10/15/09

My Future Son

Ask Philosophers gets some really good questions. Here's a recent one--
Suppose an angel visits me tonight and tells me that when I reach the age of 60, I will suddenly find great enjoyment in the music of Kenny G. The angel also tells me that by the time I am 60, Kenny G records will be in short supply, so it might be prudent to stock up on them now. As of now, I hate Kenny G music. The thought of my future self listening to Kenny G in the future disgusts me.
Would it be rational for me to avoid buying Kenny G records today, in order to sabatoge my future self's attempts to listen to Kenny G? Or would it be rational to stock up on them now, which would further the goals of my future self while undermining the goals of my current self?
It reminded me of a quandary I have about my son.  I recently asked his piano teacher if it might make sense to let him stop, since he finds it so excruciating to sit down and practice (sigh).   His teacher says he talks to adults all the time who tell him they wish their parents had made them keep taking lessons, because now they wish they could play.  The teacher seemed to think it was obvious I should side with my son's future self, and make him stick with it.

Are these actually two versions of the same puzzle?   I'm not quite sure they are, but they're in the same ballpark.  I've only gotten this far:  (1) We surely shouldn't privilege a later self, just because it's later. (2) It also seems outright ageist to assume that what an adult wants has more weight than what the earlier child wants.  Kids are people too! (I'm sure my son will approve of that point.)  (3) Numbers don't really settle the matter.  I shouldn't favor my adult son's piano-playing enjoyment just because it will go on much longer than my kid's suffering.

I'm not sure what to think about the teacher's argument.  It didn't really convince me, but I could act like it did, because truth is I wanted him to keep playing.  Why?  Very simple.  Music is good.  I know he'll see the light, if he just keeps going a little longer.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe your son enjoys other activities more, but still likes knowing how to play piano. Imagine if you had to go to work, but wanted to read a book. Would you rather be able to teach your students WHILE reading? Or just snap your fingers and have the students know the information?
Also, on the subject of your future self- the angel came to tell you what would happen, and they knew this before they came. Even if events are predetermined like that, you should just pretend the angel never visited. Just allow what is supposed to happen happen. "Go with the flow" as they say.

Jean Kazez said...

Dear Anonymous, Just curious. Are you 5'2" tall and do you have blue eyes? Anyhow...it's interesting that you suggest my son might like to know how to play the piano. It had not really occurred to me that someone might just like knowing how, as opposed to liking to play. I'm trying to think if I feel that way about anything...Most of the time if I like knowing how to do something, I also like doing it. Hmm!

Yeah, that angel sounds like a pain. It seems to be a very important part of life that you don't know what's going to happen next. Or at least, don't know everything.

amos said...

Your son's piano teacher is an interested party: he's a good salesman. The view of an adult who didn't finish something his parents wanted him to finish, but did not force him to finish is different than the view of an adult who finished something because his parents obliged him to finish it. It may be that forcing a child to finish something spoils it for him. There is a woman who I should have married if I had had good, adult sense when I was younger, but if I had been obliged to marry her by farseeing parents the marriage would have been miserable. In any case, the piano teacher is most probably more interested in his current earnings than in your son's future self.

Anonymous said...

I choose to ignore that first part about my height and eye color, Jean. However, I will say that what I mean is, your son may enjoy playing the piano, but think that it is not quite worth the amount of work necessary.

Jean Kazez said...

Well yeah, he's an interested party, but the argument's intriguing all the same. It could actually be a great argument, even if the teacher really just cares about his income.

Anonymous (with secret height and eye-color)--OK,it's true there's some work involved. Of course, work is good, like music is good. As you can see, my approach to parenthood is very straightforward.

Dominic said...

Short answer,

yes, you should privilege your son's future potential enjoyment of piano-playing over his current dislike of it. It is part of being a parent to attempt to weigh up what is best for a child in the long run, and to try to secure it even at the cost of their present preferences. We do it all the time - making them brush their teeth, go to school, practise the piano.
That doesn't mean that we will always get it right. As Amos suggests, forcing your child to learn might ruin music for them, and instil in them a life-long hatred of the piano. So you have to take a guess as to what is more likely.

