Most Important Thinkers of All Time

Tags: 
  1. Aristotle. Followers: Ibn Sina, Leibniz, Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Ed Jaynes.
  2. Ibn al-Haytham. Followers: Bacon, Newton, Hume, Popper, Kuhn.
  3. Euclid. Followers: Descartes, Cantor, Frege, Russell, Hilbert, Godel.
  4. Isaac Newton.
  5. Charles Darwin.
  6. Plato.
  7. Martin Luther.
  8. Immanuel Kant.
  9. Edward Bernays.
  10. David Hume.
Author Comments: 

Some qualifications:

- this is a list for thinkers, not artists (Shakespeare), activists (Jesus), leaders (Alexander), or engineers (Edison).

- I'm more concerned with how influential these thinkers will be in another millennium, not right now. Making the list today, I'd have to include Thomas Aquinas. But the power of logic and the scientific method will outlive sophisticated superstition. Also, a list for today would include Confucius, but in another thousand years he will fade into the mix with others of his era advocating learning, peace, and harmony. Finally, I suspect Darwin's insight will be even more important 1000 years from now than it is now.

- I'm hoping that in the next millennium we will make breakthroughs in ethics and politics like we have made in logic and science. (No, utilitarianism and democracy weren't it.)

- for some reason, the one who always brings a tear to my eye for his genius is Newton.

At least you didn't include Scaruffi.

Ha!

That's because Scaruffi is a magic dragon :)

Where would Einstein place on your list?

It's kind of hard to tell how important relativity or quantum theory will be. I'm waiting to see the results for a theory of quantum gravity - that will greatly impact how important Einstein's insights turn out to be.

I'd recommend Hobbes or Rousseau, and also Marx (for influence) and maybe Adam Smith too (Free Market theory).

Personally, I don't consider Plato to be worthy of a placement, as much as say, Kant or Descartes. Philisophically, I'd also like to see Russell/Wittgenstein included (and maybe Nietzche), and scientifically perhaps Gödel.

Is this influence, or importance within academia? Also, will you extend this any further, I'd like to see your further thoughts on the topic.

It's still hard to say what the lasting influence of Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Descartes, Nietzsche, or Gödel will be. Kant is a shoe-in for top 10. As for the great minds of the 20th century, it's hard to pick out particular names because so many great minds were contributing to the same projects simultaneously. Who shall we thank for analytic philosophy? Quantum mechanics? Modern mathematics and logic? Only Einstein made so singular a contribution as the great minds of the past. More and more the glories of humanity are shared, and cannot be linked to a single shining hero.

Surely Marx? Communist Ideals will probably live on in some obscure parts of the world (or even in first world countries if major disasters cause them to manifest) for a very long time - the ideal is just too appealing for the masses.

Hilariously, when I first saw this list, two thoughts crossed my mind immediately:

(1) Who is Ibn al-Haytham?

(2) I wonder who is credited with developing the very basis of the scientific method. Shouldn't that guy be on this list?

Acting on my second thought first, I looked up "scientific method" on the source of all knowledge in the universe, Wikipedia, and the entry revealed to me what an odd coincidence that was.

Speaking of which, Jimmy Wales should totally be on here. :-)

Hahahaha, sweet.

"But the power of logic and the scientific method will outlive sophisticated superstition."

Willing to lay money on that?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

With dogmatists there's no in between, whether regarding Christianity or science. Even physics is limited strictly to what humans can perceive and sense.

Actually, there is a decent chance that extremists (religious or not) will plunge the earth into another dark age in which men cast fearful looks at the sky and see spirits in every blade of grass.

And then we will develop very sophisticated ways of explaining what metaphysical categories contain the grass-spirits and by what methods they may be entreated upon.

Very true.

It is important to remember that while it is a verified fact that science can solve many of humanity's problems, the belief that science will utlimately solve them all is a faith no less blind than many religious ones. As long as problems exists that cannot be solved, I suspect people will turn to some sort of faith for comfort.

For some, it will be the assurance that one day, science will make all roads smooth and all paths straight.

At least history proves that ultimate reliance on faith to be nearly always the case. If you believe in social Darwinism, you might even posit that such a faith is beneficial to a degree, even if its connection to Truth has never been proven (and sometimes parts of it have even been proven downright wrong).

A belief or faith need not be correct to be beneficial, and that may be the telling symptom of our future.

I'll stop rambling now...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I think a case could be made that a belief's accordance with the truth affects its ability to benefit. For example, if you jump into an empty pool believing it has water, you will hurt yourself. I think that can be "scaled up."

But I don't have time to defend that case here, so I'll leave it at mere assertion. :)

I think your proposition is possible, but I suspect it is conditional and not always true.

Research suggest people who have religious faith live longer. That's a clear benefit. The "truth" of the faith doesn't seem to matter much, as a wide variety of very different faiths presents the same benefit.

If somebody's belief that, say, a god loves them and sustains them through hardship gives that person the strength to survive a tough or trying time, at least in that instant, I'm not sure the "truth" of the belief is the pivotal point.

At times, though, it could be. Obviously, the faith that drinking poison won't hurt me won't be much help if I decide to drink a gallon. I think it is probably highly conditional.

babblebabblebabble

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Yup.

Bedtime stories surely seem to be a useful comfort for children, but as the human race becomes adult I think we will learn that whatever the benefits of believing comforting fairy tales are, we are even better off grappling with reality and learning how to find meaning and purpose and happiness without the fairy tales. We have learned to accept the fact that we are not the center of the universe, for example.

But still, myths have extreme importance for adults. Most of us respond more strongly to fantasy than to realism, a testament to how primitive our minds still are. Let's also not forget that "fairy tales" are derived from reality itself and deal with themes that effect humans. I would think that spending a significant amount of time watching films or listening to albums indicates that we have a remarkably strong attachment to fantasy & myth, and therefore they are very useful to us. Perhaps I'm missing the point.

I'm not sure your implied metaphor of humanity to a living being that will mature from childhood into adulthood is one I can sign on to. Is this a faith in progress you are exposing, or am I assuming too much ("I'm no Man of the Age of Reason!")?

I am especially interested in how you feel the realms of religion or faith that do not directly clash with science will fare over time. Most people no longer believe we are the physical center of the universe, for example, but...

It seems to me an inquiring mind has three options when facing thoughts outside the current reach of science.

A) Ignore them.
B) Philosophize (reason out, using logic, from deductions and inductions knowing full well the scientific uncertainty of such reasoning or the impossibility of testing most such conclusions)
C) Accept dogma

Interestingly enough, religion and faith can fit either B or C, depending on the approach and the reasoning.

If science can conquer all, these three approaches are no longer options. If, as I expect, there are some questions science cannot answer, then these three options remain. I don't think (and I feel pretty sure most history hints) that most people will settle for A, but perhaps we differ on that assumption...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Trying to predict the future is always an act of faith, I suppose. The best we can do is appeal to existing knowledge and trends. After 400 years of rapid progress in knowledge, culture, and morality (the way I see it, anyway), I think it's justified to suppose that humanity will continue to progress. Though, as I've noted, I still think there's a distinct possibility progress will not continue. I've admitted there is large room for both possibilities.

Oceans of ink and bits have been spent on the relationship between faith and reason, religion and evidence. I will not say much here, except to say that there are many types of "faith" that can be compatible with science, and many types which cannot.

I don't know anyone who thinks science will eventually answer all questions. Science cannot conquer all. And that is a statement I have great faith in.

"After 400 years of rapid progress in knowledge, culture, and morality (the way I see it, anyway), I think it's justified to suppose that humanity will continue to progress."

I'll grant you knowledge for the most part... ;)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Do you really think that humanity hasn't made progress in morality in the past 400 years? I think many things that were accepted by large chunks of the civilized world a few centuries ago (death for suspicion of witchcraft, or slavery, just to name two) would be seen as morally reprehensible today. Sure, the Puritanical values of the past have been replaced by more sexual freedom, which may likewise be seen as morally reprehensible to those people from centuries ago, but I would still call that a progression of our standards.

Granted, this has more to do with our ethical codes than each individual human being's personal sense of morality, but I think (a) the former often reflects the general sense of the latter, and (b) the latter is nearly impossible to measure.

Don't get me wrong, Bush was a shitty president, but I still think his administration was a lot better than, say, living as a French peasant under King Louis XVI.

It all obviously depends on how we measure morality, not a job for which I'd ever apply...

As far as more rights for more people, we've made progress (at least by our own standards). As far as what might be the ultimate test, though, the blood and bodies meter, I have to say the last century doesn't hold up well to the previous three, especially when we consider how much slaughter (often systematic) took place in parts of the world folks tend to label as civilized.

All the delicacies of sex and suffrage doesn't do much to tilt the scales against the piles of bones, as far as I see things...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Of course the numbers are bigger now, because there are more people. But proportionally, things are better today - even counting Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.

I think of morality improving through the expanding circle. There have always been acts of kindness and generosity - but now good people are kind not only to their family and tribe, but to anonymous people on the other side of the planet. And there have always been acts of violence and hate - but now even bad people are inclined to do it to less people (for example, more people have been trained not to automatically despise all women or all people of another race or all the French).

Your first paragraph repeats his claim that his patchy evidence doesn't fully support. He jumps around - here, limiting the view to USA/Europe, here just looking at warfare (without really defining that term) - but we never see the type of figure that really makes the claim stick. Basically, what percentage of the world's population has died from murder or war this century compared to (in the context of this discussion) the last few centuries? I cannot find the figure - can you? - but I suspect it is not lower for the last century than the ones before it. Let's look for such a statistic.

He is correct about the false idea that earlier people lived in peace and harmony. I'm not saying we are worse; I'm just refusing the idea that we are better or that history shows an inevitable progress in this realm.

I think as knowledge increases, we can also learn more about good government. Good government can often lead to a decrease in violence and an increase in forced morality (which is fine by me), but I'm not sure worldwide the last century is the best example of that. I think you have to look at much more narrow, specific conditions to see that truth in action. Maybe one day, we'll see that expand over a larger portion of the globe. That is a story still unfolding, and I'm not laying money down on the ending just yet.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Yup, I agree with everything you said there.

Care for a quick discourse on morality?

When I lost my faith in Christianity, I had no idea what morality was, so I did a little studying. Eventually I settled on moral fictionalism, which basically means:

1. Moral terms, as we use them, are truth-apt; they are meant to be true or false. It's meant to be true that "Rape is wrong."

2. As it happens, all such truth claims are false, because they reference something that does not exist, e.g. "wrongness." (Likewise, claims about God's properties are truth-apt - they are meant to be true or false - but all such claims are FALSE because they refer to something that does not exist, namely God.)

3. Our moral feelings, though they make false claims, are useful fictions we should not abandon.

I had surveyed all the theories of moral semantics, ontology, and epistemology I could find, and I did not see any hope for a theory of objective moral realism that described what actually existed in the real world.

Then, after I had stopped looking, I stumbled on Desire Utilitarianism. To my surprise, it seems to present a true account of objective moral value that really exists in the universe.

I'd like to present it and see what you think, if you don't mind.

The most basic claims of desire utilitarianism are:

1. (Semantics) Moral language refers to actions that we have reason to recommend or forbid. More briefly, morality is about "reasons for action." This seems to be descriptively true of how ALL cultures use moral language, whatever the "reasons for action" happen to be (gods, categorical imperatives, intrinsic values, etc.)

2. (Ontology) As it turns out, desires are the only reasons for action that actually exist. Gods, categorical imperatives, intrinsic values to be maximized, etc. do not exist. But the brain state called "desire" does exist. If people did not desire food but instead sunlight, we would have reasons for action not to feed them but to give them access to sunlight.

3. Since morality is about reasons for action, and desires happen to be the only reasons for action that exist, the most sensible definition of "good" is "such as to fulfill more and greater desires than are thwarted", and "bad" means "such as to thwart more and greater desires than are fulfilled."

4. Also, the primary objects we must evaluate are desires, because THEY are the reasons for action that exist. So, a desire is good if it tends to fulfill more and greater desires than it thwarts. A desire is bad if it tends to thwart more and greater desires than it fulfills.

5. We can also evaluate actions, laws, whatever. A good action is one that a person with good desires would perform. A bad action is one that a person with good desires would NOT perform. A good law is one that a person with good desires would enact. Etc.

That's only a brief introduction, and doesn't explain much of anything about how to evaluate good and bad desires, how the theory explains the various aspects of morality, etc. I can explain those if you like.

What do you think?

If moral feelings are 'useful fictions' ie completely false, then why not abandon them? Why abandon false claims about supernatural beings & phenomena, but continue to cling to moral 'truths'?

Because I thought that maintaining moral fictions might be useful, whereas maintaining supernatural fictions would probably be damaging, and a continual impediment to progress.

What if we started doing intrusive experiments on humans, such as breeding children from birth to be guinea pigs in a science lab - think of all we could learn from having a limitless supply of human test subjects at hand.
Now obviously this is a ridiculous idea. Why? Well, because morally I'm sure most of us find it atrocious. However, this 'moral fiction' of ours is quite likely to impede progress.
Why are moral fictions helpful while 'spiritual' fictions are harmful? Why brush aside religious beliefs, and not moral ones?

That's a good point and I haven't thought through all the ramifications of it. In any case, I am no longer a moral fictionalist, and do not defend that theory. :)

Wow, that's quite a bit to digest at once!

Luckily, I believe one of my best friends is also a fan of this, if indeed Desire Utilitarianism is another name for the philosophy I learned of under a more popular term, Preference Utilitarianism. We've had many friendly debates over the years. As a result, I feel I might understand you.

Some thoughts, while musing on the fact it is so much easier to punch holes in a bucket than to make a bucket.

The first claim I can agree to with a little alteration. I tend to think Sumner's ideas expressed in Folkways are pretty accurate, particularly the idea of moral evolution. I think moral language refers to actions we have OR HAD reason to recommend or to forbid at some time. This is close to what you stated, but allows for outdated morals that cling to our minds long after they are useful simply because their, er, un-usefulness has not overcome the degree to which they have be ingrained into our customs and beliefs.

Okay, that slight silliness aside...

And here, I wrote a huge amount of text I've decided to save until I can learn more about "how to evaluate good and bad desires, how the theory explains the various aspects of morality", and more.

Until I know your thoughts here, my main comment is that this a) I doubt I understand this on an interpersonal or political level and b) on a personal level, this seems less an ethical or moral philosophy than it is a description of how most people live. Most people simply follow their greatest desire, or steps to achieve that desire or a sum of desires that together equal the greatest desire, whether that desire be to emulate or to please a god they strongly believe in, to ease the suffering of another, or to kill as many puppies as they can and still run free.

