Friday, June 08, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 32: The Guise of the Ought

In recent posts, I have been discussing what Frederico Lauria considers to be the criteria of a good theory of desires. For Lauria, this involved:

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

(1) Direction of fit: If an agent desires that P and P is false then it should be the case that P is made true.

(2) Death of desire: If a person has a desire that P then, as soon as the agent comes to believe that P, then the desire that P vanishes.

(3) Consonance: If one explains a desire that P in terms of some other thing Q, then what is true of P must also be true of Q.

Where Lauria has used these to raise objections to other theoryes of desire, I have attempted to show that they create no problem for the value assignment theory of desire. The value assignment theory assigns a level of importance to it being the case that P is true in the world. I have argued that the "death of desire" is not real and, thus, not something the value assignment theory needs to account for. Where Lauria has found dissonance in the other theories of desire, I have shown that this dissonance does not exist where the value assignment theory is concerned.

After showing that Lauria's objections to other theories of desire are not applicable to the value assignment theory, I now want to turn my attention to Lauria's own theory, the "guise of the ought".

Lauria argues that desire claims should be understood as being like "ought" claims.

(1) "Ought" claims have the correct direction of fit. If one says that the world ought to be the case, then this implies that it is the world that should change.

(2) "Ought" claims are compatible with the death of desire. The argument here is a bit complex. Lauria does not argue that all desires die when their objects have been realized (or the agent believes the object has been realized). Instead, he argues that the conditions under which oughts die match those under which desires die. For example, if you ought to repay a debt of $5, then the instant you repay the debt, it is no longer the case that you ought to repay the debt. If you desire to give somebody a birthday present, and you give that person a birthday present, you no longer desire to give that person a birthday present.

(3) "Ought" claims are non-vacuously explained by evaluations and non-vacuously explain intentional action.

My objections to this "guise of the ought" theory are going to be the same as my objections to the "guise of the good" theory. This rests with its implication that others are defective if they have a different attitude towards the object of evaluation.

This would be categorized as a "consonance" objection - an objection of type (3) - in that it says that there are things true of desires that are not true of that which the desire is being compared to.

Assume that Jim desires that Jennifer have sex with him. On the "guise of the ought" thesis, this is to be understood as being in the guise of "Jennifer ought to have sex with him." The phrase, "I want Jennifer to have sex with me," from Jim's perspective, and "It ought to be the case that Jennifer is having sex with me" also understood from Jim's perspective, have different implications for how Jennifer should view that same state of affairs. "I desire that Jennifer have sex with me," is compatible with "Jennifer does not desire to have sex with me." However, "it ought to be the case that Jennifer is having sex with me" implies that Jennifer should have the same attitude towards that state of affairs. If Jennifer fails to see the state in which she is having sex with Jim as something that "ought to be", then one of them is not perceiving that state correctly.

Note that the value assignment theory does not have this problem. It can be true that Jim assigns a high importance to the state of, "Jennifer is having sex with me," while, at the same time, Jennifer assigns a low value to that same state of affairs - or even a negative value. Assigning an importance does not imply anything about the attitude that others should take to such a state of affairs.

I would argue that, for the same reason, guise of the ought theories have the same problem with direction of fit that Lauira attributed to guise of the good theories. Against the latter type of theory, Lauria argued that if it is good that P, and P obtains, then instead of a mind-world direction of fit, we have a world-mind direction of fit. That is to say, the realization of P is true in the world, and, like any true belief, the agent should desire that P. Any other attitude towards P would be incorrect.

Everything said here about the goodness of P is applicable to the "oughtness of P being the case". If it is true that P ought to be the case, then everybody should have the same attitude towards P being the case. That is to say, the oughtness of P being the case has a world-to-mind direction of fit, rather than the mind-to-world direction of fit that desires have. Whereas, with the value assignment view, it can be true that P's being the case is important to me (I have assigned a high value to P being the case) without it being the case that others either assign the same importance to P as I do or they are defective.

Finally, I want to say a word about the death of desire. I have previously argued that the death of desire is real. Desires do not die when their conditions obtain. Our ways of talking about them change. When a person pays a $5 debt, his desire to repay his debts does not die. It persist. This simply becomes a case in which he no longer has a debt to pay.

In short, Lauria's guise of the ought theory does not fare any better than the guise of the good theories. It assumes that it may genuinely be the case that P ought to obtain, yet establishes the incorrect direction of fit in conditions where P does obtain. It lacks consonance with desires on matters regarding the attitude that others should take towards the object of evaluation. And the "death of desire" criterion isn't actually a legitimate criterion for desires.

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