States of affairs are all you need

Some philosophers opposed to consequentialism think that one of the basic mistakes that consequentialists make is to think that all value is located in states of affairs. (E.g., there are remarks to this effect in T. M. Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other; in R. M. Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods; in Philippa Foot’s "Utilitarianism and the Virtues"; in Bernard Williams’s Utilitarianism: For and Against; and so on.)

Now, I am no friend of consequentialism (au contraire, in fact …), but this attack on the idea that the locus of value is states of affairs seems to me a hopeless manoeuvre for the opponents of consequentialism to make. As I shall argue below the fold, locating all the values that one proposes to talk about in states of affairs is a completely harmless "housekeeping" move which makes no substantive difference to one’s overall ethical theory.

As I intend to argue on another occasion, the crucial issue that really divides consequentialists and their opponents is whether the only appropriate response to values is to promote them, or whether other responses are sometimes more important — such as honouring or respecting values, not harming them, acting in a way that expresses one’s cherishing of them, and so on.

Of course, it is quite true that a lot of things other than states of affairs are valuable in various ways.

  • An intellectual achievement is not a state of affairs, but it can be admirable, and so valuable in one distinctive way.
  • A landscape or a painting is not a state of affairs, but it can be sublimely beautiful, and so valuable in another way.
  • An individual human being is not a state of affairs, but an individual human person has a certain sort of dignity that makes him or her valuable in yet another way.

But whenever something x that is not itself a state of affairs has a given evaluative feature V, there is a simple way in which we can identify a corresponding state of affairs S(x) that has a corresponding evaluative feature V’.

Then, in building our ethical theory, we could just forget about the fact that strictly speaking, it is not only states of affairs that are valuable — since instead of talking about the valuable thing x, we can just talk about the correspondingly valuable state of affairs S(x) instead. In other words, the valuable state of affairs S(x) can serve in our theory as a proxy for the valuable thing x.

This move will certainly not have any deep explanatory significance, but it will at the very least be quite a harmless move to make. More positively, it may actually be useful as a "housekeeping" move: it may simplify the presentation of our ethical theory, and facilitate the articulation of illuminating principles about values and their practical significance.

This is how to identify the corresponding state of affairs for any valuable thing x (assuming that x is not itself a state of affairs).

I assume that whenever something has a certain evaluative feature V, it has some other property P that makes it the case that it has V. Then the state of affairs that corresponds to the valuable thing x is the state of affairs of x‘s having P. This state of affairs may not itself have V, but it has a corresponding sort of value — viz., it is a state of affairs that makes it the case that something has V.

So, whatever else may be wrong with consequentialism, there is nothing wrong with the way in which only focuses on the kinds of value that are located in states of affairs. States of affairs are all that we ethical theorists need.

34 Replies to “States of affairs are all you need

  1. Nice post, Ralph. I find a lot of what you say compelling. I take it that the kind of thing you have in mind is similar to Pettit’s take on the consequentialism/non-consequentialism distinction? (E.g., in his contribution to Singer’s (Ed.) Companion to Ethics, and in his contribution to the Baron, Pettit, & Slote volume?)
    In any case, while the view you’re advocating is compelling, I think it might run into objections from some who hold Kantian views, by which I mean views according to which humanity has fundamental value. The value humanity has on this account is fundamental moral status, that is, the value that underwrites right and wrong action. (I.e., what makes it wrong to lie to a person is that she has value, or status.)
    So if humanity is our ‘x’, on your view we’d be able to find a state of affairs ‘S(x)’ that corresponds to this value. But what is that state of affairs? It can’t be the state of affairs in which humanity exists. On your proposal, “the state of affairs that corresponds to the valuable thing x is the state of affairs of x’s having P,” where P is that in virtue of which x is valuable — for standard Kantianism, P will be something like rational capacities. So on your proposal, the valuable Kantian state of affairs will be the state of affairs in which humanity has rational capacity.
    This has some strange implications, it seems. For Kantianism, it is incorrect to say either that we should promote the state of affairs in which humanity has rational capacity or that we should honour or respect that state of affairs. What we should honour or respect is, instead, humanity. The purported housekeeping move then seems to be more than housekeeping: Kantianism should be able to at least get on the playing field by saying that we have a duty to respond in a certain way (whether that be honouring, promoting, respecting…) to a certain kind of value (humanity’s dignity). Indeed, Cummiskey’s Kantian Consequentialism seems roughly distinguished from standard Kantianism at exactly this point: if we value humanity having rationality (a state of affairs), we should promote that, according to him, rather than doing some deontological thing like respecting humanity.
    Anyway, maybe you could say more about how your proposal could accommodate this kind of Kantian view, i.e., how a purported housekeeping move doesn’t end up ruling out conventional Kantianism.

