Saturday, July 07, 2018

Am I a Humean about Desires?

Am I a Humean about desires?

That is to say, do my claims about desires fall into line with those of the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume? Or am I disposed to refuse his claims and reject his account of desire?

I tend to say good things about Hume, and suggest that the account I defend is broadly Humean.

However, there is a puzzle.

I am currently looking at the dispositional theory of desire. This is the view that a desire that P is a disposition to act so as to realize P. In doing so, I am looking at the view of Princeton philosopher Michael Smith. I am rejecting this view. The chief rival to dispositional theories of desire are evaluativist theories. This is the view that to desire that P is to believe or perceive or see P as having value. Either P is, is perceived to be, or is seen as being good, or it is believed/perceived/seen to be something that ought to be the case.

In this classic debate, dispositional theories are seen to be Humean, and evaluativist theories are categorized as anti-Humean.

So, this would suggest that I am anti-Humean.

But . . . let's not be hasty.

The key difference between these two major categories is found in how it answers the question of how or whether reason has anything to say about the passions. Hume famously said that it does not. A Humean theory is categorized as such in virtue of being consistent with this proposition.

Dispositional theories are consistent with this proposition because there is nothing in reason that picks out that which the agent is disposed to bring about. Being disposed to bring it about is all that matters. Thus, dispositional theories are Humean.

In contrast, believing that something is good or ought to be the case, and even perceiving that something is good or ought to be the case, brings reason into the picture to evaluate what to believe or to separate whether something really is as it is perceived to be or whether the perception is an illusion. Thus, belief and perception models of desire are anti-Humean.

What I am offering does not fit conveniently in either of these two camps.

I am offering an evaluativist theory of desire - a desire that P assigns a value to 'P' being made or kept true - but it offers no role for reason. These assignments are simply brute facts. There is nothing for reason to do in evaluating them - in judging them to be correct or incorrect - or to say that they ought to be different.

NOTE: Actually, there is a sense in which we may speak about a rationality of desires. Insofar as desires are a matter of choice, it follows that it may be rational or irrational for an agent to acquire or avoid acquiring certain desires. However, these options are of no relevance here. The means-ends considerations that go into selecting a desire is no different from the means-ends considerations that go into selecting a car or a college major.

So, I am offering an evaluativist theory - a theory of a type typically seen as anti-Humean, but one that gives no role to reason in evaluating desires (except insofar as they may tend to fulfill or thwart other desires). So, the theory is, in fact, Humean in the sense that it gives no role to reason in evaluating desires.

Am I a Humean? Yes, I am, even though my theory fits into the category typically filled with anti-Humeans.

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