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November 13, 2008


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I'll say a little bit more that I hope will be of use:

Certainly, cases like that (exploding world) make it such that we can't simply stipulate which desires do and do not provide reasons for action without knowing more. But acknowledging this is a broader denial of Humeanism that must be separated from denying that Mark is right that once we acknowledge that a desire provides us with a reason, it might provide us with all sorts of strange reasons (like to eat a car).

You write: "But I maintain that my resistance is best explained by my beliefs about the relevant values and the thought that those value claims entail that there is no reason in favor AND lots of reasons against his acting - a crude slogan: no reason if no (value or perceived value)."

This seems right to me: Desires can provide us reasons to act only if they are the sorts of things that can count in favor, namely that they either are themselves or further things of value. But we don't think that (non-outweighed) harms are of value, and so since some desires are for such harms, they are not themselves of value and do not further anything of value. Thus, we ought to deny the broad Humean thesis that desires are always (or even usually) reason-providing. But this is compatible with a part of Mark's view, namely that once we acknowledge that a desire is reason-providing, we are committed to its providing reasons for all sorts of strange actions. Eating a car is probably never going to be a good idea, but since it furthers my desire to get more iron in my diet, which stipulatively we have agreed is of (either inherent or instrumental) value, we have some reason to do so.

What your exploding-world case does, I think, is to point out that many desires, if valuable at all, are going to be valuable only instrumentally, because we think we can only determine what reasons we have once we know the consequences of acting on the desire in question. Normally, the desire to eat glass is a desire for a pure harm, but not when the world is at stake.

Hi David,

Well put; sounds like we are in agreement. Thanks for suggesting a nice way to express what I should accept in Mark's picture, along with his point about intuitions sometimes being misleading.


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