Friday, June 16, 2006


In this reply, I shall write the last and I think final objection to the idea that we can make a valuable use of theories that
  1. differ from Mental Statism, but
  2. accept some form of the Experience Requirement
( as I call them, G-theories.) Here I claim G-theories do not offer a solution to Kagan's challenge.

Kagan's challenge:
Kagan claims ("The Limits of Well-Being", p.186, original italics):
If something is to be of genuine (ultimate) benefit to a person, it must affect the person; it must make a difference in the person. That is, it must affect the person's intrinsic properties. Changes in merely relational properties cannot be what is of ultimate value for the person... What benefits the person must make some intrinsic difference in the person. Otherwise there would be nothing in it for him.
Notice that accepting this definition of the limits of well-being, amounts to accepting what someone has called "good life internalism". (NOTE1) Good life internalism is denied, for example, by the unrestricted desire-fulfilment theory of welfare.

Kagan's constraint is a powerful constraint. But according to Kagan it is necessary because it is needed to satisfy the following EXPLANATION REQUIREMENT:
"A theory of well-being attempts to specify in general terms the set of facts that comprise the good for the individual. An adequate theory of well-being would have to meet several conditions... a third condition - the benefit condition - ... [says that] the specified fact must be good for the person who is well-off: the well-off individual must benefit from being well-off." (ibid, 185)
It can be proved that:
  1. G-theories do not comply with Kagan's constraint
  2. The Experience Requirement, as used in G-theories, does not satisfy Kagan's explanation requirement.
Let us start with 1. Let us consider the following example (discussed at Desert Landscapes and at Philosophy et cet.):
  • Jeffry dies believing that he is loved and successful, while in reality his colleagues despise him, his business is in shambles, and his adulterous wife holds him in utter contempt. Richard, on the contrary, dies believing that he is loved and successful, but his beliefs are all true.
A G-theory will allow us to say that Richard's life is better than Jeffry's. Notice also how a G-theory ensures this result: it says that what makes Richards's life good for him is an "external state of the world", composed by the love and faithfulness of Richard's wife's, the esteem of his collegues, and the good state of his business.

Let us call DELTA what accounts for the difference between the value of Jeffry's life for Jeffry and the value of Richard's life for Richard. Suppose moreover that "Jeffry" and "Richard" are just two names for the same individual in two different possible words. DELTA does clearly NOT consist in an intrinsic difference in this individual (whom we call Jeffry or Richard.) Therefore the G-theory does not satisfy Kagan's contraint.

Let's now consider whether the Experience Requirement included in G-theories satisfies Kagan's explanation requirement. In order to satisfy the explanation requirement, a theory of welfare should provide an explanation of why a state's goodness qualifies as a particular person's goodness or as something that is good for this person.

It seems that the Experience Requirement in a G-theory can't do this. In a G-theory, the Experience Requirement should be considered an enabling condition. You must admit this if you don't want to reduce a G-theory to a form of Mental Statism (see this post, and Gianfranco's reply.) As Gianfranco writes in his reply:
"That Italy is still here functions as a general enabling condition of [the] causal explanation [that the light bulb did not explode], a condition that does not have to be mentioned in the explanation, but that is a condition. What is important is that an enabling condition is something that must be there so that something else happens, but it is not what makes it happen.

Moving this in the field of value: an enabling condition is something that must be there so that something else has value, but is not what it is in virtue of which that something has value."
An enabling condition is, by definition, not part of the explanation of why a certain state of affairs is good for a person (just like the fact that Italy is still here is not part of the explanation why the bulb exploded.) If the fact that Richard has an experience (of a state) is only an enabling condition of that state having value for Richard, then the fact that Richard has an experience is not part of the explanation of why that state is good for him. Therefore, the experience requirement does not meet Kagan's challenge: "tell me in virtue of what that state of the world is good for a person in particular, tell me what makes it good for him."

Notice how the argument works using Gianfranco's defence of a weak version of the Experience Requirement: we want to say that being loved by his wife is intrinsically good for Richard, and not in virtue of the experience it produces. Therefore we must say that the fact that Richard experiences his life's love cannot be (part of) the explanation of why that love contributes to Richard's welfare, and is only an enabling condition.

There is no way out from this: one either denies that the experience requirement is an enabling condition, or G-theories do not satisfy Kagan's explanatory requirement in that they have an experience requirement.(Of course, a G-theory of a certain kind could meet the explanation requirement in another way. But from this point of view it is on a par with desire fulfilment or other "externalist" theories.)

Summing up what I've done until now, there are four main objections to G-theories:
  1. The behavior of an agent committed to maximize his own well-being defined by a G-theory looks particularly ackward, like a sort of value dyslexia. Given the way the agent behaves, it seems impossible to understand what the agent means by "intrinsically", when the agent claims that (external) "states of the world" contribute INTRINSICALLY to his own good.
  2. Here I argue that if someone accepts the Experience Machine as an ultimate objection to Mental Statism, a very similar objection applies to G-theories, the Attention Diversion Machine objection.
  3. The allegation behind G-theories is that a theory can include prudential goods different from mental states and at the same time endorse the Experience Requirement. But this does not seem true at least for accomplishments.
  4. The forth and last objection, that I discuss here, is the following: one could think that G-theories are superior to "externalist" theories of well-being, in that they provide a solution to Kagan's problem. But they don't.

1.Notice that this definition of internalism includes a broader set of states of the world as being relevant for well-being than the forms usually discussed in the literature, which only regard mental states as suitably "internal" to the person.

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