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Quirky Desires and Well-Being

by Donald Bruckner

According to a desire-satisfaction theory of well-being, the satisfaction of one’s desires is what promotes one’s well-being. Against this, it is frequently objected that some desires are beyond the pale of well-being relevance, for example: the desire to count blades of grass, the desire to collect dryer lint and the desire to make handwritten copies of War and Peace, to name a few. I argue that the satisfaction of such desires – I call them “quirky” desires – does indeed contribute to a desirer’s well-being, when (and only when) the desirer is able to provide what Anscombe calls a desirability characterization of the object of the desire. One successfully provides such a characterization when one is able to describe the object of desire in such a way as to make comprehensible to others what she sees as positive, worthy of pursuit, in that object. To make the case, I consider common desires such as the desires to take a walk on the beach, drink a beer or listen to music. I argue that, although the well-being relevance of such common desires normally is not questioned, their satisfactions contribute to well-being just in case the same condition is met. I then argue by analogy with common desires that quirky desires are also relevant to well-being just in case that condition is met. After sketching this solution to the problem of quirky desires, I show that this response is better than other responses that have been given by desire theorists. I then develop several aspects of this account in response to objections that can be raised against it. Among these (to name a few) are the objection that my account does not apply to the well-being of infants and other inarticulate persons; the objection that intrinsic desires, such as for pleasure, cannot be given desirability characterizations; and the objection that desirability characterizations must advert to pleasure or to objectively good properties of the object of desire, so that my account reduces either to hedonism or to an objective view of well-being.

ISSN 1559-3061
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