Thursday, May 24, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 17: The Guise of the Good

I am now moving on to the third article of the summer: Doring, Sabine A. and Bahadir Eker (2017), “Desires Without Guises.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

In their contribution to The Nature of Desire”, Sabine Doring and Bahadir Eker take on the thesis that desire is concerned with the assignment of a value to a state of affairs. The title of their chapter, “Desires Without Guises,” comes from the slogan common in the discussion of desire that the objects of desire come to us under the guise of the good. This is a reference to the assignment of value to that which is desired. Rejecting the guise of the good thesis is rejecting the assignment of value thesis.

The thesis held up in contrast to the guise of the good thesis is the dispositional thesis – that desires are dispositions to act in a particular way. This is the thesis that Warren Quinn (1993) famously refuted using his Radioman counterexample, concerning a man with disposition to turn on radios though he has no interest in having the radios on, in turning on the radios, and rather wishes there were no radios around so that he would not turn them on. On this counter-example, the assignment of some value to turning on radios is needed to produce a desire.

Doring and Eker want to challenge assignment of value theories and defend a version of the disposition to act theories.

To get started, Doring and Eker define the thesis that they want to attack:

(ME) Necessarily, for any agent a, any proposition p, any time t, if, at t, a desires that p, then, at t, a evaluates p positively (as good).

I have been defending an assignment theory of desire (to desire that P is to assign a value to P being made or kept true), so I am going to want to say a couple of things about his characterization of the evaluation thesis.

First, assigning a value to P being true is not the same as evaluating p positively. The value that I say is being assigned is nothing more than a motivational force being directed at making or keeping P true. The agent might not even be aware of the desire that P. However, making or keeping P true is a goal of his. Recognizing this fact best explains and predicts his behavior.

Second, “as good” is ambiguous. “Good” relates objects of evaluation to desires. However, the there are many ways to relate objects of evaluation to desires. The question arises, “Which desires?” There is a sense of good that, in the thesis laid out above, relates p to the desire that p, in which case the thesis is accurate in this sense. However, this does not imply that p is good – or p bears a positive relation – to all possible desires. Indeed, this is almost certainly not the case.

Somebody reading these caveats may be confused as to whether I am actually offering an evaluative theory of desire or a dispositional theory of desire. After all, I am understanding “assigning a value to P being true” in terms of a motivational force for making or keeping ‘P’ true – a disposition to act. Perhaps this is what we need to settle the dispute between the dispositional and evaluative theorists – a theory that does both at the same time.

I invite the reader to keep these caveats in mind as we proceed.

Also, please recall that Doring and Eker are attacking this view, not defending it.

I will look at the view that they sought to defend next.

Quinn, Warren. (1993). “Putting Rationality in Its Place”, in Morality and Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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