Fitting Pro-attitudes and Value

According to the fitting-attitudes analysis of value (the FA analysis), to be valuable is to be a fitting object of a pro-attitude. For instance, on one version of the FA analysis, what it is for an object to be valuable for its own sake is for there to be reasons to desire the object for it own sake. However, as Rabinowicz and Ronnow-Rasmussen (R & R-R) point out in their recent paper in Ethics entitled “The Strike of the Demon: On Fitting Pro-attitudes and Value,” there is a problem with this sort of analysis, for it appears that in some situations one can have reasons to desire an object for its own sake even though the object it is not valuable for its own sake. Imagine, for instance, the following situation: an evil demon will inflict severe pain on me unless I desire a saucer of mud for its own sake. In this case, there is a certainly a reason for me to desire the saucer of mud for its own sake, for adopting this attitude toward the saucer of mud will shield me from punishment by the evil demon. Yet it is implausible to suppose, as the FA analysis would seen to entail, that the saucer of mud is valuable for its own sake. This problem for the FA analysis is what R & R-R call the wrong-kind-of-reasons problem (or WKR problem for short). Now in their paper, R & R-R consider a number of possible attempts to salvage the FA analysis in light of the WKR problem, but they all fail. Now here’s a solution that I’ve thought of that involves revising the original formulation of the FA analysis. The revised FA analysis (or RFA analysis) goes as follows: X is valuable for its own sake if and only if there are reasons to desire X (for its own sake) apart from those stemming from the effects that having such a desire would have. Unlike the FA analysis, the RFA analysis doesn’t fall prey to the evil-demon counterexample, for there are no reasons to desire the saucer of mud apart from the effects that desiring the saucer of mud would have. In fact, the only reason to desire the saucer of mud is that doing so will have the effect of shielding oneself from punishment by the evil demon. Thus the saucer of mud has no final value on the RFA analysis, as it should be. This seems to me to be an adequate solution to the WKR problem, but I would be interested in what others think.

13 Replies to “Fitting Pro-attitudes and Value

  1. Doug,
    Nice idea. I’ve got a clarificatory question. As stated, RFA says, “X is valuable for its own sake if and only if there are reasons to desire X (for its own sake) apart from those stemming from the effects that having such a desire would have”. Would it be right to say that there are further constraints placed on the reasons we can have to desire X? I’m thinking of someone who says “I desire X for its own sake because my Mommy told me to” (or fill in your favorite authority), where this reason has nothing to do with the effects of having the desire, but is merely based in a prior desire to do what Mommy says. If so, any ideas what those further constraints might say?

  2. I think Josh is right — the condition needs to be more sophisticated than the one given in RFA. Here’s another sort of case it will need to deal with: suppose that you have promised your Mommy that you will desire X for its own sake. (One of those bizarre dying wishes that Mommies tend to have in philosophical examples.)
    The fact that you have promised to have this desire gives you a reason for having this desire, but not one that is based in the effects of having this desire (that your promise is fulfilled is a consequence of having the desire, not an effect). We need to rule out this sort of ‘wrong kind of reason’ too.

  3. The RFA seems open to multiple counter-examples due to its structure. RFA says that x is valuable for its own sake iff x is desirable for reasons other than effects of x. This statement of RFA excludes only one type of reason (effects)from the types of reasons that make an x valuable for something other than its own sake. Promises, obedience to authorities, prudential inertia that keeps one from considering new reasons each are (a) reasons other than effects and (b) intuitively, not justifying reasons. The FA and RFA analyses both seem to include too much.

  4. This is a bit off the cuff, but here’s a possible answer on behalf of the RFA-ist:
    (THESIS) one cannot bring oneself to desire X *for its own sake* just because it would be instrumental for one to so desire.
    The thesis might be defended either as a psychological claim or perhaps even as a logical claim. On the first version, it is psychologically impossible to make oneself desire something for its own sake as opposed to for the sake of the reason one wants to make oneself desire it. On the second version, there is actually something incoherent the whole idea.
    I’m not thinking about this clearly enough to be able right now to articulate what that incoherence is – I’m teaching in a few minutes – but I have a vague sense that that’s not an altogether implausible response on behalf of the RFA-ist.

