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11/20/2014

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Marcus Arvan

Hi David: Interesting post--but I see no reason to think (C) is true, and plenty of reasons to think it is false.

C states: "Hedonic value is morally fungible: it is morally permissible (pro tanto) to destroy (or prevent) a certain amount of hedonic value in order to produce (or salvage) a greater amount of value. By contrast, narrative value is not morally fungible: it is morally wrong (pro tanto) to destroy (or prevent) a certain amount of narrative value even if doing so would produce (or salvage) a greater amount of value."

I want to know what evidence there is for each conjunct:

(C)* Hedonic value is morally fungible: it is morally permissible (pro tanto) to destroy (or prevent) a certain amount of hedonic value in order to produce (or salvage) a greater amount of value.

and

(C)** narrative value is not morally fungible: it is morally wrong (pro tanto) to destroy (or prevent) a certain amount of narrative value even if doing so would produce (or salvage) a greater amount of value.

I think (C)* is false. While it may be morally permissible to prevent or destroy some hedonic value for greater hedonic value where, there are some cases where this seems pro tanto wrong: specifically, those cases that involve sacrificing the life of a sentient being. (Isn't this what we should have learned is wrong with act-utilitarianism?)

I think (C)** is false as well. I see no reason at all to think it is pro tanto wrong to destroy something of narrative value. What gives anyone a moral right to impute narrative value to something, where that narrative value cannot possibly be outweighed, pro tanto, by something else of moral value (e.g. a sentient life)?

David Killoren

Hi Marcus, thanks for your interesting comments!

I don't think it is always wrong to sacrifice the life of a sentient being. For example it seems to me that it is acceptable to kill one livestock pig in order to save two livestock pigs. Do you not agree? This is a case in which only hedonic value is sacrificed, so it seems to me a good test case for (C)*.

I would agree that it is pro tanto wrong to kill one intellectually normal human being in order to save two (as in, e.g., a transplant case) but I would invoke (C)** to explain this, that is, I'd say that intellectually normal human beings are self-narrators, and therefore their lives have narrative value, which is (according to (C)**) non-fungible.

With regard to your objection to (C)**, it sounds like you are thinking that just anything can have narrative value. For example, my Coke can could have narrative value if only I say so. If that were the view, then I would agree that it's crazy. But I don't think that just anything can have narrative value. In order for one to have narrative value, one must be the protagonist in a story, and this (I take it) requires at least sentience. I should have been clearer about that. Does this answer your objection, or do problems remain?

Phil H

I find this very convincing as a description of (some of) our moral intuitions. I'm not sure that it amounts to a justification. Utilitarians have developed arguments for why hedonic value is morally salient. But what arguments are there for narrative value? Is the argument "people value narrative, therefore narrative has value"? Then we would run into the problem of disentangling the moral things we value from the non-moral things which we value...

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