Problems for desire theory

Central claims of the desire theory:
(1) if something is good for us, then it fulfills our desires
(2) if something fulfills our desires, then it is good for us

Is it possible that there exists something that's good for us, but fails to fulfill our desires?
a. pleasant surprises
b. accompany of children
c. prevent suicide attempts

Is it true that something is good for us if it fulfills our desires?

a. desires based on false belief
   In terms of desire theory, it is only informed desires whose satisfaction will improve our lives. 

b. Desire theory doesn't assign any intrinsic value to pleasure. If desire theorists are right, then your life goes better just so long as more of ur desires are satisfied. 

c. Getting what you want can sometimes be a huge letdown. 

d. You don't realize that you have achieved the goal. 

e. Our desires are often shaped by the way we have been raised. What if your desires are impoverished and myopic. 

f.  a paradox: you want to harm yourself, which will decrease your life quality objectively. But by desire theory, you are actually better off subjectively. 

g. if someone knows that his deepest desire is never going to be achieved and wants to commit suicide, how does desire theory cope with that. 


Notes of Should the Ticking Bomb Terrorist Be Tortured?

The paper is about whether we should torture terrorists in order to get lifesaving information and prevent tragic events. 

In a democracy there is always a choice. The Fifth Amendment prohibits compelled self-incrimination, i,e., statements elicited by means of torture may not be considered as evidence against the defendant who was tortured. The Geneva Convention Against Torture prohibits all forms of torture and provides for no exceptions. The US adopted the convention with one condition: only to the extent that it's consistent with the Eighth Amendment (may not prohibit use of torture to obtain critical info that can save lives).

Putting legislative procedures aside, one key question is: Is torturing terrorists morally okay? 

Some people argue that torture usually doesn't work since it produces many false confessions and misinformation. However, torture sometimes DOES work. Indeed, the author considered it impossible to avoid the moral dilemma by denying the empirical reality that torture sometimes works. 

Another objection to implementing torture is that total amount of terrorism might not decrease even when info extracted by means of torture helps stop a terrorist plot. In fact, preventing one terrorist plot may not significantly reduce total number of civilian deaths, though it makes a difference to those who would have been killed in the thwarted plot. However, the author believed the argument is weak in terms of mega-terrorism. 

The US government often renders suspects to countries that practice tactical interrogation (i.e., torture) so as to get info that otherwise couldn't be obtained in the US. 

The ticking-bomb case: a terrorist group states that it has concealed a nuclear bomb somewhere in the city and the authorities have capture the leader of the group. The leader knows the location of the bomb, but he refuses to cooperate. Suppose that torture is guaranteed to let him tell the location, is it justifiable to implement the torture?

Some countries, such as Israel, publicly acknowledge that it may be proper t o administer nonlethal torture in preventing terrorism, but the action doesn't become a precedent for other nations. Besides, if the US allowed nonlethal torture in the ticking bomb case, the declaration would greatly change the international law, which the US helped define.

Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian, was against an absolute prohibition of torture. He believed that if the torture of one guilty person could help save hundreds of innocent people, then torture is necessary.

Possible reasoning for this argument: the guilty person is illegally withholding info needed to prevent innocent people from dying; pain is a lesser and more remediable harm than death; the lives of many innocent people should be valued more than the bodily integrity of one guilty person. Besides, what moral principle could justify the death penalty for past individual murders while at the same time condemn nonlethal torture to prevent future mass murders? (personally I think this is the most insightful opinion in the paper)

Possible reasoning against this argument: should torture become legit, it would constitute a symbolic setback in the worldwide campaign against human rights abuses. In other words, torture might be abused.

The punch line: in a particular case, the benefits of torture might outweigh its costs, but if the torture is institutionalized, it's highly possible that torture will be abused.

The author argued that the utilitarian reasoning is flawed because it has no inherent limiting principle: under a simple-minded quantitative case utilitarianism, anything goes as long as the number of people tortured or killed doesn't exceed the number that would be saved.

