Monday, July 09, 2018

Desires 2008: Summary 03: Maria Alvarez

Question: Why am I writing these summaries?

Answer: I intend to send each of these authors an email asking them one or two questions about their contribution. These summaries represent a first draft.

This summary concerns:

Alvarez, Maria (2017), “Desires, Dispositions, and the Explanation of Action." In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.


My claim is that it is a part of the concept of desire that someone has a desire at time t, only if the desire has been manifested in any of the various ways I described above at some point up to and including time t.

These "various ways I described above include not only physical action that aims at realizing that which is desired, but also “mere” expression such as a cheer that does not aim to bring about any particular end, or some sort of emotion or sentiment showing no outward signs. If none of these things happen, then the claim that the agent has a particular desire or aversion is false.


What causes the first manifestation? If there is no desire before the first deliberate action, expression, or sentiment, then what explains that first deliberate action, expression or sentiment?

Perhaps the desire is not supposed to explain these things - the desire simply is the set of actions, expressions, and sentiments. But, if this is the case, then does the desire exist between events? Or does it cease to exist when there is no such event, only to emerge again when another event pops up?

It appears the case that when we talk about the relationship between a desire and its manifestations that the desire is the cause of its manifestations. As such, the desire must exist prior to its first manifestation. There must be a desire in place to cause the first action, to bring about the first expression, or to explain why the agent had a particular sentiment. Indeed, there must be something to explain these things and ties them together, and if it is not a desire ( or aversion) then what is it? Is there any such thing?

It also appears to be possible to come up with counterexamples to this thesis.

I typically do not like exotic counterexamples, but I think that the inventions in this story serve to isolate elements that are, in fact, quite common.

Imagine a planet with a species whose members all have a strong fear of spiders - a strong aversion to being in the presence of spiders. This fear of spiders is genetic - a product of natural selection grounded on the fact that spiders on their planet were particularly deadly and a genetic encoding of a fear of spiders aided survival.

Let us further imagine that some members of this species head out on a space ship to colonize another planet. As a result of some catastrophe, they crash on the planet and enter a primitive state in which they forget all about spiders. For example, only the youngest children survive and are raised by wolves. This planet has no spiders, and these people never learn about them.

Yet, it seems we would be justified in saying that these people still have an aversion to the presence of spiders and, furthermore, this can be shown. Bring a spider to the planet and show it to them and watch them recoil from it. It seems odd to say that this aversion to spiders suddenly emerged when they came into contact with the first spider - for what would have caused its emergence? Instead, a more plausible description is that it existed all along, and would have continued to exist even if nobody ever brought a spider to the planet.

To draw a more common and real-worldly example from this, a person's aversion to pain does not seem to suddenly come into existence the first time they experience pain and have a reaction to it - it existed prior to the first experience of pain.

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