Axiological Voluntarism

Whaling Grounds in the Arctic Ocean by Abraham Storck (1654-1708)

We can divide stances on the voluntarism of entities from a class K in two varieties; a "strong" variety stating that tokens of K are always chosen and a "weak" variety which is sufficed by the modal claim that any token of K is in principle choosable. To analyze stances of voluntarism, we need to have at hand a theory of action and freedom.

I characterize axiological voluntarism in analogy to doxastic voluntarism, the thesis that beliefs are under voluntary control. A proponent of doxastic involuntarism could state, for instance, that our beliefs are irresistible - among the cognitive-affective capabilities that are under our personal control, there is none that can be used for belief choice. You can't really choose whether to believe in the existence of God, that the Sun is hot or that the Earth is flat. I believe this to be correct (and I have not chosen to believe this!).

Axiological voluntarism is by analogy the thesis that we can choose our values.

Even without reflecting on what values are, the weak variety of voluntarism rings greater plausibility. That values can be chosen by a moral agent does not imply that all his values have been chosen. We get the suspicion that most values are acquired through a mixture of phylogenetic and ontogenetic inertia without much reflection. Instinct and custom, not autonomous will, are responsible for most of the axiological portfolio of the average moral agent.

In moral ontology, values, virtues, and goods are often conflated. Words such as 'justice' and 'courage' are routinely used to name both values and virtues. Although these terms are prima facie all semantically intertwined, I hold that their specification and differentiation is warranted for the foundations of any normative discipline. I take the following approach; the concept VIRTUE necessarily refers to an agent's psychology. The description of virtues necessarily involves psychological entities such as abilities, traits, skills, dispositions, capabilities or competencies. For instance, virtues can have a relational structure with one of these types of items as relata (Owen Flanagan's position, for instance, is such a theory [1]).

I take goods to be the kind of entities that can be achieved. They are the end result of processes. Goods range from the "tangible", "concrete" or "countable" to the "intangible", "abstract" or "uncountable". Depending on your implicit general ontology, this gives a plurality of types of goods. The good produced by the process of juicing orange is orange juice. 'Orange juice' is a mass term designating an orange substance that exists in the Umwelt of Homo sapiens. An important good produced by the valorous behavior of members from a military unit is honor [2]. 'Honor' in this sense designates a type of non-observable and uncountable state or property of men in particular historically situated social hierarchies.

If values are neither things that can be achieved, produced or obtained and are not prototypical psychological entities, what are they? Conceptions of VALUE abound. I'll mention some.

The folk conception appears to have a Platonistic bent; at the level of surface grammar, values and ideals are usually referenced as abstract particulars y, such as "The True" or "The Socially Just".

Mario Bunge ([3], Chapter 1) analyzes values with n-adic evaluative predicates which include as relata at least one evaluator and one object of its evaluation. To abstract away particulars such as "The Beautiful" and "The Nutritious" is just a strategy to compress information about a property with a complex relational structure. The simplest case would be the relation xVy where x values y but one could add as many indexed terms as one likes. Bunge's ontology of objects is pluralistic in that things, states, events, and processes are all kinds of object. In Bunge's conception, depending on how you characterize the evaluative predicates, some values are not chosen. For instance, ceteris paribus, it is an objective fact of the matter that chicken liver is nutritiously valuable to an arbitrary human being.

Paul Katsafanas ([4], Chapter 5) brings forth a complex relational view of values in his exegesis of Nietzschean metaethics; a moral agent x values y if and only if x has an affective orientation of positive valence z induced by a drive w toward y and x does not disapprove of this affective orientation. To truly grasp this definition, is it mandatory to understand the sophisticated Nietzschean philosophical psychology of drives. This conception is axiologically voluntaristic due to the inclusion of the desiderata of personal approval - assuming that this attitude is under personal control.

For me, the most interesting characterization of value comes not from philosophy but from clinical psychology, in the radical behaviorist research program of ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy; [5], Chapter 11, [6], Chapter 11).

ACT is unique in clinical psychology by being vigorously explicit concerning its philosophical upbringings, sporting a philosophy of science, action, value, and mind solidly grounded in the tradition of American Pragmatism.

Under my sketchy (and decisively unorthodox) interpretation of ACT, for an agent x a value is a family of possible future life paths or histories h_i(x,\tau), where \tau is a time interval spanning from the present moment to the time of the agent's death. Over the course of these directions, we find the ongoing realization of a particular type of activity A. For instance, the value "Adventure" is constituted by the life directions where the agent would enact goals related to physical risk, the perception of danger, exploration of novel environments and excitement. Values are neither the goals nor the outcomes of completed goals - they are the journey.

In ACT, values inform the selection of decision variants in decision-making contexts and are freely chosen.

So, why should we care if we can choose our values? Since the practical reasons should be obvious, here are some academic reasons: axiological voluntarism is something that is mandated by many philosophical theories. For instance, the Nietzschean process of "transvaluation of all values" and the cornerstone of political liberalism under which an agent should be able to rule his life and pursue happiness as he sees fit all presuppose axiological voluntarism.

[1] O. Flanagan, "Moral science? still metaphysical after all these years," in Personality, identity, and character, D. Narvaez and D. Lapsley, Eds., Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 52.
author = {Flanagan, Owen},
booktitle = {Personality, Identity, and Character},
citeulike-article-id = {14408122},
editor = {Narvaez, Darcia and Lapsley, Daniel},
pages = {52},
posted-at = {2017-08-04 16:25:07},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Cambridge University Press},
title = {Moral Science? Still Metaphysical After All These Years},
year = {2009}
[2] P. Olsthoorn, Military ethics and virtues: an interdisciplinary approach for the 21st century, Routledge, 2010.
author = {Olsthoorn, Peter},
citeulike-article-id = {14387464},
posted-at = {2017-07-03 19:35:48},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Routledge},
title = {Military ethics and virtues: An interdisciplinary approach for the 21st Century},
year = {2010}
[3] M. Bunge, Treatise on basic philosophy volume 8: ethics: the good and the right, Reidel Pub. Co.: Boston, 1989.
author = {Bunge, Mario},
citeulike-article-id = {14408124},
posted-at = {2017-08-04 16:25:07},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Reidel Pub. Co.: Boston},
title = {Treatise on Basic Philosophy Volume 8: Ethics: The Good and the Right},
year = {1989}
[4] P. Katsafanas, The nietzschean self: moral psychology, agency, and the unconscious, Oxford University Press, 2016.
author = {Katsafanas, Paul},
citeulike-article-id = {14408121},
posted-at = {2017-08-04 16:25:07},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Oxford University Press},
title = {The Nietzschean Self: Moral Psychology, Agency, and the Unconscious},
year = {2016}
[5] S. C. Hayes, Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy, New Harbinger Publications, 2005.
author = {Hayes, Steven C.},
citeulike-article-id = {14408119},
posted-at = {2017-08-04 16:25:06},
priority = {2},
publisher = {New Harbinger Publications},
title = {Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy},
year = {2005}
[6] S. C. Hayes, K. D. Strosahl, and K. G. Wilson, Acceptance and commitment therapy: the process and practice of mindful change, Guilford Press, 2011.
author = {Hayes, Steven C. and Strosahl, Kirk D. and Wilson, Kelly G.},
citeulike-article-id = {14408120},
posted-at = {2017-08-04 16:25:07},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Guilford Press},
title = {Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change},
year = {2011}

Moral Carryover

Image taken from Syatt Fitness

The rational toolkit of the reflexive radical naturalist should be open, display content-wise heterogeneity (consisting of both prescriptions represented linguistically and nonverbal habits) and embrace a dose of pragmatism as a meta-epistemic value. It is unlikely that robust and psychologically realistic rationality can be characterized by an elegant set of principles - a neat list of behavioral or cognitive prescriptions, a naturalistic counterpart to the Ten Commandments. For reality is messy.

Several heuristics, rules of thumb and regulatory principles appear to have robust cross-domain applicability over different normative fields. One of my favorites is the Pareto Principle which thrives in areas as diverse as management science, economics, software engineering and personal development. The statistical distribution behind the Pareto Principle is so widespread that I believe this regularity hints at a thermodynamical foundation for these phenomena.

Another interesting concept found in sports science, particularly as it relates to strength training, is "carryover".

'Carryover' in this context is informally used to name a property of motor patterns to readily "transfer" increases in performance onto other distinct motor patterns (with some shared structure) when trained. 'Carryover' also names the very gains or increases of performance enabled in this process.

Very briefly, "carryover" is the n-ary property of a given motor pattern {x}_{1} to enhance the performance of one or more different motor patterns {x}_{2},...,{x}_{n} through the realization of x_{1}. For instance, heavy unilateral dumbbell rows by increasing grip strength are said to deliver carryover to deadlifts, i.e., to enhance your global performance in deadlifts. Thus carryover is a relation of causation found in a given network of motor patterns.

I believe this concept has a natural application in practical ethics. Assume an agent-based account; what behavioral patterns are most conducive to the global enhancement of moral character? To answer this, we will need some theoretical understanding of moral character and virtues.

A Network Of Virtues

One of the chief ideas discussed in virtue-based accounts which is of relevance here is the thesis of the unity of virtues. This has been framed in many ways with varying restraint by different authors since the revival of virtue ethics over the last decades.

One such way, which allegedly can be read quite directly from the dialogues of Socrates, is through logical entailment, by the thesis of the mutual entailment of virtues [1].

Take 'C' and 'J' as the Socratic virtues of courage and justice and 'x' as an arbitrary moral agent. Consider 'Cx' the proposition "x is courageous" and 'Jx' the proposition "x is just". The thesis of mutual entailment states that both \forall x (Jx \to Cx) and \forall x (Cx \to Jx) are theorems in our formal system. This viewpoint of the unity of virtues can be summed by the saying "if you have one, you have them all". This is a quite strong constraint that is nowadays rejected by most virtue ethicists.

For moral carryover, we need something weaker. We need to secure a relational causal structure. This can be represented as a connected graph, in a graph-theoretical sense. All but one of the vertices is a virtue to be exercised, each path is a causal relation. One central node will be the agent's character. We may call this bland virtue causal holism.

Feedback is typically modeled in terms of systems of differential equations. But the procedures of calculus assume that we are dealing with quantitative data, and I find it highly doubtful that the psychological traits that embody traits like honesty or courage have this structure.

For now, I will simply have to assume that there exists an appropriate conception of ordinal feedback to model how a network of virtues may evolve through habitual repetition - I can think of some simple qualitative methods from the time I used to work with Soft OR, many years ago. Given this sketchy graph-theoretical framework, the question thus is this; which individual node would contribute the greatest feedback, i.e., deliver the greatest moral carryover, to global character?

A potential interesting proposal comes from the work of moral and political philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. Under a conventional reading of MacIntyre, there is something special about honesty, courage and justice, three of the four Socratic virtues. It is as if the very grammar, in a Wittgensteinian sense, of many human social activities presuppose something like honesty, courage and justice for its proper functioning.

These virtues are thus prime candidates for moral carryover. I will develop this argument in greater detail in the next section.

Practices In the Philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre

In order to advance, I will have to say something about what constitutes a practice, a central term of art from the philosophy of MacIntyre. For this task, I have learned quite a bit from the scholarship of Christopher Stephen Lutz [2].

Practices are a class of human behaviors. Practices are goal-oriented social activities with standards of performance and execution that are external from the agent enacting the practice. One could even risk a comparison with John Searle's theory of social institutions. It would seem that that under the terms of the former, practices just are human social institutions; they are intentional, collective, functional, agentive and status-conferring. Searlean social facts would the truthmakers of statements about practices. MacIntyre, however, explicitly distinguishes practices from institutions [3]; practices require institutions. Institutions are the social enforcers of the rules of the practice - one of the reasons they exist is to police practitioners, to make sure they are playing by the rules. Institutions set up the events where the abilities of the practitioners are put to test. Institutions are also the gatherers and backers of the external goods of the practices (as I will elaborate more later). While consortiums, federations and companies are paramount examples of institutions, these need to be seen as sophisticated developments of what institutions may become - an institution can exist more loosely as an embodied network of agreements, without formal treasury, committees or special buildings. What practices demand is at least a tacit endorsement of this social structure that is implied by them.

Now for an example; take the behaviors involved in barbell strength training. The behavior you may enact by casually and aimlessly lifting heavy stuff from the floor (or from the rack, etc) is not a practice in MacIntyre's sense, for it is lacking the appropriate teleology that frames some behavior into standards of excellence. But the sport of powerlifting is a practice, or better, a family of closely related practices which are organized and promoted in our world by different organizations at the regional, national and international levels.

Professional sports are prototypical examples of human activities with strict standards of performance and benchmarks of excellence, both of which are carefully regulated and recorded by organized international federations. For instance, a valid bench press movement for the International Powerlifting Federation requires the athlete to have his feet flat on the floor. In the International Powerlifting League, the athlete may bench from his heels up. These different constraints promote different standards of what counts as a good bench press movement.

For an example of a benchmark of excellence, as of the day I'm writing, the male open bench press record in the 93kg category for the bench press (in a single lift competition) in the IPF is 318,5kg. This sets the current maximal standard for all equipped male benchers in this weight category for this federation.

Practices and their standards are dynamic and evolve through history inside traditions. Records get broken, more impressive masterpieces get crafted, other neighboring practices indirectly enhance the performance of the practitioners (such as the relationship between sports nutrition and professional sports) and the rules may change. Some practices, like the game of chess, one of MacIntyre's favorite examples, are very robust and have been largely invariant rule-wise across time (chess has remained largely changeless since the first half of the XIX century). It is usual for current practitioners that are conscious of its history of their practice to emulate the feats of the best experts while pursuing excellence of achievement.

Practices, being behaviors, are processes - and processes produce something [4]. Practices reliably produce certain goods. In MacIntyre's framework, there are goods which are external to the practices and goods which are internal to the practices. These categories are quite intuitive and I am fond of them because they can't be neatly fitted into traditional distinctions between the "subjective" and the "objective".

For instance, the external goods of powerlifting involve the pleasures coming from the victories of competitive athletic achievements, the wealth in prizes and sponsorships and the increases in social status due to public recognition.

The internal goods of a practice consist of getting good at the practice, i.e., the development of the abilities and skills that are conducive to good practice.

There exists an important dissonance between a practice and the internal and external goods of the practice; and that is the fact that it is possible to acquire the external goods of the practice irrespective of the acquisition of the internal goods of the practice - for instance, by deception, theft and fraud.

As an example, getting good at powerlifting in an avowed drug-free federation presupposes not using anabolic steroids to aid athletic performance. But powerlifter from a tested federation may nonetheless reach a victory in an official meet and reap the external goods of this practice due to the the leverage received by the use of an illegal substance. In that, he has not acquired the internal goods of the practice, for getting good at powerlifting naturally is distinct from getting good at powerlifting geared, that is, both practices impose different standards of excellence (and that is the point behind the existence of tested and untested powerlifting federations).

One may object that the geared professional athlete has become skillful at something through diligent training. That is true. In fact, a geared athlete, being able to train on average with higher intensity and frequency due to the anti-inflammatory and injury-recovering properties of some substances, has the opportunity to train more often than a natural athlete. But that is not the point. The point is that getting good at a certain practice, acquiring its internal goods, involves practicing in a certain way, playing by the rules of the practice, diligently following the standards that have been set.

For many, prohibitions sanctioned by the rules degenerates into simply "not getting caught". Institutions whose organizers consciously deliver external goods - the triad of wealth, power and fame - to practitioners that knowingly do not play by the enforced rules become corrupt. This is rampant in professional sports.

It should now be clear that in this framework, the link between a practice and its internal goods is ethical. And the traits that enable us to acquire the internal goods of a practice are goods themselves with a very special standing - they are the virtues. Without virtue, a practice may degenerate into a mere means to acquire external goods.

The Three Cardinal Virtues in MacIntyre's Philosophy

In After Virtue [5], MacIntyre writes:

It belongs to the concept of a practice as I have outlined it - and as we are all familiar with it already in our actual lives, whether we are painters or physicists or quarterbacks or indeed just lovers of good painting or first-rate experiments or a well-thrown pass, that its goods can only be achieved by subordinating ourselves within the practice in our relationship to other practitioners. We have to learn to recognize what is due to whom; we have to be prepared to take whatever self-endangering risks are demanded along the way; and we have to listen carefully to what we are told about our own inadequacies and to reply with the same carefulness for the facts. In other words we have to accept as necessary components of any practice with internal goods and standards of excellence the virtues of justice, courage and honesty.

Under my reading, the case for these three virtues to be preconditions of well-functioning practices seems to be almost analytical.

Getting good at a practice requires you to be honest concerning the current level of your ability and skill and the level demanded by the entrenched standards of excellence of the practice, i.e., how you may truly reach somewhere closer to "there" coming from "here".

Justice is important in assessing the different levels of ability of the practitioners according to the standards of the practice and nothing else - other idiosyncratic criteria not contingent to these standards are irrelevante. For instance, while sharing external goods a measure of fairness is explicit, i.e. one must ideally get the wealth, power and fame one truly deserves.

For MacIntyre, the inherent connection of a practice with courage in the text that follows the above quotation is a bit more abstract; it is related with maintaining the existence of a practice in a given community. For a practice cannot survive without people doing the practice - and doing it the right way. In order to make the practice survive and thrive, one must care about the people doing the activity and the shared goals which are collectively honored. Taking this seriously means that one is expected to risk himself against threats that may appear for the community, both from the inside and the outside. In that, courage also appears to assume compassion and love for the members of a community.

I see courage as being crucially important in a more directly way; getting good at a practice is inherently risky - it's a continuous exercise in overcoming adversity. Conquering imminent fears of failure and vanquishing probable demotivation require courage.

When I reflect more deeply more about this, it becomes clear that all these virtues are actually intimately intertwined; for instance, a fair assessment of ability or skill, a prototypical just judgement, requires truthfulness about the information assessed and courage to face truths that can be personally undesirable.

Examining Moral Carryover

Given bland virtue causal holism and the MacIntyrean framework I've introduced, what may we tentatively conclude?

First, if these sketchy considerations are correct, behavior directed to the internal goods of a practice is intrinsically ethical. Second, ethical behavior assumes honesty, courage and justice. Third, these traits subsist in a synergistic relational causal structure.

How may we connect this to moral character in general? For that, I will have to hastily add additional considerations on what constitutes being a good man under this framework. Being a good man is formally no different than being a good athlete or a good artist for the moral life is itself a practice - albeit the most important of practices. Living well has its own standards of excellence informed according to a tradition. That said, one can only acquire the goods internal to the practice of good life by being honest, courageous and just plus any additional virtues prescribed by a given conception of a good life.

If this is all there is, then it would appear to be the case that performing any practice yearning for excellence, aiming for its internal goods, would deliver moral carryover to being good.

Unfortunately, things are not so simple. For instance, one must face the challenges of situationist moral psychology and its skepticism on the existence of robust moral character. For something relevant, a crude version of a thesis originated out of this research program can be described like this; by default, what we call a 'virtue' has an indexical character, is contextually contingent to different practices or domains of social experience and its exercise can go on without much carryover to other practices in other contexts. One can be truthful to his friends at work but a deceiver to his children at home., one can be brave at the gym and a coward at the living room, etc. It is psychologically plausible to have moral excellences which are unequally distributed across the different roles one may have life.

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector's lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy, from a panorama by Franz von Matsch.

The primary answer to this situationist attack on virtue ethics, which acquired quite some steam at the turn of the last century [6], has been anticipated by MacIntyre nearly 35 years ago; these simply are not examples of virtues. To possess a virtue mandates that one exercises it cross-situationally in a robust fashion. MacIntyre writes, with his customary reverence for the Greek Heroic Age, that "Hector exhibited one and the same courage in his parting from Andromache and on the battlefield with Achilles". In my reading, I find that this contention is compelled by a theoretical presupposition of an account of the self and agency where unification, regularity and behavioral homogeneity are normative, but I shall not develop this for now.

To finish off, again without decisive results, if I had to bet, I'd say there may be something special about the virtue of honesty. Honesty is both a prototypical moral and an epistemic virtue; honesty connects human action with truth and grounds language in reality. It is the ultimate arbiter behind all the tales we willfully tell others - and ourselves.

Edit: logical mistakes have been corrected by my brilliant friend Dante Cardoso de Almeida.

[1] R. M. Adams, A theory of virtue: excellence in being for the good, Clarendon Press, 2006.
author = {Adams, Robert M.},
citeulike-article-id = {14034276},
posted-at = {2016-05-13 00:53:24},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Clarendon Press},
title = {A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good},
year = {2006}
[2] C. S. Lutz, Tradition in the ethics of alasdair macintyre: relativism, thomism, and philosophy, Lexington Books, 2004.
author = {Lutz, Christopher S.},
citeulike-article-id = {14034275},
posted-at = {2016-05-13 00:53:24},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Lexington Books},
title = {Tradition in the Ethics of Alasdair Macintyre: Relativism, Thomism, and Philosophy},
year = {2004}
[3] K. Knight, "Practices: the aristotelian concept," Analyse & kritik, vol. 30, iss. 2, pp. 317-329, 2008.
author = {Knight, Kelvin},
citeulike-article-id = {14034326},
journal = {Analyse \& Kritik},
number = {2},
pages = {317--329},
posted-at = {2016-05-13 00:58:28},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Lucius \& Lucius Verlagsgesellschaft Mbh},
title = {Practices: The Aristotelian Concept},
volume = {30},
year = {2008}
[4] F. Dretske, Explaining behavior: reasons in a world of causes, The MIT Press, 1988.
author = {Dretske, Fred},
citeulike-article-id = {12534922},
month = apr,
posted-at = {2013-07-30 07:13:13},
priority = {2},
publisher = {The MIT Press},
title = {Explaining Behavior: Reasons in a World of Causes},
year = {1988}
[5] A. MacIntyre, After virtue: a study in moral theory, Duckworth, 1981.
author = {MacIntyre, Alasdair},
citeulike-article-id = {12534836},
posted-at = {2013-07-30 07:13:11},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Duckworth},
title = {After virtue: a study in moral theory},
year = {1981}
[6] N. E. Snow, Virtue as social intelligence: an empirically grounded theory, Routledge, 2010.
author = {Snow, Nancy E.},
citeulike-article-id = {14034274},
posted-at = {2016-05-13 00:53:23},
priority = {2},
publisher = {Routledge},
title = {Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory},
year = {2010}

Metaethics Confronts the World Knot (Part I)


Violent imagery from fantasy fiction included in order to turn this barren subject into something more compelling

The World Knot and its Place in Philosophy

The World Knot. A cursory Google search reveals that this imposing phrase was designed and marshaled by Arthur Schopenhauer to refer to the mind-body problem. Except that it wasn't. It's another minor contemporary philosophical myth, one of those false etymological origin stories we unconsciously reproduce again and again by inertia as if they were acknowledged truth. Notwithstanding, as my witty and sharp-minded professor Mário Guerreiro used to paraphrase, se non è vero, è ben trovato (from Italian; something like "even if it is not true, it is a good story"). The phrase 'World Knot' does a fairly good job at suggesting imagery of the muddled state of affairs that is the relationship between the mental and the non-mental.

The World Knot needs to be unsnarled if we are to make progress in many perennial questions. In this mysterious juncture we strive to find explananda, relata and other significative connections required to bring light to central problems in philosophy.

This World Knot is something we are constantly revisiting. And this is absolutely true concerning moral agents such as ourselves conducting foundational work on ethics. This is where Metaethics meets Philosophy of Mind.

In my previous entry on the subject, I've made a number of bold claims. I will reiterate a couple of them:

  • Contemporary analytic metaethics is ontologically committed to two types of existents - subjective and objective existents
  • Subjective existents are in some sense metaphysically "inferior", they exist only in virtue of there being prior objective existents
  • Subjective existents do a poor job at grounding normativity. If any ethical subjectivism is true, this is supposed to be very bad news
  • But what in the Seven Hells objectivity and subjectivity really are? What do they consist in, how do they differ?

    I will not present an exhaustive exposition of this severely tangled issue. I will, however, expose a number of auxiliary these of varying degrees of conceptual depth which, conjointly, I'll use in the attempt to grasp this distinction more clearly.

    Representation, Mind and Ontological Dependence

    Empiricist metaethicist Jesse Prinz has, in my view, presented the most painstakingly clear and detailed discussion [1] of the meaning of 'objectivity' in the field of metaethics and how it relates to minds in the Chapter 4 of his The Emotional Construction of Morals.

    At the risk of being unfair and too coarse-grained, I'll single out and discuss the two relevant ontic senses of 'objectivity' mentioned by Prinz; objectivity as mind-independence and objectivity as unrepresentedness, i.e., the property of not being represented.

    Tradition from Franz Brentano tells us that the 'mental' is the intentional. The intentional is the representational, that which is about something. But is the converse true, i.e., is the intentional the mental as well, is this a case of co-extension? That doesn't seem plausible at all. As an example, if any realist theory of computational implementation holds true (as I also claim), the domain of the 'intentional' is going to be very wide. It can get much worse; if certain varieties of pancomputationalism were to be true (I hold that this is extremely unlikely but this has been seriously considered by top-notch researchers such as the late theoretical physicist John Wheeler and the theoretical computer scientist Gregory Chaitin) then the entirety of empirical reality would consist of representation and that would mean automatic panpsychism.

    Given this cautionary tale, let's ditch objectivity as the "unrepresented" and venture further on what it means for something to be "mind-independent".

    'Mind-dependence' (and independence) is an asymmetrical relation of ontological dependence. But what counts as a mind and what does it mean to say that something is ontologically dependent to a mind?

    Letting go the Brentanian saying, attempts to individuate the "mental" are still very hard. Are image schemata 'mental' enough? What about implicit memory? Or, for Seven Heaven's sake, the control system for blood glucose? Also, perhaps it is the case that not the entire scope of mentality is apt for metaethics so we may only need to be concerned with a narrow portion of "the mental".

    Let's tentatively single out only psychological states that may have at least a proxy influence by the role they may play in moral judgement. That sounds fair enough. Resorting to intentional systems theory [2], a fauna comprised by beliefs, desires, intentions, urges, feelings and similar patterns specified by folk psychology emerges and seem apt enough. Enough for what counts as a mental state and a mind; a mind, an intentional system, a real pattern tractable exclusively through the adoption of the intentional stance. We will deem whatever entity whose epistemic access requires the intentional stance a "mental" thing.

    So, we now have our catalogue of mental things. How do subjective things relate to mental things? What is the relation involved?

    There are many possibilities. Prinz goes for a weaker kind of ontological dependence, supervenience over human psychology. One can also lean forward something stronger, like Michael Huemer [3] and go for an ontological relation of constitution. In this sense, moral posits (moral actions, facts, etc) in some way include intentional states, then they are subjective.

    I think the situation is not clear enough for us to devise a more fine-grained depiction of which is the relevant sense of ontological dependence so we'll have to go along with a sketchy coalition comprised by both our reflected and unexamined intuitions and traditions and steadily revise the details as we march forward.

    I'm interested at how this sketchy exposition matches some existing conceptions of the objectivity-subjectivity distinction. To start this series, I'll resort to a famous framework devised by philosopher John Searle.

    Brute and Institutional Facts

    This section is comprised by my personal exegesis of Searle's opus The Construction Of Social Reality [4]. I shall not go into exhaustive depth but hopefully I've gotten all the relevant details right.

    The kind of existents (posits) Searle is mostly interested in are facts. Facts for Searle are understood in a very customary way; facts are the truthmakers of true statements.

    Brute facts are a type of objective existent and institutional facts are a type of subjective existent. Brute facts are facts that do not depend on human institutions for their existence and institutional facts are those that do.

    Lets get more specific on what this means.

    Searle's taxonomy is actually much more intricate and multi-layered. At the base level, there are mental and non-mental (what he dubiously calls "brute physical") facts. The priority of brute facts over institutional facts is not only ontological but logical.

    Searle is famous for rejecting the Bentramian maxim as a criteria of individuation for "the mental". But since the mental phenomena he deploys for the grounding of institutional facts are generally beliefs and certain kinds of utterances this won't be a problem for our discussion for they fit our established repertoire of what counts as a mental entity.

    From the primacy of the ontological ladder upward, institutional facts are first mental and then intentional, collective, functional, agentive and status-conferring.

    Institutional facts are "collective" in their dependence of collective intentionality, that is, a special kind of co-occurrence of the intentional states of at least two intentional agents generally coordinated by particular speech acts. They require agreements or endorsements, be they tacit or straightforward, between at least two intentional agents. In Searle's terminology, the collective is also the social.

    Institutional facts are also "functional" in that they involve the collective assignment of a function to a certain entity.

    And they are "agentive" because the functions attributed are intended, that is, they require a willful deliberation by intentional agents. Agentive functions are therefore contrasted with what many philosophers call "natural" functions - such as the the job carried out by the blood glucose control system which, if working properly, will chemically "warn" the central nervous system once blood glucose levels are about to compromise the organism's homeostasis. In this, Searle draws a crisp line between the "natural" and the "artificial" or "man-made". I find this contention to be extremely problematic but shall not utter here my reasons of why I believe this is false.

    The last property that defines institutional facts, that of being "status-conferring", requires a bit more explanation. Head with me with the following example:


    It is a fact that Ice, the Valyrian steel greatsword of Lord Eddard Stark, has the function to behead deserters from the Night's Watch (or any other human being, for the matter).

