Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Is "Besire" Really Bizarre?

A few weeks ago, I posted “Is There Something More than Knowing-How and Knowing-that?,” where I promised a follow-up, and here it is.

In the previous post, I argue that Confucian moral knowledge has something more than knowing-how and knowing-that, and the extra thing is its ability to incline the knower to act according to the knowledge. From the Humean point of view, Confucians must be either confused or confusing (or both) in holding such a view of moral knowledge, since this inclination or motivation is not knowledge and does not belong to knowledge, whether it is knowledge-that or knowledge-how, but something other than knowledge: desire. According to Humeans, in order for an action to take place, both belief and desires are needed: belief tells one what to do, and desire motivates one to do it. Without desire, one’s belief will not incline a person to act; without belief, one’s desire will not tell one what action to take and how to take the action.

Although there are some contemporary philosophers of action who are not Humeans and even are claimed (either by themselves or by others) to be anti-Humeans, most of them still agree that belief and desire are separate mental states. They are anti-Humeans only in the sense that they try to provide different explanations of action than the Humean one. On the one hand, we have those anti-Humeans who, as cognitivists or rationalists, claim that knowledge or belief alone can motivate a person to act and there is no need for desire in our explanation of action (Scanlon). On the other hand, we have those anti-Humeans who, as noncognitivists or emotivists, claim that all that is involved in our action is desire or emotion (Ayer).

It is true that there are also a small number of anti-Humeans who claim that one’s action can be explained neither by belief alone (as claimed by cognitivist anti-Humeans) nor by desire alone (as claimed by emotivist anti-Humeans) but by both belief and desire, not as two separate mental states (as claimed by Humeans) but as one single mental state, a state which includes both belief and desire (McDowell, Platts, McNaught, and Dancy).

However, such a conception of the single mental state, besire, has been seriously challenged and regarded as something bizarre by Humeans. The problem for them is that belief and desire are of very different natures. Belief represents the world, and so it is either true or false depending upon how well it represents the world; if it does not fit the world, it (belief) has to be changed to fit the world. In contrast, desire does not represent the world and so is neither true nor false; when it does not fit the world, it (the desire) does not have to be changed. In contrast, we often want to change the world to fit our desires. Thus G.E.M. Anscombe uses the direction of fit to explain the difference between belief and desire. The fit between the external world and belief is obtained by changing the belief to fit the world: the direction here is from the mind to the world; in contrast, the fit between the world and desire is obtained by changing the world to fit the desire: the direction of fit here is from the world to the mind.
Now, these Humeans ask: if there is such a single mental state that includes both belief and desire, the mental state of besire, then what is the direction of fit between this mental state and the world? As a belief, we need to change the mental state to make the belief fit the world; however, as a desire, we have to change the world to fit the mental state. Yet, since besire is one single mental state that includes both belief and desire, we will be at loss about what to do to obtain the fit between this mental state and the world: to change the mental state to fit the world or to change the world to fit the mental state?

Moral knowledge in neo-Confucianism is claimed to be such a single mental state that includes both belief and desire; it is besire. However, is it bizarre? Neo-Confucians can responsd in two steps. The first is simply to show that, whether bizarre or not, the mental state of besire as a matter of fact does exist (without denying that there are mental states of belief and mental states of desire). In this respect, I think Wang Yangming has already made a convincing case in his use of the analogy between liangzhi and seeing/loving the beautiful color in the Great Learning. Our recognition of a color as beautiful and our loving it are one single mental state: it is neither that we first believe it is beautiful and then a desire arises to love it, nor that we first have a desire to love it and then we believe it is beautiful; we cannot love it if we don’t at the same time believe it is beautiful, and we cannot believe it is beautiful if we don’t at the same time love it. In the neo-Confucian view, genuine moral knowledge is a similar single mental state of belief and desire, the state of besire. We will not believe that we ought to love our parents if we don’t have the desire to love them at the same time; and we will not desire to love our parents if we don’t believe that we ought to love our parents. It is neither that we first believe that we ought to love our parents and then a desire arises to love them, nor that we first desire to love our parents and then we believe that we ought to love them. It is at one and the same time that we believe that we should love our parents and we desire to love our parents. Take away the belief, no desire is left, and take away the desire, no belief is left. So belief and desire are one and the same single mental state: the besire.

