Monday, June 12, 2006

REPLY to REPLY BY GIANFRANCO/2: the Experience Requirement, G-theories and value dyslexia.

To sum up a bit, I shall call a "G-theory" of welfare any theory 1. according to which what makes a state (of the world) good for the subject A is something different from its implying the occurrence of (certain sorts of) mental states in A; and 2. accepts the experience requirement.

There are at least two forms of the experience requirement:
STRONGER FORM:
the impact on A's well-being of some state of the world is entirely determined by features of the world A is conscious of.
WEAKER FORM:
all states of affairs that are good for person A include necessarily at least both something valuable and A's awareness of it.


Here I shall be discussing the weaker form.

My point is that, even if all G-theories are different from Mental Statism (the view according to which the only things that are good for a person are his or her mental states), G-theories still exclude too many states from contributing intrinsecally to welfare, and this is pretty much in the spirit of Mental Statism.
Consider the following example I 've read in Richard's blog.

Molly the Mathematician
Suppose Molly spent her whole life trying to prove a fiendishly difficult theorem. She finally thinks she's achieved it, and has some other mathematicians check her proof. Molly receives their answer, believes it wholeheartedly, then dies the next day. It is later discovered that she was told the wrong answer.

Which of the following scenarios is better for Molly?
1) The mathematicians (mistakenly) tell her the proof is flawed, when in fact it is correct.

2) The mathematicians (mistakenly) tell her the proof is correct, when in fact it is flawed.


I think that 1 is better for Molly given her convictions and her values. Molly achieved something valuable, namely giving an enduring contribution to human knowledge, both from her point of view and objectively. (Notice that in case 1 the proof's validity is eventually recognized, and therefore it contributes to human knowledge.)

Yet, if somebody agrees with my intuitions about Molly, he cannot accept the Experience Requirement. The Experience Requirement says that Molly's achievement of something valuable cannot make her life better, because her achieving the (valuable) aim she has striven for is not a fact of which she is aware.

Therefore in a G-theory in which (let us suppose) achievement is intrinsically prudentially valuable but pleasure is not , 1 and 2 come out as indifferent: 2. has no value because it lacks the achievement, 1 has no value because it lacks experience.

Or take this other example, that I also read in Richard's blog (who read it somewhere else)
Imagine a mad scientist kidnaps you and your family, and offers you the following two options:

(1) He will let your family live in a pleasant but secluded captivity, but you will be made to believe (eg through hypnosis, or whatever) that they were all tortured and killed.

(2) He will torture and kill your family, but you will be made to believe that they are safe and well in a pleasant but secluded captivity.

After making the choice, all recollection of the bargain will be erased from your memory.
In this case as well, any G-theory that can exist will force you to say that, if your choice should take into account only what is good for you, then 1 and 2 are either indifferent, or 2 is better than 1.

(A G-theory in which pleasure is intrinsically good, or in which certain effects of pleasure can be, would rank 2 over 1, one in which pleasure is not a good may rank the two as indifferent. But the point here is: no G-theory will ever rank 1 over 2).

What do I think about such G-views?
Taking it for granted that a G-view is coherent from the logical point of view, it fails to be coherent in a ethical sense. A G-theory will allow things other than mental states to contribute intrinsically to welfare or what is good for a person. But the ethical evaluations of a person who endorses a G-theory sound like the ones of a value-dyslexic!


For example:

A G-theorist rational egoist, that we shall call Gian, should choose to take a drug that allows her to forget the harm inflicted by her children, because the evil contained by that state of affairs cannot be bad for her unless she is aware of it. Yet she would say that what has value for her is the fact that her children's lives go well or badly- not how she believes those lives to be. This is logically coherent, but since Gian claims that the disvalue of the previous state of the world for her life derives from the feature < my children's life going badly > and not at all from the feature < my having awareness of my children's life going badly > her choice seems to be a very odd way to respect that value she recognizes!

