Philosophical Studies

, Volume 165, Issue 1, pp 279–296

Desires, descriptivism, and reference failure



I argue that mental descriptivism cannot be reasonably thought superior to rival theories on the grounds that it can (while they cannot) provide an elegant account of reference failure. Descriptivism about the particular-directed intentionality of our mental states fails when applied to desires. Consider, for an example, the desire that Satan not tempt me. On the descriptivist account, it looks like my desire would be fulfilled in conditions in which there exists exactly one thing satisfying some description only Satan satisfies (call it the Satanic Description). However, against this analysis, it is clearly compatible with desiring that Satan not tempt me that I also desire that there exist nothing satisfying the Satanic Description. The descriptivist has room for maneuver here, but the cost of accommodating this phenomenon is that the descriptivist shall no longer be able to use her theory to ameliorate the possibility of reference failure.


Descriptivism Desires Propositional attitudes Russell Frege 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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