The second is to argue that, at least in some cases, besire is indeed not bizarre by showing that there are no two opposite or contradictory directions of fit between besire and the world. To do so, there is a need to distinguish between two different types of belief, one factual and one normative. Suppose I believe that the sun turns around the earth but actually sun does not turn around the earth, then it is true that my belief has to be changed to fit the world. However, if I believe that people ought to love their parents, then even if there is no single person in the world who loves his or her parent, my belief that people ought to love their parents does not necessarily turn out to be false. In other words, it does not mean that I have to change my belief into one that people ought not to love their parents to fit the world. This distinction between factual beliefs and normative beliefs is actually made by Kant, who distinguishes between reality in theoretical reason and reality in practical reason. In the former, the reality of something is the cause of our knowledge of it, and our knowledge has to fit the reality; in the latter, however, the reality of something is inseparable from our belief in it and our willingness and ability to act accordingly. Rawls explains what Kant says in a simpler way: “practical reason is concerned with the production of objects according to a conception of these objects… while theoretical reason is concerned with the knowledge of given objects.”

When Humeans claim that besire is bizarre because there are conflicting directions of fit between besire and the world, they apparently only have the factual belief in mind. The direction of fit between factual belief and the world and that between desire and the world are indeed opposite, and so it would indeed be bizarre if belief and desire exist in one single mental state. However, the direction of fit between moral belief and the world and the direction of fit between moral desire and the world can be perfectly consistent. When no one in the world loves his or her parents, my desire that people love their parents of course requires that the world should be changed to fit my desire; similarly when no one in the world loves his or her parents, my belief that people ought to love their parents shows that the world is not what it ought to be and so has to be changed to fit my belief. Here, the world has to fit both our desire and our belief: the directions of fit in these two cases are thus consistent: both are from the world to the mind.

October 4th, 2011 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学 | 17 comments

17 Responses to Is "Besire" Really Bizarre?

  1. Dan Robins says:

    I don’t know the literature on besire, so maybe I’m being dumb. But here goes.

    S believes that people should love their parents.

    S could be wrong to believe this: maybe it’s not true that people should love their parents. This I guess is word-world fit (though I’m not really sure what “world” would mean here).

    Whether or not S is right to believe this, maybe it’s not true that people actually do love their parents. If S knows this (or maybe even if she doesn’t), this gives S a reason to want people to love their parents (or something like that). That would give world-word fit.

    This gives you both directions of fit, but for two different contents: “that people should love their parents” is word-world, but “that people do love their parents” is world-word.

    The issue, I guess, is whether these two contents require two attitudes, one more belief-like and one more desire-like. Doesn’t this turn on the question of whether you can have the first sort of attitude (with “should” content and word-world fit) without having the second? I think you can, and that inclines me to think there are two attitudes here.

    (I guess the analogy would be with someone who thinks that something is beautiful is beautiful but does not love it. I’m against Wang Yangming on this one, that seems possible to me, even common; though there could be translation issues here.)

    I’m assuming that the normative belief has the first sort of content, the “should” one with word-world fit. You seem to be denying that. But surely the Neo-Cons would agree that some normative views are right and some are wrong?