Also, it seems strange that Gian, who would choose hypnosis in order to forget a fact that is potentially bad for her, should also not allow an ipnotist to make her believe in a fact that never took place, and that she should refuse to hook up to an Experience Machine!

This attitude seems to me to be lacking in coherence, the sort of coherence that we expect in an evaluator. We all know that the coherence of a theory, a view, of an attitude and of a character entails something more than mere absence of logical contradiction. Gian falls short of logical incoherence. But she looks like a value-dyslexic.
(A state similar to dyslexia, in the sense that she cannot manage to put together the deliverances of her "moral perception" in an orderly an integrated fashion.)

The attitude I have called dyslexic can be summarized by the two mottos:
1"x makes my life go better intrinsically, but not if I don't know about it"
2"x makes my life go worse intrinsically, but not if I don't know about it"

It seems to me that if we would ever hear someone say such a thing, we would ask him:
"what the hell do you mean when you say that X contributes to your welfare intrinsically?"
and
"Are you sure it is not the case that X makes your life go better/worse extrinsically, in proportion to its contribution to your experiences?"

The burden of answering to the first of this question, is on someone who would argue in favor of such a theory.

Another way to show the oddity of a G-theory, is by means of a slippery slope argument, that shows that it can reduce to something very similar to the Mental Statism. I'll deal with this in my next post.

6 comments:

Gianfranco said...

Reply to Reply to Reply by Gianfranco/2a: G-theories and the value of getting things right

Now, I would like to use the distinction established in the preceding post in order to comment on Molly’s example and the others provided by Michele, and to establish whether they amount to a fatal objection to G-theories.

My impressions are the following:

1. generally, much of the balancing of our intuitions depends on which items are comprised in the lists of value. Michele carefully distinguishes cases in which pleasure is included from cases in which this is not the case. Now, if excluding some items from the list produces allegedly counter-intuitive results, this is not enough, in itself, to establish that the structure of a G-theory is wrong. It may be the case that that list is wrong, since by ruling out that single thing we have a counter-intuitive result. For instance, let’s add pleasure, for instance, to the list presupposed in considering certain cases, and all is right. (Is this not a proper way of reasoning? It seems to me this is not the case. If our intuitions on the value of a given option could discard a structural account of value – as a G-theory basically is –, then they can the same discard a given list of goods. Accordingly, counter-intuitive results can be ascribed both to the structural account and to the chosen list of goods. Further arguments are needed in order to decide which of the two – the structural account or the substantive list – is having problems).
2. however, use of intuitions should be rather disciplined. Not every intuition is decisive; some intuition might be already strongly embedded in a given substantive list of goods. To claim that theories of value – both structural accounts and substantive list – should account for each and every intuitions could lead to trivial theories, or circular one. As usual, in this case only widespread intuitions count. In what I said in 1, I am presupposing that a list of goods without pleasure among its members is not able to account for a wide range of evaluative intuitions. This is not always the case, as I will suggest in a moment.
3. concerning Molly’s example: Michele says: «I think that 1 is better for Molly given her convictions and her values» (my emphasis). It seems to me that this indexing to Molly’s convictions and values is doing a lot of work here. But I think one can show that this work is not against the spirit of G-theories. For, plainly enough, Molly’s convictions and values justifying preference for 1) over 2) should be something like the following: better to give humanity something right, even not knowing it, than to give humanity something wrong, mistakenly believing to have provided something right (a stronger form: better to achieve something valuable, even not knowing it, than achieving something of no value at all, mistakenly believing to have achieved something valuable).
Now, these quite idiosyncratic convictions are those making 1. to be preferred. Their idiosyncratic flavor, first, implies that it is no burden for a general theory to account for them. In other words, only strange mathematicians find 1) better than 2) – not plain people. Should a general theory such as a G-theory account for this? And is not to impose such a burden to use structural arguments as a way of introducing substantive choices concerning what is, and what is not, valuable?
4. Moreover, it seems to me arguable that, even with Molly’s values, G-theory can work. In fact, statements of the kind “x is better than y” are usually neither fully consistent, nor transitive. Thus, we should consider all the logically possible state of affairs, and see which is the exact order, if any, entailed by a G-theory applied to Molly’s value.
We can have:
1. Molly believes: “the proof is flawed”, the state of affair [the proof is correct] occurs.
2. Molly believes: “the proof is correct”, the state of affair [the proof is flawed] occurs.
3. Molly believes: “the proof is correct”, the state of affair [the proof is correct] occurs.
4. Molly has no belief at all, the state of affair [the proof is correct] occurs.
Now, concerning these four options the following considerations should hold:
a. Taking for granted that 1. is better than 2., what about 4.? Someone saying that 1. is better than 2. seems obliged to say also that 4. is better than 2. This simply amounts to a complete denial of the experience requirement. Accordingly, if what Michele is saying is that someone denying the experience requirement cannot be accounted by a theory endorsing it, I agree – but this is not terribly relevant for a G-theorist, who do endorse the experience requirement.
b. Let’s consider the case in which Molly thinks that 3. should be better than 1. Now, this judgement could be explained in the following way: that 3. is better than 1. since the list of Molly’s value contains –besides the value of achievements – a further item: the value of correct beliefs on one’s own achievement. Therefore, so phrased, the latter value is pretty vague : that it is valuable to have correct belief on one’s own achievement could means either a. that it is valuable to have – and to look for – true beliefs, or b. that it is valuable not having false beliefs. If a., 1., 2. and 4. are of the same value, and 3. is better than them. If b. then 3. and 4. have the same value, and their are both better than 1. and 2., and it is no clear why 1. is better than 2. Accordingly, to claim that 3. is better than 1. seems to involve an underlying value debarring the possibility that 1. is better than 2.
c. Nevertheless, this reductio is not a conclusive one – at least since b. seems to involve that either to have true beliefs or to have no beliefs at all can be states having the same value. And this is plain contradiction. However, a. rules out that 1. is better than 2. – and the underlying value seems a suitable value of people such as mathematicians.
d. therefore, it seems that a provisional conclusion could be: to order options so to have that 3. is the best state leads to rule out that 1. could be better than 2. To assess 3. the same as 1. means to rule out the value of getting things right, and only this is something that could allow to abandon completely G-theories.
e. Until now I have inquired the effect of a particular substantive good – the good of getting things right. I have shown that this particular substantive good – not a G-theory – rules out that 1. can be better than 2. A G-theory, instead, could perfectly allow that 1. is better than 2., and/or equivalent to 3..
f. In c. we label as a contradiction to equate having no beliefs with having true beliefs. It seems to me that in the same way it could be said that also to have a false belief on p is not the same as having no belief on it. Or, at least, it is not so in cases other than beliefs on existence and perceptual beliefs on the identification of perceptual acquainted objects. And arguments are needed to show that each and every belief works as those kinds of beliefs work. If so, 4. is plainly different from 1. and 2.
g. now, G-theories could be thought as having the minimal aim to rule out the claim that 4. could be of value (and this gains its plausibility from the requirement to avoid that posthumous states of affairs could increase the subject’s welfare). Remember that Molly’s list of good includes the value of mathematical achievements, and it does not include either the pleasure of experiencing her own achievement or the value of not being deceased on it. A G- theory should not be intrusive on particular lists. Molly’s list is perfectly fine. Only, applied to it G-theory appears in a particularly weakened form – not in contradiction with its spirit, though. A G-theory applied to such a list can be expressed as follows: a state of affairs can be valuable for an individual, provided that it is not a state of affairs on which he has no beliefs at all. Even states of affairs on which the subject has imperfect or incomplete beliefs are well.
5. My conclusions, then, are: so long as one accepts that 4. is positively worse than the other three options, then one is endorsing a G-theory. From a logical standpoint, this theory does not rule out that 1. could be better than 2. This is made difficult from something very plausible, such as the value of getting things right, but this is different from a G-theory. G-theory only denies that 4. could be the same as 1. or 2. – on the basis of an epistemological point concerning the difference between no belief and false beliefs.
The next post on value-dyslexia.

