Sunday, May 13, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 03: Oddie's Desires

In his essay, "In Search of the Right Fit", in Federico Lauria; Julien A Deonna (eds), The Nature of Desire, New York, NY : Oxford University Press, [2017], Graham Oddie begins with a discussion as to what counts as a desire.

Oddie writes that the prevailing view that the object of a desire is a proposition. I have written that a desire is a propositional attitude: a desire that P is an attitude towards the proposition P. However, I am not so inclined to say that a proposition is the object of a desire. A person does not fall in love with a proposition, nor is he inclined to take a proposition as his reason for getting out of bed in the morning.

Setting aside that issue for the moment, Oddie describes the standard problem with the idea of understanding desires as propositional attitudes. A person's desire for ice-cream, for example, does not, at least on its surface, express an attitude towards a proposition. However, it can easily be translated into a propositional attitude. The person who desires ice-cream desires "that I am eating ice-cream."

From this, Oddie draws the conclusion that the objects of desire are states.

Oddie is defending a value appearance theory of desires. Consequently to desire a state is to have it be the case that the state appears to be good. To desire that I eat ice cream is to view the state that I eat ice cream is good.

Oddie recognizes that there are some objections to this view, and we will be discussing them in future posts. For the moment, our concern is only a concern with what a desire is.

I would defend a view that a desire assigns a value to a state of affairs where the proposition that is the object of that desire is true. So, a desire that I am eating ice-cream assigns a positive value to states of affairs in which the proposition "I am eating ice-cream" is true. My aversion to pain assigns a negative value to states of affairs in which the proposition "I am in pain" is true.

Contrary to what this view states, Oddie asserts:

Other kinds of entities can have value: a hokey-pokey ice-cream, Kyoto, the Goldberg Variations, persons, species, and ecosystems are all apt subjects for evaluation.

This is something I would deny. What has value is the state, "I am eating hokey-pokey ice-cream" or "I am visiting Kyoto" or that "this species not go extinct". These are states in which certain propositions are true.

Of course, it is true of hokey-pokey ice-cream that "it is such as to fulfill the desires in question." That is, hokey-pokey ice-cream is such as to fulfill the desires of those who like to eat it. This, I would argue, is a legitimate sense of "good" or of value. However, it is just another way of saying that an agent has an attitude to a proposition and such a state would fulfill that desire. Kyoto is such as to fulfill the desires of those who want to visit. The existence of a species is such that it fulfills the desires of those who want it to continue to exist.

Here, Oddie writes something that I take to be mistaken:

What makes it true that one wants this or that is that one wants to stand in some appropriate relation to this or that.7

He attributes this view to D. Lewis, (1979, ‘Attitudes De Dicto and De Se’, Philosophical Review, 88, 513–543).

Here, I will have to disagree. A desire that a species continue to exist - that it not go extinct - is simply a desire that "this species is extinct" remain false. There is nothing in this desire that concerns a relationship between the agent and the state in which the proposition is true.

I have used the example of Alph who has a desire that a beautiful planet exist. He is standing next to a button. Push the button and the planet will pop into existence, and Alph will pop out of existence. If this is Alph's only desire - that such a planet exist - then he has a reason to press the button and no reason not to.

This is, so far, consistent with Oddie's value appearance thesis without postulating any type of intrinsic value. The brain, in assigning a negative value to a proposition being true, makes it appear to be the case that state of affairs in which that proposition is true have value (as long as they can be recognized as such a state). We have Oddie's appearance theory of desire without the nonsense of intrinsic values.

The next task is to see if this account handles the situations that Oddie might raise against it.

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