Illusive Mind

The Unquestionable should be questioned

Monday, June 06, 2005

I don't like red guitars


This is an objection to Richard's argument as to why the ammoralist is compelled by reason to be moral, Why be moral? over at Philosophy, Et cetera.

What would be incoherent is to fail to desire a food you admit you would enjoy eating just as much, unless some further reason can be given for the differential treatment.

I think there are cases where arbitrariness is not equivalent to irrationality. I talk about this in my essay.

However I absolutely agree with you in that there is a definite place for reason in assessing our desires as I talk about here.

Let’s say I love guitars except red guitars. (Which happens to be true)

For our desires to be rational that must cohere or accord with our beliefs about the world. So if I believe that red guitars are actually the best guitars in the world, it is not rational that my desire doesn’t accord with my belief, (unless there was some other reason why I didn’t like red guitars).

To whatever extent we can know, the beliefs which our desires are based on should accord with the world to be considered rational.

So if I believe that painting the colour red on a guitar actually alters the sound of the instrument and that belief is false (which I think it is) then my aversion to red guitars is irrational.

But what about the idea that our desires and moral judgements are reducible or entailed by first order principles. In order for them to be rational they must accord with those principles (which is similar to a coherent desire set).

So if my aversion to red guitars is derived from a aesthetic aversion to all red ‘status symbols’ then it is coherent. (I don’t like red cars either but I don’t mind red T-shirts).

If I did like red bass guitars then there would need to be a reason why I regarded lead guitars and bass guitars as meaningfully different in this context. Otherwise my desire is not in accord with my principle (i.e. the belief or desire about red status symbols).

Of course the aversion to red status symbols may itself by reducible to a further belief or desire, but as long as it is consistent that the desire is rational. And yet it is arbitrary in the sense that it might have been any other colour were it not for the cultural and perhaps physiological associations with the colour red.

But I don’t think you are using arbitrary in this way, you are right to use it in terms of inconsistency.

So if the amoralist cares about the welfare of his friends but not anyone else, there may be a consistent explanation for this. The amoralist may only care about the people who are loyal to him et al. If he doesn’t care about family member who are also loyal to him, just because he is related to them (and no other reason) then we can charge him with irrationality.

However an intelligent amoralist (a sociopath like Hannibal Lecter) may very well avoid these inconsistencies in his desires and beliefs. Certainly even the most moral people may have irrational desires in some aspect of their lives.

So if the amoralist is consistent in his application of a lack of empathy, (and perhaps his disregard for his future self) then how is his immorality irrational?

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