Monday, June 04, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 26: A Desire's Point of View

Before getting into the next article in detail, Frederico Lauria says something about a theory of desire we looked at previously that I want to examine.

That theory is the perceptual theory of desire - the view that for an agent to desire that P is for P to appear as good to (to be perceived as good by) the agent. His comment concerns the claim that the perceptual theory makes about two different people having different desires for the same object of evaluation.

A cup may look different to different people depending on their perspective. If I am looking down at it from above, and you are looking at it from the side, we have different perceptual experiences. Similarly, I could perceive something like going to the opera as good, while you perceive it with indifference, because we look at going to the opera from two different perspectives.

Lauria wrote:

[M]oving from the spatial to evaluative perspectives, going to the opera tonight may appear good to me, but not to Sally, depending on our respective cares and concerns.

See Oddie, 2005, 60-63 for more on this argument.

But, there is still a problem. This suggests that two different people who happen to have what, in other respects, are identical perspectives would have identical attitudes about going to the opera. It would be impossible, for example, for two people with otherwise identical concerns, to have it be the case that one of them like the taste of raspberries but the other does not.

I would view that having a property - such as a desire for raspberries - to be like having any other physical property - such as a scar on one's thumb. It would be possible for one person to be like another in all psychological respects, and yet for one to have a scar on his thumb and the other not.

Of course, there are some implications that would follow from this change. We would expect the one who has the scar on his thumb to have a belief that there is a scar on his thumb, and to perceive a scar on his thumb if he should look at his thumb.

Similarly, we can expect that there will be some things that we could expect of the person who wants some raspberries - that he believes that he wants some raspberries and would be made happy if he were provided with some raspberries. However, we need to make sure that we get the order of operation correct here. The agent believes he has a scar on his thumb and perceives a scar when he looks at his thumb because he has a scar on his thumb. It is not the case that the fact that he believes that he has a scar and perceives a scar that it is "correct" in any way that he has a scar.

Similarly, we may expect the agent to have certain beliefs about his preferences and certain reactions to states of affairs based on those preferences. However, it is correct for him to have these beliefs and reactions because he has the preferences. It is not the case that it is correct for him to have the preferences because he has these beliefs and reactions.

This represents a general problem with the perceptual model - that to perceive something as being X implies either that it actually is X or that one is misperceiving it (perceiving an illusion or a falsehood). If two people in otherwise identical states and conditions perceive the state of eating raspberries differently, then only one of them at most can be perceiving this state correctly, and the other must be wrong. Or, if they both perceive it correctly, they perceive it the same way.

Lauria, Frederico, (2017), “Guise of the Ought-to-Be” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

Oddie, Graham, 2005, Value, Desire, and Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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