Desire as Belief: A Study of Desire, Motivation, and Rationality

ISBN : 9780198848172

Alex Gregory
240 Pages
153 x 234 mm
Pub date
Jun 2021
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What is it to want something? Or, as philosophers might ask, what is a desire? The idea that we explain and evaluate actions with essential reference to what people want is compelling, as it speaks to common-sense ideas that our wants lie at the heart of our decision-making. Yet our wants seem to have a competitor: our beliefs about what we ought to do. Such normative beliefs alone may often suffice to explain our actions. To try and resolve this tension, this book defends "desire as belief", the view that desires are just a special subset of our normative beliefs. This view entitles us to accept orthodox models of human motivation and rationality that explain those things with reference to desire, while also making room for our normative beliefs to play a role in those domains. This view also tells us to diverge from the orthodox view on which desires themselves can never be right or wrong. Rather, according to desire-as-belief, our desires can themselves be assessed for their accuracy, and they are wrong when they misrepresent normative features of the world. Hume says that it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of your finger, but he is wrong: it is foolish to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of your finger, precisely because this preference misrepresents the relative worth of these things. This book mounts an engaging and comprehensive defence of these ideas.


1 What is Desire-as-Belief?
2 Desire and Motivation
3 Normative Belief and Motivation
4 Desire and Rationality
5 Irrationality
6 The Guise of the Normative
7 Desire and Feeling
8 Uncertainty and Reasoning
9 Representing Reasons
10 Desires and Reasons
11 Conclusion
Appendix A: Lewis on Desire-as-Belief

About the author: 

Alex Gregory is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Southampton. He has published most frequently on the nature of desire, but also on other issues such as the nature of normative reasons, the nature of disability, and questions about wellbeing.

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