Friday, June 29, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 57: Moore's Paradox of Beliefs

Since the beginning, I have argued that nothing has intrinsic value, not even desire fulfillment.

One of the ways in which I have expressed this fact is to argue that a desire that P gives one a reason to make or keep the proposition 'P' true. However, there is nothing in the fact that "agent has a desire that P and 'P' is true" that automatically generates a reason to create this state of affairs. In a world without desires, there is no reason to bring desire fulfillment into existence. It is only in a world that has desires that the states of affairs that would fulfill those desires have value.

Is this all too confusing?

Here is my standard test case. Alph has a desire that the planet Pandora B into existence. He stands before the button. If he presses the button, the planet Pandora B will exist. He has a reason to press the button.

However, is there a reason to bring into existence a world in which Alph, with his desire that the planet Pandora B exist, himself be brought into existence and set before the button? The answer is: no. If there is no desire that would be fulfilled by this state of affairs, then there exists no reason bring that state of affairs into existence.

David Wall may be trying to bring up an argument against this position. Honestly, I cannot tell at the start. I find his argument a bit perplexing. However, he seems to be arguing that there may be things that a person who merely possesses the concept of "desire" has reason to bring into existence (or to prevent bringing into existence) itself, without evaluating its relationship to another desire. Some desires are just irrational.

Wall, David, (2017), “Desiderative Inconsistency, Moore's Paradox, and Norms of Desire,” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

Wall is drawing this argument out of Moore's Paradox concerning beliefs.

Moore's Paradox concerns the following propositional attitude. "I believe that (a) it is raining, and (b) I believe it is not raining."

Does it make any sense for somebody to believe this?

Wall grants that there are states in which something like this can be true. That is to say, clearly it has happened many times - that I have confined myself to the basement to work on a blog posting, convinced that there would be no rain today, to have my wife tell me that a storm moved through town within the past hour. So, the proposition: "It is raining and I believe it is not raining" can be true. We can imagine a person having this belief. However, we also have to imagine this person saying to himself, "Hey, something is not right here."

Wall uses this to argue that there is a particular norm of belief - to not have false beliefs. The reason this type of case is odd is because, no matter what one believes, one has a false belief. If one believes the conjunction, then the belief that it is not raining is false. If the belief that it is not raining is true, then the larger set, the "belief that it is raining and I believe it is not raining" is false. The prohibition on having false beliefs means that there is no way to accept this belief.

Ultimately, Wall will use this to argue that there is a similar norm not to have frustrated desires. I will explore that option in a future post. However, I have one more thing to say on this matter of a norm regarding beliefs.

Wall recognizes that there are two ways to get rid of a false belief. If an agent believes that P, and P is false, then one can change one's belief. The other option is that if one believes that P, and P is false, then one can make P true. Either way, one now now longer has a false belief. Wall argues that his proposed norm of belief leaves both of these open.

I am wondering why Wall selects this particular norm. The direction of fit model suggests that the proper norm when it comes to beliefs is that, if one believes that P, and P is discovered to be false, then one ought to change one's belief. It is not that one ought to bring the belief and the world into agreement. If we are going to introduce a norm that makes sense of our use of belief, then we should introduce a norm that actually makes sense of our beliefs.

This, of course, is a series on desires, rather than beliefs. Wall is going to argue that there is a norm of desires as well as a norm of beliefs - a norm that one ought not to have frustrated beliefs. This will imply that there are certain propositions P that "ought not to be desired" regardless of any other desires. Specifically, one ought not to have a desire that will end up being frustrated just as one ought not to have a belief that ends up being false. Yet, this will imply an intrinsic badness to be found in frustrated desires. I do not think that this is the case. We will look at that in the next few posts.

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