Choices under a democracy:
no torture even to prevent massive terrorism; no torture except with a warrant authorizing nonlethal torture; no "officially" approved torture but its selective use beneath the radar screen.

The author believed that a formal requirement of a judicial warrant as a prerequisite to nonlethal torture would decrease the amount of physical violence directed against suspects. He also believed that the rights of the suspect would be better protected with a warrant requirement.


Notes of America's Unjust drug war

The author is against the idea to outlaw drug use.

Prohibitionists argue that recreational use of drugs should be prohibited because the drug use is extremely harmful both to drug users and to society in general, and possibly even immoral.

Legalizers say no, based on the arguments that (a) drug use is not that harmful., sometimes even beneficial (b) drugs prohibition is not successful and good intention might lead to unintended consequences (c)drug prohibition is unjust or violate rights.

The author focused on three arguments (a) drugs should be outlawed because of the harm they cause to the users (b) should be outlawed because of the negative externality (c) drugs should be legalized because prohibition violates rights

The author shows that the first two arguments fail while the last one holds.

First argument: drug use is harmful to the users and government should prevent people from harming themselves.

Formal argument:
1. Drug use is harmful to users
2. the government should prohibit people from doing things that harm themselves
3. therefore, the government should prohibit drug use

The premise 2 is not that plausible. (Refer to Mill, Hayek, etc.)
The author used consistency principle to argue that: if drug use should be prohibited because of its harm caused to the users, then all activities that is potentially bad for users should be prohibited, such as smoking, overeating. However, no one calls for imprisoning smokers or fat people.

Some people argue that drug should be prohibited because it damages users' relationship with others. The author contended that since it is wrong to punish people for directly bringing about bad results (isolate with others), it would be wrong to punish people for using drugs just because it potential leads to bad results.

My thoughts: sure no one punishes you if you act like an isolated hermit, but if you physically hurt other people, that's a different story. Drug users might physically hurt other people, and shall we punish them then?

Some people call for prohibition of drugs because they think drug usage decrease users' sense of duty and responsibility. The author contended that one should not prohibit an activity on the ground that it may indirectly cause some result, unless it would be appropriate to prohibit the direct bring about of that result.

Second: negative externality
Some argue that drugs should be outlawed because drug use harms other people. However, the author uses the same logic in the previous argument to reject such claims.

Third: injustice of drug prohibition
It is unjust for the state to punish people without having a good reason for doing so. The author argues that people have a natural right to use drugs.


Desire satisfaction theory

Desire satisfaction theory: your life goes well for you to the extent that you get what you want.

Based on this theory, our deepest desires determine what counts as life's improvement or failures. On this line of thinking, nothing is an essential ingredient in making everyone's life better off. (if he doesn't desire it) Since people desire very different things, there is a wide variety of good lives.

Objective theory of human welfare: what directly contributes to a good life is fixed independently of your desires and your opinions about what is important.

Problem with objective value theory:
(a) If X is truly good for you, then you will be motivated to get X--so long as you know about X and know how to get it.
(b) Many people who know about X and know how to get it are not motivated to become wealthy.
(c) Thus, X will not improve the lives of such people.

Desire theorists reject all objective theories of welfare. In fact, they don't face the previous problem. Indeed,
(a) If something is truly good to you, then it will satisfy your desire.
(b) If something will satisfy your desires, then you will be motivated to get it
(c) So if something is good for you, then you will be motivated to get it.

In addition, desire theory can support the view that there is always good reason to look our for ourselves.
(a) if sth. makes us better off, then it satisfies our desires
(b) if sth. satisfies our desires, then we have reason to obtain it
(c) so if sth. makes us better off, we have reason to obtain it



Instrumental goods: things that are valuable because of the good things they bring about.
Intrinsically valuable goods: things whose goodness is self contained and valuable in its own right, even if they bring nothing else in its wake.

Happiness is intrinsically valuable. In fact, for hedonists, this is the only thing that is intrinsically valuable, and unhappiness is the only thing that directly reduces our quality of life.

