Wednesday, May 23, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 16: Felt Need

Continuing with my series on the nature of desire, I am currently commenting on Friedrich, Daniel (2017), “Desire, Mental Force, and Desirous Experience.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

In Part IV of the essay, Friedrich begins to describe the feeling tone distinctive of desire in terms of a "felt need". In the sections above I have given reason to question the "felt" part of this account of desire. However, Friedrich makes several claims about the "need" part that fits into the idea that desire is a value assigned to P being made or kept true.

He states that felt needs can "differ in intensity". This is consistent with the idea that different values can be assigned to different propositions P being made or kept true. The value can be low (Yeah, that'd be nice, I guess), or high (STOP THAT! PLEASE! I BEG YOU!).

He states that felt needs can sometimes be given expression and uses the example, "This must become reality." This can be paraphrased as, "P must be made or kept true." Though, please note, there is nothing here about a "felt" aspect, just a need.

He also writes, "These experiences involve a distinctive mental force that is anchored in a distinctive phenomenology that can be articulated in terms of the notion of a felt need inasmuch as in these experiences the desired end is given to the mind as something that has to become reality." Here, Friedrich does mention this "distinctive phenomenology." However, once again, in order to explain and predict your behavior, I do not need to make any reference to this phenomenology. All I need to see is that you are willing to put a lot of work into making P a reality.

What I see is not the Radioman's turning on radios while wishing there were no radios on so that he would not be turning them on and putting up with their noise. For your motivation to be that of a desire, it must be the case that the end has been assigned a value. I must see you working, planning, and plotting to making P a reality. In observing your behavior, it must be the case that my best explanation is, "She wants to make P a reality and, given this and what I know about her beliefs, I can predict that she will do this and that, avoid this other thing, and be willing to make the following bargains." Once again, you may or may not have some sort of feeling associated with this, but that does not have to be true for you to have a desire.

Lastly, Friedrich states:

It is in virtue of the desired end being given to the mind as something that has to become reality that acting in ways one believes to promote the desired end is minimally rational.

Here, too, we can make use of the part of this account that identifies the importance of making something become reality (making or keeping P true) as an end, something the agent is willing to work for, without adding any type of feeling component.

I can well imagine that somebody might say, "The fact that some demon put a chip in my brain making it important to me to realize some proposition P does not give me any reason at all to realize some proposition P." Yet, in fact, I suspect each person will find a reason to avoid pain, to adjust the thermostat to make himself comfortable, to eat, to choose the foods that taste best among what he chooses to eat (consistent with other concerns), and the like – in spite of the fact that his reasons to do so are based solely on the chips that the demons of Evolution, Environment, and Experience have placed in his head.

This account has an implication that some may not like. It has an implication that I do not like. That is, it may be easier to create a robot with desires than we think. Such a robot needs to assign a value to realizing some end, and then go about finding ways to do so, collecting beliefs about the world in order to build a plan to achieve the desired goals. There is quite the risk that, as we did with animals in the 1800s, we will adopt a policy of thwarting the desires of machines while denying that they have real concerns. In fact, they will be giving us all of the evidence they can, and as much as we can demand of them. We are at risk of entering an area where we do to robots what we once did to animals.

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