Addictions and other states, of course, muddy the waters. I can say I want to stop shooting heroin, but if I don't, it seems it simply isn't my greater desire. I still choose it over, say, living longer. Is this morally good?

If so, should I make the laws for our country, since...

5 states that good laws are such laws that people with good desires would make, and 4 says a desire is good if it fulfills more and greater desires?

Setting aside the lack of definition of a 'greater desire', what if my greatest desires are harmful, but they work together to fulfill all my many harmful desires? Can we really base laws on me, even though I have fit your definitions of a person with 'good desires' and thus one who would make good laws?

I think the leap between ethics and politics might be the hardest for a philosophy to make to our satisfaction.

I think I need to hear more, as I feel fairly confident that is not what you mean...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Desire Utilitarianism is emphatically NOT Preference Utilitarianism. It is also NOT Desire Fulfillment Act Utilitarianism, which is what most people mistake it for if they are familiar with utilitarianism in general.

I've not read Folkways, but evolutionary ethics faces MANY huge problems, one of which is the Euthyphro dilemma.

So yeah, everything you've asked refers to a theory I'm certainly not defending, because I didn't explain enough about what Desire Utilitarianism actually claims.

First, though, I'd like to question your approach to evaluating moral theories. You seem to be saying we should judge the truth of a moral theory based on whether it gives us the "right" answers: i.e. that rape is wrong and kindness is right.

But such an evaluation tool seems to assume that we have evolved a "sixth sense" to accurately detect moral truths: i.e. that certain actions give off some kind of "moral radiation" and that we can detect these "goodons" and "badons" and thereby directly ascertain the moral value of a particular action.

But I see no reason to think we have evolved such an accurate moral sense, or to think that moral radiation exists at all. In fact, I can think of some good reasons to think we do NOT have such a sixth sense. For example, our moral attitudes have changed so drastically throughout history. Has the moral radiation for sexism, racism, tribal warfare, etc. changed? Or did we never have an accurate sixth sense in the first place, and these are just our moral feelings?

So I don't think we can evaluate moral truths based on what feels right, in the same way we can't evaluate scientific truth based on what feels right. It doesn't matter if we feel like we're the center of the universe. When we go out in the universe to look and see, we find that we are not.

I think the only way to evaluate the truth of a moral theory or claim is to look and see what really exists out there in the real world, the same way we evaluate scientific theories.

This is because I am not proposing a moral theory we "choose" based on whether we like it or not. It's not like a system you should adopt if you like it. I'm offering a theory for what actually exists out there in the world. You "become" a desire utilitarianism if you think it is probably true about the universe, the same way you become an atomist, for example.

A bit later, I'll explain what desire utilitarianism really claims, but this is enough for now.

No offense, but this is sounding more and more like intellectual masturbation to me. Isn't any moral theory just as good as another if it's only based on the intellectual development of various postulates? It would at least be extremely subjective and vary wildly person to person if you can't even suggest any concrete things guidelines that (almost) everyone can agree on, such as it produces the result that "rape is wrong."

I mean, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of ways one can provide some sort of structure to the world, and you're suggesting we just evaluate how nice the structures are without even considering the results? Isn't that like trying to find the best cake based on which recipe "feels right" rather than by actually trying different cakes? Are you suggesting that a moral system that condones rape and murder might actually be the most perfect system if it seems most like that's the way the world works?

Isn't any moral theory just as good as another if it's only based on the intellectual development of various postulates?

I'm not sure what you mean. Are you denying a priori knowledge, or deductive method in general?

All I've done is (1) recognized what we're talking about when we talk about "morality", (2) looked into the world to see if that kind of stuff actually exists, and how, (3) and proposed a theory that accounts for what we see in the real world with relation to moral terms.

I might as well have (1) recognized what we're talking about when we talk about "atoms", (2) looked into the world to see if that kind of stuff actually exists, and how, (3) and proposed a theory that accounts for what we see in the real world with relation to atoms.

Is this an invalid epistemic strategy?

It would at least be extremely subjective and vary wildly person to person if you can't even suggest any concrete things guidelines that (almost) everyone can agree on, such as it produces the result that "rape is wrong."

No, Desire Utilitarianism is not a subjective theory of morality. There are universal and objective moral guidelines that can be derived from the most basic truth claims of desire utilitarianism, which I'll explain later.

And again, why would we want a theory that we all agree on? If we were using your test five centuries ago, we would have selected a moral theory that supported extreme racism, sexism, and homophobia. We do not test truth claims by appealing to popularity or feelings, but evidence and argument.

I'm not trying to find a structure that is nice. I'm trying to find a structure that happens to be true about the universe we live in.

Are you suggesting that a moral system that condones rape and murder might actually be the most perfect system if it seems most like that's the way the world works?

Five centuries ago, you might have asked, "Are you suggesting that a moral system that condones homosexuality and gender equality might actually be the most perfect system if it seems most like that's the way the world works?"

I am proposing that we should only make truth claims about morality that are based on the evidence of what really exists and what logically follows from that, not on how we feel. Unless you can demonstrate that our feelings are a reliable guide to truth on the matters of morality, which I think you cannot. Or at least: I tried, and I cannot.

Maybe I misunderstand what you mean by a theory of morality. I'm assuming that a theory of morality you mean something that is capable of actually informing our judgments as to what is right and wrong. If you're not evaluating based on what the moral theories say is right or wrong, aren't you then coming up with an atomic theory based only on physics equations without even checking how the atoms behave in real life? Why call anything "good" or "bad" if you're not willing to identify any practical outcomes as "good" or "bad"? The words may as well be meaningless.

Five centuries ago, you might have asked, "Are you suggesting that a moral system that condones homosexuality and gender equality might actually be the most perfect system if it seems most like that's the way the world works?"

Right... but I could also still have asked the same question about rape and murder. Which may suggest (to me, at least) that even if there are some aspects of our moral compass that change throughout time, it might be important to think about morality in terms of the values we uphold throughout human history. You're generalizing a very basic, simple moral judgment to include every moral judgment that anyone has ever had. Maybe you think we can't rule out the possibility that we're moving toward a more progressive time when rape and murder are accepted aspects of society. In which case, I would disagree.

Perhaps we're talking about two different projects? There is the

descriptive ontological theory of morality, trying to describe whether reasons for action exist in the universe, what they are, how they function, etc.

descriptive sociological theory of morality, trying to describe what people's attitudes and beliefs about morality are. This is akin to surveying beliefs and attitudes about gods - whether or not gods exist, or in what form they exist.

I'm talking about the first project.

I'm assuming that by a theory of morality you mean something that is capable of actually informing our judgments as to what is right and wrong.

Correct, just like an atomic theory informs our judgments about what is isotopic and what is ionic.

If you're not evaluating based on what the moral theories say is right or wrong, aren't you then coming up with an atomic theory based only on physics equations without even checking how the atoms behave in real life?

No. A crucial early step in Desire Utilitarianism is looking out in the world and seeing what actually exists that would qualify as a "reason for action." Do intrinsic values exist? Do the wills of gods exist? Do categorical imperatives exist? Do intrinsic virtues exist? Do desires exist?

This is asking "how do reasons for action exist and function in the real world?" It is not the same as asking "how do people think and feel about reasons for action?" because that is the second project, not the first.

Why call anything "good" or "bad" if you're not willing to identify any practical outcomes as "good" or "bad"?

I don't know what you mean. Desire Utilitarianism certainly does identify certain outcomes as good and bad. That's the whole point. It's to figure out what is good and bad, though of course I haven't fully explained this yet.

...it might be important to think about morality in terms of the values we uphold throughout human history.

It certainly is, and that is a sociological project. I'm working on the ontological project.

Maybe you think we can't rule out the possibility that we're moving toward a more progressive time when rape and murder are accepted aspects of society. In which case, I would disagree.

No, I think I can, because the results of Desire Utilitarianism theory are that we have universal and objective reasons for action to discourage rape and murder. (But again, I haven't explained how, yet.)

I think I was conflating two arguments unnecessarily. I still think that a theory should have more predictive power than what you're suggesting. Whenever I've studied this subject, I've discussed a theory, examined the various questions that would arise from a practical perspective ("So if you believe X theory, then wouldn't that mean in situation Y, then you should do Z?"), and pondered whether that makes sense for morality to work that way in the world. There were no easy answers, but some ideas made more logical sense than others.

But you're saying that logic is informed by my feelings based on the conditions in which I grew up and in which I live. Which is a fair point, but at some point in any theory you're going to succumb to that. I fail to see the objectivity of deciding what constitutes "more and greater desires." At some point you have to make a judgment call. At some point you have to decide, to a certain extent arbitrarily, that a desire to not be raped is "greater" than the desire to rape someone.

Perhaps easier to swallow: you have to decide whether a homosexual's desire to get married is greater than a conservative's desire to live in a country in which the sanctity of marriage is upheld as between a man and a woman. I don't know how you can make this call based on simply observing the world. I imagine a conservative Christian and a gay liberal would have very different viewpoints on the greatness of those desires.

Maybe you address these issues later on in your e-book (or maybe others have in discussing desire utilitarianism). But you'd have a tough time convincing me that nowhere does this ever come down to a subjective judgment call.

Right, so let's talk about "more and greater desires." Luckily, "more" is a simple counting game. We know how to do that, and we can at least numbers of desires. "Greater," is trickier, but I suspect it is still an objective reality.

What I do NOT mean by "greater" is that some desires have more intrinsic value than others, like the desire to not be raped is "greater" than the desire to not lose one's job. These desires have exactly the same intrinsic value: none.

What I DO mean by "greater" is that some desires are stronger, more intense than others. My desire to study philosophy is greater than my desire to eat crackers.

Right now, the best way to measure that is by asking people to consult their subjective experience. But if you think that desire is probably a brain state (as I do), you'll have no problem assuming that some desires will literally be "stronger" in the mind than others (better-reinforced neural pathways, or whatever that turns out to mean). And one day, as neuroscience develops, we may be able to directly measure the true "strength" of desires.

So "greater" is a "subjective" measurement in that it relates directly to something (a brain state) that is manifested as subjective experiences. But that's not what we mean by "subjective." By "subjective" we usually mean "not true or false, but a matter of personal opinion."

"Greater" is an objective measurement in that the brain states that manifest as desires really exist, and it is either true or false whether one desire is "greater" or "lesser" than another in each human mind.

Of course, we may never have everybody's brains hooked up to a supercomputer that will be able to count up and measure the strength of everybody's desires in everybody's head. But in theory, a future supercomputer could do this - because all the elements to be measured really exist.

So, we can only estimate numbers and strengths of desires. But then, we estimate everything. Some estimations are very exact (physics), others are less so (psychology, sociology, morality). But still, the things we are measuring (desires) actually exist. This is not the case with other moral theories, which depend on the existence of intrinsic values, the will of gods, etc.

I see. So what makes this theory more palatable to you than straight-up utilitarianism where you're just measuring the total happiness? It seems to me that:

(a) Measuring the happiness of a person (and fluctuations in such) would be easier than trying to pin down individual desires in the human brain, making utilitarianism far more capable of being envisioned as achievable by science.

(b) Desire utilitarianism is hopelessly convoluted and requires consideration of many different desires relating to one action. If I am raped by another man, for example, that involves a violation of many different action-based desires (desire to not be threatened, desire to not be penetrated, desire to not engage in homosexual experiences), emotion-based desires (desire to feel secure, desire to feel like I can protect myself), and desires of other people (my family and friends probably desire that I not be raped as well... but on the other hand, maybe the rapist will gain confidence in himself based on his ability to rape someone and will be a more pleasant person to interact with, fulfilling the desires of his family and friends). How can we ever be sure to consider every desire that arises from any given action?

I'm honestly not entirely clear where desire utilitarianism and plain old utilitarianism would differ in their moral judgments. Both seem kinda funny to me in the way that they would (probably) unequivocally support killing a man and harvesting his organs if it meant saving the lives of two very sick people who would otherwise die. But hey, who am I to say that's not the right thing to do?

In any case, I feel like your theory is a fairly rational view of human decision-making, which I can't entirely support. Too many humans act irrationally in ways contrary to their own desires, for reasons unbeknownst to me. The theories which state that behavior influences attitudes rather than the other way around intrigue me more, though I don't think anyone knows enough about the brain to come up with definitive answers to this conundrum, so I'm certainly not rejecting desire utilitarianism outright. The theory seems limited in its practical predictive power to me, but that doesn't mean it's an incorrect view of how morality works.

Measuring the happiness of a person (and fluctuations in such) would be easier than trying to pin down individual desires in the human brain, making utilitarianism far more capable of being envisioned as achievable by science.

I'm not interested in a theory that is easy to use, but one that has a true description of what really exists. The problem with happiness utilitarianism, pleasure utilitarianism, preference satisfaction utilitarianism, etc. is that they all claim there is intrinsic value in happiness, pleasure, or preference satisfaction. But that is false.

How can we ever be sure to consider every desire that arises from any given action?

We don't have to. Here's how it works:

We don't directly evaluate the goodness or badness of actions. Actions do not have intrinsic value to be evaluated, and they are not reasons for action. Only desires are reasons for action. So, we must first evaluate desires.

The desire to rape tends to thwart more and greater desires than it fulfills, so it is a bad desire.

Alonzo Fyfe explains this best. He says:

We can see the problem with the desire to rape by imagining that we have control over a knob that will generally increase or decrease the intensity and spread of a desire to rape throughout a community. To the degree that we increase this desire to rape, to that degree we increase the desires that will be thwarted. Either the desires of the rapist will have to be thwarted, or the desires of the victims will have to be thwarted. The more and stronger the desire to rape, the more and stronger the desires that will be thwarted.

The best place to turn this knob is down to zero – so that there is no desire to rape. If this were the case, then no victims will have their desires thwarted through rape, and there would be no rapists who would have to go through the frustration of having a desire to rape go unfulfilled. This is a desire that people generally have reason to weaken or to eliminate.

So, we have reasons for action to turn down the knob on the desire to rape. That is, we have reasons for action to condemn the desire to rape, to teach our children respect for others so they’ll be less likely to develop a desire to rape, etc.

This is how we make the world a better place. We turn down the knob on bad desires (desires that tend to thwart other desires), and turn up the knob on good desires (desires that tend to fulfill other desires).

It might be useful to always think of desire utilitarianism in terms of these knobs. Otherwise, it’s very easy to slip into thinking that “the right act is the one that fulfills the most desires,” which is false. The right act is not the one that fulfills the most desires. The right act is the one that a person with good desires would do, and a good desire is one that tends to fulfill more and greater desires than it thwarts (think of the knobs).

And here we can see the difference between desire utilitarianism and, say, "desire fulfillment act utilitarianism" (similar to preference satisfaction utilitarianism, which is a very popular view taught by, among others, Peter Singer).

Let's imagine a group of 20 sadists and one child. The 20 sadists have strong desires to torture the child. The child has a strong desire to not be tortured.

Desire fulfillment act utilitarianism would tell us that the sadists should torture the child, since that fulfills the most desires - i.e. it maximizes desire fulfillment (which is good because desire fulfillment has intrinsic value).

This is not what desire utilitarianism says. Desire utilitarianism says that the desire to rape is a bad desire because it tends to thwart more and greater desires than it fulfills (think of the knobs).

But notice, desire fulfillment act utilitarianism is not wrong because it gives an answer that disagrees with our moral prejudices. It is wrong because it postulates that desire fulfillment has intrinsic value, and that is false.

Also, desire utilitarianism is not right because it gives us the answer we like the best, but because it makes descriptive claims that happen to be true about the universe: that desires are reasons for action that exist, etc.

Think of the knobs. Interesting. So is the desire for financial success a bad desire? Seeing as success is usually defined relative to one's environment, not everyone can be financially successful, so it seems like the more people who want to be so, the more people will have their desires thwarted. Does that make it a bad desire?

Is the desire for any individual job position a bad desire? The more people who want the job, the more people will be disappointed. Ideally one person would want the job to avoid thwarting the company's desire for an employee, but zero people desiring it is preferable to many people desiring it.

Is the desire to be in a loving relationship a good desire? If so, is it downright immoral to fall out of love?

Hell, is desiring to be the most altruistic person in the world a bad desire? Again, the more people who want it, the more people will be thwarted.

EDIT: I realize that one would have to take into account the other people who are helped by the altruists, but in a theory whose predictive power relies on the evaluation of desires as "good" or "bad," how can you judge the aid of altruists against all the people who are thwarted in their desires to be the most altruistic person in the world? Surely if everyone desired to be so, almost no one would have this desire fulfilled.

It may sound like I'm just trying to poke holes in this theory, but I'm actually genuinely curious to hear the desire utilitarian's take on these things.

In truth, I'm trying to poke holes in desire utilitarianism, too. I'm not sure if it's correct, it just seems way more promising to me than any other theory of moral realism I've investigated. If it fails, I suppose I'll "retreat" to some brand of error theory again.

I'll get back to you on these questions. In the meantime, you might want to read this.

Did you intend to make both of those links lead to the same place?

Either way, I read your e-book segment earlier. It's interesting, but the theory still seems shaky to me when you start classifying the actions that someone with good desires would perform. Aren't there multiple ways to satisfy every desire? Doesn't everyone have conflicting desires, and how would we know which desires would win out? Or are you suggesting that we can envision this perfect person with only good desires and no bad desires and think about what actions that person would enact? Is desire utilitarianism basically like WWJD? :-)

Oops: error theory. Sometimes copy/paste doesn't work.

Or are you suggesting that we can envision this perfect person with only good desires and no bad desires and think about what actions that person would enact? Is desire utilitarianism basically like WWJD? :-)

Yes, but of course "J" is defined as a collection of good desires and no bad desires, where good desires are those that tend to fulfill other desires (again, think of the knobs, or of a harmony of desires).

Okay. So why do you think happiness has no intrinsic value? Or rather, does the value need to be intrinsic when it is probably the common thread to every desire?

I'm not sure what you mean by "common thread to every desire." As for why happiness has no intrinsic value, well... I have no idea what "intrinsic value" is. It is just as mysterious and queer as gods - even moreso, perhaps. It is as though somebody told me that all tigers have intrinsic kiricity. I ask them what that is and where it is and how they know and they cannot tell me. Likewise, the term "intrinsic value" seems to have no referent in the real world.

In contrast, desires exist. So do relationships between desires and states of affairs.

Don't be silly. Everyone knows that piglets have way more intrinsic kiricity than tigers.

I mean, you understand the concept of "intrinsic value," right? You just don't know how to pin down an objective meaning? I think intrinsic value means something that is an goal worth attaining for the sake of humanity. If everyone was happy, we'd all be a lot better off. Think of the knobs; certainly you can imagine other factors (besides desires) such that if we turned up the knobs on them, society would improve. Those things - like good desires - have intrinsic value.

By "common thread to every desire," I meant I basically see every desire as a means of pursuing happiness. Wealth, fame, success, love, sex - these are all things that we desire because we think they will make us happier. Altruism - let's face it - makes us feel good about ourselves, and people who do not derive joy from helping others don't tend to spend much time doing so. Even people who seem to seek out being a martyr or seem like they're on a quest for misery actually take delight in being looked upon that way, so they're really desiring happiness. Every desire is actually a desire for happiness - which may be part of its intrinsic value.

In any case, I still don't see how the goal of fulfilling more and greater desires seems like it has more referent in the real world to you than increasing happiness. I'm also not sure that desires are the end-all be-all explanation of human behavior (don't you ever do things for what seems like no good reason?). Just my personal take on things.

"intrinsic value means something that is an goal worth attaining for the sake of humanity."

First, why on earth would "intrinsic value" be limited to human interests?

Second, what is "worth attaining" for humanity's sake? What makes happiness "worth attaining" rather than preference satisfaction, pleasure, extropy, intelligence, virtuosity, power, simplicity, or pumpkins?

Don't tell me it's because we'd be "better off", because that's question-begging. That's what we're trying to figure out. What is "better"? Why should we think happiness is better than a pile of pumpkins? Why should we think literacy is better than unity? Do some of these things have more "intrinsic value" than the other? If so, what is this "intrinsic value" you speak of (without being circular)? What do you measure it with?

Every desire is not a desire for happiness. For example, parents often sacrifice happiness (or their own lives) so that their children will have a chance to live. Or, certain people give up happiness in lieu of something they deem more important (like extropy).

But maybe I'm attacking straw men, since I'm unclear on your theory. Are you saying that happiness has intrinsic value and should be maximized, and so the right act is one that maximizes happiness? If so, that is "happiness utilitarianism," and I can more easily explain all the problems with that theory. If not, please clarify your position.

"In any case, I still don't see how the goal of fulfilling more and greater desires seems like it has more referent in the real world to you than increasing happiness. I'm also not sure that desires are the end-all be-all explanation of human behavior (don't you ever do things for what seems like no good reason?)."

You seem to think I'm saying that "fulfilling more and greater desires" has intrinsic value, and should be maximized. Emphatically, I'm not saying this. What I'm saying is that morality is about reasons for action, desires are the only reasons for action that exist, and each desire creates its own reason for action.

Desires do indeed have a referent in the real world. A desire is a brain state. In philosophy-speak, it is a type of "propositional attitude." There are two types of propositional attitudes: beliefs and desires. A ‘belief that P’ is a mental attitude that the proposition P is true. A ‘desire that P’ is a mental attitude that the proposition P is to be made or kept true. And this mental attitude is a brain state that exists in the real world.