    For Searle, it is clear that this fact is an agentive fact for Ice is an artifact, a sword that was forged, that was deliberately created by blacksmiths in Ancient Valyria. But this fact is not a brute fact - although it is related to brute facts in special ways.

    The function that confers the ability to decapitate is contingent upon a relation between the properties of the blade (such as the microscopic molecular regularity of the edge) with the properties of the necks of human renegades from Castle Black (such as the hardness of the spinous process of human skeletons). In that, Searle claims that the assignment of this function is ultimately due to brute facts, which in his framework is another way of saying the that the function itself is extrinsic to any mental state.

    Contrast this with the related fact that Ice, a heirloom of House Stark, is a cerimonial tool employed by the Warden Of The North in particular classes of capital punishment. This attribution for Searle is a status-conferring function for there is, allegedly, no intrinsic connection between this particular object and the particular capital punishment rites of the North. For what we know, the traditions could have been very different and other weapons (or no weapon at all) could have been fixed by agreement and used for that judicial purpose. To sum it, status-conferring functions are said to be arbitrary in a way causal-conferring functions are not.

    Searle explicitly acknowledges that the relation of ontological dependence involved is one of constitution.

    Institutional facts, being a subclass of intentional facts, are constituted by intentional states. And being collective, i.e., social facts, they are constituted by agreements among rational beings.

    A common way by which institutional facts may come into being is through utterances such as declarations.

    Let's try some more examples to see how this works. According to this framework, it is a brute fact that the atomic number of the main element of the alloy out of which Vallyrian steel is made of is 26. This means that, if it were the case that all Westerosi, Essossi, Giants, the Others or any other sentient being of the Known World in the A Song Of Ice And Fire saga had vanished, the atomic number of the main element of the alloy out of which Vallyrian steel of would still be 26. Or so the story goes (the story of John Searle, not necessarily of George R. R. Martin's).

    Brute facts are therefore facts that can be obtained irrespective of the existence of any intentional systems - minds.

    It is, however, an institutional fact that Maiden's Day is a holiday in the calendar of the Faith of the Seven. If it were the case that all those that implicitly or explicitly uphold this tradition had vanished - be them hardcore followers of the Seven or simply mere observers of this chronological custom - then it would not be true that Maiden's Day is a holiday in the calendar of the Faith of the Seven. For the truthmaker of the sentence 'Maiden's Day is a holiday in the calendar of the Faith of the Seven' is itself constituted by the recognition and endorsement of Maiden's Day. And that's what makes it subjectively real.

    If all traces of the agreements that make the fact of Maiden's Day obtainable had vanished from all minds, Maiden's Day would cease to exist. If future Westerosi archaeologists, historians or cultural anthropologists were to discover an inscription documenting this custom, Maiden's Day could have its metaphysical status reverted back from non-existence into existence. Or so the framework predicts.

    Claims on entities with the standing of Searlean brute facts would be denied by many gangs of philosophers that are willful enemies of objectivity stronger ontic senses; American Pragmatists, Post Modernists and Social Constructionists for example could claim that this alleged "brute fact" that Iron has an atomic number of 26 is not really non-institutional - for surely the mathematical and chemical framework that allows us to make such statement has a traceable recorded origin in the history of science, from the Western adoption of hindu-arabic numeral systems we use to represent natural numbers to the Mendeleevian grid that replaced previously endorsed taxonomies of the elements.

    Surprisingly, I staunchly side with Searle when it comes to these kinds of arguments. I hold that they are a product of a confusion between the representational systems which are employed to stand in or represent the information expressed by a given entity or system in the world with the information itself. Searle is absolutely right on this; we cannot mistake the institutions and conventions (such as the english language, the hindu-arabic numeral system, the edifice of atomic theory, etc) required to state a given fact with the fact itself. The fact that we call iron 'iron' and we use '26' to represent the quantity 26 is irrelevant.

    Final Transitory Observations

    I have attempted to be as charitable as possible in my expositions. Now I shall finish this entry not with clamorous resolution but, again, with enigmatic conundrum; I personally believe very little of what has been stated.

    More centrally, the seemingly common-sensical Searlean framework is explicitly guilty at a viewpoint I hold to be seriously mistaken; that we may devise an empirically responsible theory of ontology under which different existing entities receive "higher" or "lower" ontological statuses. I hold that it is false to assert that reality comes in degrees or hierarchical ranks.

    Why should we care? Well, tradition says that, if we are to care about anything, we should care about our moral values. Moral values are said to be inescapable, to unavoidably bind our predicament, to frame our human condition as deeply as anything could. Infuse this sermon with as many dramatic additions as you'd like. The main problem is that there exists a very strong case in moral philosophy which states that in order for all of this to work, our values need to be grounded in a foundation of extraordinary character, something at least as metaphysically safe and fancy as Searle's arid and impersonal "brute facts" but most probably something even more demanding. But, at glance, it seems wildly absurd to suggest that human morality can receive any such treatment.

    Many of these turmoils are a consequence of our conceptions of the ontic senses of objectivity and subjectivity and, again, on the classical subject/object distinction itself.

    Something has to be made concerning this deep-seated contention that objective entities are in some relevant sense extramental entities. Stay tuned.

    [1] J. J. Prinz, The emotional construction of morals, Oxford University Press, 2007.
    abstract = {Jesse Prinz argues that recent work in philosophy, neuroscience, and anthropology supports two radical hypotheses about the nature of morality: moral values are based on emotional responses, and these emotional responses are inculcated by culture, not hard-wired through natural selection. In the first half of the book, Jesse Prinz defends the hypothesis that morality has an emotional foundation. Evidence from brain imaging, social psychology, and psychopathology suggest that, when we judge something to be right or wrong, we are merely expressing our emotions. Prinz argues that these emotions do not track objective features of reality; rather, the rightness and wrongness of an act consists in the fact that people are disposed to have certain emotions towards it. In the second half of the book, he turns to a defense of moral relativism. Moral facts depend on emotional responses, and emotional responses vary from culture to culture. Prinz surveys the anthropological record to establish moral variation, and he draws on cultural history to show how attitudes toward practices such as cannibalism and marriage change over time. He also criticizes evidence from animal behavior and child development that has been taken to support the claim that moral attitudes are hard-wired by natural selection. Prinz concludes that there is no single true morality, but he also argues that some moral values are better than others; moral progress is possible. Throughout the book, Prinz relates his views to contemporary and historical work in philosophical ethics. His views echo themes in the writings of David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche, but Prinz supports, extends, and revises these classic theories using the resources of cutting-edge cognitive science. The Emotional Construction of Morals will stimulate and challenge anyone who is curious about the nature and origin of moral values},
    author = {Prinz, Jesse J.},
    citeulike-article-id = {13591439},
    posted-at = {2015-04-24 19:10:16},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Oxford University Press},
    title = {The Emotional Construction of Morals},
    year = {2007}
    [2] D. Dennett, "Intentional Systems Theory," in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind, {. {M}c{L}aughlin, {. {B}eckermann, and {. {W}alter, Eds., {OUP} {O}xford, 2011.
    author = {Dennett, Daniel},
    booktitle = {{T}he {O}xford {H}andbook of {P}hilosophy of {M}ind},
    citeulike-article-id = {14034324},
    editor = {{M}c{L}aughlin, {B}rian and {B}eckermann, {A}nsgar and {W}alter, {S}ven},
    posted-at = {2016-05-13 00:53:25},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {{OUP} {O}xford},
    title = {{I}ntentional {S}ystems {T}heory},
    year = {2011}
    [3] Unknown bibtex entry with key [Huemer2005a]
    [4] J. R. Searle, The construction of social reality, Simon and Schuster, 1995.
    author = {Searle, John R.},
    citeulike-article-id = {14034285},
    posted-at = {2016-05-13 00:53:24},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Simon and Schuster},
    title = {The construction of social reality},
    year = {1995}

    No Life Without Perception

    To be alive is to perceive

    To be alive implies an ecological niche. An ecological niche is the set of available opportunities of adaptive behavior of a given living organism [1].

