Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 21–36 | Cite as

On Some Counter-Examples to the Guise of the Good-Thesis: Intelligibility without Desirability

  • Arto Laitinen


This paper argues that there are cases, which various guise of the good-theses concerning desires, intentions and actions would not allow. In these cases the agent acts for considerations that the agent does not regard as good reasons. The considerations render the actions intelligible but not desirable (where desirability and intelligibility can be objective or subjective). These cases are atypical, but nonetheless show that those guise of the good-theses which do not allow them, should be revised. In typical cases the intelligibility of desires, intentions and actions co-varies with their desirability: there are both unintelligible cases without suitable desirability characteristics and cases where desirability characteristics make the desire, intention and action intelligible. The claim here is that there are further more atypical and puzzling, but equally possible cases, where intelligibility and desirability come apart. The paper first introduces the Guise of the Good - debates about desires, intentions, and actions, and suggests distinguishing the category of “acting for a reason” from “acting for a consideration not taken to be a reason”. It then argues that while desirability entails intelligibility, and lack of intelligibility entails lack of desirability, these two cases leave conceptual room for a third category, which is that of intelligibility without desirability. This is so, whether we examine objective or subjective intelligibility and desirability. The claim is meant to apply mutatis mutandis to characteristics of desires, intentions and actions. The paper then provides possible cases of intelligibility without desirability, and defends the view against some objections.


Guise of the good Motivating reason Acting for a reason Intelligibility Desirability Motivating consideration 



I would like to thank the organizers and participants of the conference “Acting under ‘the guise of bad’: practical rationality and evil actions”, at University of Vienna, as well Constantine Sandis and participants of the course “Philosophy of Action” at University of Tampere, as well as two anonymous referees, for valuable comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Social ScienceUniversity of TampereTampereFinland

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