There is a discussion currently ongoing under a previous thread that I'm afraid is going to waste as it is totally away from the original topic and too deep in.

The contenders are Desire Utilitarianim, represented by Alonzo Fyfe (aka the Atheist Ethicist) against Act Utilitarianism or Consequentialism, Represented by George Kane.

To this end, as I'm quite interested in the debate, I'm opening this thread and hopefully the debaters will moe their discussion here.

I'm posting the last answer from Alonzo Fyfe below (I hope I got the quotes right):
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This is a lower level ethical question. . . . Eating nutritious foods and exercising is a good thing to do because I will live longer and in better health, whether I desire it at all.

Actually, this involves a prior ethical question - what is value? Moral value is a type of value, so moral value must be a species of the genus 'value'.

All value exists in the form of relationships between states of affairs and desires. So, moral value must exist in the form of relationships between states of affairs and desires. The question is: which relationships?

Your argument runs in a circle. Something is good because it is desired. If it is not desired, then the desire is defective.
The formal term for this type of relationship is ‘recursive’ or ‘virtually circular’. It is the type of circularity that is applied to our understanding of language (each term being defined in terms of other terms which are, in turn, defined by their relationship to yet other terms, and so on). It also is used in coherentist epistemologies (beliefs are justified by their relationship to other beliefs which are, in turn, justified by their relationships to still other beliefs).

However, you must be careful. There are a lot of different types of relationships between states of affairs and desires, and lots of different types of goodness. ‘Instrumental goodness’, for example, refers only to the capacity of an object to fulfill other desires indirectly – its usefulness as a means or as a tool. ‘Health’ is a type of goodness that refers only to changes in physical and mental functioning. Moral goodness refers to relationships between desires and other desires, while good acts are those acts that a person with good desires would perform.

Desires are not intrinsically defective. It is simply the case that if a malleable desire tends to lead to the thwarting of other desires, then those who would be harmed have reason to inhibit the formation of that desire. We have reason to give our neighbors an aversion to blind violence, simply because we do not want to become the victim of that violence (or for those we are about to become a victim.)


But you need something objective to distinguish between proper and defective desires.

If all value exists in the form of relationships between states of affairs and desires, then the value of a desire must exist in the form of relationships between that desire and (other) desires.

You cannot arrive at the question of how to get someone else to behave ethically until you answer the question “what is the ethical thing to do?” . . .

The answer to the question, "What is the ethical thing to do?" is "That action that a person with good desires would perform."

Let’s take a concrete case. Let us consider the case of Mary and Jody . . .

First, if I were a judge, I would be limited in my decision to deciding the case according to the law. To at least some degree, a judge cannot decide the issue on moral grounds, but on legal grounds. He may be working under a system of unjust laws.

Second, I do not think that it makes sense to apply ethics to hard cases, until we have a theory that can handle the easy cases.

Third, one of the implications of Desire Utilitarianism is that it suggests that there are genuine moral dilemmas - dilemmas where it all options are wrong. Parents ought to love and care for their children equally - so killing a child is something that a good parent is simply going to have a hard time doing. Any moral theory that casts one option as being 'clearly right' in the sense that the parent ought to feel no regret over the other option is a bad theory. A better theory supports the conclusion that you kill off the one child to save the other - but that it should be psychologically very difficult to do the right thing in this type of case.

You seem to believe that all action is selfish, which is both false and dismissive of ethics as an exercise in futility.
I deny that all action is selfish. However, I do require that all actions have a cause that is within the brain of the person who acts. Each person acts to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires. However, those desires can (and do) include desires for the well-being of others. They do not care for others as a mere means for their own happiness. They care for others as an end in itself. Because that is what desires do - desires identify our ends.

I deny that it is possible for an agent to act on a desire that is not his own - and that, if it were possible, then it would not be his action. If you hooked up a machine whereby your desires controlled the movement of my body, then those actions would be your actions, not mine. I would not be responsible for them in any way. It is only when the actions of my body spring from my own desires that they are legitimately called my actions.

