Desire beyond belief

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82 (1):77 – 92 (2004)
Abstract
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. We then introduce what we call the indexicality loophole: if the goodness of a proposition is indexical, partly a function of an agent's mental state, then the negative results have no purchase. Thus we propose a variant of Desire-as-Belief that exploits this loophole. We argue that a number of meta-ethical positions are committed to just such indexicality. Indeed, we show that with one central sort of evaluative belief--the belief that an option is right--the indexicality loophole can be exploited in various interesting ways. Moreover, on some accounts, 'good' is indexical in the same way. Thus, it seems that the anti-Humean can dodge the negative results.
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