Ambivalent desires and the problem with reduction
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Ambivalence is most naturally characterized as a case of conflicting desires. In most cases, an agent’s intrinsic desires conflict contingently: there is some possible world in which both desires would be satisfied. This paper argues, though, that there are cases in which intrinsic desires necessarily conflict—i.e., the desires are not jointly satisfiable in any possible world. Desiring a challenge for its own sake is a paradigm case of such a desire. Ambivalence of this sort in an agent’s desires creates special problems for the project of reducing all facts about an agent’s desires to facts about his or her preferences over options. If this reductive project fails, there is reason to suspect that the Decision Theory cannot give us a complete theory of Humean rationality.
KeywordsAmbivalence Desires Preferences Practical rationality Humeanism Decision theory
Thanks to Lara Buchak, Arudra Burra, Corrine Gartner, Elizabeth Harman, Lloyd Humberstone, Frank Jackson, Mark Johnstone, Tristram McPherson, Alexander Nehamas, Philip Pettit, Gideon Rosen, Michael Smith, John Williams, and my anonymous referee for feedback, criticisms, and help making points more clearly.
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