    From the point of view of ecological psychology, perception is the non-inferential exploitation of organismically-accessible information to guide action [2] [3].

    A lurking assumption in the evolutionary narrative of standard cognitive science is that perception is a subsequent adaptation of living organisms. This is a mistake. Perception is a condition of possibility of any adaptative behavior. As ecological psychologist Gregory Burton [4] aptly puts it:

    The evolution of perception is implicitly assumed to be driven by the mutation of bodily interfaces into special bodily interfaces that seek particular physical aspects of the world and translate the data collected to some abstract format.

    This default position conflates the evolution of specialized energy transducers in given species with the emergence of perception itself. Perception, however, is much more basic and can be accomplished in the absence of any sensory neuron.

    A structured ambient array of energy is available to any living organism. Different species differ in their capability to exploit the structured information of this ambient array; they are are more or less keen in the detection and registration of different ecological invariants according to the niche.

    Take the lowly Halobacterium salinarum. It is equipped with photoresponsive proteins and tracks both the levels of oxygen and sunlight to format their metabolism hours in advance, maximizing energy output by the effective switching from an oxic to an anoxic physiological mode [5].

    We can go on and move much further into the borderlands of Life. A roaming bacteriophage could be said to be imbued with the most rudimentary kind of haptic perception, one that becomes active once the virus stops randomly roaming in viscous Brownian fluid and attaches itself to the cellular wall of its prokaryotic prey.

    A view of this sort raises several interesting philosophical consequences. To mention one, if Tony Chemero's phenomenological realism holds, where all perceptual content is conscious content, we are led into what we may call biopanpsychism, the thesis that all life is conscious.

    J. J. Gibson himself would most likely disagree with this the way I interpret some of his writings; conscious experience depends on a certain egocentric perspective which is inaccessible to most life forms [2], [6].


    [1] J. J. Gibson, The ecological approach to visual perception, Psychology Press, 1979.
    author = {Gibson, James J.},
    citeulike-article-id = {12534786},
    posted-at = {2013-07-30 07:13:10},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Psychology Press},
    title = {The Ecological Approach To Visual Perception},
    year = {1979}
    [2] J. J. Gibson, The senses considered as perceptual systems, Houghton Mifflin, 1966.
    author = {Gibson, James J.},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531654},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:46},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Houghton Mifflin},
    title = {The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems},
    year = {1966}
    [3] A. Chemero, Radical embodied cognitive science, The MIT Press, 2009.
    author = {Chemero, Anthony},
    citeulike-article-id = {12534923},
    posted-at = {2013-07-30 07:13:13},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {The MIT Press},
    title = {Radical Embodied Cognitive Science},
    year = {2009}
    [4] G. Burton, "Non-Neural extensions of haptic sensitivity," Ecological psychology, vol. 2, iss. 5, pp. 105-124, 1993.
    author = {Burton, Gregory},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531658},
    journal = {Ecological Psychology},
    number = {5},
    pages = {105--124},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:46},
    priority = {2},
    title = {{Non-Neural} Extensions of Haptic Sensitivity},
    volume = {2},
    year = {1993}
    [5] K. Whitehead, M. Pan, K. ichi Masumura, R. Bonneau, and N. S. Baliga, "Diurnally entrained anticipatory behavior in archaea," Plos one, vol. 4, iss. 5, 2009.
    author = {Whitehead, Kenia and Pan, Min and ichi Masumura, Ken and Bonneau, Richard and Baliga, Nitin S.},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531657},
    journal = {PLoS ONE},
    number = {5},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:46},
    priority = {2},
    title = {Diurnally Entrained Anticipatory Behavior in Archaea},
    volume = {4},
    year = {2009}
    [6] J. J. Gibson, "Are there sensory qualities of objects?," Synthese, vol. 19, iss. 3, pp. 408-409, 1969.
    author = {Gibson, James J.},
    citeulike-article-id = {13559285},
    journal = {Synthese},
    number = {3},
    pages = {408--409},
    posted-at = {2015-03-24 08:13:29},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Springer},
    title = {Are there sensory qualities of objects?},
    volume = {19},
    year = {1969}

    On the Structure of Pleasure - Representing Quantities


    On the Axiomatic Representational Theory Of Measurement

    The Axiomatic Representational Theory of Measurement ('ARTM') is the default tradition of measurement theory in mathematical psychology. It arguably started in a seminal work by the late philosopher of science and polymath Patrick Suppes and the logician Dana Scott [1].

    It is 'axiomatic' in that it uses rigorous axiomatic-deductive mathematical methods. It is 'representational' by employing set-theoretical structures to represent roughly both the features of the world world and the information expressed by these features [2].

    This kind of theory is contrasted to what is called a classical or realist theory of measurement [3]. Theories of this sort carry the spirit of ancient Greek sage, philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (depicted in the painting above, proselytizing about the "marvels" of vegetarianism); it is not merely the case that we can use numbers to represent the information about a given measurand - the values of measurands are numbers, and numbers exist right here, in the structure of the world.

    I've mentioned that in the account of Tiresias, pleasure is a ratio-scalable feature of psychological states. What does that mean?

    A bit on the ratio scale-type

    The word 'scale' is ambiguous in contexts of measurement. First, it can mean the choice of what I prefer to call a representation standard of a given measurable feature. Some examples include m, the meter-standard of the feature length [L] and Ω, the Ohm-standard of the feature electric resistance [V][I]^{-1}. But for our purposes, a scale is the kind of mathematical structure under which the numerical values that we assign to a given feature are constrained. Scales in this second meaning come in different types and the modern terminology of scale types (of which we find the ratio scale) was baptized by psychophysicist Stanley Smith Stevens [4, 5].

    Scales in this sense are a kind of mapping, an homomorphism from a structure representing the world to a structure representing the values of features. It's the transformation that allows the relational structure to be preserved, to remain invariant.

    Take for example this excerpt from a book by contemporary moral philosopher Fred Feldman [6], a defender of the thesis that pleasure is a quantitative feature (just like Tiresias):

    We assume that each episode of pleasure contains a certain ‘amount’ of pleasure, and that this amount is in principle subject to measurement. (We need not assume that these amounts can in practice be precisely determined either by introspection or by any existing technology.) The amount of pleasure in an episode depends upon intensity and duration, with longer-lasting and more intense pleasures being said to contain more total pleasure. For purposes of exposition I will imagine that there is a standard unit of measurement for these amounts. I call one unit of pleasure a “hedon”.

    Imagine that Tiresias worked out his own theory of quantitative pleasure and proposed the representation standard eron for pleasure.

    To say that pleasure is ratio-scalable is to say that we can switch from an hedon into an eron by a function of the form y=ax where 'a' is a positive real number. If one eron is 2.38 hedons, we can discover how many erons are in 10 hedons by dividing 10 by 2.38. Simple as that - the proportions are constrained and preserved.

    There is another common type of scale that is intuitively considered to be "quantitative", the interval scale. For the interval scale, the admissable transformation is of the form y=ax+b, again with a' being a positive real number.

