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Desire

Edited by Neil Sinhababu (National University of Singapore)
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Summary Philosophers are interested in desire's role in motivating action, shaping deliberation, giving us reasons, constituting moral judgment, and increasing one's well-being when it is satisfied. There is much debate about which of these roles desire plays, and how it might play them.
Key works David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature is the locus classicus for defenses of desire's role in motivating action and constituting moral judgment.  Michael Smith's The Humean Theory of Motivation is the most-discussed contemporary defense of a Humean theory of motivation, while Neil Sinhababu's The Humean Theory of Motivation Reformulated and Defended provides an empirical argument for the theory. Timothy Schroeder's Three Faces of Desire is a leading contemporary discussion of the psychology and neuroscience of desire -- particularly its connections to motivation, pleasure, and reinforcement learning. In Praise of Desire by Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder discusses the nature of desire and its role in constituting moral agency. Mark Schroeder's Slaves of the Passions is the most prominent contemporary defense of a Humean account of reasons, which treats reasons as considerations promoting desire-satisfaction.
Introductions Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Desire
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Desire as Belief
  1. Horacio Arlo-Costa, John Collins & Isaac Levi (1995). Desire-as-Belief Implies Opinionation or Indifference. Analysis 55 (1):2-5.
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  2. Richard Bradley & Christian List (2009). Desire-as-Belief Revisited. Analysis 69 (1):31-37.
    On Hume’s account of motivation, beliefs and desires are very different kinds of propositional attitudes. Beliefs are cognitive attitudes, desires emotive ones. An agent’s belief in a proposition captures the weight he or she assigns to this proposition in his or her cognitive representation of the world. An agent’s desire for a proposition captures the degree to which he or she prefers its truth, motivating him or her to act accordingly. Although beliefs and desires are sometimes entangled, they play very (...)
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  3. Curtis Brown (1986). What is a Belief State? Midwest Studies in Philosophy 10 (1):357-378.
    What we believe depends on more than the purely intrinsic facts about us: facts about our environment or context also help determine the contents of our beliefs. 1 This observation has led several writers to hope that beliefs can be divided, as it were, into two components: a "core" that depends only on the individual?s intrinsic properties; and a periphery that depends on the individual?s context, including his or her history, environment, and linguistic community. Thus Jaegwon Kim suggests that "within (...)
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  4. Alex Byrne & Alan Hájek (1997). David Hume, David Lewis, and Decision Theory. Mind 106 (423):411-728.
    David Lewis claims that a simple sort of anti-Humeanism-that the rational agent desires something to the extent he believes it to be good-can be given a decision-theoretic formulation, which Lewis calls 'Desire as Belief' (DAB). Given the (widely held) assumption that Jeffrey conditionalising is a rationally permissible way to change one's mind in the face of new evidence, Lewis proves that DAB leads to absurdity. Thus, according to Lewis, the simple form of anti-Humeanism stands refuted. In this paper we investigate (...)
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  5. D. Collins (1988). Belief, Desire, and Revision. Mind 97 (July):333-42.
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  6. John Collins (1995). Desire-as-Belief Implies Opinionation or Indifference. Analysis 55 (1):2 - 5.
    Rationalizations of deliberation often make reference to two kinds of mental state, which we call belief and desire. It is worth asking whether these kinds are necessarily distinct, or whether it might be possible to construe desire as belief of a certain sort — belief, say, about what would be good. An expected value theory formalizes our notions of belief and desire, treating each as a matter of degree. In this context the thesis that desire is belief might amount to (...)
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  7. Charles B. Cross (2008). Nonbelief and the Desire-as-Belief Thesis. Acta Analytica 23 (2):115-124.
    I show the incompatibility of two theses: (a) to desire the truth of p amounts to believing a certain proposition about the value of p’s truth; (b) one cannot be said to desire the truth of p if one believes that p is true. Thesis (a), the Desire-As-Belief Thesis, has received much attention since the late 1980s. Thesis (b) is an epistemic variant of Socrates’ remark in the Symposium that one cannot desire what one already has. It turns out that (...)
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  8. Steven Daskal (2010). Absolute Value as Belief. Philosophical Studies 148 (2):221 - 229.