Contrast this with "intrinsic value," which I still haven't heard how to find in the real world. It seems to have no referent.

As for the "end-all be-all explanation of human behavior," that's a slightly different matter, one for psychologists to work out. Humans act on intentions, which are formed on the basis of beliefs and desires. If I believe there is a dragon down the street that will eat me, and I desire to not be eaten, I will intend to run the other way, and do so. If I believe there is a dragon down the street that will eat me, but I desire to be eaten, I will intend to run toward it, and do so. If I desire to not be eaten, but do not believe there is anything that will eat me down the street, I will probably just keep walking down the street.

"don't you ever do things for what seems like no reason"?

Certainly, we sometimes do not know our own desires, since a great many desires are unconscious. But we always act so as to fulfill our desires (because that's part of the definition of a "desire"). Our desires may be "selfish" or "selfless" or neither, but we always act such as to fulfill our desires.

I think pumpkins and everything else you mentioned have intrinsic value as well, just not as much intrinsic value as happiness. If you have no trouble picturing how increasing the number of desires that are fulfilled would make society better off, I don't know why you would have trouble picturing how increasing the happiness of a population would also make society better off. Increasing the number of people who own pumpkins would also make society better off, but less so. I guess these could seem like less concrete or certain concepts than increasing fulfilled desires, but when you consider that it is unclear whether turning up the knobs on many desires would help society at all, I don't think it's a more nebulous idea to grasp.

People who seem to be sacrificing their happiness for other things are, in my opinion, only sacrificing things that ordinarily create gratification, in exchange for a sense of fulfillment that they ultimately find more satisfying, which in turn leads to more happiness than they would've had otherwise. Some parents don't derive any pleasure from sacrificing things for the sake of kids, and so they don't. You'll never hear a parent say, "Damn, I really wanted to take that painting class instead of supervising Timmy's volleyball practice, and when I see the smile on his face, I'm convinced that I made the wrong decision."

You seem to think I'm saying that "fulfilling more and greater desires" has intrinsic value, and should be maximized. Emphatically, I'm not saying this.

But you're saying it has value, right? I mean, why does the value of happiness have to be intrinsic? Why couldn't the theory be: "People's actions are all intended to increase their own happiness. Therefore, a good act is one that increases the total happiness in the world."

Note that endorsing happiness utilitarianism is not my position. My position is just that it makes more sense to me than desire utilitarianism.

Let me quote Alonzo Fyfe on why value comes from desire:

In order for something (S) to have direct value it must be the case that there is a desire that P, and P is true of S. S has indirect value if S has a tendency to bring about T, there is a desire that P, and P is true of T.

All desire utilitarianism does is take the two ways in which something can have value – direct value in terms of being such as to fulfill a desire, and indirect value in terms of being such as to bring about a state that fulfills a desire – and applies this method to desires themselves. Desires also have value in virtue of the degree to which they are desired, or the degree to which they are likely to bring about states that are desired.

That's all there is to it! Very simple.

Now, what about happiness utilitarianism? Let me list some of the problems:

1. There is no clear reason to say that happiness is "better" than, say, preference satisfaction or pleasure or extropy.

2. We do not all pursue happiness above all else. Consider the following scenario:

A mad scientist has taken you, and somebody you care a great deal about, prisoner. He gives you two options, and demands that you pick one.

Option 1: The person you care about is to be set free, in good health, and with enough wealth to take care of his needs for the foreseeable future. He has been unconscious the whole time, so he will not remember anything about what happened to you. He will be given reason to believe that you are safe and happy. Your memory will also be erased, and we will give you every reason to believe that this person is being tortured mercilessly. You will hear the screams. Other than this, you will be well fed and cared for and given as much freedom as we can allow.

Option 2: The person you care about will be taken to another island, where he will be mercilessly tortured. However, you will not hear the screams. Your memory will be erased, and we will give you every reason to believe that this person is living a healthy and happy life. You will be convinced that he is well. In addition, you will be well fed and cared for and given as much freedom as we can allow.

Most people say they would choose option 1, even though it will not make them happiest.

We have many other projects besides our own happiness. That is, we desire many things besides happiness. Truth, for example. In many situation we would rather know the truth than live a comforting delusion in which we are happiest.

3. Happiness theory cannot explain why two people with identical beliefs might choose two different options. To explain this we must resort to a mysterious third variable that differs between them - a variable that is not part of happiness theory.

4. Consider the ultimate happiness machine. You plug your brain into it and it reads what makes you happy and makes you think you are experiencing all of that. This machine can bring ultimate happiness to everybody. And yet many people will not choose the happiness machine, because it does not actually fulfill their desires: that is, it does not make true the states of affairs that they desire. The machine can fulfill my desire for happiness, but it thwarts many of my other desires.

5. Happiness theory cannot account for the incommensurability of value.

Alas, I think we may be reaching a limit to the amount I am capable of talking about morality theories without having read nearly as much on them as you have. You're right that there are complications that prevent us from actually pursuing happiness above all else, even if the complications arise from more and more preposterous and elaborate scenarios; I think exceptions could be made (such as the fact that we often choose the option we think we'd be happier with in the moment when we have to make a decision, or the option we'd be happier with if we knew all possible information, rather than choosing future happiness that derives from a delusion), but ultimately that may end up looking like a version of happiness utilitarianism that has been amended to sound more and more like desire utilitarianism. Thank you, though, for helping me understand the practical differences between the two theories better.

Sure.

Perhaps you're starting to see why it is said that "Utilitarianism dies the death of a thousand qualification." To have utilitarian theories make sense you have to insert thousands of arbitrary qualification. Imagine if Einstein had had to insert hundreds of arbitrary cosmological constants in to his theory of general relativity!

But desire utilitarianism is different than "common utilitarianism," and all other theories. As far as I can tell, it's actually coherent.

Thanks for the stimulating discussion. I'll try to revisit your earlier questions in applied ethics sometime.

Nah, Folkways (and I) are saying that group morality is subject to many of the same evolutionary laws lifeforms are. This has nothing to do with genes or heredity; the continuity is communal, not genetic. That line of thought is a bunch of garbage, in my book.

All I was trying to point out by bringing that up is that I believe a group can possibly share, for lack of a better term, vestigal morals.

Also, don't read too much into my questions except a desire to find out the answer. I often don't know people really have tought out their beliefs and truly believe them until I throw out some extreme questions. I wouldn't be too sure you're reading into my questions the correct way whatsoever.

I didn't use the terms right and wrong. I only used good and bad, and I tried to use them according to your own terms you defined or to seek more definition.

I don't yet see the distinction between desire and preference utilitarianism or if you're simply laying out a descriptive theory instead of a moral or ethical philosophy. I'll wait to hear more, and I certainly await to hear a response to my previous questions. Thanks!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I read up on Folkways a bit and I am sure that shared and conventional moral attitudes exist, and are probably subject to some of the same forces that organisms are. I have no disagreement there, I'm just talking about something else.

It seems to me that when people talk about morality, they are trying to make universal truth claims about reasons for action that exist, or don't exist. "Rape is wrong" doesn't usually mean "Our culture has developed an predisposition against rape." People also don't seem to mean what Ayer thought they meant: "Boo on rape!"

No, what they seem to mean is: "There are objective and universal reasons for action to not rape others."

So, if this is what moral language is talking about, and I want to learn the truth about moral language, then I will investigate: Are there reasons for action that exist? What do they look like? How do they work? Does other moral language (for example, supererogatory action: "beyond the call of duty") correspond to something that really exists, or is morality a fairy tale?

Of course, we are welcome to redefine the word "morality" at any time. If we change it to mean "conventional attitudes toward behavior," then we'll be talking about something else. But that won't change the fact that the things described by Desire Utilitarianism (reasons for action, etc.) exist, and exhibit the relations described by Desire Utilitarianism.

Likewise, whether or not we define Pluto as a "planet", that does not change the fact that it is a hunk of icy rock at such-and-such distance from the Earth and such-and-such distance from the Sun, etc.

So we probably agree a great deal on how cultures can share vestigal moral attitudes about things. But I'm talking about something else. If necessary, I'll offer a merely stipulative definition: that when I talk about morality, I'm talking about "reasons for action." That's fine, because whether or not we call it "morality" (or if the Spanish take over and we call it "moralidad"), there will still be "reasons for action" and they will still exist in the ways described by Desire Utilitarianism.

A very short overview of Desire Utilitarianism is here. But, that page does not develop DU from the ground up. DU is first and foremost a meta-ethical theory. I'll be back later to try to explain it. :)

I'm lazy, so I'm going to just copy/paste a chapter from an ebook I'm writing on the subject:

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We have been searching the universe for moral value, and come up empty-handed. But don’t give up yet! Let’s keep looking. First, we should know what “moral value” might look like. Does it have legs? What color is it? We have to know what we are looking for if we are going to find it. What is moral value?

Morality is concerned with reasons for action. Reasons for action to feed the poor. Reasons for action to be kind to others. Reasons for action to not torture children.

But we’ve had a tough time finding reasons for action that really exist. Intrinsic value doesn’t seem to exist. Neither do duties or gods. We can’t say we have reasons for action to feed the poor because feeding the poor has “intrinsic value,” or because we have a “duty” to feed the poor, or because “God” says we should feed the poor. Those things just don’t exist.

So are there any reasons for action that actually exist?

Yes.

Desires exist.

In fact, as far as we know, desires are the only reasons for action that do exist.

If the poor did not desire to be fed, there would be no reason for action to feed them. If children did not desire to avoid torture, there would be no reason for action to avoid torturing children. If we all had desires not to eat food but to soak up sunlight, then we would have no reasons for action to give food to the poor. Instead, we’d have reasons for action to give them access to sunlight. Desire is the source of all moral value.

Direct and indirect value

There are two ways something can have value.
A thing attains direct value when it is desired. Sunsets, relationships, peace, candy, adventure, drugs - all these things acquire value when they are desired.

A thing can also have indirect value when it tends to bring about something that is desired. An attitude of good humor tends to bring about pleasant feelings and healthy relationships that are desired. Democracy tends to bring about personal freedoms that are desired.

Good and bad

Since desire is the only reason for action that exists, something is “good” if it fulfills the desires in question. Something is “bad” if it thwarts the desires in question.

Isn’t this relativism?

So far, it sounds like we’re just talking about relativism. Under this framework, it is “good” for Johnny to bring a gun if “the desires in question” are Johnny’s desires to rob a bank. A rape would be “bad” for the victim, who desires to not be raped, but perhaps equally “good” for the rapist, who desires to rape.

But so far, we are only talking about generic goodness, not moral goodness. We’ll get to moral goodness in a moment. For now, just notice that the above statements about Johnny and the rapist are objectively true. If you say that it is “good” for the victim to be raped, relative to her desires to not be raped, you are objectively wrong. Her desires to not be raped are reasons for action that exist in the real world, and it is objectively true that her being raped thwarts her desires to not be raped. This is not a matter of opinion. As long as we are clear on what our words mean, claims about “good” and “bad” have objective truth value, because there are some reasons for action that really exist - namely, desires - and certain states of affairs in the real world really do fulfill or thwart those desires.

Moral value

When we talk about moral value, though, we are talking about something universal. My desire for Angelina Jolie to sleep with me does not mean she is morally obligated to sleep with me. Universal moral claims require a consideration of all desires.

So when talking about universal morality, “the desires in question” are all desires. So, “morally good” means “such as to fulfill more and greater desires than are thwarted, among all desires.” And “morally bad” means “such as to thwart more and greater desires than are fulfilled, among all desires.”

For there is no reason to exclude certain desires from the evaluation. We cannot even exclude the rapist’s desires to rape. No desire is intrinsically better or worse than any other desire, because intrinsic value doesn’t exist.
Instead, we must evaluate the moral value of desires in the exact same way we evaluate the moral value of everything else! We ask, “How well does this desire fulfill or tend to fulfill other desires?”

Evaluating desires

In fact, the evaluation of moral claims always starts with the evaluation of desires. We do not start by evaluating actions or laws or ideas, but desires - for desires are the source of all moral value, the only reasons for action that exist.
It’s not so strange to evaluate the moral value of desires. Actions, laws, policies, tools, and movies are all good or bad according to their tendency to fulfill or thwart desires. Desires, too, are good or bad according to their tendency to fulfill or thwart desires.

A desire to rape is bad because it tends to thwart more and greater desires than it fulfills. A desire to show kindness is good because it tends to fulfill more and greater desires than it thwarts.

Malleable desires

We can be more specific, for ought implies can. Nobody can say that I “ought” to stop the oncoming tsunami if there is no way I can. So when we evaluate desires, we can only evaluate malleable desires - desires that can be changed.
There is no point in saying the human desire for water is good or bad, since that desire cannot be changed. To say that I “ought to not desire water,” implies that I can “not desire water,” which is false.

So, morality is concerned with the evaluation of malleable desires.

How to evaluate actions

Still, you might be disappointed that we have to evaluate desires instead of actions (because desires are the source of all moral value, not actions). Not to worry. You can judge actions as “right” or “wrong,” but not directly.

A right action is one that a person with good desires would perform. A wrong action is one that a person with good desires would not perform..
We can judge the morality of other things in the same way. A good law is one that a person with good desires would enact. A bad law is one that a person with good desires would reject. A good movie is one that a person with good desires would watch. A bad movie is one that a person with good desires would not watch. (Keep in mind we are talking about moral values, now. Aesthetic values are usually not defined the same way.)

Objective vs. subjective

You might think I’m saying that morality is subjective, since “good” and “bad” depend on whatever people happen to desire. This comes from a confusion about what the words “subjective” and “objective” mean.

Morality does depend on desires. If there were no desires, there would be no moral value in the universe. And if everybody desired to be surrounded by deafening noise, then it would be moral to carrying a blasting boombox everywhere you went. In this sense, morality is subjective.
But that’s not what most people mean by “subjective.” Subjective morality usually means that each of us gets to choose for ourselves what is good and bad, and nobody can be wrong. Morality is not subjective in this sense. As we saw before, you are objectively wrong if you claim that “rape is good.” Why? Because rape is an action that a person with good desires would not perform. Rather, rape comes from a bad desire; a desire that tends to thwart more and greater desires than it tends to fulfill. Since desires are the only reasons for action that exist, we have real and universal reason for actions to diminish or eliminate the desire to rape in others.

Also, consider the word “objective.” Some people use the phrase “objective morality” to refer to some kind of intrinsic value written into the fabric of the universe. But intrinsic value doesn’t exist. In this sense, objective morality doesn’t exist.

