Jun 3, 2022Liked by Richard Y Chappell

This is the other point I saw a disagreement I had with Parfit - it all looked good until the argument against subjectivism. I take it that people don't have a *reason* to want to avoid future agony - rather, part of what makes it *their* future *agony* is that they *do* want to avoid it. The "Future Tuesday Indifference" sounds irrational because it sounds like it is based on a false belief that there is some difference in the pains. But if it's really just based on caring about some more than others, I find it hard to argue that it's irrational, and not just *different* (especially in combination with various formal arguments suggesting that it's impossible to come up with an interpersonal or intertemporal utility scale, without building in some assumption about trade-offs from the beginning).

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I'm a HUGE fan of Parfit and I do recommend everyone read his works so this is a really nice project! I might send a few of the articles to friends who have yet to read Parfit. Excited to see where this series goes!

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I'm starting to like this Parfit guy...

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We can criticize desires without declaring them irrational, can’t we? It is one thing to want something, another to act. I can refrain from acting without having to declare my non-enacted impulses irrational.

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The future Tuesday indifference idea seems to talk past the subject of its criticism. Hume was skeptical of the existence of any sort of non-instrumental rationality. Rationality always serves an end, but ends themselves, unless they are intermediate ends (hence also means), are not ultimately subject to rational criticism. The FTI idea, to fit in this frame, must either take the painful operation on Tuesday as an end or a means. For a choice to be preferred does not distinguish end from means. That is in the mind of the chooser. If he has an end which the painful operation will fail to satisfy, or will satisfy less well, this is instrumental irrationality, and Parfit fails. If Parfit is criticizing means, he is not contradicting Hume.

By stipulating that there is no reason for choosing the more painful option, Parfit tries to exclude the possibility of instrumental irrationality. But this goes too far. Wanting something is always a reason, though maybe not one that will satisfy others.

For Parfit's idea to work, the pain can’t be a means to something, it must be the end itself. But if we are comparing a painful but useful operation on Tuesday to a painless but otherwise identical operation on some other day, there is an end beyond the pain. Either we are criticizing ends, in which case the pain alone must be the end, or we are criticizing means, but Hume is fine with that. That’s to say, the Tuesday operation can be either an irrational means or an end. To criticize it as an end, it can’t have instrumental value.

I haven’t quite convinced myself. Let's take an even more extreme example. Suppose someone says they wish to experience pain, and that is their only end. They don’t enjoy the prospect, they don’t expect to enjoy the pain, and they don’t expect to gain something later as a result of experiencing the pain. They don’t wish to punish themselves or accomplish anything else by feeling the pain. This seems like an irrational end. But can we generalize from this that any other less extreme or more useful negative experience is irrational?

So maybe I disagree with both Parfit and Hume. One end is capable of being deemed irrational. We always seem to have a reason to avoid pain, so choosing to experience pain without some compensating side effect seems irrational.

But can we say the same about pleasure? Do we always have a reason to choose to experience pleasure, other things equal? Is it irrational to forego costless pleasure?

Maybe I can make one last quibble on behalf of Hume. The etymology of word “rationality” has to do with calculating correctly. But what is being miscalculated in this person's choice of pain? Desire is not the result of a calculation that can be mistaken. You either desire something or you don’t. As Hume said, if a desire is based on a mistaken fact, when the mistake is revealed the desire disappears. It was the fact that was mistaken, not the desire. We may not understand why people want what they do, but it doesn’t seem that we can claim that they don’t really want it.

I seem to remember Bernard Gert had a good discussion of rationality in his big book on morality. I don’t think he agreed with Hume. He had a list of evils, pain among them, that he thought is would be irrational to accept without compensation. I don’t remember if he got into the issue of instrumental rationality vs. other.

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Excited to read this, though I was already convinced by Parfit's arguments. Is the pre-print's text and page numbering identical to the published version?

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