This paper sets out a novel challenge to consequentialism as a theory in normative ethics. The challenge is rooted in the ontological claim that consequences of actions do not exist at the time required to be that in virtue of which actions are right or wrong, and so consequences cannot play the role attributed to them by consequentialists. The challenge takes the form of a dilemma.
Keywords: Consequentialism. Quasi-consequentialism. Natural law theory. Possible worlds. Practical rationality. Presentis . Relations. Right-makers.
Stephen Kershnar February 26, 2021 at 10:21 AM
OBJECTION #1: TRUTH-MAKERS AND EPICUREANISM
Here is a restatement of Boulter’s premises.
(1) If an act is right or wrong, it exemplifies a property (because it is right or wrong in virtue of having an extrinsic property).
(2) If something exemplifies a property, then it exists when it exemplifies a property.
(3) Hence, if an act is right or wrong, then it exists when it exemplifies a property. [(1), (2)]
(4) If consequentialism is true, then an act does not exist when it exemplifies a property (for example, maximizing the good).
(5) Hence, consequentialism is false. [(3), (4)]
The key premise is (2). This premise generates problems in other areas of philosophy. Here are two.
(A) Truth-Maker. If a statement about the future is true, then the truth-maker occurs when the statement no longer exists.
(B) Epicureanism. If death is bad for the decedent, then it is bad for him when he no longer exists.
Here is the argument for (A).
(P1) The truth-maker backtracks.
(P2) The right-maker is similar to the truth-maker.
(P3) If (1) and (2), then the right-maker backtracks.
Perhaps (A) can be explained because it is the proposition that is true or false and the statement (declarative sentence) merely expresses the proposition. Propositions – being abstract universals – always exist.
There are some powerful responses to (B). Here are two from some outstanding philosophers.
a. Neil Feit argues that a person’s well-being is zero during the time he no longer exists.
b. David Hershenov argues that we can compare two lives, one of which has been shortened by death, without assigning a well-being level to a period of non-existence.
To my mind, neither escapes (2) in the above version of Boulter’s argument and, as a result, Epicureanism is likely true.
Thus, there is not a solution to Epicureanism that is a disanalogy to Boulter’s argument.
Neil Feit February 28, 2021 at 2:00 PM
Steve, I'm not sure about the argument above as a reconstruction of Boelter's argument. Putting that aside, I'm wondering about premise (2). Is that supposed to include extrinsic (relational) properties? If so, then I don't see why one would accept it. Note that in premise (1), you're talking about extrinsic properties.
Stephen Kershnar February 28, 2021 at 7:57 PM
Perhaps I misstated Boulter's argument? If so, my apologies.
I guess I think that (2) applies to both intrinsic and extrinsic properties. I do not see how an object can exemplify a property if it does not exist. Perhaps this begs the question.
Neil Feit March 2, 2021 at 9:46 AM
Suppose that Jones dies, ceases to exist, and is being eulogized by Smith. It's plausible that the relation "x eulogizes y" holds between Smith and Jones, and hence that Jones has the (extrinsic, relational) property of being eulogized by Smith.
Given eternalism, Jones does exist, although he doesn't exist now in the sense of being present. I don't know if you accept eternalism (which you should) or, if you do, whether you had in mind existence or being present.
Stephen Kershnar March 3, 2021 at 9:45 AM
Do you think eulogizes-relation depends on eternalism? Perhaps this is also true about memories. If so, perhaps the same is true of consequentialism.
In addition, I do not see how eternalism allows for an open future. It is mysterious how different temporal locations can causally effect one another if they do not flow out of the past, but exist in equally real but different temporal locations. Perhaps this depends on how space-like one views the temporal locations.
David H March 4, 2021 at 10:30 AM
Hey, Steve has given a new argument for God's existence in establishing a Leibnizian pre-existing harmony or Malebranchian Occasionalism. God timelessly produces the relations between "causes" at one time and "effects" at a later.
On the other hand, maybe causes and effects are simultaneous. the table is causing my mug to stay where it is and the floor is causing the table to stay where it is. My pushing the broom across the kitchen floor causes the broom to move across the kitchen floor but they occur at the same time. Similarly for the sugar cube being dissolved by the water and the water causing the water to become saturated
of course, my drinking the sugar infused water occurs later and the dissolved sugar enables me later to engage in some metabolic process. So the sugar cubes dissolving is in a causal chain of dependency with my metabolizing in virtue of the earlier event. But why is that dependency a problem for eternalism? Dependencies can be simultaneous (two playing cards holding each other up in a triangular-tent like shape) and they can be temporal (later events depending upon earier) and they can be timeless (classical unchanging timeless God sustaining the world from outside of time)
Is the worry that there really is no change if the future timeless coexists with the present? Perhaps we just have to reconceptualize change. I forget who used the analogy of the scenery changing when you look out the window of the train. So there is a change as one landscape is replaced by another.
Stephen Kershnar March 6, 2021 at 9:30 AM
SIMULTANEOUS CAUSE IS COMPATIBLE WITH THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF NON-CAUSAL BACKTRACKING
Still, I am not claiming there cannot be simultaneous cause or external dependency.
