In “Dispositional Theories of Value”, Lewis endorses the following two claims.
- Something is valuable iff we value it under circumstances of ideal imaginative acquiantance.
- We value something iff we desire to desire it.
Here are a couple of counterexamples to this pair of theses. I don’t know whether these are at all original; I’m not very familiar with this literature.
Some people have many thwarted desires; others don’t. I value being one of the ones who does not. Or at least I think it is valuable to not have many thwarted desires, so if Lewis’s first thesis is right then I would value this under ideal circumstances.
But I don’t desire to desire this. To be sure, I do desire to not have thwarted desires. But I don’t regard this status of mine, desiring to not have thwarted desires, as something I have pro-attitudes towards. It seems to me constitutive of having desires that one desire to not have many thwarted desires, since I’m essentially a thing that has desires. So necessarily I desire to not have thwarted desires, so if I desired that I desire to not have thwarted desires, I’d be desiring something that I recognise as a necessary truth. And this seems like a very odd attitude to have. At any rate, I don’t have this attitude.
So this is a value, or at least something valuable, that I don’t desire to desire, and that I wouldn’t desire to desire if my circumstances were more ideal.
Perhaps there is a gap in that argument. I said it is essential to me that I desire not to have many thwarted desires. But I only have that property if I exist, and I might not exist. (Indeed, barring a dramatic medical revolution I won’t exist one of these centuries.) Maybe my desire to exist is a desire to desire that I not have many thwarted desires. I don’t really think it is. When I introspect I don’t see any second-order desire to desire to not have thwarted desires, but maybe I’m just not looking closely enough.
Still, considerations of existence and non-existence suggest a second counterexample to Lewis’s theory. Poor Billy is slowly and painfully dying. He belives (rightly or wrongly) that this protracted death is an affront to his dignity, and because he so values his dignity he wishes he were already dead.
Does Billy desire to desire dignity? No. He does desire dignity, but he wishes that he didn’t desire it, because he wishes that he had no desires at all. So Billy values something he doesn’t desire to desire.
Note that I’m not saying that anyone who desires not to exist thereby cannot reasonably desire anything that entails existence. That would be a most implausible claim about desire. (Or so I say; there are some who deny this, or something slightly weaker than it.) Rather, I’m just making it a condition of the case that Billy’s state is so deplorable by his own lights that as a matter of fact he does not desire anything that entails living, such as desiring dignity. That seems to me compatible with valuing dignity, so the second-order desire analysis of valuing fails.
Posted by Brian Weatherson in Workbench