Steve Wall and I have been thinking together about what the best theory of well-being that claims that loving the (prudentially) good is itself (prudentially) good would look like. Such views have been lovingly explored by, among others, Parfit, Darwall, Kagan, and Feldman. On such a view, there are objective prudential values, for example, achievement or friendship, which either have prudential value independently from any attitudes or whose value is more easily unlocked by the relevant attitudes than options without this objective value. Typically such views maintain that being objectively good, and one in some way loving or enjoying that objective good, are each necessary conditions, and jointly sufficient, for a benefit. (NB: The view under discussion here is different from Hurka’s related version of “loving the good is itself good” as Hurka ties this thought to virtue and he is not talking about prudential value.)
Here is a picture within such a framework we came up with yesterday that we seek feedback on.
On the picture we are exploring, the attitudes play two distinct roles in grounding our welfare. First, conative attitudes such as liking or enjoying can broadly make good for one stuff that is not stance-independently valuable. As between two wines or colors of drapes which are in no way stance-independently valuable, we claim, my conative favoring or liking one over the other can make it better for me to get what I so favor than to get the other dispreferred option. We think it hard to deny such a role to conative favoring attitudes and thus hard to maintain that only attitudes that are directed towards what is stance-independently good can enhance prudential value. Liking the stance-independently neutral, it seems to us, makes such items better for us to get. Perhaps, additionally, liking stance-independently bad stuff can also be welfare-enhancing. This is more controversial and we take no stand on this question. If one were to claim that liking, for example, immoral stuff can make it better for one, one should add that it may well be improper in many cases to draw attention to this benefit and failing to do what one can to prevent feeling such pleasure, or failing to in some sense disavow such pleasure, may itself be immoral.
Second, the relevant sort of attitude that especially enhances the value of objective (prudential) values is more like appreciation than liking. We see “appreciation” as (at least closer to) a cognitive attitude with correctness conditions and a representative aspect. One can appreciate a joke—that is appreciate that it scores high on the humorous scale and be cognizant of what is funny about it–even if one is too depressed to be amused by it or enjoy it, as Liz Anderson reminds us.
Likings or enjoyings, we think, lack such correctness conditions or representative aspect. This, we suspect, is at least part of the reason why their prudential value is not affected (or less affected) by the excellence of their object but the value of appreciation is strongly affected by the excellence of its object. Appreciation’s representative aspect is, we suspect, at least part of why its warrant or lack of warrant is relevant to its value for us.
So, on the picture we seek feedback about, the prudential upshot of one attitude, liking, functions closer to the way subjectivists have supposed. The prudential value of what we like is not strongly tied to the stance-independent value of the object of the liking. But, on the assumption that there are objective prudential values, the value of appreciation functions closer to the way many objectivists have supposed in that its value is strongly tied to the stance-independent value of its object.
David Sobel is a professor of philosophy at Syracuse University, he works primarily in ethics. Much of his research has focused on understanding what makes something valuable. His recent From Valuing to Value (OUP) has a quite beautiful cover.