JESP Discussion: Kelley’s “The Welfare-Nihilist Arguments Against Judgement Subjectivism” (Sumner comments)

Welcome to this weekend’s discussion of Anthony Kelley‘s “The Welfare-Nihilist Arguments Against Judgement Subjectivism“. We encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section.

What follows is a critical précis by Wayne Sumner.

Anthony Kelley’s paper joins the already voluminous literature interrogating the defensibility of subjective theories of well-being. One class of such theories holds that something is basically good for a person if and only if it is valued by that person (under the proper conditions). Kelley’s target in this paper is a theory of this type that has been advocated by Dale Dorsey (Dorsey 2012). Dorsey’s theory combines the foregoing rubric with a judgment- based conception of valuing, according to which a person’s valuing something is a matter of their believing or judging (under the proper conditions) that the thing is good for them. The result is a theory on which something is basically good for a person if and only if that person believes (under the proper conditions) that it is good for them. Following Dorsey, Kelley calls this view judgment subjectivism.

Kelley’s critique of Dorsey is nicely executed. For what it is worth, I join him in contending that judgment subjectivism is not the strongest or best version of a subjective theory. (Kelley may hold the view that there is no strongest or best version, in which case we part company at that point.) Furthermore, I think that Kelley’s arguments against Dorsey’s view are successful, at least if you grant the suppositions on which they are based. I will, however, have something to say, below, about those suppositions.

The qualifier “under the proper conditions” in the foregoing statement of Dorsey’s view signals that it is an idealized version of subjectivism, on which it is not the subject’s actual evaluative judgments that are authoritative, but those the subject would make were their beliefs both coherent and fully considered. Many other subjective theories have also chosen the idealization route, and have been criticized for doing so (see, e.g., Rosati 1995; Enoch 2005). Particularly worrisome has been the charge that when subjectivists appeal to the subject’s counterfactual pro-attitudes (whatever they may be), rather than their actual ones, they risk violating the alienation or resonance constraint whose satisfaction is often taken to be a particular strength of subjectivism. Dorsey’s theory may therefore also be vulnerable on this score, but because this is not the focus of Kelley’s arguments I will not pursue the issue here. From this point I will simply assume that Dorsey’s “proper conditions” are satisfied, and that their satisfaction does not threaten the integrity of his subjectivism.

Before going any farther, we should note that there is more than a whiff of circularity about Dorsey’s view. Leaving all qualifications aside, his theory tells us that something is basically good for a person if and only if they believe that it is good for them. The occurrence of “good for” in the analysans is the indicator that the kind of valuing that Dorsey has in mind here is prudential. (For the record, he stipulates this: Dorsey 2012, sec. 3.1) Furthermore, it has to be: the fact that I believe that some state of the world is good simpliciter is surely not sufficient (and maybe also not necessary) for it to be good for me. But that means that on Dorsey’s view something is prudentially valuable for a person if and only if they think it is prudentially valuable for them. So it looks like his theory of prudential value presupposes the very concept it was meant to explain. But Dorsey can defend himself here by saying that he is offering a substantive theory meant to tell us what makes something prudentially valuable, not a conceptual analysis of prudential value. So he is entitled to assume that we are already familiar with that concept. (This is, more or less, Dorsey’s defense: Dorsey 2012, 439–40.) I conclude that there is no vicious circularity here. At any rate, Kelley does not pursue this line of attack, and neither will I.

There is also this seeming oddity in Dorsey’s view that the belief that something is good for you makes itself true. This is not the usual way in which belief operates, where its confirmation or disconfirmation is settled by how the world is (cf. Hurka 2019, who also raises worries about an infinite regress). But again I will not pursue this point, since Kelley does not.

So, finally, to the business at hand. When a theory states both necessary and sufficient conditions for well-being, it can be attacked on either the necessity or the sufficiency side. Kelley elects the former route, which requires identifying subjects whose life is going well for them but who do not, or even cannot, believe that it is doing so. Eden Lin (Lin 2017) has also pursued this line by focussing on the case of infants who lack the capacity to have the requisite evaluative beliefs. (One could easily imagine making the same case on behalf of sentient animals.) Kelley takes a different approach, hypothesizing a class of subjects he calls welfare nihilists. “Welfare nihilism,” he tells us, “is the view that there are no welfare properties or at least that none are instantiated” (p. 6). He then tells us about Felicity, who has become convinced by metaphysical arguments that nothing is either good or bad for anyone. Nonetheless, since becoming a welfare nihilist she has led a good life (a life that has been good for her): she has had a happy marriage, loving children, a successful career, enjoyable hobbies, and so on. She is therefore a counterexample to the view that leading a good life (a life high in welfare) requires the belief that one is leading such a life.

