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Demonstrating Equality

Most moral views assume some kind of equality.  However, usually this assumption is foundational, i.e. no further grounds are provided apart from its evident reasonableness.  E.g., utilitarians accept the Benthamite requirement that every person counts as one and no one as more than one, but typically no justification is given beyond its apparent fairness. 

I believe that that equality can be demonstrated, at least in the specific case of the equality of person's interests.

We begin with a technical restriction.  We can distinguish "other-regarding" interests as interests in someone's interests; e.g., a lover can be interested in a partner's well-being, a sympathetic nurse might be interested in reducing a patient's suffering, a sadist could be interested in causing or increasing somebody's pain, etc.  The equality to be demonstrated only concerns non-other-regarding interests, or what can be called "self-restricted" interests.  This is because other-regarding interests already presuppose some relative weighting of different persons' interests, which begs the question we are trying to address.

The fundamental supposition is that the empirical reality of values consists solely in persons' interests, where interests are understood as what moves someone to do this rather than that in some circumstance.  (Who or what counts as a person is a separate issue; for simplicity, the discussion can be restricted to abled, mature humans.)  Consequently, there is no basis for the relative evaluation of different person's (self-restricted) interests, other than someone's interests.  But any such reliance on someone's interests only raises anew the question of the relative value of those interests.

Hence, there is no objective, i.e. non-person-dependent, basis for the relative evaluation of the self-restricted interests of two arbitrarily chosen persons, A and B.  Hence, there are not, and cannot be, any grounds for claiming either A > B (i.e., that A's self-restricted interests are more important than B's), or B > A.  So there are not, and cannot be, grounds for asserting A != B.  Hence, there are not, and cannot be, any grounds for denying A = B.  Therefore, for any A and B, A = B.  Quod erat demonstrandum.

Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Gerald Hull
No bites so far, eh?  Perhaps a reconceptualization will help.  
People tend to regard moral values as the only REAL values, the only REAL normativity; person's interests are only inadequate pretenders.  The fact/value distinction seems to entail that facts about a person's interests can't have any legitimate normative significance.  From the fact that P is interested in I one cannot infer that P (or anyone else, for that matter) ought to be interested in I, etc.  Similarly, it seems that, while moral values (should they exist) are objectively valid, person's interests are only subjective and hence invalid.  But from the fact that P is interested in I one CAN infer that P, all other things being equal, OUGHT to do I [various authors].  And while person's interests are only subjective, they ARE valid for the subject that has them.  
In other words, interests are not invalid values, normatively irrelevant.  It's not that they are invalid, but rather that their validity is limited:  limited to the person that has them.  So, instead of person's interests being a mass of normatively irrelevant data, they represent a multiplicity of autonomous, non-overlapping spheres of legitimate normativity.  (The restriction to non-other-regarding interests guarantees the absence of any overlapping; cf. Harsanyi) 
So imagine a multiplicity of non-overlapping spheres of normativity; any resemblance to Kant's Kingdom of Ends is surely coincidental.  For here, at least to start with, by supposition there is no overlapping authority:  no normativity that has validity for more than one person.  But suppose these independent interests happen to come into conflict:  A wants T and B wants T, but they both can't have T.  What do we do?  We need an overlapping authority if there is to be any RATIONAL means of resolving this conflict; we need REASONS for our decision that is valid for BOTH A and B.  But of course neither A's nor B's interests can provide such reasons.  
What we can do is INVENT values with objective, i.e. universally overlapping validity.  This is why it is important to regard interests not just as facts, but as facts about (limited) values.  You couldn't build morality out of mere facts;  Hume is certainly correct on this point.  But you CAN construct unlimited (objective) values on the basis of limited (subjective) values.  What does not exist in nature we can make for ourselves.  That is, we can specify a rational system, equally valid for everyone, for resolving conflicts of interest.  Thus:  there is no reason, and can be no reason, for regarding one sphere of normativity any more important than any other.  So they are all equally important. 
In other words, morality consists of values designed to have uncircumscribed validity, and the most fundamental such value is:  all person's interests are equal.  Any other approach would necessarily be irrational in the absence of any reason to judge one person's interests more important than another's.  If you want a rational basis for resolving conflicts of interest, there is no other path.


Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Gerald Hull
I'm not sure I see your point.

First, interests are not normatively irrelevant because of the fact/value distinction (that has been challenged anyway): they're normatively irrelevant because my interests usually don't affect people in the way my moral values do (unless my interests include for example "hurting people for fun", but it is clear, I believe, that that interest entails a moral view - if I pursue it, at least). In the case of interest that don't affect other people's lives in relevant ways, I don't see why we would have to call them "normatively relevant". This is the domain where we're likely to find "faultless disagreement": I think philosophy is interesting, X thinks is not. I believe we have a disagreement, but I don't think X is wrong in her disinterest, the same way that if X loves chocolate while I hate it none of us is actually "wrong". That would be a very weird way to put it. If they're no "truth" about interesting or delicious things ("truly" interesting things like philosophy or fashion or truly delicious things like chocolate or oreo cookies), why talk about normativity? What kind of relevant normative issues are raised by using normative language to talk about personal interests?

Second, and closely related: what is a normativity that is limited to one person? I believe that sort of thing contradicts the very idea of a norm. Normativity is supposed to be valid for more than one case, or at least, more than one moment. A norm that is valid for this case only is just not a norm. That is whay we have moral norms and epistec norms but not "delicious" norms, not even for myself: wanting chocolate today doesn't entail that I have to want some tomorrow.

And about the dilemma where A and B both want the same thing...I don't understand what case we'd be talking about. I feel inclined to say that we would choose to give T to the person who deserved it more, but "desert" is a moral concept. This sounds like it would be a moral dilemma, not a dilemma about interests.

Maybe you could explain a bit more why you think interests are an interesting concept to discuss in normative terms, with more complete examples. Looking forward to your answer.

Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Gerald Hull
These are very interesting thoughts Jerry!  I'd like to raise two or three questions about them.
In your first post, you write that there cannot be (objective, non-person-dependent) grounds for claiming either that A > B or A < B, and no grounds for denying that A = B.  But it seems to me then that, equally, there are no grounds for denying A > B or A < B, and no grounds for claiming that A = B.  Aren't the self-restricted interests of A and B simply incomparable or incommensurable?

In your second post, you write that we can invent values with objective validity (by which I think you might mean, given the context of your first post, interpersonally or intersubjectively valid).  But why does it follow that, given that there is no basis for regarding one subjective sphere of normativity as more important than any other, that they must be equally important?  

It seems to me that, if we have to attach preexisting labels to your position, it would be constructivist, and more specifically contractarian.  (My apologies if I have misconstrued your position.)  It seems to me that the procedure for inventing, or arriving at the "unlimited, objective" values from limited, subjective bases would involve either hypothetical or actual agreement, based on mutually acceptable reasons.  But if this is so, what reasons would prevent the stronger parties from imposing unequal terms on the weaker parties, biased in favor of their own interests?  How would you convince the strong to treat the interests of the weak on equal terms as their own?  I would like to know.

Thanks for reading.

Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Gerald Hull
Hello Gerald,
First of all, I agree with you almost in everything, but I have something to say. I am currently writing my dissertation thesis on the is-ought problem and the naturalistic fallacy. Among my main theses are that morality can be built out of mere facts, and that Hume thought so too. And it seems to me that your argument is in tune with that too; as you say, we should regard interests as facts -about values, but facts nonetheless. So what else would we require besides those facts? 

Do you have the quotes of the varios authors that you appeal to when you say that we can infer 'oughts' from interests? I would really appreciate those quotes.

Thank you

Demonstrating Equality
You're welcome!

Various authors: --
    See chapter 12 in Kurt Baier's The Moral Point of View.
    Also e.g. Kai Nielsen in "The Voices of Egoism" (end of section V):  "It is a truism to say that if something is genuinely in one's interest then one, everything else being equal, ought to do it."

There are other references, but I don't have them at my fingertips.

Note that I don't agree that morality can be built simply out of "mere facts," nor do I believe that was Hume's view.  I believe you can build morality out of (1) mere facts about persons' interests, and (2) the desirability of a rational basis for resolving conflicts of interest.  The latter is crucial.

Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Boram Lee

I appreciate the opportunity to clarify some of this stuff.

Here's a logical way to look at it.  Any claim of the form "A > B" can be countered with equal reason by the claim "B > A"; hence, all such claims get cancelled out.  This is singularly not the case for a claim of the form "A = B".  So there is a ground for claiming "A = B".  Alternatively, there's a pragmatic way to look at it.  You are in a dispute with P about the proper course of action.  If you wish to reach rational agreement (as contrasted e.g. with agreement imposed by force), one approach guaranteed not to work is to assume out of hand that your interests are more important than P's.  For cannot P assume, with equal legitimacy, that P's interests are more important than yours?  Down that path there is no chance for rational agreement.

Constructivist, I would agree; contractarian, not so much; definitely not interpersonal or intersubjective.  The basic argument is:  

 (A) if you want to be rational about resolving conflicts of interest, then you must regard everyone's interests as equal. 

The truth of (A) does not depend on what anyone's interests happen in fact to be; in particular, it does not depend on whether they are interested in being rational about conflicts of interest.  So, in that respect, it is not hypothetical.   [To be overly clear, while the "then you ... as equal" clause (apodosis/consequent) does depend on persons' interests, (A) as a whole does not.] 

So also, pace Nagel et al., there is no internalist puissance:  (A) will not compel anyone to be moral who does not wish to be.  Moral truth cannot force the strong to be fair to the weak; but it does expose the rational indefensibility of any such unfairness.  And you have the same situation in e.g. logic and math -- those truths do not prevent people from being willfully illogical or innumerate. 

So, finally, (A) is not fundamentally contractarian:  the legitimacy of "A = B" does not result from an agreement between A and B to that effect (e.g. reflecting a shared presumption that they both would benefit more with that supposition than without).  Rather, the legitimacy of "A = B" is prior to any possible agreement between them:  it pre-determines what counts as a reasonable agreement.


Demonstrating Equality

I appreciate your interest in these things.

First, I believe you have conflated interests with matters of taste.  I define "interest" very broadly, as anything that can move a person to do one thing instead of another.  This is a purely empirical matter.  When there is a conflict between the interests of different persons, moral issues arise.  Whether such a conflict exists is also an empirical matter.  It has nothing to do with agreements and disagreements regarding taste:  you and another may agree that chocolate is delicious, but still disagree over who should get a particular piece.  The latter disagreement involves a conflict of interest, and hence a matter in need of moral resolution -- regardless of your "faultless agreement" over the desirability of chocolate.

Second, you appear to have been mislead by etymology into thinking that normativity essentially involves "norms" in the sense of standards or rules.  On the contrary, the normativity of interests consists in their oughtness:  the fact that "A is interested in X" entails "All other things being equal, A ought to choose (pursue, do) X."  When I choose chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla I need not be following some kind of rule; I am simply evidencing my preference for that flavor.  So to say that A's interests are only normative for A is simply to say that the things that move A only represent truths about A.  There is nothing that would prevent another person B from acting on A's interests; that might be the case were B very fond of A.  But again, whether this is the case is a purely empirical matter, and not a matter of the logic of "norms."

Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Gerald Hull

Perhaps this will be more helpful.  Interests are unique in that they have both descriptive and prescriptive content.  As descriptive, statements about P's interests contains information -- valid for everyone -- about what moves P to do this instead of that.  But such information also has prescriptive (conduct-guiding) significance uniquely for P -- in that respect, valid for P only.  It tells P what P has found to be desirable/undesirable; a basis, all other things being equal, for P's future decisions about what to do.  Since this isn't information about anyone else's interests, no one else has the same grounds for according it conduct-guiding (i.e., normative) relevance.  This isn't a matter of logic -- it's a matter of disinterest.  It isn't a contradiction in terms for someone else to decline to use your taste in chocolate as a basis for their confectionary decisions.

Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Gerald Hull
Thanks for your answer, I appreciate the discussion.

