The standard desire version of the liar paradox is to consider a person whose only desire is to have no satisfied desires. But that's a weird enough desire that one might wonder if it's possible to have it. Here is a version of the liar paradox using desires that are more imaginable.
Malefa has only one desire: That none of Bonnie's desires be satisfied. Bonnie has only one desire: That all of Malefa's desires be satisfied. Whose desire is satisfied? If Malefa's is, then Bonnie's isn't, and Malefa's isn't. If Malefa's isn't, then Bonnie's is, and Malefa's is, too.
What assumptions does this paradox depend on?
- It is possible that Malefa and Bonnie both have the above desires.
- The following disquotational schema for desire satisfaction is correct: A desire that p is satisfied iff I(p) (where I(p) is p rewritten with the subjunctive mood replaced by the indicative; thus, I("he eat ice cream") is "he eats ice cream"; to be more precise in the schema, I need to put in quotation marks of the right sort, but I'm not going to bother);
- Classical logic.
In regard to (1), one might worry that it's not possible to have only one desire. But that's easily handled by modifying the cases. Maybe Malefa's strongest (or most intense or latest acquired) desire is that Bonnie's strongest (or most intense or latest acquired) desire not be satisfied, and Bonnie's strongest (or ...) desire is that Malefa's strongest (or ...) desire be satisfied.
Moreover, there is nothing absurd about having desires that someone else's desires be or not be satisfied.
One could do what I did in my Monday post and argue that whether Malefa actually manages to have the indicated desires depends on what Bonnie desires (or vice versa or both). Somehow, I find this less plausible in the case of desire—I guess I feel a pull of a certain internalism about desire.
A different move would be based on the Gorgias. In the Gorgias, Socrates argues at length that the tyrant, though he is able to put enemies to death and all that, gets less and less of what he wants the more powerful he is. The reason for that is that he does not really desire to put enemies to death and all that—what he really wants is happiness. There are a couple of ways of taking Socrates' point. One way is to say that there are no instrumental desires. If the tyrant had a desire to have enemies put to death, that would be merely instrumental. Another way (I think Heda Segvic took this view) is to make desire have a normative dimension, such that to desire is to desire appropriately, so that the tyrant does not desire the deaths of his enemies.
Both of these two readings undercut the view that everything that can be put in a (subjunctified) "that clause" can be an object of desire. Moreover, they in particular make questionable the possibility of one person desiring that another's desires not be satisfied: that desire seems too much akin to the tyrant's desire that so-and-so die.
The paradox gives support for the thesis of the Gorgias. But there is something uncomfortable in using a paradox to give support to a substantive philosophical position.
Moreover, one might think that the solution in the case of the desire-satisfaction form of the paradox should be the same as in the case of the truth form. I am not completely sure. (Here is a consideration to back up my uncertainty: the complements of desires are subjunctified that-clauses, while the complements of beliefs and assertions are indicative that-clauses. This observation weakens—ever so slightly—the standard view that the object of a desire is a proposition. But the object of belief and assertion is a proposition. (I say this without committing to a realism about propositions.))