A theory of welfare should also be a theory of illfare. Although Dorsey does not discuss illfare, it is plausible to think that he would have a symmetrical account of it, on which a necessary condition of leading a bad life (for you) is that you believe it to be bad. Kelley then introduces us to Felicity’s counterpart Mallory, who was convinced by the same metaphysical arguments as Felicity but whose subsequent life has been awful: she has been imprisoned for suspected terrorist activity and subjected to daily torture, her partner has divorced her, her children despise her—well, you get the picture. She has been leading an undeniably bad life since her conversion to welfare nihilism but her metaphysical beliefs prevent her from believing that it is bad. So Mallory is a second counterexample.

Kelley’s third argument builds on the previous two. Intuitively, we want to say that the segment of Felicity’s life that followed her adoption of welfare nihilism is going much better for her than the same segment of Mallory’s life is for her. But Dorsey’s judgment subjectivism seems to prevent us from saying this. If neither Felicity nor Mallory has the appropriate belief about how well their life is going at any time during these segments of their lives, then we have no ground for saying that Felicity’s life has gone better during this time than Mallory’s. Kelley claims that judgment subjectivism would yield the result that the welfare value of each of these segments is zero. I’m not sure that this is the right conclusion, or even quite what it would mean. When the necessary condition for something’s being good (or bad) fails, we need not (and maybe should not) conclude that the thing has zero value. We might want to say instead that the values of Felicity’s and Mallory’s lives are indeterminable, or that they are noncomparable. However this may be, what we cannot say is that Felicity’s life segment is better for her than Mallory’s is for her, and that is massively counterintuitive.

As I said earlier, Kelley’s arguments go through nicely once we accept the supposition of Felicity’s and Mallory’s welfare nihilism. So I want to take a closer look at the welfare nihilism they are said to have espoused. This is an aspect of the paper about which I wish that Kelley had said a little more. In order to serve as counterexamples to judgment subjectivism, Felicity and Mallory do not need to be probable cases (they are surely not). But they must be possible cases. So what, exactly, are we to take Felicity and Mallory to have concluded about the concept of welfare as a result of their metaphysics seminars?

Kelley offers two possibilities (p. 18, n. 26), both of which are presaged in his statement of welfare nihilism as “the view that there are no welfare properties or at least that none are instantiated.” The first is that “the concept of welfare is incoherent.” So how might this go?
It is common in the literature to suppose that there are (at least) two basic concepts of goodness: “good simpliciter” and “good for”(some subject), and to identify the latter with the concept of welfare or well-being. So Felicity and Mallory might think that there are particular problems with the latter concept. If so, they would be in good company. In a forthcoming article, Tom Hurka tries out two interpretations of the “subject-relativity” of “good for” and concludes that “neither yields a significantly distinct evaluative concept” (Hurka 2020). This seems close to the idea that the concept might be incoherent. However, that conclusion would be too hasty. Even if Hurka is right that “good for” cannot stand as a distinct evaluative concept, there remains the possibility that it could be explicated in terms of “good simpliciter” plus some appropriate relation. (As some will recall, G.E. Moore offered an analysis of this sort). If so, that would yield a view about the concept of welfare that is reductionist, or maybe eliminativist, but not nihilist. On this view it would still be possible for Felicity and Mallory to make welfare judgments. “Good for” would not be incoherent; it just wouldn’t be basic.

In order to abandon welfare judgments entirely, Felicity and Mallory would need something more: perhaps they would need to be nihilists about “good simpliciter” as well. We aren’t told whether their metaphysics seminars led them to this sweeping conclusion (perhaps they had been reading J.L. Mackie). I won’t speculate about their metaphysical stances any farther since in any case the incoherence option causes some problems for Kelley’s arguments. To see why, we need to return to Eden Lin’s counterexample of infants, whose lives can go well (or badly) despite their lacking the capacity to make welfare judgments. In response, Dorsey has contended that we need different theories of welfare for those who have this capacity and those who don’t (Dorsey 2017). Speaking personally, I find it a rather desperate measure to assign different theories of welfare to different kinds of subjects, but suppose we grant Dorsey this indulgence. Then we would need to ask whether Felicity and Mallory are capable of making such judgments, on the supposition that they regard the concept of welfare as incoherent. If they are not so capable, then they are not the sorts of beings to whom Dorsey’s theory is meant to apply, and so cannot be counterexamples to it. Kelley says that he is inclined to think that they do have this capacity, but I am inclined to think the opposite. If the concept is incoherent then it provides no instantiation conditions for its application to the world: no state of affairs could instantiate it. Felicity and Mallory therefore would not be capable of judging that any states of the world are good for (or bad for) themselves (or anyone else). That might place them in the same category as Lin’s infants.

