In my most recent philosophical post, I have finally explained one of the most fundamental premises necessary for explaining and justifying my overall views on ethics. I explained my view that goodness objectively means effectiveness and that all further true ideas of “good” should be understood only as derivative from the basic good of effectiveness. Also in that post I defined beings as, essentially, the patterned functions of their component parts. In reply, James Gray quotes several passages from me, each followed by a question. First he quotes me as writing:
Given the nature of being as functionality, there are two basic kinds of effectiveness. The first kind of effectiveness is the successful functioning of a function itself. A function exists through its functioning effectively. There is no function apart from the act of functioning. Ceasing to function makes a function cease to be. Since a being is a function, a being’s ceasing to function entails necessarily its ceasing to be.
And James asks in reply:
First, why is a being a function?
Beings (not being) are functions. Each being is the function of its components. This is because each being is comprised of parts which when they function in certain ways it exists and when they do not function, it ceases to exist. There are many levels of increasingly complex beings. A being like the human being is composed of an enormous number of physical functions, out of which even more complicated mental functions arise.
James also asks,
Second, even if a being is a function, why is proper functioning “goodness?”
Again, “goodness” is more elemental than function. Goodness, in third-person, unprejudiced, factual terms simply means effectiveness. A function is a kind of effectiveness by definition. When the component parts which make a given function align in the necessary way to have a function, they effectively become that function and this is all it means for there to be a good functioning present. To the extent that the function is weak, defective, or non-existent, the effectiveness of the function is missing and therein it lacks its good.
I also wrote:
So any being’s intrinsic good is to function effectively according to that function that the being is. Of course, as has already been described, each being is composed of many parts, each of which itself is a function composed of further parts. This means that increasingly complex beings are composed of increasingly numerous functions on increasingly numerous levels.
To which James queries:
Why is a beings intrinsic good to function effectively? What does “intrinsic good” mean here?
An intrinsic good can only be intrinsic, relative to an effectiveness to which it contributes necessarily. Each necessary and each sufficient component part of an effective function is intrinsic to that function. The goods which are intrinsic to a being include the component beings which interact to create the larger functionality which the being essentially is and which together they comprise. The goods intrinsic to a being include external goods which the being must acquire, whether regularly or even only once, in order to sustain, perpetuate, and grow in the kind of being which it is. Also intrinsically good to a being is the whatever possible arrangements of its component parts make for both its minimal functioning as the being it is and, especially, its maximal flourishing in that function.
And I made another key qualification in the post in question:
Let me stop to stress that functions are not defined by consciously given purposes. A river is a river because it functions in a river way, not because any intelligent being purposed it to act in that way. A heart is a heart because it functions in a heart way, not because any intelligent being decided it should act in that way.
And in reply to this James offers several key questions:
Then how do you know what the function of a thing is?
We can recognize what a thing is when we understand what components function to create that thing. Understanding that 2 hydrogens binding to an oxygen in a particular way functions to create a water molecule is what it means to understand what water is. To understand any thing in existence is to understand how it arises out of its constituent parts to create a particular kind of unity. Now, water is a more precisely specifiable sort of functioning of its parts than rivers are. There may be variabilities in conventions in how we distinguish types of bodies of water. But insofar as these conventions isolate and describe true combinations of parts effectively performing together to create certain functional effects, these conventions describe reality with empirical accuracy. It just may be that different combinations and functionalities are of more interest to us than others and so those guide our linguistic conventions. But as long as we find parts combining for effects in distinct and regularly patterned sorts of ways, we can say that they function together to create a kind of natural being.
And why is the “intrinsic good” of a being so important?
An intrinsic good of a being is the precondition of the being’s very existence so, whether the being is aware of itself or its conditions of existence or not, it is by definition important to it. If it would not be at all without the components which make it up, the externalities it must take into itself to sustain or grow itself, or the patterned interactions between all these things, then nothing could be more important than all these things for that being.
I don’t care about the intrinsic good of rivers. If a river goes away, that is just the way of the world, and it’s no big deal.
Yes, because you are not a river. You need only care about rivers to whatever extent they impact your own intrinsic goods and you may further care about them insofar as they please you beyond your intrinsic goods.
But so what? You are here introducing concerns for our goods and our desires. The intrinsic goods of rivers are the intrinsic goods of rivers independent of human interests in them, just as the intrinsic goods of all the other species which predated us, who cohabitate the Earth today with us, and who will evolve after we are gone are each their own goods totally independent of human opinions, interests, or objective goods.
The issue here is the truth about objective goodness as both an objective constitutive and objective relational feature of things. Human feelings or the feelings of mice or the lack of feelings of rivers are all irrelevant to the question of the objective nature of goodness itself. Only in understanding the objectively human good or the objectively mouse good will each species’ respective feelings matter in some way.
If no consciousness ever existed, I don’t think any “functions” found in nature would matter. Why is any of it of moral significance?
I am not talking about morality, I am talking about value. Only with an adequate understanding of the factual character of objective value can we understand the objective value of moral ideas, feelings, patterns of behavior, etc. relative to objective human goods.
Consciousness has complicated relationships to value. On the one hand, consciousness is a functional form of being both objectively and (usually) subjectively interested in its own maximization. (And it is composed of numerous submodes of being each with their own effective functionalities to maximize). Consciousness contributes to other higher order functions which go beyond its awareness to engage in complex tasks which are mental, physical, emotional, social, etc.
On the other hand, conscious beings, including humans, use both subconscious and conscious mechanisms available to us to (fallibly, but remarkably effectively) discriminate features of the world which are either intrinsically or extrinsically effective for enhancing our own functionalities of which we are constituted as humans. Pleasures and pains are conscious experiences which have been highly (but nonetheless imperfectly) calibrated by evolution to clue us in to potential positive or negative contributors to our effective functioning.
But pleasures and pains or consciously formed preference attitudes, etc. are not themselves “conferrers” of goodness on things. Goodness is intrinsic and our pleasures, pains, attitudes, reasoned judgments, can either effectively align with our objective goods and contribute to maximizing our attainment of them or fail to do so.
The considerations spelled out in the above post should offer a greater context and justification for the ideas in the following, roughly logically ordered, posts. Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular. So don’t avoid all of them for fear you cannot read all of them.