Autonomy and Desire: An Essay in Moral and Philosophical Psychology

Dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago (1995)

Abstract

Several ethical and political theories favor the satisfaction of self-regarding desires. Desire theories of welfare say that their satisfaction creates welfare. Liberalism says that the state must allow the satisfaction of these desires. This pro-desire stance is plausible because the goal of satisfying self-regarding desires seems attractive. A challenge for pro-desire theories is that the satisfaction of certain self-regarding desires is not attractive. These desires seem to be in some sense "alien" to the self. Examples are desires associated with addictions, psychological compulsions, and psychological conditioning. Their satisfaction does not seem to be an attractive goal, yet pro-desire theories seem committed to favoring their satisfaction. I examine analyses of alien desires suggested by the literature and argue that none of them provides an adequate solution to this problem. I suggest that alien desires are desires that would be rational if the person believed something that in fact she believes is false. Such desires could be produced by a mental representation--other than a belief--with a content that conflicted with the content of one's beliefs. It turns out that we must postulate belief-like mental representations, or quasi-beliefs, to explain important empirical facts about our behavior. Alien desires involve quasi-beliefs with contents that conflict with the contents of beliefs. This theory provides the distinction between alien and authentic desires that pro-desire theories need.

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Robert Noggle
Central Michigan University

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