Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0008 - Desire (Preference) Satisfaction

In the model I am using, we have one person (Alph) with one desire (to gather stones). This means that there is only one reason for intentional action that exists (to realize a state in which Alph is gathering stones), and only one kind of state that has end-value (a state where "I am gathering stones" spoken by Alph is true.

Some may see this as a desire-satisfaction theory. In one sense, it would be correct. However, in another sense - or a couple of other senses - this would be wrong. To prevent future confusion, I want to clarify the exact type f desire-satisfaction theory this is.

One popular form of desire satisfaction theory focuses on the felt sense of satisfaction. In this sense, satisfaction serves the same role that "pleasure" dies in traditional hedonism. "Pain" is replaced with the felt state of  "frustration".

However, on the theory being advanced here, the felt sense of satisfaction or frustration has no value. As we did with pleasure, pain, and unhappiness, we can look at satisfaction and frustration in two ways. Either (1) it is a felt sensation alone, where the agent can have an independent desire for or aversion to that sensation, or (2) the term refers to a type of sensation for which the individual has a built in desire or aversion.

If it is the former, then satisfaction and frustration can exist in this model, but the agent lacks the independent desire or aversion. Thus, the agent lacks an end-reason to seek satisfaction or avoid frustration.

If the latter, then satisfaction and frustration cannot exist within our model. We are assuming that out agent has only one desire - and that is a desire to gather stones. There is no desire for a felt sensation of satisfaction, and no aversion to a felt sensation of frustration.

Another popular form of desire satisfaction theory imagines that desire satisfaction is a thing in itself having intrinsic value. As such, it is that thing to be maximized in utilitarian theories. "The right act is the act that maximizes desire satisfaction."  Peter Singer's moral theory seems to follow this model.

An agent is to consider the preferences of a close family matter as being equal to those of a total stranger.

This is not that theory. Intrinsic value does not exist.

On this model, Alph seeks one thing - to be gathering stones. He is not seeking desire satisfaction. He is seeking a state in which he is gathering stones. Desire satisfaction, as something distinct from gathering stones, does not exist.

We can use the phrase, "desire satisfaction" to refer to the fact that Alph has a reason to realize a state in which he is gathering stones founded on a desire to gather stones. However, this phrase introduces nothing new. It is a description of what already exists.

In order to put some distance between this theory and theories that refer to the felt sense of satisfaction, I tend to use the term “desire fulfillment”. A desire that P sets up a set of condition to be realized. As soon as P is made or kept true, the condition has been met and the desire that P has been fulfilled. There is no need for a felt sensation of satisfaction. This does not imply that such a sensation cannot exist or that a person cannot desire “that I am experiencing a felt sense of satisfaction”. It simply is not necessary and is not a part of our model at this point.

It may help to see the difference between desire satisfaction and desire fulfillment if we imagine Alph with a different desire. Let us give Alph a desire that the planet Pandora B come into existence. The only way for Alph to bring Pandora B into existence is to press a red button labeled “Create Pandora B”. However, pressing the button will destroy Alph. He will cease to exist as Pandora B comes into existence.

For the sake of this example, Pandora B will come into existence without any form of life – without any creature capable of having desires and without the possibility that a desiring creature can evolve on Pandora B. We do not want to confuse the issue by adding additional desires.

If we look at the reasons for action that exists, Alph has a reason to press the button. Alph has a desire that P where P  = “The planet Pandora B exists”. Consequently, Alph has a reason to press the button.

Alph has no reason not to press the button. Certainly, doing so will end his existence, but Alph has no desire to continue to exist. Nor does he have a desire that requires his continued existence as a means. He has this one desire – that Pandora B come into existence – and the fulfillment of that desire requires that he live no longer than needed to press the button.

So, he presses the button.

He ceases to exist, and Pandora B springs into existence.

The desire has been fulfilled. That is to say, the check box “Pandora B exists” can now be checked – this has been made true.

However, there is no desire satisfaction. In fact, there is no desire at all. The one and only desire that did exist no longer exists. All that exists is Pandora B.

Some people may want to refer to this as a desire satisfaction theory, and streatch the definition of “satisfaction” to include cases in which the object of a desire has been realized even though it generates no felt sense of satisfaction. There are those who write about “objective desire satisfaction” that covers situations in which a desire is fulfilled or thwarted without the agent knowing about it.

However, I fear that the term will confuse some, so I will stick with the term “desire fulfillment”. A desire that P is fulfilled in any state of affairs where P is made or kept true.

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