    • Yong Huang says:

      Dan, thanks for your wonderful comment, particularly regarding what you refer to as the first sort of content. If one is an anti-realist regarding moral belief (a type of normative belief), then there is no world with which the belief, with its first sort of content, is supposed to fit. But I assume Confucianism is a kind of moral realism, believing that one can derive “ought” from “is,” largely along the same line of Rosalind Hursthouse’s naturalist approach in her book On Virtue Ethics, but with a greater promose, or so I shall argue in a paper I’m still drafting. In this sense, the belief that one ought not to love one’s parents is indeed false because it does not fit the world (a healthy or non-defective human being) and so should be changed (into one that one ought to love one’s parents) to fit the world. However, the fact (the world) that people actually don’t love their parents has to be changed to fit the true belief that one ought to love one’s parents.

      Again, I greatly appreciate your distinction between the two “worlds” with which moral belief stands in different relations.

      I’m not quite sure about what you say in the parenthetical comment though. I believe (in contrast to “I think someone else believes” or “I think I should believe,” etc.) something is beautiful and yet I don’t love it? But even if it is the case, I think it does not hurt my view, as I only make a weak claim that the mental state “besire” that includes both belief and desire does exist; I don’t make the stronger claim that all mental states are besire or there is no mental state of belief alone or that of desire alone. As a matter of fact, neo-Confucians all agree that there are people who know that they ought to love their parents but they don’t have the desire to do so. This is what they regard as wenjian zhi zhi, not genuine knowledge (in this reply as well as in the original post, I assume that knowledge is a kind of belief without further explanation).

  2. Bill Haines says:

    On beauty:

    If I have reason to trust your aesthetic judgment, I might take your word for it that X is beautiful, even if I haven’t seen X. I might believe you even if I have seen X and not enjoyed it: for example, if I am colorblind or if I think (rightly or wrongly) that my taste is inadequately educated.

    Perhaps it can’t be the case that all of my aesthetic judgments are like that; for if they were, then arguably I wouldn’t really understand any of them. And perhaps it can’t be the case that the bulk of the aesthetic judgments in the linguistic community are like that. So there can still be some kind of essential connection between believing that X is beautiful and finding X beautiful.

    I don’t think that’s an original point, but I’ve forgotten whom to credit for it.

    • Yong Huang says:

      I’m not sure whether I agree with you on this or not, but as I said in my response to Dan’s comment above, even if what you say is true, what I say still stands. I only argue that the mental state of “besire” exists; I don’t argue that other mental states don’t exist.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Thanks for clarifying. You did seem say there is no such mental state as believing a color to be beautiful without loving it, since you said “we cannot believe it is beautiful if we don’t at the same time love it.”

      Based on your reply to Dan, I guess what you meant was “we cannot recognize, i.e. know independently of another’s authority, that a color is beautiful, if we don’t at the same time love it.” My objection wouldn’t apply to that point.

      Similarly, while your post says “Moral knowledge in Neo-Confucianism is claimed to be such a single mental state that includes both belief and desire; it is besire” – I now think, based on your reply to Dan, that you want to make what might be a narrower claim: that “genuine” moral knowledge is the same thing as besire. And what counts as “genuine” moral knowledge for purposes of this claim is something like this: moral knowledge one has independently of others’ authority.

      So I wonder:

      As you present the view in the reply to Dan, it seems to involve a kind of surface contradiction: one kind of knowledge (wenjian zhi zhi) is not knowledge (not genuine knowledge). So I wonder which view you mean to be describing, or which view you are sympathetic with: (a) that one kind of knowledge is besire, while there may be other kinds of knowledge, such as knowledge based on authority? Or (b) that there is really no such thing as knowledge that is based (at least partly) on the authority of others? That is, any “knowledge” based on the authority of others is not genuine, nor really knowledge after all?

      That question seems to me important, because it seems to me that moral knowledge, or most moral knowledge, is pervasively based on authority. For one thing, our moral knowledge is pervasively based on our appropriate respect.

      • Yong Huang says:

        Thanks, Bill, for your further qualifications. I think they are indeed what I meant. When I say that you cannot recognize a color as beautiful without having the desire to love it and vice versa, I iassume that you are in front of this color.

