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Desire and the Human Good - Richard Kraut

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Desire and the Human Good. Richard Kraut

I) In contemporary (nowadays) world we are pluralistic about Good. As Aristotle and Plato thought, the life of philosopher is a pick of human good (the best life), and all other lives worth living to some extent comparing to the ideal. Epicureans thought that the good is – pleasure, Stoics thought that the good is virtue. However nowadays those approaches are considered as too narrow, because people generally do not think that there is any particular kind of life that is better than any other life and they have large variety of intrinsic goods. According to Kraut, to find the explanation of people’s pluralism regarding the good, we should define what the wellbeing is, so after that we can understand why it is so pluralistic.

Many philosophers would say that the human good is the satisfaction of desires, so as we have many different interests in modern world, consequently we have many different desires. This approach explains why the wellbeing is multiform. However the “desire theory” has some weaknesses, because it highly relies on desires, while desires are sometimes the subject for evaluation themselves.  

II) People can sometimes reject their good to achieve their goals. For instance, consider a man who had committed a crime and he understands that he will not be arrested even if he would confess. He regrets that he had committed the crime, so he decides to punish himself by renouncing his current way of life and going to boring and hard work. At this point it can be seen that what he desires is not good for him, because he is harming himself to satisfy his desire. Therefore we should not say that the satisfaction of desires is always the human good.  

III) Let’s consider another case. Think of a boy walking through the park. He sees a duck in a pond and decides to throw a rock at it. But even if his desire is satisfied it would not increase his wellbeing. Defenders of “desire theory” can say that throwing a rock was just a whim, and only the satisfaction carefully thought and analyzed desires can be considered as a human good. Then we can imagine another situation. Think of a man walking in winter who had an impulse to reach an icicle and knock it down. Then imagine that he decides to knock down all the icicles in the city, so he spends his time and his money to hire crew to help him. So it can be seen that even if his desire was well planned and organized, its satisfaction did not increased his wellbeing.

IV) “Desire theory” can be considered as a member of other tightly related family of theories such as “Parental desire theory”, “Sibling desire theory” etc. According to these theories what is good for one is what his parents / siblings want for this person. “Parental desire theory” (and other variations of the theory) is generally considered as not plausible, because sometimes parents do not know or love enough their child to guide their lives. But we can say the same about the “desire theory”.  

Another objection for acceptance of “Parental desire theory” is that it leads to obedience and unconcern of a person (child). However according to “Desire theory” if a child does not desire features as autonomy, originality and creativity, then the lack of them is not a problem. But, as we know, being creative and self-reliant is an essential part of wellbeing of a person.

Parents look after a child when he is young, so at this part of life it is best for the child to be guided by his parents. Therefore what make a person’s wellbeing cannot be only his present desires, because when they are young they do not have initially the desire for education etc. Parents instill some desires in child, so when the child grows he will have some desires that his parents thought to be worth developing.

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