So, "Each person acts to fulfill the most and strongest of his desires, given his beliefs" is not a claim that all actions are selfish. It is a statement that all actions that belong to an agent must spring from his desires - even altruistic (other regarding) desires.

By the way, desire utilitarianism defines a selfish desire as a desire that contains a self-referencing indexical in its object. "I desire that I am free of pain" or "I desire that I have $1 million" are self-referencing (selfish) desires. Whereas altruistic desires have an other-referencing subject. "I desire that Jim is free of pain" or "I desire that Jim has $1 million" would be an altruistic desire. As long as the state desired is one that also fulfills the desires of the the subject (either 'I' or 'Jim' respectively).


If you are able to prove to someone, that X harms P, this will be a fact that he should include in his moral calculation, but it cannot be definitive.

Should . . . but how do you get it so that he does what he should do? I hold that, without desires, anything you do to a person’s beliefs are irrelevant. It is not enough that an agent can calculate a particular outcome. The agent has to be made to care about that outcome.

He must decide the magnitude and distribution of that harm, and weigh that against the magnitude and distribution of improvement that X causes in peoples’ lives. This is the responsibility of the moral agent.

Your 'moral agent' is not human. People act so as to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. An agent can have a aversion to the harm suffered by others and the benefit acquired by others. However, these desires are going to be necessarily mixed in with his own aversion to pain, his desire for sex, his affection for his own children, his affection for his friends, his enjoyment of football.

Even when we come to harm and improvement, few (if anybody) has the capacity to make these types of calculations. There are too many variables involved - too much uncertainty at stake.

As I said earlier, techniques of persuasion are too far down the line to worry about. The issue of ethics is to decide whether an action is good or bad.

In answer to your concern about right actions, a right action is the action that a person with good desires would perform.

Tags: act utilitarianism, desire utilitarianism

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Good post. This debate interests me as well.

A classic question:

A mother and baby are hiding with a group of village people - friends, relatives, neighbours.

If they are discovered, the entire group will be killed by the enemy.

The baby begins to scream loudly.

What is the ethical action for the mother to take?
Skylar:

Well, here is the Desire Utilitarian answer.

Desire utilitarianism says to promote maleable desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibit maleable desires that tend to thwart other desires.

One of the factors that a desire utilitarian would consider is how likely certain events are. Assume that desire D tends to fulfill other desires in Situation A, but thwart desires in Situation B. However, people find themselves in Situation A every day, but have a mere 0.001% chance of ever finding themselves in Situation B.

In this case, we should promote those desires that tend to fulfill other desires in Situation A. And then try to prevent people from ever finding themselves in Situation B.

We have good reason to promote a desire for the well-being of children, and a good reason to promote an aversion to killing them, since these desires will tend to fulfill other desires in most ordinary day-to-day circumstances.

In desire utilitarian terms, the case you describe would be a tragedy. If the mother cannot kill the child to silence her, she deserves no moral blame. We have no reason to encourage people generally to lack an aversion to killing children, because we have no reason to expect people to find themselves in this type of situation. Even if the mother can kill the child, if she does so eagerly and happily, the desire utilitarian would say that there was something (morally) wrong with her. She certainly lacks some desires that we generally have reason to promote.

The cold act-utilitarian who does his simple calculation, kills the child, and thinks nothing of it (because, certainly, to kill the child and feel horribly about it has less utility than killing the child without caring about her death) would, in desire utilitarian terms, be a moral monster.
I’m working on a response in another Atheist Nexus folder, and have not had a chance to read through the earlier posts in this folder, but I have to comment on this. You are dodging Skylar’s question. She is not asking you whether an outsider should blame her, she is asking what the woman should do. You have not addressed the factors that she should consider, only considerations for an outsider to consider for manipulating others.