Michele said...

Gianfranco, your reply is so complex, I'll just start from the things I could understand before.

1. "excluding some items from the list produces allegedly counter-intuitive results, this is not enough, in itself, to establish that the structure of a G-theory is wrong", this is clearly correct, in so far as it has not even be proved that mental statism is wrong. But the point was wether a G-theory could be more acceptable for people that find Mental Statism objectionable, for example because they include accomplishments into their list of goods. And the example only purported to show that it wasn't. You also acknowledge this when you say "A G- theory should not be intrusive on particular lists."

2. you write
"G-theories could be thought as having the minimal aim to rule out the claim that 4. could be of value ...
Molly’s list is perfectly fine. Only, applied to it G-theory appears in a particularly weakened form – not in contradiction with its spirit, though. A G-theory applied to such a list can be expressed as follows: a state of affairs can be valuable for an individual, provided that it is not a state of affairs on which he has no beliefs at all. Even states of affairs on which the subject has imperfect or incomplete beliefs are well."

This makes things turn out right. But what kind of theory are you proposing? What is its rationale apart from dealing with some recalcitant intuitions? Why should having some beliefs at all about x, not even right beliefs, count with respect to a subject's well-being? Please, don't answer to me it is simply an enabling condition!

Michele said...

3.
I think I understood more of what you wrote. First of all, about points a, b, and c, the value of truth (or getting it right) cannot be invoked for explaining preferring 2 to 1, since both involve mistaken belief. If one appeals to "getting it right" for showing what makes 3 better than 1, than one is forced to say that 1 and 2 have the same value. But many people have the intuition that 1 makes a better life for Molly, than 2. You seem to recognize this.

4.
You write:
"My conclusions, then, are: so long as one accepts that 4. is positively worse than the other three options, then one is endorsing a G-theory. "

so one should ask himself: "is 4 better or worse than 2?" , that is to say "is leaving humanity something right, not knowing it, (when this was an substantial aim one had) worse than leaving humanity something wrong, mistakenly believing to have provided something right?" a G-theory cannot have any appeal to people that answer no to this question. But it seems to me that if you genuinely value achievements more than personal satisfaction, you must say no. I really liked the way you described Molly's values, as the values of a person who thinks "better to give humanity something right, even not knowing it, than to give humanity something wrong, mistakenly believing to have provided something right". So this person must think that life 4, not life 2, is more choiceworthy.

This is only my intuition, but I find the view that 4 must be worse, simultaneously, than both 2 and 1, (whatever the values of the subject) even less plausible than the view that 2 must be better than 1.

Gianfranco said...

Michele, few points on your replies. Some other answer will be clear in my following posts.
1. The spirit of the distinction between a formal account and substantive list is not to conflate G-theories on mental statism. Now, if you recognize that what I propose as a way of reading priority of 1. on 2. is even prima facie acceptable by people not involved in Mental Statism, this shifts on people endorsing the value of achievements to show why my solution is wrong. In other words, if G-theory allows priority of 1. on 2., it cannot do puzzling for achievement-theorist - whatever ist other merits are.
2. Obviously, the idea of an enabling conditions is not the rationale of G-theories; it is only the way in which, in my opinion, possession of beliefs works in it. This rationale is complex, it is connected to the idea of having a value for individuals, from impersonal goods, and I will discuss commenting your other objections.
3, I recognize people have this intuitions, yes. However, there are two problem in making such intuitions reliable: first, as I said, they contrast with a more entrenched intuitions - and a very uncontroversially valuable achieving - the goodness of getting things right. Second, I am not sure those people are reflecting on how 1. and 2. will be for Molly in his first personal perspective. In that perspective, either they are the same than 4., and if those people accepts the value of 3., they have a principled rationale for discarding their intuition; or they are however worse than 3., and then simply their intuitions issue from an incomplete view of the situation. And obviously intuitions should be corrected from more enlightenend perspectives. The important point, it seems to me, is that all of this does not need the experience requirement itself: another value, the value of getting things right, is working here.
4. This is the real point at issue. I have an answer, but I should postpone to the discussion of value dyslexia.

