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47(2):250–272, 2013) and Lycan (Philos Perspect 26(1):201–215, 2012, In what sense is desire a propositional attitude?, Unpublished manuscript) have also argued for this conclusion, but their claims about desire satisfaction rest solely on contested intuitions about when agents get what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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Though widely accepted, Bach (1997) questions a principle in this vein.
See e.g. (Searle 1983, ch. 2), (Whyte 1991), (Stampe 1994), (Heathwood 2006). Condoravdi and Lauer (2016) give a contextualist take on the principle. Braun (2015) endorses a similar principle, which he calls ‘The Weak Content-Specification Version of the Relational Analysis of Desire Ascriptions’ (on which more in Sect. 10): ‘If N is a proper name and S is an infinitival phrase (with or without explicit subject), then: if \(\ulcorner\)N want s S\(\urcorner\) is true, then the referent of N has a desire that is satisfied in exactly those worlds in which the proposition that S semantically expresses is true’ (p. 149).
Fara (2013) rejects a principle closely related to the Satisfaction-is-Truth Principle, which she calls the ‘content-specification version of the relational analysis’ (p. 254) of desire ascriptions. She gives only an instance of the principle: ‘ “Lora wants to be in London” is true just in case Lora has a desire that is satisfied in exactly those possible worlds in which she is in London’ (p. 254) (in her (2003), she rejects a similar principle). The left-to-right direction of the principle—the direction that she objects to—is an instance of the Satisfaction-is-Truth Principle if we accept, as we should, that if Lora wants to be in London, then ‘Lora wants to be in London’ is true. See more in Sect. 10. Lycan isn’t explicit about just what principles he objects to. We read him (2012, pp. 206, 207, ms, pp. 2, 3) as committed to the possibility of cases that would falsify the Satisfaction-is-Truth Principle. And in his (ms), he cites Fara’s (2013) and seems to side with her (pp. 2, 3).
It needn’t apply, for example, to agents incapable of action, like Strawson's (1994, ch. 10)’s Weather Watchers.
A weaker version of this principle that employs an ‘other things equal’ clause to accommodate troublesome cases would work just as well for our purposes, as we explain in Sect. 6.
The Satisfaction-is-Truth Principle says that if A wants p, then A has a desire that is satisfied in exactly the worlds where p is true. So, strictly speaking, C2 is a counterexample to the Satisfaction-is-Truth Principle just in case the proposition denoted by the complement of ‘want’ in ‘Millie wants to drink milk’ is one that’s true in exactly the worlds where Millie drinks milk (for more see Sect. 10). Of course it seems to be such a proposition that’s denoted! (It is not, for example, the proposition that Millie drinks milk or stubs her toe.) You might worry, though, that in fact it’s a different proposition. We defer here to Fara (2013), who argues extensively that the complements of desire ascriptions like ‘Millie wants to drink milk’ do denote the propositions that they seem to.
Yablo (2014, ch. 5) makes a similar point.
We should emphasize that Braun is not committed to saying that Millie’s case, as we’ve described it here in Sect. 4, is like his plausible example. More generally, we are not objecting to Braun’s views about language: we neither object to his saying–asserting distinction (as we noted), nor do we object to the argument in which he puts that distinction to use. Rather, what we object to is the argument of an imaginary interlocutor who co-opts Braun’s distinction. (See more in footnote 15 on the relationship between Braun’s argument and our own.)
This is a slight simplification. Braun suggests that Sarah may say more than one proposition in uttering (11).
Now, if we were to stipulate that Millie does not want to drink milk—Braun makes such a stipulation in an analogous case in his Sect. 8.1—then she should be under pressure to retract. But that is not what’s stipulated here in Sect. 4; rather, it’s what’s at issue.
Ashwell (2017) develops a theory on the interactions among desire-based dispositions.
Unlike Prinz, who identifies agent satisfaction with an agent feeling satisfied, Braun does not explicitly say what he means by ‘agent satisfaction’. We read him as having the same thing in mind as Prinz. Fara (2003), Persson (2005, ch.10) and Lycan (2012) also discuss something like this distinction.
This assumption is compatible with the thought that at the level of surface form, the complement of ‘want’ may not seem to denote a proposition—contrast e.g. ‘Millie wants to drink milk’ with ‘Millie believes that she will drink milk’.
Braun makes the same point about the one of the principles, the Weak Specification Component, which we state just below.
Stated more precisely, the principle is as follows. For all A, A, p, and p: if A denotes A and p denotes p, then if \(\ulcorner\)A wants p\(\urcorner\) is true, then A stands in the relation denoted by ‘wants’ to p.
Fara (2013) gives an instance of the principle: ‘ “Lora wants Rudy to be in London” is true just in case Lora bears the relation expressed by “wants” to the proposition that Rudy is in London’ (p. 250). Braun states the principle as follows: ‘If N is a proper name and S an infinitival phrase (with or without explicit subject), then \(\ulcorner\)N wants S\(\urcorner\) is true iff the referent of N bears the relation expressed by “wants” to the proposition that S semantically expresses’ (p. 144).
For this principle and the next, see Fara’s (2013) p. 253.
More accurately, Braun accepts the latter two principles in conjunction with a different statement of the Weak Relational Analysis (see footnote 23).
Stated more precisely, the principle is as follows. For all A, A, p, and p: if A denotes A and p denotes p, then if A wants p, then \(\ulcorner\)A wants p\(\urcorner\) is true.
Fara (2003, p. 159) advocates a similar principle: ‘A desire (or related attitude) ascription of the form “A wants C” is true just in case A has a desire (or hope, etc.) with proposition Q as its exact content for some Q that entails the proposition expressed by the embedded clause C.’ (For a related view, see what Condoravdi and Lauer (2016, p. 31) call the ‘Quine–Hintikka’ analysis of ‘want’ ascriptions.) We believe that this is on the right track, but it’s incorrect as it stands. It wrongly predicts that if \(\ulcorner\)A wants q\(\urcorner\) is true, and q entails p, then \(\ulcorner\)A wants p\(\urcorner\) is true. For example, it wrongly predicts that ‘I want to die quickly’ entails ‘I want to die’ (the example is from Anand and Hacquard (2013, p. 19)).
Anand, P., & Hacquard, V. (2013). Epistemics and attitudes. Semantics and Pragmatics, 6(8), 1–59.
Ashwell, L. (2017). Conflicts of desire: Dispositions and the metaphysics of mind. In J. Jacobs (Ed.), Causal powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Audi, R. (1973). The concept of wanting. Philosophical Studies, 24(1), 1–21.
Bach, K. (1994). Conversational impliciture. Mind and Language, 9(2), 124–162.
Bach, K. (1997). Do belief reports report beliefs? Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 78(3), 215–241.
Bach, K. (2000). Quantification, qualification and context: a reply to Stanley and Szabó. Mind and Language, 15(2&3), 262–283.
Bach, K. (2001). You don’t say. Synthese, 128(1), 15–44.
Bach, K. (2005). Context ex Machina. In Z. G. Szabó (Ed.), Semantics versus pragmatics (pp. 15–44). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Braun, D. (2011). Implicating questions. Mind and Language, 26(5), 574–595.
Braun, D. (2015). Desiring, desires, and desire ascriptions. Philosophical Studies, 172(1), 141–162.
Condoravdi, C., & Lauer, S. (2016). Anankastic conditionals are just conditionals. Semantics & Pragmatics, 9(8), 1–69.
Davidson, D. (1976). Hempel on explaining action. Erkenntnis, 10(3), 239–253.
Fara, D. G. (2003). Desires, scope, and tense. Philosophical Perspectives, 17(1), 141–163. originally published under the name ‘Delia Graff’.
Fara, D. G. (2013). Specifying desires. Noûs, 47(2), 250–272.
Heathwood, C. (2006). Desire satisfactionism and hedonism. Philosophical Studies, 128(3), 539–563.
Heim, I. (1992). Presupposition projection and the semantics of attitude verbs. Journal of Semantics, 9(3), 183–221.
Humberstone, I. L. (1990). Wanting, getting, having. Philosophical Papers, 99(August), 99–118.
Hyman, J. (2014). Desires, dispositions and deviant causal chains. Philosophy, 89(1), 83–112.
Lasersohn, P. (1999). Pragmatic halos. Language, 75(3), 522–551.
Lycan, W. G. (2012). Desire considered as a propositional attitude. Philosophical Perspectives, 26(1), 201–215.
Lycan, W. G. (ms). In what sense is desire a propositional attitude? http://www.wlycan.com/uploads/8/0/5/1/80513032/desireprop.pdf. Unpublished manuscript.
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.
Montague, M. (2007). Against propositionalism. Noûs, 41(3), 503–518.
Persson, I. (2005). The retreat of reason: A dilemma in the philosophy of life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Prinz, J. (ms). No satisfaction? The mundane truth about desires. Unpublished manuscript, as cited in Lycan (2012).
Schiffer, S. R. (2003). The things we mean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schroeder, T. (2004). Three faces of desire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Searle, J. R. (1983). Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Soames, S. (2005). Quantification, qualification and context: A reply to Stanley and Szabó. Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy, 24(3), 7–30.
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.
Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1985). Loose talk. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 86, 153–171.
Stalnaker, R. (1984). Inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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.
Stampe, D. W. (1986). Defining desire. In J. Marks (Ed.), The ways of desire. Oxford: Blackwell.
Stampe, D. W. (1994). Desire. In S. D. Guttenplan (Ed.), A companion to the philosophy of mind. Oxford: Blackwell.
Strawson, G. (1994). Mental reality. Cambridge: MIT Press.
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.
von Fintel, K. (1999). Npi licensing, strawson entailment, and context dependency. Journal of Semantics, 16(2), 97–148.
Whyte, J. T. (1991). The normal rewards of success. Analysis, 51, 65–73.
Yablo, S. (2014). Aboutness. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
The authors contributed equally and are listed in alphabetical order.
About this article
Cite this article
Grant, L., Phillips-Brown, M. Getting what you want. Philos Stud (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-019-01285-1
- Desire satisfaction
- Ways-specificity of desire satisfaction
- Desire ascriptions