    In “Desire as Belief” and “Desire as Belief II,” David Lewis ( 1988 , 1996 ) considers the anti-Humean position that beliefs about the good require corresponding desires, which is his way of understanding the idea that beliefs about the good are capable of motivating behavior. He translates this anti-Humean claim into decision theoretic terms and demonstrates that it leads to absurdity and contradiction. As Ruth Weintraub ( 2007 ) has shown, Lewis’ argument goes awry at the outset. His decision (...)
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  9. Alan Hájek & Philip Pettit (2004). Desire Beyond Belief. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82 (1):77-92.
    David Lewis [1988; 1996] canvases an anti-Humean thesis about mental states: that the rational agent desires something to the extent that he or she believes it to be good. Lewis offers and refutes a decision-theoretic formulation of it, the `Desire-as- Belief Thesis'. Other authors have since added further negative results in the spirit of Lewis's. We explore ways of being anti-Humean that evade all these negative results. We begin by providing background on evidential decision theory and on Lewis's negative results. (...)
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  10. I. L. Humberstone (1987). Wanting as Believing. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 17 (March):49-62.
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  11. David Lewis (1996). Desire as Belief II. Mind 105 (418):303-13.
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  12. David Lewis (1988). Desire as Belief. Mind 97 (418):323-32.
    Argues for the humean theory of motivation on the grounds that rejecting it requires rejecting decision theory.
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  13. Huw Price (1989). Defending Desire-as-Belief. Mind 98 (January):119-27.
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  14. David Sobel & David Copp (2001). Against Direction of Fit Accounts of Belief and Desire. Analysis 61 (1):44-53.
    We argue that beliefs and desires cannot be successfully explicated in terms of direction of fit. It is more difficult than has been realized to do so without presupposing these notions in the explication.
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  15. Marco Solinas (2012). Via Platonica zum Unbewussten. Platon und Freud. Turia + Kant.
    Solinas’ Studie untersucht den Einfluss von Platons Anschauungen von Traum, Wunsch und Wahn auf den jungen Freud. Anhand der Untersuchung einiger zeitgenössischer kulturwissenschaftlicher Arbeiten, die bereits in die ersten Ausgabe der Traumdeutung Eingang fanden, wird Freuds nachhaltige Vertrautheit mit den platonischen Lehren erläutert und seine damit einhergehende direkte Textkenntnis der thematisch relevanten Stellen aus Platons Staat aufgezeigt. Die strukturelle Analogie von Freud’schem und platonischem Seelenbegriff wird inhaltlich am Traum als »Königsweg zum Unbewussten«, in dem von Freud selbst angesprochenen Verhältnis von (...)
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  16. Marco Solinas (2008). Psiche: Platone e Freud. Desiderio, Sogno, Mania, Eros. Firenze University Press.
    Psiche sets up a close-knit comparison between the psychology of Plato's Republic and Freud's psychoanalysis. Convergences and divergences are discussed in relation both to the Platonic conception of the oneiric emergence of repressed desires that prefigures the main path of Freud's subconscious, to the analysis of the psychopathologies related to these theoretical formulations and to the two diagnostic and therapeutic approaches adopted. Another crucial theme is the Platonic eros - the examination of which is also extended to the Symposium and (...)
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  17. Marco Solinas (2004). Unterdrückung, Traum und Unbewusstes in Platons „Politeia“ und bei Freud. Philosophisches Jahrbuch 111 (1):90-112.
    The essay concerns the reconstruction of the repression of desires, with reference to the analysis of their oneiric emersions expounded in the Republic, in comparison with Freud’s conception. Plato’s concept of suppression according to which specific desires are enslaved, so that they can find satisfaction usually only in dreams seems consistent with Freud’s concept of remotion; therefore both the condition of the suppressed desires and the intrapsychic place of their enslavement seem to be interpretable in the light of Freud’s concept (...)
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  18. Ruth Weintraub (2007). Desire as Belief, Lewis Notwithstanding. Analysis 67 (294):116–122.
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  19. J. Robert G. Williams, Counterfactual Desire as Belief.
    Bryne & H´ajek (1997) argue that Lewis’s (1988; 1996) objections to identifying desire with belief do not go through if our notion of desire is ‘causalized’ (characterized by causal, rather than evidential, decision theory). I argue that versions of the argument go through on certain assumptions about the formulation of decision theory. There is one version of causal decision theory where the original arguments cannot be formulated—the ‘imaging’ formulation that Joyce (1999) advocates. But I argue this formulation is independently objectionable. (...)
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Pleasure and Desire
  1. George Ainslie (2009). Pleasure and Aversion: Challenging the Conventional Dichotomy. Inquiry 52 (4):357 – 377.
    Philosophy and its descendents in the behavioral sciences have traditionally divided incentives into those that are sought and those that are avoided. Positive incentives are held to be both attractive and memorable because of the direct effects of pleasure. Negative incentives are held to be unattractive but still memorable (the problem of pain) because they force unpleasant emotions on an individual by an unmotivated process, either a hardwired response (unconditioned response) or one substituted by association (conditioned response). Negative incentives are (...)
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  2. Murat Aydede (2014). How to Unify Theories of Sensory Pleasure: An Adverbialist Proposal. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 5 (1):119-133.
    A lot of qualitatively very different sensations can be pleasant or unpleasant. The Felt-Quality Views that conceive of sensory affect as having an introspectively available common phenomenology or qualitative character face the “heterogeneity problem” of specifying what that qualitative common phenomenology is. In contrast, according to the Attitudinal Views, what is common to all pleasant or unpleasant sensations is that they are all “wanted” or “unwanted” in a certain sort of way. The commonality is explained not on the basis of (...)
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  3. Murat Aydede & Matthew Fulkerson, Theories of Sensory Affect: Compare and Contrast.
    Some sensory experiences are pleasant, some unpleasant. This is a truism. But understanding what makes these experiences pleasant and unpleasant is not an easy job. Various difficulties and puzzles arise as soon as we start theorizing. There are various philosophical theories on offer that seem to give different accounts for the positive or negative affective valences of sensory experiences. In this paper, we will look at the current state of art in the philosophy of mind, present the main contenders, critically (...)
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  4. David Bain & Michael Brady (2014). Pain, Pleasure, and Unpleasure. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 5 (1):1-14.
    Compare your pain when immersing your hand in freezing water and your pleasure when you taste your favourite wine. The relationship seems obvious. Your pain experience is unpleasant, aversive, negative, and bad. Your experience of the wine is pleasant, attractive, positive, and good. Pain and pleasure are straightforwardly opposites. Or that, at any rate, can seem beyond doubt, and to leave little more to be said. But, in fact, it is not beyond doubt. And, true or false, it leaves a (...)
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  5. J. E. Barnhart (1972). Freud's Pleasure Principle and the Death Urge. Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 3 (1):113-120.
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  6. Francis H. Bradley (1888). On Pleasure, Pain, Desire and Volition. Mind 13 (49):1-36.
  7. Talbot Brewer (2003). Savoring Time: Desire, Pleasure and Wholehearted Activity. [REVIEW] Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6 (2):143-160.
    There is considerable appeal to the Aristotelian idea that taking pleasure in an activity is sometimes simply a matter of attending to it in such a way as to render it wholehearted. However, the proponents of this idea have not made adequately clear what kind of attention it is that can perform the surprising feat of transforming otherwise indifferent activities into pleasurable ones. I build upon Gilbert Ryle's suggestion that taking pleasure in an activity is tantamount to engaging in the (...)
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  8. John Cooper (1998). Pleasure and Desire in Epicurus. In Reason and Emotion: Essays on Ancient Moral Psychology and Ethical Theory. Princeton University Press. 485–514.
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  9. Terence Dolan (1987). Pleasure, Preference and Value: Studies in Philosophical Aesthetics.
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  10. Dale Dorsey (2011). The Hedonist's Dilemma. Journal of Moral Philosophy 8 (2):173-196.
    In this paper, I argue that hedonism about well-being faces a powerful dilemma. However, as I shall try to show here, this choice creates a dilemma for hedonism. On a subjective interpretation, hedonism is open to the familiar objection that pleasure is not the only thing desired or the only thing for which we possess a pro-attitude. On an objective interpretation, hedonism lacks an independent rationale. In this paper, I do not claim that hedonism fails once and for all. However, (...)
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  11. Fred Feldman (1988). Two Questions About Pleasure. In D. F. Austin (ed.), Philosophical Analysis. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 59--81.
    In this paper, I present my solutions to two closely related questions about pleasure. One of these questions is fairly well known. The second question seems to me to be at least as interesting as the first, but it apparently hasn't interested quite so many philosophers.
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  12. Bennett Foddy & Julian Savulescu (2007). Addiction is Not an Affliction: Addictive Desires Are Merely Pleasure-Oriented Desires. American Journal of Bioethics 7 (1):29 – 32.
    The author comments on the article “The neurobiology of addiction: Implications for voluntary control of behavior,‘ by S. E. Hyman. Hyman presents that addiction is a brain disease or a moral condition. The authors present that addiction is a strong preference, similar to appetitive preferences. They state that addiction is merely a form of pleasure-seeking. The authors conclude that the problem of addiction is the problem of the management of pleasure, not treatment of a disease. Accession Number: 24077914; Authors: Foddy, (...)
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  13. Bennett Foddy & Julian Savulescu (2006). Autonomy, Addiction and the Drive to Pleasure: Designing Drugs and Our Biology: A Reply to Neil Levy. Bioethics 20 (1):21–23.
  14. Sigmund Freud (2010). Beyond the Pleasure Principle : Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood. In Christopher Want (ed.), Philosophers on Art From Kant to the Postmodernists: A Critical Reader. Columbia University Press.
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  15. James Giles (2008). The Nature of Sexual Desire. University Press of America.
    The Nature of Sexual Desire takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the psychology, philosophy, and anthropology of this most urgent of human desires. Examining both ancient writings and modern research, both Eastern and Western thought, the author argues that sexual desire is a continuous element in awareness and can only be understood in terms of our experience. The experience of sexual desire is explored and its relation to sexual interaction, erotic pleasure, the experience of gender, and romantic love, (...)
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  16. Mihaela P. Harper (2012). Bewilderingly, Forcefully. Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry 7 (17):60-69.
    This article examines the difference between two concepts of critical importance to the philosophical frameworks of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze–pleasure and desire–through the troubling and troubled figure of suicide. My contention is that, in the work of both thinkers, suicide makes legible an affirmative impulsion and a mode or tekhnē (in both senses of the term: practice and art) of encountering an unforeseeable virtuality (the Outside). Of aesthetic and ethical significance, this mode is experimental and dangerous, a frequency of (...)
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  17. Chris Heathwood (2013). Hedonism. In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley.
    An encyclopedia entry on hedonistic theories of value and welfare -- the view, roughly, that pleasure is the good.
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  18. Chris Heathwood (2011). Desire-Based Theories of Reasons, Pleasure, and Welfare. Oxford Studies in Metaethics 6:79-106.
    One of the most important disputes in the foundations of ethics concerns the source of practical reasons. On the desire-based view, only one’s desires provide one with reasons to act. On the value-based view, reasons are instead provided by the objective evaluative facts, and never by our desires. Similarly, there are desire-based and non-desired-based theories about two other issues: pleasure and welfare. It has been argued, and is natural to think, that holding a desire-based theory about either pleasure or welfare (...)
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  19. Chris Heathwood (2007). The Reduction of Sensory Pleasure to Desire. Philosophical Studies 133 (1):23-44.
    One of the leading approaches to the nature of sensory pleasure reduces it to desire: roughly, a sensation qualifies as a sensation of pleasure just in case its subject wants to be feeling it. This approach is, in my view, correct, but it has never been formulated quite right; and it needs to be defended against some compelling arguments. Thus the purpose of this paper is to discover the most defensible formulation of this rough idea, and to defend it against (...)
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  20. Chris Heathwood (2006). Desire Satisfactionism and Hedonism. Philosophical Studies 128 (3):539-563.
    Hedonism and the desire-satisfaction theory of welfare ("desire satisfactionism") are typically seen as archrivals in the contest over identifying what makes one's life go best. It is surprising, then, that the most plausible form of hedonism just is the most plausible form of desire satisfactionism. How can a single theory of welfare be a version of both hedonism and desire satisfactionism? The answer lies in what pleasure is: pleasure is, in my view, the subjective satisfaction of desire. This thesis about (...)
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  21. Thomas Hurka (2010). The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters. Oxford University Press.
    Feeling good: four ways -- Finding that feeling -- The place of pleasure -- Knowing what's what -- Making things happen -- Being good -- Love and friendship -- Putting it together.
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  22. Justin Klocksiem (2010). Pleasure, Desire, and Oppositeness. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.