Michele said...

you wrote:
"1. The spirit of the distinction between a formal account and substantive list is not to conflate G-theories on mental statism. Now, if you recognize that what I propose as a way of reading priority of 1. on 2. is even prima facie acceptable by people not involved in Mental Statism, this shifts on people endorsing the value of achievements to show why my solution is wrong. In other words, if G-theory allows priority of 1. on 2., it cannot do puzzling for achievement-theorist - whatever ist other merits are."


I read carefully your comments but I cannot find the point where you explain how a G-thoery allows the priority of 1 on 2.

You also write:

"to order options so to have that 3. is the best state leads to rule out that 1. could be better than 2. To assess 3. the same as 1. means to rule out the value of getting things right, and only this is something that could allow to abandon completely G-theories."

This is not correct. Consider the order of preferences:
3 better than
1 better than
2

which I think corresponds to many people's intuition.

To order option so to have that 3 is the best state only implies that "getting things right" is one value, the value that makes 3 better than 1. From this it does not follow that 1 must be the same as 2, because some other value may make 1 better than 2.

You can explain 3 better than 2 in terms of the value of "getting things right", but
if one has the intuition that 1 is better than 2 (and worse than 3), one needs some other value, beside "getting things right" to explain this. And this is something G-theories cannot provide.

Gianfranco said...

Michele, quickly - and waiting for my other reactions to the other objections to a G-theory.

1. In relying on the distinction between having no beliefs and having incorrect beliefs, as I said, a G-theory rules out only 4. Accordingly, it is does not rule out 1. as valueless. In allowing the value of achievements - a G-theory is neutral on this - it can allow that 1. is better than 2. The only condition is that 4. is worse, in the sense of being of no value at all.

2. However, that 1. is better than 2. can be ruled in another way. My musings on orderings to which you refer derive from the following background: ok, we have the idea that 1. is better than 2. This is the only thing we should ascribe the common sense with. What we draw from it - a theory in which achievement is the master value, or in which it is only one of the values, or it is instrumental - should be argued for. Now, common sense holds also that 3. is better than ... than 2. or better both than 2. and 1.? This is not so clear. Obviously, if you assume the other intuition (1. better than 2.) as a sure sign of the value of achievements - and of the mastering role of them - probably what you say is right. However, what is at issue is the stability of those intuitions when considered together (to this I was thinking when I introduced the idea of a complete ordering). We have three of them: the priority of 1. on 2.; the priority of 3. on 1. and 2. (I don't know if on both of them, or first on 2. and then on 1.); and then the fact that 4. is plainly devoid of value. The last intuition supports a G-theory. However, the last intuition is supported by the priority of 3. on 1. and 2. Therefore, this intuition is supported and supports another intuition, which in its turn supports a formal account of value (which I hope to show has other arguments on its side). This is one - not conclusive, to be true, but strong - evidence of some added relevance of the value of getting things right. Moreover, this value do not rule out the value of achievements. Getting thing right is an achievement in itself, after all.
From this we have that there is a potential candidate for a higher role within achievements: the value of getting things right. From the perspective of that value, however, 1. and 2. are not so different. Accordingly, to say that 3. is better than both 1. and 2. acquires plausibility. And this is not your ordering.
I accept that this is not a conclusive argument. I will add something in discussing value-dyslexia.