Desire-as-belief revisited

Analysis 69 (1):31-37 (2009)
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 different roles in rational agency. In two classic papers (Lewis 1988, 1996), David Lewis discusses several challenges to this Humean picture, but ultimately rejects them. We think that his discussion of a central anti-Humean alternative – the desire-as-belief thesis – is in need of refinnement. On this thesis, the desire for proposition p is given by the belief that p is desirable. Lewis claims that ‘[e]xcept in trivial cases, [this thesis] collapses into contradiction’(Lewis 1996, p. 308). The problem, he argues, is that the thesis is inconsistent with the purportedly plausible requirement that one’s desire for a proposition should not change upon learning that the proposition is true; call this the invariance requirement. In this paper, we revisit Lewis’s argument. We show that, if one carefully distinguishes between non-evaluative and evaluative propositions, the desire-asbelief thesis can be rendered consistent with the invariance requirement. Lewis’s conclusion holds only under certain conditions: the desire-as-belief thesis conflicts with the invariance requirement if and only if there are certain correlations between non-evaluative and evaluative propositions. But when there are such correlations, we suggest, the invariance requirement loses its plausibility. Thus Lewis’s argument against the desire-as-belief thesis appears to be valid only in cases in which it is unsound.
Keywords desire as belief  decision theory  triviality proof  David Lewis
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/analys/ann005
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 15,904
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

105 ( #22,952 of 1,725,418 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

15 ( #48,686 of 1,725,418 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.