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Old 06-28-2010, 06:31 PM
Tyrrell McAllister Tyrrell McAllister is offline
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 121
Default Re: Identity Economics (Will Wilkinson & Rachel Kranton)

I have to break my reply up into two parts .

I think we are talking past each other in connection with the "bruteness" of tastes. Consider two people, one of whom enjoys eating chocolate ice cream the other of whom does not (he may be neutral or actively dislike it). There is something about the one person that accounts for his enjoyment and about the other person that accounts for his lack of enjoyment. Whatever this difference is, we call "a difference in taste.' This difference is just a brute matter of fact. The person who likes chocolate is not perceiving something about the chocolate that justifies his enjoyment which the person who doesn't like it fails to perceive. There may be an explanation of why one likes chocolate and the other does not, but the explanation does not justify either the liking or the disliking. If I like the ice cream, I may perceive it as "good" or 'pleasant" or "tasty", but I perceive it as good or pleasant or tasty because I have a taste for it, not vice versa. I doubt that you would disagree with this claim.
Yes, I think that we understand each other on this point. I would also point out that the same remarks apply to your desire for justice. Presumably, there are certain states of affairs that you would call "just", and certain other states that you would call "unjust", just as there are certain kinds of ice cream that you call "chocolate. Let's suppose that you are pondering a possible state of affairs that you consider unjust. This state of affairs is determined by the facts about how things within it are situated and related among themselves. When you consider the totality of these facts, you perceive that the situation is unjust. And then, after making that perception, you feel within yourself a desire to avoid that state of affairs.

But one can imagine another entity that perceives exactly the facts that you perceive, but who simply fails to share your desire to avoid the state. Such an entity could see that these facts make the situation into one that falls under the term "unjust". But the entity would simply lack the mechanisms (physical, spiritual, or whatever) within itself that would translate the recognition of these facts into a compelling desire to do something about them.

I am not talking about Hume's is/ought distinction. Assuming that the word "ought" has a definition, the entity could even recognize that it ought to avoid the unjust state. That is, the being could recognize that avoiding the state conforms to the abstract definition of "ought". And yet this recognition needn't translate into a desire to avoid the state, unless the entity is so constituted as to make such a recognition cause such a desire. Whether the entity is so constituted is a brute fact about its constitution.

The situation is very analogous to the person who perceives the same facts regarding chocolate and vanilla that you do, but for whom those facts translate into a compelling desire to eat chocolate instead of vanilla. The reason that the other person is that way is a brute fact about his constitution.

[I want to distinguish the entity above from someone who recognizes that something is unjust, and who wishes that he could pull together the willpower to try to do something about it, but who instead finds himself playing video games all day. I would say that a part of such a person finds the injustice compelling, and desires to do something about it, but another part just wants to play video games. Unfortunately, that second part happens to be the one in control of the person's limbs. In contrast, the entity that I was describing above feels no urge of any sort to do anything about the injustice. Despite recognizing all of the facts, both of the "is" and the "ought" variety, the entity remains impassive.]

To have a taste for something is quite consistent with the recognition that the explanation runs in this direction. I can like the taste of vanilla without thinking that someone who dislikes it is wrong -- I can readily admit that the taste of vanilla is valuable to me because I like it. If I ceased to like it, it would cease to be valuable to me. On the other hand, I'm suggesting that to value something is to regard the desire for it as justified by the goodness of the thing, not to regard the goodness as dependent upon the desire (i.e., the contingent brute fact of my "liking' or "having a taste for" the thing.
I am not seeing why this distinction can't fit into expected utility theory as follows:

In general, when you strive to bring about a certain state S of affairs, it is because of the facts about how things will be under S. It is your knowledge of these facts that motivates you to pursue S. They are what you take into account when you decide to pursue S.

Now, sometimes the relevant facts are the qualia that you anticipate experiencing when S happens. On the other hand, sometimes the facts motivating your pursuit of S have nothing at all to do with any anticipated experiences before, during, or after S. Anticipated experiences are just one of the features of a state that could motivate you to try to bring it about.

If you are pursuing a state S because you anticipate a certain enjoyable experience during S, then a change in the kinds of experiences you enjoy will change your desire for S. If S is the state of having vanilla ice cream arrive at your door next week, but you expect that tomorrow your enjoyment of vanilla will be replaced with an enjoyment of chocolate, then your present desire for S will now decrease.

But if S is the state in which far-future people thrive in a peaceful world, then your motivation to bring about S has nothing to do with any anticipated experiences for yourself. You will probably be dead by the time S arrives. Nonetheless, you are so constituted as to be motivated by knowledge of how S is to try to bring it about. Now, suppose you learn that you have a brain lesion that will soon destroy your concern for future people. Then, so long as the lesion hasn't yet done its damage, you are still motivated to pursue S, even though you know that you soon won't care. That is because the knowledge motivating you to pursue S does not include any facts about your own constitution.

In summary,

(1) What motivates you to pursue a certain state of affairs is your knowledge about the facts of that state.

(2) Furthermore, you find those facts compelling entirely because of certain brute facts about your constitution.

(3) Sometimes the facts motivating you are brute facts about your constitution. That is, sometimes you are explicitly taking these brute facts into account when you decide to pursue the state.

(4) However, often the facts motivating you do not include any brute facts about your constitution.

It's important to distinguish the facts that motivate you from the facts about what motivates you. These two sets of facts overlap, but they do not coincide. This is a tricky but very illuminating distinction.

When you approach my example of vanilla ice cream, you presuppose the existence of a taste for the flavor of vanilla. If I didn't have such a taste, the flavor of vanilla would not be pleasant to me, as you suppose. Instead of talking about this taste, you shift your focus to a more self-conscious, reflective desire for pleasure.

I am attempting to argue that when it comes to rational planning, we regard the things we have a taste for and the things we value differently. A rational planner values getting things he just happens to like (things he has a taste for), but these things are of value to him only because he antecedently likes them, and only insofar as he likes them – the things he likes have value for him only contingently on the existence of the desire in question.
In terms of what I wrote above, the rational planner tries to take into account all of the facts that motivate him to pursue one state over another. He doesn't necessarily care about the facts about what motivates him. So he might, in principle, not take his tastes into account at all. Admittedly, that seems very unlike a modern-day human.

But if humans ever gain the ability to rewire themselves and to change what motivates them, then some might choose to write tastes out of their decision procedures entirely. They might still have tastes, but they wouldn't take those tastes into account when deciding what to do. They would weigh different potential states using facts about those states that have nothing to do with whether anyone is experiencing any enjoyment.
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