Thursday, June 21, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 46: Addiction

First, I rewrote the previous post before posting this one. I did this to improve the fit between the two posts. They discuss related topics. While the previous post discussed cases where a person apparently believed that he had a normative reason to φ without having desire to φ, this one has to do with an agent having a desire to φ without believing that she has a normative reason to φ.

To address the previous problem, Alex Gregory suggested the possibility of desire without motivation. Thus, it is possible to have a belief that one had a normative reason to φ (and, thus, a desire to φ) without being motivated to φ. I argued that this was unnecessary. The only thing we needed were cases where the desire to φ was outweighed or overpowered by other reasons, or the desire to φ was a future desire that did not have the capacity to reach back in time and motivate current action. When this happens, even though all desire is intimately connected to motivation to act, it does not always generate action. The reason (and, with it, the motivation) to φ may simply be overwhelmed by the reasons not to φ. (Gregory, Alex, (2017), “Might Desires Be Beliefs about Normative Reasons for Action?” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

Now we are going to address a different kind of case.

Amy has been a heroin addict for many years. She believes that she has very little reason to take the drug. But she strongly craves it nonetheless.

Recall that Gregory's thesis was: To desire to φ is to believe that you have normative reason to φ. Here, we have a case in which Amy has a desire to φ without having a belief that she has normative reason to φ. So, this would be a problem for Gregory's theory.

Gregory responds to this case by suggesting that Amy's weak desire to φ over-motivates her to φ. Recall that he argued for breaking the association between desire and motivation in the previous case. If we can have desire without motivation then it seems plausible to argue that we can have motivation beyond that which is warranted by a given desire.

However, I argued that we can handle the case without breaking the link between the strength of a desire and its motivational force. Moreover, I argued that we need the link between desire and motivational force since if desire has nothing to do with giving an agent a strong or weak motivation to act, then we are left to puzzle over the question of what a desire actually is supposed to be doing.

Furthermore, we can raise the objection against Gregory that his way of handling this objection certainly conflicts with our common understanding of the term. The reason Amy cannot give up the drug is because she has an overwhelming desire to take the drug - a desire too strong to resist.

In fact, this is exactly the way that the assignment theory of desire analyzes addiction. The addiction is a very strong desire that overwhelms all other desires. The effects of the addiction on the brain is to create a desire against which other present desires cannot compete. While the addiction can overpower all present desires, it also can easily ignore all future desires as well - given that a future desire cannot reach back in time to motivate present action. The result is a desire so strong that it causes the agent to sacrifice all other present and future concerns.

Another option that Gregory suggests is to distinguish desires from "some more primitive compulsion or drive".

I would suppose that if Gregory were to go this route, there would be no better candidate for "more primitive compulsion or drive" than the aversion to pain and the desire to eat. Yet, to go this route would mean that the aversion to pain is not an aversion, and the desire to eat is not a desire. Neither is the desire for sex, or the interest that one has in being within a comfortable temperature - not too hot and not too cold.

I have argued previously that Gregory's theory works for desires-as-means. This is because desires-as-means are combinations of desires-as-ends and beliefs about how the means will serve those ends. Desires-as-means respond to evidence because the belief component of desires-as-means responds to evidence. Desires-as-means appear to be beliefs about reasons for action since they are beliefs about how certain actions (φ-ing) relate to certain ends.

Gregory removes ends from his theory by claiming that desires-as-ends are not desires. The aversion to pain, hunger, and desire for sex, are not desires. Gregory himself admitted that if his theory ever reached this point then it was no longer a theory of desire. In discussing appetites, he wrote:

Hunger, we might think, is the paradigmatic desire, and if a theory of desires excludes hunger from its purview, then it is no longer a theory of desire at all.

At the time, Gregory kept hunger in the realm of desire. However, here he is at risk of removing hunger from the category of desire and placing it in the realm of "more primitive compulsion or drive". There is, perhaps, no more primitive compulsion or drive than the aversion to pain, or the desire for sex, or the desire to eat - all necessary for sustaining life and biological reproduction.

So, Gregory's first response suggests an implausible break between desire and motivation. His second response removes hunger, thirst, lust, and aversion to pain from the category of "desire".

His third suggestion is to postulate a combination of the above reasons.

Real-life addicts might be partially motivated by a genuine desire to avoid withdrawal symptoms, partially over-motivated by a very weak desire to take the drug, and partially compelled to take the drug by some drive.

However, if the break between desire and motivation does not work (because what else are desires supposed to do if they do not motivate), and the distinction between drives and desires does not work (because hunger, aversion to pain, desire for sex, and other basic drives would no longer be desires), then a hybrid of the two will not work.

A theory of desires is, first and foremost, a theory of the very things that Gregory is now calling drives. These are things that we value, not because they serve some further end, and not because we believe we have a reason to do them. We value these things in spite of the fact that we have no reason to do so. They simply are things that have value - that are assigned the values they have, not by reasons, but by evolution, environment, and experience. Addictions are very strong - overpowering - desires. They are desires that people have no reason to have, but which evolution, environment, and experience have caused them to have anyway. Anything that considers itself a theory of desires must be a theory of ends, and not just of means.

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