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The Wants Theory Refuted

In the first case, the framework is seriously undermined as the repair presupposes discarding the premise that wants are empirical facts that one simply "knows". For if one get’s what one wants but is not made happy, the only way to salvage the framework is to conclude that one might not know what one "truly wants". One is now on an endless search to uncovered what one truly wants, without ever knowing for sure, and thus the system breaks down. At some point in time one must simply decide what one wants, which seems equivalent to the alternative of the entire framework: that intentions are decisions not empirically verifiable facts.

In general, the premise that fulfilling "wants", of any given time not the tautology of wanting to be happy, equals happiness can only be proved if one actually fulfills all of one’s wants: one cannot base one’s decisions on what one doesn’t know. In practice then, the theory is simply unworkable and unverifiable until one has carried the system through, which cannot be a justification for adopting it now. However, there are even further problems with the theory as we see with friend number two.

Friend number two argued more tangibly by appealing to what he thought at the time was the irrefutable virtue and general superiority of his wants: "This is what I want: to develop and spread solar technology for the good of the world and to get fifty million dollars in the mean time."

I defeated his reasoning by pointing out that these two goals were competing against each other. Every dollar that comes under his control he can either put into goal A or goal B. He of course needs to put enough money into himself to carry out goal A efficiently. But sustaining oneself and improving one’s abilities to be more effective in developing solar technology is not to be confused with having fifty million dollars and doing solar unrelated things.

Previously he had simply imagined that these goals where mutually inclusive and reasoned things would just magically work out, but he quickly realized that this wasn’t so.

How then could he decide to draw the line between goal A and B.

Furthermore, what if he accomplish these goals? Solar technology has grown beyond his ability to contribute further (something that cannot actually occur since solar technology can always be improved), and he has fifty million dollars, what does he do now? He’d do other things he wants, he answers. But what, he didn’t really know. Would having fifty million dollars really solve all his problems: would a loving wife and exuberant children be the necessary corollary? And would this state of affairs simply continue indefinitely? He began to doubt himself, thus falling victim to criticism number one, regardless.

So, I reasoned that his actual goal was simply to have goals. His first principle was his last principle. And so, the harder the goal the longer his ambition to have goals is satisfied.

In general, if one’s wants are finite, and the purpose of life is to fulfill wants, if one actually fulfills one’s wants, one no longer has purpose, and so one would collapse into an motionless or apathetic state, which hardly seems happy.

Thus, the only way to avoid the question "what should one do?" (as in ethics), is to have not only wants that never prove dissatisfactory but an infinite number of them. One must be able to not only imagine the fulfillment of one’s current wants and be totally convinced that such would be true happiness, but one must be able to know exactly what one’s next want would be, and the next, and be able to repeat this process indefinitely. Otherwise, one cannot argue that wants are empirical in nature: a simple fact and the actual job of thinking is to fulfill these wants efficiently. The alternative is that one must decide what one’s should do through some method of reasoning, a method of reasoning that would have to be consistent and complete (as in an ethical system).

Furthermore, since the only way to circumvent ethics, the abstract question of what one should do, devoid of any pretense, is to mystically know exactly what one wants all the time and never be failed by this "sense" (which is another avenue the wants theory falls into disarray, as empirical data is sensory, and so one must have a "wants sense" to establish these empirical facts), one would hardly waste one’s time arguing about ethics with a bunch of strange creatures who seem to lack empirically verifiable wants through this sense.

Not only would such a person be too busy fulfilling wants, but the generalization of the theory is extraordinarily difficult. For, the only way for the theory to work is to assert that everyone not only has these wants but that these wants never contradict each other in any individual person; for if wants did contradict each other then that human is bound up in irrationality, by definition impossible to escape, and has scant use of a theory. Any philosophy that asserts: humans are irrationality, is pointless to accept. If one accepts it, one is irrational (whether it is true or false), if one rejects it one is still irrational if it is true.

Other obvious questions are, where do these wants come from? How exactly do we "observe them empirically"? How exactly is the activity of the mind separated from one’s wants? If there is no distinction, one cannot argue that "one should do one’s best to fulfill these wants" as, if one doesn’t that is clearly what one wants to do (but how can one want to do what one doesn’t want to do, which seems to be the state of anyone who rejects the theory?). How does the wants theory resolve the usual problem of self reference?

The general counter argument is, what alternative is there? The alternative is the total reconstruction of one’s entire decision making framework. Starting from nothing, no pretenses or pre assumed "goodness" or "desirableness", and contending what one should do. I call such a state the void, as one is devoid of all ambitions: one does not even possess the ambition to form ambitions, which gives this state of mind its meaning.

After rejecting my previous mode of behaviour which I concluded was meaningless and everything I had thought was important was clearly unimportant as I wouldn’t even remember in a few years, and so coming to this void, I of course still moved and talked and slept and so on, but the difference is I could not answer why I was doing so. And so this is the beginning of actual philosophic contemplation.

Some might argue that removing all identity from oneself and starting from zero is some psychological process to some meta account of humans. I disagree, I view it as the intrinsic basis of ethics. In general, if one finds a flaw in one’s decision making process one must remove everything that has been based on that flaw, as the first part of wisdom is the absence of foolishness, and so if the flaw is recognized as the basis of one’s thinking, one must remove everything. And so, if this is reasonable, if one did find a flaw in one’s fundamental reasoning, as in a contradiction attributed to one’s most basic assumptions, clearly one should as quickly as possible remove the flaw from one’s reasoning and any action that results from it. The most reasonable course of action is then to become devoid of any reasoning system, but without a reasoning system one does not have the intention to form a reasoning system. Thus I refer to any such first principle decision as a pure decision, not simply the product of more fundamental decisions (I decide to eat potato because I have decided to continue living, and eating this particular potato I understand to be an efficient fulfillment of my decision to live), or in renaissance terminology, an act of pure will.

Though this may sound mystical, I think it is born from a lack of words: our language is designed to explain what are decisions are, which we almost always do by appealing to some more general generally accepted decision, or at least accepted by the person we are talking to (or more precisely we don’t talk to people who do not share some general decision). The idea of not having made any decision at all, and removing one’s adherence to any previous decision, and thus being in a decisionless state does not seem to exist with ease in our language, or any language I gather. What I am trying to describe is a logical necessity, assuming one can be logical, which we must assume for the assumption of the opposite is by definition useless.


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