Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Perverse reasoning on behalf of the Rule Egoist Principle as attributed to Hobbes

In her well-crafted and devastating critique of Gregory Kavka’s ascription of the “Rule Egoist Principle” to Hobbes’s theory, S.A. Lloyd discusses what looks to be an “optative justification” for this principle:

“[O]nly the Rule Egoist Principle gives the Law of Nature the status it would need in order to do what we want it to do; therefore the Rule Egoist principle is true. Here the force of our desire to achieve peace is communicated backward into an optative justification of the prerequisites for satisfying that desire, of the sort ‘let the Rule Egoist Principle be so.’ We want the self-preservation that comes from peace; the Laws of Nature could not secure peace unless they had the status of binding moral principles; for them to have that status, the Rule Egoist Principle would have to be true; therefore, the Rule Egoist Principle[!]. The Rule Egoist Principle is justified as a necessary requirement for our having the Laws of Nature do what we want them to do.”

As she proceeds to explain, we generally do not find such optative justifications acceptable. What I found especially intriguing in this discussion is the example she uses to illustrate the sort of perverse logic—figuratively and literally—at work in such reasoning:

“Optative justification would justify, for instance, the stalker’s belief that the movie star will love him when she meets him, because his actions in pursuit of her couldn’t have their desired effect unless this were true. The form of optative justification is: A because only if A may desired effect x be obtained. This invites wishful thinking, an acknowledged species of cognitive defect. Thus, the stalker reasons: because I desire that she love me, and to love me she must meet me, and for her to meet me I must take certain instrumentally related steps, but my taking those steps could not effect her loving me unless it were true that she’ll love me when she meets me; therefore, she’ll love me when she meets me. This stalker logic does not differ at all in form from that of positing the Rule Egoist Principle as securing self-interest (this is the force of Kavka’s ‘one ought’) because unless the Rule Egoist Principle were true, following the Laws of Nature, which are needed for peace, which is needed for securing self-interest, would not secure peace and thus self-interest.” From S.A. Loyd’s Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes: Cases in the Law of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2009): 172-73.


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