  2. Thanks for your useful comment Josh!
    The Kantian claim is that the appropriate response to the value of humanity is to respect humanity (as an end in itself) in every instance.
    What I say is that this can be harmlessly (perhaps even illuminatingly?) translated into the following claim about states of affairs:

    For every instance of humanity x, there is the state of affairs of x‘s having the relevant sort of rational capacities, and the appropriate response to this state of affairs is: (i) not to undermine this state of affairs (e.g., not to bring it about that x no longer has these capacities, or has them to a lesser degree, or cannot use them in such an effective way, or whatever); and (ii) to act in a way that expresses one’s positively cherishing this state of affairs (e.g., by helping x to maintain and develop these capacities, and to use them more effectively, etc.)

    What do you think?

  3. I think that goes some distance, Ralph. What would you say, though, to the Kantian who says that she can accept how you gloss the Kantian response in terms of non-undermining and positively cherishing the state of affairs, but who also says that we have a duty–a further duty–to respect each person as well? You might say something along these lines: “what you’re calling a ‘further’ duty isn’t really further. It’s just another way of characterizing the duty to not undermine and to cherish.” But I don’t know if that’s going to do the trick. First, there might be some basic difference between the non-undermining and cherishing states of affairs responses you characterize and the response of valuing humanity itself. Second, if there is some such difference — one way to put the difference would be to say that our obligations to act can change depending on the object of the response (state of affairs, person, etc.) — then the two kinds of responses might not end up extensionally equivalent (i.e., they might require different kinds of action). That’s one thing that has always left me unsure about Pettit’s view, anyway.

  4. Well, I wouldn’t for a second want to deny that there are some attitudes that are essentially attitudes towards things that are not states of affairs. (These would be attitudes that are not propositional attitudes, but what we might call “object-directed attitudes” instead.)
    I also wouldn’t want to deny that some of these object-directed attitudes might be required of us — in the sense that they are the only correct or appropriate attitudes for us to have towards the relevant objects.
    In these cases, it would certainly be natural to say that one of these attitudes is required because it is the appropriate response to the valuable object. But I don’t see why it would be wrong to say that this attitude is required because it is the appropriate response to the state of affairs of the object’s having property P (where P is the property that makes it the case that the object has the value in question).
    So I’m not convinced by your suggestion that there could be a difference between (i) responding appropriately to the valuable object and (ii) responding appropriately to the corresponding state of affairs.

  5. Just a question: what would you say to an old-school Kantian who asserted that moral value is non-empirical, or at least not something we can ever get a metaphysical grasp on?
    Robert Johnson, (“Value and Autonomy in Kantian Ethics”, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, 2007) has a nice argument against those who see Kant as gesturing towards what he calls “metaphysical glitter”. Essentially, any such empirical value X gives content to the moral law (i.e. “promote X”) and this undermines Kant’s entire project of constructing a content-less moral law (the categorical imperative) which can preserve autonomy. Can such an ethical system be translated into the language of “states of affairs”?
    I ask not knowing the answer, I’m just genuinely curious.

  6. Diamonds have value. I don’t think there is any corresponding state of affairs that has any value (not, for instance, the state of affairs that diamonds are rare).