Here are the Boulter-like claims.
(1) An object (concrete particular) exemplifies a property when and where it exists.
(2) An act's consequences occurs when the act no longer exists and where it does not exist.
This is non-causal backtracking. It is parallel to backtracking desire-fulfillment theory that Neil and I deny occurs (Neil seems to be sympathetic to concurrent desire-fulfillment theory).
That such backtracking is impossible is compatible with simultaneous causes.
Stephen Kershnar March 6, 2021 at 9:35 AM
You say the following, "But why is that dependency a problem for eternalism?"
One problem with this is that if one is not an eternalist - my guess is you're not - this is not available to you.
Second, I do not see how eternalism solves the problem. Backtracking - temporal or spatial - is a problem even if eternalism is so long as the arrow of causation or flow must move in one direction. You might deny this or say an even more radical solution is needed.
"Perhaps we just have to reconceptualize change. I forget who used the analogy of the scenery changing when you look out the window of the train. So there is a change as one landscape is replaced by another."
Still, there are two problems with this.
(1) Radically reconceptualizing change is a very strong price to pay for a position. So is the denial of the metaphysical claim that only existent objects can exemplify a property.
(2) We do not have such a reconceptualization.
Stephen Kershnar February 26, 2021 at 10:23 AM
OBJECTION #2: BEARER OF RIGHTNESS
Here is the objection to Boulter’s argument.
(1) If consequentialism is true, then the bearer of rightness is an act and its consequences.
(2) If the bearer of rightness is an act and its consequences, then the time of rightness is a conjunction of times.
(3) If the time of rightness is a conjunction of times, then right-maker does not backtrack.
The conjunction of times might be a duration.
If I remember correctly, and I might not, Duncan Purves makes a similar move with regard to the desire-fulfillment theory.
Here is why the objection fails.
Response #2a: Temporally Gappy Objects
If endurantism is true, then temporally gappy objects do not exist. But see MLB games suspended mid-game because of rain.
If perdurantism is true, then causal relations between events are mysterious.
Response #2b: Standard Formulation
If this were correct, then it would be false to say an act is right because of its consequences. Rather consequences would be part of what is right rather than making something else right.
Stephen Kershnar February 26, 2021 at 10:25 AM
OBJECTION #3: TIME IS LIKE SPACE
Here is the objection.
(1) A right-maker can occur in different space from an act.
(2) Time is similar to space.
(3) If (1) and (2), then a right-maker can occur at a different time than an act.
Just as a right-maker can space-track to an act, a right-maker can backtrack to an act.
Here is why the objection fails.
Response #3: Extrinsic Relations
There is a difference between two existent things standing in a relation to one another (for example, left of) and an existent thing standing in a relation to a non-existent thing.
However, note that an event can be extrinsically good because of its effects elsewhere. This means that the act has a property in one location based on what is true in another location.
Neil Feit February 28, 2021 at 2:12 PM
Steve, on the last part of your comment above, I'm assuming that you mean spatial locations, not temporal ones (you seem to be skeptical about any sort of makes-good relation that "backtracks" in the sense you have in mind). But the *effects* of an event cannot be simultaneous with it, right? So, we'd have a relation -- the makes-extrinsically-good relation-- between an existent thing (an event) and a non-existent thing (its effects). But above that you seemed to suggest this is problematic. (Maybe I'm missing something, and I am assuming that you're either rejecting eternalism or taking "existenct" to mean "presently located" or something along those lines.)
Stephen Kershnar February 28, 2021 at 8:01 PM
This is an excellent point. The Boulter-type argument threatens to eliminate much, if not all, extrinsic goodness. This seems crazy.
On the other hand, backtracking causation seems problematic as well. Any ideas on how to prioritize one problem over the other?
I'm also worried about paradoxes involving backtracking, but don't yet have one ironed out.
Neil Feit March 2, 2021 at 9:52 AM
Steve, I don't think there is a problem here. There is no backward causation. In the case of a future-oriented desire (say I desire that I move to Florida when I retire) future events can make it the case that the desire is satisfied or frustrated now. But the future events don't cause it to be so. (And I'm not saying this affects my current well-being.) Likewise, future events can be part of the story of why an event is extrinsically good, without causing it to be extrinsically good.
Stephen Kershnar March 3, 2021 at 9:49 AM
Strong point. Still, assuming desire-fulfillment theory is true (and I know we both reject it), I don't see how a future event can make my life go better now. This is what follows from such an account of desire-fulfillment. Do you accept this result?
I agree the backtracking is not causal. Perhaps this makes it less problematic. Note that if time travel were possible, then causal backtracking is possible even if the circle is deterministic.
Stephen Kershnar February 26, 2021 at 10:26 AM
OBJECTION #4: TOO BROAD
If backtracking is a problem for consequentialism, then the below things have a backtracking-problem.
