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Thread: Moral Value Theory and Moral Strategy Theory

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Moral Value Theory and Moral Strategy Theory

    http://www.freeratio.org/thearchives...508#post140508

    This came up in another discussion, but should have its own here as well. All the way back in 2001 on the IIDB forum, a very intelligent poster by the username of SingleDad posted a very interesting and thoughtful explanation of his view on morality. To sum it up, in his own words:

    I claim that Moral Philosophy is properly divided into two main branches: Moral Value Theory (what we do or should value) and Moral Strategy Theory (how best to maximize the fulfillment of those values).
    He goes into much more detail in the post, and it is worth reading when you get a few free minutes. He dramatically changed my own views on ethics over the years in part through arguments like the ones he makes here. I hope others find it helpful as well.

    Brian

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    It's a very important distinction. He's basically saying that applied ethics is separate from ethical foundations. However, he conflates two very different things when he describes Moral Value Theory as "what we do or should value" (emphasis mine). What we do value is a matter of empirical fact. What we should value depends, paradoxically, on what we already value; the word 'should' is itself value-laden and means nothing without a normative preference to back it up.

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Well, it depends a bit on the context. When we say that we value something, that could be because it lets us satisfy a base desire that we internally hold. Or, we may value it because it is a sort of a means to satisfy some other desire, which in turn can satisfy still some other desire, and that also in turn may satisfy some more basic desire still. I enjoy listening to certain songs not because it is a base desire of mine to listen to those songs, but rather the more base desire may be just being relaxed, and certain songs have the effect on me of relaxing me more than other songs do. So I value the former songs more than the latter.

    As another example, a person can value feeling pleasure over pain, as a basic and underlying description of his lifestyle. Given that, what actions should he engage in and what actions should he avoid? Maybe for him, riding a bike brings pleasure and driving a car is not enjoyable, so he should do more of the former and less of the latter.

    With that in mind, then we can say that he "values" riding a bike, as a bit of a casual and shorthand way of saying that riding a bike brings him pleasure. It is really the feeling of pleasure that he values, and riding a bike is just a means-to-an-end to obtain that feeling. As a matter of shorthand though, we just say still that he "values" riding a bike.

    I would agree that the English language (I do not know about other languages) is a bit sloppy and disorganized for this sort of context and conversation, and it can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings. We just have to look at the context to figure out what is really meant, and sometimes writers make mistakes too and have misunderstandings. So it probably could be phrased a little better than how he did, but the substance of his point still stands, in my opinion.

    Brian

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    I am not convinced that the issue of how best to maximize the fulfillment of identified values can always be neatly separated from the identification of what is valuable since identifying how best to maximize the fulfillment of identified values may involve the trade off between one identified value against another. Moreover, any notion that moral problems are tackled by first formulating in the abstract a theory of value involving some sort of a comprehensive ranking of values and then making a concrete moral decision of what do in a specific situation by some sort of mechanical (i.e. non-normative) calculation starting from the value theory seems an artificial and implausible reconstruction of what we do. I am not sure what would be gained by trying to do so.

    Obviously, I agree that what one may value may depend on certain factual assumptions about the world which may or may not be correct. I'd just leave it at that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    When we say that we value something, that could be because it lets us satisfy a base desire that we internally hold. Or, we may value it because it is a sort of a means to satisfy some other desire, which in turn can satisfy still some other desire, and that also in turn may satisfy some more basic desire still. I enjoy listening to certain songs not because it is a base desire of mine to listen to those songs, but rather the more base desire may be just being relaxed, and certain songs have the effect on me of relaxing me more than other songs do. So I value the former songs more than the latter.

    As another example, a person can value feeling pleasure over pain, as a basic and underlying description of his lifestyle.
    A danger in being too reductionist about values is that you can end up with a kind of blindness in which all values seem interchangeable, e.g. when values are reduced to pleasurable brain states.

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