Does this involve giving greater weight to future preferences - yes. There are several reasons why we might do so - one is the time factor that you suggest. Transient discomfort now (with tooth brushing) is outweighed by much longer periods of discomfort (And greater discomfort with rotten teeth in the future.)
Secondly in some instances those future preferences may in themselves be stronger or more important than current ones. So a future ability to be employed, financially independent etc outweighs a current desire to play on the computer rather than do homework.
Third, it is part of the nature of childhood that the ability to plan ahead, rationally appraise and reconcile current against future desires is immature. That is one of the main reasons why parents are justified in making decisions for their children.

When it comes to future preferences - such as the future desire to listen to Kenny G, it is uncommon that future preferences are given greater weight than current ones. It is far more common that people discount future desires - because they are in the future. But there are strong arguments that (setting aside uncertainty) such discounting is irrational. (cf Parfit Reasons and Persons).
Overcoming our bias to the present might be another reason to place greater (relative) weight on future desires.

As for what to do with recalcitrant non-practisers. Bribery works. My current strategy which works at least some of the time is to link music time to 'bonus' time - playing on the computer, or working on models etc with me. Try to make it all carrot, and no stick. Persist if you can.

amos said...

Agreed, Dominic, that children lack foresight and whether they like it or not, parents should take them to the dentist and have them vacunated, etc. It's clear that parents have an ethical responsibility to care for their children's health and basic education, that is, adquiring the basic skills necessary for surviving as adults. I would not include piano-playing as a basic skill, however. There is also an age thing. I don't know how old Jean's son is, although from other posts of hers, I have a general idea. As a parent, I would oblige a 16 year-old to finish high school (my son dropped out of school, but finished high school by taking exams), but I would not oblige a 16 year-old to continue with his piano lessons, even if I thought he would benefit from them. There is an age after which children should make their own mistakes, but it depends on what area (for example, the age in which a child should be able to make a mistake about piano playing is younger than the age in which he should be able to make a mistake about not finishing school).

amos said...

From my point of view, the early that childen begin to make their own mistakes, to learn from experience, the better. My son learned more (not academically, but as a person) from dropping out of formal schooling and taking exams than he would have from staying in school.

Jean Kazez said...

Dominic, You may be entirely right, but I was thinking about this in terms of "time relative interests" (I'm still grappling with McMahan's The Ethics of Killing.)

Take the Kenny G case. If I'm really going to change so much that now I hate Kenny G, but later I will love him, would I really right now have a strong interest in my later self getting her Kenny G records? Maybe not. So why should I help her out?

So now take my son. If he's going to change so much that now he's averse to playing, but later he will love it, does he really have a strong interest in helping out his later self? If I ask him to play, am I asking for something close to altruism? Should I ask for that?

Of course, I do have an interest in the well being of my son at a later age--he's always be my son! But should I force my young son to share my concern?

So that's my reasoning. But as you say, we do make children brush their teeth. How's this any different? I'm trying to figure out if it's any different. Maybe what Amos says has some relevance--that it's piano lessons we're talking about here, not something more basic.

Re: bribery. Yes, we resort to it too, and sometimes it really does work.

amos said...

I wouldn't force a 16 year-old to brush his teeth, although I would suggest it and inform him of the probable consequences and that I was not going to pay for expensive dental work to fix the results of his irresponsibility. I do inform children old enough to understand of the probable results of what I consider to be imprudent actions. However, at times my prudence is completely mistaken. My son (the one who dropped out of high school) decided to study electric guitar instead of more conventional higher education. I informed him that no one lives off of the electric guitar and that what seems cool at age 18, playing rock, will be no fun at age 50, when he has to play weddings and school dances, etc. I also told him that if he repented in 15 year time, he shouldn't expect me to finance another chance at higher education. He insisted, but after two years, switched to the classical guitar, then switched to a formal music course at the university. He is now getting a masters degree in formal musical composition, while he teaches music at the university: he makes more money than I do.

Ophelia Benson said...

(2) It also seems outright ageist to assume that what an adult wants has more weight than what the earlier child wants.

I don't think so - because adults just do have more judgment than children do. It's a matter of brain development. There are limits, of course, and it makes sense to try to take the child's nature into account, weigh probabilities, and so on - but I also think a good deal of stubborn repetition of 'You'll see, it will be worth it later on' has a role to play.

There were so many things I just didn't get as a kid (surprise surprise! but that's the point - that's how it is) - and I wish I'd had the sense or discipline or something to tackle certain activities I didn't then like.

(Not others though! No regrets about poxy Sunday school! Wish I'd had less summer camp, not more!)

amos said...

Summer camp was atrocious. I was "spastic", as they said then, but I suspect that my parents at least sent us to summer camp so that they could have a freer sex life. So I understand.

Jean Kazez said...

Here's a hypothesis--in the cases where it seems right to make a kid do something for the benefit of his future self, we actually think the activity is also good for the kid in the present. We think doing homework, playing music, brushing teeth, etc., are actually valuable for the kid at the time, not just as a means to satisfying much later desires.

But take a case where an activity is purely preparation for satisfying a future desire. For example--suppose I somehow know that at 30 my son will really enjoy reading a diary he's kept since childhood. Should I tell him to spend an hour a day keeping a diary? I should think not. So there's something amiss with the idea that kids should practice the piano because of what their adult selves will want them to have done.

Dominic said...

OK, so a couple of things to clarify.

The first is the difference between taking an interest and having an interest.
So in the Kenny G case I have an interest in my later wellbeing (involving the listening to Kenny G) even though I am not at all interested in Kenny G, or in liking Kenny G

The second is about identity. Clearly as we age many things about our personality, preferences etc change. We may even be tempted to think that we are radically different from the person we once were. But in most cases there will also be very strong links to that past self - particularly in terms of memory. Although my outlook on life may be very different from my 7 year old self, there is a real sense in which it is still me. I think part of the scepticism about the Kenny G case is the question about whether this future Kenny G-loving self will still be the same person. But, in the absence of serious amnesia, head injury, dementia etc, even if preferences have changed there are likely to be strong links between that future self and the current self.

On McMahan's Time-relative-interest account, there are strong prudential unity relations between the child (at least a school age child anyway) and their later adult self. They have an interest in their later wellbeing relative to the degree to which those identity relations persist, and proportional to the amount of later wellbeing.
If we have good reason to think that our child's later wellbeing will be significantly increased by being able to play the piano, and we believe that they will be strongly psychologically connected to that later self, then on McMahan's account they have a strong interest in learning to play the piano. Also, on McMahan's account we have a reason to encourage/coerce them to play the piano - for their sake.

I personally think the diary example is different for two reasons. I tend to think that the pleasure involved in reading one's childhood diaries is less than the potential pleasure involved in a life-time of music making. I suspect that there is a different quality and quantity of wellbeing at stake, so I wouldn't coerce my child to write a diary, whereas I do strongly encourage them to play music.
Part of the problem is uncertainty. We don't know as parents what our children will enjoy in the future, nor do we know the effects of our actions on their preferences. We have to make the best estimates that we can, and try to balance both their future and current wellbeing.

cheers
Dom

Alex Chernavsky said...

Just a quick comment before I have to leave for work.

The following article in the Atlantic seems very relevant to this discussion:

First Person Plural .

Jean Kazez said...

Alex, Thanks for the link. That looks really interesting and very relevant.

Dom, I think you can tell one of these stories in such a way that the later self is so strikingly different that the prudential unity relations are weak, and the earlier self has a weak interest in the welfare of the later. For example--I learn that in 2020 I will be an ardent supporter of Sarah Palin for president. If I donate now, it will greatly improve her chances. That later me is such a "stranger" I really don't have an interest in helping her get what she wants. Granted, she is me, but that isn't decisive.

So the question is whether the music lesson case is really much like that. Maybe not. I still find the diary case puzzling though. It would seem completely ridiculous to have the kid slave away on behalf of a later self. Is that entirely because the hours invested are way too great, considering the amount of pleasure the later self will derive from the diary? Well, maybe...

As a practical matter, it's surely best to find ways for kids to spend time that both satisfy present desires and prepare for the day when they will have new and different desires. As much as possible, a kid shouldn't be treated as the underling for a later adult self.

