By Richard Lindley (auth.)
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Extra resources for Autonomy
Are a-desires essentially irrational? People are inclined to say that it is irrational to a-desire to leap (to one's death) off a precipice. Whilst accepting that it would be irrational to act on such an a-desire, I think the Humean would be right to insist that there is nothing irrational about having adesires. Consideration of a case where there are clear reasons against acting on an a-desire confuses the issue. Let us consider an a-desire to stretch. Someone might just feel like stretching - not for any reason - not because of a belief that stretching would be worthwhile.
However, the theory is defective as an account of rational deliberation about what to do. It suggests that the process of rational decision making is aimed simply at the production of beliefs which will enable one to act so as to satisfy the highest aggregate of current inclinations, strength of inclination being equivalent to strength of reason. It gives insufficient weight to the role of the agent as a deliberator, who can stand back from pushes and pulls, and decide how much weight to give to his various inclinations.
In contrast with the Kantian view, according to which the only ultimately desirable ends of human action are those justified by considerations of pure rationality, Hume is claiming that a person's ultimate ends; which generate her reasons for action, themselves cannot be divorced from her own personal nonrational 'affections'. Someone who doesn't care about the suffering of a stranger has no direct reason to help relieve his distress. If desires never conflicted, then rational action would simply consist in pursuing whatever desires one had as efficiently as possible.