This is a very clear case. The possibility exists for the woman to save the lives of a group of friends, relatives and villagers. Unless there are significant facts not provided, such as that they are all nuclear terrorists, she must sacrifice the baby. Sure, it is a horrifying act, but the her moral obligation is unambiguous. To reject her obligation would be an act of grievous moral disproportion.
George there are no eariler posts :) The original post is just the last reply from Alonzo to you. If you are creating a reply to his last post on the "Anyone here communist" thread, it would be better to post it here as the subject has shifted from the original.
You are dodging Skylar’s question. She is not asking you whether an outsider should blame her, she is asking what the woman should do.

Unlike act utilitarianism, desire utilitarianism does not divorce these two questions. They are the same thing. The question of what a person morally should do is the question of what people generally have reason to praise or condemn.

Divorcing praise and blame from moral value is one of the absurdities that act utilitarianism. It would have us praise people who did the wrong thing, or blame people who did the right thing, depending on the consequences of praising or blaming. In other words, in act utilitarian theory, praise or blame has nothing to do with the moral quality of the act being praised or blamed.

And that's a problem.

Desire utilitarianism intimately links moral praise or blame with the moral quality of an action. This is because it looks at actions as signs of desires, and asks whether the desires are those we generally have reason to encourage or promote or inhibit through praise or condemnation.

This is a very clear case. The possibility exists for the woman to save the lives of a group of friends, relatives and villagers. Unless there are significant facts not provided, such as that they are all nuclear terrorists, she must sacrifice the baby.

Among the facts that the act utilitarian would have us consider is the amount of pure enjoyment the people they are hiding from would get from finding them. In fact, if the villagers were hiding from people who really enjoy killing others, then they should not even be hiding.

Furthermore, depending on the level of enjoyment that others would get from killing them, it could be a 'very clear case' that they should not hide, but that they should give themselves up immediately.
Alonzo Fyfe wrote on August 7
(George Kane wrote) You are dodging Skylar’s question. She is not asking you whether an outsider should blame her, she is asking what the woman should do.

(Alonzo Fyfe responded) Unlike act utilitarianism, desire utilitarianism does not divorce these two questions. They are the same thing. The question of what a person morally should do is the question of what people generally have reason to praise or condemn.


So the only step in moral reasoning should be to decide what other people will think of her? She has no obligation to the people she is condemning to death?

Alonzo Fyfe continued
Divorcing praise and blame from moral value is one of the absurdities that act utilitarianism. It would have us praise people who did the wrong thing, or blame people who did the right thing, depending on the consequences of praising or blaming. In other words, in act utilitarian theory, praise or blame has nothing to do with the moral quality of the act being praised or blamed.

And that's a problem.


Praise and blame should be factual. It frequently happens actions have consequences that could not be foreseen. We might praise the agent for the quality of his reasoning from the totality of facts available, but conclude that his decision was wrong. The information that was learned by the mistake may be useful in future decisions.

You are right that at some time it might be useful to lie a little when passing out praise. It can be good for a child, to build self-respect and encourage improved behavior. Parents do it all the time. No problem.

Alonzo Fyfe continued
Desire utilitarianism intimately links moral praise or blame with the moral quality of an action. This is because it looks at actions as signs of desires, and asks whether the desires are those we generally have reason to encourage or promote or inhibit through praise or condemnation.

You are reaching an absurd moral conclusion by divorcing moral value from consequences.

I often argue against rule-based ethical systems because following a rule only leads to the best consequences some percentage of the time, and so all rules are sometimes wrong. Basing them on your amateur psychologizing compounds this error. Human motivations are often complex. Actions are motivated by multiple desires, and each desire will be beneficial some percentage of the time and harmful some other percentage of the time. Your entire structure of reasoning is nonempirical and subjective.

