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Title: The direction of fit of desire
Author: Butlin, Patrick Mark
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 2788
Awarding Body: King's College London
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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It is a familiar tenet that desires and beliefs have opposite directions of fit. Our beliefs, according to this view, should be changed to fit the world – if necessary – because they are for saying how things are. Our desires give us reasons to change the world, because they are for saying what to do, or how things should be. I argue that like beliefs, desires have only the mind-to-world direction of fit. In arguing for this conclusion, I present new accounts of both desire and direction of fit. Desires are inputs to the goal-directed system – a system for behavioural control studied in psychology and neuroscience – with the function of tracking the reward values of outcomes. In the goal-directed system these states are combined with further states representing contingencies between actions and outcomes, in order to select the actions which offer greatest reward. According to this account, desires come in occurrent and standing forms, are likely to have a wide range of outcomes as their objects, and interact with habits, emotions and intentions in familiar ways. My account of direction of fit uses a teleosemantic framework. Teleosemantics is a family of theories of representation that aim to identify the characteristic functions of representations and the systems in which they operate, and focus on representation as a biological phenomenon. It is particularly suited to thinking about direction of fit, because representations have their directions of fit in virtue of what they are for – that is, their functions. I claim that representations have the mind-toworld direction of fit when the systems that produce them have the function of doing so under specific conditions, and the world-to-mind direction of fit when the systems that consume them have the function of behaving in specific ways, whenever the representations occur. Desires do not have the world-to-mind direction of fit, because what the goal-directed system should do when any given desire is occurrent also depends on what other desires are occurrent at the time, and on the agent’s beliefs. It does not follow that we have no reason to try to make the world fit our desires; instead, this conclusion shows that the place of desires in rational motivation is less closely tied to their properties as representations than some philosophers have thought.
Supervisor: Papineau, David Calder ; Shea, Nicholas James Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available