Getting what you want

  • Lyndal Grant
  • Milo Phillips-BrownEmail author


It is commonly accepted that if an agent wants p, then she has a desire that is satisfied in exactly the worlds where p is true. Call this the ‘Satisfaction-is-Truth Principle’. We argue that this principle is false: an agent may want p without having a desire that is satisfied when p obtains in any old way. For example, Millie wants to drink milk but does not have a desire that is satisfied when she drinks spoiled milk. Millie has a desire whose satisfaction conditions are what we call ways-specific. Fara (Philos Perspect 17(1):141–163, 2003, Noûs 47(2):250–272, 2013) and Lycan (Philos Perspect 26(1):201–215, 2012, In what sense is desire a propositional attitude?, Unpublished manuscript) have also argued for this conclusion, but their claims about desire satisfaction rest solely on contested intuitions about when agents get what they want. We set these intuitions to one side, instead arguing that desire satisfaction is ways-specific by appealing to the dispositional role of desire. Because agents are disposed to satisfy their desires, dispositions provide important evidence about desire satisfaction. Our argument also provides new insight on the dispositional role of desire satisfaction.


Desire Dispositions Desire satisfaction Desires Ways-specificity of desire satisfaction Desire ascriptions Wanting Underspecification Fara Braun Lycan 



We would like to thank Lauren Ashwell, David Boylan, David Braun, Alex Byrne, Nilanjan Das, Kai von Fintel, Cosmo Grant, David Gray Grant, Justin Khoo, Matthew Mandelkern, Ginger Schultheis, Kieran Setiya, Jack Spencer, Stephen Yablo, an audience at MIT, an anonymous reviewer, and each other.


  1. Anand, P., & Hacquard, V. (2013). Epistemics and attitudes. Semantics and Pragmatics, 6(8), 1–59.Google Scholar
  2. Ashwell, L. (2017). Conflicts of desire: Dispositions and the metaphysics of mind. In J. Jacobs (Ed.), Causal powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Audi, R. (1973). The concept of wanting. Philosophical Studies, 24(1), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bach, K. (1994). Conversational impliciture. Mind and Language, 9(2), 124–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bach, K. (1997). Do belief reports report beliefs? Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 78(3), 215–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bach, K. (2000). Quantification, qualification and context: a reply to Stanley and Szabó. Mind and Language, 15(2&3), 262–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bach, K. (2001). You don’t say. Synthese, 128(1), 15–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bach, K. (2005). Context ex Machina. In Z. G. Szabó (Ed.), Semantics versus pragmatics (pp. 15–44). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Braun, D. (2011). Implicating questions. Mind and Language, 26(5), 574–595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Braun, D. (2015). Desiring, desires, and desire ascriptions. Philosophical Studies, 172(1), 141–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Condoravdi, C., & Lauer, S. (2016). Anankastic conditionals are just conditionals. Semantics & Pragmatics, 9(8), 1–69.Google Scholar
  12. Davidson, D. (1976). Hempel on explaining action. Erkenntnis, 10(3), 239–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fara, D. G. (2003). Desires, scope, and tense. Philosophical Perspectives, 17(1), 141–163. originally published under the name ‘Delia Graff’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fara, D. G. (2013). Specifying desires. Noûs, 47(2), 250–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heathwood, C. (2006). Desire satisfactionism and hedonism. Philosophical Studies, 128(3), 539–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heim, I. (1992). Presupposition projection and the semantics of attitude verbs. Journal of Semantics, 9(3), 183–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Humberstone, I. L. (1990). Wanting, getting, having. Philosophical Papers, 99(August), 99–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hyman, J. (2014). Desires, dispositions and deviant causal chains. Philosophy, 89(1), 83–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lasersohn, P. (1999). Pragmatic halos. Language, 75(3), 522–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lycan, W. G. (2012). Desire considered as a propositional attitude. Philosophical Perspectives, 26(1), 201–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lycan, W. G. (ms). In what sense is desire a propositional attitude? Unpublished manuscript.
  22. Moltmann, F. (2013). Propositions, attitudinal objects, and the distinction between actions and products. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Volume on Propositions, Edited by G Rattan and D Hunter, 43(5–6), 679–701.Google Scholar
  23. Montague, M. (2007). Against propositionalism. Noûs, 41(3), 503–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Persson, I. (2005). The retreat of reason: A dilemma in the philosophy of life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Prinz, J. (ms). No satisfaction? The mundane truth about desires. Unpublished manuscript, as cited in Lycan (2012).Google Scholar
  26. Schiffer, S. R. (2003). The things we mean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Schroeder, T. (2004). Three faces of desire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Searle, J. R. (1983). Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Soames, S. (2005). Quantification, qualification and context: A reply to Stanley and Szabó. Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy, 24(3), 7–30.Google Scholar
  30. Soames, S. (2008). The gap between meaning and assertion: Why what we literally say often differs from what our words literally mean. In S. Soames (Ed.), Philosophical Essays, Volume 1: Natural Language: What It Means and How We Use It (pp. 278–297). Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1985). Loose talk. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 86, 153–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stalnaker, R. (1984). Inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Stalnaker, R. (1988). Belief attribution and context. In R. H. Grimm & D. D. Merrill (Eds.), Contents of thought (pp. 140–156). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  34. Stampe, D. W. (1986). Defining desire. In J. Marks (Ed.), The ways of desire. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  35. Stampe, D. W. (1994). Desire. In S. D. Guttenplan (Ed.), A companion to the philosophy of mind. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  36. Strawson, G. (1994). Mental reality. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. van Rooij, R. (1999). Some analyses of pro-attitudes. In H. de Swart (Ed.), Logic, game theory and social choice (pp. 534–548). Tilburg: Tilburg University Press.Google Scholar
  38. von Fintel, K. (1999). Npi licensing, strawson entailment, and context dependency. Journal of Semantics, 16(2), 97–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Whyte, J. T. (1991). The normal rewards of success. Analysis, 51, 65–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Yablo, S. (2014). Aboutness. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MIT Department of Linguistics and PhilosophyCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations