DiaBlogue: For the Love of G/NOD


Hi Alan,

Great chat yesterday; I look forward to continuing our conversation next Thursday. In preparation, I wanted to provide a more precise definition of my understanding of Desire Utilitarianism. Hopefully this formulation will either provide a common starting point, or at least help you identify any significant differences in our understanding.


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A Formal Definition of Desire Utilitarianism
Draft 1

As I understand it, Desire Utilitarianism starts with two basic assertions.

I. Desires are ontologically real

II. Something is functionally good if it satisfies a Desire.

Of course, as complex beings we have multiple interrelated (and often conflicting) desires. Thus, we can construct two additional definitions:

III. Each Entity E consists of a Network Of Desires (NOD).

IV. Something is “good for E” if it satisfies the “most and strongest” of E’s Network of Desires (E/NOD).

I don’t know whether (III) and (IV) are new axioms or simply corollaries of (I) and (II), but as long as we agree it shouldn’t matter much.

Next, I’d like to differentiate between “simple desires” and what I call “meta-desires.”:

V. A meta-desire is a Desire for the fulfillment of another Desire

VI. A simple desire is any Desire which is not a meta-desire.

The reason for those definitions is so that I provide a technical definition of the term “Love” without having to worry about recursion:

VII. An Entity F can be said to “Love” an Entity E if and only if F meta-desires what is good for E independent of F‘s simple desires.

It is a bit complicated, but hopefully you get the point — which is similar to Alonzo Fyfe’s distinction between “interest in the self” vs. “interests of the self”. My desire for my wife’s happiness is partly due to my “simple desire” for a peaceful life, but also includes a “meta-desire” to make her happy even at the price of thwarting my other (simple) desires.

To be sure, this definition of “Love” may or may not correspond to our usual definitions of Love, but as long as we consistently interpret it as above we should be fine.

Given all that, I’m going to venture another definition:

VIII. An Entity E is “Rational” to the extent its actions align with what is good for E.

I.E., Rational Entities love themselves; conversely, it is irrational for me to act in a way to that thwarts my “most and strongest desires.” (Again, this may or may not align with your definition of Rational, but hopefully it is close enough to avoid confusion).

Also, please note there’s nothing necessarily selfish about this, since E’s rational desires also include the good of all those that E loves.

Still with me? Okay, here’s the tricky part: there’s nothing in the above that requires “E” to be a single individual. If we make the (presumably trivial) assumption that Desires are associative, we can define:

IX. Something is morally good if it satisfies the “most and strongest” of the Global Network of Desires (G/NOD).

If that’s true, then that implies:

X. An Entity E is morally good only to the extent it “Loves” G/NOD.

XI. E’s “Love” for G/NOD is only “Rational” if G/NOD also “Loves” E.

That is, if the Global Network of Desires includes a set of desires that maximize the most and strongest of E’s desires. We can see this on a smaller level, where my “Love” for Society is only rational if that Society also optimizes my desire-fulfillment — as opposed to one run by a selfish tyrant.

I don’t know if I’ve actually proved anything of significance, but I do think the argument above is a) mostly well-formed, and b) introduces some useful terminology for our next discussion. If not, feel free to ask about it in the comments, or we can hash it out next Thursday.

One thought on “DiaBlogue: For the Love of G/NOD

  1. We can talk more about this next week. However, consider that a person can satisfy the desires of others without having an explicit meta-desire for satisfying the desires of others. So I don’t think that (X) and (XI) follow.

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