Many philosophers want to use desires to account for
rationality, reasons, well-being, and so on. Few of them use actual desires in
this project. This is because actual desires are often ill-informed. In some
cases, had we known better we would not have desired to do what we did. As a
result, many philosophers, at least since Sidgwick, have used hypothetical,
informed desires in their accounts. I wonder how this part of the desire-based
views should be best formulated.
Here are few ways in which different people have put the
full-information condition for the relevant desires.
Brandt puts it in this way: “I shall pre-empt the term
‘rational’ to refer to actions, desires, or moral systems which survive maximal
criticism and correction by facts and logic” (Brandt 1979)”.
Williams (Smith 1994, 156): “[F]ully rational agent must satisfy the following
(i) the agent must have no false beliefs,
(ii) the agent must have *all relevant true beliefs*,
(iii) the agent must deliberate correctly.”
Smith uses this view about rationality to analyse claims about reasons, value, and desirability.
subjective interests for an individual A (Railton 1986). We get an idealized
agent, A+, by giving A “unqualified cognitive and imaginative powers, and *full
factual and nomological information* about his physical and psychological
constitution, capacities, circumstances, history, and so on”. By asking what A+
would want A to want in her circumstances we can find out what is in A’s
objective interest. And, what is in A’s objective interest is according to
Railton what is non-morally good for him.
seems to be defended by Brandt, Smith and Railton. It’s been well discussed
earlier by, for instance, Swanton, Hill, Gibbard, and by both fellow
Pea-Soupers David Sobel (‘Full Information Accounts of Well Being’) and Valerie
Tiberius (‘Full Information and Ideal Deliberation’). Anyway, I think I have a
case that raises slightly different worry which is more concerned with the
information about the situation from which the agent finds herself.
The book starts from George fitting on a new suit. He sees a brown spot on his
skin. ‘Cancer’ he thinks. As a result, George immediately wants to kill
rational in the light of the full-information condition? Later on, a doctor
tells George that he does not have cancer but only a benign skin-condition. George
does not believe this. He thinks that this is just what a doctor would lie to
you when you have cancer. However, we can imagine that George+ has the true
belief according to which George doesn’t have cancer. In this case, George+
would not want George to kill himself. This would make George’s current, actual
desire irrational. Even if George had cancer, fully informed George+ would
probably not want George to want to kill himself. Prospects are usually good.
have and which are relevant for his desire to kill himself. His only daughter
is getting married to a man he hates. His son is living and having sex with a
man. George is disgusted by homosexuality. His wife is having an affair with
George’s good friend. And, George’s only meaningful personal future project of
becoming an artist after the immediate retirement is going to turn out to be
unsatisfying and catastrophic. His life is falling apart but he doesn’t know
relevant information. It is conceivable that George+ wants George to kill
himself after all in order to save him from all the humiliation and misery that
will follow. If this was the case, then George’s desire to kill himself would
be rational after all.
we do not want to say this, how can we prevent the further information making a
difference. It seems difficult to say that the further information is
irrelevant for George’s desire to kill himself. After all, it certainly would
make a difference to what George+ would want.
information we should pay attention to in the rationality assessments should
reflect personal ideals of the agent. I wonder if that would deal with George’s
case in a way that would keep George’s suicidal desire irrational. I’m not sure
how that would work. Even if George does not vividly reflect on the further
information it seems to make the difference.
say this but it appears that Smith attributes a wrong view to Williams.
Williams actually formulates his view in the following way: ‘For it to be the
case that he actually has such a[n] [internal] reason, however, it seems that
the relevance of the unknown fact to his actions has to be fairly close and
immediate (Williams 1980, 103)’. This suggests that he thought that there can
be relevant information that is not close and immediate enough for assessing
whether the agent has reasons or not. Maybe the information in George’s story
falls into that category. Maybe the relevant information has to be about whatever
facts prompt the assessed, actual desire in the first place – object-focused
information rather than state-focused.