Monday, May 21, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 14: Other People's Desires

One question that a theory of desire should be able to answer is: How do you determine what another person desires or, even, if they have desires?

In reading Daniel Friedrich's article, this is a question I had problems with.

Friedrich, Daniel (2017), “Desire, Mental Force, and Desirous Experience.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

How do I tell if you have any desires?

This is the question I keep asking as I read Daniel Friedrich’s account of desires.

Freidrich writes:

Non-cognitive evaluation, I have argued, should be understood in terms of evaluative mental force. The notion of evaluative mental force is in turn tied to the distinctive feeling tone of certain experiences. In this section, my aim is to relate these ideas to desire. An extension of these ideas to desires requires that there is a feeling tone distinctive of desire.

But how do I know that you have a particular feeling tone distinctive of desire?

Let us take color by analogy. I do not know whether you see red the way that I see red. What I do know is that, when you point at things and call them “red”, I can pick out what they all have in common and use that to predict what else you may call “red”. You have never seen my heavy winter coat. Yet, I can reliably predict that you would say it was red. Or, at least, the vast majority of people who saw my heavy winter coat would say that it was a red coat.

That seems problematic when it comes to desire. When you point to things and call them “desired by me,” I look for what they all have in common so that I can come to reliably predict what else might be desired by you. However, I have different desires. Let us imagine that you like sports, while I prefer to play computer games. You drink coffee in the morning; I prefer cherry flavored Diet Dr. Pepper. You like Jazz; I prefer classic rock-and-roll.

When I look at the set of things that you desire, I am not going to pick up on some "feeling tone distinctive of desire" as being what they all have in common, which I can then put to use to determine what to get you for Christmas.

Perhaps I can infer the feeling tone distinctive of desire. I look at the things that I desire, discover a common “feeling tone”, and infer that you must feel the same thing.
There are at least two problems with this inference.

First, how do I know to attach the term "desire" to playing computer games and the like? You are not pointing to these things and calling them "desired". And I do not find "desiredness" in the things that you point to. In order to know that these are the objects of my desire, I have to find something else in common in what you are pointing to in using that term, and then find that in playing computer games and the like. From there, I may be able to discover that they all have a distinctive feeling tone. However, I first must identify them as objects of desire. Then, I can discover the common tone.

Second, even after I discover the things that the things that I desire have this distinctive feeling tone, how am I justified in inferring that you experience the same feeling tone with the objects of your desire? There is the question of whether your distinctive feeling tone is the same as mine. Then there is the question of whether you have a distinctive feeling tone, or if, for you, there is a collection of feeling tones. If you associated a different feeling tone to watching sports, drinking coffee, and listening to Jazz, but, so far as I can see, you treated them the same way (as objects of desire), I could not tell that they had one tone or three. Nor would it matter.

Whatever a desire is, I need to be able to base my claim that you have a desire that P based on what I can observe, and I cannot observe your private mental experiences. What I can observe is that you seem to be concerned with realizing certain states. You seem to be willing to put some stake in them, devoting effort to discovering and removing obstacles. They are important to you.

Upon observing that there are states that are important to you, I can take this assignment of importance and call it a desire that P. Recognizing that there are states important to me, I can recognize that I must have some desire that Q. I know nothing about the feeling tone of your desires, not do you know anything about mine. However, we know enough to negotiate. “If you help me to realize Q, I will help you to realize P”.

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