In this series of posts I am commenting on an article sent to me by a member of the studio audience. These are, in a sense, notes written in the margin as it were as I highlight passages in the article and explain my agreement or disagreement.
I have highlighted the following phrase:
Parfit consider(s) two practical claims in the early chapters. One is a claim that he takes to be a datum, namely, that we all have reasons to want to avoid future agony and thus to try to avoid it if we can.
In Part 1 I argued that if desires are to play a role in motivating intentional action then they must necessarily be desires that can be fulfilled (or thwarted) by future states of affairs.
However, there is still a possible situation where Parfit might be able to apply his objection.
A scenario for applying Parfit’s objection might still exist in a situation where an agent will acquire a very strong desire that P sometime in the future and then, at a time beyond that, suffer a state in which P is false. Or the agent acquires a very strong desire that not-P and a future state beyond that in which P is true. Parfit might want to suggest that future desires provide us with current reasons for action.
First, note that lacking a current desire that P is not the same as lacking a current aversion to agony that might result from a state where a person has such a desire and P is false.
Perhaps I can know that I will acquire a future craving for cranberry juice so intense that I will suffer greatly without it. However, today, I have no such craving. I only have the knowledge that I will have this craving, and that I will suffer if the craving is not fulfilled.
The absence of a current desire for cranberry juice is not the same thing as a lack of a current aversion to future agony. If I lack a current desire for cranberry juice then that is not a current reason for me to act so as to see to it that the future desire will be fulfilled. However, if, even in the absence of a current desire for cranberry juice, I have a current aversion to agony, I still have this as a reason to act to see that the future desire will be fulfilled.
For this example to fit Parfit’s mold, we must postulate not that I lack a current desire for cranberry juice, but that I lack a current aversion to agony. If I have a current aversion to agony, then I have a current reason to avoid future agony. In this case, it means that I have a current reason to see to the fulfillment of a future desire for cranberry juice – a desire that does not exist yet and will have no power to reach back through time if it did exist.