In my previous post, I introduced the notion of felicity-conditions; defined as the correctness-conditions of the attitudinal component of a propositional attitude (in contradistinction to the correctness-conditions of the propositional content of a propositional attitude). In the present post, I want say a little about how the notion of a felicity-condition relates to Anscombe's claim that the good is the object of wanting.
Let us refer to the claim that desires do not have felicity-conditions that are identical to the truth-conditions of their propositional content as the negative thesis. The negative thesis is neutral on the question of whether or not desires have felicity-conditions at all; to wit, it takes no stand on whether or not the attitude of desire has correctness-conditions beyond the correctness-conditions of its propositional content (i.e., the truth-conditions of the propositional attitude). The primary motivation for the negative thesis comes from our ordinary linguistic practice; namely, the fact that we do not ordinarily conceive of desires as true or false. We may unpack this intuition by registering that while beliefs represent a certain proposition as true, desires do not. For example, the belief that I will have a slice of cheesecake represents the proposition “I will have a slice of cheesecake” to be true. However, the desire that I will have a slice of cheesecake does not represent the proposition “I will have a slice of cheesecake” to be true. If it did, then it would make sense to say that the desire that I will have a slice of cheesecake is true when the proposition “I will have a slice of cheesecake” is true, and false when the proposition is false. However, as we already noted, we do not ordinarily speak or think this way.
In addition to the negative thesis, I wish to argue that, like the attitude of belief, the attitude of desire has felicity-conditions. However, while the felicity-conditions of a belief are identical with its truth-conditions, I hold that the same is not true of the felicity-conditions of desire. Let us refer to this claim as the positive thesis. Something along the lines of the positive thesis must be accepted if we wish to buy into Anscombe's theory of desires. Recall, according to Anscombe, desire (or wanting) stands in a roughly analogous relation to the good as belief (or judgement) does to the true. However, the negative thesis—namely, the claim that the attitude of desire lacks a truth-value—offers little support for this claim. To wit, the mere fact that the attitude of desire lacks a truth-value does not show that it stands in a certain relation to the good. Moreover, preserving Anscombe's thesis requires that we see the attitude of desire as having something along the lines of what I have been calling 'felicity-conditions'. On this score, the following passage from Anscombe is instructive:
The conceptual connexion between 'wanting'. . . and 'good' can be compared to the conceptual connexion between 'judgment' and 'truth'. Truth is the object of judgement, and good the object of wanting; it does not follow from this either that everything judged must be true, or that everything wanted must be good.
If the fact that the good is the object of desire does not entail that everything desired must be good, then it follows that it is at least possible that a particular desire may get things wrong. Moreover, it seems safe to assume that Anscombe is also committed to saying that it is possible for desire to sometimes get things right. Hence, by Anscombe's lights, desires may be described as two-valued, such that there are cases in which a desire may be said to get things wrong and cases in which a desire may be said to get things right. This suggests that desires have some kind of correctness-conditions, which determine when a desire can be said to get things right. But since the cases in which a desire gets things wrong or right do not correspond with those cases in which the propositional content of a desire is true or false, the correctness-conditions of the attitude of desire (whatever they happen to be) cannot be identical to the truth-conditions of its propositional content.
One very natural way of understanding the claim that the good is the object of desire is to say that a desire is felicitous just in case its object is an instance of the good. Rephrased in the language of propositional attitudes, we may say that a desire is felicitous just in case the truth of its propositional content is a realisation of the good. For example, desiring that I will leave work at 2pm is felicitous just in case the truth of the proposition, “I will leave work at 2pm”, is a realisation of the good. However, some caution is required here. The present claim is not that desiring that I will leave work at 2pm is felicitous only if I do leave work at 2pm; to wit, it is not necessary that the propositional content of the desire be true in order for the desire to be felicitous. Rather, it is only necessary that, were the propositional content true, it would be a realisation of the good. This comports with Anscombe's observation that “goodness is ascribed to wanting in virtue of the goodness (not the actualisation) of what is wanted.”
In other words, the felicity-conditions of a desire should not be confused with its satisfaction-conditions. The satisfaction-conditions of desiring that I will leave work at 2pm just are the conditions under which the proposition, “I will leave work at 2pm” is true. However, if my leaving work at 2pm is not an instance of the good—because, let us suppose, it would involve my leaving an important project uncompleted—then desiring that I will leave work at 2pm is not felicitous even if I do leave work at 2pm. Thus, desiring that I leave work at 2pm may be infelicitous even if the satisfaction-conditions of the desire have been met. Moreover, desiring that I will leave work at 2pm may be felicitous even if the satisfaction-conditions of the desire have not been met; to wit, even if the proposition “I will leave work at 2pm” is false. For example, if my leaving work at 2pm is a realisation of the good—because, let us suppose, it would allow me to spend some quality time with my family—then desiring that I leave work at 2pm is felicitous even if I do not leave work at 2pm. The upshot is that the felicity-conditions of desiring that I will leave work at 2pm, when construed along Anscombean lines, are different from the satisfaction-conditions of desiring that I will leave work at 2pm.
Let us take stock of what we have seen thus far. First, we noted that although the propositional content of desire has truth-conditions, just like the propositional content of belief, the attitude of desire is ordinarily assumed to lack a truth-value. Using the label 'felicity-conditions' to refer to the correctness-conditions of an attitude (in contradistinction from the correctness-conditions of the propositional content of an attitude), we may say that the felicity-conditions of a desire, assuming that it has felicity-conditions, do not correspond with the truth-conditions of its propositional content. Moreover, I have argued that preserving the Anscombean thesis that the good is the object of desire entails that desires have some kind of correctness-conditions.