Saturday, December 22, 2012

First and second order desires

My fear of dogs brings involves a paradigmatic first-order desire: a desire to avoid the proximity of unsecured dogs. But a desire to avoid the proximity of unsecured dogs also motivates me to avoid activities that have a sufficiently high (which does not need to be high at all!) probability of leading to being in the proximity of unsecured dogs, activities such as walking to work. This, too, is a paradigmatic feature of this first-order desire.

But now one of the activities that would have a sufficiently high probability of leading to being in the proximity of unsecured dogs would be getting rid of my fear and hence desire for avoidance. If I didn't fear dogs, I wouldn't avoid the proximity of unsecured dogs. Thus, the desire to avoid the proximity of dogs motivates me to avoid getting rid of this very desire. But such motivation is paradigmatically the work of a second-order desire. Yet it comes about through exactly the same means-end reasoning by which the desire to avoid the proximity of unsecured dogs motivates me to avoid walking to work.

This isn't an exceptional case. Normally, the possession of a desire for A helps promote getting A. There could be exceptions: a desire to have many friends might not make one a good friend and joy might be the sort of thing that comes most when not pursued. But normally desires help promote what they are desires for—indeed, that's presumably at least a part of why we have desires. But then, when one reflects on this, the desire for A will motivate one to maintain a desire for A.

Fortunately, however, often the motivation to maintain a desire for A will not be as strong as the motivation for more direct means to A. This contingent fact makes it easier to rid ourselves of desires that we should not have: for even if the desire is very strong indeed, its motivational force for self-maintenance may not be all that strong, and hence we may be able to induce, through reflection on the perniciousness of that desire, a sufficiently strong motivation not to have that screwed-up desire. Notice, though, that at least sometimes that motivation-to-remove-desire will itself be simply a means-to-end motivation in light of a first-order goal. One doesn't want to die of lung cancer—so one works to remove the remove the desire to smoke.


Unknown said...

Hi Dr. Pruss,

I apologize for this being off-topic, but I'd like to invite you to submit a paper to the newly formed Thomas Aquinas Society Quarterly (TASQ). You can check out our website if you'd like, and then read the criteria for submitting an article for publication. :) I'm one of the journal's co-founders and editors and I think we would benefit greatly from one of your contributions.

Also, I sent you an email, but I can't recall if I received one back. If you had declined at that time, then I apologize for asking again. In any case, the inclusion of your name on our publication could really get the journal some recognition.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

As a small child I had a fear of unsecured dogs too. Those fears have pretty much gone away, but I'll share some experiences. When I was four I was staying at the home of my grandmother's friend once and she had too dogs - a mutt Lula and a German shepherd Attis. I was scared to death of Attis, but Lula was my buddy. Attis and Lula would always wrestle with each other, and as long as I sat in a lawn chair, Attis would not chase me. Should I get from that chair, Attis would come after me until I in terror ran back to that chair and sat back down in it. Then he would leave me alone. Many years later when I learned that Lula was killed in a fire, I was very upset. In the first grade I was also terrified of any unsecured dog that wandered on to the play ground and began chasing children, myself included. Once while being chased good and hard like this, I ran back inside the school and took refuge in the bathroom until recess was over. My piano teacher had a dog named Azah. Once Azah trotted into the room during a lesson, and in terror I jumped up on the piano stool. I was six at the time. Later, I slowly became less afraid of Azah, and my teacher let Azah lie down under the baby grand. The problem was, I was paying too much attention to Azah and no attention on the lesson, so Azah got banished to another room. As a teenager I had a crazy Irish Setter, Kelly, for a companion. After the Irish Setter, my family had a lab/shepherd/chow?? mix, Chip. Chip was pretty much my sister's dog. Once after ignoring Chip all day because I was decorating the Christmas tree, I accidentally stepped on his tail. Chip was now doubly offended - ignored all day and tail stepped on. He ran up into my sister's room, sat on her bed sulking. Now matter how much I said I was sorry, he'd have none of it.

Then there was the case of Tasha the German Shepherd. Tasha belonged to a riding instructor I had a long time ago. It was my first time at her barn and she was showing me around, when Tasha charged me. By now I was experienced enough with dogs to know that this was not play, but more serious. I was also experienced enough to know that my best course of action was to calmly stand my ground. Tasha leaped up at me and nipped my hand but did no more. While I was a student there, Tasha accepted me; however, years later when I came for a visit, my former instructor had to pen her up, because Tasha no longer recognized me and was fiercely and agressively protective of her owner. Then there are my four legged hunting buddies - Jet, Indie and Bullet (all of them labs). Jet is the best retriever anyone has ever seen. He's retrieved two geese at once, has snatched a wounded goose out of the air after chasing down for 200 yards, and will dive underwater after birds. Yet he can undo ten good deeds with one bad one. Once after one his super retrieves, Jet and I were head butting with me exclaiming "Jet dog, you rock!" Then Jet went over to our guide's cell phone and lifted his leg...