According to hedonists, a life is good to the extent that it is filled with pleasure and is free of pain.

Two kinds of pleasure:
(1) physical pleasure
(2) attitudinal pleasure (enjoyment)

Hedonists believe that happiness is attitudinal pleasure. Hedonism should be understood as the view that enjoyment, rather than physical pleasure, is the key to the good life.

Epicurus argued that the most pleasant condition is one of inner peace. The ideal state of tranquility comes largely from two sources: moderation in all physical matters, and intellectual clarity about what is truly important.

John Stuart Mill argued that pleasures come in different levels of quality, and that the best pleasures for human beings were those that come only through hard work. Hedonism explains why there are many ways to live a good life: there are many paths to happiness. What makes one person happy is largely a matter of his personal choice. However, hedonism does not allow us to have the final say about what is good for us.

Critiques of hedonism:
(1) The paradox of hedonism
If something always makes us better off, then it seems reasonable to try very hard to acquire it. With happiness, however, this might backfire--those who try real hard to make themselves happier almost never succeed. This is the paradox of hedonism. Let's see the following argument:
(a) If happiness is the only thing that directly makes us better off, then it is rational to single-mindedly pursue it.
(b) It isn't rational to do it.
(c) Therefore, happiness is not the only thing that directly makes us better off.

The argument is valid, but probably not sound. The bottom line is even if happiness is all that matters, it may not be rational to aim for it directly. (which means premise (a) is false)
So this objection to hedonism is not sound.

(2) Evil pleasures
Some people are happy to do awful things. Argument:
(a) If hedonism is true, then happiness that comes from evil deeds is as good as happiness that comes from kind and decent actions.
(b) Happiness that comes from evil deeds is not as good as happiness that comes from kind and decent actions.
(c) Hedonism is false.

However, there is confusion in this statement, which undermines its validity.
Why? According to hedonists: happiness gained from evil deeds can improve our lives just as much as happiness that comes from virtue. Thus, hedonists reject premise (b).

(3) The two worlds (W.D. Ross)
Consider two worlds that contain identical amounts of happiness and misery. In one of these, the people are all virtuous; in the other, they are all vicious. According to hedonism, the two worlds are equally good. Argument:
(a) if hedonism is true, then any two situations containing identical amounts of happiness and unhappiness are equally good.
(b) some such situations are not equally good; some are better than others.
(c) hedonism is false.

Hedonists reject premise (a). Their view is not about what makes a situation or a world good, but about what makes a life good for the person who lives in it. Hedonism, thus, doesn't tell us how to determine the value of the world. So it is not committed to the view that two worlds containing equal amounts of happiness must be equally good.

(4) False happiness
(a) If hedonism is true, then our lives go well to the extent that we are happy.
(b) It is not the case that our lives go well to the extent that we are happy; those whose happiness is based on false beliefs have worse lives than those whose happiness is based on true beliefs, even if both lives are equally happy.
(c) hedonism is false.

This claim assumes that the source of happiness determines how beneficial that happiness is. But hedonists deny this. For them, happiness is happiness. However, a pleasant life of illusion is less good for you than an equally pleasant life based on real achievement and true beliefs.

(5) autonomy
We want autonomy--the power to guide our life through our own free choices---even if it sometimes costs us our happiness. Preserving our autonomy is vitally important, even if it doesn't always make us happier.

Paternalism: someone's limiting your liberty against your will, but for your own good.

(a) if hedonism is true, then autonomy contributes to a good life only insofar as it makes us happy
(b) autonomy sometimes directly contributes to a good life, even when it fails to make us happy
(c) hedonism is false

The argument is legit.

(6) Life trajectory
(a) if hedonism is true, then the overall quality of life depends entirely on the amount of happiness and unhappiness it contains
(b) the overall quality of life depends on at least one other factor: whether one's life reflects an "upward" or "downward" trajectory
(c) hedonism is thus false

seems good

(7) Unhappiness as a symptom of harm
Argument from multiple harms
(a) if hedonism is true, then you can be harmed by something only because it saddens you
(b) you can be harmed in other ways
(c) hedonism is false
Hedonism fails to appreiciate that unhappiness is often a symptom that something intrinsically valuable--something other than happiness--has been lost.


