On the Rational Impotence of Urges

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Abstract
Intuitively, it seems that certain basic desires, or urges, are rationally impotent, i.e., that they provide no reasons for action (a famous example is Warren Quinn's story of a man who has a brute urge to turn on every radio he sees). This intuition seems to conflict with the internalist, or Humean subjectivist, claim that our desires give us reasons. But Harry Frankfurt's well-known subjectivist account, with its distinction between first- order and higher-order desires and its concepts of identification and commitment, may be able to accommodate this intuition. Andrew Reitsma has argued that to do so, it needs to be supplemented with a concept of "personal ideals", which demand that we give no normative weight to certain inclinations. I argue that Reitsma's account depends on the unexplained assumption that some kinds of desire have special standing, and thus cannot improve on the explanation of the rational impotence of urges already available to Frankfurt.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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