  7. 1. Jamie’s point is well taken. I meant to be focusing exclusively on intrinsic value. I should have made that clear. A different story would have to be told about extrinsic value (e.g. instrumental value).
    Just off the top of my head, though, I’m inclined to think that the value of diamonds corresponds to the value, for most normal individuals x, of the state of affairs of x’s having diamonds. So I would think that even with extrinsic (e.g. instrumental) value, states of affairs would play a somewhat analogous role.
    2. Nick’s questions raise some deep issues about Kant’s practical philosophy. But fundamentally, I still don’t see the problem.
    It’s true that Kant stigmatizes as “heteronomous” any moral theory that is founded on any sort of value that is located in external states of affairs (i.e. states of affairs that are the mere “effect” or “object” of the will). Instead, Kant argues that the fundamental sort of value is the value of the good will itself, which in imperfect beings like us takes the form of acting from duty. Then Kant analyses what it is to act from the motive of duty, and concludes that it involves following the Categorical Imperative (which can also be described as treating humanity as an end in itself, or as willing as if one’s will were legislating for the kingdom of ends, etc.).
    However, we could still represent the Kantian theory as ultimately grounded on the value of every state of affairs that, for any x, is the state of affairs of x’s will being good. Fundamentally, the appropriate response to this value is simply to instantiate it. (Let’s say that x instantiates the state of affairs of x’s being F iff x is F.)
    At all events, I’d need to see the Kantian theory laid out much more clearly than it customarily is to see what would be wrong with representing it in this way.

  8. Someone might think that an ethical theory attempts to capture how things are normatively speaking in the world – what the ethical reality, so to speak, is like. If this is the aim we have, then there is something odd that, from the beginning, we are allowed and encouraged to forget facts about what the ultimate bearers of value are (if they are such). This seems counterproductive in some sense – to put the virtue of theoretical simplicity in front of the Truth.
    It also can hide an interesting question about the order of determination that has structural importance to our ethical theorising: do objects make states of affairs valuable or are they only valuable derivatively because they feature in valuable states of affairs?
    Finally, I start to wonder that if the talk about states of affairs does no substantial work, why couldn’t we just dispence with it? It seems to be a just more long-winded way of saying the same things.

  9. Jussi has obviously posed a fundamental question.
    Strictly, to give a full account of (the fundamental principles of) ethical reality, we would have to talk about the value of things other than states of affairs unless one of the following two conditions holds:

    1. The value of things other than states of affairs is explained by the corresponding value of the corresponding states of affairs.
    2. Talking about the value of something that is not a state of affairs and talking about the corresponding value of the corresponding state of affairs are just two ways of talking about the very same phenomenon.

    I’m actually rather inclined to think that condition (2) holds. But I admit that I haven’t argued for that yet. If either of these conditions fails to hold, then strictly speaking, we would indeed be omitting something crucial from our ethical theory if we didn’t talk about the value of things other than states of affairs.
    However, even supposing that we can’t defend either (1) or (2), I don’t see how this will help the opponent of consequentialism. The reason is that this third condition might hold (which Jussi has not questioned):

    3. For every value V, it is necessary that for every thing x that is not itself a state of affairs, x has V iff the corresponding state of affairs S(x) has the corresponding value V’.

    Given (3), if the only correct response to valuable states of affairs is to promote them, then every instance of value would ground a consequentialist requirement to promote the corresponding state of affairs. So I still think that I’m right that simply insisting that things other than states of affairs have value provides little comfort to the anti-consequentialist.

  10. Jussi:
    Where does consequentialism say or imply that “we are allowed and encouraged to forget facts about what the ultimate bearers of value are (if they are such).” Suppose that the fundamental bearers are not states of affairs, but are instead people, animals, and things, as Elizabeth Anderson has argued. Now act-consequentialism holds that an act is morally permissible if and only if the state of affairs it produces is of no less value than that which any available alternative act would produce. But I don’t see why one can’t accept this while also supposing that Anderson is right about what the fundamental bearers of value are. And I don’t see where there is any encouragement to forget the truth about what the fundamental bearers of value are.
    Ralph:
    Why is this only a “house-keeping move”? It seems to me that the cosnequentialist has a reason to focus on the value of states of affairs (as opposed to concrete entities such as persons, animals, and things) when determining the moral status of acts. The rationale, I think, is as follows: We cannot effect valuable entities. A concrete entity is not the sort of thing that we can bring about or actualize through our actions. Of course, we can act so as to bring it about that, for instance, a rational person exists or that our actions express our respect for some rational person, but these are states of affairs, not concrete entities. As agents, we have the ability to actualize only certain possible states of affairs. Indeed, purposive action must aim at the realization of some state of affairs. So the consequentialist can admit that we have reasons to have all sorts of different attitudes, including reasons to have certain non‐propositional attitudes (such as, respect) toward various concrete entities (such as, rational persons). But the consequentialist will insist that when it comes to the particular attitude of intending to act in some way, the reasons for having this attitude must always be grounded in the reasons that the agent has to value certain states of affairs. This is, as I argue in my paper “The Teleological Conception of Practical Reasons,” the rationale for focusing on states of affairs rather than concrete entities even if the latter turns out to be the fundamental bearers of value.