Notes of Introductory

The essay is about the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.

Tyranny of the majority. Protection against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling. There should be a limit to the legit interference of collective opinion with individual independence.

The question is how to find the limit.

The principle of the essay: the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

Notice that the above principle is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their abilities. As for children, they must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion.

Three basic liberties:
(1) liberty of conscience, thought and feeling;expressing and publishing opinions.
(2) liberty of tastes and pursuits
(3) liberty of combination among individuals (persons combined are full age, and not forced or deceived)

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.


In this paper, the author Lafollette argued that parenting should be licensed.

Lafollette first discussed two criteria for regulation:
(1) the behavior can be potentially harmful to others
Example: driving recklessly leads to injury and fatality, so driving is licensed
(2) competence is required
Example: lawyers, pshychiatrists, drivers need skills

In terms of parenting, bad parents can do great harm to children, so the first criterion is satisfied. As for competence, parenting does need skills and practice.

Lafollette believed that the only ways to deny the necessity of parenting regulation are to
(1) deny licensing any potentially harmful activity;
(2) deny the two criteria of regulation
(3) deny that parenting satisfies the two criteria, assuming the validity of the criteria
(4) show that even though parenting satisfies the two criteria, there exist special reasons that licensing parents isn't good
(5) show that there is no reliable and just procedure for implementing regulation

(1)(2)(3) are trivial, the author focused on (4)(5)

Theoretical objections to licensing:
(1) people have free right to have children, which shouldn't be licensed.

Lafollette's opinion: even if people have right to have children, the right might be limited to protect innocent people, i.e. children. Parents' way of rearing children might be unacceptable even if they consider it fit. He believes that a person has a right to rear children if he meets certain minimal standards of child rearing. Denying a parenting license to someone who is not competent does not violate that person's rights. Rights are conditional.

The purpose of licesing is to prevent serious harm to children, and prior restraint required by licensing would not be very onerous for many people.

(2) a parental licensing program would deny licenses to applicants judged to be incompetent even though they had never maltreated any children (prior restraint)

The author argues that individuals denied license are given the opportunity to reapply easily and repeatedly for a license. [take counseling or therapy to improve their chances of passing the next test]

The author reasoned that: even though one needs to be worry about prior restraint, if the potential for harm is great and the restraint is minor relative to the harm we are trying to prevent, then such restraint is justified. 

My thoughts:

Practical objections to licensing:
(1) what are adequate criteria of "a good parent"? Knowledge problem

Author: the proposal is only to exclude the very bad parents.

My thoughts: in terms of excluding bad parents, probably only the extreme cases are to be distinguished. What about other cases?

(2) there is no reliable way to predict who will maltreat their children

Author: Other licensing programs are not predict 100% accurately, so we cannot demand more in terms of parental regulation. We can use existing tests that claim to isolate relevant predictive characteristics that signifies bad parents to find potentially bad parents. He also believes that tests will be improved.

My thoughts: just because the other similar regulation is not perfect doesn't mean you can adopt this system into parenting.

(3) administrators might unintentionally misuse that test, which would harm innocent individuals.

Author: the fact that mistakes are made shouldn't lead us to abandon attempts to determine competence.

My thoughts: the same as before. In addition, to get pass the test, individuals might use other ways to cheat.

(4) any testing procedure will be intentionally abused.(administrators' self interest)

Author: there is no reason to believe that the licensing of parents is more likely to be abused than drivers' license tests or other regulatory procedures. In addition, individuals can appeal.

My thoughts: red-tape? bureaucrats' self-interest?

(5) It is hard to implement this program

Author: if it is important enough to protect children from being maltreated by parents, then surely a reasonable enforcement procedure can be secured.

My thoughts: costs?