    Extensive structures

    Let's go a bit deeper on the proposal of the ARTM. First, we build a set-theoretical structure to represent the province of empirical reality that we're interested - in this case, it is the empirical feature 'pleasure'. Ex hypothesi, let's take Tiresias' word of it; a default contender to represent the quantity pleasure is the triple \langleP,\succeq,\oplus\rangle. I like to call this an example of a material relational structure, but you'll see it with other names throughout the literature - most likely empirical relational structure or system.

    'P' is a nonempty set whose elements are interpreted as pleasure-events or pleasure-states - or 'P-events', for short.

    '\succeq' represents an empirical relation that mimics the abstract binary relation of total order. This roughly means that there is an empirically verifiable procedure to rank two distinct P-events as being either just as pleasurable or one being more pleasurable than the other.

    The last element of our triple, '\oplus', is representing an empirical operation that is traditionally called concatenation. This is also intuitively graspable; it means that there is an empirical procedure that allows us to "stack" or "pile up" our quantities.

    The class of structure with this form most used in science are called continuous extensive structures [7]. They need to satisfy a number of axioms.

    The pioneering analysis and proposal of a set of axioms describing quantities came from Hermann von Helmholtz in 1887 and Otto Hölder in 1901 [8]. Over the 20th and 21st century, the axiomatic system of Hölder was modified by many philosophers of science and measurement theorists. They include Ernest Nagel in 1931 [9], Patrick Suppes in 1951 [10] and Jean-Claude Falmagne in 1975 [11].

    These various adjustments, both minor and major, were motivated by empiricist reasons in an attempt to ground the practice of measurement in a more empirically adequate setting. They involve, for instance, weakening the logical relation of identity '=' into a relation of equivalence and getting rid of background assumptions for non-standard numbers (infinitesimals).

    Speaking of which, now we need some numbers to build our numerical relational structure. This is seemingly more straightforward. For quantities, a common candidate is the triple \langleRe_+,\geq,+\rangle. Here, 'Re_+' is the set of positive reals, '\geq' is the standard relation of total order and '+' is the standard arithmetic operation of addition. A large share of the ARTM is focused on proving theorems concerning homomorphisms from material relational structures to numerical relational structures.

    I hold that there are a series of problems with this particular choice of numerical structure but I'll utter them elsewhere.

    Having set this amount of framework, I still have some things to say about quantities, the qualitative-quantitative distinction and I also have bad news for the defenders of the hypothesis that pleasure is quantitative. It will be discussed in a future entry.

    [1] D. Scott and P. Suppes, "Foundational aspects of theories of measurement," Journal of symbolic logic, vol. 23, iss. 2, pp. 113-128, 1958.
    author = {Scott, Dana and Suppes, Patrick},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531611},
    journal = {Journal of Symbolic Logic},
    number = {2},
    pages = {113--128},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:45},
    priority = {2},
    title = {Foundational Aspects of Theories of Measurement},
    volume = {23},
    year = {1958}
    [2] A. Frigerio, A. Giordani, and L. Mari, "Outline of a general model of measurement," Synthese, vol. 175, pp. 123-149, 2009.
    author = {Frigerio, Aldo and Giordani, Alessandro and Mari, Luca},
    citeulike-article-id = {12534798},
    journal = {Synthese},
    pages = {123--149},
    posted-at = {2013-07-30 07:13:11},
    priority = {2},
    title = {Outline of a general model of measurement},
    volume = {175},
    year = {2009}
    [3] J. Michell, "The logic of measurement: a realist overview," Measurement, vol. 38, pp. 285-294, 2005.
    author = {Michell, Joel},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531643},
    journal = {Measurement},
    pages = {285--294},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:46},
    priority = {2},
    title = {The logic of measurement: A realist overview},
    volume = {38},
    year = {2005}
    [4] S. S. Stevens, "On the theory of scales of measurement," Science, vol. 103, iss. 2684, pp. 677-680, 1946.
    author = {Stevens, S. S.},
    citeulike-article-id = {13112840},
    journal = {Science},
    number = {2684},
    pages = {677--680},
    posted-at = {2014-03-21 00:50:29},
    priority = {2},
    title = {On the Theory of Scales of Measurement},
    volume = {103},
    year = {1946}
    [5] S. S. Stevens, "Mathematics, measurement and psychophysics," in Handbook of experimental psychology, Wiley, 1951, pp. 1-49.
    author = {Stevens, S. S.},
    booktitle = {Handbook of experimental psychology},
    citeulike-article-id = {13112820},
    pages = {1--49},
    posted-at = {2014-03-21 00:50:01},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Wiley},
    title = {Mathematics, measurement and psychophysics},
    year = {1951}
    [6] F. Feldman, Pleasure and the good life: concerning the nature, varieties and plausibility of hedonism, Clarendon Press, 2004.
    abstract = {Fred Feldman's fascinating new book sets out to defend hedonism as a theory about the Good Life. He tries to show that, when carefully and charitably interpreted, certain forms of hedonism yield plausible evaluations of human lives. Feldman begins by explaining the question about the Good Life. As he understands it, the question is not about the morally good life or about the beneficial life. Rather, the question concerns the general features of the life that is good in itself for the one who lives it. Hedonism says (roughly) that the Good Life is the pleasant life. After showing that received formulations of hedonism are often confused or incoherent, Feldman presents a simple, clear, coherent form of sensory hedonism that provides a starting point for discussion. He then presents a catalogue of classic objections to hedonism, coming from sources as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Brentano, Ross, Moore, Rawls, Kagan, Nozick, Brandt, and others. One of Feldman's central themes is that there is an important distinction between the forms of hedonism that emphasize sensory pleasure and those that emphasize attitudinal pleasure. Feldman formulates several kinds of hedonism based on the idea that attitudinal pleasure is the Good. He claims that attitudinal forms of hedonism - which have often been ignored in the literature -- are worthy of more careful attention. Another main theme of the book is the plasticity of hedonism. Hedonism comes in many forms. Attitudinal hedonism is especially receptive to variations and modifications. Feldman illustrates this plasticity by formulating several variants of attitudinal hedonism and showing how they evade some of the objections. He also shows how it is possible to develop forms of hedonism that are equivalent to the allegedly anti-hedonistic theory of G. E. Moore and the Aristotelian theory according to which the Good Life is the life of virtue, or flourishing. He also formulates hedonisms relevantly like the ones defended by Aristippus and Mill. Feldman argues that a carefully developed form of attitudinal hedonism is not refuted by objections concerning 'the shape of a life'. He also defends the claim that all of the alleged forms of hedonism discussed in the book genuinely deserve to be called 'hedonism'. Finally, after dealing with the last of the objections, he gives a sketch of his hedonistic vision of the Good Life},
    author = {Feldman, Fred},
    citeulike-article-id = {13562104},
    number = {1},
    posted-at = {2015-03-25 19:43:16},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Clarendon Press},
    title = {Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties and Plausibility of Hedonism},
    year = {2004}
    [7] L. Narens, Theories of meaningfulness, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.
    author = {Narens, Louis},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531638},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:46},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Lawrence Erlbaum Associates},
    series = {Scientific Psychology Series},
    title = {Theories of Meaningfulness},
    year = {2002}
    [8] O. Hölder, "Die axiome der quantität und die lehre vom mass," Berichte uber die verhandlungen der koeniglich sachsischen gesellschaft der wissenschaften zu leipzig, mathematisch-physikaliche klasse, vol. 53, pp. 1-46, 1901.
    author = {H\"{o}lder, Otto},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531626},
    journal = {Berichte uber die Verhandlungen der Koeniglich Sachsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Mathematisch-Physikaliche Klasse},
    pages = {1--46},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:46},
    priority = {2},
    title = {Die Axiome der Quantit\"{a}t und die Lehre vom Mass},
    volume = {53},
    year = {1901}
    [9] E. Nagel and C. G. Hempel, "Measurement," Erkenntnis, vol. 2, iss. 1, pp. 313-335, 1931.
    author = {Nagel, Ernest and Hempel, C. G.},
    citeulike-article-id = {13559115},
    journal = {Erkenntnis},
    number = {1},
    pages = {313--335},
    posted-at = {2015-03-23 22:50:07},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Springer},
    title = {Measurement},
    volume = {2},
    year = {1931}
    [10] P. Suppes, "A set of independent axioms for extensive quantities," Portugaliae mathematica, vol. 10, iss. 4, pp. 163-172, 1951.
    author = {Suppes, Patrick},
    citeulike-article-id = {13559116},
    journal = {Portugaliae Mathematica},
    number = {4},
    pages = {163--172},
    posted-at = {2015-03-23 22:50:07},
    priority = {2},
    title = {A Set of Independent Axioms for Extensive Quantities},
    volume = {10},
    year = {1951}
    [11] J. Falmagne, "A set of independent axioms for positive holder systems," Philosophy of science, vol. 42, iss. 2, pp. 137-151, 1975.
    abstract = {Current axiomatizations for extensive measurement postulate the existence of infinitely small objects. This assumption is neither necessary nor reasonable. This paper develops this theme and presents a more acceptable axiom system. A representation theorem is stated and proved in detail. This work improves some previous results of the author},
    author = {Falmagne, Jean-Claude},
    citeulike-article-id = {13559114},
    journal = {Philosophy of Science},
    number = {2},
    pages = {137--151},
    posted-at = {2015-03-23 22:50:07},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {University of Chicago Press},
    title = {A Set of Independent Axioms for Positive Holder Systems},
    volume = {42},
    year = {1975}