  11. Doug —
    I agree that it’s not a mere housekeeping move in the context of your further claims about how all reasons for action must all be grounded in the value of the state of affairs that the action will realize. (It would be even less of a housekeeping move if by this claim, you mean to be referring only to the agent-neutral value of the state affairs that the action will realize.)
    My claim was just that except in the presence of further claims of that sort, locating all value in states of affairs is just a “housekeeping” move.

  12. Ralph,
    Even if (1) or (2) is false, it doesn’t follow that we must talk about the value of things other than states of affairs in describing the most fundamental principles concerning the rightness and wrongness of acts, does it? Of course, it would follow that we must talk about the value of things in giving a complete theory of value, but why would it follow that we must talk about the value of things in giving a complete theory of the right?

  13. I agree with Ralph that (2) in his 05:11 AM comment is probably correct, and not (1).
    I also agree that: (for most normal x) the value of diamonds corresponds to the value of the state of affairs of x‘s having diamonds. But diamonds are valuable; to which state of affairs does this value correspond?
    My view:
    It’s properties, not states of affairs, that are most fundamentally valuable. Corresponding to the value of diamonds is the value of the property (had by some people), having diamonds.

  14. Ralph,
    Is your position that any statement that something is valuable but is not a state, and so a fortiori not a state of affairs, is equivalent to some statement about some state of affairs? Suppose, for instance, I say some activity is valuable. Activities aren’t states, and so (I conclude) there are some non-states of affairs that are valuable. Your view is that what I say about an activity can be said in terms of states of affairs.
    Sometimes this seems right; but other times, it seems to me to be changing the subject. There may be some state of affairs that is *also* valuable, over and above the activity I say is valuable — say, the state of affairs of my engaging in that activity. But all of the value in the activity can’t be sucked up into the state of affairs of my engaging in it. For instance, it is because that activity is valuable that I engage in it. The value of that activity has to explain at times why the further valuable state of affairs of my engaging in it comes about.

  15. Hey Ralph,
    I’d be curious to know what you made of the following sort of example. I’d like to agree with you, so your help (or anyone’s) would be much appreciated.
    Suppose I carelessly hit a kid on a bike pulling out of my driveway this morning. I didn’t check to see if any were riding on the sidewalk. The kid has a pretty badly twisted ankle, so I whisk him away to the hospital. I’m sitting in the waiting room with my kid, Alphonse, and there is another kid with an equally badly injured ankle, Bertrand. His ankle was twisted because of some act of God. (A tree branch fell on him. Bad God!) On the table is some pain killer, but there is only enough pain killer for one kid.
    It seems as if I could think to myself truthfully:
    (1) It would be better to give it to Alphonse.
    Meanwhile, Bertrand’s mother is sitting there thinking to herself:
    (2) It would be better to give it to Bertrand.
    Meanwhile, the nurse is looking into the waiting room, sees the two kids, knows they both came in at the same time and thinks to herself:
    (3) It would not be better to give it to Bertrand or Alphonse. I should flip a coin.
    I think there is a perfectly good sense in which (1)-(3) are correct. But, I can’t see how we’d make sense of this in terms of states of affairs. From the perspective of a completely detached observer, it seems that the states of affairs that are CL’s giving Alphonse the pain killer, B’s mom giving Bertrand the pain killer, and the nurse flipping a coin and giving the pain killer to the winner would each have the same value.