Alonzo Fyfe continued
(George Kane wrote) This is a very clear case. The possibility exists for the woman to save the lives of a group of friends, relatives and villagers. Unless there are significant facts not provided, such as that they are all nuclear terrorists, she must sacrifice the baby.

(Alonzo Fyfe responded) Among the facts that the act utilitarian would have us consider is the amount of pure enjoyment the people they are hiding from would get from finding them. In fact, if the villagers were hiding from people who really enjoy killing others, then they should not even be hiding.

Furthermore, depending on the level of enjoyment that others would get from killing them, it could be a 'very clear case' that they should not hide, but that they should give themselves up immediately.

The utilitarian principle is to promote the greatest good for the greatest number. Death is an extreme degree of harm, that cannot be counterbalanced by any enjoyment anyone would receive.

I hope that after lunch I’ll have time to get to your earlier posts.
This was the premise of the final episode of the TV series M*A*S*H.

It is pretty contrived, as there are many ways to stop a baby screaming short of killing it.

There is a related theme, common in Japanese Samurai tales (for example, here), is where a mother is forced to kill her son for the sake of honour because he has turned to evil.

The problem as you have stated it is not hard, because either way the baby dies. More cruel would be if the mother has a horse available. The choices then include the possibility of fleeing, saving herself and the child (in which case the villagers are slaughtered for sheltering them).
Fyfe,

I’m not going to get into a point-by-point rebuttal at this moment, but there one strain in your reasoning to which I would like to call your attention. In a non-specific demonstration of how you believe moral reasoning should work, you write “(H)ow do you get it so that he does what he should do? I hold that, without desires, anything you do to a person’s beliefs are irrelevant. It is not enough that an agent can calculate a particular outcome. The agent has to be made to care about that outcome.”

I think that you are really asking “How do I get it so that he does what I want him to?” This is a question of rhetoric, which you should address to a speech writer. The properly formed moral question is “How do I get it so that I do what I should do?” The singular requirement of any ethical system is always to provide guidance for one’s own moral decisions.

I think that the way to reach moral conclusions is to examine all of the relevant facts and to apply unbiased reasoning. But as I understand your presentation, you will instead have to examine your desires, to determine if they are the desires that a good person would have, and to change them if they are not.

You are the person who has to do that, are you not? A third party can observe facts of your situation, your actions and their consequences. But what he cannot observe is your desire or motivation. Seeing any of my actions, I do not think an independent observer would be able to conclude that my desire was for the greatest good for the greatest number. If he wants to alter my behavior, he has to present me with facts that show that my conclusion was wrong. Attempts to manipulate me emotionally will only annoy me.

I think that in the Desire Utilitarianism that you describe the third-person observer is relegated to the sidelines.
I think that you are really asking “How do I get it so that he does what I want him to?” This is a question of rhetoric, which you should address to a speech writer.

Nope. I am pointing to the causal connection between an act and a desire. That in order for a person to choose to do X under condition C, he has to have those mental states that would cause him to do X under condition C. Then, you have to ask what a person with those mental states would do under conditions D, E, F, and G . . . some of which may be far more likely and have for more significant outcomes than anything he would do under conditions C.

The properly formed moral question is “How do I get it so that I do what I should do?” The singular requirement of any ethical system is always to provide guidance for one’s own moral decisions.

Why is this the singular requirement of any moral system?

Morality is a tool, like a car or a computer. Like any tool, it serves all of our various ends and purposes. It is a tool for avoiding pain and suffering, for avoiding death, for providing us with food and shelter.

In other words, it is a tool for aiming to the fulfillment of all of our desires.

You are the person who has to do that, are you not? A third party can observe facts of your situation, your actions and their consequences. But what he cannot observe is your desire or motivation.

Actually, a great deal of evidence shows that we do a poor job of knowing what our own beliefs and desires are and, to the degree we do know, we figure it out the same way we figure out the beliefs and desires of others. We observe behavior, and we develop a theory that best explains and predicts that behavior (a theory that is often less than perfect).

