Friday, May 25, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 18: Doring and Eker's Agency

Continuing on with: Doring, Sabine A. and Bahadir Eker (2017), “Desires Without Guises.” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

I have mentioned the view that Doring and Eker are attacking. Now, I want to look at what they defend.

This begins with what they call D1:

(D1) Necessarily, for any agent a, any proposition p, any time t, and any act type φ, if, at t, a desires that p, then a is disposed at t to φ in circumstances where a takes her φ-ing to be conducive to p’s being the case.

Now, I have a question.


As in: Why is she φ-ing at t? This is where the radioman objections come in. The radioman objections describe the agent φ-ing at t, but without having a reason to φ at t. It just happens. But, then, that seems to miss something about desires.

Doring and Eker will attempt to address this problem later. They are familiar with the objection.

I want to raise a second objection. What does this tell us about cases where an agent is under the influence of two desires at once?

Suppose an agent with an aversion to her own pain (e.g, a “desire that I not be in pain”) and an aversion to causing pain to others (e.g., a “desire that I not cause pain to others”) arrives upon a situation where the only way to avoid pain is to cause pain to others. What does D1 tell us about how that person will act?

We use desires substantially for this purpose. For example, if we know that somebody is particularly kind and concerned about others, we can use this to predict that she will choose to endure pain rather than cause pain to others. At the same time, the selfish individual will more readily choose the option that causes pain to others.

The only thing D1 tells us is that the agent is both disposed to avoid suffering pain and to avoid causing pain to others. D1 tells us nothing about the situation where these desires come into conflict. It tells us almost nothing about one of our primary reasons for attributing desires to a.

In order to answer these types of questions, we have to say more about the agent with the desire than that she has a disposition to act. She needs to have a way of weighing one desire against another – a way of making choices at times of conflict (because we are always at times of conflict). For that, each desire has to be assigned a strength. There must be some sort of value assigned to the agent’s “desire that p” that the agent can refer to when deciding whether the agent is going to φ at t under circumstances where she takes φ-ing to be conducive to p’s being the case, or not φ at t because the agent has a desire that q and not φ-ing is conducive to q being the case.

This assignment of a value – of a degree of importance – to p being the case as opposed to q being the case – is precisely what evaluative theories of desire provide that dispositional theories miss. Not only do these assignments tell the agent how to weigh one desire against another, it answers the question, “Why φ?” The answer can be found in the importance of p being the case.

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