Two Ways to Want?

Journal of Philosophy 116 (2):65-98 (2019)
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Abstract

I present unexplored and unaccounted for uses of 'wants'. I call them advisory uses, on which information inaccessible to the desirer herself helps determine what she wants. I show that extant theories by Stalnaker, Heim, and Levinson fail to predict these uses. They also fail to predict true indicative conditionals with 'wants' in the consequent. These problems are related: intuitively valid reasoning with modus ponens on the basis of the conditionals in question results in unembedded advisory uses. I consider two fixes, and end up endorsing a relativist semantics, according to which desire attributions express information-neutral propositions. On this view, 'wants' functions as a precisification of 'ought', which exhibits similar unembedded and compositional behavior. I conclude by sketching a pragmatic account of the purpose of desire attributions that explains why it made sense for them to evolve in this way.

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Ethan Jerzak
National University of Singapore

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