Tuesday, June 05, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 28: Revisiting the Death of Desire

Perhaps I should market desirism as a weight loss philosophy. That is what I am going talk about next - the desire to eat.

As I continue my study of “The Nature of Desire,” Fredrico Lauria is going to bring back the subject of the death of desire. (Lauria, Frederico, (2017), “Guise of the Ought-to-Be” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.)

Imagine that Sam desires to see Niagara Falls. Mary offers to take him there. There they are, enjoying the breathtaking panorama. At some point, Sam says, “I want to see Niagara Falls.” “Sam, you are seeing Niagara Falls,” replies a quite surprised Mary. We understand Mary’s astonishment. It is strange to express a desire to see something while in the midst of seeing it. Sam might express a desire to continue seeing the Falls, but this is a different desire than a desire simply to see the Falls. How could he desire simply to see the Falls while he is seeing them and is aware of his doing so? It appears that desire is incompatible with the representation that its content obtains.


I would first like to note that it would be just as strange for Sam to say, before getting to the falls, “I want to continue to see Niagara Falls. Mary would be just as astonished, saying, “But you’re not seeing Niagara Falls.”

Lauria, it seems, would have us believe that, at the instant Sam sees Niagara Falls, his desire to see Niagara Falls suddenly ceases to exist, and a whole new and different desire to continue to see Niagara Falls pops into existence.

This seems rather odd. Instead, wouldn’t it make more sense to say that one and the same desire - Sam’s desire “that I see Niagara Falls” - persists across the transition? We simply have two ways of referring to the desire. That part that exists prior to seeing the falls is “the desire to see the falls”, and the part that exists while seeing the falls is “the desire to continue seeing the falls,” but they refer to the same desire.

Speaking about strangeness, imagine Sam climbing to a lookout where he can see the falls and, the instant the falls are in view, turns to Mary and says, “Where do you go for lunch?” No longer having a desire to see the falls, his thoughts move on to the next thing he desires - something to eat. “I thought you wanted to see Niagara Falls?” Mary says in astonishment. “I saw them,” says Sam. We expect the desire to see the falls to persist for a while after actually seeing the falls.

Graham Oddie (Oddie, Graham (2017). "Desire and the Good: in search of the right fit". In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds.), The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.) provided us of an example of an agent who desires that a God exist. She begins with doubt - sadly resigned to the idea that there is no God. Then she discovers an argument that convinces her. She is happy that a God exists. But then she learns of a flaw in the argument, and sinks into doubt and disappointment. Oddie argues that the best sense to make of what happens here is that the same desire - Oddie calls it a preference - "that God exists" persists through this time period - including the time period in which the agent believed that "God exists" obtained.

The "death of desire" principle is false.

Yet, desires do die. Sam goes to Niagara Falls, he sees Niagara Falls, he continues to see Niagara Falls, but, then, it fades. Sam turns away and moves on to the next thing that interests him . . . lunch. A year later he has a chance to return to Niagara Falls and he says, "I've already seen it. Let's go see the Pyramids."

How do desires die, if not as a result of a belief that the object of the desire obtains?

In my next post I am going to look at appetite, using hunger as my example of a desire that dies when it is satisfied.

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