  16. Clayton,
    here’s one sense in which you could try to make sense of the claims. In (1), we might be comparing the states of affairs that you give the drug to Alphonse to you giving it to Bertrand. We might then say that (1) states that the former is better than the latter states of affairs. Even an impartial spectator can accept this if she thinks that certain relationships can confer value to states of affairs. Similarly, (2) would be a comparison about the value of the states of affairs where Bertrand’s mom gives the drug to her son and where she doesn’t.
    I’m starting to get a sense of my uneasiness about switching to talk about states of affairs. I guess I’m drawn to views according to which the right ethical theory is something not too detached about how we should go on about thinking practically. Thinking about value of things probably does play an important role in deciding what to do. Perhaps one would come to the same decisions if one thought about the corresponding valuable states of affairs.
    But, there is something uneasy about the idea of having to switch from thinking about the value of a kind friend to thinking about the value of the states of affairs where the friend is kind. That would seem to make the relation to the friend and her virtue more distant. Of course, you might think that ethical theories are not decision theories in which case the problem won’t be faced.

  17. Clayton —
    You seem to be making two assumptions, which I didn’t explicitly endorse (and which I am in fact strongly inclined to reject):

    1. The only sort of intrinsic value that exists is agent-neutral value, of the sort that is reflected in the attitudes of the “completely detached observer” (as you put it).
    2. The only way in which facts about the values of states of affairs can influence facts about what it is right to do is via the principle that an act is right iff the value of the state of affairs that it realizes is greater than the value of the states of affairs realized by any alternative act.

    If these assumptions are false, then we could say the following:

    1. The relevant values of the relevant states of affairs may be agent-relative — i.e. what matters may be which state of affairs is best as something for me to bring about. Then the three judgments that you list (1)-(3) are all literally true because each agent uses the term ‘better’ to refer to a different agent-relative value.
    2. The right way for you to respond to an intrinsically valuable state of affairs may not just be to promote it. It may also be more important for you not to harm or undermine that state of affairs. Presumably, Alphonse’s being able to walk without pain is a valuable state of affairs, and by twisting his ankle you have already harmed that state of affairs to some degree. If you don’t make amends as quickly as possible, you will have harmed that state of affairs even more. So you have more reason to want Alphonse to get the medication than to want Bertrand to get it: if Alphonse gets it, your response to the relevant values of the relevant states of affairs will be closer to what it ought to be than if Bertrand gets it.
  18. Ralph, the way that you contrast intrinsic and extrinsic values as categories highlights what is for me the concern that this will not be (even if it is intended as) a mere housekeeping move. One important way values might be extrinsic values is if they are relational, rather than monadic, properties even in the case in which they are final — that is, not merely instrumental. I take it that is the deep point in Kantian value theory (and the reason why Korsgaard stresses the distinction between the distinctions) and (in my view) in ancient value theory as well. Focusing on the states of affairs that can be (in theories in which values are relations between, inter alia, states of affairs and evaluators, in some fashion) part of the value properties, bears a real risk (at least) of assuming off the table a whole way of understanding value properties.

  19. Hey Ralph and Jussi,
    Thanks, that was helpful.
    Ralph, just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to argue from two assumptions that you wouldn’t endorse against the ‘statist’ view. Rather, I assumed that you’d _not_ want to deny the claims about value that it seems we want to make about the example and wanted to see how you’d accommodate them using claims about states of affairs. Anyway, I’ll have to think more about your proposal.
    Best,
    Clayton

  20. Ralph,
    Up there awhile ago now (sorry I’ve been away for so long!), you wrote:

    In these cases, it would certainly be natural to say that one of these attitudes is required because it is the appropriate response to the valuable object. But I don’t see why it would be wrong to say that this attitude is required because it is the appropriate response to the state of affairs of the object’s having property P (where P is the property that makes it the case that the object has the value in question).
    So I’m not convinced by your suggestion that there could be a difference between (i) responding appropriately to the valuable object and (ii) responding appropriately to the corresponding state of affairs.

    Even if a non-fan of your view grants that there’s no extensional difference here, she could still maintain that there is still some difference right? In particular, there’s a difference between responding to (say) a person’s value and responding to a state of affairs in which the person has value. That is, is it correct that these aren’t, even on your view, merely synonymous terms?
    If they’re not synonymous, then (maybe along lines similar to those Jussi or Jamie has suggested) I’m not sure that nothing would be lost in converting the former response into the latter. Maybe nothing would be lost, but it might help to see some more examples. If I offer my sympathies to a downtrodden person because I recognize the state of affairs in which that person has value, is that as appropriate as offering my sympathies because I recognize the valuable person? I guess you’ll say it is. My intuitions aren’t as firm on that one (but, for that matter, they’re not firm in the other direction, either).

  21. I like to use states-of-affairs talk when talking about value. But it seems like a mistake to get too attached to any particular kind of thing as being the real bearer of value, because what if there are no such things? For example, what if nominalism is true, and there are no states of affairs? I think this should have no substantial effect on our moral theorizing – it should require only some housekeeping. (This is, I think, basically in support of Ralph.)

  22. Ben,
    I think there might be something close to that that is appealing in Ralph’s suggestion. You might think that the talk of states of affairs (like facts) is ontologically innocent. This would be a form of deflationism about states of affairs. To say that such and such states of affair obtains or could obtain is just another way of saying that such and such is a case or could be the case. States of affairs are thus wholly reducible to whatever constitutes them. Even nominalists seem to be able to accept this understanding of states of affairs. And, if the talk is empty and available for everyone, then it should be innocent for the purposes of moral theorising.
    Of course, if you have a substantial, ontologically loaded view about states of affairs, then the value-bearer question too seem to bring about substance.

  23. For example, what if nominalism is true, and there are no states of affairs? I think this should have no substantial effect on our moral theorizing – it should require only some housekeeping.
    Ben,
    I wonder why you say this should have no substantial effect. Maybe moral theorizing is implicitly committed to substantive states of affairs as value-bearers. I imagine this is something we could discover. In that case, there existing no substantive states of affairs would have an important effect on moral theorizing, no? It would show that it’s gone wrong in some important way. I guess I’m saying that moral theorizing does not seem metaphysically neutral. I might be reading your post wrong, but that’s what it seems like you’re suggesting.

  24. Mike,
    I don’t have an argument, it just seemed right so I hoped people would go along with it. I’m skeptical that we could discover that moral theorizing is committed to states of affairs. Suppose I’m a hedonist who thinks what’s good are states of affairs consisting of some person experiencing a feeling of pleasure. Then metaphysicians tell me I shouldn’t believe in states of affairs; tropes can do everything we wanted states of affairs for. Then I’ll start thinking that what’s good are pleasure tropes. I won’t see any reason to abandon hedonism. I’m thinking every moral theorist should have a similar reaction to this sort of metaphysical news. Can you give an example that would convince me otherwise?

  25. Can you give an example that would convince me otherwise?
    I don’t know. Well, just quickly, wouldn’t you say that Kantian theory might have much more trouble with a metaphysics that does not individuate actions in fine-grained ways? The same action under two descriptions might be both universalizable and not. But Kantianism does not allow that. Now I’m not saying learning that such a metaphysics is right would lead anyone to abandon a moral view. Rather, I think I’m denying that moral theorists can get everything they want no matter what metaphysical view turns out true.

  26. States of affairs are states. But a process is not collapsible into a state, is it? And a process can conceivably have value.
    I am reminded of Anscombe’s point (roughly) that we distinguish between “I enjoyed meeting him.” and “I enjoyed the fact that I met him.” The two statements need not have the same truth-value.

  27. A point relating to Eric’s, I think:
    A particular punishment inflicted may be valued because it is just, but we may disvalue the state of affairs in which the just punishment is inflicted – it would have been better if the crime were never committed and the punishment were never inflicted, and it may also have been better that the punishment were inflicted unjustly than that the crime was committed.

  28. Ralph, here’s a worry that’s been bugging me. I’m not sure how troublesome it really is.
    Some (Geach, Thompson) might say there is no such thing as value per se. ‘Good’ (or ‘valuable’) is an attributive adjective, so that there are only good Fs. Then the ethical problem for an agent is to find out what would make her a good person, or have a good life. The point here is that claims of the form “State of affairs XYZ are good/valuable” is ruled out as incomplete.
    One might respond that “XYZ is a good state of affairs” is not incomplete and says the same thing. But then what states of affairs should the ethical agent pursue? States of affairs in which they are good people or have good lives—those will be the good states of affairs. But now “good state of affairs” is being understood in terms of “good person” or “good life”, and states of affairs are not all we need, after all.
    One might respond to this that states of affairs in which there are good persons or good lives supervene on purely descriptive states of affairs. This will be true, but of no use to the ethicist—the supervened-on states are likely to be some crazy shapeless disjunctive heterogeneous mix, if framed in purely descriptive terms. Metaphysically, we can agree that the evaluative supervenes on the descriptive; epistemically and pedagogically, it’s much less clear. So that an actual ethical theory cannot dispense with the notions of ‘good life’ or ‘good person’ or their components, which themselves (often) have to be understood in evaluative terms.
    At any rate, something like the foregoing seems to me to be what a certain kind of virtue theorist would say.

  29. Heath,
    Suppose Fred Feldman tells us, in a reasonably tidy way, what a good life consists in. He explains it in purely descriptive terms. Now we can say, in purely descriptive terms, what makes a state of affairs good. Right?
    So you must be worrying that maybe there is no story, even very untidy one, told in descriptive terms, about what makes a life good, and thus the only thing we can say about what makes a state of affairs good is something we can say only in non-descriptive terms.
    But I don’t see why this should be worrisome. Either we allow that lives are basic bearers of value and that there is no descriptive explanation of which and how, or we allow that states of affairs are basic bearers of value and that there is no descriptive explanation of which and how. Why is the first supposed to be preferable? Why is a state-of-affairs theorist supposed to have to let lives into the picture?
    Notice that Ralph’s main tactic works here, too, by the way. If the eudaimonist (who claims that lives are fundamental bearers of goodness) can say what makes lives good, the state-of-affairs theorist can just say that the good states are the states of people living lives of that sort.