Wayne said...

It strikes me as odd that this is that much of a problem at all... We put ourselves through all sorts of pains in order to achieve the rewards at the end (work for most people is the obvious example that springs to mind). The angel scenario makes things all the more simpler because I'm assured of my future desires.

Now with your son's piano lessons, the problem with your son is that he has no guarantee that he will appreciate the piano skills that he will develop, so the task itself becomes in question. Its not merely just short-sighted of him, because that would assume that his piano playing skills are somehow intrinsically valuable, or more specifically that you son currently values it intrinsically.

Back to the angel scenario, the reason why its arduous is only because the person doesn't value it currently, but since I will come to value it, it becomes mere prudence for me to take steps to secure my future pleasures....

I mean isn't this the reason for why we save for retirement and such?

amos said...

Although I share many core values with my parents, I don't value the same activities as they do, in spite of their efforts to make me participate in them nor do I regret not valuing the activities that they value. I never pushed the activities that I value on my children, and they, now adults, don't value them. So, whether one pushes or whether one doesn't push, children when they grown up don't always value the activities that their parents did.
The zeitgeist changes rapidly these days, and it's hard to imagine what people will value in 20 years. While my son reads a fair amount, he doesn't read what I read.

Regret: regret is tricky. Regret is often a way of pretending that one wanted to do something that one just didn't want to do. I may regret not having studied philosophy, but I didn't want to study philosophy and never would have been capable of the effort needed to study philosophy and never would have wanted to make the needed effort.
Regret often has something false about it: I regret not having served in combat. Right, after the danger of having served in combat is over, I regret it, but I was cowardly enough or interested enough in my self-preservation to avoid it and now I can pretend to myself that I am not a coward.

Jean Kazez said...

Wayne, You don't find these things puzzling at all? How about the Sarah Palin example? You somehow learn you're going to be her biggest fan in 2020. If you contribute to her campaign fund now, it will really help. Should you do it, for the sake of your future self?

Or the diary example. Should you make the kid slave away on his diary because his 30 year old self will love reading it and treasure it forever?

Sure, we save for retirement, but if you look at a range of examples, it can start seeming puzzling what it's rational to do on behalf of your future self.

amos said...

Finally, the self who I am now who regrets not having studied philosophy is the result of not having studied philosophy. If I had studied philosophy, I'd be another self, perhaps a self who regrets not having studied linguistics. Perhaps a child, who instead of playing basketfall, spends his afternoons practicing the piano or the violin, will later regret not having spend his afternoons playing basketball. The syndrome of "the grass is always greener on the other lawn", has a lot to do with regret. Whatever one didn't do seems greener or sexier than what one did do.

Ophelia Benson said...

I learn that in 2020 I will be an ardent supporter of Sarah Palin for president. If I donate now, it will greatly improve her chances. That later me is such a "stranger" I really don't have an interest in helping her get what she wants. Granted, she is me, but that isn't decisive.

Is she even really you? If the I in that scenario referred to me I wouldn't accept what I had learned - I wouldn't consider it knowledge. It would be too impossible. (Not least because, as with Bush, the differences go way beyond the political - I despise the contempt for knowledge and thought, the appeal to bigotry and hatred and stupidity, the willingness to stoop, the overall baseness.) If I have to accept the learning as knowledge because that's the point - then I just say no she isn't me. I repudiate her. She's not just a stranger, she's an opponent of just about everything I value. I disown her.

It's a Phineas Gage sort of thing, I guess. That person would be so different from the person I am that the self-bundle has come undone. I don't feel any need to be loyal to that self, because it just isn't mine.

This is maybe similar to the reason I always find the idea of reincarnation so silly - so empty. What does it even mean to say 'I have lived before' when that 'I' has completely different memories and history and experiences? To me it means just nothing. I am my memories and thoughts and experiences - I'm not some essence or blob that exists apart from them. I have no interest in that kind of continuity. Is that odd, or universal?

Faust said...

This comment by Ophelia strikes at what I regard as the deeper question:

That person would be so different from the person I am that the self-bundle has come undone. I don't feel any need to be loyal to that self, because it just isn't mine.

