Monday, November 16, 2009

Smith vs Parfit Part 14 of 15: The Desire to Enjoy Happiness

I am sorry for the delay in this series. My evenings have been taken up with another project. However, I wish to continue to discuss these types of topics.

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.

I highlight the following quote:

If someone believes that a certain episode of happiness could both feel the way that happiness does and be his own, then he desires that he enjoys that episode of happiness.

And I make the following scribbles:

Once again, what happens if the beliefs are false?

Let us assume that a person believes that a certain episode of happiness could feel a particular way, but he is wrong. Or he believes that the episode would be his, but it turns out to be somebody else’s? Do false beliefs still generate desires? Or does the generation of desires require true beliefs?

In past posts I have argued that beliefs – whether true or false – are not relevant to the formation of desires. Beliefs can imply beliefs about desires, but do not imply actual desires themselves.

Also, what role does the term 'could' plays in the above proposition?

Is it true that the mere fact that something could generate a particular feeling that gives one a reason to pursue it? Let’s say that it could generate such a feeling but does not. Then is it the case that achieving that end is an example of a fulfilled desire, or an example of something that could have fulfilled a desire but failed to do so?

A third and final question that I have about this quote is: What is 'happiness'?

If we equate happiness with a feeling, it is an open question of whether we desire that feeling or not. Let us assume that, because of some genetic change, the feeling produces an effect that is fatal to the evolutionary fitness of those who experience it. In this case, those who experience an aversion to this feeling would survive and those who desire this feeling will die out. In that case, we would have the feeling, but a desire to avoid it.

On the other hand, if we equate happiness not just to the physical sensation but the fact that it is something that we desire, then there is no mystery to the fact that we desire happiness. It would not be happiness if we did not desire it.

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