Sobel on Pleasure, Reason, and Desire

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (1):101-115 (2011)
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Abstract
The paper begins with a well-known objection to the idea that reasons for action are provided by desires. The objection holds that since desires are based on reasons (first premise), which they transmit but to which they cannot add (second premise), they cannot themselves provide reasons for action. In the paper I investigate an attack that has recently been launched against the first premise of the argument by David Sobel. Sobel invokes a counterexample: hedonic desires, i.e. the likings and dislikings of our present conscious states. The aim of the paper is to defend the premise by bringing the alleged counterexample under its scope. I first point out that reference to hedonic desires as a counterexample presupposes a particular understanding of pleasure, which we might call desire-based. In response, following Sobel, I draw up two alternative accounts, the phenomenological and the tracking views of pleasure. Although Sobel raises several objections to both accounts, I argue in detail that the phenomenological view is not as implausible as he claims it to be, whereas the tracking view, on its best version advocated by Thomas Scanlon, is an instance of the phenomenological view and is therefore also defensible.
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First archival date: 2015-11-21
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