Desire-as-belief and evidence sensitivity



Published 27-06-2023
Kael McCormack


Alex Gregory (2017a; 2017b; 2018; 2021) provides an ingenious, systematic defence of the view that desires are a species of belief about normative reasons. This view explains how desires make actions rationally intelligible. Its main rival, which is attractive for the same reason, says that desires involve a quasi-perceptual appearance of value. Gregory (2017a; 2018; 2021) has argued that his view provides the superior explanation of how desires are sensitive to evidence. Here, I show that the quasi-perceptual view fairs better in this regard. Negatively, I argue that Gregory’s view overestimates the evidence-sensitivity of desires and implies that we are systematically mistaken in having different attitudes about desires and beliefs. Positively, I argue that quasi-perceptual appearances of value are brought into the scope of rational control through their dependence on prior representational states. I also provide a novel explanation of why some kinds of desires are resistant to rational control. I propose that desires are produced through exercises of an affective capacity to discriminate value. Variations in the way this capacity is exercised, and its links to prior representational states, can produce systematic insensitivity to evidence in certain kinds of desires. This paper advances the debate around desire on two fronts: first, it performs the neglected task of showing how the quasi-perceptual view can simultaneously explain both the sensitivity and insensitivity to evidence exhibited by desires and, second, it shows how the explanation offered is superior to one of its closest rivals, the view that desires are a species of normative belief.

How to Cite

McCormack, K. (2023). Desire-as-belief and evidence sensitivity. THEORIA. An International Journal for Theory, History and Foundations of Science, 38(2), 155–172.
Abstract 152 | PDF Downloads 533 XML Downloads 83



desire, desire-as-belief, the guise of the good, belief, practical reasoning