        Indeed the knowledge that is not accompanied with the inclination to act according to this knowledge, in neo-Confucianism, is called wenjian zhi zhi, which is not genuine knowledge. When I read the Confucian classics and understand / believe that one ought to love my parents, as long as I don’t have the inclination to act accordingly, this is still wenjian zhi zhi. However, wen jian zhi zhi can become genuine knowledge, de xing zhi zhi (virtuous knowledge–in contrast of knowledge of virtue) if and when I start to grasp it by my heart (in contrast to mind, perhaps) and thus have the inclination to act accordingly. So it really does not matter whether the knowledge comes from an authority or somewhere else; what is crucial is whether it is accompanied with the inclination to act accordingly, which is the mark of genuine knowledge in the neo-Confucian sense.

      • Bill Haines says:

        1

        I’m sorry, I did read you carelessly!

        But I wasn’t talking about whether knowledge first came to someone from another, I was talking about whether authority is one’s basis for the knowledge.

        And I want to repeat my question: are you and the Neo-Confucians saying that beliefs held mainly on the basis of authority (such as my belief that Paris is the capital of France) can’t be knowledge? You say that it’s knowledge but not genuine knowledge, and that’s what prompts my question.

        2

        IF (A) the beauty of a color can be recognized simply by looking at the color and feeling one’s reaction to it, then (B) it is indeed hard (if not impossible) to distinguish the feeling from the judgment of beauty. But I think there are at least two reasons to think (A) is not true.

        First, it seems to me that “X is beautiful” is a different proposition from “X looks beautiful to me” or “X looks beautiful to me now.” The first proposition generalizes, it would seem, about normal or excellent viewers. So a belief in the beauty of the color would be different from my enjoyment of the color; the belief would have to be built from that plus some supposition about how my reaction now is representative of the relevant reactions by myself and others at other times. (This point applies to the beauty of things other than colors.)

        Second, it seems very likely that colors are too simple and thus uninteresting to have any significant amount of beauty all on their own, independent of what we find them on and how they are used. (That is, the very feature of colors that makes them seem good examples to support the notion of besire is one that makes them seem poor examples of objects of aesthetic judgment.) Confucius said “惡紫之奪朱也.” I think my feelings about pink are influenced by how it has been used to mark girls as vulnerable princesses, and my feelings about green are influenced by my views about nature. I think my views about particular shades of green are influenced by whether I think they occur in nature. And so on. One way of seeing this point is to distinguish between loving a large uniform patch of a certain color, and loving that color wherever one finds it. The latter sort of attitude seems to me to have at least as much claim as the former to be called simply loving the color rather than loving a particular kind of instance of it; but the latter attitude would be a strange attitude.

        3

        I’m a friend of the idea that moral knowledge inherently tends to motivate, even where authority plays a significant role in grounding one’s knowledge, for reasons I gave in the predecessor thread – well I thought I gave them there, but I can’t find myself doing so there, so maybe I never got around to it. So I’ll do it here, very briefly; for a fuller picture one might look at my paper in the collection Ethics in Early China. Most briefly: we have various tools for acquiring and registering moral knowledge, and a good sympathetic sensibility is a crucial tool. I’m not saying it’s absolutely necessary, thought it might be; but I do think that in practice for us humans, heavy reliance on a good sympathetic sensibility gives us vastly more moral knowledge than we could have otherwise. And the way sensibility works is that it uses feelings as pictures, as what we might call cognitive representations. To make a long story short, for anyone capable of a significant amount of moral knowledge, it is in general (though not absolutely) true that the cognitive representations that are among the vehicles of her moral belief are also the motor-feelings for inclinations to act in the ways she thinks moral. (I guess I’d want to make analogous claims about aesthetic judgments, though I haven’t much thought about that.)

        I think this is different from the idea that the two directions of fit apply to that representation. But I’m still not sure there is any substantive disagreement between us on that score.

        • Yong Huang says:

          Bill, sorry for being slow in response. I had a few other things to take care of, and I’m still not used to blogging. So please do bear me. And I may not be able to answer every question you have.