However this might be, Kelley’s second construal of welfare nihilism offers another way of understanding where Felicity and Mallory are coming from. This is the view that, while the concept of welfare is quite coherent, it has no instantiations in the actual world: while some states of the world could be either good or bad for someone, none actually are. Kelley offers the example of the concept of a unicorn: while it is coherent, as it happens there are no unicorns. On this interpretation, Felicity and Mallory clearly have the capacity to make welfare judgments, so they do not join Lin’s objection; they simply do not find any states of the world to which to apply welfare concepts.

I wonder about the plausibility of this picture. Kelley’s concept of a unicorn gives him a set of properties (horse, white, horn in forehead) that tell him what to look for in the world as a possible instantiation, but wherever he looks he does not find anything answering to the description. For another example rather closer to the matter at hand we might use the concept of saintliness. This concept also provides properties (virtuous, to an exemplary degree) for its instantiation in the world, but we could imagine that, like Diogenes seeking an honest man, when we look about the world we just don’t find anyone with those properties. If Felicity and Mallory find the concepts of welfare and illfare coherent, then they too will know what to look for in possible instantiations (anything that makes a life go well or badly). But they will everywhere find states of affairs that answer to the description, including all of the positive events in Felicity’s life and all of the negative ones in Mallory’s. So how could they possibly conclude that the welfare concepts they understand lack instantiations? In particular, how could they draw such a conclusion from a metaphysical argument? Isn’t it a contingent matter of how the world is?

As a result, I am more than a little skeptical about the suppositions behind Kelley’s arguments; I’m not sure, on any available interpretation, that Felicity and Mallory are counterexamples to Dorsey’s theory. Either they are incapable of making welfare judgments, in which case they fall outside the class of subjects to whom the theory is meant to apply, or their failure to make such judgments remains mysterious and unexplained.

This is perhaps the point to acknowledge that Dorsey is not the only target of Kelley’s arguments. I have defended the view that welfare consists in happiness (under the proper conditions), and that happiness has both an affective and a cognitive component (Sumner 1996, ch. 6). The affective component I characterized as “finding your life enriching or rewarding, or feeling satisfied or fulfilled by it.” So far so good, but, as Kelley reminds me, the cognitive component took the form of “a judgment that, on balance and taking everything into account, your life is going well for you.” That makes my view vulnerable to arguments against judgment subjectivism, including Kelley’s arguments. Even if those arguments were decisive, I would not be entirely bereft (unlike Dorsey), for the affective component of my view would still stand. I would still be able to explain why Felicity’s post-nihilism life has been good for her (it feels good to her) and why Mallory’s has been bad for her. However, for the reasons given above, I am skeptical that Kelley’s arguments are decisive.

I’m not entirely convinced that my skepticism is warranted, but that’s because I find the welfare nihilism on which Kelley’s arguments rely underdeveloped. At the very least, he’s got some explaining to do.

Dorsey, Dale. 2012. “Subjectivism Without Desire.” The Philosophical Review 121, no. 3.

——. 2017. “Why Should Welfare ‘Fit’?” The Philosophical Quarterly 67, no. 269.
Enoch, David. 2005. “Why Idealize?” Ethics 115, no. 4.
Hurka, Thomas. 2019. “A Surprisingly Common Dilemma.” Journal of Moral Philosophy 16.

——. 2020. “Against ‘Good For’/‘Well-Being’, for ‘Simply Good’.” The Philosophical Quarterly. doi:10.1093/pq/pqaa078.
Lin, Eden. 2017. “Against Welfare Subjectivism.” Nous 51, no. 2.
Rosati, Connie. 1995. “Persons, Perspectives, and Full Information Accounts of the Good.” Ethics 105, no. 2.
Sumner, L.W. 1996. Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

14 Replies to “JESP Discussion: Kelley’s “The Welfare-Nihilist Arguments Against Judgement Subjectivism” (Sumner comments)

  1. Hi everybody. A few dashed-off comments in between the world crumbling around me. Sorry if they’re not totally thought through (which they aren’t)!