  5. I thought of something like (THESIS) but then rejected it for the following sort of reason. Elaborate the demon example so that you are able to *cause* yourself to desire X for its own sake by hitting yourself on the head with a flowerpot. Now it seems you will have reason to hit yourself on the head, thus desiring X for its own sake. This is perfectly coherent. But there are still no justifying reasons for desiring X for its own sake.

  6. Dear Josh,
    Good question. I’m not sure whether there is a need for some further constraints. There may be such a need, but the sort of example that you’ve offered doesn’t convince me that this is the case. Let me explain. I should clarify that in the RFA analysis the word “reasons” refers to justifying reasons, not explanatory/motivating reasons. If we restrict our use of the word “reasons” in this way, I find it highly implausible to suppose that the fact that your mommy has told you to desire X for its own sake constitutes a reason for you to desire X for its own sake, unless, that is, we are to suppose that you desire to do what your mommy tells you to do. In that case (the case where you do desire to do what your mommy tells you to do), I would admit that you have a reason (i.e., a justifying reason) to desire X for its own sake. However, in this case, the reason you have to desire X for its own sake stems from the effects that having this desire would have. That is, the reason you have to desire X for its own sake is that doing so will have the effect of satisfying your desire to do as your mommy says.
    So either (a) you have a desire to do as your mommy says or (b) you don’t have a desire to do as your mommy says. If (a), then you do have a reason to desire X for its own sake but it’s not the sort of reason that counts, on the RFA analysis, in determining whether X is valuable for its own sake because it is a reason that stems from the effects of having the desire. If (b), then you don’t have any reason at all to desire X.
    I’ll think about the other proposed counterexamples from Troy and others and respond a bit later. I’m in a rush now and haven’t thought through whether I can say the same thing in reply to them.

  7. Dear All,
    In correspondence with R & R-R, they’ve rightly pointed out that I need to explain what it means for certain reasons for adopting a pro-attitude toward an object to “stem from” the effects that having that pro-attitude (e.g., a desire) would have. They worry that what I mean by this is that the reasons in question (those stemming from the effects that having the pro-attitude would have) are those provided by facts about the effects of having the pro-attitude as opposed to those provided by facts about the object. But as they rightly point out: for every fact about the effects of having a pro-attitude toward an object, there is a corresponding fact about the object that is the intentional object of the pro-attitude. So corresponding to the fact that desiring the saucer of mud has the property of shielding me from pain induced by the evil demon (call this fact “F1”), there is the fact that the saucer of mud has property of being such that desiring it would shield me from pain induced by the evil demon (call this fact “F2”).
    But what I had in mind when I proposed this solution was not some contrast between properties of the object (properties of the saucer of mud) and properties of the pro-attitude (properties of the desire for the saucer of mud). (By the way, R & R-R consider solving the WKR problem by differentiating the wrong and right kind of reasons in terms of this contrast and refute it.) I had something different in mind. So in what follows I’ll try to explain what I think that it means for a reason to stem from the effects that having a pro-attitude would have. So suppose that some fact, F, is a reason for me to have a pro-attitude toward the saucer of mud and suppose that we want to know whether or not F is a reason that stems from some effect that my having the pro-attitude toward the saucer of mud would have (e.g., the effect of shielding me from pain induced by the evil demon). To determine whether F is a reason that stems from some effect that my having the pro-attitude toward the saucer of mud would have, we should, I propose, perform the following counterfactual test: Imagine the nearest possible world in which having this pro-attitude would not have this effect and ask whether F is the case. Well, in the nearest possible world where desiring the saucer of mud doesn’t have the effect of shielding me from pain induced by the evil demon, it is, of course, not the case that desiring the saucer of mud has the property of shielding me from pain induced by the evil demon, but nor is it the case that the saucer of mud has the property of being such that desiring it would shield one from pain induced by the evil demon. Therefore, both F1 and F2 are reasons stemming from the effect that desiring the saucer of mud would have and thus don’t count, on the RFA analysis, in determining whether the saucer of mud is valuable for its own sake. The idea is that F is a reason stemming from an effect, E, that desiring an object, O, would have if and only if, in the nearest possible world where desiring O doesn’t have effect, E, F would still be the case.
    This is a bit off the cuff, but I think that this might work. In any case, it is what I had in mind when I proposed the solution.

  8. Dear Troy,
    Would it be wrong to say that an effect of your coming to have a desire for X is that your promise is fulfilled? Perhaps, I should revise RFA as either: (1) X is valuable for its own sake if and only if there are reasons to desire X (for its own sake) apart from those stemming from the effects that either having such a desire would have or coming to have such a desire would have or (2) X is valuable for its own sake if and only if there are reasons to desire X (for its own sake) apart from those stemming from the effects or consequences that having such a desire would have.
    Dear Uriah and Heath,
    I think that Heath is probably right and that we must reject THESIS.

  9. The reasons to do X for its own sake should be a subset of the reasons to do X. Give a potential reason to do X for its own sake, you should first be able to establish that it is a reason to do X, and then further claim that it is a reason to do X for its own sake. With the perverse cases, though, this is not possible. The fact that an evil demon will hurt you if you do not desire the mud saucer for its own sake is not a reason to desire the mud saucer, so it cannot count as a reason to desire a saucer of mud for its own sake in the same way that a love of mud would. Similarly, a promise to Mommy that I will desire X for its own sake does not provide a reason simply to desire X.

  10. Your view is going to need refinement to deal with multiple wrong kind of reasons. For instance, imagine two evil demons who will each inflict pain if you don’t…etc. Then in the nearest possible world in which Demon 1 doesn’t inflict pain, still, Demon 2 would, and you still have reason to desire the saucer of mud. Then it doesn’t look like Demon 1’s threat is the wrong kind of reason by the suggested criterion. (I hope I’m parsing it right.)
    If you could lump all of the wrong reasons into one counterfactual case, then that might solve the problem, but I haven’t figured out a way to say that.

  11. Dear Heath,
    I’m not seeing the force of your worry. In particular, I don’t see that it matters how many evil demons there are. Suppose there are two. In that case, I have two reasons to desire the saucer of mud for its own sake: (1) having this desire will shield me from pain inflicted by Evil Demon 1 and (2) having this desire will shield me from pain inflicted by Evil Demon 2. Now, in the nearest possible world where desiring the saucer of mud doesn’t have the effect of shielding me from pain inflicted by ED1, (1) is false. Likewise, in the nearest possible world where desiring the saucer of mud doesn’t have the effect of shielding me from pain inflicted by ED2, (2) is false. So, both (1) and (2) are, on my analysis, reasons stemming from the effects that desiring the saucer of mud would have. So, on the RFA analysis, neither of these reasons counts in determining whether or not the saucer of mud is valuable for its own sake.
    I gather that your worry is that, in the nearest possible world where desiring the saucer of mud doesn’t have the effect of shielding me from pain inflicted by ED1, (2) is true. But that doesn’t mean that (2) isn’t a reason that stems from the effects that desiring the saucer of mud would have; it just means that it doesn’t stem from one particular effect that desiring the saucer of mud would have. That is, (2) doesn’t stem from the effect of shielding me from pain inflicted by Evil Demon 1, but it does stem from the effect of shielding me from pain inflicted by Evil Demon 2. So long as it stems from any effect that desiring the saucer of mud would have, it’s not the kind of reason that counts in determining whether the saucer of mud is valuable for its own sake. Or is there something that I’m missing?

  12. I think I was reading you wrong. I could elaborate on my misunderstanding but why bother. After further thought, here’s your proposal as I understand it:
    Let F be a reason to have attitude A toward object O (for short: to A O). Since F obtains, one has reason to A O.
    (WKR) F is the wrong kind of reason to A O iff:
    A-ing O has an effect E, and
    If it were not the case that A-ing O effects E, then it would not be the case that F.
    (RFA) O is A-worthy iff one has reasons to A O that are not the wrong kind of reasons.
    Take the original example. Let F be “the demon will inflict pain on me unless I desire the mud”. This is a reason to desire the mud. Desiring the mud has the effect E of “I am shielded from the pain the demon would otherwise inflict”, and if it were not the case that desiring the mud had this effect, it would not be the case that F. OK, so far so good.
    Other cases work too:
    F= “I promised to desire mud”. E= “I keep my promise”. Check.
    F= “My mother told me to desire mud.” E= “I obey mom.” Check.
    A trickier case which also works is:
    F= “The donut is tasty.” This is reason to desire to eat the donut.
    Desiring to eat the donut has an effect E, namely that “I desire to eat something with jelly filling.” The second condition is: If it were not the case that desiring to eat the donut had this effect, i.e. if it were not the case that the donut was jelly-filled, then it would not be the case that the donut was tasty. But this is false; the donut could be tasty without being jelly-filled. So “the donut is tasty” is not the wrong kind of reason, and the criterion works again.
    But this looks like a counterexample:
    F = “The donut is has powdered sugar on it.” This, let us suppose, is reason to desire to eat the donut. This attitude has effect E, “I desire to eat something sugary.”
    The second condition is: If it were not the case that the attitude effected E, i.e. if it were not the case that the donut was sugary, it would not be the case that the donut had powdered sugar on it. This is true, so “The donut has powdered sugar on it” comes out as the wrong kind of reason, which I think is the wrong answer. This kind of counterexample will occur whenever you A O because O has property P1, having P1 entails having P2, and you construe the effect of A-ing O along the lines of “I desire something with property P2.”
    You might be closing in on an answer, though.

  13. Dear Heath,
    Thanks for your continued interest and for your new comment, and don’t worry about the misunderstanding. Such misunderstandings are inevitable in the blogsphere where ideas are being developed/revised on the fly and posts have to be too brief to anticipate and defuse potential misunderstandings.
    On the RFA analysis, X is valuable *for its own sake* if and only if there are normative reasons to desire X *for its own sake*, apart from those stemming from the effects or consequences that having such a desire would have. Note the emphasis that I’ve added on the words “for its own sake.” Thus, as stated, the RFA analysis is an analysis of final value (i.e., value as end as opposed to value as a means). Of course, once we have an analysis of final value, we can just analyze instrumental value in terms of that which is of final value: X is instrumentally valuable if and only if it is a means to something that has final value (i.e., something that is valuable for its own sake).
    Now it seems to me that the donut with powdered sugar is only instrumentally valuable. It is valuable only as a means to obtaining pleasure or as a means to satisfying one’s desire for a sugary sweet; it is not valuable for its own sake. Furthermore, the fact that the donut has powdered sugar on it is not a reason (not a normative/justifying reason) for desiring the donut *for its own sake*. The fact that the donut has powdered sugar on it is only a reason to desire the donut as a means to satisfying one’s desire for a sugary sweet. So it is not, on the RFA analysis, the kind of reason that counts in determining whether or not the donut with powdered sugar is valuable for its own sake.
    By the way, I think that the same is true of the tasty donut. The fact that the donut is tasty is the wrong kind of reason on the RFA analysis. The fact that the donut is tasty may constitute a reason to desire the donut as a means to obtaining pleasure, but it does not constitute a reason to desire the donut for its own sake.
    So I don’t think that your putative counter-example to the RFA analysis is a genuine counter-example.

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