Sunday, January 18, 2009

John Lemos on the Good Human Life

Recently, I wrote a blog post responding to John Lemos' new book Commonsense Darwinism. He has written a reply, and he has given me permission to post it here as follows--

"I enjoyed reading your blog post regarding my recently published book. I can understand your puzzlement concerning my critique of your view, because our views are similar. However, I do believe there are some differences in our positions that may be significant, and, naturally, I think that my view is better because of these differences. In what follows, I will try to clarify some of these differences. My comments will be brief, perhaps, overly brief, but they may still be of some use to me and you.

"I see the difference between your view and mine as follows: you view the good as what is truly desirable and what is truly desirable is that which promotes the fullest satisfaction of desire over a complete life. In contrast, I have so special interest in defining 'the good.' (See p. 67 of my book.) But I do have a conception of what a good human being is. A good human being, like other good things, does well in the performance of its defining activity. Thus, since practical rationality is distinctive of human beings, good human beings do well at practical reasoning; and to do well at this requires the possession of the virtues.

"Now, while practical reason aims at the attainment of happiness, the human good (doing well at practical reasoning) is not identical with whatever promotes the fullest satisfaction of desires over a complete life. Consider that one can make irrational decisions that promote the fullest satisfaction of desire over a complete life, but this would not be doing well at practical reasoning, and so it would not be consistent with human goodness. As an example of a decision that might promote the fullest satisfaction of desire over a complete life but is irrational, consider a situation where I agree to marry a woman that I do not know in the least, and I end up being quite happy with her for the rest of my life. The decision is irrational (and, hence, not consistent with human goodness), but it ends up promoting the fullest satisfaction of my desires over a complete life. Many other cases of such irrational decisions leading to the fullest satisfaction of desires could be given.

"Additionally, on my view one can attain the human good (do well at practical reasoning) and still be very unsatisfied due to various misfortunes. Living virtuously in the prudent pursuit of happiness is to live a good life, but it is not necessarily to be satisfied. Many of our rational decisions have to do with making decisions that are most likely to promote our welfare, but sometimes what what most likely to occur does not, and we are harmed by the less likely consequence of our decision.

"Also, having the fullest satisfaction of desire over a complete life is not equivalent to having lived a good human life. Aristotle, himself, is quite skeptical of this. (See Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics, where he criticizes Eudoxus' hedonistic conception of the good life.) One can desire bad things and have the power to acquire them and have little conscience and in this way achieve the fullest satisfaction of desire over a complete life. Or, as Aristotle notes, you might be a fully contented idiot and yet not be living a good human life.

"My view of human goodness must acknowledge a connection between human goodness and the satisfaction of desire since good practical reasoning aims at happiness. But, on my view, they are distinct. Goodness is the prudent pursuit of a happy life involving the virtues--since virtuous choice and action are the best means to such a happy life. But they (virtuous choice and action) are no guarantee of a happy life. So, goodness again is not simply what promotes the fullest satisfaction of desire over a complete life.

"Finally, my approach links human goodness to the defining activity of human beings in a way that allows for the kinds of rationally warranted conclusions about goodness that we make regarding other natural objects and artifacts. We say clocks are good when they tell time well, and hearts are good when they pump blood well. So, too, humans are good when they do well at their characteristic activity, rational activity. My conception of the good human being allows a way to bridge the gap between facts and values in a way that is consistent with common intuitions about the goodness of many other things, like clocks, cars, hearts, lungs, etc.

"In contrast to my approach, I feel that you try to bridge the is/ought gap with a naturalistic definition of the good as what promotes the fullest satisfaction of desire over a complete life, and I worry that this falls prey to Moore's critique of naturalism. In contrast, as I said earlier, I have no special interest in defining good or the good, but I do think that things are good when they do their characteristic activity well. This is a way for things to be good. My own approach is open to the possibility that goodness may be a nonnatural property, as Moore maintains, that supervenes on certain natural properties, one of which is the successful performance of the characteristic activity of a thing."

No comments: