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There is Still a Problem of Consistent Incompatibility: a Response to Coren


This article responds to Daniel Coren’s very insightful critical discussion of Baumann (Acta Analytica 32, 489–490, 2017). It clarifies and defends the view that there is a problem of mutually consistent but necessarily incompatible desires. Distinguishing explicitly between semantic and syntactic consistency, one can show that the problem remains under each interpretation of “consistent.”

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  1. 1.

    There is a social analogue. Consider, for instance, the case of a group of people where everyone wants that someone would take the garbage out but each wants that “I don’t do it myself.” These desires are mutually consistent but necessarily incompatible. By the way, given a preference ordering for each of the different people like the following one (taking “>” for strict preference), we end up with a prisoner’s dilemma: I don’t take it out while someone else does > I take it out together with others > nobody takes it out > I am the one who takes it out. Given some other preference rankings, we end up with a different social coordination problem.

  2. 2.

    Otherwise, we couldn’t change our desires from wanting that p to wanting that not-p without making a mistake by doing that and without being epistemically blameworthy.

  3. 3.

    Other types of cross-temporal incompatibility need not pose a problem, given synchronic semantic consistency: If I want a pet today while I wanted no pet yesterday, there is synchronic consistency and cross-temporal incompatibility but no problem. However, the incompatibility is of a different nature than the one discussed here.

  4. 4.

    Does lack of syntactic inconsistency entail syntactic consistency? I am assuming this here. However, some might want to deny this entailment: One might, for instance, deny the applicability of the notion of syntactic consistency in the case of indexical contents (and also deny bivalence or hold a non-standard view of negation). I am leaving this topic aside here.

  5. 5.

    I can live with Coren’s claims MT2 and MT3. There are still some cases where none of the desires is harmful; hence, frustration of some is still a problem (this on MT2). I also don’t think that whether the consistent incompatibility causes the frustration of some desire is relevant here (this on MT3). Finally, I think that it doesn’t make a difference whether the non-indexical desire is temporally determinate (“this week”) or temporally indeterminate (“at some point”). I am putting these issues aside without going further into them here.


  1. Baumann, P. (2017). Necessarily incompatible consistent wants. Acta Analytica, 32, 489–490.

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  2. Coren, D. (2021). No problem of consistent incompatible desires: a reply to Baumann. Acta Analytica. (this issue).

  3. Perry, J. (1979). The problem of the essential indexical. Noûs, 13, 3–21.

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Correspondence to Peter Baumann.

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Baumann, P. There is Still a Problem of Consistent Incompatibility: a Response to Coren. Acta Anal 36, 475–477 (2021).

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  • Desires
  • Semantic consistency
  • Syntactic consistency
  • Necessary incompatibility
  • Essential indexicals