Is consuming heroin a desire?

Interesting discussion ensuing at Richard’s blog over the status of higher-order desires to, e.g., not have a desire to consume heroin, and in what sense we can describe addictions as desires in the first place.


4 Responses to “Is consuming heroin a desire?”

  1. Mike Says:

    Why is this a philosophical rather than scientific question?

    For example, “But here’s a puzzle: in that case his first-order desire for heroin, being stronger than his desire for health, should give rise to an equally overwhelming second-order instrumental desire to be rid of his desire for health (for the sake of the more-desired end of using heroin).

    Why is that a puzzle? Why should a second-order desire form? Because we have some explanation (outside of science) that is supposed to explain desires? Or what?

    I don’t mean to be flip. I could be missing something really big. Feel free to e-slap me.

    It seems to me, though, that the answer could be, “There is no corresponding second order desire because the body does not work that way.” That answer, of course, would come from science rather than philosophy.

    I’ll give a personal example. I value health. I value looking a certain way. A lot. In every rational sense of my being, I want to be healthy and look a certain way.

    Yet I have a serious eating disorder. I used to be a crazy binge eater. We are talking about eating 5,000-10,000 calories in a sitting. Feeling physically sick and involuntarily throwing up. I have it mostly under control, but I still have the occasional binge.

    I do not “desire” to binge eat. Something weird would just happen. It was like I was not in control (which begs the question of we’re ever in control of anything). I’d get shaky and just start eating everything in sight. Like a drug addict.

    When you are an addict, complex physiological reactions occur. No one is sure exactly what happens or what causes binge eating, though people have theorized that serotonin plays a role. I haven’t seen an end-all explanation though. Hell, if there were an explanation, we wouldn’t have bulimics. You’d just take a pill to replicate that physiological response, and that’d be it.

    So…. What is going on? And does philosophy have anything interesting to say?

    More broadly: Do philosophers just make stuff up based on extra-scientific beliefs on what is going on, e.g., beliefs on desires and their causes; human motivation to act; rationality, etc?

    And if so, how is much of modern philosophy different from religion? I mean, if they’re just making shit up and not proving it empirically, how is that different from religion?

  2. Mike Says:


  3. Paul Gowder Says:


    You may like the post I just put up, which broadly agrees with you, though from a mostly conceptual rather than an empirical perspective (though the main move is empirical).

    In response to your general question… part of the issue for philosophers is what we’re rationally committed to. It seems like if we desire P, and P entails Q, we’re rationally committed to desiring Q as well. If we don’t desire Q, something’s wrong in our circuitry. Maybe. So if I desire P and don’t desire Q, then there’s a puzzle that requires an account — maybe one answer just is “our circuitry is messed up,” but another possible answer is “I don’t really desire P,” or “the desire for P doesn’t rationally require desiring Q.” It might be good to see that kind of debate that way.

    That being said, I agree with your general sentiment: a lot of philosophy of action, in particular, will hopefully be blown up by neuroscience right quickly.

  4. Uncommon Priors » The Humean Addict Says:

    [...] as I was writing this post, Mike put up a comment to a previous post, which offers some confirmation of my intuition about the phenomenology of [...]

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