But that’s not what most people mean by “objective.” Objective morality usually means that moral statements can be true or false in the same way that scientific statements can be true or false. In this sense, morality is objective, as we saw above.

Finally, remember that even though morality depends on individual desires that evolution and culture happened to produce, nevertheless morality is universal because moral judgments refer to all the reasons for action that exist: all desires.

There is another sense in which morality is universal. Morality is concerned with desires that everybody should have, or that nobody should have. The question of whether rape is a good or bad desire is answered by asking, "What if everybody had a desire to rape?" Likewise, we can ask, "What would happen if everybody had a desire to see through their own biases?"

So, morality is both objective and universal. And not because that’s a comforting thought, but because that is what we find when we look at what actually exists in the real universe.

Summary

Now we have a theory of how objective and universal moral value really exists in the universe. This moral theory has a name, by the way. It’s called “desire utilitarianism.”

There are many competing moral theories, but I think desire utilitarianism is the only one that gives an accurate account of objective moral value that really exists. You’ll have to decide for yourself. In the next chapter, we’ll look at some common objections to desire utilitarianism.

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So, yeah, that's the VERY basics of what I'm defending. There are many obvious objections and questions that will immediately leap to your mind, I'm sure. I'll wait to see which ones hit you first.

It is important to remember that while it is a verified fact that science can solve many of humanity's problems, the belief that science will utlimately solve them all is a faith no less blind than many religious ones.

I don't think its a "blind faith" because science has made great strides in explaining phenomena and our enviroment, and its ability to explain has been increasing exponentially, so you could argue that because the rate of progress of science has been increasing, it will continue to do so in the future.

This means that one's belief that science will ultimately solve everything is not "blind". Aside, try Isaac Asimov's short story "The Last Question". As might be gleaned from the title, its about whether science can solve the ultimate question, that of whether energy can be created from nothing.

Does my life have meaning?

Is the greatest good for the greatest number of people a true moral aim, or is it the expression of some societies' prejudices?

Is there such a thing as morality in the universe, or is nature beyond good and evil? Are we just enforcing our own capricious fancies on others by claiming such statements as, "murder is wrong"?

I think the idea of infinite returns requires quite a bit of blind faith. Leaving that aside, though, I suspect the above questions will never find scientific answers. They are not queries into phenomena and our environment; they ask for judgments about what science can observe, and science explains and predicts, but cannot not judge (in this sense).

Besides, we've gone backwards before, such as after the fall of Greece and Rome. Scientific knowledge requires a certain amount of cultural continuity to continue, and that is always a questionable condition for the future. (I think progress in scientific knowledge is the overall story, but the path doesn't always move forward on a sure line. The idea that it will continue is a faith, although one I tend to hold. We can say it works in the past, so we are safe in saying it will continue in the future, but the Ancient Egyptians would tell you the same thing about their prayers to the Nile river...).

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Umm...I think I took you too literally, in the sense, I was talking about science explaining all physical phenomena and maybe finding a Theory of Everything one day. Those are questions that only philosophy can answer, or maybe one day through some major insight, science might give us the meaning of life. But then that would fall into a belief.

We can say it works in the past, so we are safe in saying it will continue in the future.
I'm just saying that one's faith in scientific progress is not completely blind because science has been opening our eyes, albeit in fits and starts in parts, for hundreds of years.

"Actually, there is a decent chance that extremists (religious or not) will plunge the earth into another dark age in which men cast fearful looks at the sky and see spirits in every blade of grass.

And then we will develop very sophisticated ways of explaining what metaphysical categories contain the grass-spirits and by what methods they may be entreated upon."

Huh? Sorry, but the insane-o-meter is showing signs.

As for your list, it's quite good. I'm enjoying it thus far.

Indeed. The human race is often insane. I'm only predicting that insanity has not been cured. :)

And then we will develop very sophisticated ways of explaining what metaphysical categories contain the grass-spirits and by what methods they may be entreated upon."

Huh? Sorry, but the insane-o-meter is showing signs.

Perhaps not, the human brain is capable of believing anything. More to the point, I remember reading this article on how in the middle ages and earlier people thought everything was God touched, the moon, the sun, rain etc...

Although I'm not sure if there is a decent chance we'll be plunged into a dark age.

Good call on Kant.

I think the one thinker that is also worthy of your list is Hume.

Apart from Russell also two mathematicians from the 20th century come to mind. Von Neumann and Hilbert.

Yup, these are all under consideration. Thanks.

Two other very influential thinkers that come to mind are Pythagoras and Leibniz...

Yeah, the problem with really old thinkers like Pythagoras is that we're not sure what they invented and how much they just summarized other people whose writings have been lost. It's quite possible that Euclid or especially Aristotle merely summarized earlier discoveries in math and logic (consider our snippets of data from Pythagoras and Zeno, for example). So it's quite possible that Pythagoras was more important than Euclid, but all I can do is say "as far as we know..."

From the information we do have, Aristotle and Euclid are more important than Pythagoras. But perhaps he'll find a spot lower on the list...

and Leibniz? He was pretty recent and dived into a ridiculous amount of areas.

I believe that lovable fellow Goebbels was a follower of Bernays.

Indeed.

I think I was trying to make you feel guilty for inadvertently saying that Goebbels was an important thinker. It's merely a combination of my disdain for PR & my moralizing tendency (which is irrelevent in a list like this & shows my inability to think objectively).

No, this list has nothing whatever to say about whether an individual's contributions were morally good or any such thing.

Have you read Russell's History of Western Philosophy? It talks about the history and influence of various major thinkers (mostly philosophers) in great detail, particularly Plato and Aristotle. I think you'd really enjoy it.

I made it about 100 pages in. It is indeed very interesting; I wish I had the time to read all the books I want to read!

Russell was not a follower of Aristotle, he refutes basically all of his thoughts and expresses sadness at how influential he was because it crushed free thinking and became doctrine to read Plato and Aristotle. I'm curious as to why you consider him a follower.

I stress again, why is Leibniz not included? He created calculus independently from Newton, created the Binary system, invented numerous tool and furthered the beginnings of logical philosophy.

I personally also think Einstein deserves a place and conversely am wondering why Luther does.

Another point: maybe Locke instead of Hume?

I think the confusion stems from the fact that lukeprog was actually referring to Kurt Russell, whose Escape from L.A. is the perfect allegory for Aristotelian philosophy.

(: haha

I see Russell as the greatest *single* advance in logic after Aristotle, which did indeed involve refuting (or, as I see it, improving upon) much of Aristotle's primitive work.

Leibniz is not on here because I am not familiar enough with his work to know how influential he was.

Do you think the German philosopher's fascination with the 'unconscious' (not to mention the psychoanalysts) are just a modern manifestation of Plato's obsession with the unknowable other-worldly reality of Ideal Form? What do you think Aristotle would say about Freud?

"Not really" and "I have no idea."

Sorry! :)

Immanuel Kant and Aristotel are the greatist filosefers

If Darwin will be more important 1000 years from now this world will have a grand apocalyptic final.Between science and salvation we better start with the last one.From that list is missing Kierkegaard

Hmm.. Don't know what to say.. i mean Plato's Theory of Forms was known earlier than he was born.. Try indian philosophy.. You would be amazed how many questions will be answered there :D

Where is kepler?