Desires as additional reasons? The case of tie-breaking

Philosophical Studies 152 (2):209-227 (2011)
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According to the Desire-Based Reasons Model reasons for action are provided by desires. Many, however, are critical about the Model holding an alternative view of practical reason, which is often called valued-based. In this paper I consider one particular attempt to refute the Model, which advocates of the valued-based view often appeal to: the idea of reason-based desires. The argument is built up from two premises. The first claims that desires are states that we have reason to have. The second argues that desires do not add to the stock of reasons the agent has for having them. Together the two theses entail that desires are based on reasons, which they transmit but to which they cannot add. In the paper I deal with a counterexample to the second premise: tie-breaking desires. I first distinguish two interesting cases and argue that only the second challenges the premise. Then I move onto analyze this challenge by focusing on Ruth Chang’s recent employment of it. I show that contrary to its counterintuitive appearance, the challenge can be sustained. However, I also argue that Chang overlooks the full potential of one particular response to the challenge: the introduction of higher-order reasons determining the normative significance of these desires. At the same time, I show that this response has a problem that Chang does not consider. As a result, the response can only partially disarm the challenge of tie-breaking desires; or not at all, depending on what significance we attribute to the counterexamples.
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