RE: Volitional Morality and Action Judgement

From: Pablo Stafforini (
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 23:24:12 MDT


> I agree that what-is-in-a-person's-interests cannot always be
> equated with what-the-person-presently-wants. But I think
> that you omitted mentioning the cases where a person
> understands that their future wants will be different, and
> factors that into their decision-making process. I do this
> all the time, and I'm sure you do also. Eg: Though I desire
> an espresso now, I know that if I drink one I'll have trouble
> falling asleep later, so I make myself a warm milk instead.

OK, but then we shouldn't describe the action as a case of allowing the
agent to do what she wants to do. Suppose I know I will be probably
ruined if I continue gambling, but I decide to do it anyway. I'm then
doing what is not in my best interest to do. I'm then acting
irrationally. Eliezer's maxim, then, becomes inapplicable. To assess the
agent's behavior we must look for an alternative rationale.
> I suggest that it is irrelavent to the application of
> volitional morality for third parties to consider
> what-is-in-a-person's-interest. We should respect the
> volition of what-the-person-presently-wants regardless of
> whether or not it is in their interest, present or future.
> Eg: I desire an espresso, and even though I'll have trouble
> falling asleep later, I really love my strong coffee so I
> make a double.

Nothing inherently wrong with that, except that it requires
argumentation. If we care about the person, why do we only consider a
temporal phase of his? Why do we listen to his present desire to ruin
his future temporal phases, and not to the future desires he will have
NOT to have acted in a way that will have cost him his health, his
wealth, and his happiness?

Maybe it's time to abandon normative individualism? Maybe the
fundamental units of moral/prudential assessment are not persons, but
temporal phases? Maybe good and bad ultimately exist only in such
unidimensional "locations"? I'm just speculating; these are very
difficult philosophical issues. Bostrom's brilliant recent piece, 'The
Paralysis of Aggregative Ethics...', tangentially touches some of them.
For more in-depth treatment, Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons and John
Broome's Weighing Goods may be consulted.



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