Irfan and I have had a bit of a reading project going. We have been reading through Nomy Arpaly and Tim Schroeder’s IN PRAISE OF DESIRE (affectionately, “IPOD”). I’m going to post some chapter or section summary/commentary here that is meant to more or less stand on its own (this helps me condense the material into clear essentials). It is also meant as an invitation to read the book, or sections of it, and “get into the weeds” with us. So here is (selective) summary/commentary for the IPOD Introduction (which, unlike many introductions, is substantive).
SUMMARY/COMMENTARY, IPOD “INTRODUCTION” (PP. 1-16)
- The “modest goal” of the book is to present a moral psychology according to which acting for the right (moral) reasons (ARR) is nothing more than acting on the right (moral) intrinsic desires (ID). Intuitively, the right desires are something like the desires for what is in fact good and right (and not, or not simply, desires for the good and the right that get it wrong about what the good and the right are). What is in fact good or right is provided by the correct normative moral theory. The book remains neutral on what this is (assuming, if only for the sake of running cases, that things like intrinsically desiring not to break promises will be among the right desires).
- The relevant underlying capacity to ARR is what it is to have a “good will.” This is simply having the right ID. It will sometimes be useful to talk about having a good will rather than ARR.
- By way of contrast, one might hold that being “oriented toward the right ends” (a plausible formal characterization of what it is to have a good will) is a matter of making correct judgments about the good and the right, where making such judgments does not constitute having the right intrinsic desires.
- They call their view “Spare Conativism” (SC). This reflects not only a contrast with theories according to which evaluative or normative judgments (perhaps guided by our capacities for explicit reasoning) orient us toward the right ends, but also a contrast with theories according to which it is having desires (with the right content) that have various sorts of rational or reflective pedigrees (fitting in with second-order desires, being endorsed by judgments based on good reasoning) that makes for having a good will and acting on the right (moral) reasons. Plain old ordinary ID does all of the work on the SC theory.
- Part of what will be defended is the idea that a part of acting for a reason (whether a good reason or a bad reason) – AR – is acting on or from one or more ID. If AR is acting on one or more ID then it makes sense that ARR is simply acting on the right sorts of ID.
- This view of AR is closely related to the traditional Humean view that only desires move us to act – there is nothing else that plays the role that desires do, nothing else that, along with instrumental information, is the “springboard” of action. In defending AR, Arpaly and Schroeder endorse a version of this view.
- Finally, the “less modest” goal of the book is to defend the desire-based view of moral psychology as a whole. This goal is a little less clear to me, but I think the idea is simply that a broad range of puzzles and phenomena in moral psychology can be solved or explained on the basis of SC. In the latter part of the book, they tackle such puzzles and phenomena.
- Comment1: It is consistent with SC that evaluative and normative (moral) judgment plays some role in motivating action. However, in accordance with their view of AR, such judgments could not be purely cognitive. Moreover, since SC is simple conativism, I don’t think that the presence of such judgments in one’s psychology (or their rational genesis, if any) could be essential to having a good will or ARR. I’m curious, though, what A&S have to say about moral judgment, reasoning to accurate moral judgment, and the place this has (or can have) in having a good will and ARR. If it is not essential, what role is it capable of playing?
- Comment2: One of the key things to be explained by a theory of AR is how what we think of as our “desires” (like the desire to stay in bed) can conflict with what we think of as our “judgment” about what is right or what is the best thing to do (get out of bed and go to work). In principle, this could simply be a conflict between desires (on some broad sense of ‘desire’) but this would need to be elucidated. But I take it that the theory of AR (and ARR) that they adopt has to buy into a view like this.
Please do give me feedback on whether this kind of summary/commentary is helpful/unhelpful, readable/not-very-readable, etc. I want to try to post something that is useful (and that folks can ask brief and clear questions about) without necessarily reading along. Though it is great if folks can do some reading along if they desire and have time.