Velleman argues that the Guise of the Good theory (henceforth, “GG theory”) errs by either making an evaluative term (henceforth, “the good”) part of the propositional content of the attitude motivating an intentional action (henceforth, “a desire”) or by unpacking the claim that desire aims at the good in terms of desire’s direction of fit. The first strategy fails because it entails that an agent can have a desire only if she possesses the concept of the good, and the second strategy fails because it conflates the constitutive aim of an attitude with its direction of fit.
Step 1: Velleman conceives of GG Theory in terms of an attempt to reconcile two seemingly incompatible stories of the origin of human action; namely, the story of motivation and the story of rational guidance. (3-5*)
Argument: According to the story of motivation, an agent acts intentionally when her action is caused by a desire for some outcome and a belief that the action will promote it. According to the story of rational guidance, an agent acts intentionally when the action justifying character of a proposition prompts her action via her grasp of that proposition. Noncognitivism emphasizes the story of motivation at the expense of the story of rational guidance, and cognitivism emphasizes the story of rational guidance at the expense of the story of motivation.
Upshot: Noncognitivists and cognitivists differ in terms of which story of the origin of human action they privilege: motivation and rational guidance, respectively.
Step 2: Velleman claims that the main motivation for rejecting noncognitivism and embracing cognitivism is a desire to preserve the commonsense story of the origin of human action. (5-6)
Argument: In the commonsense story, the agent is moved toward action because his reasons justify it; whereas in the noncognitivist story, her reasons justify her action in virtue of moving her toward it. Consequently, noncognitivism gets things backwards; it does violence to the common sense story.
Upshot: Those who prefer cogntivism over noncognitivism are motivated by an attempt to preserve the common sense story.
Step 3: Velleman rejects simple cognitivism because it imposes the implausible requirement that an agent possesses the relevant evaluative concept in order to have a desire. (6-8)
Argument: According to simple cognitivism, desire aims at the good in virtue of its propositional content, which includes the evaluative predicate “good”. This means that an agent could not have a desire unless she possessed the concept of the good. However, infants have desires long before they have the concept of the good, or any other evaluative concepts.
Upshot: Simple cogntivism fails to offer a plausible account of why desire aims at the good.
Step 4: Velleman considers an alternative to simple cognitivism, dubbed “sophisticated cognitivism”, according to which desire aims at the good in virtue of its direction of fit. (8-9)
Argument: According to the sophisticated cognitivist, cognitive attitudes (like belief) aim at truth because their propositional object is regarded as a factum (something that is the case), while conative attitudes (like desire) aim at the good because their propositional object is regarded as a faciendum (something that is to be made the case). In keeping with this view, a propositional attitude is characterised, not only by the proposition that embodies its content, but also by the attitude's direction of fit (i.e., whether it represents its propositional object as factum or faciendum).
Upshot: According to sophisticated cognitivism, desire aims at the good because of the way the propositional object of a desire is grasped; namely, as faciendum.
Step 5: Velleman impugns sophisticated cognitivism on the grounds that it fails to distinguish between an attitude’s direction of fit and its constitutive aim. (9-15)
Argument: Belief is a cognitive attitude (i.e., has a certain direction of fit) because it depicts the world as being a certain way. In this regard, a belief is like other cognitive attitudes, like imagining and fantasising. Truth is the constitutive aim of belief because belief depicts the world as being a certain way with the aim of getting things right (i.e., representing truly). Thus, saying that belief has a certain direction of fit is different from saying that it has a certain constitutive aim.
Upshot: Sophisticated cognitivism errs when it fails to distinguish between saying that a desire has a certain direction of fit (i.e., that it is a conative attitude) and saying that desire aims at the good (i.e., that it has a certain constitutive aim).
Step 6: Velleman argues that since desires do not represent its object as faciendum, the good is not the constitutive aim of desire. (15-21)
Argument: Truth is the constitutive aim of belief because belief represents its propositional object as factum. This is why it is impossible to believe something under the description of it being false. If desire represents its propositional object as faciendum, then it should be impossible to desire something under the description of it being bad. However, the possibility of perverse desire shows that desire does not represent its object as faciendum. This follows from the definition of a perverse desire as desiring something under the description of it being bad or pointless.
Upshot: Since it is possible to desire something under the description of it being bad or pointless the good cannot be the constitutive aim of desire.
Neither simple nor sophisticated cognitivism successfully show that desire aims at the good. As such, the central contention of GG theory remains unestablished.
*Page numbers based on Velleman, D. , “The Guise of the Good”, Nous, 26 (1): 3-26.