Friday, June 08, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 31: Explaining With Desires

In order to have a good theory of desire, that which one associates with desires must have the same types of relationships as desires. This is the principle that Fredrico Lauria uses to raise problems with dispositional theories of desire - theories that describe desires as dispositions to act.

I am defending an assignment view of desire - a view that holds that a desire is an assignment of importance to a proposition being true. This is an evaluationist view in that it assigns an evaluation to the object of desire. Though, this value has motivational force. The more importance that the agent assigns to a proposition being true, the more strongly the agent will be motivated to make or keep that proposition true.

This theory will not fit comfortably with the idea that an agent can desire that P without being motivated to realize P.

However, Lauria writes:

This conclusion [that it is possible to have desires without motivation] has been motivated by means of philosophical exploration, but the neuroscientific evidence on desire points our inquiry in the same direction.

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

I will address the philosophical considerations, but this will leave the empirical claim lurking in the background. I respect empirical evidence. I will have to say something about that. However, that will wait until I examine that evidence in Chapters 8 and 9. I am currently on Chapter 5.

What does Lauria offer for philosophical considerations?

Lauria’s argument here is that the dispositional view is vacuous when it comes to explaining action. The basic thesis is that desires explain why agents perform intentional action. Why did the chicken cross the road? She had a desire to get to the other side and a belief that by walking across the road she could get to the other side. However, if a desire is a disposition to act, the the answer doesn't explain anything? Why did the chicken cross the road? Because the chicken was disposed to cross the road when when she found herself on the other side, and she found herself on the other side. What is this "being disposed to cross the road?" How does this explain anything?

The value assignment view is not a disposition to act view, so it is immune to this objection. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because she assigned a positive value to it being the case that she was on the other side, and a belief that by crossing the road she could realize this important state of affairs.

So, this part of her argument is not important to the defense of the assignment theory of desire.

In addition, Lauria postulates that there are "innert desires" - desires, or "cases in which someone desires a state of affairs but is not disposed to act in its favor." This means that there is a chicken who has a desire to cross the road but is not disposed to cross the road.

In the first case she suggest, "Romeo is suffering from a particular type of depression that . . . [deprives] him from having any dispositions to act." In such a case, Lauria says, "Still, it is conceivable that he desires certain states of affairs."

More specifically:

Romeo has no stronger desire, nor is he lacking the modal beliefs necessary for being disposed to act. He strongly wants that p, has no conflicting desires, and believes that he can act in favor of p, yet fails to be disposed to act."

We would still have to find some way of knowing that Romeo wants that p. Many of the things I am not disposed to bring about are things that I do not care to bring about. So, how is it that we can say that Romeo desires that p?

It may be the case that he expresses a strong wish that P be the case, and often thinks about P being the case in a favorable light, and asserts a wish that P be the case. We can see this as a case in which his frustrated parents say, "Then get off your duff and do something about it. If you want to see a change in the world, then make the change." Remember, this is not a case in which the agent believes that there is nothing he can do. He believes he can make a change, wants a change, and yet does nothing.

In such a case, it would be natural to conclude that the agent doesn't really want p all that badly - not so badly that it overrides his desire to lay about the house doing nothing. If the agent wants it, he would pursue it, and if he does not pursue it, he does not want it.

This is not ot discredit genuine cases of depression. However, we can still account for depression as cases where the agent does not believe that he can actually make a difference.

It could be that he believes that his actions will fail. He may have no evidence for this, but merely think that the fates will conspire against him to take away that he values. Consequently, in fact, there is nothing he can do to bring about p.

Or he may think that what he wants does not have the type of value he is looking for. "What does it all matter in the end? The universe will die and there will be nobody around to even remember what we did." This is a case in which the agent's desire that p is a desire to do something that will have permanent importance - a state of affairs 'p' that he is actually powerless to bring about.

If it is the case that there can be an agent A1 with a desire that p, a belief that doing a will realize p, and no stronger desire that would be thwarted by doing a, and an agent A2 with the same conditions, and A1 does a while A2 does not, then what is it that explains this difference? What is this "other condition" that must be met that explains why A1 does a and A2 does not? There has to be something.

This is where Lauria mentions the empirical evidence. Unfortunately, he says, "Empirical studies suggest that patients suffering from Parkinson's disease or akinetic mutism." Akenetic mutisism is a condition where an agent reportedly lacks a will to move. These are considerations that I will have to put off until I look at the relevant empirical evidence, in about 3 weeks or so.

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