The Nature of Desire

The long-standing ethical debate of the nature of ethics, how morality exists, what is moral, will be succinctly ended, for the sufficient explanation of the nature of desire will be enough to stop any and all misunderstanding of the subjectivist position on ethics. It is important to preface this paper with the assertion that subjectivists do not hold ethics to be non-existent, they are not ethical nihilists. A good subjectivist would hold that there are objects that exist that would prove the validity of a moral proposition.

What are Desires?

Desires are things that are wanted, and by nature of them being wanted implies that they are not currently present which would even further imply that desires take the form of ends. Because desires are ends, in order to for them to be currently present there must be some sort of change, and this is where a desirer would employ means to reach this end. With the end in context, if a desirer desires X it would be correct for the desirer to act on the means that produces X. In other words, A desirer ought to act on the means that produces X if the desirer desires X. Going even further, these correct actions, or oughts, are only apparent given that there be some desire existing, but some may disagree with this notion and exclaim that there be some absolute imperative that you ought to do no matter if you want to or not. There then comes the question to why must one act according to this imperative? Is it because of some thing separate to me that exists? This would be a naturalistic fallacy as no ought logically follows. Is it because of God? This would be a command from God, and be based upon the desires of God. I would even go so far as to say that if you bring forth any absolute imperative it must either be fallacious or contain some want that is not quite apparent at first glance which would then make it not absolutely imperative.

Nature of Ends

Ends are some possible future state of affairs that are idealistically held by an agent. In order for an end to exist it must be conceived within the mind of some actor, for it is just an idea of a thing that may possibly exist in the future. Because these things are dependent on the mind of some particular actor this makes it so ends have what I would call “subjective being” in that their existence is absolutely dependent on an individual and is not ever separable from an individual. This conclusion is necessarily so as one can not presently grasp a future occurrence, even the idea of such a notion is logically incoherent and therefore impossible. Even if such an end were to be the maintenance of a current state of affairs it would still fall under this rule as maintenance implies reoccurrence which would then imply the passage of time and the state of affairs held being set in the future.

The Law of Good and the Subjective Razor

I formulate “goodness” as follows:

∃H ↔ (∃x ∈ S) ∧ (∃x ∈ D)

There exists what is good/just/moral if and only if there exists the element x in the state of affairs and there exists the element x in the desired/ideal ends

I formulate it as such because of the need for ends. Most people will not disagree with the notion of a “good” knife being one that cuts well(the idea of “good” having a relation to some goal/end is introduced by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics), but this is only with the implication that the knife is to be used for the end of cutting. The knife is only good according to this end, there is no inherent good to it, there are inherent properties it has that relate to the determination of it being “good”, but the “good” is not within the object. If the “good” is not within the object itself and is dependent on ends, where does the “good” exist? The “good” must necessarily exist within an individual as ends only exist in the minds of individuals, for if we were to have no individuals to conceive of ends then good would be inconceivable. This is what I call the Subjective Razor; whatever is deemed good/bad, better/worse, just/unjust, legitimate/illegitimate, or any other sort of value-judgment is dependent on ends, and because these ends only exist subjectively these value-judgments are by their nature subjective concepts. There is no measure of good that can be discovered without an individual’s ends.

Things that are “shaved” by the Subjectivist Razor

  • Social Norms
  • Culture
  • Morality/Ethics
  • Some Economic Concepts(Such as Value)
  • Property Theory
  • Any Value-Judgement Whatsoever

Conclusion

If you wish to actually attain what you see as good you ought to understand the nature of desire and the nature of good, for if you don’t you will be stuck arguing with those who simply want something different to you. Goodness is not a property of an object, one cannot presently look at a rock and say this rock has the virtue of being good, but one can presently look at a rock and say it is good for it aligns with some conceived end. We mustn’t forget that ends are the foundation for any ethical matter.

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Ryan Brikho

Ryan Brikho

Voluntaryist, Humean, Moral Subjectivist, Austrian