I'll give you your first point, but I'm still unsure about the second. I believe "oughtness" relates to some kind of standard in all the philosophically interesting cases. When you say that if A is interested in X, all things being equal, A ought to choose X, you can be saying two different things:
1) That A will choose X (which is a purely empirical matter)
2) That A has to/should choose X (which is a normative issue)
Why should A choose X? Because the rational thing to do when you have an interest seems to be to pursue it. If someone says "I'm very interested in gardening" but has a garden full of dead plants, we either think she's a liar, she deceives herself, she doesn't understand what "having a interest" means or she is irrational (and doesn't care about the things she cares about, if that makes some sense). There is a standard there, there are rules: the rules of rationality. About that, I don't think the rules of rationality are purely individual standards: I do believe there is an intersubjective, though not neccesarily moral, "obligation" towards other people to be rational. Sort of in the way Donald Davidson might have put it.

You could, of course, offer me a counter example, or an alternate account of "oughtness" that does not appeal to any kind of standards.

Demonstrating Equality

I would think it reasonably clear by now that I intend "ought" in a normative, viz. action-guiding sense.  But there are different kinds of action-guiding information, different kinds of "oughts."

A person's interests are the things the persons finds to be choiceworthy.  It's tautological that, if P finds A choiceworthy, then ceteris paribus P ought to choose A.  It is an empirical matter of fact whether or not P finds something choiceworthy; whether or not that thing actually gets chosen is a whole other ballgame.

So the "ought" of interest is "want to"; in contrast, the "ought" of morality is "have to."  The story of morality is how to get from "want to" to "have to."  I've already gone into that in some detail.  While the interest-ought is empirical, the moral-ought is rational:  it's a constraint imposed by requirement of rational justifiability.  As I've tried to spell out, this means you have to consider the interests of others equal to your own; nothing else can be legitimately defended.

If one isn't rational regarding resolutions of conflicts of interest, one cannot defend one's choices.  So we have an obligation in that others have the right to require/demand we be rational in that regard.

It's appropriate to cast moral-oughts as rules -- e.g., "Consider the interests of others equal to your own!"  But interest-oughts are not discovered as rules but rather as personal proclivities.  (As it were, they are more semantic than syntactic.)  They too can be expressed as rules, e.g. "Favor chocolate over other flavors!".  But when you discover you like chocolate, you don't discover you are following a rule; the rule comes later, if at all.

Moral-oughts, since they amount to constraints on interests, have the deontological aspect of duty and obligation.  This obligation is not "intersubjective" but objective:  It is an objective logical truth (I argue) that, if you want a rational basis for resolving conflicts of interest, then you have to regard everyone's interests as equal.  Interest-oughts don't have that aspect.

I hope this helps.

Demonstrating Equality
Reply to Gerald Hull
My previous remarks have shown where things start; this will give an idea of where they end up. AKA Why not be moral?

Why would we find moral rationality intrinsically valuable? We must presume that being reasonable about conflicts of interest is separate and distinct from other forms of reasonableness, whether about inferences, quantities or nomological relations. In short, we will not try to get an ought from an is. Still, we can distinguish at least three characteristics of morality-specific rationality that appear attractive in and of themselves: its defensibility, its facilitation of cooperation, and its communal inclusiveness.

First, morality is essential for the rational defensibility of one's actions. In any conflict of interest, there will be a clear-cut difference between following morality and following self-interest: between the right thing to do and a course of action that disregards the interests of others. Only a moral action is rationally justifiable to others: that is, only the right thing can be rationally defended to the others involved in a conflict of interest [FN Various authors have remarked on the importance of justifiability in ethics; Singer, Scanlon, who else?].

Second, morality represents the only means of obtaining rational cooperation. Thus, it is an optimal strategy for fostering mutual effort: obviously, moral options provide the least grounds for rational disagreement [FN Qualify vav inoptimal fairness]. On the contrary, self-interested options, in virtue of their disregard of the interests of others, inherently encourage disunity. The benefits of cooperation, of avoiding disunity, are indisputable.

Third, morality is necessary for inclusion and participation in the rational community. Every time you selfishly disregard the interests of another, you establish a relation of enmity, not just with that person but with every reasonable individual. As Locke puts it, "such men are not under the ties of the commonlaw of reason ... and so may be treated as beasts of prey" [FN 2nd Treatise, Ch. 3, Sec. 16]. If you are not to disassociate yourself from the common good and put yourself at odds with the rational community, you must be moral.