Tuesday, May 15, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 05: Objects of Evaluation

I have argued that desires are assignings of value.

Assignings of value to what?

Oddie considers two options: propositions vs. states of affairs – thought they are closely related.

See: Oddie, Graham (2017). Desire and the Good: in search of the right fit. In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds.), The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

Despite the apparent diversity of types of widely presumed that the objects of desire, like the objects of belief, all hale from some uniform ontological category. And the prevailing view is the objects of desire (and of belief) are propositions, or closely related entities like states of affairs.

Yet, he asserts that the difference between these are not relevant to his thesis, but chooses states as the ultimate object of evaluation.

I am inclined to go along with this. More specifically, I would argue that a “desire that P” assigns value to a state of affairs in virtue of ‘P’ being true. Thus, a person with an aversion to pain (a desire that I not be in pain) attaches a value to any state of affairs in which ‘P’ (I am not in pain) is true.

However, there is a point that seems a bit confusing that I would like to clarify. Oddie writes, “Whenever a desire seems directed at something non-propositional—like a hokey-pokey ice-cream, Kyoto, or happiness—what makes it true that one wants this or that is that one wants to stand in some appropriate relation to this or that.”

This is certainly true for a large and important set of desires. Yet, this seems to be saying that this is true of all apparently non-propositional desires. On that interpretation, the statement would not be true. A person who cares about another person, a species, or an ecosystem often has no interest in her relationship to that object of evaluation. Rather, she desires that the person is well, that the species not go extinct, or that the ecosystem persists in its current state.

This is not an objection to Oddie’s thesis. What matters is that there some proposition that serves as the object of the desire. THAT the person is healthy and happy, THAT the species not go extinct, and THAT the ecosystem be preserved in something near its current state are adequate propositions for the propositional account. These go along with desires such as a desire THAT I am eating hokey-pokey ice cream, THAT I am in Kyoto, or THAT I am happy.

Ultimately, I would argue that the desire assigns a value to some proposition being true. That proposition could (and quite often does) describe a relationship between the agent and something else (that I am eating hokey-pokey ice cream). It could simply describe some state of affairs without referring to the agent (that Antarctica be preserved). The desire motivates the agent to make or keep the proposition true.

What else does a good theory of desire? Oddie lists three desiderata. I will turn to those three next.

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