    Why is pain the opposite of pleasure? Several theories of pleasure and pain have substantial difficulty explaining this basic feature. Theories according to which pleasure and pain are individual sensations or features of sensations have particular difficulty, since it is difficult to understand how pairs of sensations could be opposites. Some philosophers argue that the pain is the opposite of pleasure because pain and pleasure are fundamentally a matter of desire and aversion, and desire and aversion are clear opposites. I (...)
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  23. Joel J. Kupperman (1978). Do We Desire Only Pleasure? Philosophical Studies 34 (4):451 - 454.
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  24. Stéphane Lemaire (2002). From Emotions to Desires. European Review of Philosophy 5:109-136.
    In this paper, I defend the view that our knowledge of our desires is inferential and based on the consciousness we have of our emotions, and on our experiences of pain and pleasure.
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  25. John Lemos (2002). Sober and Wilson and Nozick and the Experience Machine. Philosophia 29 (1-4):401-409.
    Years ago Robert Nozick provided the experience machine argument, which states that since many people would forgo a life of artificially stimulated tremendous pleasure provided by an "experience machine," it must be that sometimes people are motivated by things other than the pursuit of their own pleasure. This is to say that he rejected psychological hedonism. In a recent book Elliot Sober and David Wilson defend the view that Nozick's argument does not provide adequate refutation of psychological hedonism. This article (...)
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  26. James Lenman (2011). Pleasure, Desire and Practical Reason. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (2):143-149.
    This paper examines the role of stability in the constitution of pleasure and desire, its relevance to the intimate ways the two are related and to their role in the constitution of practical reason.
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  27. Olivier Massin (2014). Pleasure and Its Contraries. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 5 (1):15-40.
    What is the contrary of pleasure? “Pain” is one common answer. This paper argues that pleasure instead has two natural contraries: unpleasure and hedonic indifference. This view is defended by drawing attention to two often-neglected concepts: the formal relation of polar opposition and the psychological state of hedonic indifference. The existence of mixed feelings, it is argued, does not threaten the contrariety of pleasure and unpleasure.
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  28. Olivier Massin (2011). On Pleasures. Dissertation, Geneva
    This thesis introduces and defends the Axiological Theory of Pleasure (ATP), according to which all pleasures are mental episodes which exemplify an hedonic value. According to the version of the ATP defended, hedonic goodness is not a primitive kind of value, but amounts to the final and personal value of mental episodes. Beside, it is argued that all mental episodes –and then all pleasures– are intentional. The definition of pleasures I arrived at is the following : -/- x is a (...)
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  29. John Stuart Mill (2009). Utilitarianism. In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology. Oxford University Press.
    The Oxford Philosophical Texts series consists of authoritative teaching editions of canonical texts in the history of philosophy from the ancient world down to modern times. Each volume provides a clear, well laid out text together with a comprehensive introduction by a leading specialist, providing the student with detailed critical guidance on the intellectual context of the work and the structure and philosophical importance of the main arguments. Endnotes are supplied which provide further commentary on the arguments and explain unfamiliar (...)
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  30. Dan Moller (2002). Parfit on Pains, Pleasures, and the Time of Their Occurrence. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32 (1):67 - 82.
    Consider our attitude toward painful and pleasant experiences depending on when they occur. A striking but rarely discussed feature of our attitude which Derek Parfit has emphasized is that we strongly wish painful experiences to lie in our past and pleasant experiences to lie in our future. Our asymmetrical attitudes toward future and past pains and pleasures can be forcefully illustrated by means of a thought-experiment described by Parfit (1984, 165) which I will paraphrase as follows: You are in the (...)
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  31. Carolyn R. Morillo (1992). Reward Event Systems: Reconceptualizing the Explanatory Roles of Motivation, Desire and Pleasure. Philosophical Psychology 5 (1):7-32.
    A developing neurobiological/psychological theory of positive motivation gives a key causal role to reward events in the brain which can be directly activated by electrical stimulation (ESB). In its strongest form, this Reward Event Theory (RET) claims that all positive motivation, primary and learned, is functionally dependent on these reward events. Some of the empirical evidence is reviewed which either supports or challenges RET. The paper examines the implications of RET for the concepts of 'motivation', 'desire' and 'reward' or 'pleasure'. (...)
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