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Success semantics holds, roughly, that what it is for a state of an agent to be a belief that P is for it to be disposed to combine with her desires to cause behaviour that would fulfill those desires if P. J. T. Whyte supplements this with an account of the contents of an agent's “basic desires” to provide an attractive naturalistic theory of mental content. We argue that Whyte's strategy can avoid the objections raised against it by restricting “basic desires” to sensory inclinations that cause us to do things independently of our beliefs about their contents.
I argue that one of the basic tenets of classical liberalism is that, if left free, people will cooperate and reciprocate with others as a means to pursue their own individual desires. Yet, if one is not careful, the rules and institutions that evolve within society over time may crowd out the motivation for people to reciprocate, and may instead crowd in their tendency towards selfish egoism. Policy makers therefore have a role to play in nurturing the conditions that, ideally, protect and foster the intrinsic human tendency to reciprocate. However, one should not try to force people to be cooperative; the tendency to reciprocate ought to be autonomously driven, and the extent to which people are driven to reciprocate – both positively and negatively – will often be influenced heavily by perceptions of desert. I finish by proposing a few ways for reciprocity to be nurtured: namely, for policy makers to emphasise the importance of this basic human tendency in their rhetoric; to address the extreme concentrations in income and wealth that have been allowed to accumulate in many countries over recent decades; and to decentralise, as far as possible, public policy decision making.
Academics and policy makers in several countries have been advocating for measures of utility and happiness to replace income as indicators of development, and the paternalism that has dominated behavioural public policy to date is justified in that people often fail to choose in accordance with their own well-being. Yet the notion of utility has a somewhat confused history, meaning different things to different people at different times. Hume, for instance, aligned utility with public usefulness, Bentham with pleasure and pain, and Mill and modern welfare economists with pretty much anything. A possible reason why there are many different meanings attached to the concept of utility is because many people, much of the time, are not driven to maximise utility at all. That is, the pursuit of utility does not drive desires, but rather desires are antecedent. Moreover, desires are multifarious and vary across people. The policy maker’s role over the private realm of individual decision-making should not therefore be to strive to maximise utility, but rather to put in place conditions that facilitate people in the pursuit of their own conception of a desired life.
This chapter concludes the book. In it, I summarise the principal arguments I made in all of the other chapters, before offering some final words as food for thought. Ultimately, I conclude that there are two arms to my political economy of behavioural public policy. The first arm is for policy makers to allow people a great deal of individual autonomy, while at the same time shaping the general institutional environment so as to nurture people’s almost intrinsic desire to cooperate and reciprocate with others. The second arm recognises that some people will act on their selfish, egoistic inclinitations when afforded a great deal of freedom, and thus in those circumstances where people implicitly or explicitly use the behavioural influences to serve themselves and to harm others, the policy maker has an intellectual justification to intervene in their actions and behaviours.
This chapter concerns the Aristotelian Feelings. Aristotle provides a list of the feelings in Nicomachean Ethics II 5, but he fails to give any analysis of their inner workings. For that we need to turn to Aristotle’s Rhetoric II 1-11 and passages from his de Anima. While it is a controversial matter to appeal to texts outside the Nicomachean Ethics, I argue that it is possible to draw important lessons from these texts for the interpretation of the Ethics while keeping sight of the major differences between the scope and often of the content of these different works. Two important features of the feelings that emerge from such an examination are: (1) that the feelings provide indexical insight – information about the immediate context of choice and action; and (2) that the feelings, while motivational, only get their direction from a person’s character and the particular circumstances that person is in. For example, sympathy (eleos) may motivate one to help someone in need if one is a good person, or it may motivate one to turn away, if one is a bad person.
Robert Myers’ interpretation of Donald Davidson's practical philosophy gets Davidson right in many fundamental respects. Myers rightly argues that Davidson avoids inconsistencies among internalism, ethical objectivity, and the belief-desire theory by modifying central elements of the Humean belief-desire theory, and that Davidson's alternative legitimizes the extension of his interpretation and triangulation arguments into the practical sphere. But at a crucial fork in the interpretive road Myers loses his way. Davidson follows G.E.M. Anscombe down a different path, one that takes individual desires to be constituted in part by evaluative judgements.
My aim in this paper is to show that animal motives play an important role in guiding human agents to virtue, according to Reid. Animal motives, for Reid, are constituted of desires and of their objects. These desires are intrinsic desires for objects other than moral or prudential worth. However, from a rational and moral point of view, animal motives are good and useful parts of the human constitution that lead to happiness, teach self-government, create the habit of acting virtuously, and add force to rational motives. Understanding animal motives as guides to virtue provides Reid with the hybrid sentimentalist/rationalist account he seeks to offer.
Deliberation often begins with the question ‘What do I want to do?’ rather than a question about what one ought to do. This paper takes that question at face value, as a question about which of one’s desires is strongest, which sometimes guides action. The paper aims to explain which properties of a desire make that desire strong, in the sense of ‘strength’ relevant to this deliberative question. The paper argues that one’s judgment about one wants most will sometimes play a verdictive role, partially determining what the agent most wants, and so making itself true.
The paper proposes a fresh look at the concept of goal and advances that motivational attitudes like desire, goal and intention are just facets of the broader notion of (acceptable) outcome. We propose to encode the preferences of an agent as sequences of “alternative acceptable outcomes”. We then study how the agent's beliefs and norms can be used to filter the mental attitudes out of the sequences of alternative acceptable outcomes. Finally, we formalise such intuitions in a novel Modal Defeasible Logic and we prove that the resulting formalisation is computationally feasible.
I address an overlooked question about the structure of the cognitive/conative model of the mind that underlies much of the work in economics, psychology and philosophy: namely, whether conative states are fundamentally monistic (desire-like) or comparative (preference-like). I argue that two seemingly promising sets of theoretical considerations – namely, the structure of Rational Choice Theory, and considerations of computational efficiency – are unable to resolve this debate. Given this, I suggest that a consideration that speaks in favour of the preference-based view is the fact that it makes it easier to explain certain empirically observed patterns in decision making.
Thinkers in the Zhànguó period of Chinese history debated intensely whether men were by nature “good” or “bad”. This debate has for many years been an important focus of sinological interest, but usually these properties were not attributed to men, but rather to so-called “human nature” (xìng 性) – thus, in effect, mirroring well-known (and problematic) “European” positions and discussions. The aim of this paper is, on the one hand, to redirect attention to the original Zhànguó positions and to explore the reasons for their variance by offering novel and close historical readings of relevant passages, and on the other, to propose a viable historical reconstruction of the common anthropological assumptions underlying these positions by blending it with the traces of a dominant cognitive image present in the texts. This calls for a systematic rethinking of the role of hearts (in the plural), desires, and behavioural patterns in their interplay and as elements of a concept of the psychological build of human beings current in early China.
This chapter claims that the cumulative force of various empirical data and conceptual considerations makes it more reasonable to accept than to deny that many animals are self-aware. It considers studies focusing on animals' preferences. In the philosophy of mind, desires and beliefs are classified as propositional attitudes, mental states that take propositions or sentences as their objects. Desires to do certain things and intentional actions that involve doing them suggest at least some rudimentary awareness of oneself as persisting through time. Strengthening the case for intentional action, and therefore for bodily self-awareness, is evidence of more sophisticated behaviors in animals involving planning, complex problem-solving, and/or tool use. Like intentional action involving a plan, fear requires some awareness that one will continue into the future. Since Gordon Gallup's pioneering experiments, self-recognition with mirrors has often been cited as evidence of self-awareness in animals.
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