    First, I want to thank Anthony for his attention to my work. This critique of “judgment subjectivism” is certainly the most powerful I’ve come across and has led me in the intervening years to alter my views in response. So I’m very happy that JESP has published his piece and that PEASoup is running this discussion.

    I think my response to Anthony’s critique is, in essence, “fair cop”. I hate to use this as an opportunity to plug my new book, A Theory of Prudence, but, uh, well, uh, there it is. In that book I talk a lot more about my response to Kelley and suggest that what we have in welfare nihilists are folks that don’t properly count as valuers. They just don’t value things in a prudential way. If that’s right, then we can’t have the same theory of well-being for them as for valuers, because (in my view) the significance of valuing for well-being arises only in actual valuers. Or something to that effect.

    Sumner seems to think this is a “desperate measure”. I don’t see this. It strikes me as commonsense that being a valuer changes the relationship one has with the world—in being a valuer certain things matter to you, are interesting to you, for your own sake. That is a substantial difference that axiological theory ought to respect. So I’m not bothered by the possibility of multiple theories of well-being for different sorts of welfare subjects. Doing otherwise strikes me as square-peg-round-holing.

    Sumner offers a couple of other possible critiques of my view, some of which I’ve discussed elsewhere. But there’s one that I think is worth bringing out in more detail, if only to note that this is a place where I have to bite some bullets. Sumner rightly notes that ordinarily we don’t think the presence of a belief as its own truth condition. Now, I admit that this is weird, but it’s less weird, I think, if we understand the sort of view judgment subjectivism (in its pure form) is. Think of it as a kind of idealism about value. If that’s right, then the coherence, etc., of those beliefs and their being held by the person happens to be their truth conditions. This means that evaluative beliefs have different sorts of truth conditions than other beliefs. That makes things a little more alethically and perhaps semantically complicated. But we should be willing to accept a complicated alethic and semantic theory as a price for the right theory of the good for a person. Now, fair cop again, this gets even more complicated when we allow that there may be independent facts about value, as well (as in the case of non-valuers, say). But this just makes the view more complicated to formulate at the alethic level, not necessarily impossible. And if it’s possible, and we otherwise like it, there it is.

  2. I recently disputed Dorsey’s picture of this matter in my book on democratic theory. But my argument was nothing new. Back in 1932, Ralph Barton Perry responded to a suggestion by Orlie Pell that since voluntarists like Perry claim that something must be valued in some manner to be valuable, they ought to also insist that items must be judged valuable in order to BE valuable. After all, those judgements themselves do seem to be valuations.

    Perry’s response to this seems to me dispositive:

    “In my view the fact of value consists in an interest-in-something. The judgment which refers to this fact, that is, the judgment of value, can be disputed only on the ground that there is no such interest. Such a judgment is not infallible in the sense that what is judged valuable is ipso facto valuable, for the interest (like anything else) may be judged falsely; nor [has the judgment been shown not to exist] by the discovery that the object of the interest is not what it is judged to be.”

    Perry seems to me to have gotten this right.

  3. Hi Anthony,

    Great paper! I’m a fan of Eric Schwitzegebel’s work on in-between believing and it makes me question your assumption that Felicity doesn’t have any beliefs about what is good or bad for her or, say, her children. You say she loves her children so I naturally suppose that she cares about whether they fare well or ill. On a degree of belief view (such as Schwitzegebel’s) we could say that post-seminar she no longer *fully* believes that these things are good or bad for her kids (because, e.g., she is not disposed to make assertions about things being good or bad for them) she does still believe they are good or bad to some extent (as evidenced by her practical reasoning or emotional responses). In effect, she is like someone who accepts stoic theory in the seminar room but who when suspended in a cage over a chasm still trembles in fear or who still feel shame about her second hand clothes when meeting her in-laws for the first time. That person has yet to fully internalize the view that he accepts in the seminar and for this reason only partially believes the relevant things – but partial belief is not no belief.*

    Of course you could introduce a nihilist who internalizes the view more fully but then it seems that this person is indeed an odd duck and I would be less worried if Dale has to class them with Eden’s one day olds.

    *I seem to remember that this is not the way Dale wants to go because he want’s judgements not emotions, second-order desiring, and such to determine the welfare facts — but even if that is right I am thinking maybe the in-between believing view could be a good way for someone on the general team you are attacking to go.

  4. Thanks to Wayne Sumner for writing such a detailed and helpful critical summary of my paper, and thanks to Nikki Fortier for organizing this discussion. It’s a real pleasure to have my work featured in this forum.

