Friday, June 29, 2018

Desires 2008: Summary 01: Daniel Friedrich

One of the things that I want to accomplish in my study of desire is to present a quick summary of a main point in each of the articles.

Friedrich, Daniel, (2017). “Desires, Mental Force, and Desirous Experience" In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.


Agent desires that P if and only if Agent has a felt need that P be the case.

Friedrich does not actually put his thesis in these terms, but his writing suggests that this is what he is seeking to defend or something close to this.

In desirous experience, the desired end is given to the mind under a feeling tone of felt need; it is given to the mind as something that must be realized.

Friedrich distinguishes felt needs from biological needs in that felt need is an experience and biological need has to do with avoiding harm. Furthermore, he claims that felt needs have different sense of urgency or intensity, and that, even though one can express the felt need in words (e.g., “this must be the case”), words are often inadequate. Finally, a felt need that something must be the case is not a prediction; one can have a felt need that P even though one knows that P will never, in fact, obtain.


If somebody were point to a bunch of things and call them “red,” I may not have the same phenomenological experience of redness as that person. However, I can see what they all have in common. Using that, I can then predict what else that person may call “red”. I can be confident, for example, that that he will say that my heavy winter coat is a red coat.

However, when that person points to a bunch of things and calls them “desired,” what do I see that they all have in common that I can use to predict what else might be desired? I do not sense a felt need that they all be the case – not unless I desired all of the same things that the speaker desired. That is unlikely, given the number of desires that are self-referential (e.g., one’s aversion to one’s own pain). I have to find something else that they all have in common.

What the all have in common is the agent’s disposition to realize (make real) those things that the agent calls “desired.” “P is something that I desire” means “I am willing to work to make it the case that ‘P’ is true.”

For the sake of argument, let us speculate that we have discovered creatures on an alien planet. Do these creatures have desires? I believe that I can begin to hypothesize desires simply by discovering that they seem to give some importance to realizing certain states of affairs. It would be rather rash of me to assume that they have something called a “felt need”, but I can observe that they put effort into such things as building nest or caring for their young.

From this, I can recognize that there are also things that I am willing to work to realize, so I get an idea that these things are properly called, “things that I desire”. Here, I may recognize that I have this “felt need” to realize all of the things that I desire. Then, I can infer that he other agent might also have this same “felt need” for all of the things he desires. However, it seems that “felt need” enters the picture rather late in the game. Even then, it contains a bold and unsupported inference that my own “felt need” justifies the claim that others also have this “felt need”. This inference only makes sense if there is some other evidence that requires that I postulate a ”felt need” in others, above and beyond their willingness to work to realize P.

Indeed, the problem of determining that desire fells the same to somebody else as it does to me is substantially the same problem as that of determining whether red looks the same way to somebody else as it does to me. I don’t know how to do that.

Here, it may be thought that this is favoring a dispositional theory of desire – a desire that P is a disposition to realize P. That is an option, but it is not the only option. A desire may be the disposition to realize some end, or it may be the cause of the disposition. If this cause of the disposition includes a “felt need” that P be the case, this is, at best, a contingent fact.

I hold that a desire is an assignment of a value (importance) of a proposition being made or kept true. This manifests itself as a willingness to (disposition to) work to make or keep P true to a degree proportional to the strength of the desire (the greatness of the importance). It may accompany some type of "felt need", but it is not required.

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