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Alvarez, Maria, , . Kinds of Reasons: An Essay in the Philosophy of Action
2010, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Jie Gao, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: Understanding human beings and their distinctive rational and volitional capacities is one of the central tasks of philosophy. The task requires a clear account of such things as reasons, desires, emotions and motives, and of how they combine to produce and explain human behaviour. In Kinds of Reasons, Maria Alvarez offers a fresh and incisive treatment of these issues, focusing in particular on reasons as they feature in contexts of agency. Her account builds on some important recent work in the area; but she takes her main inspiration from the tradition that receives its seminal contemporary expression in the writings of G.E.M. Anscombe, a tradition that runs counter to the broadly Humean orthodoxy that has dominated the theory of action for the past forty years. Alvarez’s conclusions are therefore likely to be controversial; and her bold and painstaking arguments will be found provocative by participants on every side of the debates with which she engages. Clear and directly written, Kinds of Reasons aims to stake out a distinctive position within one of the most hotly contested areas of contemporary philosophy.

Comment: This book is on the ontological nature of reasons for which we act carries on. The first two chapters are very good introductory readings on reasons broadly. Chapters 3 to 5 explore the connection between reasons and motivation. Topics include what motivates actions, whether desires are motivating reasons, and whether motivating reasons are belief. They are proper introductory reading material for courses on ethics, reasons and philosophy of action.

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Banerjee, Pompi, Raj Merchant, Jaya Sharma. Kink and Feminism – Breaking the Binaries
2018, Sociology and Anthropology 6(3): 313-320
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by: Rosa Vince

Abstract: This paper seeks to share what Bondage-Domination-Sado-Masochism/Kink might offer to feminist understandings of sexuality, gender and power. It has been written by members of the Kinky Collective, a group that seeks to raise awareness about BDSM in India. The paper addresses four key themes. The first theme relates to the subversion of gender and sexual norms in kink from a feminist lens. It challenges popular notions of BDSM which seem to reflect heteropatriarchy, evoking images of, typically, a cisman dominating a ciswoman, making her submit to his desires. The paper argues that this assumption invisibilises male submissiveness with female dominants as well as queer/same sex kink. Even if a seemingly ‘mainstream’ submissive role is chosen by a woman, it has the capacity to be feminist as roles and dynamics are intentional, discussed, negotiated and consented to by all involved unlike in ‘real life’ where power dynamics are rarely acknowledged. Since kink is solidly in the area of playfulness and experimentation, it also makes for a safe space for gender transgressive persons. The second theme addressed by the paper related to Kink, Feminism and Desire. It argues that kink enables a paradigm shift from consent for harm reduction to consent for enabling pleasure and the exploration of desires. It offers another paradigm shift, away from false consciousness to one that brings to focus on the unconscious. In this third theme of the unconscious, the paper challenges the false binary of sexual fantasies being ‘OK’ vs. ‘not OK’. The unconscious allows for a link between the personal and political such that our politics is less judgmental. Being in that space where our desires seem to collide with our politics might help challenge the overly rational framework of feminism and help us move perhaps from a politics of certainty to a politics of doubt. The fourth theme of the paper relates to the question of Power in Kink. It argues that kink challenges binary notions of powerful and powerfulness because submission is powerful and that it is precisely because the submissive submits that the Dominant can dominate. Using these four subthemes, we argue that kink can contribute to feminist thought and praxis in India.

Comment: In courses on feminism and philosophy of sex this text will be extremely useful as it offers some key responses to the arguments that feminism and sadomasochism are incompatible.

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Fara, Delia Graff, , . Desires, Scope, and Tense
2003, Philosophical Perspectives 17(1): 141-163.
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Added by: Nick Novelli, Contributed by:

Summary: According to James McCawley (1981) and Richard Larson and Gabriel Segal (1995), the following sentence is three-ways ambiguous: -/- Harry wants to be the mayor of Kenai. -/- According to them also, the three-way ambiguity cannot be accommodated on the Russellian view that definite descriptions are quantified noun phrases. In order to capture the three-way ambiguity of the sentence, these authors propose that definite descriptions must be ambiguous: sometimes they are predicate expressions; sometimes they are Russellian quantified noun phrases. After explaining why the McCawley-Larson-Segal solution contains an obvious flaw, I discuss how an effort to correct the flaw brings to light certain puzzles about the individuation of desires, about quantifying in, and about the disambiguation of desire ascriptions.

Comment: An interesting paper about the semantics of desire. Would be suitable in a philosophy of language course.

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Fara, Delia Graff, , . Specifying Desires
2013, Noûs 47(2): 250-272.
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Added by: Nick Novelli, Emily Paul, Contributed by:

Abstract: A report of a person’s desire can be true even if its embedded clause underspecifies the content of the desire that makes the report true. It is true that Fiona wants to catch a fish even if she has no desire that is satisfied if she catches a poisoned minnow. Her desire is satisfied only if she catches an edible, meal-sized fish. The content of her desire is more specific than the propositional content of the embedded clause in our true report of her desires. Standard semantic accounts of belief reports require, however, that the embedded clause of a true belief report specify precisely the content of the belief that makes it true. Such accounts of belief reports therefore face what I call “the problem of underspecification” if they are extended to desire reports. Such standard accounts are sometimes refined by requiring that a belief report can be true not only if its subject has a belief with precisely the propositional content specified by its embedded clause, but also only if its subject grasps that content in a particular way. Such refinements do not, however, help to address the problem of underspecification for desire reports.

Comment: Perfect for a beliefs and desires element of a philosophy of language course. Very clear and contains many discussion points – e.g. could ask students to give their own examples of cases where the content of one’s desire is underspecified – and test whether they agree with Graff Fara that the desire can still be true.

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Kind, Amy, , . The Puzzle of Imaginative Desire
2011, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89(3): 421-439.
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Added by: Nick Novelli, Contributed by:

Abstract: The puzzle of imaginative desire arises from the difficulty of accounting for the surprising behaviour of desire in imaginative activities such as our engagement with fiction and our games of pretend. Several philosophers have recently attempted to solve this puzzle by introducing a class of novel mental states – what they call desire-like imaginings or i-desires. In this paper, I argue that we should reject the i-desire solution to the puzzle of imaginative desire. The introduction of i-desires is both ontologically profligate and unnecessary, and, most importantly, fails to make sense of what we are doing in the imaginative contexts in question.

Comment: Kind provides good arguments against accepting the existence of “i-desires”. This article would be useful to teach in the context of philosophy of mind, as well as in philosophy of art and fiction, as it engages with some of the issues surrounding “make-believe”.

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Murdoch, Iris, , . The Darkness of Practical Reason
1998, in Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature. Allen Lane/the Penguin Press, 193-202
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Added by: Anne-Marie McCallion, Contributed by:

Introduction: In his book, Freedom of the Individual, Stuart Hampshire argues as follows. In human beings (as opposed to things) power a function of will and will is a function of desire. Some desires are “thought-dependent” in that they depend on statable beliefs which, if they altered,- would alter the desires, and so such desires cannot be defined by purely behavioural criteria, since the subject’s conception of what he wants is constitutive of the wanting. We do not discover our thought-dependent desires inductively, by observation, we formulate them in the light of our beliefs. We have the experience of being convinced by evidence and of changing our beliefs and so willing differently, and there seems to be no set of sufficient conditions outside our thinking which could explain this situation equally well. […] I wish to make an entry into Professor Hampshire’s argument at the point where he dismisses the doctrine of the transcendent will.

Comment: This text offers an advanced-level criticism of Stuart Hampshire’s account of practical reason, it would be suitable for courses on the philosophy of action, philosophy of mind or philosophy of psychology. Since this text is very short, it would be best utilised as a supplement to Stuart Hampshire’s Thought and Action as knowledge of Hampshire’s account is necessary in order to follow this text. It could also be useful for facilitating/incorporating discussions of the imagination into any of the aforementioned potential courses.

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Nussbaum, Martha, , Rosalind Hursthouse. Plato on Commensurability and Desire
1984, Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 58: 55-96.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by:

Diversifying Syllabi: Plato’s belief in the commensurability of values (shared by modern utilitarians) ultimately “cuts very deep: taken seriously, it will transform our passions as well as our decision-making, giving emotions such as love, fear, grief, and hence the ethical problems that are connected with them, an altogether different character” (56). The upshot is that “certain proposals in ethics and social choice theory that present themselves as innocuous extensions of ordinary belief and practice could actually lead, followed and lived with severity and rigor, to the end of human life as we currently know it” (56).

Comment: The text is useful in teaching ethics, especially as a critique of utilitarianism. It can also be used as a reading in history of philosophy classes focusing on ancient ethics. It is rather long, but can be used in excerpts. The paper is largely reprinted in Nussbaum’s Fragility of Goodness.

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Olberding, Amy, , . Confucius’ Complaints and the Analects’ Account of the Good Life
2013, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 12 (4):417-440.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Ian James Kidd

Abstract: The Analects appears to offer two bodies of testimony regarding the felt, experiential qualities of leading a life of virtue. In its ostensible record of Confucius’ more abstract and reflective claims, the text appears to suggest that virtue has considerable power to afford joy and insulate from sorrow. In the text’s inclusion of Confucius’ less studied and apparently more spontaneous remarks, however, he appears sometimes to complain of the life he leads, to feel its sorrows, and to possess some despair. Where we attend to both of these elements of the text, a tension emerges. In this essay, I consider how Confucius’ complaints appear to complicate any clean conclusion that Confucius wins a good life, particularly where we attend to important pre-theoretical sensibilities regarding what a ‘good life’ ought to include and how it ought to feel for the one who leads it.

Comment: A rich text that explains the role of complaints – and, more broadly, disappointment, regret, and sadness – in the moral life. Especially good for challenging the idea that the moral life will insulate a person from such negative affects. Also points out the tendency of some moral philosophers to downplay certain aspects of human beings when constructing their ideals.

