Quote of the Week: Jeffrey on Desirability

“It my indeed by that I desire something, and later, when I have it, find it not as good as I had thought. This is a case where my judgement of desirability have changed as a result of experience.”  – Richard Jeffrey. The Logic of Decision. p. 63

I am currently rereading Richard Jeffrey’s classic The Logic of Decision to refresh my knowledge of decision theoy and this passage caught my eye. It occurs in a discussion of whether we can desire something we have (or believe to have) and amounts to little more than an aside. For a quote of the week it might seem less than exciting, but it surprised and excited me.

The formulation is not entirely clear, but Jeffrey appears to suggest that a desire is a judgement that something is desirable. The goodness of the thing appears to come first. We learn it through experience and adapt or at least should adapt our desires to it. Our judgements of desirability are proven wrong, if things are less good than we thought. It is not just that we found out that we have different desires than we thought, rather our judgements of desirability are proven wrong by experience.

This picture conflict with the kind of non-cognitive Humeanism I would have assumed to find in a book on decision theory. I would have assumed that Jeffrey presents desires not as a form of judgement and that the goodness of objects would not guide the desires. Desires would be practical states conferring the desirabaility to objects. Instead I found this surprising quote, which reminds me more Elijah Millgram’s work on practical reasoning.

Sadly, I am still catching up on decision theory and lack acquaintance with Jeffrey’s later work. I do not know yet whether this quote conflicts with Jeffrey’s other contributions or whether it fits in.

Quote of the Week: David Lewis on Possible Worlds

“As the realm of sets is for mathematicians, so logical space is a paradise for philosophers. We have only to believe in the vast realm of possibilia, and there we find what we need to advance our endeavours” – David Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds, p. 4

I don’t know anyone else who can make modal realism – the idea that all possible worlds are equally real – sound so enticing as David Lewis. All our problems dissolve and we live in paradise if we just swallow this one premise! What seemed utterly absurd a second ago becomes tempting upon reading Lewis.

Beside attesting to Lewis’ qualities as a used-car salesman, the quote reveals features of Lewis’ conception of philosophy. It is a philosophy which invites the comparison with mathematics, in which formal logic and metaphysical debates about the reality of possible worlds go hand in hand. Paradise lies in construncting the simplest and most powerful theory describing all we ever want to describe.


Quote of the Week: Dewey on Social Judgements

The evils in current social judgments of ends and policies arise […] from importations of judgments of value from outside inquiry. The evils spring from the fact that the values employed are not determined in and by the process of inquiry […].

-John Dewey, Late Works Volume 12, p. 496

The quote illustrates Dewey’s emphasis on the epistemic endeavour of inquiry. The values which lead our social judgements should arise out of this endeavour, at least as far as Dewey is concerned.

The quote also reveals how moralising Dewey can be concerning social judgments. He does not merely accuse the judgements of being bad, he accuses them of being evil. I find this moralising aspect of his theory the hardest to justify. In the end, I do not see how he can defend it without contradicting himself or accepting a fundamental revision to this theory.

If you want, you can add here the usual paragraph about defending the value of inquiry/science/truth in the age of alternative facts.

Quote of the Week: L. A. Paul on Having Children

I conclude that having your first child, in many ways, is like becoming a vampire.

– L. A. Paul, Transformative Experience, p. 82

This quote invites jokes and Paul makes one in a footnote. (You have to get the book to find out what the punchline is. It is not that great.) But she also has a serious point. Both choices, having a child or becoming a vampire pose problems to normative decision theory. Can we ever rationally choose to become parents or rationally choose against it? The decision would lead to unforeseeable experiences, which transform our own motivations.

For more see my discussion of Paul’s book.

Quote of the Week: Misak on Peirce and Peirce on Doubt and Action

In Peirce’s view, what is wrong with the state of doubt is not that is uncomfortable, although it is in fact uncomfortable. What is wrong with doubt is that it leads to a paralysis of action.

-Cheryl Misak, The American Pragmatists, p. 33

I consider Misak one of the best current scholars of pragmatism and in this quote she captures a distinctive feature of pragmatist thought. Many philosopher have produced theories about belief and knowing, but the pragmatists have their own theory of doubt, which they turned against the Cartesian scepticism.

Misak’s quote points out the strong connection between doubt and action, or rather paralysis of action. I wonder, however, whether we should say that causing paralysis of action is wrong. Is it not the function of doubt to stop action? And in many situations such a pause to action in light of doubt might be advisable. If in doubt whether the bridge will carry the weight of my car, I should stop in front of it.

However, the pragmatists seem to think that the paralysis is always something to be overcome. At least until the end of the universe, action has primacy. Doubt plays a role in redirecting the action, giving it a secondary role.

Quote of the Week: Amartya Sen on Revealed Preferences

I do not find it difficult to believe that birds and bees and dogs and cats do reveal their preferences by choice; it is with human beings that the proposition is not particularly persuasive. An act of choice for this social animal is, in a fundamental sense, always a social act.

– Sen, “Behaviour and the Concept of Preferences”, p. 253

Continue reading “Quote of the Week: Amartya Sen on Revealed Preferences”

Quote of the Week: Robert Nozick on Charitable Interpretation

The most charitable interpretation presents only one facet of something’s nature.

– Nozick, The Nature of Rationality, p. 158

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