My view is that as Ophelia goes on to say, we ARE our memories, thoughts, and experiences. If one really accepts this then it seems fairly intuitive to say that the only thing that connects a self from time T from time T+X is the degree of continuity between the various selves. It is manifestly obvious that selves can change into selves that negate the previous self. We can become what we hate through simple changes in our commitments, or through brain damage, or physical disability, can become selves that have no trace of a previous capacity.

So I see the real question as simply: what should we be commited to? The notion of privileging a particular self whether it be a self at time T or in a plaurality of sleves scenario as discussed in the article provided by Alex a priviledging of self X is a red herring. Better questoins are: should we value the playing of piano above other values such as avoiding the minor suffering an hour of practice a day? What should "we" strive for? To what degree should we allow "ourselves" to do whatever "we" want, and to what degree should "we" discipline ourselves to particuar courses of action?

To take it back to the original thought experiment, the question is not "what are my obligations to future self that likes Kenny G" because that future self is not you. There is a radical discontinuity between selves. The only question is: "what values are best to hold?" and "what am I doing RIGHT NOW in relation to those values?"

amos said...

Ophelia: I agree that sometimes thought experiments get so improbable that they become nonsense (that was our mutual problem with the suicidal woman). It's unlikely that any person over age 18 will change their political and cultural tastes to such a degree that they will go (in 10 years) from enthusiastically supporting Obama to enthusiastically supporting Sarah Palin. It's not true to life. The original idea, getting to like Kenny G., is much more true to life. For example, about ten years ago, my sister tried to give me her copy of Middlemarch and I said that I wasn't interested. When I talked to her on the phone the other day, I asked her if said copy was still available. However, it is improbable that in 10 years I will want to read "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus".

Faust said...

It's unlikely that any person over age 18 will change their political and cultural tastes to such a degree that they will go (in 10 years) from enthusiastically supporting Obama to enthusiastically supporting Sarah Palin. It's not true to life.

I disagree. People do experience radical religious and ideological coversions. It is absolutely true to life. I have a friend who was very anit-corporate when he was 18 and is now a company man. I know people who were commited religoius people who are now atheists. The reverse is certainly also possible. Selves can change radically. It may not be common, but it is certainly possible. There is a reason the evangelicals call it being "born again."

amos said...

Faust: Maybe age 18 is too young, although studies do show that basic values are formed by age 18 in the majority of people. How about age 21?

Faust said...

Well it's an empirical question in the end, and I'm not an expert, but I wouldn't be remotely suprised if people experienced conversions of various types at any age. In fact I would be shocked to discover some line where it stopped happening, though I would be willing to buy that the older people are the less likely it is.

amos said...

Faust: I'm 63, which means that I've known most of the people whom I know for 40 years or so and I've never observed anyone change his or her basic values. They may change their tastes in music or in literature or even their political party. However, as Ophelia points out, the whole thing about Sarah Palin goes deeper than a political disagreement: it's cultural, it has to do with attitudes toward many basic values, not just their postures on the tax structure. People do drift rightward with age in many cases, but that drift generally would not involve leaping from Obama to Palin in 10 years.

Faust said...

Well I'm not going to argue that it's common for such conversions to occur, I'm just staing that I think "not true to life" is going to far. Particularly in the case of religious conversions. In case hashing out the facts of how common such conversions are strays off topic.

What I would focus on is simply that in my view the question:

"Should a current self worry about the needs of a future self" is for all practical purposes equivalent to the question: What should I value? The need to ground decisions in a particular self whether it be one of a plaurality of selves in a single skull or a plaurality of selves over time is an attempt to find an archimedian self, a self to govern over all the others. But this is no different than simply trying to find the values that "we" (all these selves) should live by. The question remains: "Should I RIGHT NOW, be doing X?" Certainly what I imagine to be the future consequences of those actions can play a role in making this decision, but the fact that a future self may have an entirely different set of values cannot have any influence on my current decision if the base values in question are incommesurable. If there is sufficient discontinutiy of value there can be no cooperation of the "we" as one of "us" is doomed to become one of "them."

