Dissertation, University of Geneva (2014)
Desires matter. How are we to understand the intentionality of desire? According to the two
classical views, desire is either a positive evaluation or a disposition to act: to desire a state is to positively evaluate it or to be disposed to act to realize it. This Ph.D. Dissertation examines these conceptions of desire and proposes a deontic alternative inspired by Meinong. On this view, desiring is representing a state of affairs as what ought to be or, if one prefers, as what should be. Desire involves a deontic manner of representing: a norm of the ought-to-be type features in desire’s intentional mode, as opposed to content. The dissertation is structured in three parts.
In order to defend this conception, I formulate three main desiderata for a promising theory of the intentionality of desire in the introduction (§0). The first concerns desire’s direction of fit, i.e. the intuition that the world should conform to our desires. The second concerns the death of desire principle, i.e. the intuition that one cannot desire what one represents as actual. The last pertains to desire’s role in psychological explanations, i.e. the intuition that desires can explain some mental states and be explained by other mental states.
The first part examines the main conceptions of desire in light of these desiderata. I argue that the classical pictures of desire do not adequately meet our desiderata. The first chapter is devoted to the evaluative conception (§1), while the second examines the motivational approach (§2). Following these criticisms, I then present the deontic view of desire (§3).
In the second part, I defend this conception with the help of three arguments. The main idea is
that appealing to norms of the ought-to-be type can satisfy our chief desiderata: the world should conform to norms (world-to-mind direction of fit, §4), norms are grounded on values and in turn ground obligations (explanation, §5), and norms are about non-actual states of affairs (death of desire principle, §6).
In the last part, I develop the deontic view to draw a cartography of the various types of desire.
Some desires are correct, while others are inappropriate. This distinction is explained by the
deontic conception, as it matches that between states of affairs that ought to obtain and states that should not obtain (§7). Two study cases are examined: caprice and the impermissibility of desire aggregation. Intuitively, hopes, wishes, or urges are types of desire. The next chapter presents a typology inspired by the deontic view and the type of norms there are (§8). The last chapter discusses the main objections to the deontic approach (§9).
In conclusion, I show the relevance of the deontic view for several debates in philosophy of mind and ethics. Desires are crucial because they are the ‘eye’ of what should be.