walto’s paper on prudential values

The journal Philosophia recently accepted a paper by TSZ commenter walto, entitled CHOICE: An Objective, Voluntaristic Theory of Prudential Value. Congratulations to walto.

Our discussion of walto’s previous paper was cut short due to censorship by the moderators. Let’s hope they have the sense to stay out of the way and allow open discussion to proceed this time.

Prudential values are a good topic for TSZ, and a nice change of pace from our usual discussions of objective moral values and whether they exist. Hence this thread.

You can download walto’s paper here.

I’ll save my remarks for the comment thread.

188 thoughts on “walto’s paper on prudential values

  1. walto,

    In the paper, you suggest that CHOICE has a particular advantage over hedonic and desire-satisfaction theories:

    But this proposal [CHOICE] also provides insight into the relationship of well-being to personal autonomy and individual liberty, something that neither HED nor D-S standards can offer.

    I’m not seeing it. As far as I can tell, CHOICE just stipulates that increases in personal autonomy and individual liberty always lead to increases in well-being, without ever demonstrating that or providing insight into it.

    D-S and HED allow for the fact that while choice, liberty and autonomy are generally good, more isn’t always better. CHOICE insists otherwise and in doing so runs afoul of the evidence, as discussed earlier in the thread.

  2. Walto and I ended up discussing the objective/subjective distinction on the Moral Luck thread, starting here.

    Since that distinction is important to walto’s paper, let’s move the discussion here.

  3. Some context from the other thread:

    walto:

    I make both of those subjective. And i think most people would agree that “I enjoy pasta’ is a subjective judgement.

    keiths:

    The liking is subjective, but the statement itself — which is a statement about you and the liking — is not. You made this very point in your paper itself:

    Alternatively, we might define “objectivity” in such a way that “I like grapes” is objective; after all, that statement is true if and only if I exemplify the property of enjoying grapes, and that is something that can be taken to be a completely objective matter.

    Similarlly, “Buford hates geese” is objectively true — that is, Buford exemplifies the property of hating geese, and this is independently verifiable.

    If I’m being objective when I say “Buford hates geese”, then why isn’t Buford being objective when he says “I hate geese”?

    walto:

    Yes, in the paper I say that one could do that. And one could. I also say that it’s a bad idea to do so. And it is.

    keiths:

    I didn’t understand that part of your argument. Could you elaborate?

  4. We want to be able to distinguish–as one does in ordinary language–between stuff that’s scientifically or mathematically verifiable (i.e., objective) and stuff that isn’t. It’s a mistake to dump all of it in one pile. It misses an important distinction.

  5. But you can verify that someone likes grapes (or pasta, or geese) by gathering evidence: By asking them, for instance, or by observing their behavior.

    It’s independently verifiable, hence objective.

  6. Compare that to the claim that Obama has eight legs, which cannot be independently verified since the evidence doesn’t support it. It’s a subjective claim.

    walto:

    It’s a mistake to dump all of it in one pile. It misses an important distinction.

    Things don’t end up in a single pile, as I just demonstrated. I’m maintaining the distinction between objective and subjective.

  7. As said, that falsity is incompatible with objectivity on your view seems to me enough to kill it. That we can “independently verify” that obama does NOT have 8 legs is sufficient to show that its converse IS objective. I take that as axiomatic.

  8. By your definition, “Obama has eight legs” is an objective judgment. That clashes with the way people use the word. A person who makes that claim is not being objective.

  9. walto,

    Suppose you ask people the following:

    “Buford thinks Obama has eight legs. Is he being objective?”

    Do you actually believe that most people will say “yes”?

  10. keiths:
    walto,

    Suppose you ask people the following:

    “Buford thinks Obama has eight legs. Is he being objective?”

    Do you actually believe that most people will say “yes”?

    I would say “yes” — he is being objectively wrong.

  11. Neil,

    I would say “yes” — he is being objectively wrong.

    That wasn’t the question. Is he being objective?

  12. As if Buford’s bizarre belief itself weren’t evidence of extreme subjectivity.

  13. walto,

    Earlier you wrote:

    We want to be able to distinguish–as one does in ordinary language–between stuff that’s scientifically or mathematically verifiable (i.e., objective) and stuff that isn’t.

    Now you’re saying that even though “Obama has eight legs” isn’t independently verifiable, it’s still objective.

    So you aren’t distinguishing between stuff that’s verifiable and stuff that isn’t.

  14. Of course it’s independently verifiable! It’s verifiaby false! You seem to think a lot of words mean ‘true’ that don’t. And the fact that Buford may be biased doesn’t affect the proposition. He could be biased about 2 +2 = 4 as well.

  15. ver·i·fy
    /ˈverəˌfī/

    verb

    make sure or demonstrate that (something) is true, accurate, or justified.

  16. And of course the veri- prefix should be a strong hint that we’re talking about truth here.

    Compare verify, verity, verily, veridical, verisimilitude, etc.

    To verify something is to confirm that it’s true.

  17. If it can’t be verified, it isn’t verifiable.

    “Obama has eight legs” can’t be verified, because it isn’t true. If it can’t be verified, it isn’t verifiable. If it isn’t verifiable, it isn’t objective.

  18. If it can’t be measured, it isn’t measurable.
    If it can’t be calculated, it isn’t calculable.
    If it can’t be seen, it isn’t visible.
    If it can’t be verified, it isn’t verifiable.

  19. Btw, on your view the positivists held that in order to be meaningful, a proposition had to be true. Novel interpretation!

  20. keiths:
    If it can’t be measured, it isn’t measurable.
    If it can’t be calculated, it isn’t calculable.
    If it can’t be seen, it isn’t visible.
    If it can’t be verified, it isn’t verifiable.

    You’re aware, i hope, that you’re conflating two meanings of “can’t be X-ed”

  21. If you follow your own link, you’ll see this definition of verifiable:

    capable of being proven as true or real

    “Obama has eight legs” can’t be proven as true. It isn’t verifiable.

    You’re making my point for me.

  22. No. If something is verifiable it’s also capable of being empirically proven false.

    This is a waste of time. We don’t mean the same thing by either “objective” or “verifiable.” I’m not going to start going with your usage, which i think is less useful, as well as unorthodox.

    Live long and prosper!

  23. walto,

    Remember how we used to scold FMM for trying to redefine established English words like “claim”?

    You’re doing what FMM did.

  24. walto:

    I’m not going to start going with your usage, which i think is less useful, as well as unorthodox.

    Heh. Unorthodox?

    verify

    Merriam-Webster:

    to establish the truth, accuracy, or reality of

    Cambridge English Dictionary:

    to make certain or prove that something is true or accurate:

    Oxford English Dictionary:

    Make sure or demonstrate that (something) is true, accurate, or justified.

    The Free Dictionary:

    To demonstrate the truth or accuracy of, as by the presentation of evidence

    Chambers 20th Century Dictionary:

    To make out or show to be true: to establish the truth of by evidence: to fulfil: to confirm the truth or authenticity of

    Wiktionary:

    To substantiate or prove the truth of something

    Dictionary.com:

    to prove the truth of, as by evidence or testimony; confirm; substantiate:

    Webster’s Dictionary:

    to prove to be true or correct; to establish the truth of; to confirm; to substantiate

    Even the 1828 Webster:

    To prove to be true; to confirm.

    Good thing we have you and FMM to defend English against the ravages of the unorthodox dictionaries.

  25. Absolutely unorthodox, as those definitions indicate. (Those are NOT definitions of “verifiable” my little cheating friend.) Verifiable doesn’t mean verified or verify. It means empirically testable.

    Anyhow, your attitude is as odd as your understanding of the verifiability theory of meaning. You take ‘verifiable’ to mean true and something else; I (and most others, including Merriam) take it to mean only that something else. You’ll have to understand my (and, i think every other) writing in philosophy that way. It’s not so hard, and once you understand what is meant you are free to agree with what is being said when the word is used this way or not, just as you wish.

    But, as i said, this plea for a language alteration is pointless. Ain’t gonna happen. On the bright side, you don’t need to worry about our discussions: I am happy to understand your usages of “objective” and “verifiable” as expletives when used with “truth.” If you want to continue that way, so be it! I will understand you. (Just shake my head.)

  26. I note that one could make the same sort of weird argument you are making here about “empirically testable” and “confirmable,” since one tests for truth, and confirms as true. But imagine what science would be if one couldn’t test false hypotheses on the theory that, in one sense, only true propositions are confirmable. I don’t deny that one can use words in this way, it’s just a bad idea. And it’s not only me you have to deal with here: your understanding of these words is not going to catch on anywhere, I’m pretty sure.

    But again, I will understand you when you use these words in the way you like. And, while I think you should reconsider, it is, of course, entirely up to you.

  27. walto,

    You take ‘verifiable’ to mean true and something else; I (and most others, including Merriam) take it to mean only that something else.

    I don’t know how you got the idea that Merriam agrees with you. Here’s the Merriam definition of ‘verifiable’ that you linked to:

    capable of being proven as true or real

    “Obama has eight legs” is not capable of being proven as true, for the obvious reason that it isn’t true. You can’t prove a false statement to be true.
    It’s not verifiable.

    You and FMM are free to redefine words as much as you’d like, but it’s a bad idea if your aim is to communicate.

  28. You’re doing the redefining. I’m doing the leaving, if you’re just going to keep repeating this silliness.

  29. Merriam-Webster + walto and everybody else > keiths

    I know you wish “verifiable” meant the same thing as “verified” so you could get away with using definiens from the latter, but….sorry. 🙁

  30. From Merriam-Webster again:

    verifiable adjective
    ver·​i·​fi·​able | \ ˌver-ə-ˈfī-ə-bəl \
    Definition of verifiable
    : capable of being verified

    verify verb
    ver·​i·​fy | \ ˈver-ə-ˌfī \
    verified; verifying
    Definition of verify
    transitive verb

    1 : to establish the truth, accuracy, or reality of
    verify the claim

    Fight the dictionar(ies) all you like, walto. You’re not going to overthrow the standard usage.

  31. For the last time “capable of being verified” (as true if you want) does not entail true. It means (as everybody but you knows) testable.

    Fwiw, if you want to continue, you really will have to stop repeating this silliness. My patience is wearing very thin. I’ll come back to this issue only if you can find a single person who has ever suggested that the positivists meant by their meaning as verifiability thesis that only true statements could be meaningful. Otherwise i’m bored and getting annoyed enough to look elsewhere for entertainment.

    I leave it to you: wanna talk or prefer to repeat this rant?

  32. walto,

    I can’t believe that it’s necessary to spell this out, but here goes:

    ‘Verifiable’ means ‘capable of being proven as true or real’, according to the definition you yourself linked to. You can’t prove the truth of a false statement.

    Also, did you notice the appearance of the words ‘substantiate’ and ‘confirm’ in the definitions I quoted? You can’t substantiate or confirm a false statement, either.

    “Obama has eight legs” is false. Its truth cannot be established. It cannot be substantiated or confirmed. It’s not verifiable, and it’s not objective. It’s a bizarre, unverifiable and highly subjective claim.

    You can stamp your feet, fight the dictionaries, and demand that English speakers convert to your odd usage, but it ain’t gonna happen. If you want to communicate, then you (and FMM) need to use the accepted meanings of words.

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