(a) Family relations (consider deceased ancestors)
(b) Goodness (consider extrinsic goodness)
(c) Harm (consider when the harmful act precedes its effect)
(d) Knowledge (consider knowledge about the future)
(e) Moral responsibility (consider extrinsic moral responsibility)
Intuitively, though, the above things do not have a backtracking-problem.
If one thinks all the above have a backtracking problem (calling J. J. C. Smart), the objection fails to succeed.
To my biased mind, philosopher extraordinaire Bob Kelly and I argue against extrinsic moral responsibility based on the most plausible responsibility-makers (decisions and character states). Hence, (e) is off the table.
Stephen Kershnar February 28, 2021 at 8:30 AM
OBJECTION #5: DESIRE-FULFILLMENT THEORY AND BACKTRACKING
The problem with consequentialism parallels a problem with desire-fulfillment theory. If backtracking does not work for the latter, then it probably does not work for the former.
Consider a theory that says that how well someone’s life goes depends, at least in part, on when his desires are fulfilled. Now consider a case taken from Ben Bradley’s work in which a father strongly desires a postmortem result (for example, his favorite son takes over the family farm) and this result occurs. When is it good for the father that this event occurs?
(1) When the father has the desire
(2) When the son takes over the family farm
(3) Both (1) and (2)
(4) Neither (1) nor (2)
The father’s life goes not go better at (1) because the event does not occur and the makes-it-true relation does not backtrack, at least if the future is open.
The father’s life does not go better at (2) because neither the father nor the desire exists.
The father’s life goes not go fully better at (1) and also go fully better at (2) because it does not go better at (1). This is again because the fulfillment maker has not yet occurred.
Perhaps it goes better at the conjunction of (1) and (2) – I think I saw someone argue for this at the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress – but this is odd in part because in some sense it depends on backtracking well-being. If backtracking were possible, then it would intuitively seem to be good for the father when he has the desire.
In addition, a conjunction of times is odd because it is unclear why this conjunction is correct. After the son finishes taking over the farm (for example, after the son dies of old age), it is also true that the desire is fulfilled. Perhaps it is good for the father then as well.
The father’s life does not go better at (4) because it is plausible that is something is good for a person, then it is good for him at a time. Perhaps this is because concrete particulars that exist in time exemplify properties in time.
Neil Feit February 28, 2021 at 3:12 PM
Boelter provides a set of propositions that are arguably inconsistent. A consequentialist needs to reject one of them (besides #3, which is more or less consequentialism itself). I'm not a consequentialist, but I'd reject proposition #4 regardless. Here it is:
(4) Real relations require the simultaneous existence of subject, term and foundations.
As I understand it, the relation at issue is the makes-right relation between an act and its consequences. If the act exists at one time and its consequences at a later time, then (4) implies that makes-right is not a "real relation." But I guess I don't understand why one would accept (4). If I remember a past experience, isn't this a real relation between two non-simultaneous mental events? I might be unfamiliar with a technical use of "real relation," though.
On pp. 193-94, Boulter contrasts "real relations" with "mere relations of reason" and "indirect relations." A grandfather relation might be indirect if the grandfather and grandchild do not exist at the same time but each one existed at the same time as the father, say. Given this, I don't see why the right-making relation cannot be an indirect relation. Boulter claims that consequences that have yet to happen cannot make a difference to the moral properties of present actions: "Most will think that entities which do not exist, and have never existed, cannot make a difference to the actual properties of currently existing entities, directly or indirectly" (p. 194). But in general this is false (as Steve points out with certain cases of desire satisfaction, etc.) and I don't see why a consequentialist would be moved by this.
Later on (pp. 196-97), Boulter says that eternalism might provide a way to say that the consequences are available to play the role of right-makers at the time of the action after all (since past, present, and future things all exist and are equally real). [This muddies the waters with (4), which requires "simultaneous existence" and thereby seems to imply that relata need to be *located* at the same times, but I'll put that aside.] The criticism of eternalism on p. 197 seems misguided to me.
First, the claim that an act's consequences exist does not imply that they *already* exist, since to say that they already exist is to say that they are located at the time of utterance. Likewise, the claim that Socrates exists does not imply that he presently exists. Second, it is a mistake to think that fatalism "looms" (p. 197) if eternalism is true. It is one thing to say that certain consequences will occur, and it is another to say that such consequences are now unavoidable. The first certainly doesn't entail the second.
Stephen Kershnar February 28, 2021 at 8:15 PM
Leaving aside Boulter's account of real relations and direct relations, I think the metaphysical claim is the one we discuss above, namely, that an object can exemplify a property only when that object exists.
Your response, which is a strong one, is to say that this produces an absurd results in the case of memory, grandfathers, and extrinsic value. One response might be that memory involves accepting a proposition. A proposition always exists so it is simultaneous to the event at least when the event occurs.
Note, though, that absurd results occur if one is an internalist about well-being and moral responsibility. I would argue that these are the most plausible positions regarding them.
Note I am guessing on the desire-fulfillment theory, you reject the notion that desire-fulfillment makes a person's life go better when he has the desire (David Boonin's solution), after he dies (Ray Belliotti's solution, if I remember correctly), or the conjunction of these times (Duncan Purves' solution, if I remember correctly). I wonder why this problem is different from the problem of consequentialism.
I am guessing that your claim that perdurantism is consistent with indeterminism rests on the claim that perdurantism allows a one-direction causal arrow and involves a disanalogy between time and space. I am unsure about these.
This debate strikes me as somewhat similar to my disagreement with you and David on Epicureanism.
Neil Feit March 2, 2021 at 10:01 AM
Steve, I don't see how absurd results follow with respect to well-being and moral responsibility. Perhaps you could sketch the line of reasoning. I'm an internalist about well-being; with moral responsibility, I'm not so sure. But on act consequentialism, permissibility and impermissibility are extrinsic properties of acts -- maximizing utility is not an intrinsic property, obviously -- in virtue of effects. The implications of this should not be surprising.
On the desire-fulfillment question, yes. If I were to accept a view on those lines, it would be a "concurrent" one. For example, what is good for you is to get what you want when you want it.
Stephen Kershnar March 3, 2021 at 10:06 AM
ABSURD RESULTS FROM RESPONSILITY AND WELL-BEING INTERNALISM
Good point. Here is my defense of my claims about moral responsibility and well-being.
(1) If a person is morally responsible only for what goes on in his head, then he is responsible for and only for his thoughts.
(2) If a person is responsible for and only for his thoughts, then we get absurd results.
a. Brain in the vat people who imagine killing someone deserve the same punishment as actual killers.
b. Killers, batterers, robbers, etc. who sincerely believed their acts were right and good do not warrant punishment.
c. There should be no additional punishment for completed rather than merely attempted acts.
d. No one is responsible for anything they do or even predicted they would do. Rather, they're responsible for decisions.
(1) If well-being is internalist, then absurd results follow.
a. There is no reason - other than utils or virtue - to avoid the experience machine.
b. Drab eternity is the best life (totalism or per-life averagism) or whether today makes one's life go better depends on how happy he was as a child (per-life-per-time averagism) and the best life consists of one maximally happy moment (per-life-per-time averagism). [To be fair, these objections might be shared by externalist theories of well-being.]
c. If a person is reduced to that of a cognitively disabled individual, but doing to maximizes his total and average well-being, then it benefits the person to do so.
I should admit that I think almost all the well-being oddities are true, albeit distasteful. Maybe this shows they're not that absurd. Alternatively, it might show that internalists - such as you and me - are weirdos.
Stephen Kershnar March 3, 2021 at 10:12 AM
LESS FILLING DESIRE-FULFILLMENT THEORY
[No offense to Bubba Smith - tastes great side - on Miller Lite]
I suspect that a concurrent theory of desire-fulfillment theory is not a plausible version of this theory. After all, many of our desires concern future events and sometimes past events. They are similar in content to concurrent events.
I suspect your commitment to the concurrent theory is driven by the same intuition that drives the above anti-consequentialist argument.
Stephen Kershnar March 3, 2021 at 10:21 AM
HOW CLOSELY TIED IS YOUR ARGUMENT TO ENDURANTISM OR ETERNALISM?
Let us assume the future is open and presentism/endurantism is true. If so, then would you accept the following.
(1) An object exemplifies a property only when it exists.
(2) Rightness is a property.
(3) An act - a type of object (concrete particular) - exists only when performed.
(4) The consequences of an act occur after the act ceases to exist.
If these things are true, then would you say that consequentialism is false?
Different Question: Does the rightness of an act occur where the act occurred, where its consequences occur, or at the fusion of both locations?
If it is the fusion, and I think this is the way to go, then it is false that the consequences make the act itself right in the same way that my standing to the right of you does not make your left-location-relative-to-me a feature of you by yourself. That is, I suspect the bearer of rightness - spatially - is the conjunction of the act and its consequences.
Thanks again for the great points,
Neil Feit March 3, 2021 at 1:07 PM
Steve, on the first question. Even given those assumptions, I don't think 1-4 provide a reason to think consequentialism is false. Presentists need *some* way to talk about the past and future; even though there is no such thing as Socrates, still claims "Socrates was a philosopher" and "The sun will rise tomorrow" have to be interpreted so that they're true. If this can be done, then 1-4 don't seem like a problem for consequentialism. If not, then it's presentism that's false.
On the different question, I don't think that I understand it. Unlike the act, the rightness of the act is not something that occurs. But I'd say that the act is right when it occurs. If the question is when is it true that the act is right, the answer seems to be at all times.
Stephen Kershnar March 6, 2021 at 9:45 AM
TWO ISSUES: WHEN IS A TEMPORARY ACT RIGHT? WHEN IS A PROPOSITION EXISTING AT ALL TIMES TRUE?
Here is your position, "On the different question, I don't think that I understand it. Unlike the act, the rightness of the act is not something that occurs. But I'd say that the act is right when it occurs. If the question is when is it true that the act is right, the answer seems to be at all times."
Let us distinguish two issues.
(1) When does a specific act exemplify rightness?
The answer to this seems to be when the act occurred, for example, time t1. By analogy, when does Steve exemplify weighing 190? Answer only when he exists and weighs 190.
Here is a separate issue.
(2) When is this proposition true: Act X exemplified rightness at time t1?
This is always true. Our interest, though, is in the act, not abstract universals that refer to the act.
Your response is that presentists either (a) cannot refer to the past and, hence, presentism is false or (b) refer to the past in a way parallel to an act exemplifying rightness based on future consequences.
The problem with (a) is that the proposition does exist at all times and, hence, it can always exemplify rightness. Perhaps you would claim that a proposition exists only when its referent exists, but I don't see this if the proposition is an abstract universal similar to a comprehensive state of affairs.
Given the persistence of the relevant entity in one case - proposition - but not the other - act - I do not think they are parallel cases.
David H March 1, 2021 at 6:18 PM
I move that we make Steve choose articles from Bioethics journals or Philosophy of Science journals so he doesn't coopt the Romanell Center blog
David H March 1, 2021 at 6:18 PM
I second David H's motion
Neil Feit March 2, 2021 at 10:02 AM
Stephen Kershnar March 3, 2021 at 10:39 AM
PRIOR CONSENT / ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
David and Neil:
1. I agree with you, but I'm pretty sure I asked David about choosing this article beforehand. Like a DNR, this seems to be a prior consent issue.
PAS-deniers don't care about prior consent, but the rests of us should.
2. We've seen the various forms of non-right-based nonconsequentialist theories are implausible.
a. No one seemed to be able to come up with a coherent view of the double-effect norm if it were not a right. No one even tried to do so (beside a tepid attempt with harm), despite numerous invitations. The failure was the dog that didn't bark.
b. The doing-and-allowing theory clearly depends on legitimate interests (and, thus, rights). This might explain why hardly anyone invoked it at our conferences.
c. If we're left with rights and consequences as right-makers, we want to be confident that they don't rest on false metaphysics. If we don't do so, we risk being trampled by the metaphysics elephant - an alpha male African elephant - in the room. He scares me. Then, again, I'm easily scared.
In any case, my next choice will be paradigmatic bioethics.
Thanks for the note,
David H March 4, 2021 at 11:10 AM
I agree with Neil's comment much earlier that the premise of the dilemma to give up is that eternalism is #4 that relations have to be simultaneous. The consequences are in the future which timelessly coexists with the present. Boulter's worry seems to be there is then no point for deliberation if the future exists (197), as fatalism looms if eternalism is true (197-198), there will be no voluntary activity (197-198) if the future timelessly coexists with the present, and this will all undermine the point of normative reasoning (200). I don't see why eternalism brings in any problem that is not dealt with by compatibilist responses to determinism. If one is a presentist and determinist or growing block theorist and a determinism, there is the same problem that the future will have to be a certain way even if it doesn't yet exist. If compatabilists or semi-compatibilists can provide a reason for why one deliberates (say to find the act most in accordance with one's values) and is responsible (the right type of causality that is not foreign to oneself), then eternalism seems to bring no new problems. It isn't so much the future exists but the sense that one can't do anything about which events are the future events. And that is true if the future doesn't exist but is determined by the present and past. So if determinism doesn't undermine voluntary actions and deliberations and responsibility etc. then nor does eternalism. Or am I missing a specific problem that eternalism brings but not determinism?
Stephen Kershnar March 6, 2021 at 9:59 AM
ETERNALISM AND THE PROBLEM OF TIME'S ARROW
Leaving aside Boulter's incompatibilist response to eternalism, the issue is the following:
(1) Can an object exemplify a property when it does not exist?
Alternatively, we can ask the following.
(2) Does the rightness backtrack from a time when neither the agent nor the act exists to the act?
Let us assume that eternalism is true. This does not solve the problem. Here is a parallel case.
At time t1, Al from Buffalo wants Yazuki in Tokyo to be free of cancer. She is free of cancer. Where is Al's desire fulfilled?
(c) Buffalo and Tokyo
It is fulfilled at either (a) or (c).
Here is the parallel case involving time.
At time 2021, Al from Buffalo wants Yazuki in Tokyo in 2050 to be free of cancer. She is free of cancer in 2050. However, Al died in 2030. When is Al's desire fulfilled?
(c) 2021 and 2050
(d) Every time
Again, the answer will be either (a) or (c). Time-(c) problematic in that a thing has to exist to stand in a relation - for example, fulfillment - with another. This is true even under eternalism because of time's arrow - direction of flow - even under eternalism.
Nothing about compatibilism, determinism, or growing block theory changes this.
Stephen Kershnar March 6, 2021 at 10:04 AM
DILEMMA: DO ACT-RIGHTNESS AND DESIRE-FULFILLMENT HAVE A SIMILAR TIMING? (FOR DAVID AND NEIL)
(1) Timewise, is the rightness of an act similar to desire fulfillment?
(2) Yes, fulfillment backtracks.
(3) No, rightness backtracks and fulfillment does not.
