A Question to Alonzo Fyfe

After reading about desirism, and discussing it with a few people. I am afraid I am not convinced it is a true moral theory. So to have the question I have answered, I emailed Alonzo Fyfe himself.


Recently, I came across desirism through Luke’s blog and it lead me to your site. I really enjoy your work, and writing style but there really is something I do not understand about desirism after discussing it with a few people.

You already responded to why it is bad to torture children, but I had an issue with your response. You stated that the child killer has to examine why that statement has value, and what that value means. You then conclude that the children have much more reasons to believe that it is immoral.

But I still don’t think that solves anything, as it still becomes subjective in the end. What makes the child’s life more valuable than the desires of the killer? After someone asked me these questions, I kept attempting to answer them but he simply kept asking me why. The thing was, even if I explained why the child’s life is more valuable, he simply asserted that he thinks his desires are more valuable.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer these questions, as I really couldn’t. Because, through the method of desirism(unless I misunderstand it somehow), it still ends up being a subjective problem.



Not really sure if it’s a good question, because I have not read to much into desirism. But it is still one I need answered if I have any hope of following this moral theory.

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8 Responses to A Question to Alonzo Fyfe

  1. Alonzo Fyfe says:

    You stated that the child killer has to examine why that statement has value, and what that value means. You then conclude that the children have much more reasons to believe that it is immoral.

    That’s not an accurate rephrasing of the theory.

    First, the child killer does not “have to” examine anything. I am saying that the relevant moral question to ask is: What is the value of the desire to kill children? This is the question that determines if there is reason to praise or condemn the person who would kill children.

    Second, the moral question is not concerned with whether children “have much more reason to believe” anything. The question is whether there are reasons that exist to CONDEMN child-killing. This is not the same as asking whether there are reasons to BELIEVE anything.

    Both of these relate to the question I have for you: Why are you concerned with weighing the desires of the children with the desires of the killer?

    What you are going is saying, “Given that there are the desires of children and the desires of killers, which desire is more important?” The answer, in this context, is “none” – but that’s not the right question to ask.

    The right question to ask is, “What reasons are there to have people around who desire to kill children? What good does THE DESIRE TO KILL CHILDREN do that we have reason to promote it and make it stronger and more common, versus condemning it and making it weaker.”

    The answer is that there is no reason to WANT A DESIRE TO KILL CHILDREN. It is true that people who desire to kill children have a reason to kill children. But this is exactly why we don’t want anybody around with a desire to kill children.

    Imagine that we lived in a world without child killers. The question is: What reasons could there possibly be to introduce child-killers into a world where they did not exist? What reasons could there be to oppose this? We find little or no reason to introduce child killers, and a great many reasons not to.

    • After discussing this with a few people, I am afraid I am not convinced with that response. Allow me to explain.

      What are these reasons to condemn child killers? What makes them better? How can we know that the reasons against child killing are morally unethical? This simply raises my exact same questions rather than answer them.

      If I answer your questions, it still doesn’t solve what is ‘better’. Because what if I simply state that my desire outweighs all of all your desires? How can we measure if yours are any better when my desires say otherwise?

  2. Alonzo Fyfe says:

    When you ask, “What are these reasons to condemn child killers?”

    I need to start by asking, “What are reasons?” If you were to ask me, “What are these swans with black bands on their neck?” it would seem reasonable to ask what swans are, on order to get a handle of swans with black bands on their neck.

    The only reasons for intentional action that exist are desires. So, when asking what “reasons” there are for an intentional action, either one answers by identifying a set of desires, or one answers by identifying something that does not exist.

    The reasons to condemn child killing are the same reasons as those for inhibiting or weakening those desires that tend to lead to child killing. Desires are the reasons that exist, so the desires thwarted by these desires are the reasons that exist for inhibiting or weakening these desires.

    Your only two options are to say that these reasons (desires) do not exist, or that there are some other reasons for action that do exist. Either option is going to be difficult to pull off.

    When you write, “If I answer your questions, it still doesn’t solve what is ‘better’. Because what if I simply state that my desire outweighs all of all your desires?”

    I need to know how it “states” that. The proposition that there are many and strong reasons to inhibit desires leading to the killing of children, and few (if any) reasons to promote a desire, would be true even in a world in which I did not exist. Or one in which you did not exist. So how is it saying something about either of our desires?

    • You still are not explaining why these desires are ‘strong’ or ‘weak’. Desirism is utterly useless without explanation, which you have not provided. You are presupposing your own theory before even proving it.

      That’s it? There has to be something I am missing, because I am hardly impressed.

  3. Alonzo Fyfe says:

    “strong” and “weak” have to do with the amount of motivational force exists behind a desire. It distinguishes things that we really like from things that are sorta okay – not bad.

    I like Diet Dr. Pepper. I sorta like Diet Coke. I don’t really care to drink water. If I go into a restaurant and Diet Dr. Pepper is available, I will order that. If not, then Diet Coke. If neither is available, I’ll take water. I could take coffee if I am truly desperiate, but I don’t like coffee.

    What makes a desire strong or weak has to do with the way the brain is structured. We have evolved dispositions to desires that have, in our biological past, promoted genetic replication. We also have the capacity to acquire desires by interaction with our environment. In all cases, the desires we have and the strength of those desires are reflected in the structure of the brain.

    I suspect that you were taking the terms “strong” or “weak” to reflect some sort of moral evaluation of their quality. That’s not the case. It is a description of how badly people want something. It would be like speaking about how strong or weak a magnet is.

    • That’s just it, you prescribe the motivational forces of child killing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but giving no reason other than your desires. So your argument simply fails in the end, since all I have to do is state my desires outweigh yours. And in the end it all becomes a matter of subjective moral values.

      • Alonzo Fyfe says:

        You will not find a single premise in my argument that makes reference to “my desires”.

        If it is there, as you claim it is, then please point it out to me.

  4. Could you give any reasons for why murdering is wrong? The answer is a resounding no. You try to explain why it is, by saying we have ‘good’ reasons to believe this. But you have yet to explain why those reasons are good and/or bad.

    That is why desirism fails.

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