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North American Philosophical Publications

A Paradox of Desire Author(s): Stephen Schiffer Source: American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Jul., 1976), pp. 195-203 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the North American Philosophical Publications Stable URL: . Accessed: 15/10/2013 11:23
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13, Number

3, July


I. Acting On A Desire One Desires Not To Have of mine to chocolate; is allergic causes him to break out in eating chocolate and that also de? painful hives. He is overweight him. his is for choco? weakness presses Naturally, late, and from time to time he craves something bar or more of milk chocolate chocolate?a (with chocolate ice cream almonds), fudge brownies, covered with hot fudge sauce, you unstintingly name it. With prodigious conviction he says that he desires not to have these cravings, and to resist them if he does have them. There is no mystery here; he feels that the relief and transitory pleasure to be got from satisfying such a craving would not be worth suffering the hives, let alone the hives to his already ample shape (some? addition the plus thing we may henceforth ignore; the hives will be And sometimes when the yet, only enough). come some? does he resist cravings successfully; times he does not. When my friend succumbs he is, I believe, acting on a desire he desires not to have, and because, as will soon emerge, I find in such behavior a logical that is what this paper begins by being paradox, about that precisely; it is about. Not, however, catchy to talk about acting on a desire one desires
not to have, than that one but this paper is more exactly about on

and desires not to have is a craving for some?

A **


I hope no one will dispute that thing chocolate; are desires. Now prior to the onslaught cravings of any craving there can be no doubt whatever that
A desires not to crave chocolate more than he de?

more about

on a desire which
desires phenomenon

one desires


to have

to have, and then as manifested

really only in cases of

what we call "weakness of the will." One might desire not to be thirsty, while, being thirsty, one a qualm; and this too might be a drinks without
case of acting on a desire one desires not to have ;

sires to crave it, if indeed he even has any desire to crave or to have any other kind of desire for choco? late. To him the cravings are capricious and in? calculable forces intruders, hostile and dreaded compelling him to do what he wants not to do; if he had a drug to prevent them he would gladly, take it. It is true that often when unhesitatingly, he is finally smitten by a craving, especially one ^4's strong enough to impel him to eat chocolate, by self thinking becomes fuzzy and permeated but not always; and then the self deception; serve to allow him and fuzziness deception mainly to act on the desire which he still desires not to have, reviling it even as he acts on it. it will be objected that one can neither Maybe desire to have nor desire not to have what one knows one already has ; if so I have two replies. Firstly, I disagree that one cannot desire what one already has; how else could one tell one's sweet? heart that he or she is everything one desires ? (But I allow that I might have spoken more accurately, if not less barbarously, of A acting on a desire he desires not to be having.) I have only a nice phrase to lose in Secondly, I could instead speak agreeing with the objection; of A acting on a desire which he periphrastically than he is glad he wishes he did not have more has and which he desires to be immediately rid of
more to have. than he desires to continue even for a moment

only in this sort of case, as opposed to ours, one is doing the most rational thing; what one regrets is having a good and sufficient reason for drinking. I will only say a little now in defense of the idea that my friend, whom I shall for convenience call on a is not desire he to desires I have.1 'A\ acting am of course assuming that the sort of desire A acts

it seems to me that So, with these reservations, when he is A, succumbs, acting on a desire he
desires not to have, one that he desires not to have

more than he desires to have. On the other to show there is quite a plausible argument is logically impossible that A in such cases be acting on a desire he desires not to have
*'Freedom C. Jeffrey's of the Will "Preference

hand, that it should more

and the

is a stimulating There discussion of similar second-order desires in Harry G. Frankfurt's of a Person," The Journal vol. 68 (1971), and in Richard Concept of Philosophy, pp. 5-20, The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 71 (1974), pp. 377-391. Preferences," 195


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I will not con? than he desires to have. Although cern myself much with this point, perhaps the para? dox now to be propounded helps to explain why have found weakness of since Socrates philosophers the will so paradoxical. II. The Paradox

than one

and one desires s" not to be realized more

desires s" to be realized just in case one

to be In

s' not to be realized more

realized. the argument, now to follow,

than one desires

there are two

for simplicity. that I make merely assumptions to the plausible assumption that One, tantamount
the hives are a certain outcome of ^4's eating choco?

From the fact that A acts on his desire to eat that he chocolate we are led to the conclusion desires to eat chocolate more than he desires not to the fact that he desires suffer the hives. From not to have his desire to eat chocolate more than he desires to have it we are led to the conclusion that he desires not to suffer the hives more than he desires to eat chocolate. Thus we are landed with
a contradiction and that is our paradox.

The argument for the first part of the paradox, to the relative the inference from ^4's behavior not of his be need desires, spelled out ; it strengths and in the obvious way is based straightforwardly on the credible principle that when there is a con? flict of desires one acts on the strongest of those desires if on any of them. I shall spell out the argument for the second it is not really more part of the paradox, although complex than the argument for the first part would be if it were spelled out, and not I hope less intui? for the first part of the tive; like the argument on is it based seemingly incontrovertible paradox, I in mind have the principle of desire. principles
from which derives the Kantian slogan, "To will

case from which late, is that A, in the hypothetical is derived, knows that his desire the contradiction to eat chocolate will with equal certainty lead to out in and to his breaking his eating chocolate without with and that, again hives, equal certainty, his desire neither of these outcomes will result. is artificial, but only The other assumption, which in a way that is immaterial to the success or failure is that A desires not to have his of the argument, desire to eat chocolate solely because his having that desire will result in his breaking out in painful I wish here to hives; and the natural complexity avoid (no doubt there are others) is that a craving of the sort we are imagining A to have is not only to satisfy but discomforting to endure, pleasurable
and when one acts on such a craving one acts

not only to gain the pleasure but also to relieve the for this feature, like allowing discomfort. Allowing for the relevant outcomes having different proba? bilities, would only involve a needless complexity; anyway, I might have been so risqu? as to make A the victim of a sexual craving, for such desires, I
are often told, pleasurable a to level of intensity. certain up is the argument. then, Here, am to endure, at least

the end is to will the means," that, all other things or to that which one averse is desires being equal,2 is known by one to be necessary and sufficient for one desires or is of that which the realization averse to ; and also the corollary principle, that the
derived desire or aversion, the desire or aversion for

(i) For
x more than


x, if one desires
to have x, and


to have


if there

states of affairs s and s' such that one knows that both, with equal certainty, will result if and only if
one solely desires has x, and such one to suffer that desires s more one not desires to suffer one not s, desires to have then s'. one x because not

the realization of a state of affairs known to be what is required for the realization of a more ulti? state of affairs, has a mately desired or repugnant to the strength of the desire strength proportional so that, for it is derived; or aversion from which
example, if there are states of affairs s, s' and s"


(2) A knows
breaking out

that his eating

are equally


and his

in hives

such that one desires to be realized, and

certainty one necessary desires

s to be realized, desires s' not knows s" to be with equal

and sufficient for the realiza?

tion of both

s and s', then, all other

s" to be realized more

things being
than one

desires s" not to be realized just in case one desires s to be realized more than one desires s' not to be

and that of his having his desire to eat chocolate, neither outcome, with equal certainty, will result that desire. without not to have his desire to eat choco? A desires (3) late more than he desires to have it. (4) A desires not to have his desire to eat choco? late solely because he desires not to suffer his out in hives. breaking

2 Some



this ceteris paribus




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197 his


(5) Therefore, A desires not to suffer his breaking in hives more than he desires his eating


a certain






III. The With


Of Derived


but one exception, I shall not even consider to the crucial assumptions challenges leading to the can one see how contradiction; easily they might go and how good a little ingenuity might make to what I feel, them. Instead I shall go directly is the heart of the matter. perhaps mistakenly, If one desires a certain state of affairs to be realized and one knows of a certain other state of affairs that its realization is necessary and sufficient for the first to be realized, then, all other things being of this second equal, one desires the realization state of affairs. This most intuitive idea, the back? bone of Kant's the first slogan, is what underlies it of the and is here, argument, premiss just with this seemingly unexceptionable principle of desire, that the trouble lies ; for a certain kind of desire, I to shall try to show, itself provides an exception that principle of desire, a principle which I shall call "The Principle of Derived Desire." henceforth There is in the next room, let us imagine, a piece I desire, and even intend, to eat of cake which to and the eating of which I have no presently I whatsoever. that if, moreover, know, objection but only if, my desire persists a little will I eat the I then also have the desire either to cake. Must
have now, or to continue in the next few moments

and know that this outcome is wholly dependent on his desire for it, and yet, as we have seen, not only not desire to have that desire but actually desire not to have it, and desire not to have it only be? cause having itwill result in some outcome towhich
he is averse, even though, these in fact, intuitions his aversion may

not be as strong as his desire for the welcomed

come. Admittedly, are so far


to by any theory; supported remedy shortly. some desires provide to The exceptions Only a desire for Principle of Derived Desire. Typically, but that I hope
chocolate does, a desire for self-preservation or a


to treat others


does not:

one desires
one will not



to have that preserve oneself unless one continues desire, and so one desires to continue to desire to preserve oneself; one desires to treat others kindly and, knowing one will do so only as long as one has to have that that desire, one desires to continue

Why governs
resolution question,

is it that The Principle of Derived Desire some desires but not others ?A satisfactory
of and the to an answer awaits paradox I now this answer venture, to this albeit

by a slightly



IV. Two


Of Desires

to have, that desire? if my the least mind

mere next. whim, passing if as Of course,

I think not; I might turns out hankering

here one I supposed moment, I also

not in to be a

the gone to eat intend

which are There are two kinds of desires?those a in certain and way, self-referring self-justifying and those which are neither self-justifying nor self refer to the referring at all; I shall tendentiously first as "reason providing (r-p)" desires, and to the
second Should as "reason-following one's desire to desires. (r-f)" an r-f-desire be <f> and

the cake, then I must believe that my desire will persist long enough for me to eat the cake; I must in other words, that I will not change my believe, that is a belief I may have unaccom? but mind; desire not to change my mind. Then, any panied by if that example is acceptable, I might desire to eat to eating it; I the cake and also have objections I think that would be better off without all might those calories; I might not only not desire to con? tinue to have my desire to eat the cake but desire to be rid of that desire altogether, and this though I know that I will eat the cake if, but only if, my desire persists a little. So one can see how the premiss in question might be false : a person might
3 I assume that for our purposes there eat chocolate." to keep the argument Also, they are implicit. is no brief relevant I have

should one in fact </>,then there will be a reason is both the reason for which one desires to <f> which
and the reason for which one <?'s, and this reason

will be entirely independent, logically, of the fact that one desires to </>. One thinks of one's fang as being desirable in a certain way and it is because one's <?ing is thought by one to be desirable in that and <?'s; it is not way that one both desires to (f> that one finds one's <?ing because one desires to <j>
desirable; when one's desire is an r-f-desire one

believes that even if one did not have the desire one would have reason to have it. So a desire to repay
a loan would be an r-f-desire, chocolate" since and so would a

"A desires difference between omitted the necessary temporal

his eating qualifications

to and "A desires it is quite clear how

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to flip the switch

to avoid hurting

a (to turn on the light), or

someone. And so, I think,

only because
relief of

of one's desire

for the pleasure




<f>ing affords;



be a desire to go to the ballet, when one expects to enjoy it, and a desire to be moral, and a
to relieve a headache; even such desires, I

to <f> is self-justifying, but what justifies the desire is the pleasure and relief of discomfort affords. (?>ing
Now there are, as we have already noticed, r-f

feel inclined to say, have their reasons : one desires to be rid of a pain because it is a pain; the ultimacy in the desire as in its lies, so to speak, not so much object.
Matters r-p-desires. acts on, are When the reason quite it the is an reverse r-p-desire one when to <?'s and, we turn to one (/> that


to gain pleasures and to relieve discomforts to the ballet for pleasure, takes aspirin goes (one
relieve a headache), not and before we can see


this latest conundrum

are among them.

we need

to see why

for which


is provided the only reason one has to <f>,

one's will desire bear to some and, <j> in a sense one's that elaboration, reason

entirely by
course for <f>ing

in due

just is that desire ; this, of course, is one reason I At this call such desires "reason-providing." moment I have not the least desire to eat an ice
cream or, for that matter, to scratch my nose; but

to do either of those if I now had an r-p-desire a I should have things good and sufficient reason for doing it.
But r-p-desires also provide has an one the reasons, the

thirst is an r-p-desire to drink and when one drinks, it is true, one does so for the pleasure and one expects from drinking. relief of discomfort a mistake it would be altogether to Nevertheless a was an to that thirst r-f-desire for drink; suppose then it would have to be a desire one had because one expected drinking to be pleasurable and re? lieving, and the barrier to supposing such a desire to be derived from such an expectation is of course that the desire to drink itself iswhat is discomfort? ing and the anticipated pleasure is itself the pleasure that desire. One does not have a of gratifying A
thirst because one expects to gain pleasure and

reason has an for which r-p-desire


one because

r-p-desire, thinks

is never
one of what never one

as being desirable in a certain way; one one has an find desirable what does, however, and is what is because desired for, r-p-desire desirable in the way found desirable, one does have desires
reason desire is, to desire what in the absence desires, of defeating considerations, one and one's

from drinking; rather the of discomfort : one to and relief of expects gain pleasure opposite one has that from drinking because discomfort thirst, that desire to drink. relief
So is that with r-p-desires are desires they one generally: which, or and the their almost sine qua non are always, in


always pleasure

to satisfy


fact, discomfort

the are


other; of relief


It is, therefore,
in a certain way



a thing
has an r-p



it is desirable in desire for it; quite the contrary, that way precisely because one has the desire, and
it is thus that reasons for them?

in that what related, inextricably nearly always one anticipates relief of dis? is just the pleasurable comfort (which is why r-p-desires are often desires
for immediate satisfaction?but not necessarily

that satisfaction: gourmand desires for immediate r-p-desires provide crave mousse are to chocolate not A it is thus that he is, selves, they beyond self-justifying. one that he is, on an acts this also is true: when And for dessert throughout dinner; gourmet yet, one that he have acts the suggestion and for the gain of pleasure the he would abominate r-p-desire the mousse while he is relishing the Veau Prince relief of discomfort?usually both, always one or is both self one's action affords; it is for that the other?that Orloff). Thus it is that an r-p-desire and relief the one acts, and and because that one acts and that is why pleasure by justified justifying to be expected from its gratification. made desirable by its connection with one's action is of discomfort it an r-p-desire say not "I desire it because With pleasure and discomfort, one's desire is justified. me an? on relieve and it We would the brink of will my discomfort," stand, appear, pleasure give to act on an "It will give me pleasure and relieve to to other <f> but rather, paradox: </>is r-p-desire only because one has that desire, but it is also to cf> my discomfort because I desire it."4
. . . this when noticed he remarked that "hunger, Hume good and evil, and produce lust, and a few other bodily appetites his not from them . . ." (A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by L. A. Selby-Bigge 1888], II. iii. 9). However, [Oxford, proceed r-f and r-p-desires distinction between calm and violent is not the same as that between ; there are violent r-f as well passions that sense of "want" which as calm r-p, desires. Nor between is my distinction the same as that alleged by J. C. B. Gosling entails viewing what has no such entailment is wanted with pleasure, and that sense which 1969], [Oxford, (Pleasure and Desire between to me distinction are for pleasure, is Thomas and some r-p ones are not. Closer p. 97fr.) : some r-f desires Nagel's 4

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if one's



</> is




will also desire to gain the pleasure and relief of discomfort fang affords; since the pleasure is the of to the one's desire and pleasure </>, gratifying the discomfort discomfort of that desire, one has a desire for the pleasure of gratifying one's desire to and for the relief of the discomfort ofthat desire, <f>, relief and, more often than not, for the pleasurable of the discomfort of that desire. Only a couple of back it puzzled us that to act on an paragraphs is to (f> r-p-desire to <j> only because one has that one desires the pleasure but also because desire, only and relief of discomfort fang affords. If this is to be taken literally, as it ought to be, there is one and a way only one way of avoiding a contradiction,
which desire satisfying one and should to come now desire to to as no </>, one's one's gain <f>, one's An one's surprise: of the pleasure to relieve desire

desire to drink and that must not be impossible if I am right ; merely reflecting on the great differ? ences between r-p and r-f-desires I am inclined to is the idea that a sufficient condition disparage a person were limit it would true, which, provided,
to one desire for a scotch on the rocks at a time.


a scotch is a that drinking let us pretend that to inform your accomplice signal pre-arranged has arrived, and that at the appro? the Ambassador
priate moment you and form the r-f-desire for a scotch ;





you begin




a scotch, a good stiff one; finally, you give the a scotch, but signal, satisfying your r-f-desire for this barely touches your still persisting r-p-desire to suppose for a scotch. Is it really so implausible that during the over-lap you had two desires to
drink scotch, one an r-f-desire, the other an r-p


the discomfort

of one's desire
same desire.

to <f>?these are all

r-p-desire is a self

an desire for its own gratification; a to to to is the dis? desire relieve r-p-desire ^ <f> comfort of that desire, a desire to </> for the pleasure of its own relief. So a thirst is a desire to drink, a a discomforting to drink, desire discomforting to desire to drink which would be pleasurable a to to In desire drink itself. this relieve, gratify referential
way r-p-desires are self-referring.5

These considerations bring us to something worth digressing on a little. From what is written states one about psychological by philosophers a to too it truth would obvious be worth suppose are that individuated desires entirely questioning that for any propo? by their objects, in this way: sitions (if I may be allowed them just to make a point) p and q, one's current desire that p is identical with one's current desire that q if, and of fact only if, p is identical with q. As a matter this provides a necessary condition only if it is impossible for one's desire to drink to be identical with one's desire to relieve the discomfort of one's

desire, the two having different causes and different durations ? these matters, This is not the time to develop but it can be noticed that the issue here is bound up with the question of the logical form of desire sentences. The and other propositional-attitude counts desires by which theory of individuation their objects, and is at once too stingy and too is encouraged by a theory of logical generous, sees simple desire sentences as being form which in a schema notation in canonical representable of the form
D xv .. ., xn, an

wherein relating favorite language, an and

desire the one

is conceived who desires



rc-ary objects sentence

relation of one's and intension a

to n?i or or of an a

kinds?a or m-ary an

proposition, utterance, sequence

m-ary or items,



I favor, finds moderate view, which a of well Davidson's extension natural hospitable known theory of the logical form of event senten more

desires are the same his motivated motivated and unmotivated desires 1970], pp. 29-30); [Oxford, (The Possibility of Altruism desires. as my r-^desires, but my r-p desires are only a proper subset of his unmotivated but not by definition exclusive are by definition Notice that the class of r-p-desires and the class of r-f-desires jointly mutually share both r-p and r-f-features. extent a desire may of to what the point of this is to leave open the question exhaustive; 6 . . a . . .1, where a is a singular term that. if it satisfies a completion is self-referential of the form rx is a desire A desire So a self-referential in the completion. to that desire and occurring transparently) (though not necessarily referring referentially desire for of a self-referential of the existence to be skeptical itself. (One ought desire is, so to speak, a de re desire concerning like "my present desire will have at least one value for a which, is the only value of a; a good self-referential which "this desire" to that desire.) no indexical to drink," desire contains itself referring that every to see, Gilbert Harmon I was fortunate which In an unpublished "Practical suggests enough paper, Reasoning," lead that that very intention will to do A is the intention to do an act is self-referential in that "your intention intention positive had I not read Harmon's are self-referential sense in whi ch r-p-desires to your doing A" the quite different I would have missed paper.

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ces,6 like



which to

has eat

simple spaghetti,5'


sentences, represented

cake will be a desirable

have and continue

thing for me
my r-p-desire

to do only
to eat

if I



to have

cake, and I believe that the reason why I need not desire to desire the cake is that a person may desire (3y) Dnx1,...,xn_1,y; the realization of a state of affairs because he so that if, for example, a proposition is what one to it to him in a certain way be desirable expects likes as the object of a desire, then the sentence without that it be in that way. desirable desiring come out about Caesar would to For, this being so, we should have an exception (3y) (Desires (Caesar, that the above principle whenever the truth of q is Caesar eat spaghetti, y)), necessary for the truth of p being desirable, which as "There I think is what we find. A person might, to be read approximately is a state y for ex? to a desire have her such that y is a desire of Caesar's of because ample, leg amputated [or desiring eat that is the only way to save her life, that Caesar she believes after which, Caesar's] spaghetti," and this does not imply that she desires that having all, only takes seriously the evident equivalence to eat spaghetti" her leg amputated be the only way to save her life ; between "Caesar desires and to eat for one need not desire that which "Caesar has a desire is needed to spaghetti." one we that must not which on make desires like desirable. travellers However, speedy a dusty road lose sight of our starting point; But if one need not desire what one knows to be between of what one desires, r-p and r-f-desires necessary for the desirability having distinguished we need now to return to the question which began then it further stands to reason that one need not it all, of why The Principle of Derived desire it even when it is also known to be necessary Desire some not all but of it for the realization of what one desires. And this, I that is governs desires, why one does not desire one's desire for chocolate to to submit, is why r-p-desires provide exceptions even one of knows that is The Derived what is an the of though Desire; persist Principle object required for one to get the chocolate one desires, r-p-desire ismade desirable just by the fact of one's on the other hand, one does desire one's while, having that desire and because of this one need not desire to preserve oneself to persist just because one desire to have that desire, even though having it knows that iswhat is required for one to realize the may also be necessary for the realization of that one desires. which one desires to be realized. It is only when the answer self-preservation Certainly must lie somewhere in the fact that only r-p is not also required for the desirability the means it must be that feature desires are self-justifying; of the end that The Principle of Derived Desire
of them which somehow makes a difference with

in canonical


in a schema of the form

of Derived Desire. The respect to The Principle it appropriate solution I have in mind makes that we begin by noting our commitment to the falsity of yet another intuitive principle of desire. is that if one desires both that p That principle
and rational that if p, and q, then aware one?at of what one rate any his desires who are? is

applies. to have

Hence one's

the explanation r-f-desire for

of why


desires the


of self-preservation is al? desirability of one's desire for it. together independent There is in fact a way of sorts of testing this solution ; if it is the correct one there ought to be
an example state not begging the question that the about r-p


a certain of a

in which

a person

knows affairs

the realization
realization is necessary


to accept

that q.And

the point

to be made
I offered

here is that
on p. 197



of affairs, state other

to the Principle of Derived Desire is to accept what is in fact also a counterexample to this latest princi? a if I to For eat desire ple. piece of cake I shall certainly desire to eat the cake only if I still have the desire to eat it, I shall, that is, desire not to eat it unless I desire to; otherwise I would not enjoy or so the cake. And I yet, eating suggested, I need
not desire to have any desire to eat the cake.

In the circumstances

only for the realization of the first but also for its being desirable to him, and yet in no way desires, nor needs to desire, this second state of affairs to be I trust that the following realized. Now example is such a one. Mrs. Y is now married but her hus? soon to die; ill and certainly band is extremely to marry Mrs. Mr. X desires when she is Y, of course, but then only because she will widowed,
have inherited Mr. F's fortune. Here, or so at any

of the example



6 See Donald "The Davidson, especially Rescher (Pittsburgh, 1967), pp. 81-95.


of Action


in The Logic of Decision

and Action,

ed. by Nicholas

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rate it seems to me, Mr. X need have not the least desire for Mr. Y to die, and this even though it is brutally obvious that 7's death is necessary both for the marriage and, from X's point of view, the X of it. One look at it this way : might desirability to marry Mrs. Y in the event that her desires husband dies, but need not desire the event, not even when, knowing it will come to pass, he does even embellish a desire to marry her. We might little and suppose that Mr. Y is X's closest and dearest friend, that his death would be for X the
greatest of losses, a tragedy, nevertheless, from

and who will readily admit that he himself con? siders his action to be morally wrong, although, is not something that overly he might add, morality concerns him. An example like this is manifestly
not there an example remains of weakness some doubt that and of will, the man so as long not does

strictly speaking believe his action to be wrong the in is enough to show that the condition example are not Then is sufficient. there question clearly even more telling examples, in which a examples acts weakness of will without any person apparent
contrary to his own rankings or value estimates of

to realize, one might which, X is sober enough in his the way of consolation; recoup something desire to marry Mrs. 7 is a desire to make the best

the objects of his desires.7 There are smokers who an enviable lack of perturbation will ac? with for the obvious reasons, they ought that, knowledge one not of a very not to smoke, that smoking is quite an irrational situation, certainly regrettable ever to be desired. they think of thing for them to do; but while a knock-down one may be thinking, themselves as being irrational, they do not think of Hardly, of Derived it not being their themselves as being weak willed, solution, one's faith in The Principle then is the will to stop smoking. is merely Desire shaken. But what to notice that similar examples resolution of the paradox with which we began ? It is worthwhile may be used against Davidson's suggestion that the akrates is one who fas having made both the con? :A Postscript Of The Will V. Weakness he ditional judgment that, all things considered, not to and also the unconditional an if unfortunate will" is of the "Weakness (j), judg? ought in For there is nothing ment that he ought to <f>.8 term of art and has never had better picturesque a man to preclude of the this a rash would be reference?one than judging possibility vacillating ''incontin? to try to provide for all its applications; that, all things considered, he ought to bet on Ali, while at the same time reaching and contentedly it does not have reference to faulty ence," when
bladder control,

Still there is a of one's sexual or other appetites. ought to bet on Foreman. The ensuing bet would as doubtless be irrational, maybe even silly, but I very it to such about behavior what is asking point are much doubt that anyone would take it as demon? of akrasia we it the paradigm A's that makes was to It in fact be. my strating weakness of will. surely justified in taking it The difficulty with taking either the traditional dissatisfaction with various implied answers to this a or its Davidsonian own variant as providing was idea for that my largely responsible question is similar again: might ruminations on the topics of this paper ; so perhaps clearly necessary condition not a person, a sort of effete Richard the Third, be it is not too idle to hope that the ideas in this paper weak of will because he cannot resist the impulse, will have some bearing on this question. answer I find unsatisfactory is which he really does want to resist, to do what is? One venerable either absolutely or on balance?the but that the akrates is one who acts intentionally right morally of what he ought to do. counter to his knowledge thing ? to conclude I it is reasonable is that weak? What It is not that this description does not fit A?for ness of the will?of Ah strain at least?involves that it provides neither a clearly think it does?but sufficient nor a clearly necessary condition for his essentially a kind of conflict that goes beyond the case being one of akrasia. Little effort is needed to conflict between thought and action, beyond even a re? an with who character the conflict between a person's desires and his own unsavory imagine and just for the of conflict absence markable rankings of the objects of those desires. It was as a in tormenting sadistic fun of it delights another, step toward the specification of the kind of conflict
7 I borrow this way 65 (1966), Davidson, of talking from Gerasimos "Plato's Santas, pp. 3-33. of the Will "How isWeakness Possible?" Protagoras inMoral and Explanations Concepts, ed. by Joel of Weakness," Feinberg The Philosophical (London, 1970), pp.











Review, vol. 8 Donald 93-113

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desire he


I suggested
not to

that A

is acting
a step,

on a

be rid of and not

he desires either

to act on his craving more

to continue to have or to act



ever; already we have in effect noticed that acting on an unwanted thirst may easily be a case of a on one not to have, without desire desires acting a case like of akrasia ; it is even pos? being remotely sible that ^4'sneurotic craving for chocolate should be so severely clamorous that he judges that giving into it is the most rational thing for him to do, and it this too would not be a case of akrasia, although remain a case of his acting on a desire he would desires not to have. In fact, it is not strictly neces? sary for A to be acting out of weakness of will that he be acting on a desire he desires not to have :his craving for chocolate may be a hairshirt he desires to wear just to test his strength of will, a test we may then imagine him failing. Not only does A desire not to have his desire to eat chocolate more than he desires to have it: he
also and for much the same reason desires not to

his craving, if he even has any desire for either of these things. But, alas, his craving for chocolate is not to than eat his desire A stronger chocolate; gratifies the craving and is weak willed. The pleasures of food, drink, and sex are for Aristotle the proper objects of weakness.9 One can see how the inability of r-p-desires to generate
second-order desires for their own persistence com?

bines with the idea that the akrates acts on a desire he desires not to be acting on more than he desires to be acting on to support Aristotle's belief. The aroused bodily appetites are of course the examples
par excellence of r-p-desires, and if the akrates were

not acting on an r-p-desire it would not be possible for our characterization of him to apply; for if the
desire the akrates acts on were other than an r-p

act on his desire to eat chocolate more than he desires to act on that desire, and when he succumbs he is acting on a desire he desires not to be acting
on, one that he desires not to be acting on more

is why than he desires to be acting on. That is a paradigm of weakness of will. behavior
A, then, has an r-p-desire, a craving to


to block the form? desire there would be nothing ation of a preponderating second-order desire to be acting on the desire being acted on. The idea that an r-p-desire is the winning com? batant in the akrates' conflict is helpful in another it allows us to see clearly something many way: have found puzzling and some impossible?how
desire desires can can reason, outstrip own insult one's how, rational that is, assessment one's of

chocolate. He has also judged that the pleasure we may con? (and relief of discomfort?although tinue to ignore this) to be got from satisfying the by, craving would not be worth, and is outweighed the painful hives that would just as certainly result if he satisfies his craving, and he has formed, on
the basis of this desirability assessment, an r-f

the desirability of the objects of one's desires, when one's desire for the known lesser pleasure
stronger than one's aversion to the known greater

as is

wonder have denied the pain. philosophers of this; it ought to seem a mystery to possibility anyone who thinks of the desire for the pleasure
and the aversion to the pain in a case like ^4's as


desire not to suffer the hives which is stronger than have for the pleasure of any r-f-desire he might his craving. This r-f preponderant gratifying desire not to suffer the hives joins with his know? ledge of the causal relation between his having the craving and his breaking out in hives and forms desires to be rid of the craving the second-order we and, failing that, not to act on it. Meanwhile to eat chocolate that ^4's desire is also know stronger than his desire not to suffer the hives, and if his desire for the chocolate were not an r-p-desire we should expect the formation of further second
order tinue desire we have desires, to have to eat seen, stronger to and chocolate incapable than act on the the first ones, to But as con? ^4's such, com? craving. and r-p-desire of thus generating

being alike derived from antecedent expectations, of the pleasure for the one, of the pain for the other.
But, as I have emphasized, an r-p-desire for

pleasure is not in this respect like a desire to avoid pain. I dare say, though I cannot prove this, that
an r-f-desire for a pleasure must have a strength

pleasure; not

by and proportionate
so, at any event, with

to the expected
an r-p-desire

for a pleasure, of eating say for the pleasure is identical with chocolate: for that desire the desire to eat chocolate, and because the anticipated is itself the pleasure that of satisfying pleasure to remains the desire, nothing preclude frustrating but not unheard of experience of an intense desire
for chocolate, or whatever, the satisfaction of which

is an


and was


to bring



9 This

of putting

desires. Whence
it is taken from

A desires




op. cit., p. 9, fn.


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I know are deep issues that I touch on only lightly, and lest my temerity turn into some? thing worse I shall here pursue them no further. Instead I shall close by considering, again only a question to that may have occurred briefly, These

Have I not perhaps overreached and myself abstracted from ^4's case in the condition of acting on a desire one desires not to be acting on (more than one desires to be acting on) a condition that is at least a sufficient condition for an action's being and thus unfree and compelled psychologically
thus, one might go on to wonder, not really an

of the will after all ? free action, weakness compulsion, Psychological are indeed in turbid waters. My of the will?we own feeling is undeniably is that A's behavior but what the force of this compulsive; exactly is, how it relates to the broader psycho ascription University of Southern California


of weakness

and why the contexts, what logical and moral links between and freedom, these are rationality surely the important and to my mind unanswered I have no objection to saying that A's questions. behavior exhibits weakness of the will, I did begin of that; but perhaps by taking it as a paradigm one disagreed with me then. At all events whether one says that A9s behavior exhibits both psycho? and weakness of the will, or logical compulsion that being psychologically it cannot be compelled weak willed, will depend largely, if not entirely, on whether one comes to the issue as one seeking the contents beneath an already applied label (as I do),
or as one with a meaning in search of a denotation.

quibble about unfortunate labels, we may all I do not for a agree, is a misbegotten enterprise. moment that what characterizes behavior pretend such as A9 s will do for all the rich and subtle pos? sibilities that lie beneath these rubrics.10


Received February 27, 1975

10 This


has benefited



by Brian


and David


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