Desire and motivation in desire theories of well-being

Philosophical Studies 180 (7):1975-1994 (2023)
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Desire theories of well-being claim that how well our life goes for us is solely determined by the fulfilment and frustration of our desires. Several writers have argued that these theories are incorrect because they fail to capture the harms of self-sacrifice and severe depression. In this paper, I argue that desire theories of well-being can account for the harm of both phenomena by rejecting proportionalism about desire and motivation. This is the view that desires always motivate proportionally to their strength. If we reject this view, then we can explain the harm of many cases of self-sacrifice as arising when we act upon our weaker desires and thereby frustrate our stronger desires. Moreover, the harm of many cases of severe depression can be explained by its suppression of the motivational force of desires. This inevitably frustrates desires that we are left unmotivated to fulfil. I argue that this approach captures the experiential quality of self-sacrifice and severe depression better than rival views that seek to problematise these phenomena for desire theories of well-being. Moreover, these theories have sufficient conceptual resources to account for residual cases of self-sacrifice and severe depression that are less well explained by this approach.

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Atus Mariqueo-Russell
University of Southampton

References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
The moral problem.Michael Smith - 1994 - Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.
Slaves of the passions.Mark Andrew Schroeder - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Moral realism: a defence.Russ Shafer-Landau - 2003 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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