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Spaulding, Shannon, , . Imagination, Desire, and Rationality
2015, Journal of Philosophy 112 (9):457-476 (2015)
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by:

Abstract: We often have affective responses to fictional events. We feel afraid for Desdemona when Othello approaches her in a murderous rage. We feel disgust toward Iago for orchestrating this tragic event. What mental architecture could explain these affective responses? In this paper I consider the claim that the best explanation of our affective responses to fiction involves imaginative desires. Some theorists argue that accounts that do not invoke imaginative desires imply that consumers of fiction have irrational desires. I argue that there are serious worries about imaginative desires that warrant skepticism about the adequacy of the account. Moreover, it is quite difficult to articulate general principles of rationality for desires, and even according to the most plausible of these possible principles, desires about fiction are not irrational.

Comment: This would function well as a required reading in a week on why we have emotional reactions to fiction, probably in a course for senior undergraduate students. It is suitable for a philosophy of fiction module.

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Srinivasan, Amia, , . Does Anyone Have the Right to Sex?
2018, London Review of Books, 40 (6): 5-10.
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by: Nadia Mehdi

Srinivasan attempts to address the question of how we are able to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question, a question usually answered by more general patterns of domination and exclusion.

Comment: This text is an insightful call to bring discussions of sexual consent back to a politics of desire. It would make a great addition to syllabi covering the philosophy of sex.

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Tiberius, Valerie, , . Humean Heroism: Value Commitments and the Source of Normativity
2000, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 81(4) 426-46.
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Added by: Graham Bex-Priestley, Contributed by:

Abstract: This paper addresses the question “In virtue of what do practical reasons have normative force or justificatory power?” There seems to be good reason to doubt that desires are the source of normativity. However, I argue that the reasons to be suspicious of desire-based accounts of normativity can be overcome by a sufficiently sophisticated account. The position I defend in this paper is one according to which desires, or more generally, proattitudes, do constitute values and provide rational justifications of actions when they are organized in the right way.

Comment: A good defence of desire-based accounts of value, tackling some of the most intuitive objections (such as being “too subjective” and having no foundation in reason).

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Tiberius, Valerie, , . Moral Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction
2015, New York, NY: Routledge.
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Added by: Carl Fox, Contributed by:

Publisher: This is the first philosophy textbook in moral psychology, introducing students to a range of philosophical topics and debates such as: What is moral motivation? Do reasons for action always depend on desires? Is emotion or reason at the heart of moral judgment? Under what conditions are people morally responsible? Are there self-interested reasons for people to be moral? Moral Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction presents research by philosophers and psychologists on these topics, and addresses the overarching question of how empirical research is relevant to philosophical inquir

Comment: Wide-ranging introductory textbook. Very useful for introductory readings to a range of issues in and around moral psychology.

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Ventham, Elizabeth, , . Reflective Blindness, Depression and Unpleasant Experiences
, Analysis, (forthcoming)
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Lizzy Ventham

Abstract: This paper defends a desire-based understanding of pleasurable and unpleasant experiences. More specifically, the thesis is that what makes an experience pleasant/unpleasant is the subject having a certain kind of desire about that experience. I begin by introducing the ‘Desire Account’ in more detail, and then go on to explain and refute a prominent set of contemporary counter-examples, based on subjects who might have ‘Reflective Blindness’, looking particularly at the example of subjects with depression. I aim to make the Desire Account more persuasive, but also to clear up more widespread misunderstandings about depression in metaethics. For example, mistakes that are made by conflating two of depression’s most prominent symptoms: depressed mood and anhedonia.

Comment: Argues in favour of a ‘desire account’ of pleasurable and unpleasant experiences. Looks in particular at cases of depression and aims to clear up wider misunderstandings about depression in metaethics.

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Walker, Rebecca L., , . Medical Ethics Needs a New View of Autonomy
2009, Journal of medicine and philosophy 33: 594-608.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by:

Abstract: The notion of autonomy commonly employed in medical ethics literature and practices is inadequate on three fronts: it fails to properly identify nonautonomous actions and choices, it gives a false account of which features of actions and choices makes them autonomous or nonautonomous, and it provides no grounds for the moral requirement to respect autonomy. In this paper I offer a more adequate framework for how to think about autonomy, but this framework does not lend itself to the kinds of practical application assumed in medical ethics. A general problem then arises: the notion of autonomy used in medical ethics is conceptually inadequate, but conceptually adequate notions of autonomy do not have the practical applications that are the central concern of medical ethics. Thus, a revision both of the view of autonomy and the practice of “respect for autonomy” are in order.

Comment: Walker argues against the Black Box view advocated by Beauchamp and Childress. The text is most useful when discussing principlism in biomedical ethics and more general issues related to autonomy and consent. The text works well when read alongside’s Onora O’Neill’s “Some limits of informed consent.”

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