Desire Satisfactionism and the Problem of Irrelevant Desires
by Mark Lukas
Desire-satisfaction theories about welfare come in two main varieties: unrestricted and restricted. Both varieties hold that a person's welfare is determined entirely by the satisfactions and frustrations of his desires. But while the restricted theories count only some of a personís desires as relevant to his well-being, the unrestricted theories count all of his desires as relevant. Because unrestricted theories count all desires as relevant they are vulnerable to a wide variety of counterexamples involving desires that seem obviously irrelevant. Derek Parfit offers a well-known example involving a stranger afflicted with what seems to be a fatal disease. Similar examples are offered by Thomas Scanlon, James Griffin, Shelly Kagan, and others.
In this paper I defend a simple unrestricted desire-based theory of welfare from the claim that some of our desires are irrelevant to how well our lives go. I begin by introducing the theory I aim to defend. I then formulate the Irrelevant-Desires Problem and reject a few rationales for its key premise. I then consider and reject a few flawed responses to the problem. I finally offer an obvious but widely overlooked response: I bite the bullet. My overall goal is to dissuade those sympathetic to a desire-based approach to welfare from rejecting unrestricted forms of desire satisfactionism simply because some desires may seem irrelevant to how well our lives go.
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