Re: Volitional Morality and Action Judgement

From: Michael Roy Ames (
Date: Fri May 14 2004 - 09:47:07 MDT


>> 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.

Why shouldn't we? You seem to be viewing an agent's decision as being
spread out over time. This is simply incorrect. An agent makes a decision
at a specific time, and that decision represents what that agent wants to
do. We currently exist as beings who progress through time as like a point
along a line, in one direction. It makes no sense to ignore that and
suggest that an agent's wants become incoherent when viewed over a range of
times. That is just sophistry.

I don't rule out that there might exist different beings who occupy a range
of time-points, simultaneously (difficult word choice!) but we are not that
kind of being right now.

> 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.

To say that "agents not acting in their best interests are irrational" is
incorrect. An outside observer cannot decide what the best interests of a
volitional being are. It is the volitional being's responsibility to do
this. To forcefully take away that responsibility is morally negative.

> Eliezer's maxim, then, becomes inapplicable. [snip]

What is "Eliezer's maxim"?

> 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?

Because we respect his volition - his right to decide for himself. Who are
we to decide for him? Are we his nursemaid? His ruler? His god? Again, I
have no objections to offering assistance, help, aid and our best advice,
but the decision should rest with the volitional being.

> Maybe it's time to abandon normative
> individualism?

Nope. Don't think so.

> Maybe the fundamental units of moral/prudential
> assessment are not persons, but temporal phases?

I haven't heard a convincing argument for this. Right now I am a being like
a point on a timeline, with limited abilities at modeling the future and
myself in it. I have no ability to step off that timeline and assess what
actually happens over a "temporal phase" - that is beyond my capability.
Therefore, such an action cannot be the basis on which I can make a moral

In your above statement, why do you join moral and prudential as
moral/prudential? They are two completely different ideas and joining them
makes no sense to me. A prudential assessment is utterly different from a
moral assessment.

> Maybe good and bad ultimately exist only in
> such unidimensional "locations"?

What do you mean by unidiminsional locations?

Michael Roy Ames

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