    On the Structure of Pleasure - A Tale of Measurement Theory and Classical Mythology


    Tiresias, mythical mathematical psychologist

    Tiresias is a legendary blind prophet in Greek myth. His story has many versions. In this tract, I'll draw primarily from the account of ancient mythographer Pseudo-Apollodorus.

    As the narrative goes, while traveling in Mount Cyllene, Tiresias beheld a pair copulating snakes and struck the female with his walking stick. For this display of animal cruelty, he was cursed to live as a woman. With the body and mind of a woman, Tiresias experienced sex; according to versions of the legend, he did so quite intensely, becoming a prostitute of great renown.

    Seven years had passed after this incident and female Tiresias had the opportunity to re-encounter an event similar to the one that caused his transformation. This time, he left the reptiles undisturbed and in that, he was allowed to regain his former manhood.

    Having lived as both a man and a woman, Tiresias was privileged with a unique perspective on the varieties of sexual experience across the sexes. For that, he was consulted by the Olympians themselves. Zeus and Hera willed to settle once and for all the question of who enjoys greater pleasure in carnal love - man or woman. Tiresias provided an outstanding answer for the Gods:

    Of ten parts [of sexual pleasure] a man enjoys one only; but a woman enjoys the full ten parts in her heart.

    This passage is remarkable in theoretical depth. The divine couple requested from the mortal soothsayer an ordinal evaluation and received more than what they had bargained. In his statement, Tiresias is claiming that events of (sexual) pleasure not only can be ranked, but that they have magnitudes whose proportions can be meaningfully compared and expressed.

    In measurement-theoretic terms, this is the claim that pleasure is a ratio-scalable property or attribute. This is what one usually has in mind when someone says that something is 'quantitative'.

    It's a bold ontological claim. The story of Tiresias however is also daring epistemologically; it stipulates that information about the value of the magnitude of pleasure instantiated in a given psychological state is obtainable through introspection with a certain precision. It is also supposedly reliably registrable in long-term memory; the mind is used as a truthful scale of itself.

    From ancient myth to modern science

    It took over two millenia for the ideal of Tiresias to come into fruition. The earliest robust attempts happened in the German tradition of psychophysics, by physicists Gustav Fechner and Hermann von Helmholtz. Somewhat unexpectedly, this tradition arguably culminated with mathematician Otto Hölder [1].

    The quest of psychophysics has been to establish an interface between subjective mind and objective world by uncovering functional relations between 3rd-person fact and 1st-person unknown. For example, the investigation of how psychological brightness co-varies with physical luminance. For these tasks, psychophysicists have developed several methods for subjective magnitude estimation of sensations from given controlled stimuli as input to verbal and motor reports as output.

    Measurement theorist Louis Narens has defended that formally, these forms of measurement can have a foundation as strong as other prototypical practices of experimental science [2].

    A lot of progress has been made on the investigation of the structure of sensations. Affective states such as pleasure and pain, however, still remain very murky.

    Is pleasure quantifiable?

    On closer inspection, Tiresias' proposition that pleasure is quantitative does not seem to be particularly bold after all. It has received widespread uncritical support for quite some time - from the dawn of utilitarianism in modern moral philosophy to the use of visual analog scales for pain assessments in contemporary clinical medicine and cardinal utility in economics. They have become ingrained in our common sense. Queries like "from a scale to 0 to 10, how do you feel?" have become staples of modern managerial society.

    But is it true? Unfortunately for Tiresias, the hypothesis that pleasure and other similar affective states such as pain have a quantitative structure has not been empirically established with satisfaction. Not even the other rather intuitive hypothesis that pleasure and pain have a structure that allows representation as opposite intervals of a same axis.

    To stipulate that a given feature has a quantitative structure is not a matter of pragmatic choice but of experimental fact. This claim has been vigorously defended by measurement theorist Joel Michell [3]. Michell condemns gratuitous cursory admissions that a given psychological feature is quantitative without previous evidential justification. Conceptual residue from operationalist philosophy in experimental psychology is at fault.

    The fact of the matter is that the stakes for an empirical feature to be ratio-scalable are very high. This will be exposed in greater detail in another entry.

    [1] J. Michell and C. Ernst, "The axioms of quantity and the theory of measurement," Journal of mathematical psychology, vol. 41, iss. 4, pp. 345-356, 1997.
    author = {Michell, Joel and Ernst, Catherine},
    citeulike-article-id = {13559112},
    journal = {Journal of mathematical psychology},
    number = {4},
    pages = {345--356},
    posted-at = {2015-03-23 22:50:07},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Elsevier},
    title = {The axioms of quantity and the theory of measurement},
    volume = {41},
    year = {1997}
    [2] L. Narens, "The irony of measurement by subjective estimations," Journal of mathematical psychology, vol. 46, iss. 6, pp. 769-788, 2002.
    author = {Narens, Louis},
    citeulike-article-id = {13559113},
    journal = {Journal of Mathematical Psychology},
    number = {6},
    pages = {769--788},
    posted-at = {2015-03-23 22:50:07},
    priority = {2},
    publisher = {Elsevier},
    title = {The irony of measurement by subjective estimations},
    volume = {46},
    year = {2002}
    [3] J. Michell, "Quantitative science and the definition of measurement in psychology," British journal of psychology, vol. 88, pp. 355-383, 1997.
    author = {Michell, Joel},
    citeulike-article-id = {13531650},
    journal = {British Journal of Psychology},
    pages = {355--383},
    posted-at = {2015-03-02 22:50:46},
    priority = {2},
    title = {Quantitative science and the definition of measurement in psychology},
    volume = {88},
    year = {1997}