Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Street 02: What are "Desires-as-Ends"?

This post is going to repeat some information I presented just a few days ago. I am repeating it because, in my revised revision of Sharon Street’s “Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value,” this is where the information becomes relevant.

(And, for those who care about such things, I intend this Street series to make it into my thesis.)

In Part 01, I stated that I wanted to limit the application of Street’s argument to desires only - and, to be more specific, desires-as-ends only, excluding desires-as-means.

Note: I also objected to her assumption that value realism requires intrinsic value realism. I interpret her argument as targeting intrinsic value realism, allowing that values (including moral values) can be real even though they are not intrinsic properties.

Remember, I distinguished desires-as-ends from desires-as-means. I used the distinction between wanting to build a shelter so that one can stay warm in the winter, and wanting to stay warm for its own sake. “Desires-as-ends” refers to what we desire for its own sake.

Here, I want to state more precisely what I mean by “desires-as-ends”.

Desires - and beliefs - are propositional attitudes. They are mental states that we can express in the form:

[Agent] [attitude] that [proposition]

So, we have examples like:

Jim believes that Joan went to the movies.
Mira hopes that the weather remains good through the weekend.
Tully thinks that it is going to rain.
Zach loves that they will all be together for the holidays.

We can divide propositional attitudes into two main camps – beliefs and desires.

The primary difference between the two is the “direction of fit”. If Agent believes that P, and P is false, then Agent should change her belief. However, if Agent desires that P, and P is false, then Agent has a motivating reason to change the world.

By way of example, if Alice believes that she owns a red car, and her car is blue, then she should change her belief so that she believes that she owns a blue car. However, if Alice owns a red car and wants to own a blue car she has a motivating reason to buy a blue car, or get her car painted.

A “desire that P” is fulfilled if and only if the proposition “P” is made or kept true. In other word, the motivating reason is to make or keep the proposition true. Alice’s desire to own a blue car is fulfilled in any state of affairs where the proposition, “Alice owns a blue car” is made true – by buying a blue car, getting her car painted, or obtaining one as a gift.

If an agent has a “belief that P”, and P is true, then the belief is true. If an agent has a “desire that P” and P is true, then the desire is fulfilled.

This is fundamentally a Humean theory of motivation. It supports, for example, Hume’s thesis that:

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

By this I mean that desires pick out the ends or goals of intentional actions, and it is reason’s job to discover how to realize those ends.

Reason is not to be envied. It serves multiple masters with competing agendas, sometimes actively working to thwart other desires as the desire for health conspires with the desire to look good to thwart the desire to have more chocolate cake. And reason has to constantly be looking for ways to keep all of its masters happy.

On this Humean model, while beliefs can be true or false, desires cannot be. There are no “correct” or “incorrect” desires.

The value of Street’s argument, properly modified, is that it provides support for this part of the thesis. Her "Darwinian dilemma" provides a reason to accept the claim above - that there are no "correct" or "incorrect" desires-as-ends - is true. She shows that what we know about evolution supports the hypothesis that there is no external evaluative “truth” for desires to correspond to in the way that beliefs correspond to an external reality. The “ends” of our desires-as-ends do not have intrinsic value. They are simply those things, the desiring of which, caused our ancestors to have offspring who eventually had us.

In my next post, I will show that Sharon Street knew that she needed a distinction like the distinction I drew between desires and evaluative attitudes. However, she described the distinction she needed as between advanced evaluative attitudes and primitive, proto-evaluative attitudes. When I put desires-as-ends into the role of her proto-evaluative attitudes. They are not a precise fit. Claims she makes about these proto-evaluative attitudes are not true of desires-as-ends. However, I am going to counter that she over-intellectualizes these attitudes.

Then, I am going to draw a connection between Street's "evaluative attitudes" as she describes them and "desires-as-means". (I told you that these two sets belong together.) From this, I will show that Street's evaluative attitudes can be true or false and do correspond to an external reality. However, that external reality depends critically on desires-as-ends. Consequently, this will not be a refutation of Street's thesis. It will be a revision.

No comments: