Saturday, April 16, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0002 - One Person, One Desire

To explain desirism, I want to begin by looking at a simple case involving one person with one desire. This will give us an idea of what a desire is and how it works.

There is no morality in a society that contains only one person. One person, isolated from everybody else, cannot wrong anybody. He can make a mistake. That is to say, he can do something "wrong" in the sense that he does something that harms himself, such as over-watering the crops or making his shoes too small. But he cannot do anything immoral.

Still, by looking at the case of a single person with a single desire, we can have an idea of what is going on before we introduce a second person. We can acquire an understanding of what things are like in this pre-moral state.

My story involves Alph. I will give Alph a single desire - a desire to gather stones. In our initial, imaginary world, this is all Alph cares about. He picks up a stone, carries it to a gathering place, sets it down on the pile of other stones, then heads out to get the next stone.

What can we say about this situation?

If we give Alph a desire to gather stones, and we put him out in the field, he is simply going to sit there. He is going to have no idea what to do. He has this desire to gather stones. However, he has no idea of what a stone is, how to transport a stone, or where to take it.

This is what we get with one person (Alph) and one desire (a desire to gather stones). We get a person in a field doing nothing.

If we are going to get anything out of this we are going to need something more than one person with one desire. We must also give Alph a set of beliefs that will allow him to act on his desire. These beliefs allow him to identify the things in his environment that are stones. They allow him to know how to transport the stone. And they tell him where to place the stone - where the gathering point is at.

Intentional actions require beliefs in addition to desires.

So, what are beliefs and desires?

Beliefs and desires are both propositional attitudes. That is to say, when we talk about beliefs, we can express them in terms of attitudes towards propositions.

A proposition, in turn, is the meaning of a sentence. That is to say, two different sentences can express the same proposition. The sentence "La casa est blanca" and "the house is white" are two separate sentences expressed in two different languages. However, so long as we assume that they are both talking about the same house, the two different sentences identify the same proposition. They both mean the same thing.

So, a propositional attitude is an attitude towards - not "a sentence", but towards whatever it is that the sentence means.

Let us call this proposition, "P".

A belief that P is the attitude that P is true. If Alph believes that the house is white, then Alph has an attitude that the proposition, "the house is white" is true - that the proposition reports a fact about the universe. When making his plans, he can make his plans under the assumption that the house is white.

In our case, Alph would not care about the house being white. He would not care about the house at all.

However, Alph has reason to care that, "this is a rock". If Alph believes that this is a rock, then Alph has the attitude that the propositon "this is a rock" is true. If it is a rock, then it is a thing to be gathered. It is a thing to be lifted up and carried to the gathering spot.

A desire that P, on the other hand, is NOT an attitude that P is true. It is an attitude that P is to be made or kept true.

In our case, Alph's desire to gather stones can be expressed as a desire "that I am gathering stones". "I am gathering stones" is a proposition. A "desire that I am gathering stones" on the part of Alph is a desire that the proposition "I (Alph) am gathering stones" is made or kept true. The desire motivates Alph to act so as to make or keep this proposition true. That is to say, it provides the motivating force - the motivating reason - to go and gather another stone.

As long as he has the requisite beliefs, Alph knows what he wants (to gather stones), he knows how to go about doing it, and he has the motivation to carry out the actions. This is enough to make it the case that Alph goes out into the field and gathers stones.

This is where we start - with Alph, a desire to gather stones, and a requisite set of beliefs to tell him how to do this. Consequently, we start with Alph in the field making or keeping the proposition "I am gathering stones" true.

What I am going to try to do is to exhaust our understanding of this situation - or, at least, the relevant components of this situation. Then, I will bring in a second person. Before we get to that, in our next post, I want to make sure we understand what is happening with our one person and his one desire.

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