November 11, 2009
We have been discussing theories of what’s good- hedonism and then desire-fulfillment
theory, where the second seems open to variants of the same objections as the first,
i.e. about morally vicious pleasures (now becomes an objection about morally vicious desires)
and mindless pleasures (now the fulfillment of mindless desires, as when what you most want is
to be on the experience machine);
Not all will be persuaded by these objections, but for many of us they point to what Parfit calls
an “objective list” theory, where certain things are good or bad regardless of
how much you want or would enjoy them e.g. being sadistic is bad thing and makes your life less
desirable even if you like it and being benevolent would be better if you now have no desire to
Parfit-brief discussion of the objective list theory (paralleling the plural prima facie duties in his
theory of the right) of pleasure, knowledge, virtue, and justice.
(1) virtue: three forms p. 134:
desire to do what’s right because it’s right (=virtue of conscientiousness) +
desire to bring about what’s good
(a) because it’s good or
(b) Bring into being something that is in fact good for properties that make it good (without
thinking of them as making it good)
-you can want to bring something into being because you think it’s good, or you might just want
to bring it into being.
Understands of virtue and vice as higher level intrinsic values
-if something is good then having a positive attitude (loving it/desiring it/pursuing it/being
pleased by it for itself) is also good. If your happiness is a good thing, me wanting your
happiness is also a good thing. This would be the virtue of benevolence.
Ex. Knowledge is intrinsically good, if I want knowledge for its own sake, that would be another
-if something is evil, loving x for itself, is another evil. If your pain is evil, my wanting your pain
is also evil.
Ex. Malice or malevolence, sadism where you take pleasure in someone else’s pain, would be a
case of loving evil
-if you hate x, you want it not to exist, and you are saddened when it does exist, hating x for
itself is good.
Ex. Virtue of compassion/sympathy
-if something is good, then hating it for itself, wanting it not to exist, would be evil
-if x is right wanting to do x because its right is intrinsically good, the virtues are those intrinsic
goods that have the right attitudes Attitudes that are good match the values of their objects. Positive attitudes to a positive value is
good but a negative attitude to a negative value is also good. Positive attitudes towards evil is
bad. Negative attitudes towards good is bad as well.
Ross believes that virtue is indeed a good thing. 134 argument-asks us to imagine two possible
worlds. People are exactly equally happy, in one they are benevolent, in the other world it is the
opposite, and they try and destroy each other happiness. Are the two worlds equally good? The
world in which people are virtuous are good, it should have more pleasure in it.
Much pleasure and much pain do not just stem from virtue. There are a lot of other factors that
alter people’s pleasure ex. The weather, sickness
Ex. Raising a child and you could either raise it to be compassionate or not to care; in the second
case your child might live a life where he is happier. We are inclined to think that the
compassionate one is better.
Virtue can’t be the only good thing; it exists in part in caring about other things that are good.
Ross thinks there are other good things, initially pleasure and knowledge.
135-pleasure is also good.
Pleasure is good in itself alongside virtue. Even people, who claim not to think it is a good thing,
betray that in what they say in other topics.
1. Attitude that they take towards kindness and cruelty
If you value justice, good people ought to get happiness, bad people ought to get pain,