Erkenntnis

, Volume 73, Issue 2, pp 185–209 | Cite as

A Puzzle About Desire

Original Article
  • 86 Downloads

Abstract

The following four assumptions plausibly describe the ideal rational agent. (1) She knows what her beliefs are. (2) She desires to believe only truths. (3) Whenever she desires that P → Q and knows that P, she desires that Q. (4) She does not both desire that P and desire that ~P, for any P. Although the assumptions are plausible, they have an implausible consequence. They imply that the ideal rational agent does not believe and desire contradictory propositions. She neither desires the world to be any different than she thinks it is, nor thinks it is any different than she desires it to be. The problem of preserving our intuitions about desire, without embracing the implausible conclusion, is what I call “the Wishful Thinking Puzzle.” In this paper, I examine how this puzzle arises, and I argue that it is surprisingly difficult to solve. Even the decision theoretic conception of desire is not immune to the puzzle. One approach, the contrastive conception of desire, does avoid the puzzle without being ad hoc, but it remains too inchoate to win our full confidence.

Notes

Acknowledgments

This paper benefitted tremendously from discussions and comments with a number of people. I owe special thanks to Torin Alter, Robert Barnard, Neil Manson, Stuart Rachels, Mark Scala, Michelle Wrenn, and several anonymous reviewers.

References

  1. Anscombe, G. E. M. (1957). Intention. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  2. Blackburn, S. (2005). Truth: A guide. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bradley, R. (1999). Conditional desirability. Theory and Decision, 47, 23–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chisholm, R. (1977). Theory of knowledge (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Chisholm, R. (1989). Theory of knowledge (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  6. Gauker, C. (2005). The belief-desire law. Facta Philosophica, 7, 121–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Goldstein, L. (1992). A Buridanian discussion of desire, murder and democracy. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 70(4), 405–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jeffrey, R. (1965). The logic of decision. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  9. Kornblith, H. (1993). Epistemic normativity. Synthese, 94(3), 357–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Laudan, L. (1984). Science and values. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  11. Lewis, D. (1979). Scorekeeping in a language game. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 8, 339–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lewis, D. (1981). Causal decision theory. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 59(1), 5–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lewis, D. (1996). Elusive knowledge. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 74(4), 549–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lynch, M. P. (2004). True to life: Why truth matters. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Moore, F. C. T. (1994). Goldstein on the road to Rome. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 72(2), 229–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Piller, C. (2009). Desiring the truth and nothing but the truth. Nous, 43(2), 193–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rorty, R. (1998). Truth and progress. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Smith, M. (1994). The moral problem. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  19. Sobel, D., & Copp, D. (2001). Against direction of fit accounts of belief and desire. Analysis, 61(1), 44–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Sosa, E. (2001). For the love of truth? In A. Fairweather & L. Zagzebski (Eds.), Virtue epistemology: Essays on epistemic virtue and responsibility (pp. 49–62). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Stalnaker, R. (1970). Probability and conditionals. Philosophy of science, 37(1), 64–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Stalnaker, R. (1999). Indicative conditionals. In R. Stalnaker (Ed.), Context and content (pp. 63–77). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Van Fraassen, B. C. (1980). The scientific image. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Williams, B. (1973). Deciding to believe. In B. Williams (Ed.), Problems of the self. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Williams, B. (1978). Descartes: The project of pure enquiry. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  26. Williams, B. (2002). Truth and truthfulness: An essay in genealogy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its limits. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Wrenn, C. (2005). Pragmatism, truth and inquiry. Contemporary Pragmatism, 2(1), 95–113.Google Scholar
  29. Wrenn, C. (2010). Truth is not instrumentally valuable. In Cory Wright & Nikolaj Pederson (Eds.), New waves in truth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

Personalised recommendations