I find (2) to be odd given that neither the desire (and perhaps the desirer) no longer exist. Note, also, Neil appears to reject (2). Proposition (3) strikes me as unprincipled. Backtracking is backtracking.
David H March 6, 2021 at 3:14 PM
the desire desired at T1 and the desired event occurs at T2. They timelessly co- exist. Why isn't that the end of the story? The desire and the desired event that satisfied co-exist but there is no time at which they coexist.
Neil Feit March 6, 2021 at 4:28 PM
If I think about when the 2021 desire (about a 2050 state of affairs) is fulfilled, then I'm inclined to say 2050. But it might be ambiguous. A different case would be a 2021 utterance about a 2050 event ("Yazuki will be cancer free in 2050"). I think the utterance is true in 2021. This would be like the act's being right when it occurs.
Stephen Kershnar March 7, 2021 at 9:12 PM
AN OBJECT EXEMPLIFIES A PROPERTY IN TIME
An excellent point.
Here is what you say, "the desire desired at T1 and the desired event occurs at T2. They timelessly co- exist. Why isn't that the end of the story? The desire and the desired event that satisfied co-exist but there is no time at which they coexist."
The problem with this is that things, like desires and Ford Torino Cobras exist in time. As such they exemplify properties in time. This is particularly true if they are to make a person's life go better and he exists in time. To bolster my claim, what other contingent object or collection of such objects exemplifies a property outside of time or, alternatively, at all times.
If this were not true, then we should think that the desire is satisfied is the conjunction of T1 and T2.
So while I like your idea, I find it runs afoul a plausible metaphysical principle.
Stephen Kershnar March 7, 2021 at 9:17 PM
Another great point.
Here is what you say, "If I think about when the 2021 desire (about a 2050 state of affairs) is fulfilled, then I'm inclined to say 2050. But it might be ambiguous. A different case would be a 2021 utterance about a 2050 event ("Yazuki will be cancer free in 2050"). I think the utterance is true in 2021. This would be like the act's being right when it occurs."
In short, here are your claims.
(1) The desire satisfaction-maker forward-tracks to when the satisfier occurs.
(2) The belief satisfaction-maker backtracks to when the belief occurred.
My objections are threefold.
(A) The responses seem to conflict with one another. Intuitively, they backtrack in both or neither.
(B) Above you argued that a desire is satisfied only if it is concurrent with the satisfying-event. I wonder why you've moved away from this position. I think it is the better position.
(C) Perhaps your explanation for the truth of the belief is that its content is a proposition and a proposition is a necessary thing that is always true. Hence, it is true at the time of the believer has the belief. The problem is that this same move can be made about a proposition satisfying the desire. Both beliefs and desires have that-clauses.
David H March 4, 2021 at 11:32 AM
Let's assume the future doesn't timelessly co-exist with the present. Can't consequentialists help themselves to something like a provisional moral judgment roughly akin to philosophers of science claiming some scientific hypotheses are better confirmed than others? So the consequences are the right makers and all of them don't yet exist, but we can provisionally judge an action right or wrong because of what we have good reason to believe will happen (given the past, human nature, social science etc.) So we may have to reevaluate the provisional judgment but that doesn't involve acts changing their moral status, but just us having more reason later to think the act right or wrong than we did before.
Of course, there is no "last judgment" as long as the future holds out more possible consequences but that just means a lack of certainty which isn't required by any sort of rival moral theory even when time is not the reason for the lack of certainty. We will just have to act and judge with less than certainty. There will be consequentialist rules of thumb but they are not open to objections that act Utilitarians make against rule utilitarians. These rules of thumb will be that actions of type x bring about the best consequences as far as we can see in the future. No one else can reasonably see further, so this is the right act and the right judgment of such acts. It is not like the case that one knows following a usually correct utility maximizing rule will in this case will bring about less utility than a different act. There is no conflict between rules and acts when the rules are judgments about the best that we can presently know about the future consequences of such acts. More insight into future consequences means we devise and act upon a different rule of thumb, not a conflict between act and rule. Nonetheless, it is the best we can do given our limitations on knowing the future. We can't be certain that x is the correct action just as we can't be certain a scientific theory will explain and predict all the phenomena. So consequences are the right makers and we judge acts provisionally on what we think will be the best consequences, perhaps endlessly revising our judgments of what counts as likely to produce the best consequences. Those consequences don't yet exist so our judgements always remain provisional, though perhaps better confirmed if history repeatedly shows such acts bring about better consequences than rival acts.
Stephen Kershnar March 6, 2021 at 10:09 AM
EVIDENCE AS A RIGHT-MAKER OR EVIDENCE OF THE RIGHT-MAKER
Another excellent point.
Here is what you say, "So the consequences are the right makers and all of them don't yet exist, but we can provisionally judge an action right or wrong because of what we have good reason to believe will happen (given the past, human nature, social science etc.) So we may have to reevaluate the provisional judgment but that doesn't involve acts changing their moral status, but just us having more reason later to think the act right or wrong than we did before."
I tried to restate it as follows.
(1) An act is morally right if and only if, given the evidence the agent has or should have, the act’s expected value is at least as good as any other act available to the agent.
Here are my objections.
Objection #2a: Blame. The reason to care about evidence is to determine an agent’s blameworthiness.
Objection #2b: False. Evidence is not a right-maker. This is because it does not involve good-makers such as complete well-being, desert-satisfaction, etc.
You might respond the evidence is about what is right and not the right-maker. However, if so, then you addressed a different issue, which is how should proceed to act given our limited evidence about the right rather than what makes an act right.
Boulter and my focus is on the latter.
David H March 6, 2021 at 4:25 PM
assuming eternalism is false, the presently non existing future consequences will later make an act right. But we can provisionally judge it an act right on the basis of evidence about what will happen later. we are not judging the the person's blameworthiness - though we can on similar grounds - but are making preliminary judgements about what is right which may have to be revised when the right makers comes fully into existence. So I am saying that is the best the consequentalist can do given the right maker doesn't yet exist or only partially exists as some of the relevant consequences have occurred. That doesn't seem to be so bad. I would jump off the consequentialist bandwagon for the familiar other reasons than a worry about coherence
Stephen Kershnar March 7, 2021 at 9:24 PM
IF CONSEQUENTIALISM IS TRUE, THEN AN ACT MUST BE FULLY - NO PROVISIONALLY - RIGHT WHEN IT IS PERFORMED
BONUS QUOTE FROM DR. FRANK SINATRA
Another great point.
Here is the problem with the response though.
(1) If an act is not right or not right at the time it is performed (although perhaps not only at that time), then consequentialism is false.
Reason: An object exemplifies a property only when it exists.
(2) If an act is provisionally, prima facie, other things being equal, or evidence-wise right at the time that it is performed, this is insufficient to meet the requirement in (1).
(3) If (1) and (2), the interpretation of consequentialism as involving a provisional assignment of rightness is false.
To quote Dr. Frank Sinatra, the leading philosopher of love and consequentialism, "All or nothing at all."
David H March 8, 2021 at 2:03 PM
You write on the blog "what other contingent object or collection of such objects exemplifies a property outside of time or, alternatively, at all times." I would say all of them. They all have the timeless property of timelessly co-existing with other objects of other times and coexisting with abstract objects - numbers, logical truths, propositions, possible worlds.
There is also the standard response to the Epicurean puzzle (I think it is changing the subject, but don’t care as it doesn’t matter practically) and that is comparing a possible life and the actual life and then determining whether death is bad or good for the person. Since the lives have different life spans, there will be no time that that it is better or worse for you to have lived one life rather than another. Or maybe death is bad for you at the moment you die (you are still existing when you die) so its badness is great but brief (Oderberg holds that view).
If you insist on the fulfillment of a desire to involve that the desire and the desired event coexist, then they only can coexist timelessly. I suppose one might be content with the desire existing in the past and allowing the future event that is desired to count as the fulfillment, then the future time counts as its fulfillment though it meets the co-existence criteria timelessly. That is, the desire and the desired event coexist timelessly, but the fulfillment is when the desired event occurs. So then one can go with Neil’s answer even though the desire doesn’t exist then but it still exist. Maybe there is no problematic disanglogy with an expression about the future being true now because a timeless proposition makes it so. If desire fulfillment was analyzed as the desired proposition being true, then the desire about the future is fulfilled now.
But I don’t like posthumous desires existing or being fulfilled posthumously. I think if you cease to desire the Yankees dominate in the coming decade than it makes little sense to ask when your desire is fulfilled as you no longer have it. Perhaps your brain was scrambled by an evil neuroscientist who is a Red Sox fan and he unwired your brain and rewired it as a rabid red sox supporter. Now I think death unscrambles everyone’s brain and eliminates their desires, it just doesn’t rewire them like the evil red sox loving scientist. So I don’t think anyone has posthumous desires that can be fulfilled
Regarding the other issue of future consequences that don’t exist. . If the future doesn’t exist, is it the case that the deontologist can’t say the future intentional murder of the innocent is wrong or will be wrong if that hasn’t yet occurred or been intended? Surely, that isn’t a problem for the deontologist. So why is it a problem for the consequentialist? Or is that wrong because it instantiated a deontological act type which the consequentialists can’t help themselves to? Is there a consequence type that is wrong at least when compared to other consequences types. These are abstract objects that always exist. Does Boulter’s argument against possibilia rule this out?
I know Boulter’s point is that the deontologist in the future can then say an act at that time it is committed was wrong, the consequentialist can’t say that when the act occurs it is wrong. But it seems the deontologist can say now that a future intended act is wrong and however that occurs, perhaps the consequentialist can borrow it
Stephen Kershnar March 10, 2021 at 3:01 AM
OBJECTS THAT EXIST IN SPACE AND TIME DO NOT HAVE SPACE-LESS AND TIME-LESS PROPERTIES
Great point. You write the following, "You write on the blog "what other contingent object or collection of such objects exemplifies a property outside of time or, alternatively, at all times." I would say all of them. They all have the timeless property of timelessly co-existing with other objects of other times and coexisting with abstract objects - numbers, logical truths, propositions, possible worlds."
