On Essentially Conflicting Desires
The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 59, pp. 274-291, 2009
26 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 1, 2007
It is sometimes argued that having inconsistent desires is irrational or otherwise bad for an agent. If so, if agents seem to want a and not-a, then either their attitudes are being misdescribed – what they really want is some aspect x of a and some aspect y of not-a – or those desires are somehow ‘inconsistent’ and thus inappropriate. I argue first that the proper characterization of inconsistency here does not involve logical form, that is, whether the desires involved have the form ‘a and not-a’, but rather the possibility of fulfilling all one’s desires; and secondly, that the ‘essential’ conflicts involved in such inconsistencies are quite common and no worse for an agent than contingent conflicts. I draw implications concerning moral epistemology, moral realism and the logic of attitudes.
Keywords: desires, conflicting desires, dilemmas, ambivalence
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