          Regarding your repeated question on authority, I guess I already responded. One may, for example, rely upon the authority of sages. But as long as what sages say is merely understood intellectually and not grasped affectively, it is still wenjian zhi zhi to the person. But wen jian zhi zhi can become de xing zhi zhi (not automatically). In any case, I don’t care on what basis, authority or not, you got the knowledge; what I care is whether this knowledge inclines you to act accordingly.

          You may think of a better example than good color (that may also due to my bad translation of the Chinese term, hao se). But the point of this classical example is that you cannot recognize something as beautiful without the desire of loving it.

          When I recognize X as beautiful (and believe X is beautiful), of course, I mean that “X is beautiful (at least) to me.”

          In neo-Confucianism, moral knowledge or good knowledge (liang zhi) may refer to the knowledge that is moral or good, i.e., the knowledge that inclines one to do moral things, not merely knowledge about the moral things.

  3. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Yong Yuang,

    Apropos of Joshua Harwood’s recent comment on the predecessor thread
    link to warpweftandway.wordpress.com

    I’m wondering about something you say in the post here:

    From the Humean point of view, Confucians must be either confused or confusing (or both) in holding such a view of moral knowledge, since this inclination or motivation is not knowledge and does not belong to knowledge, whether it is knowledge-that or knowledge-how, but something other than knowledge: desire.

    When you say this about the Humean point of view, are you taking knowledge-how to be a kind of belief? So that one can deduce what the Humean view is about knowledge-how is, from the Human view about belief?

    Or are you just supposing that it’s obvious that knowledge-how doesn’t motivate?

  4. Bill Haines says:

    I apologize for the typo, Yong Huang!

  5. Bill Haines says:

    Yong Huang, when you say some moral knowledge is besire, do you just mean that my independent knowledge that I ought to do X is at once a belief that I ought to do X and a desire to do X, or do you also mean that even my independent knowledge of what other people should do X is at once a belief that they should do X and a desire that they do X?

  6. Bill Haines says:

    Hi again …

    1

    If I understand Dan’s point, it’s this:

    The familiar lore about direction of fit does not on its face appear to pose a challenge to your proposals. Here’s why it doesn’t: The familiar lore is that desire-that-p differs from belief-that-p at least in regard to direction of fit, so that a desire-that-p can’t be the same state as a belief-that-p can’t be the same as desire-that-p. But you never claim there is an example of a besire that is at once a desire-that-p and a belief-that-p. So the familiar lore about direction of fit does not seem to address your examples of besire.

    2

    I’m not sure what you mean by saying that in besire, belief and desire are not separate; that besire is one mental state, not two co-present mental states of belief and desire. Are you saying that the belief in a besire is exactly and identically the same thing as the desire in a besire? I’m not sure. If you’re not, then you’re saying that in besire, belief and desire are tied together in some sense, but I don’t understand what sense that is.

    (Think of the various things someone might mean in saying of two putatively different physical things that they are not separate, or that they are one thing – short of saying that they are identically the same thing. My arm is not separate from me, but my arm and I are two different things. A soft clay figure and the lump of clay it is made of, for example – I can destroy the figure without destroying the lump of clay, so that one of the two things can be present when the other is not. My right and left sides are not separate, and necessarily neither can exist without the other; but they’re not the same thing.)

    3

    Sometimes you seem to say that the tie you have in mind is precisely coexistence: in besire, the belief cannot exist without the desire, and vice versa. That would be a tie like the tie between my right and left sides.

    We will not believe that we ought to love our parents if we don’t have the desire to love them at the same time; and we will not desire to love our parents if we don’t believe that we ought to love our parents. It is neither that we first believe that we ought to love our parents and then a desire arises to love them, nor that we first desire to love our parents and then we believe that we ought to love them. It is at one and the same time that we believe that we should love our parents and we desire to love our parents. Take away the belief, no desire is left, and take away the desire, no belief is left. So belief and desire are one and the same single mental state: the besire.

    Although you here infer identity from coexistence, as though by identity you meant no closer tie than mere coexistence or necessary coexistence. But I suspect that you do mean some closer tie.

    (Incidentally, this illustration seems to leave you open to objections, for someone might think that it is sometimes true that someone first wants to love her parents and later believes that she should, and also sometimes true that someone first believes that she should love her parents and later wants to love them. And if you took away a normal person’s belief that she morally ought to love her parents, she would still have various remaining motives or reasons to want to love her parents, so she would still quite likely have the desire to love her parents. Examples of motives for wanting to love my parents, other than the belief that one ought to: (i) I do in fact love my parents, so I care about them, so I want them to be loved by me tomorrow, so I want today that I will love them tomorrow; (ii) loving my parents tomorrow is the easiest way to persuade them that I still love them, and only by that persuasion can I get their money.)

    • Yong Huang says:

      You can have an independent mental state of belief, and you can have an independent state of desire, where belief and desire are of course separate. But when the two get together to form a besire, they become one and cannot be separated, which is seen as a belief from one point of view and desire from another point of view (which reminds me of Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit, although they may not be exactly the same). Take away the belief, the besire is gone (i.e. the desire is not left), and vice versa. Tu use a not fully appropriate analogy (perhaps even less appropriate than Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit). You may have some red color, and you may have some white liguid to be made into paper. When they two mixed, you got a piece of white paper. Take away the paper, you don’t have the whiteness left, and vice versa.

      So from the passage you quote, I don’t mean that belief and desire merely exist, although strictly speaking I am not saying that they are identical either. I’m saying that there are two different aspects of the same thing or the same thing that can be seen in two different ways.

      • Yong Huang says:

        Sorry for too many typos. I mean you will get a piece of red paper (and the rest should be corrected accordingly). I also mean that it is not the case that belief and desire do not simply “coexist” in besire.

  7. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Yong Huang!

    Thank you very much for kindly replying to so many little questions and worries. I feel I understand your position better now. Regarding the Confucian view that some moral knowledge is motivating, which you accept, you say that it can be spelled out as the view that the knowledge takes the form of besire. You show that besire exists in general by an example of besire on a different topic (and you show that a certain apparent objection is not a real one).

    As to which moral knowledge is besire, you aren’t making any definite claim at all here.

    I think I have three outstanding worries or questions about the position. They aren’t really objections.

    They are basically these: (A) What reason is there to believe that there is moral besire, (B) How is the connection of belief and desire supposed to work, and (C) (sort of again:) what kind of unity is it supposed to be between belief and desire. Though (C) perhaps turns out to be an indirect way of asking (B).

    The aesthetic example doesn’t really address (A); like the discussion of direction of fit, it really only addresses an objection: the objection that besire is completely impossible.

    But the aesthetic example might suggest certain answers to the three questions. In the example, my recognizing that something is beautiful to me now is roughly the same as loving the thing in a certain way. (In English we might use the phrase “finding it beautiful” for both, more or less.) One might then explain that rough unity in this way:

    1. Something’s being-beautiful-to-me-now is the same thing as its giving me a certain kind of feeling now. (premise)
    2. My having that feeling is the same thing as my loving the thing. (premise)
    3. I have the feeling if and only if I believe that I have the feeling. (premise)
    4. I love the thing if and only if I believe I have the feeling. (from 2 and 3)
    5. I love the thing if and only if I believe the thing is beautiful-to-me-now. (from 1 and 4)
    6. My loving the thing is my having a certain desire. (premise)
    7. I have a certain desire if and only if I believe the thing is beautiful-to-me-now. (from 5 and 6)

    Is that how the example works, as you understand it?

