Phenomenal Desire and its Role in Practical Reason

Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley (2003)

The task of this dissertation is to look at the nature 0f phenomenal desire and the role that it plays in practical reason. Insofar as desire is understood as a state that we can reflect upon and that can play a role in explaining human action it must, it is argued, include an evaluative cognition. When we have a phenomenal desire our attention is directed onto a favourable representation of the desired object. But in some cases we cannot, it is argued, adequately understand phenomenal desires without invoking some further notion of desire that has a motivational presence but which is not, itself, phenomenologically salient. So-called background desires may, in some cases, explain why we explicitly focus on and see particular considerations as valuable or important. This has significant implications, it is argued, for an appropriate understanding of the role that phenomenal desire plays in practical deliberation. ;It has recently been argued that the appropriate focus of practical deliberation is outward on the world rather than inward to our psychology. When we deliberate we focus on aspects of the world that may be seen to be valuable and which may support reasons for action. The mere fact that we desire something, it is argued, provides us with a reason to act only when evaluative considerations fail to recommend a unique course of action. But there are occasions when ordinary outwardly focussed deliberation fails to account adequately for our attraction or motivation. This is most likely to occur in those cases in which we see things as valuable or important because of a background desire. The issue of what we have reason to do cannot, on these occasions, be adequately addressed without focussing directly on our desires in an effort to determine why we see things as we do.
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