Thursday, July 26, 2012

A puzzle about desire (and other propositional attitudes)

Sam and Francis each read a different newspaper article. Sam's article said that there was a newly produced element named "copernicium", and Sam came to have a desire that he expressed by saying to his agent: "I want you to buy me a pound of copernicium." Francis' article said that there was a newly produced element named "quinium", and Sam came to have a desire that he expressed by saying to his agent: "I want you to buy me a pound of quinium." Now, there is such a thing as copernicium, but the word "quinium" is pure made-up nonsense, and the article Francis read was an April Fools hoax.

What did Francis desire? It seems we can't say that he desired that his agent buy him a pound of quinium, since the italicized words fail to express a proposition, as the word "quinium" is nonsense. Maybe what Francis desires, thus, is that his agent buy him a pound of the element named "quinium". That's a perfect coherent, though unsatisfiable, desire. (But then again, practically speaking, a pound of copernicium is also not buyable—it seems that only a few atoms have been produced.) But if that's what Francis desires, then by parity it seems that what Sam desires is that his agent buy him a pound of the element named "copernicium", rather than a pound of copernicium. But that need not at all be what Francis desires—he may not care at all what the element is named.

Perhaps what we should say is that the appetitive state picks out the proposition that best matches the structure of the appetitive state. In the case of Sam, what best matches is that his agent buy him a pound of copernicium? In the case of Francis, what best matches is that his agent buy him a pound of what is called "quinium". Francis' propositional object is a less good match than Sam's, but it's in fact the best match available (let's suppose), and hence it is the desire-magnet.

In the above "what is called 'quinium'" is short for a longer and more complex description. I don't know exactly how to formulate it, but perhaps: "dthat element which is referred to as 'quinium' in this article".

2 comments:

L2Philosophy said...

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Dagmara Lizlovs said...

"Maybe what Francis desires, thus, is that his agent buy him a pound of the element named "quinium". That's a perfect coherent, though unsatisfiable, desire. (But then again, practically speaking, a pound of copernicium is also not buyable—it seems that only a few atoms have been produced.) But if that's what Francis desires, then by parity it seems that what Sam desires is that his agent buy him a pound of the element named "copernicium", rather than a pound of copernicium. But that need not at all be what Francis desires—he may not care at all what the element is named." There is one element that satisfies all appetitive states which both Sam and Francis will be totally and completely satisfied with. The good news is that more than a few atoms of this element have been made. This element originates in Latvia and it is known to the indigenous population as Aldaris. A complete description of its properties and various atomic arrangements can be found here:

http://www.aldaris.lv/

I can guarantee you from my own personal experience that Aldaris will satisfy all appetitive states.

Another satisfier of appetitive states that I would like to interest Sam and Francis in is Rigas Melnais Balzams. This is another element occuring naturally in Latvia. Not only does it satisfy all appetitive states, but it will even cure what ever is wrong with you. My grandfather, when he was approaching the age of 100, loved it. A brief discription is found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riga_Black_Balsam

and here:

http://www.randburg.com/lv/latbalzams.html

There is one element that some people in Latvia say exists and will totally satisfy appetitive desires but no one has been able to find it. It is called Putnu Piens and has the same atomic number in the Periodic Table of the Elements as "quinium". At one time when some one asked for something that couldn't be had, Latvians would say that they were asking for "putnu piens" (bird's milk). A google search has yielded some recipes for this substance, so I think some one may have found it after all.