  30. I’m sympathetic to Ralph’s suggestion that “the crucial issue that really divides consequentialists and their opponents is whether the only appropriate response to values is to promote them.”
    However, Elizabeth Anderson (who provides the best developed version of the view Ralph seems to be criticizing) actually acknowledges that that states can have intrinsic value (for example, states can be interesting or funny) her real target is the view that any state could intrinsically merit promotion. She speaks loosely about the extrinsic value of states of affairs only because she assumes her audience has in mind “the good” -an account of those states that merit promotion/maximization. Other defenders of the Anderson/Kantian view might have the good in mind too. So maybe less people make this mistake than we think?
    The problem, in part, is that ‘value’ causes communication problems. Maybe we should disambiguate and drop it all together. For example, in his book on intrinsic value, M. Zimmerman claims only states of affairs are bearers of value, and that his position is consistent with Andersons! By the way, Zimmerman argues at length about cases like Jamie’s diamond example.
    Ben (Bradley) has a great paper on one aspect of this regular confusion: see “Two Concepts of Intrinsic Value.”
    Anyway, on to substantial matters:
    Here’s the Wedgwood Conjecture (WC) as I understand it:
    Take a standard Kantian attribution of value:
    “John merits respect”
    Then Ralph claims that “whenever something has a certain evaluative feature V, it has some other property P that makes it the case that it has V.” That sounds right, and accordingly I suspect the rough reason why John has value is some fact like this:
    John merits respect because John has a capacity for agency.
    Ralph thinks that this state (John’s having a capacity for agency) will itself have value. But what kind of value? Consider the obvious options:
    John’s having a capacity for agency merits respect? No. This is an apparent category error.
    John’s having a capacity for agency merits promotion? No. It’s not clear how to promote a state with a singular term that already obtains. And even if it where stated in the non-particular form, it violates the spirit of the Kantian view –producing more agents isn’t the idea.
    John’s having a capacity for agency merits regard as a value-maker? (ok, but silly and trivial).
    Ralph’s suggestion later includes:
    John’s having a capacity for agency is not to be undermined.
    [“e.g., not to bring it about that x no longer has these capacities, or has them to a lesser degree, or cannot use them in such an effective way, or whatever”]
    And
    John’s having a capacity for agency is to be cherished.
    Notice that the characterization of the non-undermining value of the state brings in new and unlicensed content. States obtain or they do not. To say that “one is not to bring it about that x has these capacities to a lesser degree is to say that a range of states is not to be realized, and hence a new set of evaluative claims beyond S is to be sustained/non-undermined.
    Furthermore, it sure sounds odd to claim certain state (a kind of abstract entity) are to be cherished, and even to the extent that I can accept that I don’t see why it would commit me valuing other distinct states, for example to prefer states (or state transitions?) where John develops and more effectively exercises his capacities.
    Moreover, no state intrinsically qualifies a development of John’s capacities. Development requires a relation to earlier obtaining states, so these states couldn’t be of intrinsic value.
    So we end up with a very complex and array of states of intrinsic and non-intrinsic value that are supposed to characterize what for someone to merit respect.
    One suspects that you’re articulating what states “it makes sense to” value insofar as some individual merits respect. And that activity seems to take the notion of respect for persons as primary. And isn’t that the way it should be? A person who managed to value all the states you cite could (it would seem) manage not to respect persons, and consequently miss “the point” or justification for valuing this otherwise disparate and unconnected set of states that he values.
    On to Consequentialism
    At any rate, if states or individuals could independently have non-promotion type value, then consequentialism has some explaining to do. Arguably, if such value is genuinely normative, it should issue in “ought” when all else is equal. Thus, if we merit respect, and if certain states merit admiration, then we ought to so respect humanity and admire such states when all else is equal. But notice that these are moral “oughts” that would not be requirements to maximize good states of affairs, and hence on some old-fashioned views of consequentialism, consequentialism would be false.
    But maybe the consequentialist could reject that old characterization and argue as follows: “As Ralph pointed out; thinking that we merit respect commits us to wanting or preferring that certain states obtain/not obtain. And hence, we get a corresponding (albeit indirect) account of the good. In that case, why not think that the right consists in maximizing/minimizing those respective states?”
    I’d say this in reply: even if we can read-off an account of the good from the commitments of respect, we have every reason to suspect that we won’t get a corresponding consequentialist account of the right. The “job description” of the right seems to be a characterization of where agency is not free to roam –you’re not normatively free to refrain from doing the right thing (unlike the supererogatory). On a good-maximizing characterization of the right, at every decision-frame (unless there’s a lucky tie) the agent faces only one option, and across decision frames there is ultimately “one life to live.” This constraining element of consequentialism is seemingly inconsistent with respect for persons. And if the conception of the good is just a function of the commitments of respect for persons, it (the good) cannot normatively “trump”, or take precedence over that value. The view would be self-effacing.
    But I have a feeling I need to read Doug’s paper.
    I’m sorry and embarrassed that this post is so long. This is why I try to pretend Pea Soup does not exist. I certainly envy Pea Soupers’ endurance, vigor, speed, and smarts. Thanks for the great topic and discussion.

  31. Since Jamie advertised his own view, that properties are the fundamental bearers of value, I can’t resist proposing an alternative. The fundamental bearers of value are not properties, but particular instances of properties (a.k.a. ‘tropes’ or ‘abstract particulars’).
    Here’s a reason to prefer my alternative. Value is contingent; there might have been more or fewer things of value in the world than there are. But properties are necessary; it’s not the case that there might have been more or fewer properties. Of course, for many properties, it is contingent how many instances of that property there are. This suggests, therefore, that it is instances of properties that are valuable, not properties themselves.

  32. Campbell,
    That’s pretty interesting. It might be that properties just are all of there (possible) instances. But, setting that aside, would you say that justice is good only if instantiated? How does it go from value-neutral to good simply by being instantiated? I’m guessing I missed smoething here.

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