We can make a reductio here. What if in 1 min I will experience an uncontrollable desire to listen to Kenny G? Should I start listening to him now? Should I insert a CD into the player in anticipation? Why? I don't have that urge now. There is no reason to do any such thing.

Jean Kazez said...

Faust, I suppose it's true that this whole thread presupposes everyone has "rational self-interest." So we don't just promote particular values without regard to which selves are involved, but make special efforts to protect ourselves. And then the question is, what does rational self-interest involve in these puzzling cases? Does it (or doesn't it) involve paving the way for a much altered future self to get what she wants?

So--you say--what's with rational self-interest? Wouldn't a rational person just promote certain values, period? But wouldn't it be pretty bizarre to live that way, making no distinction between self and other? Aren't there some questions about what it means to run your own life rationally, even if there are also duties to promote values more generally?

OK...so much for trying to keep you from overturning the gameboard!

A few more thoughts about the various cases. Maybe what's going on is that it is rational to prepare for the day when we will have new and different desires, but also rational to make an assessment of those desires. We shouldn't support our future foolish aspirations. Helping my future self elect Sarah Palin is out of the question. I think helping my future self have a diary to treasure would also be silly. The desire for a diary isn't one I have to respect in my future self. But if I'm going to want to be in good health when I'm 70 I guess I really ought to watch my cholesterol and exercise.

Basically, my present self has to do some judging of what my future self is going to be up to. She ought to try to be empathic, but can't just "not judge." In the case of kids, parents serve as proxies, because we don't think they're good judges. But at a certain age, we just have to let them be their own judges. (Help!)

amos said...

Faust: The purpose of this thread is supposedly to clarify the relation between Jean's present son and her future son, whether her present son should be obliged to practice piano for the sake of a future son, who, according to his piano teacher, will value playing the piano. The projected future is entirely feasible, as are other alternatives, for instance, that her son sees the piano all his life as a symbol of forced labor. I don't know much about how formal philosophy is done, but it seems to me that any thought experiment which sheds light on the dilemma of Jean's future son should focus on real future possibilities: for example, should I stock up on bargain copies of Schopenhauer (whom I've never read or wanted to read, but possibly may want to read)? That most of the people who post in this blog will become enthusiastic fans of Sarah Palin does not seem to be a real future possibility to me nor would it that you or Ophelia or Jean convert to the Mormon faith. Perhaps philosophers like to construct thought experiments with unreal possibilities, for example, Ophelia's conversion to the Mormon faith, but I don't understand why.

Jean Kazez said...

Amos, Thought experiments can be extremely unrealistic and still tell us something about our values, concepts, judgments intuitions, etc. But in the present case, I don't see any extreme unrealism. People do change enormously over time. Why not a change from being a Sarah Palin-hater to being a Sarah-Palin lover? If you can undergo a religious conversion, I don't see why you can't undergo a political conversion. People do.

But really--you don't have to find it possible in your case for the thought experiment to make a point. It's simply a counterexample to the generalization that it's always rational to work toward the satisfaction of your future self's preferences. If you accept the counterexample then you can go from there. Maybe the generalization is mostly true. Maybe the counterexample just shows that it needs to be refined a bit. But basically it moves our thinking forward so we can better understand when/why we ought to be protecting the interests of our future selves.

amos said...

Jean: I'm aware that I don't have the makings of a philosopher. When I was involved in politics, I was always accused by using too much psychology in my political analysis, and I do tend to see the world in psychological terms. Yes, some people do convert suddenly from one faith to another, but not all people do. I imagine your son as Jean Jr., and Jean Jr. isn't the kind of person who converts from Mormonism to Satanism one day because he hears a voice. Furthermore, the type of person who hates Sarah Palin one day and loves her the next is the type of person for whom Palin is like Britney Spears, a face in the media, and none of those who participate in this blog are that type of person.
I lack the philosopher's ability to see people in abstract terms.

Jean Kazez said...

Well, I don't actually see people in abstract terms. A thought experiment is just a "what if," not a piece of real psychology. What if there were a person who hated Sarah Palin, but knew she would want to see her elected in 2020? Should she start donating now, despite hating her? The example has the advantage that it resonates with us. That's part of the reason why it's effective (if it is). But it's not meant to be a description of something that really might happen to one of US.

amos said...

