivated to keep P true in S. And since some desires are malleable, if I can be made to lose this desire, I would no longer care whether P was true about S. Or I can made to desire P, and believe P is not true, in which case I now have motivation to make P true in S. This has profound impact on morality.

            Some more basic outlays of Desirism and supporting arguments.
            http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-basics-of-morality.html
            http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2011/12/basic-review-of-desirism.html
            http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-should-i-accept-desirism.html
            http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-to-refute-desirism.html

            • Francois Tremblay January 13, 2017 at 15:59 Reply

              I’m an intuitionist. This has been discussed in other entries. Here is the main one:
              https://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/what-is-ethical-intuitionism/

              Anyhow, I don’t want to go into this book-sized conversation now. All I asked was for evidence for desirism and I will look into the entries you listed. However, I have to note that the second entry you linked to confirms what I said earlier:

              “Desirism holds that malleable desires are the ultimate object of moral evaluation.

              A malleable desire is good to the degree it tends to fulfill other desires and bad to the degree that it thwarts other desires.”

              So this proves that desirism is not a moral position, as it is purely instrumental.

              Nevertheless, I will examine the entry further when I have time today.

            • Francois Tremblay January 13, 2017 at 16:49 Reply

              I’m afraid reading the entries you listed has not helped at all. Besides what I already wrote, it seems that desirism is not a moral position at all, but rather a conditioning method. I am just more confused.

              Can you give me one reason to believe that desirism is true?

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