Long-time readers may recall my interest in converting belief/truth-based paradoxes into desire/value analogues. So I found it very interesting to talk with David Wall, a grad student here at ANU, who is exploring the idea of a "Moore's paradox" for desire.
Recall that the standard Moore's paradox involves assertions like "p, and I do not believe that p", which sound very odd - even incoherent - despite being consistent and indeed quite often true. The problem is that assertions express beliefs, and the underlying belief expressed above is the Moorean belief:
(1) The belief that [p, and I do not believe that p]
where belief in the first conjunct undermines the second. Now, Dave is interested in the analogous Moorean desire:
(2) A desire that [p, and i do not desire that p]
Note that this is a single conjunctive desire, and should not be confused with a conjunction of atomic desires, e.g.:
(2*) A desire that [p], and another desire that [i do not desire that p]
2* is perfectly comprehensible, just think of Frankfurtian agents whose first-order motivations fail to match up with their second-order desires. Say someone who has a strong craving for drugs, but who wishes that he didn't. Note that they are only comprehensible as two distinct desires. If combined into one, i.e. if the agent wanted it to be the case that he took drugs while no longer wanting to, that just seems bizarre. It's not literally inconsistent, but there does seem something deeply irrational about desires which take this logical form. So there is a good prima facie case for an analogue with Moore's Paradox in this vicinity.
(Incidentally, if you'd like further support for the idea that a conjunctive desire can be irrational even when the conjunction of distinct desires is not, just see this example from the Ethical Werewolf, where a prisoner wants to eat his captor's food, and wants the captor's food to be poisoned, but doesn't want both!)
Dave fleshes this out by trying to show that Sorenson's analysis of Moorean beliefs also applies to Moorean desires. Briefly: holding the Moorean belief guarantees that one will fall short of the ideally true and complete belief set. Dave argues that a similar problem befalls the Moorean desire in (2).
I think this is a misguided strategy. For note that as far as the global coherence or completeness of a mental-state set is concerned, it makes no difference whether the states are considered distinct or conjoined into one. Compare (1) above with its segregated version:
(1*) A belief that [p], and another belief that [I do not believe that p]
In the global sense, (1*) is just as imperfect as (1) is. Either suffices to guarantee that one will fall short of the ideal belief set. So if this sort of global imperfection was the underlying explanation of Moorean paradoxes, we should find (2*) just as wrongheaded as (2). But we don't. The torn agent in (2*) is certainly less than ideal. But they're not suffering from the kind of severe incoherence we find in (2).
We might even say the same about the Moorean beliefs, though I think it less obvious there. But perhaps an agent could be in situation (1*) through having compartmentalized beliefs. Then, although there is an underlying incoherence in his belief set, and thus he is a less than fully ideal doxastic agent, still our agent is not nearly so irrational as someone with the Moorean belief in (1). So the problem here is a local one, concerned with these mental states in particular, and not the total completeness and perfectibility of our state sets considered as a whole.
(Besides, perfection is never a realistic goal to begin with, so it isn't clear why we should find it so shocking when a state guarantees that we will fall short of it. That outcome is pretty well guaranteed in any case!)
So, how else might we try to understand the problem with Moorean desires? I was initially struck by their interesting relation to conditional desires. Note that often we desire some future event (e.g. eating ice-cream) on the condition that we still desire it at the time of occurrence. I don't now desire that in future I eat icecream, if it happens that at the future time I will no longer want it!
But that regrettable mismatch -- between the desire's satisfaction and its (lack of) persistence at the time of satisfaction -- is precisely what we find in case (2). The agent desires that he goes unsatisfied in some sense; that he receives an object which he will no longer appreciate at the time of receipt. This seems very odd indeed.
Alternatively, we might steer closer to the belief-truth // desire-value parallel, as follows: The agent either considers p to be of value to him, or he does not. If not, then he has no reason to desire it in the first place. But if he does, then he shouldn't want this desire to go away, for that would detract from his appreciation of p's value. Thus, the conjunctive desire in (2) displays a kind of internal incoherence; resting on the judgments both that p has value, and that it does not.
This explanation more closely mirrors our understanding of the Moorean belief (wherein the agent appears committed to judgments both that p is true, and that it is not), and hence seems an opportune strategy in light of Dave's goals.
Anyway, Dave said he'd like some more feedback about all this (even from those who think the entire project is misguided, and that there isn't really any Moorean paradox for desire), so do leave a comment!