Jean: All I mean is that you have the ability to see people in abstract terms. When you mention someone who hates Sarah Palin, but will want to see her elected in 2020, I immediately begin to imagine the person's motives and to wonder whether those motives are realistic, true to life. The ability to see people in abstract terms is a useful ability, as long as the philosopher remembers that he or she is seeing things in abstract terms. Marx, for example, saw the working class in abstract terms and constructed a theory which had nothing to do with the reality of the proletariat.

Faust said...

Perhaps a future Amos will be able to see people in more abstract terms. Does this mean you should change your position now?

I jest.

Although I do like the radical conversion example it is not necessary to the point I would like to make. The Kenney G example is more palatable because a change in our aesthetic sense seems quite reasonable. People learn to like new foods. People learn to like new music. Both of which they might currently detest. Isolated cases of such "taste" issues seem less fundamental than our deepest held values.

So on this gameboard we have some choices to make and the question is how do we weigh them. My argument is that giving weight to the selves in question is a red herring. Selves do not have weight because selves are composed of beliefs. As self IS a collection of beliefs and desires. So the question of what self we should priviledge is a question of "what beliefs and desires should I have." The difficulty comes when two selves that are causally connected (they share the same space-time thread). When two selves in the same causal domain have incommeasurable desires or beliefs one of them is going to become dominant over the other. But it appears we have *some* choice over the matter. How much is one of the big questions.

Jean writes:

"But if I'm going to want to be in good health when I'm 70 I guess I really ought to watch my cholesterol and exercise."

When it comes to death and pain it is easy to resolve the conflict between a group of selves, because there will be very few if any selves in a shared causal domain that want to suffer and die. Therefore even if there is a self that really really really wants that next cigarrette, the desire not to suffer from poor physical health and lung cancer has some very good arguments to offer the the other selves that current satisfaction should be reduced for future returns on reduction in suffering and a longer life span (more selves to have!).

It gets a lot more murky when it's something like "higher education" or "proficiency with an instrument." Young teenage self doesn't like practicing an instrument, there is some suffering there. But parent believes there is a high likelyhood that the future self of the young person will derive significant benefit that will outweigh the suffering of practice. Will future self resent the activities of the past. Will the sum total of good over all the selves over time be higher or lower? One makes a good guess with current information.

But what is being weighed is NOT the future self in and of itself. It is a measuring of both selves against a principle or set of principles, beliefs and desires that reside in the CURRENT self of the parent, who is debating whether or not to release the authority of these decisions to the CURRENT self of the teenager. The decision is a decision for ALL the selves over time. But it can only be made from the perspective of the current self, which is a collection of beliefs and desires.

amos said...

This is getting complicated. But if there are various selves inside me, composed of beliefs and desires (which I grant), which self determines which other self gets priority and why should one self have priority over any other? Is there an official self and if so, why is it official?

Faust said...

Well one view is the Nietzschian/Darwinian view that the official self is the self that wins. The self that gets the power to exercise it's will is the self that gets called "true." If you meet an alcoholic that says "I really want to stop drinking but I can't" what is his true self? The self that wants to stop or the self that can't? The self that wins is the self that is.

amos said...

The true self is the self that wins, that makes sense. Does it win because it's the true self or is the true self because it wins? If the later, how does it win? Let's imagine that self A wants a drink and self B wants to abstain. Who or what decides which self wins? Nietzsche, I guess, would say that it's question of power. Or maybe the first alternative is correct: the self that wins, wins because it's who one truly is.

Faust said...

I'm not sure the question is easily resolved. But yes on balance it would be "power" that decides it. Which desire or belief is the most powerful? What "power" is in this context is it's own question. Like you said it gets complicated and really is its own topic.

My main point insofar as the main thread topic can be boiled down to:

IF one accepts that "selves" are collections of beliefs and desires, then the question of what self to priviledge can be reduced to a question of what beliefs and desires we should have. The fact that a future self might wind up with desires we find incomprehnsible is a great fear, but not one that can inform any current decisions, other than perhaps a desire to work against a future self that we reject.