I hate being wrong. Yet, in writing this blog, I think I have to say that I have been wrong about the relationship between desires-as-means and beliefs.
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.
In that article, there is a place in which Smith attempts to, classify as procedural or substantive a range of principles that various theorists have thought qualify as principles of rationality governing the formation of desires (in what follows 'RR' = 'Reason requires that'):
He does not endorse all of these principles. Instead, he mentions them so as to classify them, and h classifies them so that he can raise questions for Parfit’s distinctions between those classifications.
From my perspective, this dispute over classifying the things that reason requires is purely academic. I do not see a reason to get involved in that dispute. However, I am interested in what these people say about what reason does and does not require.
However, since Smith went ahead and presented them, I have a chance to scribble some notes in the margins regarding each of these principles.
If someone has an intrinsic desire that p and a belief that he can bring about p by bringing about q, then he has an instrumental desire that he brings about q.
I scribble in the margins:
What is an intrinsic desire?
I would use different words – words that may or may not mean the same thing that Smith intends them to mean.
As I have already argued, there are two types of desires; desires-as-ends, and desires-as-means, where desires-as-means are bundles of desires-as-ends and beliefs.
Applying this distinction to Smith’s principle yields something like this:
If someone has a desires-as-ends that P and a belief that she can bring about P by bringing about Q, then she has a desire-as-means that she bring about Q.
I have sometimes used this formulation in the past. However, as I think about it here, I believe it is mistaken. I have said that desires-as-means are bundles of desires-as-ends and beliefs. However, at this point I am going to change my mind and say that desires-as-mans are bundles of desires-as-ends and facts that relate means to ends, independent of beliefs.
Though I would love to say that I had this right all along, I suspect that this might not be the case.
(1a) If a person has a desires-as-ends that P, and can bring about P by bringing about Q, then she has a desires-as-means that she bring about Q. There is nothing about beliefs in this formulation.
(1b) If a person believes she has a desires-as-ends that P, and a belief that she can bring about P by bringing about Q, then she has a belief that she has a desire-as-means that she bring about Q. However, this belief can be mistaken. To say that it is mistaken is to say that she does not have the desires-as-means that she thinks she has.
A person can have false beliefs about whether Q has value as a means by having false belief about whether Q can bring about P, which she does desire.
Where we assume that a woman who is thirsty is about to drink from a glass of water that, unknown to her, contains poison, then she thinks she wants to drink the contents of the glass. In fact, she does not want to do so.
A stranger, knowing what is in the glass, can well be imagined telling her, as she takes the glass and raises it to her lips, You do not want to drink that.. The stranger, in this case, is correct. She does not want to drink the contents of the glass. She only thinks (believes) that she wants to. And her belief is mistaken.