Monday, July 02, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 59: Acting Deliberately

G. E. Schueler presents us with a bit of a puzzle.

Schueler, G.E., (2017), “Deliberation and Desire” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press.

He begins with Robert Audi’s thesis about deliberative reasoning:

(1) Major Premise—the motivational premise: I want phi
(2) Minor Premise—the cognitive (instrumental) premise: My A-ing would contribute to realizing phi
(3) Conclusion—the practical judgment: I should A.

Using this form of reasoning, and concluding that she should A, our hypothetical reasoner then commenced to start A-ing.

Here’s the puzzle.

A-ing is an action. Yet, neither of the premises in this argument represents a desire.

“Sure it does,” the stout defender asserts. “The major premise, ‘I want phi’, is a desire.”

In the context, it is a belief about a desire, it is no more a desire than the statement, “I wear glasses” is an eye condition. It is a statement about an eye condition.

Furthermore, this belief could be mistaken. In the same way the I can believe that I have a scar on my right hand even though I do not, I can believe that I want phi even though I do not. Yet, in spite of my mistake, if I should conclude that I should A, then I commence A-ing, even though my belief that I want A is false.

So, here, we have an intentional action without a desire. Beliefs alone motivate action, even false beliefs.

Furthermore, if you reason to the conclusion "I should A," and we look for your reason for doing A, then we will find that reason in Premise 1. We will find that reason in Premise 1 regardless of whether or not Premise 1 is true.

As Schueler puts it:

If someone acts on the basis of a conscious belief that the goal of her action was phi, then surely the goal of her action was phi. So, contrary to what the first puzzle indicated, when we consider this same piece of reasoning as practical deliberation on which the agent acts, it is hard to see how the motivational premise could possibly be false.

So, what is the answer to this puzzle?

For a while now, I have had a particular practice I follow when I need to make a decision and can't make up my mind. I roll some dice. I then look at the selection that chance determined and I ask myself if I am happy with the result or disappointed. If I am happy with the result, I do what the dice dictate. If not, I ignore the ice and pursue the second option instead.

The relevance of that story to this discussion is that the major premise does not motivate any action. If one uses Audi's form of reasoning described above, and the first premise is false, the agent will come to the conclusion, "I should A." However, he will lack motivation. Doing A becomes one of those things he thinks he should do, but he never gets himself motivated to do it. It languishes undone. This happens, in at least some cases, because the motivational premise is false. Because it is false, it fails to motivate.

When we deliberate, we sometimes deliberate to conclusions we discover we are not at all inclined to do. When that happens, we go over the premises to discover where our argument went wrong. What we sometimes discover is that our lack of motivation comes from our false motivational premise. We think we want phi, but we really don't. Because we really don't, our conclusion lacks motivational force. Motivational force only comes from what we really want.

This suggestion also answers the second puzzle. When the agent comes to the conclusion, "I should A", and he does A, and we look for the reason, we probably will find the reason in a true Premise 1.

This is not guaranteed, by the way. The agent may be reasoning from a false Premise 1, but has a desire that recommends the same action. A person may decide, for example, that a concern for his health suggests that he should lose weight, and thus he decides to lose weight. However, in fact, his premise 1 is false - he is not particularly concerned about his health. However, he actually does have a desire to attract the attention of a co-ed in his philosophy class, and that motivates him to lose weight. So, the fact that a false Premise 1 cannot motivate the agent to do A, this does not imply that the agent will not do A. He may do so anyway, and claim that Premise 1 is his reason, even when his reason is an unconscious motive.

This may seem to suggest that we can never come to a conclusion about what we should do that is mistaken - that fails to serve our desires. If we are motivated to act, then we must have a desire that is being served by the action, because without the desire there can be no motivation.

Of course, one of the ways in which we can come to a false conclusion of the form, "I should A" is to get the second premise wrong. We can be right about our desires, but wrong about whether A-ing would result in realizing psi. Thus, we commence A-ing, motivated by our desire that psi, only to discover that A-ing failed to realize psi, much to our disappointment.

Another form of failure comes from the fact that we use the terms "want" and "desire" not only for motivational ends, but for motivational means. The first premise, "I want psi," may be because of a belief that bringing about psi will bring about some further state that one desires. In this type of case, the second premise can be true (A-ing will bring about psi). Yet, doing A will fail to get you want your want because your believe that psi will produce the further desirable end is false.

Yet a third form of failure rests on the fact that "should" itself is an ambiguous term. "Should" relates doing A to psi. However, we have senses of the term "should" that relate doing A to desires that are not our own. I cannot go into the argument in detail here, but the moral sense of 'should' relates our actions to the desires of others. When we use 'should' in this sense, we may discover a 'should' that we are not motivated to do.

Schueler dismisses this possibility. For that reason, I want to look at it in more detail in the next post.

No comments: