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Depression and the Problem of Absent Desires

by Ian Tully

I argue that consideration of certain cases of severe depression reveals a problem for desire-based theories of welfare. I first show that depression can result in a person losing her desires and then identify a case wherein it seems right to think that, as a result of very severe depression, the individuals described no longer have any desires whatsoever. I argue that the state these people are in is a state of profound ill-being: their lives are going very poorly for them. Yet desire theories get this case wrong. Because no desires are being frustrated, the desire theorist has no grounds for ascribing ill-being; indeed, because the individuals described seem utterly without desire, the desire theorist has no grounds for treating these people as subjects of welfare ascription at all. I argue that these results are unacceptable; therefore, we should reject desire-based theories of wellbeing and ill-being.

ISSN 1559-3061
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