Friday, June 01, 2018

On Desire 2018. Summary 01

I wanted to provide a summary of where the study of desires has gone so far, for any who may be boggled by the more detailed discussions previous to this.

  1. The philosophical discussion on desires focuses on two distinct concepts of desire.
    1. ‘Desire’ broadly understood is any type of pro attitude including wishes.
    2. ‘Desire’ narrowly construed excludes certain types of pro-attitudes; particularly pro-attitudes towards things one cannot change such as past and present events.
  2. I use the broad conception. The question of whether to use the broad or narrow conception is like the question of which definition of ‘planet’ to use - one that includes or one that excludes Pluto.
  3. The breakdown of competing theories of desires
    1. Evaluative theories - the object of evaluation has a value (is good or bad)
      1. Doxastic evaluative theories. A desire that P is a belief that ‘P’ is good.
      2. Perceptual evaluative theories. A desire that P is a perception that ‘P’ is good
    2. Dispositional theories. A desire that P is a disposition to bring about a situation in which ‘P’ is true.
  4. Objection to doxastic and perceptual theories; they suggest some type of external goodness.
    1. The belief that P is good = the belief that ‘P is good’ is true. What does it mean to say that ‘P is good’ is true? What are the truth-makers?
    2. To perceive P as being good is to perceive P as having a property of goodness. What is one perceiving in perceiving that P is good?
    3. Evolution, environment, and experience
      1. Evolution throws random desires at us and lets natural selection kick the winners.
      2. Environment includes such things as the presence of certain hormones during fetal development that influence sexual orientation.
      3. Experience includes rewards and punishments that act on the mesolimbic pathway to create or reinforce certain desires and aversions.
      4. None of these methods makes reference to a separate evaluative truth.
      5. Beliefs can be false, and perceptions can be illusions, but there is something problematic about a theory that turns every desire into a false belief or a perceptual illusion.
    4. A similar type of theory – a belief or a perception that something “ought to be done” (or deontic theories of desire) run into a parallel set of problems.
  5. Objection to dispositional theories
    1. The standard objection concerns “Radioman” – a hypothetical person who has a disposition to turn on radios but no desire to turn on radios. This is used to argue that desire must involve, in some way, the recognition of some type of value in the end.
    2. Dispositional theories also have a trouble handling cases in which desires come into conflict.
      1. Desires handle conflict in virtue of their strength – more and stronger desires outweigh weaker and fewer desires.
      2. The weighing of ends seems to require recognizing in them some sort of value that can be compared.
      3. A dispositional account of weighing would be extremely complex, needing to specify the exact conditions under which various combinations of desires outweight various other combinations of desires in various circumstances.
      4. A dispositional account does not make sense of the way that people decide what to do at times of conflict – summoning reasons for doing or not doing X and weighing them against each other.
  6. Suggestion: Assignment theory
    1. A type of evaluative theory
    2. A “desire that P” assigns a value (a measure of importance) to P being true for that agent.
      1. This is not a false belief – the belief that a desire has assigned a particular value to a state of affairs is true.
      2. Not an illusion – there is no need to make the further implication that the value appears as an intrinsic property of that which has been assigned a value. If seen as an illusion, it is of the same type as “the earth is the center of the universe”. Many who look at the motions of the heavenly bodies are not tempted to conclude that the earth is the center of the universe.
      3. Consistent with the workings of evolution, environment, and experience on desires.
      4. Does not justify the implication that others attach the same important to things that I do (as opposed to the presumption that others believe in the same goodness or that others perceive the same oughtness).

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