    Someone who wanted to challenge the argument might do so at these points:

    a. A challenger might hold that premise 1 expresses a philistine or trivializing view of beauty, on the grounds that beauty is not so shallow as the giving of a certain kind of feeling.

    b. A challenger might hold that premise 3 expresses only “necessary coexistence,” not approximate identity, so that the conclusion 7 similarly can express no tighter bond than that. In fact, premise 3 may not even express necessary coexistence, for if the idea behind 3 is that our feelings are obvious to us, there would presumably be some slight time delay between our coming to have the feeling and our coming to believe (noticing) that we are having it.

    c. A challenger might hold that premise 3 is false, for observation of one’s own feelings is notoriously fallible. 3 comes closest to being true for very simple feelings, but the simpler the feeling the argument is talking about, the bigger is problem (a) on this list.

    d. A challenger might hold that premise 6 may be false, or at least needs support and clarification. What would the desire be for?

    (Would it be a desire to continue to observe the thing? There are two problems with that proposal, which I’ll call Proposal P. (i) It seems not to work for beautiful notes in a song, whose beauty depends on their timely end. One may notice the feeling only after the note is past. (ii) If I am looking at a patch of color and finding it beautiful, and thus wanting to continue to see it, the seeing that I wanted will give me a little less of that beauty, but it will give me some, so I’ll want even more seeing, — and at some point the color will give me its last bit of beauty. At that moment I will believe that it is beautiful, and so I will want more of it according to Proposal P. But that desire will be an error. So the true belief will be tied to a mistaken desire. Is that OK?)

    If the line of thought you have in mind is something very different, then those challenges are no problem for you.

    Those challenges all express worries about the argument itself, before we get to any further proposal that some similar argument could apply to moral knowledge. That further proposal may have big problems of its own, which we might explore by looking at each premise in the above argument and seeing whether something similar seems true in the moral realm.

    For example, premise 1 is that something’s being beautiful-to-me-now is the same thing as its giving me a certain kind of feeling now. Can we say something similar about morality? Offhand it looks as though the answer is no.

    There’s much more I’d like to say about my questions (A)(B)(C). (For example, you’ve given me a very nice and detailed answer about (C), and I haven’t said anything about why your answer doesn’t put my worries about that to rest.) But I’ll stop here for now.

  8. Off the bat, I’m of the impression that this is not an apt way of organizing the matter with regard to empirical data on this stuff (which can shed light on Wang Yangming’s argument, but in turn render it far less convincing of this “besire”), but I’m not really ready to assess how bizarre “besire” itself is until I’ve clarified a few things.

    It seems clear that Smith “besires” Φ only if Smith desires and believes Φ. But is, “Smith ‘besires’ Φ if, and only if Smith desires and believes Φ,” also the case? If it isn’t, what extra or different sufficient conditions do you envision would imply that Smith “besires” Φ? If it is, then “besire” is just a neologism, and I only worry about the inconsistency in the tense logic of this issue (which you have all been discussing under “direction of fit”).

    But I have another problem with the thought that belief and desire exhaust the necessary conditions for actions. One very important factor is actually possession of means to do the action. Another is the coherence of Φ, the strictly logical possibility of an environment in which Φ could obtain. Maybe these concerns are identical (since we do not have the means to do the logically impossible, even if we believe that it would be in our best interests to try to do so). But I don’t see the matter of action getting off the ground in either the Humean or Yangmingian cases without some clause that addresses them. How might a Yangmingian respond to that sort of concern?

    My final point is more of a challenge on the metaethical side. If we can establish that statements of what should be the case can be reduced to a collection of statements or arguments about what are the case, then there can’t really be a challenge that Humeans are somehow “too narrow” in their considerations for areas in which “besire” is bizarre. However, it would be worse from where I’m standing, since I would contest that some of those statements of what are the case are just statements about people’s desires. How dependent is the frame of this twofold system — “knowing-to” and “besiring” — on a very hard-lined moral realism?

    Lastly, can Wang Yangming attest to a consistent state of affairs in which “Smith believes that Φ is the case, and yet desires that Φ be the case?”

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