Thursday, May 31, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 22: Against Doxastic and Perceptual Evaluativism

Continuing on with: Doring, Sabine A. and Bahadir Eker (2017), “Desires Without Guises.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

After setting up the case in favor of evaluativism (which Döring and Eker did exceptionally well), they then tackled the view they set up.

Recall that there are two major evaluative theories; doxastic and perceptual. Doxastic evaluativism states that a desire that P is a belief that P is good. Perceptual evaluativism states that a desire that P is an appearance that P is good (or P looks as if it is good). Döring and Eker take each of these in turn and demonstrates what is wrong with each.

Against doxastic evaluativism, the main force of the objections involved providing instances in which people – or other creatures - had a desire that P without a belief that P was good.

For example, a common criticism against doxastic evaluativism concerns the mental states of animals. Animals clearly have desires and aversions. Yet, it seems unreasonable to hold that animals have a belief that P is good – this appears to be beyond their capacity. This creates a problem for the thesis that a desire that P is a belief that P is good.

They also bring up the case that, “You cannot desire that P if you think that nothing you can do would be conducive to P’s being the case.” Yet, as I argued above, I reject this on the ground that if a person goes from believing there is something you can do, to believing that there is nothing you can do, to believing there is something you can do again, that the desire vanishes during the intervening period.

A third type of case involves the agent who decides to do something (e.g., go see a concert) without having a belief that it is any good – somebody deciding to try something they are skeptical about. Though I do not accept doxastic evaluativism, I do think such a theorist has a response to this. Such a theorist only needs to think that it is good to try new things, to experiment, to expand one’s horizons, to explore. It need not be the case that the end result is good if the journey itself is good.

Fourth, there are cases where an agent has a desire that P where one believes P to be bad. Their example is that of a person at a meeting wanting to tell a joke that they know would not be appreciated in the present company yet wanting to tell it anyway. I believe the kind of case they have in mind is that of a person who wants to do something unruly, but thinks that he better not do so, even though he still wants to. The fact that other, more prudential desires override the desire in question does not imply that the desire in question does not exist.

The authors present a fifth type of case concerning instrumental value that I have had difficulty understanding. There may be a typographical error in the example. They write about Thomas, who plans on taking a break in an hour and brewing some coffee. They then ask, “Is it really plausible to say that Thomas now literally believes that going to the kitchen in fifteen minutes is (instrumentally) good?” Did the authors intend to say, “in an hour?” That would imply that the objection somehow compares the desire to take a break in an hour corresponds to the belief that it would be good to take a break in an hour.

I do not see how this creates a problem for the doxastic evaluativist. As I have understood instrumental goods, they are always eliminable. We can split them into component elements of ends plus beliefs about how actions relate to those ends. A desire-as-means to turn the temperature up is a desire-as-end to be warm and a belief that by turning up the envelope to get warm. The doxastic evaluativist version of this holds that the desire is a belief that being warm is good accompanied by a belief that by turning up the thermostat, one can get warm. We shouldn’t need an additional belief to the effect that turning up the thermostat itself is good.

Finally, Döring and Eker assert that doxastic evaluativism cannot really handle the radioman case. Recall the radioman turns on radios even though he does not evaluate doing so in any positive light. Against this, Döring and Eker argue that giving Radioman a belief that turning on radios is good would not make his actions any less bizarre. Recalling the point that desires are not only supposed to explain action but to rationalize them – getting them to make sense – adding a positive evaluation to turning on radios still fails to make any sense of the actions.

The perceptual model of evaluativism is meant to handle the objection that animals and small infants have desires. They may not be able to have beliefs that P is good, but they have the capacity to perceive that P is good in the same way that they can perceive that a feeding bowl is empty (Oddie, 2017) or that an intruder has entered their territory.

However, according to Döring and Eker, perceptual evaluativism cannot handle the other problems that doxastic evaluativism has, plus has a few problems of its own.

They build some of these objections on the premise that somebody cannot desire something that they know to be the case. As I have argued above, I reject the thesis that a person cannot desire that which is already the case. A "desire that P" is a desire that "P" be made or kept true – and keeping "P" true requires that it already be the case.

Döring and Eker argue that the perceptual evaluativism faces a problem is that a desire persists even while the agent’s attention shifts to other things, and then back again. The only type of desire that the perceptual model can handle, they argue, are the occurrent desires that attract an agent’s attention at a particular moment. Yet, the bulk of our desires are standing desires. I have included in this set of standing desires the aversion to pain, which an agent has at all times and not just while he is thinking about pain and how to avoid it.

The perceptual evaluativist response to this is to say that, in the same way that things do not cease to be red when one is not looking at them, something does not cease to be desired when one is not perceiving them. All that is required for something to be desired is that it be such as to appear as good when one looks at them. Döring and Eker describe evaluativism as saying that one cannot desire something without perceiving it as good.

Furthermore, between manifestations of occurrent desire, one is not perceiving the object of evaluation as good. So, they argue, the evaluativist cannot say that, between occurrences of the occurrent desire, the agent cannot desire that thing.

Döring and Eker further argue that perceptual evaluativism does not account for the capacity of desires to rationalize action. After all, on the perceptual model, that which is perceived as good might not be taken to be truly good. If some object of evaluation merely seems to be or is perceived to be good, then it merely seems to be or is perceived to be a reason for intentional action. It is not, in fact, a reason for intentional action unless it is, in fact, good.

Here, we enter into a consideration about the Radioman case we have been discussing – the person with the disposition to turn on radios. If we give Radioman a perception that turning on radios is good, this still seems a bit bizarre, according to Döring and Eker.

So the question is once again whether the assumption that Radioman experiences turning radios on as intrinsically valuable makes his action any les bizarre than it was before, and the answer is once again no.
There is something about perceiving the turning on of radios to be intrinsically good that seems mistaken in some way. One way to account for that mistake is to deny that any urge to turn on radios can make such an act rational.

These points aim to tell against doxastic and perceptual evaluativism. According to Döring and Eker, these are the only two legitimate types of evaluativism so, to defeat these, is to defeat evaluativism itself. Still, they have a few more things to say against evaluativism, which I will examine next.

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