This is an odd view in that you assert (1), and (2) or (3) the following about an object, for example, a car.
(1) The car exists in time and has properties in time.
(2) The car exists outside of time and has timeless properties.
(3) The car exists at all times and has properties at all times.
I do not see how (3) makes sense. There is no sense in which a 1970 Chevelle SS 454 exist in 1 million BC. Perhaps a proposition about it back then might be true, its referent does not exist then. Because non-existent things cannot have properties, it does not have properties in 1 million BC. Hence, we should reject (3).
Next consider (2). I do not know in what sense an object in time exists outside of time. By analogy, I do not know in what sense an object in space exists outside of space. I find this mystifying. Perhaps abstract universals exist outside of time or space, but they are not concrete particulars. Because something in space and time does not exist outside of them, it cannot have properties outside of them. Hence, we should reject (2).
This is why Epicureanism is true. A comparison of an actual life (S dies at age 50 in 1950) and a possible life (S dies at 100 in 2000) does not yield us the badness of death because there is no subject from 1950-2000. The notion of comparing lives works only if one of the following is true.
(4) S had 0 utils from 1950-2000.
This is not true. Non-existent entities do not have a utility-level.
(5) S had a timeless property, specifically, timelessly having a worse life than he would have had but for his early death.
This does not work because objects in time do not have timeless properties.
Here is a version of the problem.
(6) Napoleon was shorter than Wilt Chamberlain.
The proposition might always be true, perhaps because it refers to a comprehensive state of affairs that need not be instantiated and involves a counterfactual truth. Alternatively, it is comparing two numbers rigidly picked out by a definite description (for example, Napoleon's height).
Neither solution is available to the anti-Epicurean.
David H March 10, 2021 at 8:34 AM
I never said a material object exists at all times. (Perhaps one could if it is indestructible.) Of course, objects in time can have properties about things outside time. . You have the property that one plus one equals two. You have all the necessary properties. You have the property of expressing timeless propositions that one plus one equals two. You have the property of knowing the angles of a triangle equal the sum of two rights angles and so on
Stephen Kershnar March 10, 2021 at 3:17 AM
USING AN ANALOGY OF SPACE TO EXPLAIN WHY THERE IS NO TIME-LESS PROPERTY IN THE CASE OF DESIRE-FULFILLMENT
Let us revisit Neil's claims.
(1) The desire satisfaction-maker forward-tracks to when the satisfier occurs.
(2) The belief satisfaction-maker backtracks to when the belief occurred.
I think these responses are inconsistent. Intuitively, both backtrack or neither does so.
If I understand your view correctly, desires do not backtrack.
"I think if you cease to desire the Yankees dominate in the coming decade than it makes little sense to ask when your desire is fulfilled as you no longer have it."
You also do not think desires forward-track. "But I don’t like posthumous desires existing or being fulfilled posthumously."
This leaves the concurrent-satisfaction theory (Neil's earlier position) or the timeless-satisfaction position (your theory). Here is the argument against timeless-satisfaction.
(1) A thing in space does not have a space-less property.
(2) Time is like space.
(3) If (1) and (2), then a thing in time does not have a time-less property.
Perhaps you would deny (1). Still, we can agree that a 1970 Chevelle does not have an intrinsic property in a space-less manner. Nor does it have it at all spaces.
If we say the 1970 Chevelle was more beautiful than the 1970 Ford Mustang Boss, we're better off either saying that this is true where the car exist or, alternatively, with a rigid designation of beauty-levels.
The former will work for consequentialism only if the consequence is contemporaneous with the act, which it rarely is.
The latter will not work for consequentialists because they are not talking about a good-consequence-level, but rather about some feature of an act.
Stephen Kershnar March 10, 2021 at 3:26 AM
DEONTOLOGISTS FACE THE SAME BACKTRACKING PROBLEM AS CONSEQUENTIALISTS.
You say the following, "If the future doesn’t exist, is it the case that the deontologist can’t say the future intentional murder of the innocent is wrong or will be wrong if that hasn’t yet occurred or been intended? Surely, that isn’t a problem for the deontologist. So why is it a problem for the consequentialist?"
The deontologist can say (1) but not (2).
(1) The future murder of Jones will be wrong (when it occurs).
He may not say the following.
(2) The future murder of Jones is wrong (before it occurs).
This is true even if the future is determined or, perhaps, true now for some other reason (for example, eternalism).
By analogy, I will feel good when I visit Saint Bart's.
Here is the way to go on all of this.
(1) An object has an intrinsic property where and when it exists.
(2) Related entities have properties based on the relation only if they are concurrent. The relation exists where both entities exist.
(3) Some propositions about the past or future are true because they were to possible worlds (they are counterfactual truths) or rigidly designate levels or amounts that can be compared.
None of this allows consequentialist to be true or makes an act deontically right now because of its future consequences.