    Sumner asks me to clarify how I understand welfare nihilism, the view that there are no welfare properties or at least that none are instantiated. The welfare nihilist might think that the very concept of welfare is incoherent. If this is how we understand the cases, then it might turn out, as Sumner suggests, that Felicity and Mallory are not truly capable of forming welfare beliefs, in which case Dorsey would say that a different theory of welfare applies to them than would apply to a normal human adult who isn’t a welfare nihilist. I am inclined to disagree, and I suspect that the disagreement might turn on how we are understanding what it is to exercise the relevant capacity.

    It seemed to me that Sumner was thinking the following: that Felicity has the capacity to form welfare beliefs only if she could believe, of some particular thing, that it is good or bad for someone. I would reject this way of thinking of having the capacity to form welfare beliefs. In my view, if Felicity denies, of some particular thing, that it is good for her or if she withholds her assent to the proposition that it is good for her, then she has exercised her capacity to form welfare beliefs. Considering the proposition of whether the thing is good for her and coming down on it in any particular way—confirming it, denying it, withholding judgment, or withholding assent—is sufficient for her to have exercised the capacity.

    Notice, for example, that when Felicity considers but withholds assent to the proposition that a particular thing is good for her she has exercised a capacity that, say, an amoeba doesn’t have, and it is plausible that this capacity is the capacity to form welfare beliefs. So even if Felicity believes the concept of welfare is incoherent, I think she can still exercise the capacity to form welfare beliefs.

    Suppose instead that we understand the welfare nihilist, not as someone who believes that the concept of welfare is incoherent, but instead as someone who simply believes that it has no instantiations in the actual world. Sumner suggests that this view could not be arrived at by metaphysical argument alone, since it would seem to require some understanding of what our world is like. I am inclined to agree so far. Sumner says that since Felicity finds the concept coherent, she would find things that answer to the concept when she looks out into the world. I would instead think that her concept of welfare, though she believes it to be coherent, could nonetheless be faulty, in which case she would not correctly identify the things that are good for her as falling under the concept.

    So on either way of understanding the details of welfare nihilism, it seems to me, the welfare-nihilist arguments go through.

    Still thinking through some of the other comments here..

  5. Dale: Thanks for engaging my work in your new book! I’m working through it now and I’m finding it rich and deserving of careful study.

    As I understand it, your response to the welfare-nihilist arguments is this: Felicity doesn’t value anything (in the prudential way) so a different theory of welfare applies to her. The theory that applies to her, presumably, would be one that does not require her to value a thing in order for it to be good for her. Thus, it can both be true that Felicity is a non-valuer who is benefited even after she becomes a welfare nihilist and that judgment subjectivism is true of valuers like us.

    The first thing to say here is that it could be that Felicity does value in the prudential way and that judgment subjectivists have simply misidentified the valuing attitude as cognitive (rather than desiderative or whatever else). In other words, in this paper, at least, I remain completely neutral as to which step is fallacious in the reasoning for judgment subjectivism. I don’t say in this paper whether the mistake is with the judgment-based theory of valuing or whether it is instead with thinking that, as a valuer, you must value a thing in order for it to be good for you.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t have a theory of (prudential) valuing, but I do think that it would be a mistake to say that a person must value a thing in order for it to be good for her. And that’s not because I’m an objectivist about welfare. It’s just because I think the positive relationship that, intuitively, must obtain between a person and the things that are of benefit to her can be established not just by the person valuing those things but also by her taking other kinds of positive attitudes towards them. The details of my view here are still a work in progress, but I am simply highlighting for readers this aspect of the dialectic.

    Now it seems to me that Felicity is a valuer despite the fact that she doesn’t value anything. This is because I think that being a valuer is simply a matter of having the capacity to value. And Felicity certainly has the capacity to value; it’s just that she doesn’t actually value anything.

    But suppose I am wrong about this. Suppose that in order to be a valuer, one must not just have the capacity to value and that one must also use it. As I said in my reply to Sumner, however, I think Felicity also exercises the capacity to value. This is because I think exercising the capacity is just a matter of coming down, as it were, one way or the other, as to whether something is good or bad for you. If Felicity withholds assent to the proposition that some x is good for her, then that is one way in which she has exercised her capacity to value x. She has, in effect, declined to value it.

    So it seems to me that Felicity not only has the capacity to value but that she also exercises it. So whether we think merely having the capacity to value or actually exercising it is required to be a valuer, she passes the test in either case. And if Felicity is a valuer just like a normal human adult, then by Dorsey’s own lights, the same theory of welfare that applies to us would also apply to her. We’re right back where we started with the judgment subjectivist saddled with the incredible judgment that nothing is good for Felicity after she became a welfare nihilist.

    Also, I think if we take a step back, we will see how implausible it is to say that one theory of welfare applies to normal human adults like us and that a different theory of welfare applies to a welfare nihilist like Felicity. This kind of response has perhaps some purchase as a reply to Lin’s similar objection that involves newborn babies; surely something is to be said for the claim that one theory of welfare applies to normal human adults and that a different one applies to newborn babies. After all, developing the capacity to value is a change of tremendous significance that might plausibly explain the disparity.

    But surely the analogous move could not be made in response to my cases. Welfare nihilists are just regular people who (sincerely) hold what are admittedly unorthodox philosophical views. But they feel pleasure and pain just like we do. Sometimes they get what they want and sometimes they don’t. They have friendships and other loving relationships. They develop their talents and pursue their projects, and so on. In all the relevant ways, they’re just like us. They simply decline to believe that anything is good or bad for themselves. Surely that couldn’t explain why a different theory of welfare applies to them.

  6. Hi Anthony,

    It was a real pleasure (welfare-enhancing) to read your paper. But I am going to hang tough on one point. An incoherent concept is (trivially) false of everything. So if Felicity finds the concept of welfare incoherent, then she can (indeed must) deny it of everything. But I would contend that there has to be more to the capacity to form welfare beliefs than the grasp of this logical truth. In particular, it seems to me that the capacity to use a concept requires, inter alia, the capacity to apply its criteria of application to states of the world. Felicity cannot have that capacity, since (according to her) the concept of welfare has no such criteria and therefore automatically never applies. Felicity does not lack the capacity in the way an amoeba does, since the fault lies not in her but in (as she sees it) the concept.

  7. “Surely that couldn’t explain why a different theory of welfare applies to them.” Sure it could! If a judgment based theory is the proper theory of valuing and if, as I tend to think, being a valuer has this kind of axiological significance. Recall that the rationale for a judgment-based view is that valuing is fundamentally cognitive. Now you might think that’s bunko, but if you are willing to accept that to value is to form the judgment, then I’m willing to bite those bullets

  8. On further consideration, I think you are right about this. So I am offering you a defence against Anthony’s arguments.

  9. Dale, would you turn to conative resources to capture the well-being of creatures that, by your lights, don’t count as valuers? Supposing so, and supposing we are choosey as between such conative resources, it feels tempting to me to think that when we are being choosey, we are trying to capture what they care about, even if they themselves don’t appreciate that they count as caring about it. Would you resist that way of thinking about such cases?

  10. Yes, I think David there puts RB Perry’s point quite well. There’s either something there to be judged about, or there isn’t. In epistemology, these issues made for many delightful Aristotelian Society discussions between folks like Russell, Moore, Stout, Dawes-Hicks, Broad etc. early in the 20th Century. I think it’s unfortunate that they have not received nearly as much attention in the value theory, but I believe many of the same arguments apply.

  11. Thanks for the neat paper and the good discussion! Anthony, you say in response to Dale and Wayne,

    “As I said in my reply to Sumner, however, I think Felicity also exercises the capacity to value. This is because I think exercising the capacity is just a matter of coming down, as it were, one way or the other, as to whether something is good or bad for you. If Felicity withholds assent to the proposition that some x is good for her, then that is one way in which she has exercised her capacity to value x. She has, in effect, declined to value it.”

    It’s hard for me to see how coming down one way or the other as to whether x is good or bad for you = withholding assent to a proposition that x is good for you = declining to value it. Doesn’t withholding assent to some proposition normally mean *not* coming down one way or the other? I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to say that Felicity has not exercised her capacity to value?

  12. David Sobel – that’s an interesting question and I’m a little tentative here. But I’m tempted to say, “sure, why not?” Offhand I’m not sure what sort of landmine I just stepped on but… Let me put it this way. I suppose we could think of a creature as really just governed by desires with no further reflection and so forth. Maybe there are the sorts of desires that are passing whims and those that are long-term or something. And maybe we pick the latter. That’s ok with me, I think. There’s probably more to be said here but I’ll leave it there. (Ok I’ll say more: I’m tempted to think that though we would hold that conation is relevant here we would probably say of such a creature that “desire satisfactions” are good rather than, like valuers, they are the sort of creatures whose pro-attitudes can render things good.)

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