Desire-Based Theories of Reasons and the Guise of the Good

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 9 (47):1288-1321 (2023)
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I propose an account of desire that reconciles two apparently conflicting intuitions about practical agency. I do so by exploring a certain intuitive datum. The intuitive datum is that often when an agent desires P she will seem to immediately and conclusively know that there is a reason to bring P about. Desire-based theories of reasons seem uniquely placed to explain this intuitive datum. On this view, desires are the source of an agent’s practical reasons. A desire for P grounds conclusive knowledge of a reason to bring P about because that desire makes it true that there is a reason to do so. However, this implies that a basic desire for P can never be in error about there being at least some reason to bring P about. We have the conflicting intuition that basic desires sometimes rationally count for nothing. The guise of the good explains this intuition about the fallibility of desires. On this view, a desire for P represents P as good in some respect. Desires and reasons are independent, so a desire might misrepresent one’s reasons. But this independence is usually taken to rule out that desires ever provide conclusive knowledge of reasons. Capturing the intuition about conclusive knowledge rules out capturing the intuition about fallibility, and vice versa. I propose an epistemological disjunctivist version of the guise of the good that reconciles fallibility with the possibility of conclusive knowledge.

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Author's Profile

Kael McCormack
University of Antwerp

Citations of this work

Desire-As-Belief and Evidence Sensitivity.Kael McCormack - 2023 - Theoria. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science 38 (2):155-172.
What is the attitude of desire?Kael McCormack - forthcoming - Philosophical Psychology.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Slaves of the passions.Mark Andrew Schroeder - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 2002 - Mind 111 (442):323-354.

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