Evolution gave us no special powers to observe our own mental states. It did not need to. Such a system would not have helped us survive. It was far more important to our ancestors that they see food and see predators, then that they see their own beliefs and desires.

You speak about presenting a person with facts in order to alter his beliefs. I speak about presenting a person with praise and condemnation in order to alter his desires. There is no reason to believe that one is any harder than the other.

More importantly, mistakes of fact are not a part of moral condemnation. If a person at the airport walks off with somebody else's luggage, and he believes it is his luggage, he is not condemned for it. If he walks off with what he knows to be somebody else's luggage that he intends to take possession of as his own, this is where condemnation comes in.

The thief need not be missing any relevant fact of the matter. He can have all of the relevant true beliefs. There need not be a single relevant fact of which he has made a mistake. His fault does not rest with a defect of belief - but a defect of desire.

And if it were a defect of belief, he would not be condemned. It is only when we can trace his behavior back to a defect of desire that moral condemnation, or even punishment, becomes appropriate.

(Note: A defect of belief can be grounds for punishment if it becomes a sign of negligence or recklessness. But, even here, negligence and recklessness are defects in desire. The person simply did not care to work hard enough to avoid possible harms.)
Alonzo Fyfe wrote on August 11
(George Kane wrote) The properly formed moral question is “How do I get it so that I do what I should do?” The singular requirement of any ethical system is always to provide guidance for one’s own moral decisions.

(Alonzo Fyfe replied) Why is this the singular requirement of any moral system?

Morality is a tool, like a car or a computer. Like any tool, it serves all of our various ends and purposes. It is a tool for avoiding pain and suffering, for avoiding death, for providing us with food and shelter.

In other words, it is a tool for aiming to the fulfillment of all of our desires.


If a moral system cannot provide guidance when deciding on my course of action, it is a failed system. Usefulness in persuading others might be a nice feature, but it is dispensable.

Alonzo Fyfe continued
(George Kane wrote) You are the person who has to do that, are you not? A third party can observe facts of your situation, your actions and their consequences. But what he cannot observe is your desire or motivation.

(Alonzo Fyfe replied) Actually, a great deal of evidence shows that we do a poor job of knowing what our own beliefs and desires are and, to the degree we do know, we figure it out the same way we figure out the beliefs and desires of others. We observe behavior, and we develop a theory that best explains and predicts that behavior (a theory that is often less than perfect).


Developing “a theory that best explains and predicts” behavior is an empirical task for professionals. Do you know if there are statistics that show how often even professional psychologists reach a correct conclusion? Or is the analysis of desires unavoidably subjective and unverifiable?

As I said in an earlier post, human behaviors are motivated by a complex network of desires. Looking at a particular action, it is possible to name a variety of different desires that might have contributed to it. It is possible to use the plan of moral reasoning you’ve laid out to conclude that you should alter any one of these. How do you know that you are not interpreting his behaviors in such a way as to influence him to do the right thing, rather than to do just what you want him to do?

I think that your plan for moral reasoning is inescapably subjective. There is no step at which we determine if our estimation of the subject’s desires was correct or not.

As an example of the complexity of the desires underlying moral reasoning, let’s consider the family man in an abusive marriage. If he meets a potential new partner, there are many motives that may influence his actions; some self-serving, some altruistic, some positive, some hostile. What is the correct course of action? I would say that there is no single answer that can be given, that it depends on the probable effect in his own life, in his partner’s, in the lives of his children, the life of his hoped-for mistress, and perhaps the lives of many other people. There is no rule or blanket analysis which will determine the proper course of action in all cases.

But let us suppose that an outside observer believes that he should keep his family together and remain faithful to his wife. He will, in Desire Theory, try to influence him to maximize that desire. Another observer may not the emotional harm done to the children to live in an abusive and dysfunctional home, and will urge him to end the relationship as quickly as possible. So, too observers disagree. How do they resolve their disagreement? It seems to me that each will be tied to a “desire analysis” based on a subjective conclusion of what the husband-in-temptation should do.
Alonzo Fyfe continued
Evolution gave us no special powers to observe our own mental states. It did not need to. Such a system would not have helped us survive. It was far more important to our ancestors that they see food and see predators, then that they see their own beliefs and desires.

This doesn’t help your case much. That people are incompetent to judge their own desires doesn’t help the problem that no one else can judge them properly. You might as well say “I can’t judge your desires, but neither can you."

But I find your claim to be unpersuasive on its face. Sure, there are some cases where I might say “I have no idea why I did that,” or when I am unaware of some desires I hide from myself. But the individual is always in a better position to understand and explain his motives than anyone else.

Alonzo Fyfe continued
You speak about presenting a person with facts in order to alter his beliefs. I speak about presenting a person with praise and condemnation in order to alter his desires. There is no reason to believe that one is any harder than the other.

I speak of the importance of getting the facts I need to reach the morally correct conclusion. I am asking you, to justify Desire Theory, how you recognize which of your desires needs to be altered, and how you go about altering your desires.

Alonzo Fyfe continued
More importantly, mistakes of fact are not a part of moral condemnation. If a person at the airport walks off with somebody else's luggage, and he believes it is his luggage, he is not condemned for it. If he walks off with what he knows to be somebody else's luggage that he intends to take possession of as his own, this is where condemnation comes in.

This is a terrible example to make your point. If a person walks off with someone else’s luggage he was negligent not to properly check the ID tag and the carrier’s tag number against his claim ticket. You are denying moral agency, because you do not think that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

Alonzo Fyfe continued
It is only when we can trace his behavior back to a defect of desire that moral condemnation, or even punishment, becomes appropriate.

This is not true. Often a person desires a good thing, yet we condemn him for poor analysis.

I think that it is quite possible that W labored under many misconceptions during the planning of the invasion of Iraq. He probably believed that Iraq would be much better off without Saddam Hussein, that our soldiers would be warmly welcomed by their people, and that we could establish a democratic government that would launch transformative change throughout the Arab nations. Sure, he had some defective desires, too, but these above are sufficient to explain the invasion.

Well, the invasion cost tens of thousands of lives, and wasted hundreds of billions of dollars. Despite any desires he had, the invasion was a grievous moral error.

A few months ago, I had a very disconcerting discussion with a couple of atheists on another site. I was making the point that it is important for atheists to develop and exhibit a clear commitment to ethical behavior. I thought that it was an obvious and undisputable point, so I was quite surprised by their complete rejection of the point. Digging further, it turns out that they regarded morality as a platform for an assumed superiority that prigs use to condemn others. In the current discussion I’ve learned the validity of their point. If you tell people “I’m a moral person, so my concern is to alter your behavior by changing your desires,” you only discredit the entire enterprise of ethics.
This doesn’t help your case much. That people are incompetent to judge their own desires doesn’t help the problem that no one else can judge them properly.

The thesis that we do not have special access to our own desires is not the same as the thesis that we are incompetent in determining what desires a person has, or how to change them.

I mentioned that we do not have special access to our own desires because, evolutionarily speaking, it was more important that we develop an ability to sense the outside world (food, mates, predators) than that we sense our own inner states.

However, our ability to sense the outside world would include an ability to anticipate the behavior of other people. Interactions with others is a huge part of our everyday life, and we actually become quite good at predicting their behavior. We are not perfect, but quite skilled.

But the individual is always in a better position to understand and explain his motives than anyone else.

Sure he is. However, this is not due to some infallible sense of his own mental states. It is because he has (1) more behavioral data on which to theorize about his own desires than about those of any other person, and (2) a stronger reason to be interested and to be right about his own desires. Yes, I know me better than I know my wife. But it is because I have spent every single waking moment of my life with me.

I am asking you, to justify Desire Theory, how you recognize which of your desires needs to be altered, and how you go about altering your desires.

We are not so much concerned about altering our own desires as we are altering the desires of others. What we do is take certain actions as signs that the agent has bad desires (desires that tend to thwart the desires of others), and we respond to those actions with condemnation or punishment. We take other actions as signs of good desires (desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others), and resond to those with praise and reward. This has the overall effect of promoting desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others, and suppressing desires that tend to thwart the desires of others.

At a very crude level - at a level where even social animals can practice desire utilitarianism - we simply take the fact that an act thwarts desires as evidence that the agent has desires that tend to thwart the desires of others. Animals react to the desire-thwarting behavior of other members of the group with hisses, growls, and even the brief outburst of violence. This causes others in the colony to learn not to do that. It alters their desires, so that the desire-thwarting behavior becomes less common.

Similarly, animals reward other members of the group that perform desire-fulfilling behavior with affection, grooming, sex, and food. This, then, strengthens the desires that cause desire-fulfilling behavior.

Human intelligence allows us to simply use these tools more efficiently - as we use all tools more efficiently. We become better able to recognize that a desire-thwarting action might come from a desire that, on the whole, is desire-fulfilling. So, we accept certain desire-thwarting actions.

We see this in many of the cases that serve as counter-examples to act-utilitarianism. The case of the doctor who can kill an innocent healthy person to use his organs to save five others, the case of the Sheriff who can kill an innocent person to prevent a riot in which several innocent people will die; the case of the person who was told by the brutal dictator to "kill one innocent tribesman, or I will kill 20."

All of these cases are those in which the best act requires desires that tend to thwart other desires overall. So, we praise the person who does not perform the desire-utilitarianism best act. We consider them to be the 'better person', because the desires they exhibit are those that will, in most everyday circumstances, fulfill rather than thwart other desires.

I think that it is quite possible that W labored under many misconceptions during the planning of the invasion of Iraq.

I mentioned in my earlier post the moral crime of negligence. Negligence is the absence of a desire that tends to fulfill other desires. Bush was intellectually negligent. He could have figured out these other truths if he cared enough to do so. This is why he deserves moral condemnation.

There are some who do not accuse him of negligene. They accuse him of outright dishonesty. He simply exploited a situation to get America involved with something that he knew had nothing to do with 9/11. This lack of respect for truth or justice - this manipulation of others - represents desires that we have reason to inhibit through condemnation and punishment.

I wrote at the time that the invasion took place that it was a grievous moral error - before we knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction and before we knew how many lives would be lost. In fact, at the time I thought he would be successful, and I feared that success would establish a precident that the world would eventually pay for in much larger costs.

Bush violated many principles of justice that generally keep people safe. He violated the presumption of innocence. He violated the presumption of peace (there shall be no violence unless the need of violence is proved beyond a reasonable doubt), he held to an arrogant presumption of intellectual infallibility. He engaged in a policy of unilateralism where negotiation tends to keep us from making the worst possible mistakes. These are the types of desires that often lead to disaster, and Iraq proved to be no exception.

If you tell people “I’m a moral person, so my concern is to alter your behavior by changing your desires,” you only discredit the entire enterprise of ethics.

There is nothing in desire utilitarianism that justifies the type of arrogance that would be found in such a statement.

Desire utilitarianism states that there are moral facts. The claim, "I am a moral person" is a claim that far too many people state, even when it is false.

In fact, insofar as arrogant people tend to thwart the desires of others, desire utilitarianism says that we have a reason to inhibit arrogance through condemnation and (in extreme cases) punishment - and to reward modesty through praise and reward.

It is interesting to note how, in this statement where you think you are criticizing desire utilitarianism, you show yourself to be practicing - criticizing a certain type of attitude (in the hopes of making it less common) on the grounds that people with that attitude tend to thwart the desires of others.

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